Monthly Archives: March 2012

Hawai’ian interlude

The week before last was spent on Hawai’i (Oahu, to be precise), courtesy of an old collection of American Airlines points, that fact that we are in the US and hence already have paid for half the flight, and a week’s break in daughter number three’s high school schedule.

The goal for the trip was simple: New Facebook profile pictures for father and daughter – standing up on a surfboard. To this end, we had signed up for two days of surf classes with Hawaiian Fire, an eminent surf school run by firefighters. Their classes take place on the southeast side of Oahu, at a beach where waves are consistent and the water reasonably shallow – as a novice, you can always jump off the board and stand on the bottom. (In practice, you want to be a little careful, always landing flat in the water, since there are rocks and corals on the bottom.)

To make a short story short, we both made it into vertical – daughter number three rather faster and better than her top-heavy father.

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And lastly, let it be said that despite, in certain aspects, feeling a bit like Las Vegas (at least the brand-name shopping areas of Waikiki), Hawai’i has a distinct culture, a refreshingly laid-back attitude, fantastic nature (we particularly enjoyed exploring the North Shore and the Tantalus/Round Top drive) and an extremely enjoyable climate. It is only to wonder that not many more people live there…

Thinking long and hard on fast and slow

Thinking, Fast and SlowThinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are only going to read one book on psychology this decade – this should be it!

Daniel Kahneman’s new book Thinking Fast and Slow is one of those books you intend to read while taking notes, then just blow through it knowing full well you’ll have to go back and re-read it at least once per year just to swap it all in again. It sums up a lifetime of research into the surprisingly irrational ways we humans make decisions. Kahneman is a founder of experimental economics and received a Nobel price for it.

The book gives an overview of the various ways we make decisions, illustrated with many counterintuitive examples. Its central premise is that humans have two different decision systems: System 1, which is intuitive, fast, and easy, and System 2, which is rational, effortful, and lazy. We can also divide human models into two: Econs (classic Economic Man) and Humans (subject to all of Kahneman’s follies, and then some). And we have two selves: The experiencing self (living in the present) and the remembering self (living in the interpreted past).

Kahneman lays out these concepts, then show, through examples and research summaries, how they interact and influence our decisions. The intellectual stimulation and the practical implications for how we make the important and not so important decisions in our lives are immense – as an example, check this blog post on pricing experiments.

Highly recommended!

(more notes to follow, methinks)

(If you want a really good review – read Freeman Dyson in the New York Review of Books.)

View all my reviews

A case of teaching case teaching

I am rather passionate about case teaching. Not only does it provide a much richer learning experience for the student, especially within fields that involved in analyzing complex human situations, but it much more interesting for me as a teacher to do case discussions t hat it is to lecture. Not that I don’t enjoy lecturing – do it all the time – but after a while you start to feel like a DVD player on repeat, wondering how much the students get out of listening to you in person rather than seeing a video. In the give-and-take of the case classroom, you learn new things all the time, and so do the students. For example, by about the 15th time I taught a short case about outsourcing, a student came up with a solution neither I nor anyone else had thought about until then. And just a few weeks ago, in China, a mathematically inclined student surprised me with a new solution to a rather long-winded example I use to demonstrate certain aspects of telecommunications competition.

I share that passion with my friend and colleague Bill Schiano, and together we have worked for years on how to do case teaching in situations where you do not have the rich infrastructure, streamlined processes and shared culture of the Harvard Business School – including, in a modest way, trying to influence our colleagues to adopt the method, our students to accept it, and the administration and management of our respective schools to create the infrastructure and processes necessary for it.

In a few weeks (March 16-17, to be precise) we will get an opportunity to further spread the good word, by teaching the course The Art and Craft of Participant-Centered Learning, at the Harvard Business School. We will teach it together with Professor Jim Heskett, a true master of case teaching. The course is over two days – and as of today (March 2) there are still a few places available, details to be found here. (Note that the course is only open to teachers at degree-granting institutions.)

I am quite looking forward to the experience. I have taught classes on case teaching before, but not in this environment and to such an eclectic group (about 50 teachers from many universities and countries.) It feels like giving something back to the institution that taught me, but also as a rather enjoyable challenge, and quite an honor.

It is a sad fact in academia today that good teaching is under-rewarded, at least officially. I think this is a stage we are going through – and that good teaching, specifically discussion facilitation, will be much more important as the competitive climate between business schools hardens (as it will). Lectures and factual information can be delivered over the Internet, in the form of videos, animations, or voice-assisted slide shows. As information can be distributed more and more cost-free, the local lecturer stands in danger of being disrupted – rather than listen to some random teacher on a subject, why not see a video of the best in the field.

The complex interaction of the discussion class room can, as of yet, not be done remotely – at least not with the quality and intensity a co-located discussion warrants. Local institutions of learning, to maintain their competitive place and current pricing, will have to master discussion facilitation and participant-centered learning. Students will demand it, not just in business, but in an increasing number of fields – medicine and social services, public leadership and administration, military, political science, to a certain extent engineering and natural sciences. The case method may be the most explicit of form of participant-centered learning, with its tailored cases and specially built classrooms – but I firmly believe this method will spread out as a way for teachers – even the more average of us – to add value in a unique and enjoyable way way.