The Power of Positivity

Something we in the Rockmann house have tried wholeheartedly to adopt!  

NY Times Article on Turning Negative Thinkers into Positive Ones!

Do good things for other people. In addition to making others happier, this enhances your own positive feelings. It can be something as simple as helping someone carry heavy packages or providing directions for a stranger.

Appreciate the world around you. It could be a bird, a tree, a beautiful sunrise or sunset or even an article of clothing someone is wearing. I met a man recently who was reveling in the architectural details of the 19th-century houses in my neighborhood.

Develop and bolster relationships. Building strong social connections with friends or family members enhances feelings of self-worth and, long-term studies have shown, is associated with better health and a longer life.

Establish goals that can be accomplished. Perhaps you want to improve your tennis or read more books. But be realistic; a goal that is impractical or too challenging can create unnecessary stress.

Learn something new. It can be a sport, a language, an instrument or a game that instills a sense of achievement, self-confidence and resilience. But here, too, be realistic about how long this may take and be sure you have the time needed.

Choose to accept yourself, flaws and all. Rather than imperfections and failures, focus on your positive attributes and achievements. The loveliest people I know have none of the external features of loveliness but shine with the internal beauty of caring, compassion and consideration of others.

Practice mindfulness. Ruminating on past problems or future difficulties drains mental resources and steals attention from current pleasures. Let go of things you can’t control and focus on the here-and-now. Consider taking a course in insight meditation.

You can literally work anywhere! But is that good?

Interesting article from the NY Times about a company called LiveOPS - the next on-demand firm using individuals as independent consultants.  This company seemingly wants individuals who are motivated by the chase, by the competition of the sale.  But is that good?  Should companies be incentivizing such behavior, knowing that they might very well end up with stressed workaholics with work that is consuming their lives?  By workers who only care about selling the next insurance policy in order to increase their metrics?  I fear this is going to lead to unintended consequences -- a stressed workforce that collectively care little about the client AND who care little about the company.    

Learning about cooperative behavior from the Amish

A nice article in the Washington Post today about a food co-op run by Amish farmers who supply produce to more than 50 Washington D.C. restaurants.  

This is a classic social dilemma - it is any one farmer's interest to grow more and potentially break out on their own, but if all do this the restaurants will likely get frustrated and stop purchasing.

Per Elinor Ostrom's work on Common Pool Resources, these farmers "...set up a board to delegate growing responsibilities and establish bylaws."  That is, they self-imposed rules and sanctions such as who gets to grow which produce and when.  All the farmers signed on, and the co-op is incredibly successful.  

More on On-demand work

A nice writeup of our research on on-demand work.  We need to think about on-demand worker motivation and loyalty more broadly and the article conveys the points nicely.  

On-Demand Work

In a study forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, my co-author Dr. Gary Ballinger and I found that intrinsic motivation may play a much more pivotal role in contingent forms of work such as on-demand work.  On-demand work is a type of freelance arrangement where workers work on short-term contracts that may be repeated over and over (think Uber or Lyft).  What is fascinating about this type of work is that while contracts are short (minutes even), the relationship between the on-demand worker and the on-demand firm can last over many months or years.  While we might think that in such an arms-length relationship $$ would lead to greater identification with the firm, we found this not to be the case.  Across two studies we found that controlling for $$ it is the intrinsic value in the work that predicted identification with the firm.  This suggests different selection criteria for on-demand firms and different models of managing on-demand work than are perhaps currently in use.  

Do we need grades?

A fascinating story from an elementary school in Vermont.  Makes me think about the types of "homework" we do at the college level.  Are we having our students do work that truly extends the mind and the lessons of the class or are we incentivizing rote memory (and forgetting)?  

Thinking about when you have leverage in negotiation

I really like this article from The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, because it includes many examples of how teams taking a short-term view have "lost" negotiations to teams focused more long-term.  

O'Connor also provides a nice discussion of power, or what he terms leverage, in negotiation, noting that: "When it comes to trading a star, it’s important to enter the market at the right time — not so early that there’s no competition among offers, but not so late that opposing teams know you’re desperate to move your player."

This emphasizes that what matters in negotiation is not what power you THINK you have, but rather how much power other parties are giving you.  Thinking about and analyzing power in this way will help you determine when to go to your boss for a raise, when to buy a new car, or when to get your kid to do their homework.  

How we think about probabilities...

From Nate Silver's article...

