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Reflections on Finite and Infinite Games December 7, 2009

Posted by allenb120 in [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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While I enjoyed Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse, based on the class presentations, I believe there are more useful books to read for the “Ways of Thinking” assignment.  The thesis is that “[t]here are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite.  A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing play.”  In terms of the goals of our course, I think this book would apply to Assumptions and Mental Models.

Examples of finite games include careers, soccer, football and elections.  Finite games have a beginning and an end.  Play continues until the players are convinced the game is over.  A finite game has boundaries or rules.  There is a winner and a loser.  While finite games must be played voluntarily, players must be selected for play, and a finite game cannot be played alone.   An infinite game also must be played voluntarily.  However, there is no beginning or end.  An infinite game can have many finite games included in it.  The rules of an infinite game deal with threats to the continuation of play.

The author draws several distinctions to distinguish between finite and infinite games.  For example: theatrical vs. dramatic.  Theatrical play is scripted and performed for an audience.  Dramatic play keeps possibilities open, making scripts useless.  The author provides the following example of this distinction: performing the role of mother is theatrical and is a finite game while choosing to be a mother is dramatic and is part of an infinite game.  Another example is the difference between contradiction and paradox.  A finite game includes the contradiction that the purpose of the finite game is to end the game.  The infinite game includes the paradox that the purpose of the infinite game is to start something you cannot finish and to continue play for others.  A further difference is between explanation (finite) and narrative (infinite).  “Explanation sets the need for further inquiry aside; narrative invites us to rethink what we thought we knew.”

In connection with the infinite games and continuing play, the book included the following:

  • “Genuine travel has no destination. Travelers do not go somewhere, but constantly discover they are somewhere else.”
  • “‘The only true voyage would be not to travel through a hundred different lands with the same pair of eyes, but to see the same land through a hundred different pairs of eyes.’” Proust
  • “[T]he very liveliness of a culture is determined not by how frequently these thinkers discover new continents of knowledge [explanations] but by how frequently they depart to seek them.”
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Reflections on Sway December 7, 2009

Posted by allenb120 in Sway: Pull of Irrational Behavior.
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I really enjoyed Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman.  I thought it was easy to read and conveyed useful information to identify various psychological factors in decision making and possible solutions.  However, it seemed to rely too much on anecdotes. The thesis is that psychological factors can cause people to take irrational actions, but that recognition and corrective action can overcome the effects of these irrational psychological factors.  The psychological factors the authors discuss are loss aversion, commitment bias, value attribution, diagnosis bias, fairness and peer pressure.

Loss Aversion is the tendency to go to great lengths to avoid possible losses.  The authors note that people have much stronger reactions to losing $1,000 than winning $1,000 and that loss aversion increases the more that is at stake.  One example of loss aversion discussed is buying rental car insurance.  The authors note that this behavior is irrational because a standard car insurance policy would cover rental cars as well.  However, faced with the uncertain expense of a catastrophic car accident many people buy rental car insurance anyway.  Another example mentioned is buying flat rate phone service as most people would have saved money by paying a per minute charge.  However, faced with the possibility of an excessive phone bill, most people play it safe and buy a flat rate service.  People could have saved the additional expense in these situations by stepping back and asking whether the additional expenses are justified.

Another irrational behavior discussed is diagnosis bias.  This bias is a blindness to all evidence that contradicts an initial assessment of a person or situation.  Bias makes first impressions as well as brand very important and can skew our judgment.  The authors noted a study of NBA players that found a player’s position in the NBA draft selection had a greater impact on the player’s playing time, trade prospect and length of career than points per minute or other performance measures.  Someone can counteract the effect of this bias by being open, observant and withholding judgment until necessary.

In terms of the goals our course, I think this book could apply to the “observation” and “solution” parts of the Innovation Process outlined in the Beckman and Barry article by helping the observer understand personal biases of the observer and the observed as well as by helping frame better solutions through taking into account how psychological factors may influence the implementation and acceptance of new ideas.  As a general matter I felt that the lessons of the book fit into the Assumptions and Mental Models component of the course.

Impressions of Visual Literacy September 24, 2009

Posted by allenb120 in A Primer of Visual Literacy, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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I am happy I read A Primer of Visual Literacy by Donis A. Dondis, though it was a bit theoretical.  While the frameworks seemed to still hold up, the book also seemed a little anachronistic as the author seemed enthralled with the changes the rise in photography has made to visual communication instead of more recent advances.

