Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Amish

Intriguing show on PBS - American Experience last night on the Amish. I think it would have been interesting anyway, but the coincidence of watching it while keeping an eye on the GOP primaries was surreal. Having kids pulled out of school after eighth grade... the submission of women... the rejection of modernity... the absolute confidence in their views... the irrationality!

And then there was the show on the Amish.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Academy Award

I confess to being inordinately pleased with myself. You see, I don't generally watch movies and almost never go to the theater. I have trouble sitting still that long. But I made an exception last week. The Artist was playing at the Roseway Theater, just a short walk from our house. Sally and I strolled over and enjoyed the film. We didn't know we were watching an Oscar favorite.

A few days after our viewing, articles began appearing in the news touting The Artist as the best picture favorite. I had my fingers crossed. On Sunday evening it all came together. The Artist won five awards, including best picture, best actor, and best director. I'm nominating myself for the "Best decision to walk to the neighborhood theater to see my one movie per year" award.

What? ME? I WON?

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

What do you mean I have to share the statue with Sally?

Friday, February 24, 2012

On Sleeping Eight Hours

I just read about a study that questions the normalcy of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. The gist of the article was that references to "first sleep" and the like were common in the past. The argument is that our species more naturally sleeps for four hours, is awake two, and then sleeps four more hours.

This would explain the common experience of staring at the ceiling at 2:00 a.m. wondering how we're going to pay the mortgage, or why I took the job, or how clever web-based thieves are stealing all our money from the bank at this very moment. Apparently I would be better off getting up and doing something rather than trying to sleep during that period. Sounds good, as long as I'm allowed to adjust my alarm clock for the two additional hours I need on the far end.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why do corporations make stupid decisions?

Amidst the ups and downs of the GOP primary process, a dominant news story this first week of February has been a really stupid corporate decision.

  • The Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure announced it would bar Planned Parenthood from receiving grants for breast cancer screening, and then reversed that decision amidst an amazing outburst of protest toward Komen and support for PP. The damage to Komen's reputation will likely be long-lasting.
There have been other recent, stupid moves:

  • Late last summer Netflix announced a new pricing policy that would have doubled the price of their service for us, and then created a new entity named Qwikster to handle DVD mail-based films. Netflix would continue as an on-line streaming movie service. The public outcry brought about the death of Qwikster before it was launched, and huge losses of subscribers (including me).

  • Wells Fargo was one of several banks that announced monthly debit card fees last summer. The fees never materialized, again because of tremendous negative reaction.

Analysis of these stories has focused on the power of social networks to bring about rapid change, and I can but concur. Frustrated consumers are no longer isolated, and can mount movements against corporate abuse. My question is this: Why do big, successful corporations make such stupid decisions in the first place?

I believe corporations do stupid things as a result of a version of "group think", first documented after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in the early 1960's. Group think was described as a process in which people in groups, boards, and the like withhold negative opinions they feel they alone harbor and instead try to be as positive as they can. Being the cynic and pessimist I am, I believe corporations create group think by placing a premium on compliance. People who raise questions and objections are not team players. Meanwhile, those who nod their heads most vigorously rise to the top, there to occupy positions beyond the level such uncritical thinkers deserve. Over time the entire organization becomes stupid.

A clue to this type of group think is found in the utter astonishment expressed by corporate leaders when one of their idiotic decisions is ridiculed. They had never considered the possibility of a negative reaction precisely because they weeded out of their midst any employees bright enough or brave enough to argue with them. Where are the court jesters when you need them? Unemployed. Probably blogging.