Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Starting with bad data

I found an article about cybercrime at Wired.com an it included the following:

It's been estimated that last year alone cyber criminals stole intellectual property from businesses worldwide worth up to $1 trillion," said President Obama in his first major address on cybersecurity, back on May 30, 2009. "In short, America's economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity."

$1 trillion is an impressively large, perfectly round number. The only trouble is, it's not correct. McAfee, the very organization that came up with the original estimate, announced Monday that the actual and extrapolated losses from online espionage, hacking, and cybercrime probably fall closer to $100 billion--one-tenth of the original figure. That's less than 1% of the U.S. GDP and in line with other minor costs of doing business, like losses from employee "pilferage." That's the cost to both businesses and governments combined, by the way.

Of course the press is not giving the corrected numbers the same play they gave that beautiful 1 trillion number. After all, corrections are not exciting or sexy and 100 billion just doesn’t have the same eye catching punch as that $1 trillion.

The tag line from the article made the whole thing worth reading:

One thing is clear, though: It's hard to make good policy when you start with bad data.

Might this be a key to the largest problems we face now, the misinterpretation of all that data floating around out there?

Saturday, July 20, 2013


In reading The Start-up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha I noted their misunderstanding of how linking and separation in human networks operate. This shocked me since Hoffman is a cofounder of Linkedin, an online business-networking site!

What did they miss?

In the book, they describes why two or three degrees of separation and not 6 is the critical number since there is only one person between you as the initiator and your target. That is, you know the person you would like to talk to or at most you know someone who both knows you and the person you’d like to meet.

Perhaps target is a poor choice of label but in any communication you have one party sending information and another receiving. The receiver is what I am labeling a target. The authors contention is that two to three people is the most effective linking since either you or your target are known to each other or to the person in the middle.

The fallacy is that the model the authors used in their book is that it presumes a cooperative system. In a cooperative system both the initiator and the target are actively attempting to achieve and maintain communication. When you are trying to gain an introduction to someone you have never personally met you are in a non-cooperative system. A non-cooperative system is one in which the target is rejecting connections. If the target was actively seeking connections, you would not need any intermediate steps to connect, you could just contact them directly. Their contact information, email and phone numbers would be readily available to the public at large.

The fact that the email address is not readily available and there are one or more buffers blocking telephone calls and face-to-face meetings is a clear indication of a non-cooperative system. Where you are introduced by a mutual connection (no matter the number of degrees of separation) the target is using your mutual connections as that buffer or filter to help limit the interruption caused by unsolicited contacts.

Even people who attend some function expressly for the purpose of networking and meeting new people use the limited attendance of the function as a buffer to limit the number of contacts. Not because they are rejecting any specific contact but to keep from being overwhelmed by an unlimited number of new connections.

When you attempt to make your target a new node in your network, that person must first be open to a new connection. When you are trying to get noticed by a hiring manager, while they are actively looking for someone to fill the opening, that hiring manager is trying to limit or filter the applications to reduce their workload in screening for the eventual new employee.

The true value of an introduction is that the person making the introduction is a “trusted source” who your target has already accepted into their communications chain and the hope is that you can by-pass the other filters the hiring manger has in place that would normally reject your attempt to communicate.

The problem, of course, is that your direct contact is spending their credibility with their direct contact, the one you are asking for an introduction to. While introducing a friend at a social event is low risk – if the introduced pair don’t hit it off there is little risk of you losing either friend – introducing a prospective employee is high risk!

If the friend you recommended is not a good candidate, the person you introduced them to might limit your contact in the future and you don’t want to loose or damage you own ability to call on your friend in the future.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Expert or Manager?

You can have high specific knowledge or high general knowledge but not both! This is where the stereotype of the “geek” comes from: lots of smarts in one area but not so much in the rest.

At work this translates into a worker who has strong focused skills in a narrow area OR a generalist who understand your entire business and has the ability to balance the competing demands but little expertise in any single area.

While it’s true that many (most?) senior managers were first experts in some narrow aspect of business the higher they go in management the less time they have available to maintaining their “specialist” credentials. While they are losing their place as a single subject matter expert they are gaining that broad view so necessary for a senior manager.

The problems are caused by either the manager’s failure to recognize his own shifting area of expertise ~ from a narrow specialty to the broad overview ~ or from his bosses failure to recognize the same thing! Beyond first level lead positions no one can effectively manage a team and still be responsible for personal production. A manager has to be free to concentrate on management while the specialist has to be free to produce whatever their specialty is.

The hardest transition for the new manager is to remember that they are not the subject matter expert any more and that they now have to trust someone else’s judgment about that highly technical decision.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The 4th of July

Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies, in addition to various other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States. Independence Day is the National Day of the United States.

So Happy Birthday to the United States of America!