Monday, October 31, 2011

Billions of Happiness

Today is the 7 Billion Person Day - the growth of our living population beyond 7 Billion.  October 12, 1999 was considered the 6 Billion Day.  In just the lifetime of Ellen (12 years) we have added a billion people (births net of deaths).  The US is about 300 million of this - 4.3% but has 22% of the World GDP (note GDP varies with population so the percentages have some dependency).

The current book I am reading is "Gross National Happiness" by Arthur C. Brooks.  I suspect that the US does not have 22% of the Worlds Gross National Happiness.  In fact, it is well documented and proved that income and wealth does not assure happiness.

 Most intriguing is Brook's chapter on whether Happiness is a Family Value.   He addresses the scientific data surrounding whether having children increases or decreases happiness for the parents.  Interestingly it is not a black and white answer - however the bottomline is that over time and across all populations the happiness cost benefit favors procreating.

I guess there is a reason we have 7 billion people - all in the pursuit of happiness.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Greed Antidote

Rev. Stover had a great sermon today about giving and I stayed awake the entire time :)   I really perked up when he said, "Generosity is the antidote for Greed". 

Greed is considered one the seven deadly sins (for those who want to see their batting average they are:Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy and Gluttony).  They are not ranked (as a Statistician would do) but one of the seven deadly sins is considered the most serious - and you'll have to look it up to find out.

Each deadly sin has it's opposite virtue (or as Rev. Stover said - An Antidote). Wrath - Patience; Greed - Charity; Sloth -Diligence; Pride - Humility; Lust - Chastity; Envy - Kindness; Gluttony - Temperance.

"Greed is Good" said Gordon Gekko in the  1987 movie Wall Street.  He was the guy we loved to hate.  The persona of Gordon Gekko, Hedge Fund Managers, and Fat Cat Bankers is what the Occupy Wall Street protestors are using as the foundation of their outcry in our cities right now. 

Many believe the famous Philanthropists were just evil capitalists (monopolists) who used the antidote of charity to "buy their souls" into Heaven.  So in that case was Greed turned into Good?

Measuring greed is judgmental.  It is as hard as answering the question -"How much is enough".  The answer depends on the individual and in our society the individual has the freedom to choose how much is enough. 

So find your personal level of antidote.  Change your Greed into someone elses Need.

PS:  Antidote - from the Greek word Antididonia meaning "given against" -  Hmmmmmm

Friday, October 28, 2011

Significant or Not

Last night I was helping Jenna with her Statistic course by studying the topic of regression analysis.  The text pointed to the fact that correlation does NOT mean cause and effect.  Of course it is vary tempting to draw conclusions from statistical data.   Coincidentally, I also stayed up to 1am watching Game Six of the Rangers vs Cardinals on TV - a game that will be remembered and maybe even compared to the  1975 World Series Game Six.

I remember taking a Wall Street Journal article into Dr. Bolger's "Theory of Statistics" class back in the mid 70's.  The punch line of the article was that for equally matched teams (and all other variables treated equally), the probability of World Series teams going seven games is less than 31.25%. But surprisingly, from 1952 to 1976 there had been 14 out of 25 (56%) of the World Series games go the distance.  The article ended with the statement :  The first televised World Series was in 1947 (and coincidentally went 7 games).

By 2002 the probability had dropped to 48%  (still more that 31.25% but is it significant?).  I remember Dr. Bolger immediately taking the article into our classroom at Miami(of Ohio) and using it as re-inforcement to what we were learning at the time - "what is considered a significant difference from an actual sample to the theoretical distribution.

So was TV the cause?  Who cares we all want significant (extra games and innings) entertainment.

PS - This is the first World Series since 2002 that has gone the distance.  See:  Inside Science

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Game Six

As I drove back and forth to Minneapolis to the Social Venture Partner International convention, I listened to "Game Six" by Mark Frost. Considered by ESPN as the number one "best" baseball game in history - on Oct. 21, 1975 the Cincinnati Reds played the Boston Red Socks leading the series 3-2.

I was watching the game in Swing Hall (Miami of Ohio) with Wayne Walder (the Cincinnati fanatic) and Andrew Chesley (the Boston fanatic) and a host of other college guys.  Famous for many reasons - number of relief pitchers; seesaw battle; defensive catchs and outs; and Carlton Fisk walk away homerun - the game was an epic battle of two historic teams steeped in baseball tradition. 

