Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why Tip Up Front?

I tip up front. Actually, I know a lot of people who occasionally do this, but to my knowledge I’m the only one with a managerial principle of statistical validity to back up ‘why’.

It stems, originally, from a an article by W. Edwards Deming called “On Probability As a Basis For Action”, (The American Statistician, November 1975, pg. 150).

Attractive title huh? Well, it’s profound, if misunderstood. In it Deming explains how data can be gathered in different ways, and used to different ends, and how people are not well enough versed in statistics to understand when they are using one type of data to show something that cannot be shown. He calls these two types of data ‘enumerative’ and ‘analytic’.

Enumerative data is the information you gain after the fact. The census is a great example. We survey people after an event and then tabulate the data to show what they said.

Analytic data is information about a process. It shows, often with math, ‘how’ something is done, how the process works, what steps cause effects, and what those effects then cause in a chain of reasoning.

In my own words I like to think of enumerative data as showing ‘what’ happened, and analytic data as showing ‘how’ and/or ‘why’ it happened.

Back to the census. To make my point I did a quick google search of 1999 census. I immediately found that 12.4 percent of American people, (33.9 million) reported income in 1999 that was below the poverty line. I scrolled down and quickly found a chart that shows States and Regional Poverty Rates: 1989 and 1999. The poverty rate fell the most in Mississippi, -5.3%. The biggest rise in poverty was in Washington D.C., +3.3%.

Interesting numbers to be sure. But what can we glean from these numbers? Here are a few examples of silly conclusions: [These conclusions are false!]

1.      Poor people from Mississippi must have moved to the D.C. area in large numbers.
2.      Poor people in D.C. must be killing the wealthy people in very large numbers thus resulting in a shift in the ratio of those in poverty.
3.      Mississippi’s new job creation initiative must be working for them to show such substantial gains.

Now of course, these conclusions are patently false. But what if we find some ‘other’ set of data that ALSO relates to this issue. Then can we tie the two together and show they support each other?

No. The fact that they don’t make sense is not ‘why’ the conclusions are false. Rather, they are false because they are using enumerative data to show the ‘cause’ of poverty, analytic conclusion.

In other words, we used data from type A, to make a conclusion of type B. This CANNOT be done. It means the conclusions above are false on their face, without any need of analysis. The same kind of error can be made in reverse. We can perform an analytic study which we then use to claim an enumerative conclusion. We can’t do that either, but we won’t discuss it here as it doesn’t relate to ‘why I tip up front’.

Okay, we’ve shown how enumerative data, collected after the fact, CANNOT be used to show the ‘cause’ of the data.

What if we collected the data more often? THEN could we use it to show a trend of causes? No. No matter how often we collect enumerative data it CANNOT show the cause of the results. It is not simply ‘difficult’, it’s actually impossible.

So, in what other arenas do we collect data after the fact and then blame the result on a cause?

Public schools of course. We stick little Johnny in a class, ask him to perform, then we test him at the end. He gets a score, and we say “Wow, Johnny did great, or “Oh my, Johnny is not too bright is he?” You see? We attribute his ‘score’ to his ‘intelligence’. Directly. Without question.

In December of 2001, Valerie Strauss, writing for the Washington Post, wrote an article called ‘Revealed: School board member who took standardized test’.

It describes the experience of a school board member who took the test and scored dismally despite having 3 degrees and educational experience. At the end of the article he mentions how the questions on the test are simply not valid for today’s ‘working life’. The test is not testing skills and knowledge actually used in real life.

He may be right. But only to a point. Even if the test had been perfectly aligned with knowledge and skills kids actually need in order to function, the test is still not valid. Why?  Because it is attributing ‘cause’ to data collected ‘after the fact’. It’s claiming to be ‘analytic’ when the data gathered are ‘enumerative’.

This cannot be overstated.

We ‘blame’ the kid taking the test, 100%, for his/her performance on the test.

Recall, perhaps, the same author’s article on principals and staff  evaluations which tie pay to student performance.

Here is the  article showing how New York educators are up in arms about a system of evaluation that ties teacher AND principal pay to student performance on standardized tests.

