Saturday, October 15

A New Charity–RISE

RISE is Rural India Schools Enterprise. I popped in for a session which explained what the charity does. I was simply gobsmacked, this lady has done some amazing stuff, improving literacy at a school in West Bengal, running some excellent social enterprise schemes in schools in the UK and and and. They now need a proper governing board of trustees to provide them with some guidance on strategy and make it sustainable. Good stuff. They also need to create a charity in India and do some more boring old stuff. So I will sit down with them to see what I can do to assist as a trustee. I think with the 100books project, and DISHA and other contacts that I can beg, borrow, steal from India, this can be a good dual country effort. I also think that using technology to spread the word, we can have a bigger impact. And I can also see few crossovers with the other charities..Quite excited about all this…

Very good team that the RISE team have, very impressed.

Ideas that are convenient, popular, and acceptable have become sacrosanct

You might like this son. Beware of guru's. It's very easy to get sidetracked by people's number of likes, retweets etc etc. Opinions are like ar..holes, everybody has one. 

So judge arguments and opinions on the basis of the argument or opinion. Rather than by the number of retweets or likes or most popular. That is what sheep do. You want to be an original thinker. And I am very proud of your opinions, you have good logical arguments. So even if I say things that you dont agree with, you have to debate with me, judge the argument, not just because the person has a phd or has a “name”.

Finally, if a person says that they are thinkers or a philosopher or intellectual, immediately be on guard, your bullshit alert detector should be on high clanging alert. 

Ideas that are convenient, popular, and acceptable have become sacrosanct « Iterative Path

Ideas that are convenient, popular, and acceptable have become sacrosanct

13 Aug

There is incessant and increasing attack on our intellect. We are fed simple ideas based on convenient samples and bombarded with regurgitation of weak ideas extended by other popular gurus.

As Galbraith wrote first in introducing The Conventional Wisdom by John Kenneth Galbraith, ideas that are convenient, popular and acceptable have become unquestioned truths. Times may change, new fads replace old fads – but our acceptance of what is convenient, familiar and popular as sacrosanct remains the same.

We now have instant communication, huge follower-ship, everywhere connectivity. Yet these remain the channels for spreading the same type of unquestioned ideas that suffer from cognitive biases and analytical errors.

Here are some nuggets from Galbraith’s essay, see how relevant these remain to what we see in social media:

  1. On attacking ideas: Anyone who attacks such [weak, incorrect] ideas must seem to be trifle self-confident and even aggressive. The man who makes his entry by leaning against an infirm door gets an unjustified reputation for violence. Something is to be attributed to be poor state of the door.
  2. Acceptable==Truth: Audiences of all kinds most applaud what is merely acceptable. In Social Comment, the test of audience approval, far more than the test of truth, comes to influence comment. (The more an idea gets blogged about, Retweeted …)
  3. Tribe Think: Ideas come to be organized around what the community as a whole or particular audiences find acceptable. (Voting in Quora)
  4. Self-Esteem: We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self esteem. The individual knows he is not alone in his thoughts – that he has not been left behind and alone.
  5. Power of Titles and Positions: Before assuming office, he ordinarily commands no attention. But on taking up his position, he is immediately assumed to be gifted with deep insights. Think of how we treat the ideas of those have the title “author, speaker” in their Bio. What would otherwise have been labeled as commonplace advice suddenly gets anointed as “inspiring advice” or “deep insight”.

It is time to call out that the Gurus have no robes!

Monday, October 10

Your Law Firm Does Not Have Your Incentives

Dear Kannu
I really liked it yesterday when you expressed confidence in yourself with your mathematics study. That's good son, keep it up and I am proud of you. Now for the math Olympiad.... I know I am pushing you but remember that I will only be pushing you only a few times in your life, this is one of them when you get into 6th form, then when you get into uni. Just couple of times over the next 2 years. After that, you will be an adult and you can ask for help or not as you desire. So lets work on this together to make sure that you get the best possible education in the world. Then you are launched and I have full faith in you that you will do much better than your father.
But here's an interesting article which I disagree with. The basic issue that this article raises is that the hourly charging mechanism of the lawyers isnt good, they might not do much work, they might do too much work, etc. etc. But the fatal flaw in this argument is that this argument is dependent upon the unit of time. Anybody who charges by the hour, day, week, month or year can be accused of the same thing. All the points which this author raises can and will be applied to any kind of paid employment. its the hourly charge that they are concerned with. If I have hired a person for an entire year, then the same arguments apply. So not very sure whether these arguments are correct.
Selecting a lawyer is not dissimilar to selecting a doctor or an architect or engineer or what have you. These are professionals and you are basically employing them to provide you with a service. The important thing to remember is that you are the buyer and you should know what you are purchasing, why you are purchasing and how will you measure the success of the task. Its your responsibility, so whether its law, or medicine, or architecture or engineering or consulting services that you are purchasing, know the subject, know the people, ask for references, create a relationship, trust but verify their bills and never lie to your experts.
Interesting areas of life, dealing with professional firms, Son.


