Monday, December 7, 2015

Post #11: Final Post

First, to review the course in a more opinionated fashion, this class turned out to be what I expected. I mean this as a compliment. To be honest, I only picked Economics of Organizations over Financial Economics because the latter filled up too quickly, but by the time the semester started, the former had grown on me as a potentially interesting class. It was certainly of benefit that the subject matter of the class was already fascinating to me before the semester started. I was more motivated to do well than some of my other courses. Academically speaking, this was the most intriguing class of my semester schedule. Not to say I didn’t have any problems with it, but I’ll get to that later.

From a learning standpoint, most of the models we dealt with were new to me. I’ve already learned about risk aversion to some degree, but for the most part, I had never encountered most of the information covered. This includes the Principal-Agent model, the Shapiro and Stiglitz model, and essentially all the other models referenced in the Excel homework. On a side note, Bolman and Deal’s “Reframing Organizations” was worth reading. The material in the book did for me what it set out to do: looking at the same situation from different frames of reference.

The class structure had some interesting elements to it. The combination of the in-class discussions, blog posts, and Excel homework was mostly advantageous to the learning process. I’ll start with the blog posts. If there was one thing I struggled with in this class, it’d be the blog posts. I often found myself with very little to say, and I rarely felt confident that my examples were particularly relevant. In other words, I routinely felt as though I was missing the point of the prompt. Maybe it was just me, but perhaps a few extra minutes of prior explanation would have helped. Pre-writing helped alleviate this a little, though. Overall, the blog posts were still an understandable addition to the class and, in combination with the review of the posts on Mondays, were essential to the learning process.

The Excel homework was done well for the purposes of this class. They weren’t always easy, but I wouldn’t say they were ever particularly difficult either. First and foremost, the format was excellent. Being able to immediately know when you’ve made a mistake made even the most difficult of the Excel homework assignments, which for me was Insurance under Asymmetric Information, manageable with the right amount of effort and patience. The difficulty was also incentive to read everything closely rather than just skimming. However, completing the Excel homework was usually a frustrating time of the week for the aforementioned reasons, and the accompanying videos were time-consuming in a few instances. Nevertheless, there was always a sense of accomplishment for every assignment completed.

Lastly, there were the in-class discussions. They were generally easy to follow, and they were great for clarification. I never really felt I fully understood something until it was discussed in class. Not until class on Mondays did I get a good grasp on the implications of the blog posts, and not until Wednesdays did I get a good grasp on the implications of the Excel homework. The questions given didn’t always get a response, but they did lead to some deeper thinking. At least for me, there were plenty of “Aha” moments once the answer was eventually given. If I could change anything about the in-class meetings, a little more focus and structure wouldn’t hurt. At the same time, the relaxed structure of the in-class discussions was still beneficial in general.

Overall, I enjoyed the class.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Post #10: Reputation

The reputation I have among friends and family is that I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. When I do something, I want it done right and in full. I don’t want to have to return to something I’ve already done. I’d rather do something all at once than in parts; that way, I know everything is relatively consistent, I don’t have to get back into work mode (the more I work on something, the more focused and efficient I become), and I don’t have to worry or be stressed about whatever I’m doing anymore.

My reputation was formed by a personal characteristic. I wouldn’t say that characteristic controls my life or anything like that. It’s more of a personal preference. Nevertheless, this preference can seem a little irrational to some people, so it has developed into a kind of reputation. It also means I have trouble shirking even if I could get away with it because I don’t like doing any less than my best unless time constraints have made such high standards unobtainable. One such example is this: I was given a job to do by my girlfriends’ parents to stain their deck in preparation for her college graduation celebration last summer. They were surprised by how much time and effort I used, and they told me I went far beyond the quality they would have expected. To be honest, I never intended on spending so much time either, but I reasoned the whole time that if I do a good job now, that deck will look nice for a long time to come. Since it started out looking so well, I wanted to make the whole thing look as well. There were times when I even annoyed myself with how much more time I was spending than necessary.