For various reasons, ranging from p-hacking, to survivorship bias, to using normal distributions in cases where they aren’t appropriate, to treating events as being independent from one another when they aren’t — that latter one was a big problem with election models that underestimated Trump’s chances — people designing statistical models tend to underestimate tail probabilities (when probabilities are close to zero, but not exactly zero). Perhaps not coincidentally, people also tend to underestimate these probabilities when they don’t use statistical models. It’s not always the case, but it’s often true that when a supposedly 2 percent or 0.2 percent or 0.02 percent event occurs, the “real” probability was higher — perhaps even an order of magnitude higher. Maybe an ostensibly 1-in-500 event was really a 1-in-50 event, for instance.

Don't ask me what I USED to make!

Very interesting law just passed in Philadelphia preventing companies from asking about past salaries.  This could help fix the gender inequality gap, but only if the women negotiate as good as the men.  Without past earnings to by the chance will be there, but all must take it!  

Check out the story here.

How to Motivate High School Students?

Washington Post Story

We've obviously talked a lot in the Rockmann household about this new policy of not giving zeros in the classroom.  One of the claims that is made in favor of this policy is that it helps give students hope to improve when they get a 50% rather than a zero because a zero makes them think that it is mathematically impossible for them to pass.  

Here's one problem with that statement - there is no evidence that this represents the cognitions of a significant number of high school students.  That is, how realistic is it that students miss an assignment (getting a zero), and subsequently "give up" when they begin to do math in their head?  To me this is incredibly far-fetched.  High school kids hate math!  

Second, even if this unconscious calculation were to take place in a kid's mind, it presumes that the child is a motivated actor who would in fact do the work were they to believe that doing the work would result in a pass.  In motivation theory we call this instrumentality - the belief that if I do the work at a certain level (complete the assignment) I will get the reward (passing grade).  The gaping hole in this new policy, however, is that teachers are already managing instrumentality for the kids that are motivated by helping them to see that if they do the work they will be rewarded.  Are teachers really saying "Hey Joey, just forget about that zero assignment - you're probably doomed anyway because of the math?"  I simply find it hard to believe that teachers are not already encouraging those kids that are motivated to not only complete assignments where zeros were earned, but rewarding those kids for their persistence!  That is, this new policy is aimed at fixing a problem which likely doesn't exist!  

Third, as noted in the article, there are major perverse incentives in this policy, namely that kids can game the system by doing far less work and "passing" as long as they show "reasonable effort" on assignments and rack up the 50 percents. Is this the lesson we want our kids to learn?  

I find it a bit unnerving that this is the problem we are trying to solve instead of the problem of why the kids aren't doing the assignments in the first place.  Whether a kid gets a zero or a 50% is in some ways irrelevant - what is more important is that the parent along with the teacher or the counselor are asking that kid what is going on and providing some attention to diagnose why the child is not completing his or her work.  I fear that with more 50 percents instead of zeros parents will be less likely to notice problems and will not intervene.

Do B-Schools have to sacrifice research for practice-based learning?

WSJ Article

The argument put forth by these authors in the WSJ article is that b-schools must forego research in order to pursue practice-based learning, especially in MBA programs.  B-schools should strive to connect with corporate partners rather than focusing curricula on the research of the tenure-track faculty.  

Is this really what we want?

Yes, AACSB is increasingly pushing evidence-based and practice-based learning into the curriculum, but why does that have to come at the expense of high quality research?  To me the benefits of research are strengthened when students are exposed to more real-world problems.  Then students not only have the context of real-world issues, but have the most current theory on which to understand such organizational phenomenon.  

Do faculty have to be researchers to teach theory?  Probably not in every case.  But researchers have a different frame of mind when they come into a classroom - they are seeking to understand a wide range of organizational problems with a set of knowledge, not just the problem at hand.  

Perhaps the solution is not a trade-off but rather a partnership.  Bringing in corporate fellows / partners to work alongside the tenure-track faculty, so that students get a broader perspective than they would with only side of the equation.  


MBA Students Travel South

I had the privilege last week of traveling to Peru and Chile with 25 of our outstanding MBA students.  In addition to several business visits where the students were able to learn about the entrepreneurial possibilities in these countries, we also engaged in a service project (painting!) in Lima.  I was also fortunate to be able to give a research talk at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, a premier University in Latin America.  

This is based on my research with Mike Pratt on remote work.  I thought the inclusion of a skeleton was particularly appropriate for an October release!