Archive for September, 2009

Corporate Diversification Humor

| Peter Klein |

As someone who works in the corporate diversification area I enjoyed this Onion piece on Yamaha:

Despite concerns over the recent global recession, Yamaha Corporation president Mitsuru Umemura announced last week that he was content with the current level of production of Jet Skis, alto saxophones, snowmobiles, power generators, scooters, and golf carts. “Initially we thought that the declining global market would result in overproduction of synthesizers, PA systems, DVD players, tone generators, and motocross bikes, but in fact our production quotas were almost perfectly attuned to the market in power amplifiers, heart-rate monitors, signal processors, analog mixers, engine oil, microphones, HiFi systems, and grand pianos,” said Umemura, who stressed that his company prides itself on attention to detail. “At the Yamaha Corporation we’re focused on one thing and one thing alone — quality sound chips, ceiling brackets, editing software, race-kart engines, sport boats, flugelhorns, ATVs, sequencers, outboard motors, conference systems, golf clubs, projectors, MIDI controllers, lamp cartridges, portable recorders, subwoofers, component systems, and motorcycles.”

I remember while doing my dissertation research coming across a mid-1960s cartoon from Fortune or Business Week showing Santa’s elves whispering nervously as Santa meets with a slick-looking conglomerator in the background. One elf to another: “I think we’re becoming a division of Gulf & Western!” Robert Sobel also tells a story (I think in  The Rise and Fall of the Conglomerate Kings) about the conglomerate CEO who specializes in acquisition by stock-swap. One day his son announces that he’s sold the family dog for $1,000. “You got cash for that old pooch?” “No, I traded him for two $500 cats.”

And there’s the great line from Fortune about Peter Grace, whose famous acquisition sprees transformed W. R. Grace from a mundane shipping company into “a purveyor of everything from bull semen to grilled cheese sandwiches.”

9 September 2009 at 10:50 am 2 comments

Blogging About the Academic Job Market

| Peter Klein |

Political science profs don’t like it. The passage on job-market-rumor sites caught my eye in this Inside Higher Ed piece on the poli sci market (via Randy).

One change in the hiring process that is clearly frustrating to many graduate directors and search chairs is the popularity of Web sites devoted to the latest news and rumors about the status of searches. . . . Some in the audience said that they should try to discourage graduate students from frequenting the sites, given that postings are not only of questionable accuracy but are sometimes “hateful,” as one political scientist said. . . .

PoliSciGuy, one of the anonymous editors of Political Science Job Rumors, reached via e-mail, defended the site. He noted that his e-mail is on the site so he can respond to complaints about postings, and said that there is some moderation to remove certain posts. But he said that there is a strong demand for the information — even unverified information — from job seekers. “If we tighten things down too much, then a new board will spring up without moderation. So, we try to strike a balance between allowing enough free flow of information that this board remains the focal point for all political science rumors, and still being responsible about what we allow to remain posted.”

He also said that grad students know how to place the site’s information in perspective. “I’m not sure if graduate students actually rely on this message board, per se,” he said. “I think that they likely take it as one data point along with information they gain from other graduate students, advisers, and the rumor mill that has always existed at every conference bar.”

Exactly. There has always been a job-market rumor mill, in academia as in every other profession. Until now, this information has been restricted to faculty and students at elite schools, in particular specialized networks, who happen to know the guy who knows the guy. . . . Rumor-mill websites simply democratize this information. Yet another example of the great keepers of the democratic flame opposing something that looks like actual democracy.

Update: Maybe the hiring schools should just tweet their openings (HT: Cliff).

8 September 2009 at 12:53 pm 1 comment

The Roadmap to Success

| Lasse Lien |

Here it is. The roadmap to success.

I guess it was Bohemianism that sealed my fate.

BTW: Peter, you’ll be glad to know that apparently there is no sidetrack for blogging.

(Via Flowingdata)

8 September 2009 at 8:33 am 8 comments

Books About Work

| Peter Klein |

I blogged earlier about Matthew Crawford, whose book Shop Class as Soulcraft challenges our commonly held beliefs about white- and blue-collar work. In a feature in Saturday’s WSJ Crawford listed his five favorite books about work. It’s an unusual list: Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital, Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Managed Heart, Richard Sennett’s The Corrosion of Character, and Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work. After Virtue, for example, is well-known as an outstanding work in contemporary moral philosophy, but Crawford sees it in a different light:

Alasdair MacIntyre shows that the manager, that stock character in ­modern institutional life, is a moral relativist by stipulation — it’s just part of the job. Unlike an entrepreneur, a hired manager must accept the ends of an organization as given — as unavailable for rational scrutiny. His task is to adjust others, and indeed himself, to the realization of those ends, by whatever means are effective. As the business section of any chain bookstore confirms, what is wanted are therapeutic techniques of “self transformation”; the manager becomes a sort of institutional pop psychologist.

What are your favorite books (and articles) about the workplace? Besides Dilbert. I’m partial to Donald Roy’s 1952 classic, “Quota Restriction and Goldbricking in a Machine Shop.”

7 September 2009 at 12:08 am 7 comments

Who Says Data-Visualization Tools Aren’t Useful?

| Peter Klein |

When they can produce beauties like this map of time-travel timelines from movies and TV? (Not quite as awesome as the Heavy Metal Band Names Flow Chart but still pretty cool.) HT: /Film.

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Bonus: Here’s another one, from John Hagel, that many of you will appreciate.