Not only did this gain me a reputation with my girlfriend, her parents, pretty much her entire extended family, and additional family friends that attended the celebration, but while I was working, there was also a desire to have such a reputation. I was proud of my work. I wanted to be seen as a hard worker. As a result, I was complimented for my work countless times. That wasn’t my intention before I started, but it sure was by the time I finished. Like I said, by the end, I annoyed even myself. I was being paid a flat payment, and the work became tedious really quickly. Nevertheless, at least for me, it ended up being worth it. Furthermore, several people let me know that they’d happily hire me for similar work if the need arises.

I don’t like to cash in my reputation for most circumstances. It’s not worth it if the reputation is any good. The short-term gains simply don’t outweigh the long-term loses. I often don’t like to make exceptions even when nobody would know. It doesn’t really have any effect on my reputation, but I figure if I let my principles slip in private, they may slip in other ways as well. Of course, I’m far from perfect, and sometimes I feel the ends justify the means. Sometimes a small sacrifice in reputation has to be made. I can’t give everything my all. I’d go crazy if I tried.

Bottom line, good reputations are worth keeping. Sacrificing a good reputation may make short-term gains, but I feel that losing a reputation is worse than having no reputation at all. If anything, that would get you a reputation for giving up or giving in rather than having the self-discipline to do what you believe is right.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Post #9 Principal-Agent

An experience I had with this model was while signing with my current apartment complex. Over the summer, I was running low on time to find a new place to live. My sister strongly suggested I research this one place off campus. She told me she had lived there for a year and thought very highly of it. I gathered all the information I could before I called the company.

I ended up talking to someone that I’ll call John for the purposes of this post. Before I committed to anything, I first had a few more questions that I needed answered. John was very helpful in getting me the information I needed. This is in contrast to some of the other apartment companies I called that either didn’t have the information or didn’t communicate the information well.

Even still, I was on the fence on whether or not I would sign a contract. Nevertheless, I took one of their roommate matching tests to see if I’d be able to get a room anyway. They stressed that they can’t place me in one of the three remaining rooms unless I was a good enough match. They may have just been trying to pressure me, but since I needed an apartment, I had no choice but to believe them.

Since John told me there were so few rooms and that I had a short time frame, I had no choice to go to the apartment office to sign the deal. On a side note, I did my absolute best never to sound too eager or desperate. I also never made it clear I was set on signing a contract. Nor was I sure I would actually sign. I didn’t expect to bargain, but if that happened for some reason, I wanted to have some bargaining power.

Again, I ended up talking with John. He was in charge of the tour. Again, he was very informative and he seemed very trustworthy. I didn’t feel like he was lying to me or trying to trick me. Eventually I signed the contract.

All was well and good until a few weeks later. Not long before classes started, I got an email that said my roommates had been switched. This didn’t really bother me because I hadn’t met or talked to my roommates yet, so I had no preference of roommates.

And then, about a day before moving in, I got an email from my new roommate who mentioned having a dog. My original roommates didn’t have a dog, which is a big reason I signed the contract. If I knew there’d be a pet, I would have gone with my second apartment choice. I called the office, but they didn’t think it was unfair to switch me into an apartment with a pet without even telling me.

Since then, the people running the apartment have failed to come through on many different promises. The most notable being the night shuttle program which was discontinued because the person in charge just didn’t feel like doing it anymore. Just like the dog situation, I would absolutely not have signed a contract if I knew they’d do this ahead of time. Thus far, they have been unconvinced by complaints to reboot the night shuttle program.

