Roam Notes on “Taking on the Challenge” Lecture by Jeff Bezos


  • [[Jeff Bezos]] talks about the [[Amazon]] approach to [[innovation]].


  • 0:45 [[Betty Graham]] invented white-out because she was annoyed by the inability to erase on a typewriter. She sold it to [[Gillette]] for $45M, and it was just white paint!
  • 2:07 Two approaches to solving problems with innovation: #[[To Ankify]]
    • Encounter a problem, and find a solution for it.
    • Work backwards by taking a new technology or understanding and finding important problems to solve with it. This is common in technology. E.g. [[carbon dating]].
  • 2:45 Persistence is a key attribute of innovators. E.g. WD-40 stands for "Water Displacement, 40th attempt". They originally made the product to keep water off [[Atlas 5]] rocket on US government contract. #[[persistence]] #[[characteristics of innovators]]
  • 4:30 One of the most pernicious obstacles to innovation: [[learned helplessness]]. Ordinary things bother innovators, while non-innovators become complacent and accept things as they are. E.g. windshield wipers – people used to stop every mile and use a rag. The inventor had to push through criticism that the wipers would be distracting, but in 10 years they were standard. Once people tried it they saw the value.
  • 10:00 A big impediment to innovation is [[either/or thinking]]. [[Amazon]] is always trying to reduce the number of [[customer contacts]]. This is a win-win for [[Amazon]] and its [[customers]]. It saves money for Amazon, and customers enjoy not having to deal with support. Eliminating defects saves money because you don’t have to handle customer contact and you improve the customer experience. There’s no [[trade-off]]. #[[barriers to innovation]]
  • 13:34 To innovate, you need to maximize the rate of [[experimentation]]. To do that, the cost experimentation has to be low. [[Amazon]] has built infrastructure to make experimentation easy, in a self-service way, without huge coordination or approval. #[[To Ankify]]
  • 18:00 [[Amazon]] is [[customer]] focused rather than [[competitor]] focused. Competitor strategy changes all the time, but the core things that customers want do not change: selection, low prices, and convenience. In 10 years, that’s going to stay the same. #[[customer vs competitor focus]]
  • 22:00 You need to have small, separate, empowered teams that aren’t subject to [[dependencies]] across the organization. They need to know whether they’re getting better or not. It’s easy to do that in a broad way (e.g. company profits) but difficult for individual teams – that’s the key. #KPIs
  • 29:00 The [[internet]] makes the customer experience a [[fixed cost]] rather than [[variable cost]]. "Buy With 1 Click" costs [[Amazon]] the same amount to develop whether they had 1000 customers or 1,000,000 customers. For retail stores, it’s not the same – with more customers, an improved experience costs more. #[[To Ankify]]
  • 35:00 Invention will always lead you down paths that people think are weird. #invention #innovation
  • 45:00 Hire builders. To have an innovative company, the single most important thing (more important than reducing the cost of experimentation) is to make sure you’re hiring the correct people in your organization. Hire people that like to build, like to invent. Get people that do this at all levels of granularity: some people are only interested in inventing at the grandest whiteboard level, but they can’t make progress in the real world, because they’re unwilling to figure out how to mount the camera on top of the truck. It turns out, that’s incredibly important. #Hiring #innovation

Tips from Flashcard Refactoring

Include your Sources, Have a Single Answer, and Break-Down Your Cards

Here’s a flashcard related to Oracle SQL that was giving me trouble (lapsed 8 times and was automatically marked as a leech):

  • Side 1: Collection (Oracle SQL)
  • Side 2: Data types in Oracle SQL that lets you internalize parent-child relationships between tables in the parent table.

This was a double-sided card, so both Side 1 and 2 serve as the question. Let’s see if we can improve this one.

First things first: do I need this card at all? Yes: SQL is highly relevant to my career in Data Science, and the organization I work for relies heavily on Oracle database. It’s important knowledge for me that I didn’t want to remove.

Next, figure out the issue with the card. Looking at the card statistics, it turns out I was always getting Side 2 wrong. After some consideration, I realized that this is actually a poor definition of a “Collection”. In fact, it’s not really the “definition” of a Collection, but a characteristic of a Collection. In other words, the flashcard doesn’t have a unique answer: it’s true that a Collection internalizes parent-child relationships, but it does a lot of other things too.

I consulted the original source of the material and there isn’t a clear definition of a Collection there. I did some Googling for other sources and apparently there isn’t really a great definition of an Oracle Collection. It turns out that Collection refers to a generic programming idea not specific to Oracle.

So, rather than trying to define Collection, I’ve opted to break the existing card down into multiple cards, following Rule Number 4 of Knowledge Construction: stick to the minimum information principle, which means if you can break a card into multiple simpler, easier-to-answer cards, do it.

