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Ramblings on Fast and Slow Thinking February 29, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Behavior.
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I am currently reading a book about how we think. The recently published book is titled “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and was written by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. From the book, I want to illustrate what psychologists call ‘System 1‘ and ‘System 2‘. These two systems control our thoughts and reactions in ways I find very interesting.

Briefly, each system can be described as :

System 1 – Fast. Automatic, intuitive and quick with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. Detects simple relations. If we are uncomfortable and unhappy, we lose touch with our intuition.
Some examples of what System 1 does automatically :

  • Detect that one object is more distant than the other.
  • Orient to the source of a sudden sound.
  • Detect hostility in a voice.

System 2 – Slow. Follows rules. Deals with the mental activities that demand attention. Performs complex computations and is associated with subjective experience. Monitor and control the thoughts and actions that are suggested by System 1. Allows some of those to be expressed in behavior and suppresses or modifies others.
Examples of System 2 in action :

  • Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room.
  • Search memory to identify a surprising sound.
  • Tell someone your phone number.

To illustrate how the two systems work, consider the following puzzle :

A baseball and bat together cost $1.10.

The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

Instantly, you think of a number. As Kahneman writes, “The number, of course, is 10… The distinctive mark of this puzzle is that it evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing and wrong.” This is System 1 in action.
He explains that “If the ball cost 10 cents, then the total cost would be $1.20… not $1.10.”

With a bit of effort, System 2 shows what the answer is. The ball cost $.05. If you were able to resist the intuitive response, you determined the correct answer.

This is a great illustration of the two systems working. Kahneman describes it as “…our tendency to answer questions with the first answer that comes to mind.”

System 2 is lazy. It can work out an answer but defers to System 1. The book expands on how each system works and their interactions.  Other topics Kahneman cover include biases, choices and overconfidence.  I’m still reading, and learning from, this book. I look forward to further insight about our thought process and how it influences our choices. As I can, I will share other learnings on topics along with my thoughts in a future post.

Until then, keep thinking. Fast, and slow. 😉

Ramblings on Risk Assessment and Projects February 22, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Project Management.
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Behaviorial studies prove we have a natural tendency to avoid risk. I want to refer again to Malcolm Gladwell  and present the following scenario. You have $300.00 and are presented with 2 choices.

  • A) You can receive another $100.00 or
  • B) Toss a coin and if you win, you get $200.00. If you lose, you get nothing.

Most people prefer A. They tend to go for the sure thing and avoid the 50% risk of getting nothing. Even though there is the potential to get 2X if you win.

Now consider this scenario. You now have $500.00 and have 2 choices.

  • C) Give up $100.00 or
  • D) toss a coin and pay $200.00 if you lose. If you win, you pay nothing.

All the choices (A,B,C,D) have equal probabilities. In his New Yorker column, Gladwell wrote “… we have strong preferences among them. Why? Because we’re more willing to gamble when it comes to losses, but are risk averse when it comes to our gains. That’s why we like small daily winnings in the stock market, even if that requires that we risk losing everything in a crash.” (Ed. Note – emphasis added)

Assessing the severity of a risk happening (or, not happening) is a key skill for project managers.  When evaluating a risk on a project, be aware of the bias to gamble on the loss rather than the gain. We look for ways to mitigate risks.  When a risk does happen, it creates chaos, can jeopardize a project and requires additional work to resolve. Communicating with your team, stakeholders and client(s) is crucial during this time. As a project manager, you must identify and define potential solutions (among them – do nothing). Some events are  ‘acceptable risks’. Typically, the sponsor(s) and stakeholders will determine what is or is not acceptable. Depending on the situation and the client, they may also determine what is acceptable.

Have you noticed how you are risk averse? What are effective risk management strategies you use?

February 20, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends, User Experience.
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Short piece on how the mobile User Experience (UX) is improving. I expect a ripple effect seen also on web sites and also software apps. Here is a iteration data point in interface design. Note the mention of the both Agile and Lean UX. Short, quick cycles to release incremental improvements in a clean, straight forward interface.


With its new iOS app, Clear, Realmac Software has taken the “less is more” axiom to its ultimate conclusion. The Clear app puts a new spin on the common to-do list by enriching it with a playful perception of depth, dynamic transitions and crisp audio feedback, all wrapped under a minimalistic visual language and shallow navigation.

Is this “less is more” approach revolutionary? Nope. Evolutionary? Absolutely.

As designers, we admire Clear’s UI, and we think it ties into some trends we’re watching here at Fjord (a digital service design agency). We’re betting that we will see more of this stripped down approach in the near future thanks to three big industry trends:

1.   A “mobile first” approach to features

The small-screen real estate of mobile devices has forced companies to scale down the bells and whistles and extraneous content afforded by the web, prioritizing features and services that make the most impact for…

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Ruminations on SONY trying to make a quick buck off Whitney Houston’s death February 14, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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Many of her fans will mourn Whitney’s untimely death by enjoying her music. But, to do so, SONY has raised prices on her existing albums. I think the back story here involves someone taking initiative as a business opportunity followed by a quick retraction by their boss. Fear of consumer backlash may also have trumped any moral re-assessment to get a few extra dollars. Perhaps, SONY will donate those funds to a charity in her name as a good will gesture….hint, hint.

Rambling on Solving Problems – Puzzle vs. Mystery February 13, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Behavior, Grab Bag.
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Information workers are used to solving problems. Approaches can vary to determine a viable solution and can be bound by many constraints. Resources, budget, timing are among typical real world constraints. I read an column from the author and New Yorker columnist, Malcolm Gladwell, that talks about problem solving. Essentially, they can be thought of either one of two possible types : a puzzle or a mystery.

