Weekend Assorted Links

1. The Quick Therapy That Actually Works. Referred to as “microtherapy”.

“Effective solutions are crucial because Americans—stressed out, lonely, and ghosted by Tinder dates—are in desperate need of someone to talk to. The data suggest that most of the Americans who have a mental illness aren’t receiving treatment. About 30 percent of psychotherapists don’t take insurance. Quick interventions offer ‘something, when the alternative is nothing.'”

Research findings are hopeful, but skepticism is understandable.

“Lynn Bufka, a psychologist with the American Psychological Association, says that these types of brief interventions could be just a first step toward the treatment of various mental-health woes. They might be enough for some people, while others go on to get more intensive therapy. But. . . for more severe issues, such as bipolar disorder and major depression, a quick dose of therapy is unlikely to be enough. ‘These kinds of interventions are probably more likely to be beneficial before full-blown symptoms or disorders have developed.'”

2. An Echo Dot in Every Dorm Room.

“If students can’t or don’t want to spend money on their own smart speaker, Saint Louis University’s Echo Dots offer a way to bring voice assistants into the dorm without any added cost to the student, since the project went through the capital funding process and wasn’t funded by tuition increases.”

I’m calling bullshit on this. There is an opportunity cost. Money that is being directed to Echo Dots is money not being spent on something else like physical plant maintenance and that money for physical plant maintenance will come from students. I’m also very wary of the wholesale adoption of any technology. Maybe my thinking will change, but right now, if I were an SLU student, I would not want an Echo Dot.

3. The worrying future of Greece’s most Instagrammable island.

A Greek-American who has lived in Santorini for 12 years laments:

“‘People treat churches like selfie studios. There’s one in front of my house and people used to ring the bell every three minutes or climb up on the roof for their fake wedding shoots. I’d get woken up at 6am by people traipsing across my terrace.” His frustration at the crowds has led him to start hanging ‘respect’ signs around Oia that state ‘it’s your holiday… but it’s our home’.”

As if that’s not enough.

“The constant building and flood of tourists create tons of rubbish, which is all dumped illegally. Santorini still has no proper waste-management facilities, so all the empty water bottles, coffee cups and restaurant leftovers go into a huge dump which doesn’t meet EUregulations. Leakage is free to infect the surrounding earth, water and air.”

Alexa, find me someplace free of deranged photographers.

4. The Mistrust of Opposite-Sex Friendships.

The headline is misleading since the focus is on opposite-sex best friends.

This makes sense to me:

“Alexandra Solomon, an assistant psychology professor at Northwestern University and the instructor of the university’s Marriage 101 course. . . wonders whether the correlation between negative attitudes toward opposite-sex friendships and negative or violent expressions of jealousy could be due to participants’ personal beliefs about gender roles.

It speaks to a bit of a rigid, dichotomous way of thinking—I suspect there’s a layer in there about how much [the subjects] endorse traditional gender roles. . . . A woman with more traditional ideas about gender might feel threatened by her boyfriend’s female best friend because. . . ‘she may have this idea that I ought to be your one and only, and I ought to be able to meet all your needsIf you love me, then you’ll only turn to me.‘ A man with similarly rigid or traditional ideas about gender roles, she added, might feel territorial or possessive, as though his female partner belongs to him and only him.”

The more important, relevant question is about the potential for opposite-sex friendship more generally. I’ve long been intrigued by the tendency of friends to congregate in same sex circles at social gatherings. Even opposite-sex friendships of multiple decades seem relatively superficial. Opposite-sex friends seem to bump up against an invisible wall as if friendship is a zero-sum game. It’s that wall that intrigues me the most. More specifically, why the wall?

5. Waze Hijacked L.A. in the Name of Convenience. Can Anyone Put the Genie Back in the Bottle?

This was a hard read. Seemingly, my favorite app has no regard for the common good.