Card 1 (one-sided):

  • Side 1: What Oracle SQL data type lets you internalize parent-child relationships in the parent table?
  • Side 2: Collection

Card 2 (one-sided):

  • Side 1: What kind of relationship does an Oracle SQL Collection help you represent?
  • Side 2: Parent-child (aka “one to many”)

Card 3 (one-sided):

  • Side 1: Does the Oracle SQL Collection data type internalize parent-child relationships in the parent table or child table?
  • Side 2: Parent table

I also tracked down a good definition of the generic “Collection” concept in Computer Science, and added it:

Card 4-5 (double-sided):

  • Side 1: Collection (Computer Science)
  • Side 2: Object that groups multiple items together as a single unit (Computer Science)

I feel confident these cards will be easier to remember, cost less time and frustration, and help me remember the concept much better.

Lessons learned:

  • Flashcards should have a single answer. Multiple correct answers for a card is a recipe for confusion and frustration. Interestingly, this isn’t included in Poitr Wozniak’s Twenty Rules for Formulating Knowledge, although you could interpret this as a form of interference (Rule #11)
  • Keep track of your source material when making cards. It makes it easy to look up more details when needed. 
  • Browse related sources through Google search if you’re unsure about what to do to an item. This will give you more context around the card to see whether the knowledge is even required at all. You may also come across a clarification or better formulation. In the example above, I discovered the generic concept of “Collection” in programming and realized that it was futile to try to include a definition specific to Oracle SQL.
  • Break cards down into a larger number of simpler cards. This is classic knowledge construction advice that is often not heeded, because it feels like more cards means more work. Counterintuitively, it is really a free lunch: you remember the concept better, you spend less time reviewing than you would have with the single complicated card, and reviews become much more enjoyable. 

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Roam Notes on “I Could Do That in a Weekend! by Dan Luu

  • "Author::" [[Dan Luu]]
  • "Source::"
  • "Tags:: " #software #programming #[[Dunning-Kruger Effect]] #[[Big Business]]
  • Summary

    • Outside developers often look at a large software company and think "that’s easy, I could build that in a weekend". This article describes why that’s misguided.
    • Reasons why are divided into two categories: technical and organizational. #[[To Ankify]]
      • Technical: Large businesses find it profitable to do lots of optimization and build new features that are often more complex than outsiders realize. This requires hiring engineers. You want to keep hiring engineers until the marginal benefit of hiring 1 more engineer = marginal cost of hiring 1 more engineer. Companies that are smart do this math and often find they should hire many, many engineers.
      • Organizational: Large organizations have complex communication barriers that outsiders underestimate.
  • Excerpts

    • I can’t think of a single large software company that doesn’t regularly draw internet comments of the form “What do all the employees do? I could build their product myself.”
    • Businesses that actually care about turning a profit will spend a lot of time (hence, a lot of engineers) working on optimizing systems, even if an MVP for the system could have been built in a weekend. There’s also a wide body of research that’s found that decreasing [[latency]] has a roughly linear effect on revenue over a pretty wide range of latencies for some businesses. Increasing performance also has the benefit of reducing costs. Businesses should keep adding engineers to work on [[optimization]] until the cost of adding an engineer equals the revenue gain plus the cost savings at the margin. This is often many more engineers than people realize. #[[To Ankify]] #Hiring
    • And that’s just performance. Features also matter: when I talk to engineers working on basically any product at any company, they’ll often find that there are seemingly trivial individual features that can add integer percentage points to revenue. Just as with performance, people underestimate how many engineers you can add to a product before engineers stop paying for themselves. #features
    • Additionally, features are often much more complex than outsiders realize. If we look at search, how do we make sure that different forms of dates and phone numbers give the same results? How about [[internationalization]]? Each language has unique quirks that have to be accounted for.
    • It’s fine to ignore this stuff for a weekend-project [[MVP]], but ignoring it in a real business means ignoring the majority of the market! Some of these are handled ok by open source projects, but many of the problems involve open research problems.
    • Everything we’ve looked at so far is a technical problem. Compared to [[organizational problems]], [[technical problems]] are straightforward.
    • Distributed systems are considered hard because real systems might drop something like 0.1% of messages, corrupt an even smaller percentage of messages, and see latencies in the microsecond to millisecond range. When I talk to higher-ups and compare what they think they’re saying to what my coworkers think they’re saying, I find that the rate of lost messages is well over 50%, every message gets corrupted, and latency can be months or years. #communication #[[communication issues]]
    • It’s entirely plausible that someone will have an innovation as great as PageRank, and that a small team could turn that into a viable company. But once that company is past the VC-funded hyper growth phase and wants to maximize its profits, it will end up with a multi-thousand person platforms org, just like Google’s, unless the company wants to leave hundreds of millions or billions of dollars a year on the table due to hardware and software inefficiency.
    • It’s not that all of those things are necessary to run a service at all; it’s that almost every large service is leaving money on the table if they don’t seriously address those things. #[[To Ankify]]
    • This reminds me of a common fallacy we see in unreliable systems, where people build the happy path with the idea that the happy path is the “real” work, and that [[error handling]] can be tacked on later. For [[reliable systems]], error handling is more work than the happy path. The same thing is true for large services — all of this stuff that people don’t think of as “real” work is more work than the core service

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.

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