I decided to rewatch game 6 and 7 to re-experience the action.  While interesting, it was "flat".  Why?  Was it the non HD image and "pong" like computer graphics?  Was it the fact the outcome was known?  Was it I had just listened pitch by pitch to the 11 CD audio book?  Was it that I was not with the college guys of 1975?  Was it just the slow nature of the baseball game in today's fast pace world?  Was it the conflict of actual details vs what the mind had chosen to remember?

Recapturing the details of memories is like grasping for gnat in thin air- you think you've captured it briefly only to open your hand to see nothing.  Constant efforts are futile and frustrating. Yet the events surrounding the memory trigger the desire to re-experience every detail. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Best of the Best

A.M. and I were discussing financial planners/money managers and smiled when the term "best of the best" came up. 

What exactly is the best of the best? 

The statisticain in me kicks in.  Let's assume all our managers are sorted from low to high and we put them in "quartiles" (I wonder if they follow a normal distribution??) Call the top quartile (those guys above the Q3 point) "The Best".  So the best of the best is the "top quartile of the top quartile".  Right?

Well in statistics there is something called the Interquartile Range (IQR) which is the middle fifty (sounds suspiciously close to my age).  Any value outside of  [ Q3 + 1.5*(IQR) ]  is an outlier.

Hmmm - Out right lie or Out liar?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Measuring Love

In a world of obsessive measures and statistics, measuring emotions has eluded us (see Counting Feelings)  The brain scientists show how different snapses are fired during certain feelings and thoughts - but that is a very crude way to attempt to measure a feeling.  For example we know that the left part of the brain "glows" during happiness (Happiness by Richard Layard).

As a bit of humor, the Portfolio of Good Commitee of SVP Cincinnati came up with the concept of the Feel-o-meter (pronounced Fel o meter).  Since the quantitative data about our Non-Profit Investees was so challenging and "flat" we wanted a way to measure the heart and not just use the head. We handed out Hershey kisses and had each Partner "vote" their  ten kisses for the various Investees.

I think the reason you can't measure love is because it is infinite.  The ancient Greeks had various words for love, recognizing that one word was inadequate to describe something that is infinite in nature.  Try to describe how much you love someone.  Ellen and I would constantly try to out do each other saying - "I love you Elephants full"....  I love you a hundred Elephants full..... and so on.

And it's not about quantity.  Like a wine glass - when is it "full"?  Clearly not to the brim.  Our love is "full" when it is just right for the moment.  Something infinite that is just enough - for now.  Again that is an attempt to measure love for a person  for a moment in time.  Does it muliply and expand around others? 

In business - you get what you measure.  In love - you get what you mirror.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Discussion Closed

"Discussion Closed"  (Horse #8) came in 4th place by a neck in the 5th race at Keeneland on Saturday.  My ticket didn't cash.

It had been over 10 years since taking a day trip to Keenland and many memories of the visits came flooding back in - the sunburn of the 70's; the roadtrip with the guys in the 80's; and the Accenture all Ohio planning session of the 90's.

It was a wonderful sunny and crisp day in the beautiful countryside of Kentucky. It was punctuated that night with Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy at the Pleasant Hill location of Shaker Village.  The New England foliage may be heralded as the best fall visual but seeing the immaculate horse farms as we drove through Kentucky you couldn't ask for a better " Place or Show" (to use a horse racing term). 

Actually, I can't think of a more beautiful state at this time of year - Discussion Closed!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Foggy Rules

Vistage Group 1107 had much discussion about the economy today.  A.S. said there is continuing uncertainty  in his CEO groups --- one of his CEO members said "It's so foggy out there the birds are walking". 

My theory is that business players don't like to "play the game" when the rules are changing or unknown.  How would you like to be in the middle of half time for a football game when the referees and league officials announce there may be some rule changes  for the second half.   All rules are subject to change.  For example, touchdowns may be worth 5 points and field goals 4 points; first downs will be 15 yards from the line of scrimmage; off sides penalties 20 yards; etc.  The players stay in the locker room - not spending time on strategy (afterall how can they) - waiting for the announcement.

The stock market investors behave in the same way - what rule changes might come into effect (and when) for capital gains and dividends?   It is no wonder the volatility of the stock market reflects the fog of what investors think the companies (in the locker room) will do and what rules the politicians might change.

We risk our time, talent and treasure when we SEE a potential outcome.  When the uncertainty of outcomes has totally fogged any dream for the future, we shut our eyes and stay put.

