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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. 😉

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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 Print on Demand Books December 5, 2011

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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Being a published author has never been easier. I found a recent column in Wired that describes self-publishing and print on demand books. Wikipedia defines self-publishing when the author of a work publishes it without use of a third party publisher. Popular self-publishing sites include Lulu , Self-Publishing  and Instant Publisher.

In the near future, when we are all published authors, the phrase will morph from ‘Read any good books lately?‘ to ‘Published any good books lately?‘  Print on demand publishing will fill a niche in the long tail. These books will expand the range of topics published and the quality of writing will vary greatly. It was the best of times, it was a dark and stormy night all in the same volume.

Being able to print books on demand will drive publishing in new directions. Will there be a future best-seller that collects commentary via SMS text messages? A limited print quantity of poems solely containing acronyms? A collection of Tweets with a certain hashtag that captures a unique moment in time? Or, a self-published commentary to supplement online videos about dropping mentos into liters of coke? Self-published authors will routinely promote these as part of the future common multi-media experience.

Around the time the term ‘paper-less office’ was introduced during the rise of PC in the office, the movie Ghostbusters came out and one of the characters states that ‘print is dead‘. Both are wrong. In the case with print on demand or self-publishing, the truth is stranger than fiction.

When you publish your book, let me know and I will do the same.

Don’t judge a book by its’ cover when you can peek inside October 5, 2010

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Grab Bag, Trends.
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You’ve heard the cliche about book covers and what is inside. To remove all doubts and really determine what a book is about, you have to look inside. A common design goal for the cover image is to reflect what the book is about. After all, to paraphrase another cliche, a picture is worth at least a few words. Yet, the cover does not always depict the contents inside. I have seen too many business books that do not lend themselves to useful imagery.

The major e-tailers selling books include several ways to not only look inside, but also, interact with the content. Using a book I bought after looking inside (my review), here are various ways this experience is provided:


Not to be outdone, book publishers also offer ways to glimpse inside. Over at Harper Collins, you can even read multiple pages. They provide an interesting embedd badge to easily leverage books from their catalog. Here is a soon to be released offering from the well known writer, Elmore Leonard.


Browse Inside this book
Get this for your site

This image accurately relates to the content. It easily invokes potential content ideas that are contained inside. This ‘browse inside’ embedd gives away content that is easily leveraged by other sites. I assume that somewhere there is a hook to track usage. The data collected would include title, author, ISBN and other related information as part of the tally. This re-use feature can be a competitive advantage for publishers as a key differentiator for sales. The related data analysis may provide insight into trend behavior and reveal new opportunities to drive sales.

Each cliche has a grain of truth and now we can judge a book not only by its cover but also by what’s inside.

How have you taken advantage of this preview? Has it changed the way you judge books?

Read any good eBooks lately? July 1, 2010

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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A recent promotion by a well known national bookseller offered ‘5 free eBooks in 5 weeks’. They chose a title and each week, you obtained a voucher to download the book gratis, of course. To obtain the voucher,  you had to show proof of a e-reader on your phone, PDA or laptop. The company didn’t care which e-reader as long as you had one. Going through the process for the 1st title, I dutifully brought my laptop to the store. I was ready to show the own branded reader installed on my machine.

eBook Promotion

They did ask, I happily showed their reader and I obtained the voucher. So far, so good. I then attempted to complete the download process. I was prompted for a ‘verification code’. Code? What do you mean by this code? Did I miss something on the voucher? No, no verification there. A quick call to Customer Service resolved this code business. Turns out ‘verification code’ is way of saying credit card used on the account.

My 1st eBook reading commenced. Content navigation using their reader is OK with options to view in full screen mode, two page view, highlighting in several colors, insert bookmarks and write notes. That last feature is nice – I take notes on books I read to keep the salient point close by for later review. Another viewing features provided is an auto-scroll. That takes some getting used to – not sold on that one yet. There is also a full screen view which I liked best. Switching to that view from the regular two page view was a little confusing as switching view caused the pages to be re-numbered.  Part of the transition to digital format, I guess. I would have expected page numbers to be static, regardless of viewing format. This changed my navigation as I could not simply go to page XX; instead I used the bookmarks.

Each subsequent week during the promotion, the voucher process (no proof required), downloading and verifying was straight forward.  Each download was quick and the eBook includes a personal note with ‘From the library of’ . My eBook library was filling up. I expected a follow-up survey from the bookseller for either Customer Satisfaction or to obtain Voice of the Customer (VOC) type feedback. No invites via email yet (hint, hint). Maybe the goal was to distribute the vouchers. Or, they can monitor traffic views in the eBook library growth among the titles selected. An opportunity to connect and engage with their customers missed.

EBook reading via the laptop took a little getting used to. Minor drawbacks include eye strain on several occasions, pages re-numbered, portability and comfort not the same as with a physical book. Positives include always having access to your notes, taking your library with you, having multiple books open, an auto-scroll to let the content crawl by (also, controls provided to manage scroll rate, size), hotlinks within the book and highlighting in different colors.

As we mature in the digital age, I expect to use eBooks more often going forward.  The eBook experience will improve with use of color, images and hotlinks. I will wait and see what eBook 2.0 looks like. At this time, I prefer the experience with hard copy books. I am more focused, retain more and enjoy turning pages as I read.

I’m looking to build up my eBook library. What  eBooks have you read and would recommend?