6. Elizabeth Warren Is Attracting More Supporters and More Media Attention.

An easy read. :)

The Art of Teaming With Others

My first nomination for Best 2016 Long Form Journalism piece is in, “What Google Learned In Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team” by Charles Duhigg.

Crystal clear and filled to the brim with trenchant insights into why most teams usually flounder. In short, Google researchers found individuals on the most productive teams “spoke in roughly the same proportion” as one another and were skilled at “intuiting how others felt”. Furthermore, the greater a team’s perceived psychological safety, measured by how comfortable team members felt being themselves, the greater that team’s “collective intelligence”.

Take Duhigg’s test:

Imagine you have been invited to join one of two groups.

Team A is composed of people who are all exceptionally smart and successful. When you watch a video of this group working, you see professionals who wait until a topic arises in which they are expert, and then they speak at length, explaining what the group ought to do. When someone makes a side comment, the speaker stops, reminds everyone of the agenda and pushes the meeting back on track. This team is efficient. There is no idle chitchat or long debates. The meeting ends as scheduled and disbands so everyone can get back to their desks.

Team B is different. It’s evenly divided between successful executives and middle managers with few professional accomplishments. Teammates jump in and out of discussions. People interject and complete one another’s thoughts. When a team member abruptly changes the topic, the rest of the group follows him off the agenda. At the end of the meeting, the meeting doesn’t actually end: Everyone sits around to gossip and talk about their lives.

Which group would you rather join?

Here’s the right answer based on the literature that informed the researchers’ work:

. . .you should probably opt for Team B. Team A may be filled with smart people, all optimized for peak individual efficiency. But the group’s norms discourage equal speaking; there are few exchanges of the kind of personal information that lets teammates pick up on what people are feeling or leaving unsaid. There’s a good chance the members of Team A will continue to act like individuals once they come together, and there’s little to suggest that, as a group, they will become more collectively intelligent.

In contrast, on Team B, people may speak over one another, go on tangents and socialize instead of remaining focused on the agenda. The team may seem inefficient to a casual observer. But all the team members speak as much as they need to. They are sensitive to one another’s moods and share personal stories and emotions. While Team B might not contain as many individual stars, the sum will be greater than its parts.

Google’s researchers conclude:

“. . . no one wants to put on a ‘work face’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘psychologically safe,’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

These take-aways are equally applicable to most non-work teams. In my experience, a recurring challenge in applying these lessons is team members who dominate discussions often lack self awareness. Even beginning teamwork with an explicit emphasis on the importance of balanced participation sometimes does little to prevent the most loquacious among us from repeatedly dominating discussions. Those most loquacious team members also don’t realize their teammates quickly fatigue, and shortly thereafter, begin tuning them out.

Another challenge in improving teamwork is people have a multitude of negative team experiences as points of reference for every positive one; as a result, they anticipate one or a few people dominating and scant attention being paid to people’s feelings.

That’s why this research deserves a large audience. It not only illuminates why groups often get sideways, but provides a roadmap for improved work and non-work teamwork.

[Thanks FK for the link.]

Why I’m Not Selling Apple

A friend, who has made it a point to resist Apple’s takeover of the personal tech world, emailed yesterday. The subject heading was “Time to Sell”. There was a link to an “Apple’s in decline” article and a follow up with an ominous excerpt. Full disclosure: this post doesn’t relate closely enough to the blog’s stated purpose, but I have to do something to stem the tide of anti-Apple email gloating.

Apple investors have to expect blowback when the stock slides. It just comes with the territory. Anti-Apples get more and more annoyed with every $100 rise in its share price. There’s probably just a touch of envy involved.

Late summer Apple hit $705, today it closed at $450. So the haters are slapping themselves on their backs in glee.

My email “friend” got his Masters in Business Administration at the University of Washington, not the Anderson School, so some remediation is in order.

Principle 1) Buy low and sell high. Apple’s on sale. Compared to the recent high, $255 off per share. In the next year or two, is it more likely to fall another $250 to $200 or rise $250 to $700? I’m betting on the later.

