Monthly Archives: September 2013

9834 and Counting

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As I sit here on a glorious late September afternoon, I realize that its the last day of yet another baseball season. Baseball more than another sport has its very consistent rhythms; the wind up of the pitcher, the lead of the runner from the base, the home run trot, and of course the New York Mets ending another season as an also ran. It dawned on me this week that its been a REALLY LONG time since my beloved Mets have won the World Series. In fact now that they have now been eliminated from contention again, the streak that dates from October 27, 1986 (photo above) is guaranteed to exceed 10,000 days.

Lets put some context around that number. Its over half of my life ago. Heck my hair was all brown then! It was 3,642 days before my first date with the woman who would become my wife. No one in the MPP class at the Kennedy School was born yet (at least it doesn’t seem so!).

Ronald Reagan was president, Mikhael Gorbachev was the Soviet premier, and the Berlin Wall stood. George Bush had yet to find his savior and George Michael was still part of Wham! My favorite band, the Who was in the midst of one of its many retirements.

As far as the Mets, they played in palatial Shea Stadium (1964-2008).images

Frank Cashen was the general manager and Davey Johnson was in his first of what seems like 100 managerial jobs. The Amazing’s had a team that was seemingly at the start of a long run of excellence. We had Doc (4 Jail stints), Darryl (too many rehabs to count), Cool Keith UnknownHernandez (remember when people smoked?), and the Kid (Gary Carter) who sadly died much too young. I remember thinking that we finally had a team like the old Yankees, the A’s or the big Red Machine. So what happened. The Met Karma came back with a vengeance. Doc Gooden missed the victory parade as he was too wasted to make it. A harbinger of things to come. They traded Kevin Mitchell (soon to be NL MVP). Ray Knight left for more money, and Bobby Ojeda went boating. While there was one more deep playoff run in 1988, the magic was gone. My memories are augmented now going to “old-timers” days and listing to Keith and the brilliant (for a Yale guy) Ron Darling on Met telecasts.

Since 1986, the Yankees have won the World Series FIVE times (once against the Mets), the Red Sox and the Cardinals have won twice each. The Mets have 2 wild card berths and 2 divisional titles in those long 10,000 days. Of course we also won the sweepstakes for VInce Coleman, Bobby Bonilla, and Jason Bay. And lets not forget the 41 year old poker champion, Rickey Henderson.

We do have David Wright and young pitching staff led hopefully by Matt Harvey. There is a beautiful stadium, Citi Field, in which I still feel a bit odd. Of course, all Met fans hope that Bernie Madoff will come out of jail to help invest the teams proceeds. That seemed to work wonders in the past.

I guess what all Met fans have is what we have always had. Hope. Ill see you in April!!

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How do I Coopt my Enemies and Stay out of Trouble?

My decision to attend the Kennedy School was part of a long transition that is focused on doing SOMETHING that would enrich someone other than myself. I hoped (and still hope that) I would learn the necessary skills, to motivate, organize, and drive groups of people to action. This is actually something that I was highly effective at during my career in finance. Of course, the tools and motivations were much different in that realm than in my new chosen world of advocacy and action for the public good.

Presently, I am in the process of taking classes that will help my transition including Strategic Management of NGO’s, Science of Behavioral Change, and of course Power and Politics in the Digital Age. While I am learning a lot about what I need to do, I am also learning quite a bit about the challenges that I face.

These challenges primarily are in 2 areas. First, how can I express my true views and still get interest and buy in from people who don’t exactly share my view. While I like to think that I am reasonable and principled, I am aware that I can be aggressive and impatient.  I also know that I read the New York Times and live in Brookline, Ma, two facts that put me in a very distinct category!! Interestingly, I force myself to read the WSJ and watch Fox News just to see what the other side thinks. The point is, that I have always lived inside a “Filter Bubble”. Of course, I never had any idea how airtight that bubble was until now.

What is a Filter Bubble? Its when online providers, everyone from Google to Amazon, to Facebook give you information based on your previous activity on the net. Its big businesses attempt to target information to you in order to maximize sales. While it has the benefit of making the sheer volume of information on the web manageable, it has the effect of making YOUR decisions for YOU. Most of you don’t know this but you should and it should scare you. Basically every click you make is noted, stored, categorized, and given back to you on future searches.

I know that this scares me because it is yet one more way in which my privacy is invaded. This is the second challenge that I (we) face. Everything I do and say on the internet I assume will be monitored and more importantly, RETAINED for an unknown period of time by not only my government which I don’t always trust, but by many corporations who not only sell information to each other for commercial purposes, but to our governments. For those of us who remember the day when we said, wrote about or took photos of things that we wouldn’t want our mothers to see, those days are over. Anything that you or someone else posts about you is in the public domain forever.

For some one like me that has views that are somewhat anti-institution, the risks could be significant. How difficult would it be to alter my credit score or to alter the balances in my bank accounts? How difficult would it be for some one to create stories about me in order to discredit me and my ideas? The answer is, not very!!  Although we don’t have material evidence of this behavior in the United States, governments around the world use the Internet to propagate their views and discredit those of their perceived opposition. This is especially true in places like China and the Middle East. While I actually would like to believe that the Internet and social media are the great equalizers to corporate and government power, this is not the case.

