Blog

Roam Notes on “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande

  • "Title::" The Checklist Manifesto: How to get Things Right
  • "Author::" [[Atul Gawande]]
  • "Reading Status::" #Complete
  • "Tags::" #Productivity #organization #process #Management #coordination #checklists #planning
  • Overview

    • [[Atul Gawande]] is a famous surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. This book is an ode to simple checklists as an extremely powerful tool to aid process and quality improvement, especially in situations where there is a lot of [[complexity]] and [[coordination]] required. The author became interested in checklists as a tool in his surgical practice, and the book points to many examples of how checklists improve [[efficiency]] and [[safety]] in a variety of situations.
    • A common theme in the book is the fallibility of human beings and the importance of acknowledging these shortcomings. The author points to examples where excellent surgeons and other professionals have made serious and "obvious" errors. It’s easy to dismiss these errors by blaming the person committing them as incompetent or lazy, but the fact is, without proper systems, these mistakes will happen regardless of how well trained or skilled a person is. Properly designed checklists can provide a crucial safeguard.
  • Excerpts

    • Three Different Levels of Complexity for Problems in the World (pg. 49) #complexity #[[problem solving]] #[[To Ankify]]
      • Simple: there is a recipe. Sometimes there are a few basic techniques to learn. But once mastered, following the recipe bring a high likelihood of success. #[[simple problems]]
      • Complicated: Can sometimes be broken down into a series of simple problems, but there is no straightforward recipe. Success often requires multiple people, multiple teams, and specialized expertise. Unanticipated difficulties are frequent. Timing and coordination are serious concerns. E.g. sending man to the moon. #[[complicated problems]]
      • Complex: Problems where the solution is not repeatable, and outcomes remain highly uncertain. Expertise is valuable but not sufficient. E.g. raising a child. [[complex problems]]
      • This distinction was developed by [[Brenda Zimmerman]] of [[York University]] and [[Sholom Glouberman]] of [[University of Toronto]] in their study of the science of complexity.
      • Note that many problems in engineering and operating a business are simple or complicated, and thus can be aided by [[checklists]].
    • How Skyscraper Engineers Build Checklists (pp. 62, 70) #engineering #coordination
      • Since every building is a new creature with its own particularities, every building checklist is new, too. It is drawn up by a group of people representing each of the sixteen trades… Then the whole checklist is sent to the subcontractors and other independent experts so they can double-check that everything is correct, that nothing has been missed.
      • They rely on one set of checklists to make sure the simple steps are not missed or skipped and in another set to make sure that everyone talks through and resolves all the hard and unexpected problems.
      • The biggest cause of serious error in this business is a failure of [[communication]]
      • [[Mark’s Notes]]: This almost magical process ensures that the knowledge of hundreds or thousands is used in the right place at the right time in the right way.
    • Why Dictating from the Top Fails in Complex Situations (pg. 79) #micromanaging #decentralization #centralization #complexity #Management
      • under conditions of true complexity – where the knowledge required exceeds that of any individual and unpredictability reigns – efforts to dictate every step from the center will fail. People need room to act and adapt. Yet they cannot succeed as isolated individuals, either – that is anarchy. Instead, they require a seemingly contradictory mix of [[freedom]] and [[expectation]] – expectation to coordinate, for example, and also to measure progress toward common goals. #leadership
      • [[Mark’s Notes]]: The example in the book is the [[Katrina disaster]]. [[FEMA]] tried to centrally control everything. In contrast, [[Walmart]] helped the community very effectively – its leadership sent a clear message to do what’s right, and do what you can to help these people in trouble.
        • Also, the skyscraper builders understand this, and learned to codify this type of [[decentralization]] in [[checklists]]. They have checklists for simple tasks, combined with checklists to make sure everyone is coordinating and communicating with each other. There must be judgement, but judgement must be aided / enhanced by procedure.
    • Good Checklists Versus Bad Checklists (pg. 120) #checklists #[[how to make checklists]]
      • Bad [[checklists]] are vague and imprecise. They are too long; they are hard to use; they are impractical. They are made by desk jockeys with no awareness of the situations in which they are to be deployed. They treat the people using the tools as dumb and try to spell out every single step. They turn people’s brains off rather than turn them on.
      • Good checklists, on the other hand, are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything – a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps – the ones that even the highly skilled professionals using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.
    • The Most Common Obstacle to Effective Teams (pg. 163) #coordination #teamwork #communication #[[To Ankify]]
      • The most common obstacle to effective teams, it turns out, is not the occasional fire-breathing, scalpel-flinging, terror-inducing surgeon, though some do exist … No, the more familiar and widely dangerous issue is a kind of silent disengagement, the consequence of specialized technicians sticking narrowly to their domains. ‘That’s not my problem’ is possibly the worst thing people can think, whether they are starting an operation, taxiing an airplane full of passengers down a runway, or building a thousand-foot-tall skyscraper.
    • Key Decisions to Make when Building Checklists (pp. 123-124) #[[To Ankify]] #checklists #[[how to make checklists]]
      • Define a clear pause point (point at which the checklist is supposed to be used)
      • Decide on whether you want a DO-CONFIRM checklist or READ-DO checklist.
        • DO-CONFIRM – team members perform a job from memory and experience, often separately. But then they stop. They pause to run the check-list and confirm that everything that was supposed to be done was done.
        • READ-DO – people carry out the tasks as they check them off – more like a recipe
      • Test it: “no matter how careful we might be, no matter how much thought we might put in, the checklist has to be tested in the real world, which is inevitably more complicated than expected” #testing
        • [[Mark’s Notes]]: Sometimes, testing is not easy to do. That’s why they have simulations in aviation and the author tried a similar test for surgery with his surgical team and a dummy.
    • How Not to Respond to Failure (pp. 185-186) #failure #Systems #fallibility
      • We are all plagued by failures – by missed subtleties, overlooked knowledge, and outright errors. For the most part, we have imagined that little can be done beyond working harder and harder to catch the problems and clean up after them. We are not in the habit of thinking the way army pilots did as they looked upon their shiny new Model 299 bomber – a machine so complex no one was sure human beings could fly it. They too could have decided just to ‘try harder’ or to dismiss a crash as the failings of a ‘weak’ pilot. Instead they chose to accept their fallibilities. They recognized the simplicity and power of using a checklist.
        • [[Mark’s Notes]]: It is such a common sentiment to blame failure on people’s abilities or motivations.

Roam Notes on “Red Tape: Its Origins, Uses, and Abuses” by Herbert Kaufman

  • "Title::" Red Tape: Its Origins, Uses, and Abuses
  • "Author::" [[Herbert Kaufman]]
  • "Reading Status::" #Complete
  • "Recommended By::" [[Devon Zuegel]]
  • "Tags::" #Book #Bureaucracy #Government #[[role of government]] #[[Government excess]] #[[Big Government]]
  • Overview

    • The author provides an in-depth analysis of red tape. It’s a great read for anyone that wants to get a better understanding of bureaucracy and how it works.
    • The book starts out with an overview of the main reasons why red tape is subject to such loathing. The big culprits include duplicative requirements, contradictory requirements, inertia (requirements remaining in force long after conditions that spawned them have disappeared), and failing programs that don’t do what they were intended to do.
    • He then goes on to discuss the main causes of red tape. Government employees are the usual scapegoat for red tape, but he argues that this is misguided and the demand for red tape comes from us "Every restraint and requirement originates in somebody’s demand for it." He also argues it often plays an important role to alleviate distress, forestall systemic disruptions, and promote representative democracy.
    • Finally, he discusses how to improve red tape. He argues the usual sweeping solutions of Shrinking the Government, devolving federal power, concentrating authority, and manipulating pecuniary incentives are ineffective. There is no panacea. Instead, targeted interventions are better than grand visions.
  • Foreward by [[Philip K. Howard]]

    • [[Mark’s Notes]]: This is an interesting forward – a solid and fair critique rather than a fawning review. Refreshing!
    • [[Herbert Kaufman]] was one of the twentieth century’s keenest observers of the inner workings of [[government]].
    • Red Tape, published in 1977, observes a very different [[government culture]], one that had been transformed by the [[1960s]] rights revolution. Instead of giving officials a measure of autonomy to meet public goals, under the new model [[autonomy]] was to be purged.
    • this new model of [[government]], dedicated to purging official [[discretion]], unleashed a tidal wave of [[red tape]].
    • It is preferable to spend $20 to avoid $1 of theft. And so he concludes that “red tape turns out to be at the core of our institutions rather than an excrescence on them.”
    • To Kaufman, bureaucracy was the necessary antidote to having venal, biased officials who try to impose their way. Today, [[bureaucracy]] is the default value for officials who don’t seem motivated to impose anything, including decisions made for the [[public good]]. Instead of asking “How do I get the job done?,” officials are trained to ask “What do the rules require?” #rules
    • The book also presents, albeit in undertones, an argument for bureaucratic superiority. Yes, it’s too bad that [[red tape]] is a pain, but that’s the only way to achieve a minimal standard of [[consistency]], [[virtue]], and [[fairness]] in [[government]].
    • Kaufman rightly points out that [[public employees]] are the [[scapegoats]]. He sees them blamed, inconsistently, as either “clever, self-serving” manipulators of power or “dull [and] slothful” drudges when the truth, he concludes, is that they are the worst victims of [[bureaucracy]].
    • The common denominator is that [[bureaucracy]] ends up foiling anyone who is trying to do what’s right—whether through the manipulative official using bureaucracy to gain power, the slothful civil servant using bureaucracy to avoid responsibility, or the ubiquitous powerlessness of people (including well-meaning officials) trapped in [[red tape]].
    • Kaufman notes that the real source of [[red tape]] is us. A major incentive for red tape, Kaufman observes, is mistrust: “Had we more trust in one another and in our public officers and employees, we would not feel impelled to limit [[discretion]] by means of lengthy, detailed directives.” #[[trust]]
    • Personal [[responsibility]] with [[transparency]], not [[red tape]], is the best way to keep someone from abusing his or her position.
    • human responsibility model—like the “guided discretion” model of The Forest Ranger—officials are judged not by their mindless compliance or other objective [[metrics]] but by a broader view of their [[effectiveness]].
      • [[Mark’s Notes]]: This is the philosophy of [[Linton Sellen]], who taught an excellent leadership course you attended.
    • Law need not be a bureaucratic jungle if people can be held accountable all the way up the chain of authority. #accountability
    • The paralysis of modern government is the inevitable product of a governing philosophy dedicated to avoiding human [[responsibility]].
    • In order to reimagine how the U.S. government can meet its many responsibilities in the modern world, any striver for good government must come to grips with Kaufman’s defense of the current operating system.
  • Chapter 1: Object of Loathing #[[reasons to hate red tape]]

