Monday, June 18, 2012

0+ and 0-

I've started my summer at Singularity University!

Had an interesting chat with an Italian classmate last night about failures, particularly in the context of failed companies. He shared an interesting perspective on the idea of zero positive vs. zero negative experiences.

In the way that he described, a zero experience means that the desired outcome of a particular project does not come to fruition. Said another way: nothing tangibly gained.

The important distinction to make, however, is not between success and failure. Instead, it's between what happens when you do fail.

Do you learn (+) or do you not learn (-)?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

yahoo!-ers gettin craaaazy with electricity

OPower recently released a fascinating blog post on the electricity consumption of email users across different domains. Gmail and Yahoo prevailed as the most widely used and thus are used as the basis for comparison.

They lead with the slightly muckraker-esque notion that Yahoo email users are spending $110 more per year on electricity.

Thankfully, they don't just end there and prescribe that everyone switch over to Gmail accounts. But they do proffer up some possible anthropological / demographic reasons for the wide discrepancy in electricity consumption.

Whatever the case, it might just be that Gmail users have a greater interest in energy efficiency. They note that "Gmail users are 30% more likely than Yahoo users to sign up for an in-depth analysis of how they can reduce their energy usage."

Friday, June 8, 2012

how we seek

I consumed two pieces of data this week on very different but complementary topics: one on higher education, and the other on employment and the workforce in general.

The first is a book that I've been reading, called DIY U. Its content falls somewhere along the spectrum of giving an overview of how higher education has evolved, towards how the future of learning will arc -- with a bias toward self taught learning. So far, its argument backs up growing concerns I've only begin to articulate about going into serious debt for an advanced degree.

Nevertheless, one of its points centers on how the founding of institutions have been the catalyst behind higher education: a force to define what is important to study. In so doing, the institution has also implicitly assumed the burden of recruiting students. This has led, in some cases, to colleges and universities overemphasizing the importance of non-academic add-ons (above average athletic facilities, campus housing, and meal plans, etc), with the intent of luring students toward a particular educational "experience." One administrator at Hofstra is quoted as pointing to such facilities as rationale for escalating tuition -- of course leading to increased student debt upon graduation.

The second piece of data was Sheryl Sandberg's commencement speech to the 2012 class of Harvard Business School. In it, she describes a conversation she had with a candidate vying for a job at Facebook. Instead of getting the usual pitch about a candidate's particular skills, this woman asked Sheryl what the biggest challenge that Facebook was facing and resolved to solving that pain point if she joined the team. Sandberg apparently hired her on the spot for HR / recruitment  -- and the woman accepted the offer in a department in which she had prior knowledge, and doing a role that was far junior to her experience level.

My question: is our process of seeking opportunities in higher education and employment all backwards?

Higher education: It seems to me as though institutions have been designing the higher education experience.
Instead: should students take more ownership and direction over how they choose to learn?

Workforce: It is the job seekers who orient the job search around the relevance of the past: pitching an employer on the significance of their particular set of skills.
Intead: should you, the job seeker, throw that bias out the window, in favor of a willingness to solve pressing problems of the future for your future employer? Even if that means discarding experience you've already acquired?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

dreaming, disbelief and suspension

I remember learning about the literary term, willing suspension of disbelief, during high school. In English class, it was all about putting aside non-believable or fantastiscal elements of a novel, to allow the reader to fully engage with by the story as it was being told.

To me, this idea of suspension becomes all the more powerful over time.

In improv, what are we encouraged to do? Support our partner to continue building scenes together, no matter how outlandish the scenario. For many of us, it can be an exercise in resisting the temptation of saying no to something that seems implausible in real life.

I know that to function in life, I need a certain comfort of knowing that constants of the past will remain constants of the future. For example, that my health will remain relatively stable, that my family will be around, that the roof over my head is not going to suddenly collapse.

While I know intellectually that retaining this exact set of circumstances is implausible, having this comfort frees up the mental energy to dream: ultimately, allowing me to be creative on a daily basis.

These past few weeks, I have been reading a number of books on the changing landscape of higher education, in preparation for attending summer school at Singularity University in a few weeks. The book itself comes down fairly hard on the current structures of higher education, and in so doing, tends to question much of the value that higher education has provided.