So in the end, I don’t think the agent was the problem. I think the apartment company who hired the agent was the problem. I believe that John told me what he believed to be the truth, but I don’t think he had the whole truth. He couldn’t have known I’d be switched or that the night shuttle program would be discontinued. I don’t even know if the apartment company could have expected that. Nevertheless, the apartment company filled another room, the agent they hired still got paid, and I’m out of luck.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Post #7 Team Production

It seems that gift-exchange and team production are closely linked. Collaboration seems to make people much more generous towards each other than when players are acting as individuals. This is indicated in the New York Times article, “How to Get the Rich to Share the Marbles.” This distinction between viewing yourself as a teammate or an individual in a group is very important in my experience.

I remember what was my first-ever economics group project back in my first year of college. None of my classmates knew each other, and the teams of about eight or nine were separated at random. I remember that many of my teammates were often missing from class and failed to make any sort of impression on me. In our first meeting as a team, there were only about four of us that attended, and we spent most of the time getting to know one another. In particular, one of my teammates and I happened to sit next to each other in class throughout the semester, so we got to know each other better and became better at working together.

What this did was separated our team into four different kinds of “groups” (1 or 2 people) which I’ll refer to as Groups A, B, C, and D, respectively: there were those that never spoke or showed up to class, those that showed up to class but didn’t participate much, those that showed up to class and stayed relatively connected, and my classmate and I who corresponded on a daily basis.

 By the time we presented our project to the class, these four groups proved to have four distinct and corresponding levels of productivity. Group A played no real part in the assignment. Group B did bare-minimum work that didn’t mesh well with the overall project. Group C had decent work and pulled their weight during the presentation. Group A, my classmate and I, however, ended up contributing about 50-60% of the finished product.

The treatment of the four groups during grading were interesting: Group A, which didn’t show up for presentations at all was singled out. They failed while the rest of us got a grade boost; a fact that none of us argued against. Group B surprisingly didn’t show up either, but the rest of us assured the professor that they did, at very least, what they were supposed to (other than showing up for presentations). Only half of Group B showed up. One of the two were sick, but since he did good work and was sincere about why he couldn’t attend, we insisted that they be given the same grade as those that presented. We shared our grade with him despite having to do more work presenting on his behalf. That leaves just three out eight or nine that actually presented.

The connection between teammates resulted in two things: the connected were much more willing to work hard and were much more willing to defend each other’s actions. The disconnected failed to impress and received no support when it came to grading.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that collaboration made certain people more productive. It could very well mean that those who were too lazy to go to class were too lazy to give an effort on the project. There’s just a few reasons that indicate that collaboration may have been a factor. The teammate that I connected most with and I were the two most productive members of the team by far. Also, as time went on, the team as a whole became more and more productive after every time we met. Assuming we all had the same level of motivation to do well, which was the to get a decent grade, a possible reason for the difference in work was collaboration and team productivity.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Post #6 Income Risk

Over this last summer, I experienced a shocking revelation; I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do after I graduate and little time to figure it out. I only have one semester left which we’re already half-way through, and most of my friends have already graduated.

Anyway, while my colleagues were diving into the real world with no more expectations for the future than I had, I decided it was time for a change. I went to my library, grabbed the first couple books I came across, and I got to work.

The first book I picked up was called “Earn What You’re Really Worth” by Brian Tracy. The book covered topics such as self-discipline, time-management, goal-setting, and increasing human capital (he didn’t use the term, but that’s essentially what it was). While I can’t yet attest to how realistic his ideas are, they inspired me, nonetheless. For the rest of the summer, I read everything I could so by the start of the fall semester, I had read over twenty books on economics, business, and finance. Reading obviously takes up time, though, so I was making a very real sacrifice to accommodate it.

What I gave up for my new pursuit of human capital was work. You might be wondering why I found the two mutually exclusive, but this is the best answer I can give: working at a cash register or as a sales clerk would increase my current income, but using those extra hours to increase my human capital would improve my future income. Every moment spent at work, so I thought, would be a moment better utilized for self-education.