    • One person’s “[[red tape]]” may be another’s treasured safeguard. (pg. 1)
    • When people rail against red tape, they mean that they are subjected to too many constraints, that many of the constraints seem pointless, and that agencies seem to take forever to act.
    • Duplicative and Contradictory Requirements #[[duplicative requirements]] #[[contradictory requirements]]
      • Even when they acknowledge the usefulness and relevance of specific requirements and prohibitions, people are incensed at having to do the same thing many times for different agencies when it appears to them that once would be enough if the government were more efficient. (pg. 8) #[[duplicative requirements]]
      • Still more irritating from the point of view of the conscientiously law-abiding person, in government as well as in private life, are government requirements drawn in such a way that to obey one seems to lead to violations of the other. #[[contradictory requirements]]
        • For example, legislation protecting the right to privacy may conflict with the spirit, if not the letter, of the Freedom of Information Act.
        • These conflicting guidelines shift the difficulties of reconciliation from the promulgators of official policy to the individual private citizen or public employee without much guidance and with the possibility of punishment no matter what course is chosen. #[[To Ankify]]
    • Inertia. Once requirements and practices are instituted, they tend to remain in force long after the conditions that spawned them have disappeared. (pg. 10) #inertia #[[To Ankify]]
      • a single embarrassing incident may inspire practices that go on and on at great cost and minimal benefit. As a former director of the Bureau of the Budget put it, The public servant soon learns that successes rarely rate a headline, but governmental blunders are front page news. This recognition encourages the development of procedures designed less to achieve successes than to avoid blunders. Let it be discovered that the Army is buying widgets from private suppliers while the Navy is disposing of excess widgets at a lower price; the reporter will win a Pulitzer prize and the Army and Navy will establish procedures for liaison, review, and clearance which will prevent a recurrence and which will also introduce new delays and higher costs into the process of buying or selling anything. It may cost a hundred times more to prevent the occurrence of occasional widget episodes, but no one will complain. #media #[[risk aversion]] #government #incentives #inefficiency
      • The search for outmoded practices takes government time and money, yet old, unchanging procedures, once learned, are easily followed, and utterly obsolete ones are usually ignored by everyone. So the burden of correcting them may be greater than that of letting them linger.
    • Programs that fail. Nothing, however, is as likely to render requirements pointless, in the opinion of some of those who must comply with them and of neutral observers, as constraints that obviously do not produce the results proclaimed as justifications for them. Restrictions and burdens imposed for announced ends that are never attained are probably the hardest to bear. (pg. 11)
      • regulated interests often benefited more from [[regulation]] than [[consumers]] did. The interests were relieved of [[competition]], yet the controls on them allegedly did not shore up quality or hold down prices in return for this security. #[[special interests]]
      • regulatory officials acquire the same perspectives and values as the interests they regulate. #[[special interests]]
      • in the contest to exert influence on the regulators, [[consumers]] are ordinarily outclassed by the well-organized, well-heeled, well-informed, well-connected, continuously functioning, experienced producers. #[[special interests]]
      • Furthermore, the incentive structure motivates the powerful more effectively than the weak; a regulatory decision meaning millions to a firm often costs individual consumers less than the cost of protesting it, so it would be irrational for individual consumers to fight even though the loss hurts them deeply. Adding to dissatisfaction is the ability of regulated interests to pass along to consumers their costs of exerting pressure and of fighting consumer suits. Under these conditions, ask the critics, how effective can regulation be? #[[special interests]] #incentives
      • Indeed, regulatory bodies have even been called agents of the regulated rather than their masters. That is why regulated interests, once the bitterest foes of regulation, are now among the most ardent defenders of their regulatory agencies, and why some industries have actively sought to be placed under regulation. #[[special interests]] #incentives #[[unintended consequences]]
      • When violators are able to penetrate the defenses yet honest people who would never think of defrauding the government or abusing their authority must go through all the rigamarole set up to thwart scoundrels, it is understandable that the honest people grow resentful. #[[honesty]] #[[resentment]]
      • To people with this outlook, catching the handful of crooks does not prove that all the troublesome constraints designed to avert dishonesty justify all the machinery; rather, it proves that the machinery is not worth the hardships it inflicts on the innocent.
    • The Scapegoats (pg. 19) #[[government employees]] #scapegoats
      • Two contradictory, negative portrayals of government employees: #[[To Ankify]]
        • It is conceivable that officials intent on aggrandizing their own power and protecting their own jobs would, unconsciously if not deliberately, contrive a blizzard of incomprehensible paper, a procedural maze, and a mass of technicalities that only someone completely familiar with these provisions could hope to find his way through. Then, insiders could not be easily replaced, even after changes in political leadership. Their decisions could be challenged by outsiders only with difficulty, for full-time specialists are not easily defeated by victims or insurgents who make their living at other pursuits and cannot devote themselves exclusively to operating the system.
        • Conversely, it is equally plausible that official stupidity and laziness might be responsible for the crazy quilt of provisions and procedures in government. Dull, slothful public servants would have to be furnished with specific, minutely detailed rules for every conceivable situation because, lacking intelligence or initiative, they could not be trusted to devise sensible responses on their own.
        • Obviously, the two portrayals of officialdom are mutually contradictory. Nobody can be both diabolically clever and dull-witted at the same time, nor can those who invent and execute complicated strategies also be too indolent to put themselves out on any account.
        • it is as hard to swallow the notion that knaves and fools are the dominant elements among thousands of government officers and employees
        • the level of their mental gifts and their characters is by no means below that of the general populace. Neither the conspiracy theory nor the incompetence theory seems to me a persuasive explanation for the abundance of government requirements and prohibitions or for the unhappy and unwanted effects of these constraints.
        • [[Mark’s Notes]]: It’s true that a single individual cannot simultaneously have these two characteristics. But his argument here doesn’t fully address these stereotypical criticisms of government employees. His argument doesn’t address the idea that government is still ruled by knaves or fools. In other words, there could still be a prevalence of these two separate types of people.
      • On the negative impact of [[red tape]] on [[government employees]]:
        • Indeed, government personnel are greatly disserved by [[red tape]]. They would like to get on with their missions as they see them, to pursue their program goals energetically, efficiently, speedily. They chafe at the obstacles placed in their way, the restraints imposed on them, the boundaries they must observe, the procedures they must follow. Nobody is more critical of red tape than they. To them, it is ironic that they should be blamed for it. Unquestionably, they are tightly constrained. Their discretion is legally limited by statutes, regulations of sister agencies, judicial decisions, executive orders, and departmental directives. It is also politically limited by the need to accommodate powerful political figures and influential interest groups, by the practical independence of nominal subordinates, by the demands of clienteles, and by the risks of adverse publicity in the communications media. So they are often prevented from moving forcefully and promptly when they would like to and compelled to yield to pressures when they would prefer to stand firm, even though this may mean an injustice is done or suffering is not relieved. They are also forced to allocate precious time and money to the endless demands for reports and information
        • In short, the costs, inconveniences, and burdens of government constraints oppress government workers as much as anybody. In fact, perhaps more. Understandably, they see themselves as experts in their fields, yet many of the constraints on them are the work of people they regard as uninformed amateurs. Career diplomats who must answer to legislators with no experience in foreign affairs, urban specialists who must defer to interests from back-country farm regions, and professional military officers challenged at every turn by civilians with slight knowledge of military strategy and tactics, for example, grind their teeth in frustration. #[[To Ankify]]
        • If people outside government think they are victims of irrelevant obligations and prohibitions, they should see what those inside have to put up with—at all levels, too.
        • Leaders are equally frustrated. Political superiors find administrative agencies less responsive to them than they would like because the agencies are bound by generations of accumulated obligations and restraints. #politicians
        • Public officers and employees get the blame for red tape (pg. 22)
        • It would not surprise me, however, if they are merely [[scapegoats]] in a literal sense—bearers of the blame for others. We may accuse them because, intuitively, we want to divert the guilt from the real cause: ourselves. #[[To Ankify]]
  • Chapter 2: Of Our Own Making #[[reasons for red tape]]

