One of the most common black box of everyday life is the “price” of modern items. Companies exploit black box complexity to shroud true expense from unwary customers. Echoing points made by Scott Adams about phone pricing plans, Bob Sullivan of NBC examines this practice in his article “Death of the price tag, stolen from us too young”
“But the real problem with slain price tags comes with newfangled subscription products, where consumers slowly but surely become numb to price, and where hidden fees, huge bills and bait-and-switch teaser pricing leave buyers utterly confused. This phenomenon obviously hurts consumers, but it hurts industry too — with clear pricing, the best companies with the best products and the best value are rewarded over time. Without clear prices, companies that create the most confusion win, and honest companies slowly fade away. For an academic look at this phenomenon, read, "Shrouded Attributes, Consumer Myopia, and Information Suppression in Competitive Markets."
Justice is symbolised by the balancing of scales, and that is certainly the case when it comes to economic justice. The balance of Leadership and Management, of upside opportunity and downside threats, is a vital requirement for a healthy system. John Kay’s explores this balance in his book “The Truth About Markets” with an equal scepticism for extremes of free market or centralised planning. He advocates a fulcrum point of “disciplined pluralism” which applies beyond the supply and demand curves of macroeceonomics…
- “Pluralism matters because life is not worth living without new experiences – new people, new places, new challenges. But discipline matters too: we cannot simply treat life as a psychedelic trip through a random series of novel sensations. We must sometimes commit to what is working: to decide that hobby we are pursuing worth mastering; it’s time to write that novel, or strive for that night-school degree, or maybe to get married. Equally important sometimes we need to make the opposite kind of commitment, and decide that the toxic job and toxic boyfriend are simply not worth the amount of life they cost.”
Leaders foster pluralism, Managers foster discipline.
Embracing failure is all well and good for a range of day to day challenges, but what about the truly important stuff. The mission critical domains where famously ‘failure is not an option.’ One would likely start such a list with safety and security services. And that ethos certainly pervades institutions chartered with such essential duties. But even there, as the piece “Embracing Failure – Lessons for Court Managers” by Greg Berman and Aubrey Fox cross-examines, there is big potential benefit to a more resilient attitude…
- “Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske [points] to the unique pressure that criminal justice agencies are under to deliver results. ‘I don’t see anyone out there saying, ‘We tried this, it didn’t really work out, but here’s what we learned. Even good people doing good things can fall into failure traps, however.’ For example, in order to gain support for their programs, reformers at times promise results they cannot reasonably expect to achieve. When programs fail to reach these inflated goals, they set themselves up for failure. The importance of setting modest expectations was underscored by noted criminologist Joan Petersilia, who remarked on the ‘long history of over-promising and under-delivering that has contributed to the constant pendulum swings in punishment practices.’ As she puts it, ‘There’s nothing in our history of over 100 years of reform that says that we know how to reduce recidivism by more than 15 or 20 percent.’ She went on, ‘My sense is that we have not been publicly forthcoming because we’ve assumed that we would not win public support with modest results.’”
“You can’t dance and stay uptight.” – Dancing in the Moonlight
And some people bring their own spoonful of sugar right into their everyday work chores…
So many people spend their time moaning about chores. They try to slog through them with as little effort or engagement as possible with a “let’s get this over with” attitude. I applaud Virgin America’s latest innovation which takes one of the most pedestrian and tedious parts of air travel and makes it quite remark-able…the safety briefing.
Actually, Virgin Atlantic pioneered the creative twist on safety videos with their animated version that others like BA quickly imitated. Which just goes to show you – don’t worry about people copying your best old ideas…you can come up with even better new ones.
It is the Mary Poppins’ Attitude to drudgery – “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down in the most delightful way.” Just the right touch of creativity, imagination or positivity makes the most dreary task cheery.
Happy Anniversary to Me. 8 years on and still blogging.
A few snapshot stats for this digital pastime…
- Posts – 888
- Pages Posted – 874
- Pages Drafted – 105
Those are just for this site ‘Leadership and Management / Turning Adversity to Advantage’. My efforts here led to subsequent writing on 70-20-10, Dynamic Work, and the most popular, Maldives Complete.
Coincidentally, I have posted ‘888’ items. According to the Chinese, “8” is a very lucky number. A prominent gambling site has even taken the name “888.com” as a nod to this auspicious count (it is also a strobogrammatic number – reads the same upside down as right side up). I think I will celebrate today by buying a lottery ticket.
The veil of authenticity in financial models is not just the by-product of hyper-active rocket-scientists’ spreadsheets. Instead, it extends right down to the most fundamental component of finance and our society…money itself.
One of the skills that sets humans apart from animals is our ability for abstraction. To conceive of something as a model or principle outside of the physical world fuels our ability to create and invent. But the animal in us (our ‘lizard brain’) still finds the physical world much, much easier to comprehend and fathom. Understanding built on the senses and experience. Perhaps the first thing ever ‘abstracted’ is ‘value’ or ‘money’.
Virtualising value introduced massive economic benefits. If you wanted to trade a chicken for a pig, you didn’t have to lug the chicken and pig around. You could ‘store’ the value (more safely than the chicken or an apple with a limited shelf life). But the trick to getting everyone’s head around this first step to virtualisation was the ‘money’ itself. Coin of the realm. Legal tender. Physical tokens which made the mapping of the ‘value representation’ to the ‘value thing’ easier. You might not have a chicken in your hands, but you had a piece of metal or paper which was still physical.
And now even that value is becoming more ‘virtual’. Less a physical token, than a balance on a card or credits in an account. A number in a computer. This approach has great benefit in convenience and versatility…but it is also the coming of age of the Black Boxification of Money.
The lack of an appreciation for what money is and isn’t under the hood lends itself to abuse of this powerful tool. In a process not to dissimilar to snake-oil salespeople exploiting the power of science (the workings underneath that their marks don’t properly understand) to hawk their quack potions…
- “I think Greed and Wall Street have been bedfellows as long as Wall Street has existed. What, I think, is new is the way the ‘pathology’ is concealed. It is easy to cover up greed and its immorality by either deploying a metaphor – these are the way the capital ‘flows’ are going and we have to invest accordingly – or by creating a mathematical equation. In both cases the activity is pushed one step away from what it is – an activity between humans – and so decoupled from anything human such as morality, or ethics or what is good for society. By being denuded of its human element, scientised, as it were, the question of personal responsibility is removed. In other words, the greed is not new. It is the sophistication of the cover up that is new.”
The abstraction not only divorces the token from its inherent ‘value’, but it then ultimate starts to alienate it from ‘values’.