Your Law Firm Does Not Have Your Incentives | Spencer Greenberg

Your Law Firm Does Not Have Your Incentives
Posted on
August 15, 2011 by Spencer

If you hire a law firm, as an individual or the owner of a small business, there is a pretty good chance they will bill you by the hour. So if the work performed takes 100 hours rather than 50, you will pay them twice as much. This is reasonable from the law firm’s perspective since each one of their hours of work is about as valuable to them as every other one of their hours (holding the specific employees on the project constant). However, if we are justified in assuming that law firms are entities that can reasonably be modeled as profit maximizers, this arrangement can be problematic.

Hourly billing means that the law firm has a profit incentive to exaggerate how long work has taken. And, unless the firm is already right at capacity in terms of the work load they are able to manage, it will be advantageous for the firm to stretch out the time that your work takes so that it fills the otherwise free hours of their employees. It is easy to make a project take longer in ways that don’t feel very unethical: for example, spending extra time on formatting documents nicely, double and triple checking work, compiling cases that are unlikely to be all that relevant, or have an unnecessary meeting to further discuss the case. Parkinson’s Law may also be at play here: if a project must be completed in two weeks, there may be a tendency for it to be worked on for two weeks, regardless of how many hours it would be optimal to spend on it.

Another incentive that law firms obviously have is to avoid getting sued and to avoid looking incompetent. If they provide you with inaccurate information, or make obvious mistakes in their work, they are putting themselves at risk. You of course also don’t want inaccurate information or large mistakes in the work they hand you. But it is not necessarily the case that you care about each of these mistakes to the same degree. For instance, some errors affect them much more than you, such as irrelevant spelling errors in work that is merely intended for you to read. Such errors make the firm look bad but don’t impact the quality of the legal work. Yet a law firm may spend extra hours scrutinizing documents to eradicate such unimportant mistakes. On the other hand, other errors are far more likely to harm you than to harm the law firm, such as terms in a contract that were not what you intended, but which you would not have a strong legal case to sue the firm over.

The profit incentive of a law firm will tend to impact how its employees act, as it will incentivize upper management to put structures in place to promote this profit generation. But we can also consider what the incentives are of the individual lawyers assigned to work with you. They too have a reason to exaggerate how long work has taken. More recorded billable hours makes employees look good to bosses, and makes them appear to be more valuable employees (which for associates, may increase their chance of making partner). Some associates at top law firms don’t even bother to use timers to keep track of time billed. In such cases, you can imagine how easy it would be for them to fudge the numbers, or conveniently round up. Even workers with no intention of dishonesty may rationalize over billing, or simply have an exaggerated sense of their own productivity. When we simultaneously have a strong incentive to do X, and also to believe that we are not bad for doing X, we humans are remarkably good at coming up with reasons why X is a fine thing to do (conveniently not searching for reasons why it wouldn’t be fine). And, of course, nobody can verify how many hours were actually worked by any particular lawyer.

Whereas firms as a whole have a profit incentive to do work slowly when the firm is operating below maximum work capacity, individual lawyers have mixed incentives when it comes to doing work slowly. On the one hand, slow work increases billable hours, which makes the lawyer look good. On the other hand, being able to turn around work quickly is viewed as a virtue by bosses, and in some cases, the faster a lawyer gets her work done, the sooner she can go home at night.