    • Every restraint and requirement originates in somebody’s demand for it. (pg. 25) #[[To Ankify]]
    • there are so many of us, and such a diversity of interests among us, that modest individual demands result in great stacks of official paper and bewildering procedural mazes.
    • Alleviating distress (pg. 29)
      • much of the great volume of governmental requirements and prohibitions that we encounter on all sides owes its existence to the government’s endeavors to keep some people from being hurt by other people.
      • The government has also responded to pleas for assistance from people buffeted not so much by their fellows as by forces over which they have no control.
      • The moment a government program for a specified group gets started, legislation and administrative directives and court battles proliferate. It is essential to define who is in the group and who is not. The amounts of benefits and the criteria for determining who in the group is eligible for which amount must be established.
    • Forestalling Systemic Disruptions (pg. 32) #[[systemic failure]]
      • Another way in which the federal government strives to prevent pain and hardship from afflicting people is by heading off systemic breakdowns.
      • the suffering from systemic breakdowns evidently is so much less acceptable than the controls and procedures set up to prevent them that we prefer the certain constraints and annoyances to the possibility of even temporary disruption.
    • Representativeness and its Consequences (pg. 34) #[[representativeness]]
      • Americans assert a need to be protected from the government as well as by it, and they recognize a need to protect it from those who would despoil it.
      • Unfortunately, like so many other unexceptionable objectives, this one too brings procedural complications, substantive constraints, paperwork, and additional agencies in its wake.
      • Preservation of [[due process]], for instance, obliges officials to give people affected by governmental actions a fair chance to get their views on official decisions registered so that their interests are not overlooked or arbitrarily overridden by those in power.
      • At least some of the slowness, awkwardness, and intricacy of federal administration can be traced to the protection of the rights of people who work for the government. A society less concerned about the rights of individuals in government and out might well be governed with a much smaller volume of paper and much simpler and faster administrative procedures than are typical of governance in this country. Americans have adopted a different mix.
      • Government procedures were therefore designed to avert these doleful possibilities by facilitating [[interest group]] participation in official decisions to a greater extent than would be dictated by concern for [[fairness]] alone. This makes it harder to reach policy decisions. But giving every interested party a voice in official decisions increases the likelihood that no feasible option will be overlooked, that no important consequence of any feasible option will be forgotten or unperceived, that conflicts and contradictions will be brought to light and resolved, and that the policies ultimately emerging from such broadly reviewed deliberations will enjoy a higher degree of voluntary compliance on the part of the public than policies fashioned in ignorance of public attitudes and expectations.
      • Old or new, the methods of interest-group representation generate more directives and controls, more steps in the forging of governmental policies, more bargaining before decisions are reached, and more postdecision litigation than would otherwise develop. Fairness, comprehensiveness, and community acceptance of policy decisions obviously rate higher than administrative simplicity and speed.
        • [[Mark’s Notes]]: the word "obviously" seems incorrect here. Is it really true that in no circumstances we would prefer simplicity and speed?
      • One method is compulsory clearance of pending decisions with every relevant organizational unit whose jurisdiction touches on the matters under consideration;
      • Another method is to require studies and written reports on various “impacts” of proposed policies; [[environmental impact]] statements are now mandatory prerequisites for official action affecting the environment, inflation impact statements must accompany draft legislation, rules, and regulations proposed by executive branch agencies, and similar statements about the consequences of pending measures for the public’s paperwork burdens, for the costs of doing business, and for family life have been proposed.60 Still another method is to place separate organizations under a common command with authority to compel coordination.61 All these devices are internal counterparts of external-group representation and are defended with the same arguments: fewer vital considerations are neglected, less opposition and evasion are engendered.
      • Similarly, we try to do whatever is necessary to keep the government from turning into an instrumentality of private profit for those in its employ or those with private fortunes at their disposal. (pg. 41)
        • The temptations facing the government work force are varied and enormous.
        • Public officers and employees are also tempted by opportunities to sell their official discretion and information.
        • They have also been tempted by the opportunities to extort payments.
        • [[Mark’s Notes]]: These arguments seem to point in favour of less government not more
        • But our attitude toward public property is typified by the comments of a famous economist ordinarily inclined to reject costs that exceed benefits in dollar terms: “The Office of Management and Budget should spend $20 to prevent the theft of $1 of public funds.” Not only are public property and public discretion held to have a special moral status; they occupy a special political position because abusing them eats away at the foundations of representative government. So we are willing to put up with a lot to safeguard their integrity. Is the ratio really that high though (spend $20 to save $1) – that seems so irrational. At the margin, should it be more or less?
        • [[Mark’s Notes]]: This is an interesting and somewhat convincing argument. It seems deeply irrational to spend $20 to save $1, but perhaps it is worthwhile considering what corruption can do to the overall legitimacy and trust in the system. [[corruption]] imposes a huge [[externality]] in terms of credibility of government. But why is this more-so the case than private companies? I think the difference is, government is a [[monopoly]]. Customers cannot leave and government cannot go out of business for bad behaviour. So, we use legal safeguards that create [[red tape]].
        • Much of the often-satirized clumsiness, slowness, and complexity of government procedures is merely the consequence of all these precautions. Things would be simpler and faster if we were not resolved to block abuses that turn public goods to private profit.
      • Were we a less differentiated society, the blizzard of official paper might be less severe and the labyrinths of official processes less tortuous. Had we more [[trust]] in one another and in our public officers and employees, we would not feel impelled to limit discretion by means of lengthy, minutely detailed directives and prescriptions or to subject public and private actions to check after check. If our polity were less democratic, imperfect though our democracy may be, the government would not respond as readily to the innumerable claims on it for protection and assistance. Diversity, [[distrust]], and [[democracy]] thus cause the profusion of constraints and the unwieldiness of the procedures that afflict us. It is in this sense that we bring it on ourselves. #diversity
        • [[Mark’s Notes]]: The arguments about trust remind me of the points made in the forward by [[Philip K. Howard]]. Instead of loading up [[red tape]], why not increase [[authority]] and [[trust]] all along the hierarchy, providing more power so [[government employees]] can exercise greater discretion and apply their expertise. At the same time, this increased [[responsibility]] could be accompanied by increased [[accountability]] through things like greater ownership of outcomes, and greater ease of hiring and firing for bad performance (like the [[private sector]]). #[[Personal Ideas]]
  • Chapter 3: Rewinding the Spools #[[dealing with red tape]]

    • On the surface, [[red tape]] resembles other noxious by-products we generate in the course of making things and rendering services we are eager to have. More of what we want means more of what we don’t want as well. More automobiles mean more pollutants in the air. More electric power means either more air pollution or more radioactive wastes to dispose of, perhaps both. More food means more runoff of fertilizer into our water. More metals and minerals mean more slag heaps. Increased convenience in packaging means more solid refuse. Similarly, it appears, the more values the government tries to advance, the more red tape it inevitably generates.
    • In the case of government requirements and restraints, both substantive and procedural, people disagree about what is valued output and what is dismal by-product.
    • Intractable problems often engender proposals for sweeping solutions. In the case of red tape, the sweeping proposals are of four kinds. #[[To Ankify]]
    • Shrinking the Government (pg. 51) #[[shrinking government]]
      • Powerful contrary factors militate against comprehensive governmental shrinkage.
      • Chief among these is the danger that many of the evils and follies, both intentional and unwitting, against which the constraints scored as [[red tape]] are directed, might resurge if the measures taken to suppress them were lifted.
      • Another factor counteracting the case for shrinking the government is the substantial [[sunk cost]] in ongoing federal programs and services. When a program or service is instituted, people adjust to it, and their calculations include its operations in their assumptions and reasoning.
        • [[Mark’s Notes]]: This seems like incorrect usage of the term [[sunk cost]]. I’m not sure if there’s a specific word for this, but he’s basically saying it’s costly to change when a variety of [[special interests]] are invested in a particular arrangement.
      • Debarred but aspiring entrants into previously regulated fields would also applaud the removal of entry barriers by deregulation. But many established firms, having acted in good faith according to standards prescribed by government, would be hard hit and would naturally feel they had been misled. And many neutral observers would have to agree with them.
        • [[Mark’s Notes]]: Again, this is an argument for avoiding regulations in the first place. Another factor working against the debarred but aspiring entrants is the fact that they tend to not be organized in an identifiable [[special interests]] group, and as a result they are much less coordinated to advocate for themselves effectively.
      • Remote activities are expendable; those that hit close to home are indispensable. In these circumstances, the inevitable outcome is [[logrolling]]. Groups join in the defense of things to which they are indifferent in order to win allies for the things they are really concerned about. In the end, practically nothing will disappear. The sweeping rollback will break up on the endless variety in the system. #[[To Ankify]]
      • In these circumstances, only carefully selected, egregious, generally acknowledged failures among governmental activities stand a chance of elimination. Such modest measures would not significantly reduce the body of federal red tape. But they would doubtless accomplish more than attempts at an all-encompassing contraction of government on all fronts simultaneously.
    • Devolving Federal Power (pg. 59) #devolution
      • according to this school of thought, devolution is desirable not only for the major reason that it constitutes a bulwark against tyranny, but also because it incidentally reduces the conditions referred to as red tape. First, by bringing government decision centers closer to the people supposed to obey government decisions, devolution would increase the probability of local needs and conditions being recognized and taken into account. It would also afford local interests better opportunities to take part in the formation of policies directly affecting them.
      • Second, things would move faster if few matters had to be referred to the center before they could be resolved. The proverbial timidity of the bureaucrat and the collective evasiveness of bureaucracies would decline because the buck could be less easily passed to distant superiors. Communications channels would not be jammed with inquiries and requests flowing upward and commands and elaborations flowing down.
      • general concern for uniform application of policy also militates against wholesale devolution. #consistency
      • Moreover, some policies are unlikely to be effective unless they are managed on a national basis; energy conservation, pollution control, transportation development, and economic planning, for instance, can hardly be effective if they are not broadly conceived and executed.
      • In any event, people whose demands on government are not met at the state and local levels or at lower levels of the federal hierarchy will not hesitate to try their luck in Washington.
    • Concentrating Authority (pg. 64) #authority
      • The greater the dispersal of functions and the diffusion of authority in the governmental process, the stronger are the centripetal tendencies. Fragmentation itself breeds the very things decried as red tape.
      • Numerous small units mean many boundaries, and every move across jurisdictional lines can mean new procedures to master, new permissions to obtain, new applications to file, new requirements and prohibitions to learn.
      • Many critics of red tape therefore recommend concentrating power.
      • The strategy seems to work to some extent, for a time. Seldom for very long, however. Whatever its merits on other grounds, its effect on red tape is slight. The unpleasant symptoms gradually reappear. The misgivings of the government minimalists and the decentralists about the consequences of congestion at the center are apparently not without foundation.
      • the czars and expediters often add to the overall congestion in the system even if their initial effect is to break specific bottlenecks.
      • concentrating authority does not banish red tape any more than devolving power does. Sometimes it even adds to the problem.
    • Manipulating Pecuniary Incentives (pg. 67)
      • The new approach is to reach for the best of both [[the market]] and the governmental mechanisms, taking advantage of the powerful motivations of the former and the public-interest orientation of the latter.
      • The alleged beauty of this approach is that it skirts the shoals of red tape and inefficiency that government regulation and operation cannot avoid while attaining the social ends these policies are supposed to accomplish.
      • It is quite possible that the beneficial effects would be pronounced. There is certainly great promise in employing tax burdens and advantages and the granting or withholding of subsidies to influence behavior because these measures allow each individual and organization to invent compliant responses instead of being locked into prescribed ways of doing things. The spur of [[competition]] and the rewards of [[innovation]] are thus retained.
      • But it is far from obvious that this method would necessarily reduce red tape. The contention is persuasive only if one assumes that the collection and distribution of money by the government entail less red tape than does regulation or direct government operation and that government financial powers are easier to administer, less burdensome, and more acceptable to the public than regulatory powers or public services. The assumptions are not self-evidently valid.
        • Taxation has become the chief source of complaints about government-imposed paperwork. #taxes
        • Similarly, the distribution of subsidies and other forms of assistance is not a smooth-flowing, unanimously lauded, virtually automatic process. #subsidies
        • There is no reason to expect a smaller output of [[government directives]] from [[tax]] and [[subsidy]] programs than from regulatory or service programs. It is no simple matter to define what is taxable and what is not, what qualifies for aid and what does not, and what the extent of liability or eligibility should be.
        • It may have other justifications, but rolling back red tape is not likely to be one of its accomplishments.
    • No Panacea (pg. 70)
      • What, then, is to be done? The surest way to get rid of the [[red tape]] associated with the federal government is to shrink the federal government itself, but the prospects of shrinking it to even its size in the early twentieth century are not bright #[[shrinking government]]; the disadvantages would be too great for too many people. [[devolution]] likewise is not free of costs balancing many of its gains, and some of the frustrations of decentralization can match those caused by federal red tape. Concentration of [[authority]], on the other hand, undeniably is often responsible for congestion at the center, layering of administrative levels, and long lines of communication; its disadvantages, too, are discouraging. And even the ingenious proposal for taking advantage of private incentives through [[taxes]] and [[subsidies]] would apparently result in just as much government paper and procedural complexity as the currently prevailing techniques of government intervention in social and economic relations.
      • Curiously, as constraints on discretion both outside and inside the government accumulate, they sometimes reach a point where their effect is to broaden the very discretion they were supposed to contain. When there are multitudinous categories and definitions, shrewd operators can find somewhere in the stack justification for almost anything they want to do. #[[manipulating regulation]]
      • But there are ways of keeping red tape under control and endurable. They are not spectacular or glamorous. They work no miracles. Nevertheless, they can provide relief.
    • TREATING SYMPTOMS (pg. 72) #[[improving government]]
      • Specific, targeted interventions are better than grand visions: Those ways are the normal methods of [[politics]]. The political system responds to pointed demands for specific actions, not to grand visions or all-embracing lamentations. Grand visions and ill-defined complaints, of course, often determine the particulars of demands. But until and unless they are translated into concrete measures that officials can act on, they seldom evoke any governmental response. They may win offers of sympathy, expressions of shared outrage, and even symbolic gestures of solidarity and support. But not tangible benefits. #[[grand vision]] #[[To Ankify]]
        • railing against all red tape or advancing some panacea that will purportedly dispose of it once and for all avails nothing; an attack on a particular procedure in a particular agency or on a designated tax or application form or on a specified requirement long since out of date is much more likely to get results.
        • They had specified targets. Their fire was focused. Moreover, they made their views known through professional, articulate, politically sophisticated spokesmen.
      • Where / who to target your proposals for improvement: Nor is a top-level [[commission]] necessary to correct every instance of [[red tape]]. A change in specifications here, a relaxation of restrictions there, a restraining influence on an over-zealous agency, a prod for a sluggish one, an improvement in a single procedure, or a simplification of a single form may alleviate a great deal of pain for a great many people. An individual legislator or a member of his staff, the members or the staff of legislative or appropriations or budget committees or subcommittees, a journalist eager for a good story, a court, congenial bureaucrats, and competing agencies are among the points at which pressure can be quietly but effectively applied to induce a change. It is done all the time. A good many victories over red tape are won in this fashion.
      • On the value of the [[ombudsman]]: Yet some students of government have concluded that even these organizations, in all their variety, are inadequate to relieve every person with a grievance against official action or inaction. (pg. 78)
        • Hence the interest in the [[ombudsman]], the [[Swedish]] institution for pressing citizen complaints against government. #[[To Ankify]]
          • The [[ombudsman]] is, in essence, the head of a complaint bureau clothed with official power to receive and investigate complaints against administrative action anywhere in the administrative machinery of government. If the ombudsman finds merit in a complaint, the expectation is that the accused agency will normally accede to his finding and redress the grievance as he recommends. If the agency does not, the ombudsman may appeal to higher administrative authority, to the courts, or even to the legislature for corrective action.
      • Institutional reforms are not immune to the viruses that infect large organizations generally. We may therefore anticipate that the procedures set up to ease the pains of red tape by assisting individuals trapped in the coils will themselves be denounced one day.
    • Death, Taxes, and Red Tape (pg. 81)
      • Chipping away at a problem calls for more [[perseverance]] and [[stamina]] than blasting away at it.
      • From all indications, our descendants will be chipping away at it just as we are. For them, however, the character of the problem may be different. [[automation]], for instance, will contribute to change. Already, information from cash registers can be linked to accounting and inventory-control computers, reducing the flow of paper significantly. #[[government IT]]
      • Even a fully wired and automated society would not be rid of [[red tape]], though. Safeguards against abuses would be extensive. Methods of appeal from errors or abuses would have to be developed. Most of all, the machines themselves would impose an unyielding set of obligations and prohibitions on their users. #automation #[[government IT]]