Hang on to your booties, here is where it gets interesting.

The staff justifiably, as we now know, argue that connecting pay to performance in this way cannot be correct. Student performance is affected by so many different factors that blaming staff and administrators for the outcome is just not reasonable in any way.

Did you get that? Student performance varies so widely, from factors out of the control of staff and administrators that educators cannot be expected to be evaluated on how their students perform on the test.


And yet, correct me if I’m wrong, these very same teachers and administrators say nothing of subjecting these students to these tests, and then evaluating the students on their performance. Hmmm. Johnny did great, see? It says so right here!  Oh my, Johnny lost some ground this year compared to last year, so he’s really going to need to buckle down this coming year to make up HIS losses.

That CAN’T be right.

They are essentially saying that the school has little or nothing to do with how well Johnny did on his test. OR, at best, they are saying that it is impossible to tell which part of Johnny’s grade had to do with the school, and which had to do with Johnny’s effort.

That last part’s true. The differentiation of A-school, B-Johnny’s effort, his C-home life, the D-bus ride home, the E-weather, or any sort of F-learning difficulty he might have, it’s impossible to tell which factors play how much of a role in his academic success.

Why is it is impossible? Let’s see, on the face of it it’s easy to grasp. We are trying to determine why Johnny is successful. Let’s say his success is a result of the equation:

A+B+C+D+E+F = 100%

Now B is Johnny’s effort. No one can take an equation with two or more variables and solve the value of the variables. Let’s simplify this some to make the point really clear.

Lets call X Johnny’s effort, and Y the school’s effort to help Johnny. So:

X+Y+XY = 100. That is, Johnny’s effort plus the school’s effort, plus the result of Johnny working with the school’s system, equals the output, or level of Johnny’s success.

Okay, now we have one equation with two variables. How do we figure out X and Y? We can’t. It’s an algebraic law, you cannot solve an equation with two variables if you only have one equation. No one can. (Even my 9th grader interrupted me to point this out).

Quickly, let’s reflect. The staff in New York then are claiming something like this. You can’t evaluate us on Johnny’ performance because you can’t solve for Y. Yep. That’s true.

But they then turn around and pretend there is no Y. They blame Johnny for 100% of his success or failure.

Put another way. If a teacher has a year when her students do more poorly than usual, she can say to herself, ‘my, this year the kids just weren’t as smart as last year’. Almost plausible. It even sounds typical. But why couldn’t the teacher say, ‘Oh my, my system did not work as well as I’d hoped. I’d better see if I can improve the way I do things to better meet their needs’?

In one she’s attributing success or failure to the students. In the other she attributes it to herself. Two completely different invalid conclusions based on exactly the same data.

Wait! Invalid? Why invalid?

Well, remember that thing about ‘enumerative’ data being used to show analytic results? That can’t work. Here we are doing that same thing, either way she looks at it she’s using enumerative data to support an analytic conclusion. That CAN’T be correct.

Now, remember the school board member who suggested that new and better questions were needed in order for the testing to be valid? He obviously does not grasp the meaning of the difference between enumerative data and analytic studies. If he did, he’d say ‘Standardized tests are not valid evaluations of achievement because they are not VALID.’

It is impossible for the tests to show the ‘cause’ of the student’s success. Did the student do well because he was smart? Or because he went to a great school? Or because his parents both went to college? (This is the number one most accurate predictor of academic success by the way).

Or did the student do badly because his family’s first language is not English? He received insufficient help with his disability (as mandated by law?). Was he improperly evaluated early in school and then passed on to grade after grade without the skills to succeed due to a broken system? Did his parents complain too loudly about a teacher who then chose not to spend the time with him he/she could have? Is he suffering from an economic or racial bias from the staff that may not be measurable but may be having an effect anyway?

The same argument can be made against performance evaluations at work. It is difficult, at the very best, to form an evaluation that has any meaning, and whose time it takes to perform could not have been better used in providing training, coaching and leadership to help employees improve their work.