The article was published by the New Yorker in 2007 and is titled ‘Open Secrets‘ covers multiple topics. The article is part of a collection included in the book “What the Dog Saw” and talks about the Enron financial debacle, hunting for Saddam Hussein, analyzing Nazi propaganda and techniques for cancer diagnosis. As an information worker, what caught my attention the most was the distinction between a puzzle and a mystery.

As Gladwell states it, the difference between a puzzle and mystery are shown below along with my comments.

Puzzles are “transmitter-dependent”; they turn on what we are told.

For each puzzle, the information source controls what (and, how) we are told. Completing the puzzle is possible if we are given accurate and sufficient information. The information source may withhold data that can inhibit solving the problem.

Mysteries are “receiver dependent”; they turn on the skills of the listener…

The skills you (and, others) bring to solving the problem then determine if you can devise a solution. All the information is provided but you must be able to logically, sensibly decipher it.  There is a related issue withe the amount of data provided here. Gladwell argues that we can become saturated with data; too much data is a bad thing. 

There is also a  danger for information workers here with the scenario of analysis-paralysis.  Looking at so much information that we got lost in what is important vs. trivial and inhibits progressing to a solution.

I have read all of Gladwell’s books. His insights help me think outside the box. As an information worker, I will look for ways to assess if I am dealing with a mystery of a puzzle. I think I prefer mysteries; I know I don’t enjoy puzzles.

If you can assess what problem type you have, it may drive your approach to a solution accordingly. Part of the assessment then will include things like :

  1. Do you have enough information?
  2. How do you know?
  3. Is your data source credible?
  4. Do I have the correct skill(s) for this problem?
  5. What resource(s) are available to assist me?

I hope my ramblings lead you to insights on problem solving.

Is this a puzzle or a mystery to you? Comments invited!

Ramblings on Super Bowl Ads – My top 5 February 7, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Grab Bag, Trends.
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The Super Bowl game was enjoyable for many reasons. As a admitted Giants fan, one of the best reasons was that my team won. Another reason is the commercials are something to look forward to. It is well known that the Super Bowl has a lot of viewers (100M+ for this year). To take advantage of this large captive audience, advertisers step up their game and showcase some of their best, riskiest and most creative commercials.

Here are my top 5 shown during the game :

Acura NSX Transactions with Jerry Seinfeld. What lengths some people go to for a car and to have the first one.

Doritos Sling Baby – Shows that good guys win and easily overcome a bully. Score one for baby and GrandMa.

Chevy Silverado 2012 – So this truck can survive anything, and apparently, so can Twinkies. What also surprised me was the direct mention (as a dis) of a major domestic competitor.

Cars.com and the ‘neck’ – Get those keys and Go! Now that’s funny. Some much for being cool and rational when buying a car. I laughed the most at this one. We all have had that irrational, go-for-it inner voice at some point.
M&M ‘Just My Shell’ – Oh, that kind of party. Once again shows what happens when you assume.

Advertising Age has captured all the ads via this link. You can watch my favorites and yours after the jump.

February 7, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Grab Bag, Trends.
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During the recent (and, tremendous) SuperBowl, there was a lot of social media activity. Here is a good post from my friend and fellow Giants fan (and, Jersey alum) that summarizes topics discussed online – a record number of tweets among them. Note – I was unplugged during the game also.

Arthur Catalanello Consulting

Did you watch Super Bowl XLVI?  As a fan of the New York Giants, I was certainly glued to the television until the very last play.  The game set records not only for television viewership, but for social media activity as well.

Being in the marketing industry, I’ve always paid close attention to the advertising during the game.  As social media integration and proliferation continues to increase, it was interesting to see how it changed the advertising this year.  The biggest change I noticed was how many of the ads were “leaked” in advance.  This helped generate buzz and social media conversations ahead of, during, and after the game.  But, the big question is, did it work?

According to analysis reported in Advertising Age, here are the top 10 according to the quantity of social media comments generated:

Super Bowl XLVI Top Commercials by Social Media Comments

My personal observation is that most of the pre-event social media buzz on Super…

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Football Ruminations – Ready for the big game? February 3, 2012

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Grab Bag.
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The biggest game in the NFL season is set for this Sunday. Who’s ready for championship football?  This Super Bowl (46 and counting) is a re-match between the two teams that played for the championship 4 years ago. In SB XLII (42), the surprise winner was the underdog New York Giants. The result of that game was an amazing upset of the previously un-beaten New England Patriots. I found a recent article from the New York Times that reflects on that game and talks about the difference between destiny and opportunity. The win by the Giants ended the Patriots bid to become only the 2nd team in football history to go unbeaten the entire season. That feat is still solely owned by the 1972 Miami Dolphins team.

One of the best part of being a fan is seeing your team play for, and win, the championship game. As a lifelong Giants fan, I am naturally biased for the Giants to win on Sunday.

This year, the Giants are once again the underdog, by 3 points. The team relishes their underdog role even though they beat the Patrios in the initial SuperBowl meeting four years ago. They also came from behind to beat the Patriots in the regular season this year. As professionals, they realize those games are in the past and they are focused on Sunday.

The hype media machine has been running for the last two weeks. Traditional media has provided the back story from every angle imaginable for the game. Social Media enables fans and non-fans to review and add to the hype. The hype will continue leading up to, and, during the game. The hype continues next week with  post-game analysis from pundits and fans as well.

I  hope they talk about destiny and opportunity again. And, how the Giants fulfilled theirs and took advantage of the opportunity they earned and found a way to overcome adversity and beat the Patriots again.

To answer my own question, Yes, I am ready for the game. I expect the Giants are ready also.

Go Giants!!!