Roam Notes on “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker

  • "Title::" The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
  • "Author::" [[Peter Drucker]]
  • "Reading Status::" #Complete
  • "Recommended By::" [[Tim Ferriss]]
  • "Tags::" #[[Business]] #[[Productivity]] #[[Management]] #[[Time Management]] #[[Effective Executives]] #Book
  • What is Expected of Executives? (pp. 1, 2, 7) #[[Effectiveness]] #execution
    • To be effective is the job of the executive. “To effect” and “to execute” are, after all, near-synonyms. Whether he works in a business or in a hospital, in a government agency or in a labor union, in a university or in the army, the executive is, first of all, expected to get the right things done. And this is simply that he is expected to be effective…
    • [[Intelligence]], [[imagination]], and [[knowledge]] are essential [[resources]], but only [[effectiveness]] converts them into [[results]]. By themselves, they only set limits to what can be attained.
    • Knowledge work is not defined by quantity. Neither is [[knowledge work]] defined by its costs. Knowledge work is defined by its [[results]].
  • Four Major Realities Over Which the Executive has Essentially no [[control]] (pp. 10-17)
    • Every one of them is built into the organization and into the executive’s day and work. He has no choice but to “cooperate with the inevitable.” But every one of these realities exerts pressure toward [[nonresults]] and [[nonperformance]].
      1. Executive’s [[time]] tends to belong to everybody else. Everybody can move in on his time, and everybody does (e.g. bosses, customers, city administration official).
      2. Executives are forced to keep on “[[operating]]” unless they take positive [[action]] to change the reality in which they live and work.
      3. He is within an organization. This means that he is effective only if and when other people make use of what he contributes. #[[Working with Teams]] #[[knowledge translation]]
      4. The executive is within an organization. He sees the inside—the organization—as close and immediate reality. He sees the outside only through thick and distorting lenses, if at all. #environment #bias
    • Mark’s notes:
      • 3 – [[knowledge translation]] is everywhere. Everyone specializes and there is this constant issue of communicating information to other groups that aren’t specialists. Without doing this effectively, the specialization is useless. “Each has to be able to use what the other produces.” #[[communication]] #[[Specialization]]
      • 4 – “The problem is rather that the important and relevant outside events are often [[qualitative]] and not capable of [[quantification]]. They are not yet “[[facts]].”” There might be an insight here about quantitative being systematically overrated. If it’s quantifiable, its being collected, which means systems are in place to collect it, which means people tend to understand its value and it’s more likely to be overrated. It follows that for unique [[insight]] or [[competitive advantage]], you need to use qualitative or use quantitative data in a way no one is currently using it. #[[Personal Ideas]]
  • The Five Practices of [[Effective Executives]] (pp 23-25)
    • They know where their [[time]] goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control. #[[Time Management]]
    • They focus on outward [[contribution]]. They gear efforts to [[results]] rather than to [[work]]. They start out with the question, “What results are expected of me?” rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools. #[[outcomes]]
    • They build on strengths – their own [[strengths]], the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, subordinates, and on the strengths of in the situation i.e.. What they can do. They do not build on [[weakness]]. They do not start out with things they cannot do. #[[comparative advantage]]
    • They concentrate on the few major areas where superior [[performance]] will produce outstanding [[results]]. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. #[[focus]]
    • **They make effective decisions. **They know that this is, above all, a matter of [[system]] – of the right steps in the right sequence. Making many [[decisions]] fast means to make the wrong decisions. What is needed are few, but fundamental [[decisions]]. #[[decision making]]
    • Mark’s Notes:
      • These practices form the basis of the book. Note that there is no “effective [[personality]]”. [[Peter Drucker]] has come across people of all [[personality types]] who are extremely effective.
      • Note that point 5 is in disagreement with advice I’ve heard from [[Patrick Collison]] and others in Silicon Valley where the [[speed]] and [[frequency]] of [[decision making]] is actually very important. However, they do add the caveat that [[decisions]] that are 1) higher [[impact]] and 2) tougher to reverse should be given more thought.
  • On the Scarcity Properties of Time (pg. 25-26) #[[time]] #[[Time Management]] #scarcity
    • Effective executives know that [[time]] is the limiting factor. The [[output]] limits of any [[process]] are set by the scarcest resource. In the process we call “accomplishment,” this is time.
    • Time is also a unique resource. Of the other major resources, [[money]] is actually quite plentiful. We long ago should have learned that it is the [[demand]] for [[capital]], rather than the [[supply]] thereof, which sets the limit to [[economic growth]] and activity. People—the third limiting resource—one can hire, though one can rarely hire enough good people. But one cannot rent, hire, buy, or otherwise obtain more time. #[[To Ankify]]
    • The [[supply]] of [[time]] is totally [[inelastic]]. No matter how high the [[demand]], the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no [[marginal utility]] curve for it. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore, always in exceedingly short supply.
    • Time is totally irreplaceable. Within limits we can substitute one resource for another, copper for aluminum, for instance. We can substitute capital for human labor. We can use more knowledge or more brawn. But there is no substitute for [[time]]. Everything requires time. It is the one truly universal condition. All work takes place in time and uses up time. Yet most people take for granted this unique, irreplaceable, and necessary resource. Nothing else, perhaps, distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time.”
    • Mark’s Notes: He goes on to note that people are terrible at estimating how much time has elapsed. It is therefore essential to track how much time you spend on things, and not just rely on memory. Make sure the record is made in “real” time, rather than later on from memory. Run a log on yourself for 3-4 weeks at a stretch twice a year (minimum), then rethink and rework the schedule. #[[time tracking]]
  • Instead of Starting with their Tasks, Effective Executives Start with This (3 Step Process) (pg. 25) #[[Time Management]] #[[time tracking]]
    • Effective executives, in my observation, do not start with their [[tasks]]. They start with their [[time]]. And they do not start out with [[planning]]. They start by finding out where their time actually goes. Then they attempt to manage their time and to cut back unproductive demands on their time. Finally they consolidate their “discretionary” time into the largest possible continuing units. This three-step process:
      • recording time,
      • managing time, and
      • consolidating time
    • is the foundation of executive effectiveness.
  • Things to Ask Employees in a Knowledge Work Firm on a Regular Basis (pp. 30-31) #Hiring #Management #[[performance reviews]]
    • Wherever [[knowledge workers]] perform well in large organizations, senior executives take time out, on a regular schedule, to sit down with them, sometimes all the way down to green juniors, and ask: “What should we at the head of this organization know about your work? What do you want to tell me regarding this organization? Where do you see opportunities we do not exploit? Where do you see dangers to which we are still blind? And, all together, what do you want to know from me about the organization?"
    • Mark’s Notes: An excellent [[leadership]] course I took with [[Linton Sellen]] offers advice that differs somewhat – Linton said the appropriate way to do this is for C mangers to query their B subordinates, and then C’s should tell B’s to do the same with their subordinate A’s and report back, and so on. C going directly to A undermines B’s [[authority]]. I’m believe Linton’s advice is better.
  • Why People Decisions are Time Consuming (pp. 33-34) #[[labour]] #[[Hiring]] #Management #[[people decisions]]
    • People-decisions are time-consuming, for the simple reason that the Lord did not create people as “resources” for the organization. They do not come in the proper size and shape for the tasks that have to be done in organization — and they cannot be machined down or recast for these tasks . People are always “almost fits” at best. To get the work done with people (and no other resource is available) therefore requires lots of [[time]], [[thought]], and [[judgment]]. #[[To Ankify]]
  • Script to Send Potential Meeting Participants from Attending Meeting if it is a Waste of their Time (pg. 39) #[[email scripts]] #meetings #attendance
    • “I have asked [Messrs Smith, Jones, and Robinson] to meet with me [Wednesday at 3] in [the fourth floor conference room] to discuss budget. Please come if you think that you need the information or want to take part in the discussion. But you will in any event receive right away a full summary of the discussion and of any decisions reached, together with a request for your comments.”
    • Mark’s Notes: This was a script used by a manager to make sure no-one felt left out and had the opportunity to attend. The manager invited all of these people to the meetings because of the culture in the company of being “in the know”. This message prevents people from wasting their time, while still making sure no one feels left out.
  • On the Risk of Cutting Back Tasks (pg. 40) #Delegation
    • There is not much risk that an executive will cut back too much. We usually tend to overrate rather than underrate our importance and to conclude that far too many things can only be done by ourselves. Even very effective executives still do a great many unnecessary, unproductive things.
  • Three big benefits of focusing on [[contribution]] (rather than [[effort]]) (pg. 70)
    • The focus on contribution counteracts one of the basic problems of the executive: the confusion and chaos of events and their failure to indicate by themselves which is meaningful and which is merely “noise.” The [[focus]] on [[contribution]] imposes an organizing principle. It imposes relevance on events.
    • Focusing on [[contribution]] turns one of the inherent weaknesses of the executive’s situation—his dependence on other people, his being within the organization—into a source of strength. It creates a team. #[[Team Building]]
    • Finally, focusing on [[contribution]] fights the temptation to stay within the organization. It leads the executive—especially the top-level man—to lift his eyes from the inside of efforts, work, and relationships, to the outside; that is, to the [[results]] of the organization. It makes him try hard to have direct contact with the outside—whether [[markets]] and [[customers]], patients in a community, or the various “publics” which are the outside of a government agency.” #[[outcomes]]
  • How to tell if a job is impossible, undoable man-killer (pg. 79) #Hiring #nonperformance #[[Evaluating People]]
    • The rule is simple: Any job that has defeated two or three men in succession, even though each had performed well in his previous assignments, must be assumed unfit for human beings. It must be redesigned.
    • Mark’s Notes: Interesting to keep in mind that jobs like this exist. Jobs are not created by an all-knowing God. Rather, they are created by fallible human beings. It’s an important insight that job may be poorly designed / impossible.
  • Why effective executives try to be themselves (pg. 97) #authenticity #[[comparative advantage]]
