ITHCWY: Robert Ellison's Blog

The Harvard Business Review Fallacy

A typical Harvard Business Review two by two grid where it's easy to guess the good quadrant

Every Harvard Business Review article worth it’s salt boils some complex problem down to a two by two grid. Usually something like awesomeness and profitability:

Being non-profitable and not awesome is no fun. Awesomeness without profitability might work for some organizations. Being profitable but not awesome for others. But the place to be is awesome and profitable!

With this bracing insight the authors will cherry pick some companies that match the upper-right hand quadrant and tediously stretch their turpid insight out to book length.

In reality this is a false dilemma (or technically a false tetralemma, but that’s an awkward phrase so I prefer the HBR fallacy instead).

My favorite example is Pascal’s Wager. This is a typical HBR two by two grid based on belief in God and the existence of God.

  1. Don’t believe / No God, you’re fine (meh).

  2. Don’t believe / God, go to Hell (infinite punishment).

  3. Believe / No God, you’re fine (meh).

  4. Believe / God, go to Heaven (infinite reward).

You only have one rational choice here says Pascal.

There is a lot wrong with this argument, but the wrongest thing is the HBR fallacy. There are infinitely many possible Gods with infinitely many good and bad outcomes. You might be living in a universe where the only God is the God of the Thargoids. The one real God might send you to Heaven only if you kill a gopher every Wednesday.

Nobody is going to open any doors and show you any goats.

Risky

Risky

The World Economic Forum has published a risk/reward matrix for 12 key "emerging" technologies. You'd think this would be pretty good, because:

"The report’s conclusions on risk are heavily based on its Global Risks Perception Survey, which gathers the opinions of the World Economic Forum’s multi-stakeholder communities of leaders from business, government, academia and nongovernmental and international organizations. Members of the Institute of Risk Management are also consulted."

For some reason IoT devices are the second highest risk. Ahead of biotechnology (we're all dead from an engineered virus), nanomaterials (we're all dead because we're now gray goo) and space technologies (we're all dead because we provoked a violent alien civilization).

The least benefit comes from Geoengineering. Because with Trump in power I'm sure we're going to solve Global Warming via emission cuts. There is apparently more benefit in Virtual Reality and even more in 3D Printing.

(Image from World Economic Forum)

Where did that app icon go, Android?

Where did that app icon go, Android?

As much as I’m looking forward to Daydream VR and trying to train my Google Assistant to swear there is one big problem left with Android that Mountain View should tackle first.

Where the fuck did my icon go Android?

Every so often when I update apps an icon is missing from my home screen. It’s one of sixteen apps that I use frequently enough to have pinned there but I can’t remember what it was until my muscle memory sends my finger flying to the empty square an hour or day later. Until then I’m distracted and can’t focus and scroll helplessly through the recently updated list in Google Play trying to figure out which of the updates is the culprit.

It’s not the first time I’ve been through this so I took a screenshot of my home screen just so I could not go through this again. But Google Photos backed it up and deleted it to save space so it’s somewhere in Drive that I can’t find doing me no good at all. When I figure this out I’m going to borrow my daughter’s instax and keep a hard copy in my wallet.

Google booking me a restaurant and a babysitter at a whim won’t save the time I lose to hunting down missing apps.

It might be fixed in Nougat but I can’t update for an unknown number of months because of device/carrier/manufacturer fragmentation so that’s still Google’s fault.

I have been a HTC loyalist so maybe it’s Sense and not Android in which case sorry Google, I should get mad at HTC instead.

I’m pretty sure it was Goodreads.

Methyl L-α-aspartyl-L-fucking-phenylalaninate

Methyl L-α-aspartyl-L-fucking-phenylalaninate

Every time I go back to the UK now I experience some sort of culture shock. A couple of years ago it was the matryoshka of Marks & Spencers. This trip, post-Brexit, I was expecting a J.G. Ballard style post-apocalyptic wasteland. But it was even worse - it's nearly impossible to buy tonic water without sweetener.

I'm unlucky (or maybe lucky) enough to be sensitive to aspartame and anything made with the stuff tastes foul to me. I can no longer have a gin and tonic in a pub because the full-fat tonic is as tainted as the diet stuff. It's not just tonic water, many other drinks are laced with the stuff. And kids in the UK now live on Fruit Shoots which are short on fruit and long on chemical warfare.

Is this some sneaky anti-obesity move I haven't read about? More likely the vile artificial stuff is just cheaper than actual sugar and it's a cost saving measure.

Oh, and I saw a crew of motorway workers washing traffic cones. In the rain.

Meeting Defragmenter

Meeting Defragmenter

Screw Holacracy, I have an idea that will revolutionize business and drive the next wave of global productivity gains. It’s a simple question of fixing meetings.

My dream week is one where I have two miserable days with back to back meetings and forget lunch, there isn’t even enough time to grab a coffee. Sound miserable? The upside is three uninterrupted days where I can cruise through a ridiculous amount of work.

My real week - meetings dotted throughout each day with half hour breaks in between. And many of these meetings will involve eighteen people shoehorned into a closet because someone booked the big room for a 1:1.