5 September 2009 at 11:23 am Leave a comment

What’s Wrong Here?

| Lasse Lien |

A rich tourist came to a small town in the middle of the financial crisis. He went into the local hotel, placed a 200-dollar bill on the counter and went upstairs to check out what kind of rooms the hotel had to offer. In the meantime the hotel manager grabbed the bill, walked over to the butcher and used the bill to pay his debt. The butcher then took the bill to the cattle farmer and paid his debt to him. Next, the cattle farmer took the bill to the cattle feed supplier and paid his debt there. The cattle feed supplier then paid his debt to the local prostitute. The local prostitute brought the bill back to the hotel and paid her debt to the hotel manager. The hotel manager put the bill back on the counter. Then the rich tourist returns down the stairs and proclaims that he didn’t like the any of the rooms. He grabs the bill and leaves the city. A pity, but more importantly, the town was now debt free and optimism was back.

Source unknown. HT: Tore Hillestad.

4 September 2009 at 7:50 am 19 comments

Rankings and Journal Competition

| Lasse Lien |

Like many other B-schools, mine has a bonus system for publications in top journals. Every so often this list gets revised, which generates heated debate as each academic discipline tries to get more of “its” journals on the bonus list. One recent suggestion was to drop all the in-fighting and just use the journal list the Financial Times uses in constructing its B-school rankings. This seems like a good way to get rid of a lot of influence costs, and at the same time link the bonus to something that is important for the school: the FT rankings. The potential problem is that if all B-schools start thinking like this, what will happen to the competition between journals? Won’t the FT-list incumbents be a little too safe?

4 September 2009 at 7:18 am 5 comments

Not Even the Slightest Soupçon of Correlation

| Dick Langlois |

Another interesting article from the Journal of Wine Economics:

The lead article is again by Robert T. Hodgson, who analyzes the reliability of Gold medals awarded at 13 California Wine Fairs. “An analysis of over 4000 wines entered in 13 U.S. wine competitions shows little concordance among the venues in awarding Gold medals. Of the 2,440 wines entered in more than three competitions, 47 percent received Gold medals, but 84 percent of these same wines also received no award in another competition. Thus, many wines that are viewed as extraordinarily good at some competitions are viewed as below average at others. An analysis of the number of Gold medals received in multiple competitions indicates that the probability of winning a Gold medal at one competition is stochastically independent of the probability of receiving a Gold at another competition, indicating that winning a Gold medal is greatly influenced by chance alone.” The full article can be accessed free of charge at Abstract Full Text (PDF).

3 September 2009 at 9:30 am 2 comments

Bayes of Our Lives

| Peter Klein |

Thomas_BayesI’ve already shared my Bayesian anecdote. On a more serious note, Andrew Gelman is asked (by Bill Harris) to recommend overviews of Bayesian methods for practitioners (analysts, managers). Andrew provides several helpful suggestions. Any others? Any recommendations for teaching Bayesian (or classical) statistics to MBAs, executives, even undergraduate business majors?

3 September 2009 at 9:16 am 2 comments

Wanted: Human Capital Research(ers)

| Russ Coff |

Human Capital Interest Group? First a self-serving announcement. I’m part of an effort to create a new SMS interest group on Human Capital & Competitive Advantage (HC&CA). I need to gauge interest and identify people who would want to be involved if the proposal moves forward. We need people who are interested in: 1) Program Chair or Associate Program Chair, 2) Launch Planning Committee, or 3) Friends of HC&CA (email list). Please nominate yourself or others here.

General Human Capital and Competitive Advantage. Now for the meat: Why I think human capital is such fertile ground. Strategy research tends to adopt very unrealistic assumptions about markets for human capital. As a result, shorthand like “firm-specific” human capital inaccurately reflects its strategic potential. (more…)

1 September 2009 at 5:46 pm Leave a comment

Chalk or Dry-Erase Markers?

| Peter Klein |

I just committed a rookie teacher faux pas: wearing a black shirt to class in a room equipped with old-fashioned chalk and chalkboards. I do PowerPoint, but use the boards to make additional points and to guide Socratic discussion. Now I look like Woody Allen in the cocaine scene from Annie Hall. O Whiteboard with Black Dry-Erase Markers, Where Art Thou?

Now, I’m sure some professors and teachers among our loyal readership will have strong opinions on the chalk-versus-dry-erase controversy. Chalk generates more dust than markers, but the dust is easily washable and gives that disheveled, absent-minded professor look that many of us crave (especially when combined with tweed and elbow patches). Dry-erase boards are usually cleaner, but the dust and stray markings can ruin your clothes and make you look like a tattoo-school drop-out. What do you think?

NB: My favorite example of an academic Extreme Makeover relates to this discussion. When I was in grad school Andrei Shleifer came out to give a seminar, sometime around 1989 or 1990. He had the quintessential professor look — tousled hair, shirttail hanging out, chalk marks everywhere. I’m pretty sure there were no transparencies or PowerPoint slides, just Three Equations and a Cloud of Dust. Several years later, in the mid-2000s, I saw him give the keynote address for the ISNIE annual conference. This was after the Late Unpleasantness in Russia. In the transition to public servant, Shleifer had been completely transformed, now sporting a fashionable haircut, perfectly tailored Armani suit, bright purple tie, and legible PowerPoint slides (not up to Teppo’s standard, but a big leap for Shleifer nonetheless). Quelle difference!

1 September 2009 at 4:45 pm 7 comments

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
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Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
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