    • All in all, the effective executive tries to be himself; he does not pretend to be someone else. He looks at his own performance and at his own results and tries to discern a pattern. “What are the things,” he asks, “that I seem to be able to do with relative ease, while they come rather hard to other people?
    • Mark’s Notes: It would be useful to ask yourself this question on a weekly basis by adding this to your [[Weekly Planning]]. Have a document about what you do with ease that is hard for other people, and review it regularly.
  • The “Secret” of those people who “do so many things” (pp. 100, 103) #focus #concentration #Prioritizing #Productivity
    • If there is any one “secret” of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time. #[[To Ankify]]
    • This is the “secret” of those people who “do so many things” and apparently so many difficult things. They do only one at a time. As a result, they need much less [[time]] in the end than the rest of us.
    • The people who get nothing done often work a great deal harder. In the first place, they underestimate the time for any one task. They always expect that everything will go right. Yet, as every executive knows, nothing ever goes right.
  • On the Danger of Succumbing to Pressure for Decision-Making (pg. 109) #pressure #[[decision making]] #focus #priorities
    • If the pressures rather than the executive are allowed to make the decision, the important tasks will predictably be sacrificed. Typically, there will then be no time for the most time-consuming part of any task, the conversion of decision into action
    • Another predictable result of leaving control of priorities to the pressures is that the work of top management does not get done at all. That is always postponable work, for it does not try to solve yesterday’s crises but to make a different tomorrow. And the pressures always favor yesterday.
  • Setting priorities is easy…this on the other hand…. (pp. 109-110) #[[Prioritizing]] #focus
    • The job is, however, not to set [[priorities]]. That is easy. Everybody can do it. The reason why so few executives concentrate is the difficulty of setting “[[posteriorities]]”—that is, deciding what tasks not to tackle—and of sticking to the decision. #[[To Ankify]]
    • Most executives have learned that what one postpones, one actually abandons. A good many of them suspect that there is nothing less desirable than to take up later a project one has postponed when it first came up. #procrastination
  • Truly Important Rules for Identifying Priorities (4) (pg. 111) #[[priorities]] #Prioritizing
    • [[Courage]] rather than [[analysis]] dictates the truly important rules for identifying priorities:
      • Pick the future as against the past;
      • **Focus on **[[opportunity]] rather than on problem;
      • Choose your own direction—rather than climb on the bandwagon; and
      • Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is “safe” and easy to do.
  • The Elements of the Effective Decision Process (pp. 122-123) #[[decision making]] #Process #[[To Ankify]]
    • They are:
      1. The clear realization that the problem was [[generic]] and could only be solved through a decision which established a [[rule]], a [[principle]];
        1. Ask “Is this generic situation or is an exception?” “Is this something that underlies a great many occurrences?” Four types of occurrences: truly generic (individual occurrence is only a symptom), unique for the individual institution but actually generic (e.g. mergers, happen all the time, but only once for an individual company), truly unique event (rare), early manifestation of a new generic problem. Effective decision-makers always assume initially the problem is generic, and they are not content with treating the symptom alone. #[[5 whys]] #[[diagnosing problems]]
      2. The definition of the [[specifications]] which the answer to the problem had to satisfy, that is, of the “[[boundary conditions]]”;
        1. [[boundary conditions]] usually determined by asking “What is the minimum needed to resolve this problem?” (most difficult step, apparently)
      3. The thinking through what is “right,” that is, the solution which will fully satisfy the [[specifications]] before attention is given to the compromises, adaptations, and concessions needed to make the decision acceptable; #optics #politics
        1. “It is fruitless and a waste of time to worry about what is acceptable and what one had better not say so as not to evoke resistance. The things one worries about never happen. And objections and difficulties no one thought about suddenly turn out to be almost insurmountable obstacles. One gains nothing in other words by starting out with the question: “What is acceptable?”
      4. The building into the decision of the action to carry it out; #action #Delegation #execution #Responsibility
        1. “no decision has been made unless carrying it out in specific steps has become someone’s work assignment and responsibility.”
      5. The “[[feedback]]” which tests the validity and effectiveness of the decision against the actual course of events.
        1. “[[military organizations]] learned long ago that futility is the lot of most [[orders]] and organized the [[feedback]] to check on the [[execution]] of the order. They learned long ago that to go oneself and look is the only reliable feedback.” “Unless [the decision maker] accepts, as a matter of course, that he had better go out and look at the scene of action, he will be increasingly divorced from [[reality]].”
  • Most books on decision-making tell the reader: “First find the facts”. Instead, do this. (pg. 143) #[[decision making]] #[[scientific method]] #[[To Ankify]]
    • Most books on decision-making tell the reader: “First find the facts.” But executives who make effective decisions know that one does not start with [[facts]]. One starts with [[opinions]]. These are, of course, nothing but untested [[hypotheses]] and, as such, worthless unless tested against reality. To determine what is a fact requires first a decision on the criteria of relevance, especially on the appropriate [[measurement]]. This is the hinge of the effective decision, and usually its most controversial aspect.
    • Finally, the effective decision does not, as so many texts on decision-making proclaim, flow from a consensus on the [[facts]]. The understanding that underlies the right decision grows out of the clash and conflict of divergent opinions and out of the serious consideration of competing alternatives.
    • To get the [[facts]] first is impossible. There are no facts unless one has a criterion of [[relevance]]. [[Events]] by themselves are not facts.
    • Mark’s Notes: This is similar to the [[scientific method]] – you always start out with untested [[hypotheses]] (opinions) as the only starting point. But, can’t isolated facts be hypothesis generating? Yes, but you still ultimately start with a hypothesis. Drucker goes on to point out that, as in the scientific method, effective executives encourage opinions, but also insist on having people think through what is the corresponding “[[experiment]]” i.e. how do you test the opinion against reality and what would the [[facts]] have to be to support the [[opinion]]. [[Disagreement]] and [[conflict]] are important, because it helps ensure that you don’t just make a hypothesis and then only look for facts that support it, disregarding everything else.
  • Three main reasons for insisting on disagreement in the decision-making process. (pp. 149-152) #disagreement #decisions #reason #argument #debate
    • It is, first, the only safeguard against the decision-maker’s becoming the prisoner of the organization. Everybody always wants something from the decision-maker…The only way to break out of the prison of special pleading and preconceived notions is to make sure of argued, documented, thought-through disagreements.
    • Second, [[disagreement]] alone can provide alternatives to a decision. And a decision without an alternative is a desperate gambler’s throw, no matter how carefully thought through it might be.
    • **Above all, **[[disagreement]] is needed to stimulate the [[imagination]]…Imagination of the first order is, I admit, not in abundant supply. But neither is it as scarce as is commonly believed. Imagination needs to be challenged and stimulated, however, or else it remains latent and unused. Disagreement, especially if forced to be reasoned, thought through, documented, is the most effective stimulus we know.
    • Mark’s Notes: This is probably why people like [[Tyler Cowen]] emphasize how valuable it is do articulate and argue opinions you disagree with. It’s an extremely valuable [[mental exercise]]. #[[articulating positions you disagree with]]
  • Before you think about who is right and who is wrong, do this. (pg. 154) #[[listening]] #judgment
    • The effective executive is concerned first with [[understanding]]. Only then does he even think about who is right and who is wrong.
      • Mark’s Notes: This is similar to the advice from [[Stephen Covey]] – seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  • Why effective decision-makers don’t hedge bets (pp 157-158) #[[hedging]] #[[risk]] #[[decisions]]
    • The surgeon who only takes out half the tonsils or half the appendix risks as much infection or shock as if he did the whole job. And he has not cured the condition, has indeed made it worse. He either operates or he doesn’t. Similarly, the effective decision-maker either acts or he doesn’t act. He does not take half-action. This is the one thing that is always wrong, and the one sure way not to satisfy the minimum [[specifications]], the [[minimum boundary conditions]].
    • The decision is now ready to be made. The [[specifications]] have been thought through, the [[alternatives]] explored, the [[risks]] and gains weighed. Everything is known. Indeed, it is always reasonably clear by now what course of action must be taken. At this point the decision does indeed almost “make itself.”
    • And it is at this point that most decisions are lost. It becomes suddenly quite obvious that the decision is not going to be pleasant, is not going to be [[popular]], is not going to be easy. It becomes clear that a decision requires [[courage]] as much as it requires [[judgment]]. There is no inherent reason why medicines should taste horrible—but effective ones usually do. Similarly, there is no inherent reason why decisions should be distasteful—but most effective ones are.
    • One thing the effective executive will not do at this point. He will not give in to the cry, “Let’s make another study.” This is the coward’s way—and all the coward achieves is to die a thousand deaths where the brave man dies but one. #research #procrastination #timidity #courage
  • The one area in which [[weakness]] in itself is of importance and relevance (pp 166) #[[To Ankify]]
    • The last question (ii) is the only one which is not primarily concerned with strengths. [[Subordinates]], especially bright, young, and ambitious ones, tend to mold themselves after a forceful boss. There is, therefore, nothing more corrupting and more destructive in an organization than a forceful but basically corrupt executive. Such a man might well operate effectively on his own; even within an organization, he might be tolerable if denied all power over others. But in a position of power within an organization, he destroys. Here, therefore, is the one area in which weakness in itself is of importance and relevance. #integrity #corruption #Hiring #character
    • By themselves, [[character]] and [[integrity]] do not accomplish anything. But their absence faults everything else. Here, therefore, is the one area where weakness is a disqualification by itself rather than a limitation on [[performance]] capacity and strength.
  • Why being an effective executive is good for you (for reasons unrelated to compensation / promotion (pg. 166)
    • The knowledge worker demands economic rewards too. Their absence is a deterrent. But their presence is not enough. He needs [[opportunity]], he needs [[achievement]], he needs [[fulfillment]], he needs [[values]]. Only by making himself an effective executive can the knowledge-worker obtain these satisfactions.