I perceive that in order to be a successful agent for change, I will need to be a bridger. That is someone who can both create a message that is neither left nor right and someone who can use social media tools to reach out to people who aren’t just like me demographically. I will need to break out of the over educated, East Coast, affluent world to find people who while looking different share the same concerns about our great nation and where WE want it to go.

If I am successful at this, there is no doubt that I will incur risk from the institutions that I seek to weaken or alter. I’m not sure that there’s much I can do to protect myself from this as much of my life is already out there.  This is not something that I am concerned about. You can be certain that I am concerned about the digital world that my children are growing up in. You can also be certain that this is a topic of conversation at the dinner table EVERY night. Hopefully my daughters will use these tools to THEIR advantage while retaining as much of their privacy as possible.

Random Thought

Those of you who know me know that while I am economically middle of the road (with a touch of redistributionist on the side) and socially liberal/libertarian. This in part has led me to believe that the Republican threat to shut down the Federal Government was insane and bad for our nation.

Recently, my thoughts have begun to change or at least morph a bit.  What if the shutdown of the Federal government leads to other actors stepping in and filling the gap? These other actors may be state and local governments, NGO’s, or even corporates. We are beginning to see evidence of this in a number of places on certain topics, one of them the sclerotic and largely ill informed immigration debate. (Click the link for story California Immigration ).

My point is, if there is a way to move decisions about our lives away from a group of people who’s interests are primarily in giving their donor’s what they want, so be it. If the group facilitates this action, all the better.

I’ll leave the selfish (from the US perspective) rational for a debt default to a later post.

I’d love to hear the thoughts of others.

Empowerment or Chains

Ahhh, the weeks that were. As the school year begins at the Kennedy School, there are so many new experiences. After a bucolic summer in which the Mid Careers (all 212 of us) had the campus all to ourselves we arrived to meet our 700 classmates! At a campus that was likely designed for no more than 600 people, this has made for a few interesting effects.

Perhaps the most interesting effect is the dynamic around shopping for classes and bidding for them. All 900+ of us are given 2 days to “test drive” classes and then select the ones we want. Not surprisingly, many of us want the same five classes. This is where the bidding process comes in. Lets say that there are 200 students who wish to take a class with 100 seats. Each student must reflect their interest by bidding all or some of their allotted points. In the past, there was typically an information deficit as it was difficult if not impossible to know how a representative sample of your classmates would bid. This made estimating the correct bid to get into the class difficult. Not any more! Thanks to the empowering technology of social media and Facebook in particular, we have much more complete information around what to bid. On the surface, this may appear to be beneficial to students but in this case, it seems that the only winners are the Kennedy School which won’t have to worry about overcrowded classes in the spring (as half of the students have used all of their bidding points and will have to take what they can get) and a certain professor who can now “lead” his fully committed students knowing that they were highly incented to be in his class. This is, IMHO in large part due to the sharing of information on Facebook. While many students attempted to collaborate in order to create a relatively low bid for entry to the class by communicating on Facebook, this only lasted as long as everyone played nice. Of course, one of our classmates posted, “I’m in for 1000 points, down with big government”, which immediately changed the dynamic. If you play along with the game theory behavior, you will not be surprised to know that the clearing bid for the class was 998 points (maximum 1000).  The use of technology, in this case, clearly changed behavior! This is but one example of how technology changes behavior.

Clay Shirky provides many examples of technologically driven changes in behavior in his book, “Here Comes Everybody“. Mr. Shirky does an excellent job of describing disruptions to our world using relatively simple examples. Everyone gets disrupted in some way from the publishers of Encyclopedia Britannica to a sixteen-year-old girl who “finds” a phone.

Ultimately the disruptions that occur are NOT the result of the technology, but how we use it. If you lost your phone 10 years ago, it was gone. Now you can trace it, and if someone refuses to return it you cannot only make their life difficult, you can use tools to change the behavior of large institutions to your advantage.

This disruptive behavior takes place in many forms. Sharing on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, or other social sights not only allows us to share our joys, pains, and photos, but allows individuals to become the primary source of news when things happen quickly or institutions restrict traditional media.

Collaborative Action such as what we see in the group posting and editing in Wikipedia, allows anyone with knowledge to increase the publicly available knowledge at anytime. The beauty of this is that there is no commitment to act. People can participate as frequently or infrequently as they like.

Collective Action, which is the most complicated and coordinated activity that we undertake, is completely changed by social media tools. As we see in the action against the Catholic Church in Boston (and elsewhere) by VOTF (Voice of the Faithful), the Church was no longer able to escape scrutiny as it became very easy to educate and mobilize ever-increasing numbers of people to take action against the church in 2002. Just a decade earlier, old technology failed to motivate people long enough to have an effect on the Church.

Shirky’s point is that for centuries many of the barriers to the above were physical in the sense that you needed a printing press to print a book, you needed a newspaper to gather and disseminate news, there was no easy way to share photos, and a lost phone, was just that. These physical barriers created the need for large amounts of capital and large organizations. Web 2.0 has removed those barriers and now people are following their natural curiosity and interests to interact in many different ways.

Hopefully, individuals will learn that with these capabilities, come responsibilities, not just those of decency, but also of thought because as the tools change the way humans interact will change.