Taking into consideration the benefits of accepting implausible circumstances (even if only temporarily)...

I wonder if one of the aspirational values of higher education is to create an unreasonably idealistic environment. An environment either where the daily, practical constraints of living in the day to day are temporarily suspended to focus on studies, or: where students willingly suspend disbelief of what is possible, in order to imagine what can be possible.

Monday, April 30, 2012

the secret benefits of unemployment

How does one define employment? It seems reasonable to assume that one would be considered employed while working for, and getting regularly paid by, an organization.

Conversely, unemployment seems to span a gamut of definitions to include the involuntarily unemployed (traditionally out-of-work and seeking a job), as well as the voluntarily unemployed (including entrepreneurs).

I'll cut to the chase: being unemployed has unexpectedly taught me to understand and express gratitude far more often than I ever did before.

Why?

My guess is... Probably because being unemployed forces you to both recognize and accept the limitations of what you can do by yourself. And in my case, it has been a forcing function to consistently rely on others for help, as well as to seek out mentors and more readily ask for advice. By going through this mental exercise, it all of a sudden becomes much easier to recognize the importance of others' contributions and support in your own decisions.

As for unemployment?

It kind of sucks sometimes, and on the whole, I generally don't endorse it. But if you find yourself in the midst of it, try to understand what gratitude is - while you're at it. The people around you may learn to love the newfound appreciation.

Friday, April 20, 2012

the Listserve: or, how we started to listen

Last week, I found out about TheListserve --  a unique take on the traditional listserv, which is just a simple automated mailing list.

I'm sure whenever the original listserv concept was developed (the 1980s?), it was novel in its own right. I still tend to think it is, as an enabler of information sharing.

With the rise of FB status updates, and the ability to follow any sort of "news" topic on Twitter, however, I feel like we (I'm counting myself in this), have gotten swept up in the craze of broadcasting-as-pasttime.

In the process of tweeting mindlessly, I think something else has gotten lost. Listening is a skill that is hard to acquire, and easy to forget.

I don't know what the Listserve explicitly set out to do by creating a listserv that allows a limitless number of subscribers, but limits the number of posts to one per day. It's an interesting social experiment to be a part of a group where the much of the experience is not oriented around broadcasting, but instead on listening.

What does listening do? It forces us to pay attention, and to focus. With only one person behind a single message every single day -- imagine what kind of anticipation that must create for your co-subscribers. 20,000+ subscribers who eagerly await to see what you have to say; who have deferred their soapbox to let someone else have their chance at the microphone.

It appears to be fairly early stage, but it seems that nothing but good can come from this.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

the opposite of poverty?

In this 23 minute long TED talk, public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson makes the case that the opposite of poverty is actually not wealth, but instead is justice.

In between weaving narratives of his childhood and his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, he prompts his audience to look at the hard questions of poverty, race and inequality -- and how those factors disproportionately shape outcomes in the American criminal justice system.

On the death penalty in America: it's easy to turn away from it, to shelve it as not being our problem, our burden, or our struggle.

On injustice: he notes that our

"identity [is] at risk. When we don't care about difficult things, the positive and wonderful things are nonetheless implicated. We love innovation, we love technology, we love creativity, we love entertainment...but ultimately those realities are shadowed by suffering, abuse, degregadtion, marginalization, and for me it becomes necessary to integrate the two. Because ultimately we are talking about the need to be more hopeful, more committed, more dedicated to the basic challenges of living in a complex world. For me, that means spending time thinking and talking about the poor, the disadvantaged, those who will never get to TED...but thinking about them in a way that is integrated into our own lives."

The tension he describes reminded me of this bit of controversy, and the Economist's take on homelessness, related to the SxSW conference in Austin. The sponsoring organization, Homeless Hot Spots, wants to create an avenue for the homeless to be able to earn an income by providing wireless services.


Despite some of the negative commentary revealing that conference attendees "didn't like the idea of the homeless providing Wi-Fi for rich drunk people at a big party," it seems a perfect case in which to test Mr. Stevenson's philosophy on inclusion: "there is no disconnect around technology and design that will allow us to be fully human until we pay attention to suffering, to poverty, to exclusion, to unfairness, to injustice."

And apropos that this is all taking place at SXSW, temporary epicenter for technology and design geekdom?