Mindshare 24 March

I played soccer tonight. Tons and tons of fun, but I cannot get to sleep thanks to adrenaline. So, here’s what’s been bouncing around inside my head.

1. “Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out the window and noticing that the real world was increasingly resembling the unthinkable scenario. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse.”Clay Shirky. He’s talking about the train wreck in the newspaper world, but this bit could be applied across the board. Thinking big thoughts is good for society.

2. “Lee Smolin, a physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, who was one of the authors, said, “What is amazing to me as I learn about this is how flimsy was the theoretical basis of the claims that derivatives and other complex financial instruments reduced risk, when their use in fact brought on instabilities.” – New York Times. I considered “financial engineering” while I was working on my MBA, but the reliance on much of what I was exposed to on equations extremely sensitive to a single assumption made me leery. As I keep listening to Planet Money, I’m more a believer that the 3-6-3 model (Pay 3% to people in savings accounts, lend at 6%, and be on the golf course at 3PM) for the banking and finance industry was a system that didn’t need a lot of tinkering. Plus, who really needs millions of dollars?

3. “Getting things done, especially the right things, is incredibly satisfying, but waking up one day to realize you’re a stressed-out workaholic at the age of 28 is not. Life requires balance. You’ll be more productive, more creative, and more satisfied if you calm down and unplug every once in a while, even if it’s once in a very long while.” Questioning the ‘Cult of Done‘. I hadn’t heard of the ‘Cult of Done’, but this is a great piece encouraging taking even good stuff with a grain of salt. Understanding the limits of models, etc. See item 2.

4. “(F)inancial warfare comes with all sorts of risks. The Unites States is deeply in debt to other countries — especially China, which holds over a trillion dollars in U.S. securities — and that kind of leverage, in the wrong hands, could be destabilizing.” Danger Room (Wired). This keeps me up at night. Actually blowing stuff up is risky, expensive, and morally ambiguous. Blowing $100 billion on wrecking a country’s market over a dispute is arguably just expensive.

5. Belated reminder that William Gibson’s birthday is St. Patrick’s day. Makes a phenomenal excuse to go drunk driving on the information superhighway. His guest series over the last week is very NSFW, but worth a look. (Assuming you’re on a personal computer, of age in your jurisdiction, and not averse to boobs and foul language).

6. This is big and interesting – MIT backs free access to scientific papers. Cool counterpoint to the newspaper story.

7. For file under studies noone really needed: The data suggests that relevant information will emerge even when the group’s communications aren’t firing on all cylinders. Groups where at least one member had a requisite answer to the problem tended to be more successful than those that rated highly for the open sharing of information. The sharing did seem to help the group build a cohesiveness in a way that simply obtaining the answer did not, however. So, being stuck in a meeting where people are discussing things you already know can serve a positive function.” Really? Having a clue helps? But if you don’t have a clue, at least you can have that in common with the rest of the clueless…

Be good to each other.

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