Principle 2) Never invest more than 5% of your total portfolio in a single stock. Apple’s sell-off hasn’t bothered me as much as UCLA’s inability to rebound the basketball because it’s 1/20th of the pie. Imagine having 20 children, one who goes off the rails. By the time you notice, she’d be halfway back to the straight and narrow (especially if she produced a less expensive iPhone for China).

Principle 3) When it comes to equities, be sure to take a medium or long-term perspective. If, for any reason, you might need to cash in your stock investments in a few months or years, avoid stocks, especially those of individual companies. I’m not selling because I don’t need to. I can wait on that 5% of my portfolio. Indefinitely really. That’s why I rolled a portion of my AAPL investment into a family charitable fund mid-summer. When it comes to our equity investments, VTI is the apple pie, VEU is the scoop of vanilla ice cream, and AAPL is the whip cream.

Principle 4) Have realistic expectations. In other words, don’t be ahistorical. Understand the “law of large numbers” and don’t get overly excited on run-ups. What did a lot of investors do in Las Vegas, California, and Florida when real estate prices exploded in the early 2000’s? They extrapolated. “Oh, I can easily earn 20% next year too.” After yesterday’s sell-off of $63, Apple is up 8.13% over twelve months. That’s only disappointing if you assumed it would return 30% annually. Maybe it’s turning into a single’s hitter. Which is fine for me because I’m a Mariners fan.

 

 

Richardson, Schmidt, and North Korean Naivete—Making Matters Worse

It’s Bradley K. Martin’s fault. A decade ago, his outstanding history of contemporary North Korea, “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty” sparked my deep-seated curiosity about life in North Korea.

Next I read Barbara Demick’s harrowing “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.” Then Adam Johnson’s brilliant “The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel.” Last week, Blaine Harden’s riveting “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.” Next in the queue, “Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad,” by Melanie Kirkpatrick.

If you’re more a viewer than a reader, watch “Inside North Korea” and “Camp 14: Total Control Zone.”

One can’t read those books and watch those films and not be alternately repulsed, saddened, horrified, angered, and ultimately, changed.

I believe most people are rational, well intentioned, and deserving of respect. From the time my daughters first started talking, I took time to explain to them my expectations, decisions, and actions. In turn, I tried to defuse conflicts by listening to them. I believe in non-violent social change. Like Gandhi, I believe that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” I believe diplomacy always holds more promise for international conflict resolution than military action.

And so why did former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson’s and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s trip to North Korea anger me so much last week? Because my North Korea self-study has challenged much of what I believe to be true about global politics. I’m not sure anything I wrote in the previous paragraph applies to North Korea. The leadership is not rational and the regime isn’t just evil in the context of contemporary world politics, but in the course of human history. I have absolutely no faith that diplomacy will bring about any meaningful change. I’m not sure of the best course of action, but I know Richardson and “Rock Star” Schmidt are making matters worse by helping delude the outside world that North Korea is changing for the better.

It’s reprehensible for Richardson to say, “the naming of a new U.S. secretary of state could also help reset dialogue”. Yeah right, North Korea is the way it is because of Hilary Clinton. That’s an embarrassingly stupid statement for someone with Richardson’s credentials to make. And when a CNN television anchor interviewed Richardson, all she was concerned about was 44 year-old Kenneth Bae, an American being held in North Korea. No concern for the 23 million ordinary North Koreans whose lives are the most hellish on the planet.

Blaine Harden and Suzanne Scholte explain the problem this way.

“In a media culture that feeds on celebrity, no movie star, no pop idol, no Nobel Prize winner stepped forward to demand that outsiders invest emotionally in a distant issue that lacks good video. Tibetans have the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere, Burmese have Aung San Suu Kyi, Darfurians have Mia Farrow and George Clooney. North Koreans have no one like that.”

In part, that’s why I resolve to use this humble blog from time to time to inform others about North Korea, to agitate on behalf of impoverished and imprisoned North Koreans, and to criticize naive, misguided public figures.

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