Oh? Really? People at work, who get evaluated, often in order to get a raise? Those are invalid too? Absolutely invalid.

And that brings us right round, doesn’t it?

Why do I tip up front?

Because judging my waitress cannot be valid. I cannot correctly blame my waitress for the quality of my service.

So, I calculate 20%, an estimate that is, and I pay him/her that many dollars when I sit down. I tell them, ‘It doesn’t really matter ‘why’ I do it this way. If you’re really curious later you can ask me and I’ll explain.’ They smile, quirky crazy guy on table 6 already tipped me. Then they go about their business.

I can hear it being said, (actually I’m remembering all my friends), “What if you get crappy service? Then what?”

If you’re asking this, then you didn’t really grasp the point. I don’t do it to get better service. I do it because it ‘helps’ the system. I am going to tip her. If I wait, she has the ‘threat’ that I might tip her badly hanging over her the whole meal. If I tip her up front, at least she knows she doesn’t have that to worry about. She’s then a little bit less stressed out about her tips, and everybody’s service improves, a teeny bit.

More importantly, I release her from the fear that as her customer, ‘I’ am going to make an impossible (and unfair), and mathematically flawed judgment of her performance and then punish her for it (unjustly).

Try it a few times. See what happens. Regardless, let go of the idea that you are ‘rating’ your server for her performance. Because that’s just not possible.

For more information on performance appraisals:

Or grading in schools:

Honesty vs. Politeness

During 2011 I began examining what I thought I has discovered about people’s views on honesty. As I began to date again after my divorce I was intrigued by how many women wanted an ‘honest’ man, but who at the same time exhibited a fair amount of what I call ‘pretense’. I was hypersensitized perhaps, but it was clearly evident that women are sick of being lied to or betrayed, but they really have no interest in being ‘honest’.

Some clarity is in order all around this subject, and below what I show is not an array of valid and dizzying factoids. Rather, I hope to show that this subject underlies one of the most important vices we experience from day to day, that of assumption.

I began with my query. I would simply ask people, both men and women, given the two extremes, would you rather be with someone ‘honest’, or someone ‘polite’.

Mostly I got what I expected, honest. But in some cases I got polite. This perturbed me, and so my intrigue grew as I had in depth conversations about people’s preferences in a partner and how they defined their relationships around these two words. During this exploration I was also introduced to a very short managerial statement about ‘quality’ from Juran on Quality by Design:

Good Quality = Product features. The better the features, the higher the quality.
Bad Quality = Product Deficiencies. The fewer the deficiencies the better the quality.

Put another way, Good Quality is a reason to buy something. Bad Quality is a reason to take it back and never buy it again.

Quality is NOT a scale from bad to good.

He sets the stage for examine the idea of ‘quality’ as too distinct things. Quality, from bad to good, is not necessarily a continuous scale from bad to good. Rather Good Quality is different, separated from, bad quality.  To increase Good Quality, we add features. To decrease Bad Quality, we reduce defects.

How does this relate?

What I discovered when talking with people is that ‘polite’ is often associated with covering the truth. We don’t tell people they have spinach in their teeth. That’s very polite, but a bit dishonest. And honesty can often be abrasive such as when we are egotistic or sarcastic. We’re being honest, but not polite.

Shortly thereafter I made a few changes. I replaced polite with considerate. Then I created a chart with two dimensions.

I then spent a few minutes placing descriptors of personality and behavior around the chart. Feel free to disagree, even let me know. I’ll refine it for a later post if need be.

This chart helps make sense of our desire for honesty and consideration. It makes it fairly clear that we’d all rather be with someone from the upper right quadrant. Someone sincere, genuine, modest. Makes you feel all soft and good inside just thinking about it.

We can also agree fairly easily, I think, that we’d rather dodge those who are in the lower left quadrant, a frequent stop for ass-holes and bastards in our lives. Those who are arrogant and conceited, domineering.

That leaves the upper left, and lower right. And it presents a new question.

If you had to choose between two people to be with, and one was inconsiderate, but honest, and the other was dishonest but considerate, which would you prefer?