The book provided a framework for analyzing visual presentations, attempting to create a more common means of communicating visually.  For example, does the artist use lines in the drawing?  If so, how?  A line implies fluidity.  How does this help understand the message of the presentation?  While I found this helpful, much of the meaning behind visual art is contextual and subjective.  Moreover, the perception by the viewer of the meaning of a visual presentation is impacted by the subjective state of the viewer and the creator as well as the limits of the method of communication.  For example, movement is much more difficult to present in a painting than a film.  As such, it may be impossible to reach universals in visual literacy.

Nonetheless, the book’s aim of broader and deeper visual literacy is admirable as it promote greater understanding.  Also, I am sure recognizing the different techniques of visual presentation will prove helpful. These visual tools include: dots, lines, shape, direction, tone, color, texture, scale or proportion and dimension and motion.  Further, remembering that the visual presentation is not simply message but also involves the author, audience and form of presentation will help me understand what the author’s message may be.

Design Thinking September 24, 2009

Posted by allenb120 in Design Thinking.
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A couple of common themes from the readings so far are: that innovation requires multiple perspectives on an issue and that it requires knowing the problem very well.  These multiple perspectives could be from empathy or integrative thinking—multiple perspectives generated by an individual—or through collaboration and experimentation—multiple perspectives gained through interacting with others or the environment.  Also, systematic innovation requires work to know the problem.  I am comforted by the latter point in knowing that the solution to a problem may take some time to develop.

I think the design process of moving between the practical and theoretical realms is an iterative process.  I think we form thoughts on the subject being observed and those thoughts in turn inform our further observations and that this iterative process continues until we find something else to observe.  I think this is important because it means that after evaluating the data we have collected we may need to go back for some more after we have thought about the data.  I also think that this “reflexive” process impacts the frameworks we can develop about a situation.  The observations we take and our understanding of them determine the frameworks we could develop.  If the observations and understanding were different, then the frameworks would be different.  I think this interrelationship is important to understand in addressing problems because it means that the solutions we develop are contingent on our understanding of the problems.  So it’s important to learn as much as possible about the problem to help ensure better solutions.

I appreciated the learning styles framework and understand that these learning styles are better suited for different parts of the innovative process.  However, how can one tell another’s learning style without test results?  I imagine working with someone for awhile would allow you some insight into that person’s learning style.  However, are there more queues other than those listed in the article to help recognize these different learning styles?  Also, how long does it take someone to switch from one learning style to another?  While I imagine it depends on the person and the environment, could the process be instantaneous or is it a long process?

As The Future Catches You September 24, 2009

Posted by allenb120 in As The Future Catches You.
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I found the book fascinating as it highlighted some of the new means of human evolution, e.g., genetics, and discussed some of the near term impacts of the speed of that evolution.  However, I felt the book was more of a wake-up call to stay on top of science and technology or fall behind and lacked substantial discussion of possible solutions for countries or a broader theoretical context for understanding the changes.

The fields discussed in the book open new ways for us to adapt to our changing environment.  I doubt humans will have the same illnesses or capabilities in 100 years because of these new fields.  However, in some sense, genetics is no different than, say, orthopedics.  Both disciplines can help people adapt better to their environment.  The latter does this through artificial limbs that help people walk and the former potentially through growing new limbs or changing DNA to cure crippling deformities.  And, it’s just one further step to creating limbs that are stronger or faster than ordinary limbs.  In some sense, this step is simply internalizing the function of machines we have developed to help us adapt to our environment.  For example, instead of software for computers, we may have software for the brain (which could replace textbooks (and be a lot easier to download—what would this mean for the educational system?)).  While these fields provide many great possibilities, society will need to ensure they are used properly to avoid ill effects, a task potentially made more difficult by the volume of changes taking place.  For example, baseball will not only have to worry about batters on steroids but also genetically modified players.

I wished the book focused more on discussing potential solutions.  For example, it could have addressed technological leap-frogging in more detail as a way countries that do not currently focus so much on science and math education could improve their competitive positions.  I also wished it had provided some ideas on how to fix the lack of science and math in the pre-college US educational system.  It could have also gone further in trying to understand the impact of technological change on the function of government when citizens can move countries and are more connected around the world.  Perhaps these issues were beyond the scope of the book, but after reading it, I wanted to learn more about them.