Incentives aside, another challenge of hourly billing is that it can make it difficult for a client to know whether the service they are hiring a law firm for is worth the cost, since they don’t even know what the cost is going to be. Some firms will produce estimates of the time that a project will take, but these can be quite unreliable (I know of at least one case where a firm was off by a factor of more than five) and while there is little incentive to overestimate the time a project will take, underestimating it will encourage a client to work with you. Plus, even without such financial incentives, it is well-known that people tend to underestimate the time that projects will take. Remarkably, this often still holds even when people are aware that project completion times are usually underestimated!

One countervailing force to the incentive alignment problem is that law firms have to worry about reputation and getting repeat business. If they take a long time to do your work, or exaggerate the number of hours that work took, or give you bad estimates of how long future work will take, you will be less likely to hire them in the future, and may speak poorly about them to others. Unfortunately, due to the difficulty of acquiring information, this probably produces less of an incentive that many people assume. It is very hard for an outsider to estimate how long specific legal work should take, or evaluate the quality of the work done. How do you know, for instance, whether the will a law firm produced for you is a good one? Are you, as a non-lawyer, able to evaluate its quality? And if you never get sued, how do you know whether a contract you hired a firm to create truly protects your interests? For that matter, how do you know whether the 30 hours billed was a reasonable amount of time to produce that particular contract? As a non-expert, you most likely would not be able to tell from the contract itself if they had in fact only spent 25 hours working on it. Even in the seemingly easy to evaluate instance of a case that was won or lost, it is unclear what would have happened with that case if you had gone to competitors. Did you win because of your lawyer’s skill, or despite their lack of it? Did you lose because of weak performance, or because the case was very difficult? Would a competitor have achieved a better settlement, or a better plea bargain, or gotten the same result but at 80% the cost? It can be very difficult for a non-expert, non-lawyer to measure the quality of work produced by lawyers. Many issues similar to these apply to areas outside of law as well, when the person hiring lacks the ability to evaluate the quality of the product that they receive. [As some commenters have noted below, when large corporations hire law firms, they should be capable of holding these firms much more accountable than individuals are, because they have internal legal counsel with expertise in evaluating the quality of worked performed.]

What about reputation? Many people will choose a firm in part based on personal relationships, or what they happened to have heard said about that firm, or based on the firm rankings, or based on how famous the firm is. But if most individuals hiring law firms can’t evaluate the quality of the work that they are hiring firms to produce, it is not clear that firm reputation will be updated very efficiently. Does the fact that a friend of yours had a good experience working with large law firm X imply very much about that firm’s average quality? First of all, he likely only worked with a small percentage of their lawyers. Second, it is fairly likely that your friend is basing his assessment largely not on the quality of legal work produced and cost effectiveness (since these can be hard for a non-lawyer to evaluate), but softer factors like how attentive the firm was, how closely they matched his expectations of what a good lawyer seems like, and perhaps even how much he liked the people he dealt with there.

The law firm ranking systems can be problematic as well. For instance, the Vault ranking, which is one of the most commonly used, is based on the opinions of law associates. They rate firms “on a scale of 1 to 10 based on prestige” (not being allowed to rate their own firm, and being asked to not rate firms they are not familiar with). How much does this really correlate with how good or cost-effective the work of a firm is for a typical client? Somewhat, surely, but it is far from an ideal measurement. What’s more, the prestige that an associate associates with a law firm itself probably is somewhat dependent on the prior year’s vault rankings, adding circularity to the process.

Fame is a problematic measure as well. Older firms will tend to be more famous, as will ones that were involved in famous cases, and ones that appear in the news a lot. But again, this may not correlate that well with quality of service and cost effectiveness for a typical client.

There is little question that hourly billing creates misaligned incentives between you and your law firm. Project based billing (where a cost for the project is fixed in advance) fixes some of these problems, but produces new ones. With project based billing you at least know what hiring the firm will cost you, and so may be able to do a better job of estimating whether the project is worth the expense. But, in this case, firms have an incentive to get your work done in the least hours possible, since they get paid the same if it takes them 100 hours as if it takes them 200. So they may spend a less than ideal amount of time working on your project in this framework, and produce lower quality work than under the hourly billing paradigm.

When you hire a law firm, their incentives are not very well aligned with yours. You may be able to improve this problem, in some cases, by consulting with one (unbiased) lawyer about the quality and cost effectiveness of another lawyer’s work (compared to the available alternatives) before hiring the latter. Of course, the former lawyer would have to be both reliable herself, and quite familiar with the latter’s work.

