Friday, August 31, 2007

Scrutiny


Barry Schwartz - “The paradox of choice: Why more is less”


It seems somewhat logical to assume that the more choices we have in a life be it foodstuffs, work, medicine, basically anything, that this variety translates to a more advantageous situation for us.

I recently watched an eye opening lecture based on the book entitled “The paradox of choice: Why more is less” on Google video by professor of Social Theory Barry Schwartz who proposes that quite the opposite is true and that in fact we have so many choices available to us now in day to day life that it can lead to a situation where we are put in a much worse situation because of it. Of course Mr Schwartz does not say that choice is an entirely bad thing, he aggress that indeed some choice is better than no choice, but in many cases the sheer number of alternatives can create a sense of paralysis and given too many choices the chances are the individual will choose nothing.

One of the first presumptions we make is that the more choices we have available to us the better wellbeing we will have, because ultimately we can decide how we want to take care of ourselves.
It used to be that when you went to a doctor he would tell you what to do, and you would go get it done, the choice was simple, what ever the doctor said to you, you did.
Now the medical system in the United States has changed to one of “patient Autonomy” where although the Doctor proposes it is ultimately the patient who discloses, therefore the choice and the risk following is put in the hand of someone who does not know a great deal about medicine or the ramifications of these choices.

Another part of life where an increased level of choices has led to a drop in levels of wellbeing is that of our working lives. With the leaps and bounds technology has made in the last decade it is now possible with the wide array of mobile technology available to us to work every minute of every day and in virtually any place in the world. So now when we are at home, on holiday on the train, we have to make the choice not to work, and for many in a job where they feel like they need to compete or stay one step ahead of the competition this can lead people to a situation where they work to excessive levels and cause themselves and their family great deals of stress.

Over my next few posts I will highlight some of his great findings and ideas on the subject of why you can definitely have too much choice.
Also if you have some free time on your hands I suggest you watch it here at Google video

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

Things


McDonalds/T-Shirts/Water

I have been rather amused at the response to the recently released study on McDonalds and the loyalty its brand fosters among children, some of the opinions that people around me have expressed about the “startling finding” have left me really having to bite my lip and try not to burst out with a tirade of abuse. Leaving aside the questionable ethicality of advertising to children, people were very quick to look at the study and smugly think to themselves “oh kids, they sure are stupid”

When I first head about a study that showed that children would on the most part claim preference towards a branded item over an identical unbranded one, the news did not shock me, not even a teeny weeny bit. And when I hear “grown ups” tell me how stupid kids are for that sort of behaviour and how “its unfair because children are so impressionable” it tends to make me laugh, as the person I am speaking to tends to, more likely than not, be a complete hypocrite.

Let me get one thing clear, as far as I am concerned we are all those children and some of those grown ups among us have much worse tendencies to go for the branded item, it may change in time from preference for a fast food brand, like say McDonalds to an undying loyalty for a clothing company like Topshop.

The difference between the two? The excuses get a little better, and it becomes so widespread that it becomes more acceptable and less frowned upon by people to indulge in your blind preference for one branded product over an essentially identical equivalent.

I use Topshop as an example due to the recent revelation that some of its clothing manufacturing was taking place in sweatshops in the third world, I’m sure this will dissuade some customers of Topshop, but you can rest assured that most fashion conscious people will assure you that a White 100% cotton t-shirt made in a sweatshop from Topshop is better than a White 100% cotton Nike t-shirt made in a sweatshop and certainly better than a White 100% cotton t-shirt made in a sweatshop sold in Penney’s for 1/10th of the cost.

I don’t mean to pick on clothing, or indeed on Topshop the examples get worse and the excuses that accompany them become more and more incredible. My personal favourite is bottled water, something about believing water tastes better from a €1.50 Evian bottle than it does from a €0.30 Tesco bottle, or even… from a tap, makes me really despair about peoples level of intelligence.

We are all the children … our excuses and wallets get bigger.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A minute of your time?...

I find that walking through the city centre is quite a tough activity, its seems that people do not know how to walk a decent pace, and on a regular basis I get a mild sense of “Walk rage”. My walking problems only get worse with the addition of people wanting “ a minute of your time” to talk to you about various campaigns from charities with an aim of ultimately getting you to sign up for a monthly contribution.
In Ireland, and I presume else where, they have earned the name “Charity Muggers”, and often form a line across busy pedestrian streets so there is NO ESCAPE.