Or, choose between a partner who is aggressive, vain and flippant, or the other who is pretentious, assuming and pompous?

Here the decision gets very fuzzy. I prefer honest over considerate every time. I’d prefer to hear sarcasm that’s true, than politeness that’s hiding something. But not everyone feels this way. Perhaps not even half. It’s too easy to think “Wow, do I really want someone who will tell me my butt looks too big? I’d rather have someone who is dishonest enough to be polite? But not so dishonest as to be actually, dishonest.

This brings us round to the pure evil that is ‘assumption’.

In fact it helps explain why the Golden Rule is a tool for becoming lazy and deceitful.

The hell you say? But it’s true. Follow along with me.

Treat others as you would have them treat you. Basically it’s saying be nice to people, but not exactly. That’s not how we apply it, and it’s not how it’s applied to us.

If I am trying to decide whether to say something important to someone I care about, I can check in. “Would I want them telling this to me?” If I answer yes, to myself, I can go ahead and say it. If I decide I’d rather not know, I can keep silent. Sounds easy so far.

But check it out. I’m assuming they feel the same way I do about something, or even everything in general! Why is it that I can’t ask them, “I’m just curious. If you had toilet paper hanging out of your dress, would you want someone to tell you? Or would you rather not know, and be embarrassed by yourself when you got home?”

Sounds silly, but the point is, if we allow the Golden Rule to help us make assumptions then we are USING the rule to make us lazy, and maybe safe. We decline to risk asking them how they think and feel about things.

Then we use the rule to judge others. ALL THE TIME! “I can’t believe he did that to me. Can you Imagine? Who does something like that to someone else?”

Hopefully you’re confused. Get ready for clarity. Instead of inquiring “Why did you do that to me?” We walk away mad and ‘assume’ that if we were in their shoes we would never had behaved so badly. Are we in their shoes? We pretend we are. We use the rule to be lazy so we don’t actually have to converse about anything scary or complicated. Then we assume they are the same as us and they did something stupid because they are mean or evil, (not just in different shoes).

Oh? And here is the coup-de-grace. THEN we do PAYBACK. We behave to them as we ‘perceive’ they’ve behaved toward us. We ‘pretend’ that the intention we now feel is the intention they felt when they did it to us, and we do it back to them to see how THEY like it. (Though we clearly ‘assume’ intentions, since we refuse to ask.)

What happened to treating them as we want to be treated?

We pretend ‘payback’ is immune to the rule. We aren’t ‘behaving’ toward them, rather, we are ‘reacting’ to their stupidity, so it’s not covered by the Golden Rule.

If he slaps me, I slap him back, since he must be using the Golden Rule. He MUST figure I’m going to slap him back, so I’m just giving him what he wants. Right?

No. It’s still lazy and deceitful. And wrong-headed.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” ~Ghandi

It would be much better if we felt ‘obligated’, by some flippant sounding little ‘rule’ that expected us to think before we act, converse before we help or hurt someone who may not want or need our help. A rule that expects us to do better every day, and spend time finding ways to be better, and improve. EVERY DAY. And, by the way, requires us to converse thoughtfully and genuinely with others so we can avoid miscommunication.

Stephen Covey calls it sharpening the saw. And the conversation part he calls ‘Win Win’.

Another term is active listening, but only works when BOTH parties know how. So, if you’re going to use active listening, be prepared to teach the other party how to do it, or you’ll end up using it against yourself by being lazy and deceitful about your own feelings and desires and needs.  Doing only the first half of listening is called servile, passive, obedient. In other words, too lazy, or maybe scared, to say what you need.

So, would you rather be with someone honest? Or someone polite?

I’ve realized that now, more than ever, I’d rather be with someone I can talk to, and feel safe saying what I need to say, and feel understood by them. Someone I can return that favor to because I care about them enough to listen to what they want and desire. Someone who is mostly honest AND considerate at the same time. And if they’re not? They’re still mostly honest.

Maybe we can call this the Golden Quadrant.? Or maybe we don’t need to pretend that this is simple. Maybe it’s time we expect each other to use our God given ability to discern, and think, and reason, and discuss. To reach agreement even when it is difficult.