Combating Knowledge Interference (Flashcard Refactoring)

I came across this computer networking Anki flashcard I’ve forgotten over 7 times:

(NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) – Maps Ethernet addresses to IPv4 addresses and back.

The card uses cloze deletions [] like this:

  • (NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) [Address Resolution Protocol (ARP)] – [Maps Ethernet addresses to IPv4 addresses and back].
  • (NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) – Maps [Ethernet addresses] to [IPv4 addresses] and back.

Interestingly, I haven’t forgotten a single review for the right-hand side clozes. Turns out this was the one causing me trouble:

(NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) […] – Maps Ethernet addresses to IPv4 addresses and back.

Why? The issue seems to be another card in my deck that is very similar, and I’m confusing the two. The other card quizzes a networking concept called “Neighbour Discovery (ND)”, which performs a similar function to ARP except it maps IPv6 addresses to Ethernet and back rather than IPv4 addresses. This is a good example of interference, which refers to the fact that learning similar things can make you confuse them (see Rule 11 of Poitr Wozniak’s classic article on the 20 rules of formulating knowledge).

So the solution I’m opting for is pretty simple, just add a hint:

  • (NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) ARP (hint: not ND) – Maps Ethernet addresses to IPv4 addresses and back.

One other small improvement is adding another card for the acronym alone:

  • Front: (NW for Sysadmins: Ethernet) ARP (Unpack Acronym)
  • Back: Address Resolution Protocol

These interference issues are tricky because you can’t really anticipate them in advance. You have to discover them as you review your cards.

Another annoyance is I’m not 100% sure that interference was actually the problem. Ideally, I would have discovered this troublesome card during review, so I could know for sure why I’m failing.

So here are some lessons learned from this little exercise:

  • Use hints as an effective tool for reducing interference.
  • Keep an eye out for interference during review of your knowledge. As soon as you encounter it, note it. In the case of Anki, there is a “mark card” feature. I also recommend actually writing text within the card to remind yourself exactly how you failed the card when you fix it later. It would be nice to be able to see basic card statistics, like number of lapses, during review without having to go into card statistics. I inquired on reddit whether there was an addon for this and while there are some good options for desktop, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything that quite meets this need for mobile (where I do all of my reviews).
  • As you get better at knowledge building, interference will become your most common problem. As Poitr Wozniak says, interference is “probably the single greatest cause of forgetting in collections of an experienced user” of spaced repetition systems since it is hard (impossible?) to avoid even if you are really good. You typically discover it during knowledge review time, not knowledge construction time.

To receive content like this weekly in your inbox, subscribe to my Spaced Repetition Newsletter, which provides latest news, tips, and ideas about spaced repetition, using learning tools like Anki, and improving your learning productivity.

Flashcard Refactoring

I’ve started a weekly habit of flashcard review. I want to share with you my thought process for modifying my cards, because I think this will be valuable to help you improve your own knowledge construction skills.

I also want my flashcard development out in the open so you can call me out when I make mistakes and provide suggestions for further improvements. Please do reach out! I am by no means the ultimate expert in knowledge construction.

So, I will be doing a regular series I call “Flashcard Refactoring” (Refactoring comes from the programming term which basically means revising and improving your code).

To sniff out poor flashcards, I ran prop:lapses>7 in the Anki browser to get all the cards I’ve forgotten over 7 times. Here’s one I came across about a command in the Linux command line to a suspend a job:

  • Side 1: ^Z (Linux Command Line)
  • Side 2: Suspend a job running in the foreground (Linux Command Line)

The card is reversible, so are two cards in total: one with Side 1 as the question, and another with Side 2 as the question.

At first glance, it doesn’t look too bad. It’s fairly concise. But one quick and easy change is reduce words in Side 2, in accordance with the 12th rule of Formulating Knowledge (“Optimize Wording”):

  • Side 2: Suspend foreground job (Linux Command Line)

This is a nice little improvement, but why am I really forgetting this card? I think it’s because ^Z doesn’t really have any meaning – it seems arbitrary and it has no clear connection to suspending foreground jobs.

So, I’ll create a fake connection, i.e. a mnemonic.

The mnemonic that immediately came to mind was the fact that the beginning of “Suspend” kind of sounds like a “Z”, e.g. “Zuspend”. I think this is all that’s required for this to stick in my memory (but only time will tell).

When you come up with a mnemonic, it’s a good idea to create a separate card for it, so I added the following to my deck: 

  • Q: Mnemonic for remembering ^Z suspends foreground job in Linux Command Line.
  • A: Zuspend

To receive content like this weekly in your inbox, subscribe to my Spaced Repetition Newsletter, which provides latest news, tips, and ideas about spaced repetition, using learning tools like Anki, and improving your learning productivity.

Roam Notes on David Perell Podcast: Tyler Cowen’s Production Function

  • "Author::" [[David Perell]] [[Tyler Cowen]]
  • "Source::" https://www.perell.com/podcast/tyler-cowen-production-function
  • "Recommended By::" [[David Perell]]
  • "Tags:: " #Productivity #podcast #writing
  • Expansion of David Perell’s Show Notes

  • [[Modesty]] signals high value.
  • 2:40 – What [[Tyler Cowen]] considers his compounding advantage.
    • Start early and keep going for many years. Many stop learning and self-improvement as they get older.
    • Why do people stop learning and self-improvement? Starting early you give up a normal childhood, which isn’t necessarily bad but many don’t want to do it. Once you reach a certain age (e.g. 45) you can take paths that have high income but low growth / learning (e.g. [[Consulting]])**, so why go the extra mile? **
  • 5:56 – Why being born as an intelligent person is not as important as developing knowledge. #intelligence #knowledge
    • A good lesson is there are many smarter people than you. Figuring out you’re pretty smart, but not that smart is actually a good combination.
  • 8:23 – How [[Tyler Cowen]] maximizes the value of his [[consumption]] and minimizes the drawbacks.
    • A lot of the value of [[consumption]] is [[memory]] or [[anticipation]]. You can cut consumption of bad things by 2/3, but still get most of the benefit (e.g. eating dessert).
  • 9:19 – What draws [[Tyler Cowen]] to the people he likes spending time with, and what he likes best about their friendship.
    • Advantages of people in [[Silicon Valley]]:** super smart but not necessarily highly educated so they don’t just believe what everyone else does. **They think outside the box. They’re thinkers as well as people that have had to do things and pass [[reality]] tests. The only test most academics face is "can I publish this piece?"
  • 12:33 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] feels that the way he has lived his life has meant has not given anything up.
  • 15:35 – How the fundamentals of productivity came intuitively to [[Tyler Cowen]].
    • He writes every day, with the exception of 10-15 days a year. If you write every day, you don’t have to worry about how much you’ve written, it’s going to add up. The regularity also pushes you along a learning curve so you’ll get more done. #writing
    • One thing he does is lay out arguments of views he disagrees with. You understand them better, sympathize with them more, and sometimes you change your mind. It makes you stupider to repeat views you agree with / are familiar with. #writing #Thinking
  • 17:41 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] writes in his particular style not by choice, but by necessity.
    • There’s a beauty / clarity choice in [[writing]]. He’s not good at the beautiful prose type of writing. He focuses on clarity.
  • 22:19 – Why the things in [[Tyler Cowen]]’s life that bind his [[output]] aren’t what you think.
    • Big binding factors: [[ideas]], time spent writing / thinking, and time spent talking to people (which helps him come up with ideas).
  • 24:06 – How to develop new [[ideas]] while staying focused on the subject and not getting tangled.
    • Just keep [[writing]] and re-writing. A book will typically be reworked 10 times. Effort and application – there are no tricks.
  • 27:36 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] sees [[art]] as one of the most important and beneficial things you can spend your [[time]] and [[money]] on.
    • You make your home special, learn other cultures, learn other points of review, develop judgement skills useful in other areas.
  • 32:41 – What writers can learn about inspiration and consistency from [[musicians]] and [[visual artists]].
    • Many [[artists]] tend to work in bursts. That’s not how he writes. Some writers are like that.
    • The half-life of ideas is very short. Be selfish, maximize your personal learning and your impact now. Don’t worry about [[legacy]]. Take [[Gary Becker]] – one of the top [[economics]] Nobel laureates. Nobody reads him now.
  • 37:16 – Why [[Peter Thiel]] has impacted [[Tyler Cowen]] so deeply and why Tyler believes he’s one of the greatest thinkers of our time.
    • He understands the [[humanities]] so well. [[Tyler Cowen]] sees him as a top thinker in this area.
    • He has the best [[bullshit]] detector of anyone he’s ever spoken with. He gets when people are bluffing. He’s probably the best selector of [[talent]], and to do that well you need to have a deep understanding of things that at least correlate with the [[humanities]]. #Hiring
    • He takes the [[humanities]] seriously, and takes a deeply [[moral]] perspective. This is looked down upon and discouraged in a lot of [[academia]]. He takes [[religion]] seriously, takes input from a variety of sources, has real-world experience with companies, fluency in two languages ([[English]] and [[German]]).
  • 40:30 – How [[Tyler Cowen]] is able to extract more from his [[reading]] than other people do.
    • He has [[hyperlexia]]
    • Talks about [[Norway]], some major figures there and why he has read up on major figures in the country.
    • Also talks about prepping for [[Margaret Atwood]]
  • 45:44 – How understanding most other people’s [[intelligence]] is higher than his in most fields gave [[Tyler Cowen]] an edge over other thinkers.
  • 49:00 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] sees a new visibility of [[talent]] in people and how he is using this visibility.
    • He’s bullish on [[Craig Palsson]], @marketpower on [[Twitter]]. He wants to be out there, determined, focus, and caring about getting things right. The emphasis on [[writing]] is commonly a big plus – it’s a sign of clear thinking.
    • [[David Perell]] sees his advantage as someone that takes action quickly. [[Tyler Cowen]] adds that successful people have an honest "what am I good at" [[metarationality]].
  • 55:24 – How [[Tyler Cowen]] constructs his [[interviews]] to maximize the freedom of his guests to speak freely on what they love.
    • His interview style likely doesn’t apply to most others, unless you read a lot.
    • He doesn’t [[probe]], because people repeat a lot and get defensive.
  • 1:00:03 – How to develop skills as a teacher and where [[Tyler Cowen]] believes the strengths of a good teacher lie. #Teaching
    • Student evaluations aren’t that helpful.
    • He gets better by just teaching a lot.
  • 1:03:34 – Why the novelty and beauty of visiting other cultures excites [[Tyler Cowen]] so much. #travel
  • 1:07:18 – How [[Tyler Cowen]] makes the most out of his travels. #travel
    • It wasn’t until he saw a large number of places did he start to love [[travel]]. The first place he went outside of the US was Oxford, England. He didn’t get much out of it, didn’t really enjoy it that much.
  • As you get older and more successful, it’s harder to get critical [[feedback]] from people. Hang out with critical people and hope you can get benefits. It’s hard to do this. If you are around people that are above you in the hierarchy, you should be critical too. #aging
  • He hasn’t seen anyone better than [[Patrick Collison]] at quickly learning new [[concepts]], by an order of magnitude.
  • 1:13:32 – Why sitting in a suboptimal seat at a concert may give you worse sound but a better understanding of the [[music]]. #concerts #[[live music]]
    • Mentions going to [[The Village Vanguard]] randomly, because you know whatever is there will be good.
  • 1:16:55 – Why knowledge workers are often not motivated to improve their [[skills]]. #[[knowledge work]]
    • Some of it is a fault in the market, because it’s hard to recognize talent. That’s why [[Tyler Cowen]] is writing a new book on spotting talent. You can do things to improve, but there is not always a return because the market doesn’t recognize it. If you’re better at spotting [[talent]], it makes more sense to invest in it.
    • You need a somewhat long [[time-horizon]]
    • You don’t really need [[discipline]]. It can be a form of entertainment or [[procrastination]] to improve your skills. Discipline and [[Conscientiousness]] are more ambiguous than we realize.
  • "The more you know, the more you can order things into coherent thoughts." Learning begets [[learning]]. True of reading, true of travel, true of food. #chunking #Thinking #skills
  • 1:20:48 – Why [[Tyler Cowen]] still responds to every [[Email]] and loves it.
    • He finds time for this because of what he doesn’t do: he hardly watches [[TV]], **his social life is basically the same as his intellectual life **- his social life is geared towards thinking, discussing, exploring ideas. With no TV, you end up with a lot of [[time]]. #[[unproductive internet activities]]
    • Isn’t [[email]] a low leverage use of his time? **He learns a lot from people that email him, and has filtered his audience so it’s mostly smart people. **He does this by being "sufficiently weird". He’s not even sure it’s highly leveraged. He met [[Patrick Collison]] that way. He doesn’t care if it’s highly leveraged if he’s learning from it. #[[Audience Building]]