We need a meeting defragmenter.

Let go of picking a time and a room. Just say who you need to meet with and for how long. The meeting defragmenter will pick the best room and group all meetings as close together as possible with a five minute break in between.

Your company can decide if you prefer to load mornings or afternoons, or maybe Mondays and Thursdays. You can set core hours for each team.

Information workers take around twenty minutes to enter a state of flow which is where you need to be to write great code, conduct awe-inspiring analysis or generally do anything of value to your company. A half hour gap in between meetings is just enough time to get back to your desk, dismiss unwelcome interruptions, start to get into a state of mind to tackle some real work and then realize it’s time for another meeting.

Giving more people more blocks of useful time would be an incalculable benefit to their mental health, their businesses and the global economy. This one simple tool could change the world.

As usual if any of my billionaire investor readers are interested, call me.

(Previously)

Goodreads Feature Request

Goodreads Feature Request

Goodreads needs a shelf called "currently-reading-but-if-i'm-honest-will-never-finish". On this shelf I will put Infinite Jest.

The real reason Americans don't have passports

The real reason Americans don't have passports

Less than half of Americans have passports compared to around 75% in the UK. Brits often use this statistic to mock Americans for being uncurious provincial stay-at-homes.

I've always felt this was unfair though. As an American you might have visited all 50 states, all of the National Parks and maybe thrown in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico without having ever bothered with a fully fledged passport.

A Brit on the other hand might have spent a few days eating fish and chips at a British pub in Benidorm and is suddenly a sophisticated world traveler. I don't think so. There is simply more to see and experience in the US without needing to cross a border.

After I moved to America I realized that maybe there was another reason. Americans for some reason don't bother taking vacations. You get massively less vacation time over here and even then a huge number of people don't even manage to take off their paltry few days. There is no effective way to have a holiday overseas if you never take a holiday.

Now I realize that neither of these factors is as important as the United States Postal Service if you have a kid.

In the UK to get a passport you mail in an application and get back a passport. It's pretty easy. Even for children.

In the US you need to go to a Passport Acceptance Facility and that probably means a post office. There is a handy website that lists the 10 closest facilities together with their phone numbers so you can call to make an appointment. These phone numbers are not answered. It's less like a basic government service and more like trying to bag a ticket to Glastonbury.

I gave up and delegated to Fancy Hands (a personal assistant service). They have spent two days on the phone trying and failing to get an appointment.

I was going to do my best to vote my principles this year but at this point any presidential candidate who would force USPS to put in a web scheduling system might just get my vote.

Updated 2016-04-18 23:23:

After I posted this a friend pointed me at the United States Digital Service (via this Ted Video) and basically said why bitch and moan when you could help fix it. Which I don't have a great answer to. Except this.

OAuth

We'd probably be living in a post-scarcity Star Trek / Culture style universe happily working on self-actualization if we didn't have to spend so much time fucking around with OAuth.

(Previously)

Got It

Got It irritating me on Facebook

When I run an app or launch a website it's generally because I've got some task to complete and a few free minutes to try and complete it.

Let's take Facebook for example. I want to quickly scan through to see which of my friends are sharing anodyne inspirational quotes superimposed over stock photography and silently judge them.

Facebook picks this moment to let me know about a new feature that will display previously unshared photos and videos to try and get me to share them. I'm instantly pissed off because of the unwelcome cognitive load and then I realize that the whole app has frozen. In fact every time I load Facebook at the moment it just hangs until I give up and do something else.

This is probably because one of my daughters has the endearing habit of shooting hour long 4K videos of the floor. The poor app is probably innocently trying to grab a couple of thumbnails and instead getting an object lesson in the halting problem. I'm sure this will eventually get fixed and it's not even the root cause of my current fury.

Got It irritating me on the Londonist

Got It

My only option is to click Got It. This chirpy little phrase is slowly infesting every corner of interaction design. It seems relatively innocuous at first but let's unpick it a little.

Generally Got It signals that something has been added to an app or site that the designer feels is important enough that they need to let me know about it.

This is almost always going to be bad news. Probably the way I complete my task has changed and I'm going to have to learn the new way. Maybe there has been a complete redesign and the use I had for the app was considered an edge case and has been removed. It could be that for legal reasons I need to be told that some new previously unpillaged corner of my privacy needs to be violated.

I'm immediately in a bad frame of mind when I see Got It.

Also there is rarely a Don't Got It or  Don't Want It link. Got It is a sign that something is being forced on you and the happy language is an implicit forced value judgement that you've both fully comprehended the change and that you wholeheartedly agree with it.

It probably feels cute to designers that come up with this. After all, a whole team has probably toiled for weeks if not months to come up with a new way to cause my phone to hang. They really want me to use it. But you're not putting yourself in my shoes. I rarely care and usually you're making my day fractionally less enjoyable and the design should be about me and not you.

Got It irritating me on YouTube

I miss OK. It's less loaded. I'm OK with dealing with whatever you're inflicting on me. It's not as good as OK / Cancel but sometimes OK is about the best you can expect.

I just don't Got It.

(Previously)

Correlation is not causation but...

Correlation is not causation but...