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Sunday, October 9

Boredom Can Fuel Hostility Toward Outsiders - Miller-McCune

Now here is an interesting result. You haven't ever said you were bored, at least in my hearing. Which is quite interesting, son, because that in my experience is quite rare. I am also sending this to Diya because she does say she is bored. But I think i know why, at least as per this theory.
People say that when they are bored, they need stimulation. But that's wrong, its because they don't have a meaning in their lives. But you don't say you are bored, so that leads me to assume that you are self sufficient, son, and you do not need constant stimulation. So that's good. On the other hand, Diya is still growing up so she needs to develop more, read more, have more sense of herself, a better sense of purpose and then she should also be in that state.
So good to read. Also, son, you might want to think and observe your friends when they say they are bored. Try to see why they are saying so, what is their background and education. This will allow you to understand and appreciate others specially since you will be a leader or manager or CEO some day.


Boredom Can Fuel Hostility Toward Outsiders
New research explains how feelings of boredom can both strengthen solidarity within your in-group and heighten hostility toward outsiders.
By Tom Jacobs
1 Comment and 52 Reactions | PRINT | SHARE
New research suggests boredom may heighten perceived threats to the in-group, possibly leading to anger and violence. (Toby Burrows/Photodisc) Related Stories
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It’s all too easy to divide the world into people like us and outsiders. Newly published research points to a surprising factor that exacerbates this unfortunate tendency: Boredom.
Writing in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, University of Limerick psychologists Wijnand van Tilburg and Eric Igou report boredom increases the value we place on groups we feel a part of and decreases the value of those who feel alien to us. They describe five experiments that provide evidence backing up this idea.
Their basic thesis is that boredom is more than a simple lack of stimulation. Rather, they write, bored people experience their lives — or at least the situations they find themselves in at the moment — as fundamentally meaningless.
This uncomfortable feeling motivates people to search for a way to re-establish a sense of purpose — which can be a good thing. In a research released in May, van Tilburg and Igou found boredom can inspire people to engage in helpful behavior such as giving blood.
But while aiding others can provide a feeling of purpose, so can strengthening our identification with key belief systems or social groups. If your sense of meaning comes from being a Democrat, a vegetarian or a Yankees fan, you’ll likely hold onto those affiliations with greater intensity in times of threat — and be more critical of Republicans, meat-eaters or those who root for the Red Sox.
In their just-published paper, Van Tilburg and Igou argue boredom is a subtle form of threat capable of activating this “my group first” mindset.
“We first tested this hypothesis by having Irish participants indicate their preference for the Irish name Eoin over its international, more-common equivalent Owen,” they write. “Participants who had first engaged in the boring task of counting letters in sentences counted Eoin over Owen to a greater extent than Irish participants who did not engage in the boring task.”
In another experiment, 47 Irish students were assigned to complete a highly repetitive task on their computer screens. Half the participants had to perform this task for twice as long as the others, which — according to their self-reports — left them feeling bored and meaningless.
They then read a fictional scenario in which an Englishman beats up an Irishman and later admits he “was acting on anti-Irish motives.” They were asked to play the role of judge and sentence the man to jail time. The bored participants “allocated substantially more months of prison” than the others.
“These results are consistent with our hypothesis that bored people seek meaningfulness by negatively evaluating the actions of an out-group member that are targeted against an in-group member,” the researchers write.
In a related experiment, 90 residents of Ireland read either the aforementioned scenario or a revised version in which an Irishman beat up an Englishman. All were asked to sentence the offender; half took part in a highly boring task before doing so.
The bored participants “gave shorter jail sentences to Irish offenders compared to English offenders,” while the others gave out equal sentences to the two men. Boredom apparently stimulated a stronger identification for one’s own group (Irishmen, in this case), and a harsher punishment for someone who harms a member of that group.
Van Tilburg and Igou note that boredom can also trigger other responses, such as sensation-seeking. But their research suggests it can also fuel hostility, particularly “if bored people encounter settings in which intergroup tensions are salient.”
That’s worth remembering as we watch footage of unemployed young people violently clashing with perceived enemies, be they rival gangs or the authorities. Such uprisings undoubtedly have multiple causes, but perhaps we’re overlooking a surprisingly salient point: These kids are bored.