And when will the sun rise?  When the rules and their timeline are known.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Statistical Power

So there is a reason the statisticians are the most powerful people in the world :)   Today 55 million Social Security recipients are receiving news about their "promotions" and pay increases effective in January 2012.  The CPI-W has increased 4.4% this year (Sept 2010 to Sept 2011) and 3.8% seasonally adjusted.

Who knows (and constructs) the details of the CPI-W?  THE STATISTICIANS!!!

Yes - the "real money" pay increase is determined by 28,000 weekly diaries (in 2007 and 2008) of 7000 families, and 60,000 quarterly diaries from an additional 7000 families which determine the weight of 200 item categories across eight major expenditure groups.  Statisticians collect prices monthly for 80,000 items that are "normalized" for quality and quantity by commodity specialists to compute the price for each of 200 items.  And is all this mathematically and statistically accurate?  I guess you have to trust statisticians like me :)

But we all know this meaningless index (based on the 1999 changed geometric mean) - which has been argued about within the statistical community continuously - is not your personal inflation.  Finding your personal inflation is as easy as looking at your monthly bills and comparing to last year.  Yet, 55 million people are pooled together into a "one size fits all" group and given a number.  (By the way - the 'W' stands for urban wage earners - you tell me why the politicians legislated that retires inflation index would be based on urban wage earners consumption patterns!)

And what exactly is the seasonally adjusted stuff?  Again just gulp and trust that the statisticians know what they are doing (even though it is 0.6% reduction). 

In the end, 55 million people will just accept the number because it was too hard to understand (and pass) that statistics course in school. 

Statisticians rule.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You Lose

"Say less than you need to ....  People don't need to know everything - only what is important to them".  This was a great discussion during the breakout session on branding and storytelling at the SVPI conference over the weekend.  We were all challenged to come up with our six (yes only six words) story - in essence a laconic story line.

The word "laconic" entered my vocabulary when I was reading a book on vocabulary "Word Power made Easy" describing President Coolidge's laconic nature.  A young poet/journalist (Dorthy Parker) was sitting next to him at a banquet, so the story goes and turned to him mischievously.  "Mr. Coolidge", she said, "I've made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you". "YOU LOSE" Coolidge rejoined simply.

So what is my six word story?   Find lifelong friends at SVP Cincinnati.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Faithful Generosity

I just returned from my fourth Social Venture Partner International Conference - this year in Minneapolis/St. Paul Minn.  Each year I go to renew my energy in our local affiliate (SVP Cincinnati) and to learn more about philanthropy.  The keynote speaker/author of the book "Uncharitable" - Dan Pallotta gave one of the better keynote addresses on the misconstrued measure of non-profits based on fundraising and overhead costs.

But the session I really enjoyed was the combined presentation of speakers from AB Bernstein and  One Percent Club on "The Generous Life". Attempting to define and construct (financially) the Generous Life, it was full of challenges financially and spiritually.

"What do you get for your generosity?"  .......  "You'll never know until after you get it".

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Who to Manipulate

Dr. J.E. called me the other day and jokingly said "Garen, it's not who you know or what you know that counts - it's who you can manipulate that matters".  He added, "It is either consensual or coercive".

Manipulation is one of those words that is a dual edged sword and can cut either way - skillfully or underhandedly.  When we manipulate things we are considered skillful.  When we manipulate people are we considered devious?  If there is full transparency - is manipulation devious?

I loved the old book - "Looking out for Number One" by Robert J. Ringer.  In it (and his first book Winning through Intimidation), he describes the Three Type Theory.  Three types of people (in business) and the perimeters of selfishness. All three types universally want to get your "chips".

Type 1 - Acknowledges that he acts in his own self interest and openly tells you that fact and walks the talk.
Type 2 - Understands he acts in his own self interest BUT tries to make you believe otherwise.  "No really I'm doing this for you (or you and me too)".
Type 3 - Either doesn't understand or doesn't want to understand that he acts in his own self interest.  He feels sincere when he tries to make you believe he is thinking of you first.

And do all types manipulate other types?  Well the math in me tries to understand the 9 combinations of the types for a buyer/seller transaction.  (B1,S1); (B1,S2) etc.

I think the best transaction is between B1 and S1 (two type 1 guys).  By "best" - I mean efficient, transparent, simple, and neutral.   OOPS - that sounds like Herman Cain and the 9-9-9 plan :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Project Happiness

"Prod any happy person and you will find a project" Richard Layard says in in book "Happiness - Lessons from a New Science".  How we frame our mind has a profound effect on our happiness and setting goals and expectations are the starting point.  If our goals are too low - we are bored; and if too high we get frustrated.  It is the "Golden Median of Goals" (GMG) that is the happiness sweet spot.