I knew when I was making the sacrifice that there were some flaws to my strategy. Work was practical experience. I’d benefit by adding to my resume, and I would grow more accustomed to work-life and organizational structure than I currently am (most of my work-experience is informal). I would also earn money for my efforts which, like any college student will tell you, I never seem to have enough of. While I put some of what I learned into practice, such as organization techniques and goal-setting, I had limited opportunities to use what I learned in the real-world.

So I had to consider the pros and cons of both work and study, and I put them into two distinct categories: does this help me now or does this help me in the future? Once I had everything mentally sorted, I was able to weigh the strategies against each other. Experience or knowledge? Money or knowledge? A strategy of obvious benefits or a strategy that others would find impractical?

One of the things I picked up on from several different authors is how job uncertainty affects my generation more than it has historically. That you can never, and should never, believe you’re set for life. Job certainty is now, more than ever, a fantasy. At the same time, I now see this as an opportunity. As long as I can continue to increase my human capital, I can find and obtain a career when I need to. There’s far less income risk as long as I stay on my toes and keep learning. That way, if the economy heads south or just the company I work for does, I can remain competitive in the job market. This is one of the reasons I chose studying over work.

Since I can’t know the counterfactual, I’m not entirely sure what decision I should have made, but I’d probably make the same one. Increasing education decreases income risk and tends to increase income as well. So that’s why, when choosing between current benefits and future benefits, I choose the latter.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Post #5 Illinibucks

The allocation of “Illinibucks” would be an interesting, but flawed, solution to the waiting problem that students face on a regular basis. Who wouldn’t want to skip the line during registration or at their favorite restaurant? Nevertheless, there are some issues that might make or break the system.

Before we get to the issues, let’s look at some of the more expected uses of the Illinibuck. The most obvious use would be class registration, but as I’ll get into shortly, this may lead to some of the more complex problems. The Illinibuck could find use with students who are waiting in line at a bar or at a restaurant. Also, during the cold or rainy seasons, the bus has so many riders that you couldn’t push your way on if you tried. Getting on first could be of value. The bookstore might have a line to skip, but even the books themselves could use Illinibucks since there’s not always enough books for everyone during the first couple of weeks. Even the gym doesn’t always have enough equipment for everyone, so I’m sure a priority system could be worked in there as well. There are bound to be plenty more uses of the Illinibuck than what I’ve listed here.

For the nonessentials such as these, the Illinibuck could find success (despite a great deal of frustration and questions of fairness). Students would be free to prioritize their spending and maximize their utility. The university would need to set the prices. Setting them too high would cause students to hesitate on spending. I predict that the Illinibucks would only be used on the essentials and be much less effective on simple bookstore lines. Setting prices too low would be a problem as well. Everyone would be willing to pay. Wanting to skip the line at the grocery store? Sure. Just wait behind the twenty other people who are skipping the line.

These low prices lead into the next and perhaps more serious issue with the Illinibuck: if everyone is trying to get ahead, who really gets ahead? Think about registration. When I was still in the computer science major, it took me until my third semester to get into a particular class. This class was required to take before most other computer science classes. There was a horrible shortage in openings as every student desperately tried to sign up.

If I had Illinibucks during that time, you could bet I’d spend every last one to get into that class, and I’d be happy to do it. First in line for food, the bus, the gym, and so on would be a small sacrifice to graduate in my (at the time) preferred major. If I were the only one with Illinibucks, it all would have worked out great. However, in this hypothetical situation, that’s not the case. So what happens when everyone is willing to make the same sacrifices? In this scenario, we all have the same amount of Illinibucks, and there certainly aren’t enough computer science classes for everyone who wants to take them. The only way this scenario doesn’t end in the same way it started (everyone fighting for priority) is if there’s a secondary priority system, which defeats the purpose, there’s an increase in the supply of openings to accommodate everyone, which defeats the purpose, or there’s an unequal distribution of Illinibucks. And under the possibility of Illinibucks being bought and sold, the entire system would be undermined and a list of new problems would develop.