Anki / Spaced Repetition Tip: Review your Weak Flashcards

To receive content like this weekly in your inbox, subscribe to my Spaced Repetition Newsletter, which provides latest news, tips, and ideas about spaced repetition, using learning tools like Anki, and improving your learning productivity.

I’ve been a long-time user of spaced repetition tools. I’ll never forget first hearing about SuperMemo from a close friend as I started my undergraduate degree in 2005. I was immediately sold on the value of spaced repetition, and I particularly liked the idea of computers automatically taking care of review scheduling for you. I started using SuperMemo as a central tool for studying, and saw my academic performance skyrocket.

Over the years, I’ve slowly improved my skill in designing flashcards. It is by no means a trivial skill: it took me years to get pretty good at it, and to this day I still often make flashcards that are complete failures.

I believe there will eventually be an open collaborative platform for flashcard development and sharing, where experts can contribute and refine perfectly crafted cards. Users contribute their deck statistics, revealing poorly formed cards and contributing to our understanding of optimal flashcards.

But until that day, it pays to develop your flashcard creation skills.

Flashcard quality is top of mind for me since I’ve revisited the classic article by Peter Wozniak (of SuperMemo fame), “Effective Learning: Twenty Rules of Formulating Knowledge)”. It is a must-read for anyone that creates flashcards for learning (i.e. almost everyone at some point in their life). I’ve published my summary notes on this article (aside: my notetaking tool of choice is Roam my notes are easy to copy-paste into your own Roam database if you happen to use it as well).

One great way to improve your flashcard development skills, while simultaneously improving the quality of your deck, is to review your old cards regularly. Review your top 10-20 most problematic cards weekly, and for each one you encounter, do one of the following things:

  • Revise: With the Twenty Rules of Formulating Knowledge by your side, refine your card or break it down into a larger number of small, easy to digest cards.
  • Suspend: If you don’t think you need to have a card in spaced repetition anymore, but don’t want to delete it entirely, suspending is a good option.
  • Delete: If you know the knowledge is completely useless to you, trash the card entirely.

But what cards should you review? If you’re like me, you have a pretty big collection, and it’s just not feasible to review all your cards every week to find the weak ones.

Anki makes it quite easy to find these problematic cards. Two main search commands in the Anki Browser are useful here:

  • tag:leech – this finds all of the “leeches” in your Anki deck, which are cards that you keep forgetting. By default, Anki tags your card as “leech” when you fail a card 8 times.
  • prop:lapses>n – this reveals all of the cards you have failed (“lapsed“) over n times. You can set n to whatever number you like. Start with high-n cards and work your way down.

In addition to using these search techniques, I try to make a habit of “marking” cards that are problematic or poorly formed in some way, during review. If it’s an easy correction (e.g. obvious suspension, or small text changes), I’ll make the change right away in the mobile app. Otherwise, I will simply mark the card and filter it out during weekly review to make improvements.

When you do revise your cards, I recommend “resetting” the card so it’s like a “do-over” – the card should be reviewed again as if you just created it. This serves two purposes: it ensures that the card will no longer show up in your “problem cards” lists when you do the above queries. It also provides you with more opportunities to review your new formulation of the knowledge.

Unfortunately, it seems the only way to do this in Anki is do create new card(s) with the information you want and delete the old one. There is an option for “rescheduling” the card, but this only restarts the review process and doesn’t delete your review history. As a result, the card will still appear as one of your problem cards if you do a query like prop:lapses>n. Luckily, it’s not much extra effort to do this.

I have to admit that I do not entirely practice what I preach here. Weekly review of my cards is something I haven’t fully incorporated yet, but I’m resolving to start doing it today. In the next weeks, I’m going to experiment with a Flashcard Refactoring series to illustrate the card refinement process. Stay tuned!

To receive content like this weekly in your inbox, subscribe to my Spaced Repetition Newsletter, which provides latest news, tips, and ideas about spaced repetition, using learning tools like Anki, and improving your learning productivity.

Roam Notes on “What the Pandemic Revealed”, By Brink Lindsey

  • "Author::" [[Brink Lindsey]]
  • "Source::" https://www.niskanencenter.org/what-the-pandemic-revealed/
  • "Recommended By::" [[Tyler Cowen]]
  • "Tags:: " #libertarian #[[COVID-19]] #politics #[[role of government]] #[[state capacity]]
  • Overview

  • [[Brink Lindsey]] discusses libertarianism in the context of [[COVID-19]]. While there was significant government failure in handling the crisis, Lindsey suggests that what we need is greater government capacity, not to cut government services. According to him, this is the only solution Libertarians have regarding government. They offer valuable points on the limits of government, but they do not provide insights on how to improve the quality of government.
  • Excerpts

  • On March 3, in response to reports that some Republican lawmakers favored free testing and treatments for [[COVID-19]], [[Derek Thompson]] of [[The Atlantic]] tweeted, “There are no [[libertarians]] in a pandemic.” The witticism bounced all over social media during the ensuing days and weeks – and with good reason, since the jab hit its target squarely on the nose.
  • When public safety is threatened, whether by war or disease, our dependence on [[Government]] becomes immediately and viscerally obvious.
  • In the first place, the fact that certain kinds of government action are necessary under the extraordinary conditions of a public health emergency – a fact freely acknowledged by many libertarians and partisans of small government – does not mean that expansive government across the board is a good idea in normal times. Further, in the emergency now upon us, overweening government has contributed significantly to the scale of the pandemic here in the United States. Effective responses to the outbreak have been badly hampered by inadequate supplies of test kits and equipment, and primary responsibility for this failure rests with the Food and Drug Administration and its heavy-handed regulatory approach. A key blunder was the decision in early February to allow only the [[CDC]] to produce and conduct tests; problems with the CDC’s initial test then led to weeks of disastrous delay. #[[FDA]]
  • Meanwhile, responding to the crisis has necessitated a string of regulatory waivers at the federal and state levels – to allow doctors and nurses to work out of state, to facilitate telemedicine, to expand the scope of work that non-M.D. health professionals can do, to allow restaurants and bars to sell alcohol to takeout customers, and more. The relevant rules have been put aside temporarily as obviously dysfunctional now – but perhaps that means at least some of them are dysfunctional, if less obviously, all the time? #[[regulation]] #[[deregulation]]
  • But if the pandemic has shown that a critical stance toward government is always needed in formulating and evaluating policy, it has demonstrated even more forcefully the limitations and shortcomings of libertarians’ exclusive focus on government excess. The gravest failures in the government response to the pandemic were sins of omission, not commission – not unnecessary and ill-advised interference with the private sector, but the inability to accomplish tasks for which only government is suited. Yes, at the outset of the crisis the [[FDA]] was disastrously over-restrictive in permitting labs to develop their own tests for the virus, but it is flatly risible to suggest that everything would have worked out fine if only government had gotten out of the way.
  • While the economic collapse was doubtless aggravated at the margins by forced business closures and stay-at-home orders, those interventions largely codified the public’s spontaneous response to the uncontrolled outbreak of a highly infectious and potentially fatal disease. It’s quite simply impossible to run a modern economy at anything near its potential level of output when people are afraid that going to work or going shopping might kill them or their loved ones.
  • [[Government excess]], in other words, was not the fundamental problem. On the contrary, a large and activist government was all that stood between us and mass privation and suffering on a mind-boggling scale. Only government can mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic – in the same way it responds to other shocks that lead to other, less drastic slumps – by acting as insurer of last resort, using its taxing, spending, borrowing, and money-creating powers to sustain household spending and keep businesses afloat until resumption of something approaching normal economic activity is possible.
  • In the current double crisis, what has been lacking is not restraints on government power. What has been lacking – shockingly, shamefully, tragically lacking – is the capacity to exercise government power effectively. #[[state capacity]]
  • As to how to close America’s deficit in [[state capacity]], a question with millions of lives in the balance, [[libertarianism]] has nothing to say. The libertarian project is devoted exclusively to stopping government from doing things it ought not to do; its only advice about how to improve government is “less.” When it comes to making government strong enough and capable enough to do the things it needs to do, libertarianism is silent.
  • As I’ve already argued, none of this means that libertarians are wrong about everything, or that [[libertarian]] ideas are worthless. But it does mean that skepticism about government, standing alone, is an insufficient foundation for good governance. The insights of libertarian thought – suspicion of centralized power, alertness to how even the best-intended government measures can still go horribly wrong, recognition of the enormous fertility of the marketplace’s decentralized, trial-and-error experimentation – are genuine and abiding. But they are not sufficient.
  • I say this as someone who discovered [[libertarian]] ideas in the 1970s. Back then, the intellectual orthodoxy tilted heavily in favor of top-down, technocratic management of economic life. [[Paul Samuelson]]’s bestselling [[economics]] textbook was still predicting that the [[Soviet Union]] would soon overtake us in [[GDP]].
  • The intellectual turn against markets had derived enormous momentum from events. The catastrophic collapse of the [[Great Depression]] had seriously discredited [[capitalism]], while the energetic experimentation of the [[New Deal]] showcased government activism favorably. Belief in the benevolence and effectiveness of American government, and the crucial importance of collective action for collective welfare, gained further strength from the experience of [[World War II]]. And the glittering economic performance of the postwar decades under the [[Big Government]]-[[Big Business]]-[[Big Labor]] triumvirate seemed to confirm that government management and economies of scale had permanently displaced upstart [[entrepreneurship]] and [[creative destruction]] as the primary engines of [[progress]].
  • But by the 1970s, events had turned. [[Stagflation]], the combination of soaring prices and slumping output, was afflicting the country despite the fact that its very existence was a baffling mystery to the reigning practitioners of macroeconomic “fine-tuning.” In cruel mockery of the noble goals and soaring rhetoric of the “War on Poverty,” a major expansion of anti-poverty programs had been followed by waves of urban riots, a soaring crime rate, and the catastrophic breakdown of intact families among African-Americans. The auto and steel industries, pillars of the economy and only recently world leaders in efficiency and innovation, were buckling under the competitive challenge of imports from [[Europe]] and [[Japan]]. Gas lines and periodic rationing suggested a grim future of ever more tightly binding “limits to growth.”
  • Against this backdrop, the rising movement of libertarian thought and free-market economics represented a much-needed corrective.