I find this pretty bad on a few counts...

  • It annoys people – I am trying to walk down the street, leave. Me. Alone.
  • If people want to give to charity, let them give to charity. I am sure that more than half of the people that sign up for these payments just do so out of being pressured into it, I think charitable actions should not be forced on people.
  • The tactics they use to get your attention can be quite despicable, for instance they went through a phase of extending their hand to you on the street in an attempt to shake hands with you, I find that peoples reaction was that they felt they had to shake hands or they would be rude, then the Charity mugger had his victim just where he wanted them
  • However what I find most offensive about this is that these people get paid €13 an hour.
    I totally understand that the job is hard and that ultimately they probably bring in a lot more money to the charity than they are paid, but there is just something I find wrong about people making money off charity. Back in my day there was an activity called “volunteering” where you did things out of the goodness in you heart.

I learned after a while that the best plan to combat these people is to totally ignore them, put in the ipod, look straight ahead and then goooooooo.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Management - Its nice to be nice

In my many days toiling away in a supermarket I learned a huge amount about managers and the different styles they employed to “manage” their staff. I was having a conversation with people about this the other night and it surprised me that they had exactly the same sentiments about what does and doesn’t work when trying to persuade people to get things done.

As far as I could see, throughout my twelve managers that I had over my various stints working for the company, they could more often than not be broken down into two schools of management thought, adhering with some accuracy to McGregor’s theory on the X and Y managers. And although the example I use here related exclusively to Retail management, I believe that these characteristics would be seen throughout the spectrum of jobs where managing/supervising is a feature.

(Mis)Manager 1: Old School
From what I can see, these managers didn’t like a whole lot about their situation.
They didn’t like the way the store ran, they didn’t like customers, but what was made most apparent, and in most cases intentionally, was that they DIDN’T LIKE YOU.
To paraphrase a quote I heard from a bar manager to his new staff member, “I am here to make money for my family, You are here to make money for me, We are not friends, as long as you have that straight we are ok

Manager 2 : New School
Unfortunately this variety of manager is significantly less numerous than its “Old School” cousin. They essentially held beliefs that were a complete polar opposite and that generally brought a much better workplace atmosphere with them.
They liked the potential the store had, They loved dealing at first had with the customers, And what was more, They wanted you to know they liked you and that we were all in the same boat.

From a business point of view it could be argued by some that at a low level, like a supermarket, it really doesn’t make a difference whether the management is nice or nasty, because at the end of the day if someone doesn’t like it and wants to leave, finding a replacement should be rather easy and as long as the shop gets the products on the shelf and out the door, the method by which that gets achieved is irrelevant. However, as I saw first hand, things are not that simple. I can think of a few good examples of the effect of an “Old School” manager.

  • One time a particularly bad manager came to town and prompted three people to leave within a period of two weeks, they in turn weren’t replaced for 3 weeks, so for that time the shop was understaffed, the standards lower, the queues longer, and ultimately the customer less happy. Turnover has a devastating effect on any organisation; people with specific skills are lost and even when new staff arrive there is usually a large amount of lag time before they are able to perform the job with a decent level of competency.

  • Bad managers have the effect of instilling great deals of dislike for the job in their employees, and many practice a sort of “Go Slow” campaign, if there manager is going to be an ungrateful grump, they are going to do the minimum amount of work it is possible to do, and usually if one worker does this, the rest of the staff migrate towards this benchmark of no work. “We could do more…we just don’t want to”

The “New School”, more people orientated managers bring an entirely different reaction in the workforce. Staff enjoy a friendly atmosphere, where issues around work and ideas for how to improve things become a two way conversation, rather than a one way lecture, and by engaging staff on the same level there is a much greater feel of solidarity and staff go out of their way to get things done for the manager who they don’t want to let down.

I have also seen managers that try and mix these two contrasting attitudes, leaving staff in complete confusion when the same manager that was all pally yesterday, unleashes a tirade of shouts and scowls today. The “schizophrenic” style is not one I am a huge fan of.

