Friday, November 27, 2015

Statistics inscrutable to Americans

This article (Politics and the New Machine) which appeared in the 11/16/15 New Yorker magazine, presented very troubling evidence that the polls with which Americans seem so fascinated are at best untrustworthy and at worst a fraud perpetrated on us by pollsters who know they don't represent electoral views.  Even worse, they may actually be corrupting the very purpose of the electoral process.

Americans are obsessed with simple measures which purport to represent complex phenomena.  To wit:

  • IQ
  • Credit Score
  • GPA
  • BMI
  • SAT/ACT Scores
  • Age
  • Zip Code
  • AGI (Adjusted Gross Income)

We don't have time for details.  We aren't interested in stories, just summaries and aggregates.

The convenience of a number trumps the work required to understand what it really represents and its potential irrelevance to an individual case.  The statistic belies the assumptions, trade-offs, biases and prejudices.

Big data gives us the ability to collect more information, but humans can't process it anyway.  Get ready for more approximations.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Selfishness or misunderstanding? The state of education today

I read Doug Stowe's Wisdom of the Hands blog often and am always inspired by his thoughtfulness.

Doug is an educator and woodworker in Arkansas and amateur education policy historian.  This week he wrote a blog post which explains a turning point in vocational education policy evolution...well worth the read!

Here is my response to his post...

I presented our vision for an Indiana Advanced Manufacturing Certification (IAM-Cert) credential to about 25 students at Atterbury Job Corps on Thursday.

Young men and women enrolled there are learning trades at this residential facility in central Indiana constructed as an internment camp during World War II and repurposed to offer vocational training to students for whom 'regular school' didn't work.

Construction & building trades at Atterbury are promoted as a pathway to secure employment, good wages and a higher quality of life.

It is ironic that very few students today are encouraged to pursue a career in Manual and Industrial Arts when the pride and satisfaction of making things so obviously leads to a 'virtuous cycle' of learning and improving one's skill and value.

I found Doug's post today recounting a key turning point in the evolution of our current education system very interesting; particularly with respect to the political compromises between the two powerful forces of industry and labor.

Today, the education industry, supported by a $73B federal DOE budget, and state budgets which in Indiana account for 63% of state spending, represent a third powerful constituency.  Nobody should be surprised that it has incredible influence over policy.

How then did Industry, Labor and Education allow the state of our schools to veer so far from what works? Was it complicity or incompetence? Selfishness or a simple misunderstanding?

More importantly, how can we change the status quo?  I'd like to help.

Fire starter or tender?

There are a continuum of jobs in this world.  Like snowflakes or fingerprints - no two are the same.

But there are categories and within them are starters and finishers.  I've always been a starter.  I love to think about the possibilities and like a bridegroom focus on the excitement of a new life together with my bride - a fresh idea.

But life is not an endless honeymoon.  The birth of a child leads to an existence which is mostly less effervescent in emotion than those first few days.  Somehow regulation and order move in to replace excitement, reality replaces possibility.

In business this notion is one of creation vs execution.  You need both, but it is widely regarded that owners and investors are better served by a good executioner than a creationer.

That's where I struggle.

At this age I'm reconciled to enjoy the start-up phase and do my best there.  Recognizing that's not for everyone means there are executioners that love the fulfilment of the dream more than the dreaming.  Good for them!

With my latest venture:, I hope to assemble a team with all the talents optimised for each stage and need of the business.  People do best what they love - shouldn't a start-up be filled with lovers of what they do?