And when we can’t agree, to at least respect each other without criticism or contempt.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

To Do No Harm

“Before you speak, think -Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?” - Sri Sathya Sai Baba

This, as with some other trite and concise exhortations, can very easily become misguided.

To 'Do No Harm' sounds simple enough. We could just do nothing then, and thus guarantee that at least we are not harming anyone. Hmmm.

Remember in Grand Canyon, which Kevin Cline is standing on the street corner, and he steps out and quickly the woman behind him grabs him from behind, by the collar, and tugs him backward and suddenly SWOOSH! A city bus misses him by 1 second? Yeah? He recalls it in the movie, this woman saved his life, and they said few words, and he'll never see her again, and she saved his life.

It's my favorite example of the potential for 'inaction' to do harm. If she hadn't pulled him back, he'd have died. Her inaction would have done harm. Inaction at no cost to herself saved his life. Well, are we obligated to 'prevent harm'?

Sai Baba tells us to think before we speak. Is it true, kind, and necessary? This is poignant, and powerful, it gives us pause, but it does not guide us. Or, if it does guide us, how so? Here's where the idea goes wrong.

Is it necessary? We can make a couple of assumptions about the world as it is, without our words, and the world that might be, with our words. A couple of assumptions should suffice, and in lieu of discernment or profound knowledge, we can easily make a mistake on this single point.

How do YOU decide to be the cause, and how did you arrive at your belief about the effect?

Tricky at the very least.

Okay, now how about truth? We often restrain ourselves from saying something that will put us at risk or make someone else feel bad. We neglect being honest because we'd prefer to do no harm. Choosing to be 'less honest'?

As for kind, well, we often say unkind things without thinking them through, not even for 1 second.

So, we have a thought, we're about to say something, and we pause. Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? And we figure out, through our powers of introspection, that our words fail one of those tests. So, we remain silent, comfortable in the knowledge that we've restrained ourselves from doing some kind of harm. We may even be impressed with our restraint.

But we may have been mislead.

Is it true? Kind? Necessary? We use this, occasionally, to be lazy and deceitful. We keep our words to ourselves,we don't stand up for our beliefs or our boundaries, perhaps we even suffer abuses, and sometimes allow harm to be done when saying something might have prevented it.

So how do we decide? How can we apply principles to what we say and do instead of using cuteness to give ourselves a way out?

Here's a short example.

You bring your dishes to the kitchen, but you never put them in the dishwasher, and it makes me crazy. It's like, dude, there's the dishwasher. Do you not know how to open it? Do you wonder what might be in there? Are you worried about putting the clean dishes away cuz you're in a hurry? Are you just to lazy to help those little bitty dishes into the machine? You need me to be here to support you in getting dishes clean? What the hell? Truly a nightmare, right?

Some would say you have to say all of that or you're being dishonest. Ahem. No. You may need to say something, or go insane, but you might be able to 'craft' your words a bit. I digress....

Is saying something necessary? Is it truly important to you that people take part in the dish washing scheme of the home? Is it truly upsetting you? If the answer is no, then you're done. Don't say anything. Yay! You showed restraint. But what if the answer is yes? Does Sai Baba's statement mean you have to keep silent?

Sort of. Because what you crafted in the moment was not very kind. So shut up.

But it is true, the behavior is making you crazy. What can you do?

Said another way, how can we be 'honest' if we don't say something?

Many people just stop here. They keep it to themselves, they neglect to confront from fear blossoming forth from who knows where, and they grasp at any excuse to be silent.

Others grasp onto one third of the statement and say 'At least I'm being honest, right?'

But people are to lazy to take a moment to find a way to meet all three. Actively pursue the statement. Stay true to yourself, and find a very polite way to mention that you'd appreciate some help keeping the counters clean and clear. "Dear, could you please help me out by not simply putting the dishes in the sink, but finding a way to get them into the dishwasher?" If they respond "The dishwasher is full!" Then politely ask them to help you by emptying it, together.