Roam Notes on Poitr Wozniak (Supermemo) Twenty Rules of Formulating Knowledge

  • "Author::" [[Poitr Wozniak]]
  • "Source::" https://www.supermemo.com/en/archives1990-2015/articles/20rules
  • "Recommended By::"
  • "Tags:: " #Flashcards #[[Spaced Repetition]] #[[flashcard design]] #Learning
  • Summary

  • The rules are listed in order from most important / common to least.
  • Rule 1: Do not learn if you do not understand. Trying to memorize things you don’t understand increase the time to learn and more importantly, reduces the value of the knowledge to nothing (e.g. memorizing a German history book when you don’t know German – you won’t know any of its history). #[[Flashcard Tip: Don’t add Things you Don’t Understand]]
  • Rule 2: Learn before you memorize. He recommends building an overall picture of the learned knowledge before memorizing. You’ll reduce learning time when the individual pieces fit a single coherent structure. So, read the chapter first, then add the cards. #[[Flashcard Tip: Learn Before you Memorize]]
    • Notes: Why can’t you learn with [[Flashcards]] alone? Perhaps this is efficient if presented in the proper order. Also, perhaps the cards need to change when first learning when compared to committing to long-term memory. If so, how do they change? In other words, how are "questions for learning" different than "questions for retention"? #[[Personal Ideas]]
  • Rule 3: Build upon the basics. Start simple, and build from there. Don’t hesitate to memorize basic, obvious things. The cost of memorizing them is small, because they’re easy to answer. "usually you spend 50% of your time repeating just 3-5% of the learned material" source #[[Flashcard Tip: Build Upon the Basics]]
    • Notes: The basics provide [[scaffolding]] that you can build upon. This reminds me of the [[80-20 rule]], where a big chunk of your time is spent on a small number of [[flashcards]]. #[[Flashcard Tip: Track Down and Eliminate Your Problem Cards]].
  • Rule 4: Stick to the minimum information principle. Formulate knowledge as simply as possible. Simple is easy to remember, and having a complex answer means there is more to remember – a larger number of simpler cards covering the same knowledge lets you review each sub-component at its own appropriate pace. #[[Minimum Information Principle]] #[[Flashcard Tip: Follow the Minimum Information Principle]]
  • Rule 5: Cloze deletion is easy and effective. #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Cloze Deletion]]
  • Rule 6: Use imagery. Our brains are wired for them. They usually take more time to create though compared to a basic verbal card, so weigh the benefits. #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Images]]
  • Rule 7: Use mnemonic techniques. He makes an interesting point that these do not solve the problem of forgetting, since the bottleneck is long-lasting and useful memory, not quickly memorizing knowledge. For that, you need #[[Spaced Repetition]]. "Experience shows that with a dose of training you will need to consciously apply mnemonic techniques in only 1-5% of your items". #[[Flashcard Tip: Save Mnemonics for Difficult Cards]] #mnemonics
  • Rule 8: Graphic deletion is as good as cloze deletion. #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Image Occlusion]]
  • Rule 9: Avoid sets. Sets are unordered collections of objects. Very difficult to memorize. If you must, use [[enumerations]] instead, which are ordered in some way. #sets #[[Flashcard Tip: Avoid sets]]
  • Rule 10: Avoid enumerations #enumerations #[[Flashcard Tip: Avoid Enumerations]]
    • He includes a nice method for [[memorizing text]] such as [[poems]] or [[prayers]], without using [[cloze deletion]]
  • Rule 11: Combat interference: #[[memory interference]] #[[Flashcard Tip: Combat Interference]]
    • Learning similar things tends to make you confuse them. [[memory interference]] – "knowledge of one item tends to make it harder to remember another item".
    • "**Interference is probably the single greatest cause of forgetting in collections of an experienced user of **[[SuperMemo]]."
    • The only strategy to work against this is detect and eliminate. It’s hard to know you’ll face interference at card creation time.
  • Rule 12: Optimize wording #[[Flashcard Tip: Optimize Wording]]
    • Shave down the number of words you use. Make your cards as clear and concise as possible. Focus on the piece of information that is important.
  • Rule 13: Refer to other memories #[[Flashcard Tip: Refer to Other Memories]]
    • When you add a new card, try incorporating things you’ve learned from other cards.
  • Rule 14: Personalize and provide examples: #[[Flashcard Tip: Personalize and Provide Examples]]
    • Link your cards to your personal life.
  • Rule 15: Rely on emotional states: #[[Flashcard Tip: Rely on Emotional States]]
    • We remember things better that are vivid or shocking.
  • Rule 16: Context cues simplify wording: #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Context Cues]]
    • They often reduce the number of words you need
  • Rule 17: Redundancy does not contradict minimum information principle #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Redundancy]]
    • Redundancy – more information than needed or duplicate information.
    • It can be good, and minimum information principle does not mean minimum number of characters in your deck.
  • Rule 18: Provide source: #[[Flashcard Tip: Provide Sources]]
  • Rule 19: Provide date stamping: #[[Flashcard Tip: Use Date Stamps]]
    • Particularly for knowledge that changes over time and can become obsolete.
  • Rule 20: Prioritize: #[[Flashcard Tip: Prioritize]]
    • There is way more knowledge in the world than you’ll be able to absorb and remember long-term.
    • Focus on adding knowledge that is most relevant and important to you.

Roam Notes on Atlantic Interview with Tyler Cowen “The Regulatory State is Failing Us”

  • "Author::" [[Conor Friedersdorf]] interview with [[Tyler Cowen]]
  • "Source::" https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/the-regulatory-state-is-failing-us/612220/
  • "Recommended By::"
  • "Tags:: " #[[COVID-19]] #[[regulation]] #[[state capacity]]
  • Summary Notes

  • [[Conor Friedersdorf]] interview with [[Tyler Cowen]] discussing failures of [[the regulatory state]], particularly in the context of [[COVID-19]]. They discuss what has gone wrong and some potential solutions.
  • Excerpts

  • “[[Our regulatory state is failing us]],” he has repeatedly warned on his blog, [[Marginal Revolution]]
  • He fleshed out his concerns and desired reforms in an interview conducted over email.
  • As for the South Korean government, once the coronavirus arrived in their country, the government sat down with the private sector, figured out what needed to be done, and started doing it right away, including very aggressive procurement of PPE and testing. I think there are at least three differences that partly account for this difference in response. First, the South Korean state has very recent experience building lots of quality infrastructure. Second, SARS was a very real risk in South Korea, which boosted their readiness and also response capabilities. Third, South Koreans are used to the idea of [[existential risk]], given their history and neighbors, and they do not regard themselves as invulnerable. #[[South Korea]]
  • I do not view the administrative state as extra-constitutional. That said, it has become far too inflexible, and not sufficiently focused on [[outcomes]] #[[state capacity]]
  • Friedersdorf: If you could change one thing about the culture of America’s [[Bureaucracy]], what would it be?
  • Cowen: [[regulation]] should be more goal-oriented, and less prescriptive in terms of the details. It should be easier to exercise judgment to meet particular worthy ends, rather than being hamstrung by restrictions and details. Regulation should recognize that emergency situations will come along when very fast action will be needed. Our current regulatory state is not built around those ideas, and its culture is accordingly complacent, and compliance- and process-oriented rather than success-oriented. These days, the American public sector just isn’t very good at getting things done.
  • Cowen: So much needs to be done. First, we need far more data on the scope of regulation, what it does and doesn’t do, and its costs.
  • Cowen: [[Statnews.com]] is a very good source for covering [[the regulatory state]] during [[COVID-19]].
  • Friedersdorf: [[Libertarians]] and small-government [[conservatives]] are highly skeptical of [[the regulatory state]]. What do they get wrong?
    • Cowen: Very often, the alternative to [[regulation]] is ex post facto reliance on the courts and juries to redress wrongs. Of course, the judiciary and its components are further instruments of governments, and they have their own flaws. There is no particular reason, from, say, a [[libertarian]] point of view, to expect such miracles from the courts. Very often, I would rather take my chances with the [[regulators]].
    • Also, let’s not forget the cases where the regulators are flat-out right. Take herbal medicines, penis enlargers, or [[vaccines]]. In those cases, the [[regulators]] are essentially correct, and there is a substantial segment of the population that is flat-out wrong on those issues, and sometimes they are wrong in dangerous ways.