I personally believe that having seen the consequences of each method and having experienced the atmosphere of both styles, that the “New School” attitude towards management wins hands down, as the old phrase goes “its nice to be nice”

All work and no play


Thursday, August 16, 2007

iPhone Cubed

I must admit, I am quite jealous of my buddy Luke who recently paid a visit to the California area and got his grubby little hands on a iPhone or two, and had a little mess around on them. Luckily rather than just gloat about it, he made me a short video of how the phone looks and in particular how my blog looks on the iPhone. (see the video below)

After seeing this, I am more than a little impressed, the phone itself looks really great and the interface is so slick and seamless, what’s more, I am entirely sure that I want one… NOW!!!

I would imagine that when the iPhone gets coupled up with a network provider over here in the emerald isle, they will sell like hotcakes. Over the past while I have seen a lot of blackberry phones, and as cool as they are, they are NOT iPhones. The one factor I would personally imagine being an obstacle is that because the front of the phone is solely a glass screen that typing will be quite hard due to the fact there are no physical boundaries between characters etc, but I wait to be proven wrong.

The cost of purchase and monthly fees are also mildly extortionate, but I am willing to bet my bottom dollar (or euro) that Apple will release a “dumbed down” version of the phone (one that doesn’t run a proper computer operating system) and then things will really explode.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A book and its cover

Above we can see the founding members of Microsoft in 1978, before the name Bill Gates (bottom left) was known to every man, woman and child. Looking at them then...would you have invested?



Thursday, August 9, 2007

Study reveals kids like McDonalds...better than McDonalds

This week saw the release of an extremely interesting report on the effect of advertising on children by Stanford College researcher Dr Tom Robinson. The study concentrated in particular on the brand strength and effective marketing of fast food giant McDonald's, and the effect it had on the participant’s perception on the taste of the food presented to them.

In the study, over 60 children between the ages of 3 and 5 years of age were presented with fries, burgers, apple juice and carrots some accompanied by McDonald's packaging and some in plain blank packaging. Bearing in mind the products were completely identical it was interesting to see that the children far preferred the “McDonald's’s” food to its plain equivalent across the board.
Below you can see that the McDonald's fries were named the superior product by a huge majority of the children, and even carrots wrapped in the famous golden arches were preferred by over half of the participants with 54% preferring “McDonald's” carrots, 23% the blank alternative and only 23% claiming they tasted the same.
In the short time this study has been out is has caused uproar among parents who say that MacDonald's, who spends in the region of $1 billion in marketing per annum, is practicing unethical advertising by aiming its marketing efforts at their children, in what the author Dr Robinson refers to as “an unfair playing field” because young children are unaware of the persuasive intent of marketing.
In my opinion the playing field may not be entirely fair but it is a field in which others could be a part of, Its high time we saw fruit and healthy alternatives markets and branded properly to evoke the same response, rather than stand around pointing the finger and whining about someone who is preforming their job effectively

Its Payback Time

This week business magazine Forbes released a list of movie stars and the return on investment that their performance leads to.
For every $1 recieved as salary...

Matt Damon brought in $29
Brad Pitt brought in $24
Johnny Depp and Vince Vaughn brought in $21
Jennifer Aniston brought in $17

But showing that return doesnt mean great acting, we see acclaimed actor
Russell Crowe brought in $5

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Boring Job, Interesting Location

Maintenance at a General Electric power plant

Friday, August 3, 2007

Home and Away

I have been speaking to alot of people recently who have advised me that taking a year or two (or twelve) out before starting work is a really great idea and allows you a little time to ponder about things or on a simple level, just relax and have a bit of a break from the "pressures" of "study" and the actual pressures that work will bring.

One of my workmates Charles is one of these people trying to corupt my poor young mind, for his age he has experienced alooooot of different places and has a pretty impressive (what I would call) "experience CV". He has written about some of his travels here and here, and if you have a few minutes of free time, I suggest you take a look at them at the very least for the entertainment value of some of his stories.

It was beautiful sailing between the islands on a small sailing junk with an old and wise Vietnamese man who knew all about the islands. At least I think he was wise and knew about the islands though I am not sure as he was speaking in Vietnamese, between his shots of moonshine. Not understanding a word I decided to join in with the drinks, being careful not to have a cigarette for a while for fear of exploding