In Kent Keith;s book "Jesus Did it Anyway - The Paradoxical Commandments for Christians" the eighth commandment is - What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight - BUILD ANYWAY.  Building is a code word for projects/goals.  Keith makes the point that even as you are achieving your goals they can be dismantled in an instant.  But that should not decrease your happiness.  Why?
Because the happiness and joy comes in the building - not the resulting goal or completion.

Susan has found this secret.  She always has projects that she is working on - personal, home, family, community etc.  She is never without a project backlog list  - which spills over into my to do's :)

So make sure your "to do" list is not too long and not too short - but just right.  And if you need more - just call Susan :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Laws of Unintended Consequenses

I listened to Jack Painter's debate on NPR about Ohio Issue 3.  It came to me that most of what was being debated (on both sides) was speculation about the unintended consequenses of the vote.  This is why I'm in favor of mostly "doing nothing" when it comes to legislation.  After over 200 years, the complexity of legislation has created logic paths that are filled with unintended consequenses. 

Case in point is our tax code (presently on my mind since I just completed 2010 taxes).  In the discussion last night with a tax accountant (at J.Z.'s 50th birthday party), I said working with Turbo Tax is like playing a game of "Whack a Mole".  If you move something in one area to reduce taxes, up pops the mole in another area to take it away.  Trying to understand why - and/or what the social engineering reason for that part of the tax code - is almost impossible.  Therefore our legislators could never have predicted the unintended consequenses of the interaction of the complex tax code.

This rule applies to business as well.  A company should be very cautious about the "incentives" they place into the employee compensation package.  Too often these are not well thought out and errant behaviour and unprofitable results occurs.  Environmental issues are the same and why great analysis is done on LCA (Life cycle analysis). 

So be a libertarian - vote for no votes (hence fewer laws).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Loyalty and Politics

Howard Wilkinson's  Enquirer article ["Politics is a game played by hardened, ruthless individuals"] about the movie "The Ides of March" mentions the quote by the Campaign Manager, Paul Zara - "There's only one thing I believe in this world..... And that is loyalty".  But Wilkinson makes the point that "Loyalty is a transferable commodity" [in Politics]. 

That is the problem with politics - we have come to expect that politicians change views, modify their own personal loyalties to causes based on the polls and the personal temptation to get elected regardless of the ethics.  

When I was deciding whether to pursue a PHd in Statistics, I talked at length to my professors about the pro's and con's of the academic world.  I wanted to enter this world because of my disdain for "corporate politics".  But my professors felt that concept (and criteria for entering the academic world) was misguided and informed me that they felt politics were greater in the academic world than in corporate America. 

So I wanted to find a company that minimized politics - a career at Accenture seemed to an excellent window to evaluate corporate politics at various companies.  My logic was that  I could work at various companies as a consultant and determine what company had the least  corporate politics.  In the end, I stayed at Accenture (long story there) because I found the politics at Accenture (and yes there was plenty of politics at Accenture) was lower than any of my clients.

So my loyalty remained at Accenture for 25 years - but it was always something I felt was transferable. :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Blazy, Blogation or BLAXES

It's been a while since the last blog.  Was it a Reverse Hawthorne Effect? (although using that term in this context is not really precise);  Or did I need a vacation? or was it just being lazy - Blogging lazy :)

It can't be "Bloggers Block", since I'm never at a loss for words or advice. 

Well I did take a slight Blogation to Kansas.  I spent time on a project with Dad creating the wall placques of Grandpa Well's cattle brand (the Rolling W); the outdoor branding project in the forest branding random trees; researching the Kansas Historical Society Brand Books searching for the official registration (a possible future blog entry)

But that's not all - I will blame the lack of blogging on TAXES - Yes once again it was tax time for the tax procrastinator.  I just finished 2010 taxes to be mailed today.  What a relief to have them finished and 2011 taxes estimated.

B.E. of FMBS (Friday Morning Bible Study) replied to my joy of being done with taxes that his 69 page return had just arrived  from his tax accountant.  We both agreed that while we both dreaded paying taxes that we should be thankful for the country we live in. We both got this from our parents.

 B.E. said his father always said that you shouldn't gripe about your taxes.  Mom always told me that she was grateful to pay the taxes for all the freedoms and priviledges we have.

So - I'm happy to pay the taxes I computed.  That doesn't stop me from working to find every way to minimize the taxes I pay - just that for what I pay, I'm thankful it is not any higher :)