How are we doing? Not so hot. We've said what we need. But have we been honest? Entirely? Why is it important that we get help with this? IS it that we want them to be more responsible for keeping the house clean? Is it that we fight a never-ending uphill battle with seven people never cleaning up after themselves?

We've left out an I message. We left ourselves out of the equation.

Here's a NOT I statement. "It frustrates me SO much when you don't put your dishes in the dishwasher!" Sounds like blame.

The I statement. "You know dear, I don't know why it bothers me so much, but I get really upset for some reason when I come in the kitchen and there's dirty dishes everywhere." Aha. Honest, polite, and it may help to get our kitchen duties sorted out.

Is it an improvement on saying nothing? Perhaps. But at the very least it is a careful approach to retain civility while airing our desires while reducing or removing the blame element. We've taken responsibility for our own feelings, and we've tried to improve the situation. Hmm.

But what's the consequence of remaining silent? What's the consequence of speaking up? We can't really know. We just have to do our due diligence to do our best.

Also, we've shown we can be 'not deceitful' and 'not lazy', and we want things to be better.

We've also done no harm. We've not harmed the other person by blaming, and we've not harmed ourselves by repressing our true feelings.

Hmmm. Sounds pretty good, but there's one more tricky spot we haven't covered.

Of three elements, true, kind, and necessary, can an argument be made either way?

Is it true? We can frequently establish that something is true or false. Not always, but often. We can also establish necessity. If no one washes the dishes, what happens? Eventually we run out of clean dishes to eat off of. But what about kind?

This is where people fall completely off the cause and effect train. If I say something kind to you, who is it that decides if it's kind?

Are 'kind intentions' all I need?

Or do YOU have to feel the words were kind?  Because if you do, then don't I have to ask you if they were kind words?  Don't I have to engage you in potentially complex and risky conversation to make sure you received the kindness as it was intended?

Kindness is not up to us, internally. Ina sense neither are necessity and truth, but kindness to another cannot be derived from introspection. It MUST be felt in order to be kind. Our actions and words MUST be interpreted.

A clear example is when a man sees a pretty woman and says "My, you look beautiful today!" Does she take it as simple kind acknowledgement of his pure intentions?  Or does she react defensively, maybe due to prior hurt or training, and wonder 'what's this pervert going for here?'

Tricky. Do we quake in concern that she will take it wrong? Or can we go out of our way to insure, as best we can, that it is taken as a form of admiration with no ill thought or desire for further connection?

If we do no harm, we may stay silent, we don't want to offend her. But if we do no good then we may have passed up an opportunity to boost someone's esteem, perhaps an esteem sorely in need of boosting?

It takes time, and thought, and reasoning, and analysis of cause and effect to do our best to find a way to 'do no harm'.

It only takes a bit of laziness to do no good.

Monday, March 5, 2012

   Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed: for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess.

-Rene DesCartes ~1640 AD

It's been said that a fool knows everything while wise man knows that he knows nothing.  We all tend to believe what we think, and to think that what we believe is true and valid. If we believe this too staunchly we make 'improvement', otherwise known as learning, impossible.

Only by doubting, with discernment, can we hope to learn, improve, change, or alter the way we do things, or the way things are done to us.

DesCartes had a near monopoly on doubt. This made him one of the world's most profound philosophers. He was also a mathematician, (invented topology before the word existed as well as the Cartesian coordinate system [x and y axes]), the precursor to the modern scientific method (along with Francis Bacon), and perhaps the sole origin of the separate concepts of the mind and the body as separate entities.

Some of his ideas are not valid today, but his methods can hardly be questioned. Even his analysis of heart function, seemingly silly and strange, could not have been rationally discounted at the time of its inception. And we know today that the mind and body are tied in ways he simply could not have measured.

But the substantial body of his work is evidence of his commitment to avoiding silliness or assumptions as he toiled to move forward in understanding the world around him.

This blog will be a testament to doubt. A platform of reason, logic, science, some math, all with the aim to improve almost everything in life.

I hope you enjoy what you find, and when you don't, I hope you share your thoughts.