The Illinibuck system would lead to some interesting situations that would be nice to study, but in reality, the drawbacks would most likely outweigh the benefits. Finding the right price for line-cutting would be essential for the system’s success, and that’s under the assumption that there even is a right price. If the Illinibuck system could work, would it do more harm or good? That’s a question I couldn’t answer.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Post #4: Organizational Structure

Choosing the structure of an organization is an important step in the team’s success and requires plenty of consideration beforehand. The effects of the decision include, but are not limited to, how well the team will be able communicate, how the team makes decisions, and what responsibilities each team member will have. That being said, the structure can make or break a team. To name a few ways that structure impacts results, communication may be easy or broken, decision makers may have too much control or not enough, and members may find themselves overloaded with things to accomplish or they may find themselves under-worked.

As far as movie teams go, few are as currently relevant (and profitable) as “The Avengers.” For those of you who don’t know, The Avengers that I would like to discuss are the movie adaptations of a team of Marvel comic book superheroes. Lately, there have been two Avengers films, but having not yet seen the second, I will not be talking about that one here.

Most members of this team have previously appeared as individual crime fighters in their own movies. They were presented mostly as solitary figures; few of these characters were experienced in teamwork and perhaps even fewer would accept help even when it was offered. Their separate storylines each began with them being extremely stubborn about not accepting help and ended with them being mostly stubborn about not accepting help.

The plot of the movie is all about organizing a team. As I said, none of these members were open to teamwork previously, but when danger shows its face, they’re forced into cooperation regardless of their strong objections. They tended to see each other as inferior relative to themselves, and each of them also believed they knew the right course of action. The first hour or so of the film involves them fighting each other and getting in each other’s way despite all having the same general goals: justice and the safety of mankind.

There is a “boss” in the group: Samuel L. Jackson’s character is responsible for bringing the team together in the first place. He runs the defense organization known as “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” but deciding he needed something more than that, he creates this additional division of superheroes. However, his control over these superheroes is minimal at best despite how he’d prefer it to function. This division is very loosely connected to the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, and communication is very minimal across that structural gap.

The superhero organization is most akin to Mintzberg’s adhocracy which is described as “a loose, flexible, self-renewing organic form tied together mostly through lateral means” (Bolman and Deal 82). The laterally-organized team very loosely follows procedures or policies, and their organization was created specifically to defeat the film’s antagonist. There’s also plenty of the ambiguity and incoherence that Mintzberg describes this structure with. Upon completion of the mission, the team separates.

The group also resembles the All-Channel Network from “Reframing Organizations,” chapter five. The team doesn’t exhibit much hierarchy. The boss exists but more of a guide than somebody in control. The group members all communicate directly and decisions are made on consensus. It’s also arguably similar to a basketball team since the organization’s success results from mutual understanding and cohesiveness.

The team can also be related to Katzenbach and Smith’s features of high-performance teams. I’ll go down the list to cover them all. The team’s purpose is shaped by the demand of defending the world from the bad guy’s plot for world-domination. Their only real performance goal would be to defeat the antagonist and save as many lives as possible. The team is of nine people if you include support characters and the “boss,” so it’s a manageable size. All the members are diverse and have different skills which all mesh together nicely. A major part of the story involves the characters developing commitment to working relationships. Finally, they all think of themselves as collectively accountable. They blame each other often early on, but gaining this accountability is part of the plot’s progression (108).

Many of the successful qualities in the “Reframing Organizations” are depicted in this team. I’d also like to point out how relevant it is that the team is highly unsuccessful for most of the movie. They all have their own incentives and ways of doing things. They fail to cooperate in almost everything they do, and they are highly resistant to structure. This depicts some realism in the film that successful teams don’t happen immediately. There will be friction and resistance. Sacrifices and compromises may be slow to take place. It takes time to create efficiency in the system, and the perfectly efficient system doesn’t exist.

Bolman, Lee, and Terrence Deal. Reframing Organizations: Fifth Edition. Jossey-Bass, 2013. Print.