This is Howard C. Park's blog. Interests: live music, simulations and modeling, languages, iPod, social and business networking, systems thinking, history of science, management, BBQ, trivia, good coffee, organizational learning, traveling, personal histories.
Monday, April 25, 2005
This is posted on woot.com's FAQ site:
I want to talk to a live person there, can I call you? No. We are busy sourcing new products and shipping orders. You can post a comment to our community board, but we don't guarantee to respond. You should google for the manufacturer contact to get product answers – we suggest a dating service, magic 8 ball, or ouija board for general life solutions. Will I receive customer support like I'm used to? No. Well not really. If you buy something you don’t end up liking or you have what marketing people call “buyers remorse,” sell it on ebay. It’s likely you’ll make money doing this and save everyone a hassle. If the item doesn't work, find out what you’re doing wrong. Yes, we know you think the item is bad, but it’s probably your fault. Google your problem, or come back to that product's topic in our community and ask other people if they know. Try to call the manufacturer and ask if they know. If you give up and must return it to us, then follow on to the next FAQ entry. How do I return a defective product? Call the manufacturer of the product you bought. You will likely get a replacement of a new model or better item from the manufacturer. If we still haven’t dissuaded you, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your woot order number, the name of the product you are returning, and the detailed problem with the item. We will respond with return authorization by the next business day. Because we aren’t likely to have a replacement in stock, you should be prepared for a refund only option if that’s all we can do. Know that return freight will be at your expense.
Even with such a policy, they seem to be doing well. Proof that you don't need great customer support to succeed. You do, however, need to make sure people have the right expectation for your customer support. Think Lexus dealer vs. Uncle Shane's used car lot.
I had an idea that proves just how derivative my thinking can be. I have very few (if any) original ideas of my own -- it's all a reworking of things I've seen elsewhere.
One popular trend in recent years is the emergence of the "Book Club". People gather together, perhaps have some dinner, and then discuss abook that the group has chosen to read. For those of you who hated English class, the idea of reading an assigned book, then discussing it may seem a bit crazy. What's next? A pre-calculus dinner party?
Actually, I am told that they can be quite enjoyable. It's stimulating and can be a nice social activity with somewhat like-minded people. So what does someone like me do, who doesn't have much time to read a book nor attend a weekly Book Club meeting?
I listen to music, and lots of it during long drives. Perhaps there room for a New CD Club. You listen to the tracks, discuss lyrics, instrumentation, videos, production, artwork, etc. OK, most CDs don't have much discussion matter to fill an entire meeting, but some do. Consider a historic jazz release. Or lyric-heavy bands, like Rush (whose music is also very much worthy of discussion). This may squarely fall into the deep grooves of the ultra-geek. I mean who wants to sit around and discuss an album for any length of time?
I guess a TV Club is already happening when people gather to watch the Simpsons, American Idol, Buffy (in reruns), etc. How about magazines? Newpapers? I like the music idea, but fear that it it not a sustainable "club". Who would join? How many CD's can you actually do before we get tired?
I am often asked by clients, colleagues (and even family), "can your models really predict the future?".
It's enticing to think that it's possible to know, with absolute certainty, how the future will play out--in a business dealing, in world politics, in your stock portfolio, tommorow's game, or tonight's dinner. If we're "smart", and we make our models "smart", couldn't we use it to tell us what will happen? In fact, the early days of computing was marked by an attempt to better predict (and perhaps control!) weather. We know today that our weather reports can be wrong.
"We're not in the buisness the predicting the future. Instead our models help you prepare and, if you're bold enough, help you shape your future." is the sort of reponse I give. In fact, we find that in many organizations there are varying ideas of what the future is and why it's important. Even when confronted with lots of data (and perhaps because there is too much data) it's difficult to put it all together into a coherent viewpoint.
Sometimes its best to think about the range of possible futures to see what's possible. Think of the three ghosts who visit Scrooge--there is but one future (if we ignore the parallel universe argument), but I'll show you what COULD happen. Why is this important? Becuase it causes Scrooge to change behavior NOW. Dickens ends the story here without fast-forwarding to the actual future. He doesn't have to. We the readers "get it".
[P]eople will often consciously choose against their own happiness. Tversky and a colleague once asked subjects whether they’d prefer to be making $35,000 dollars a year while those around them were making $38,000 or $33,000 while those around them were making $30,000... Sixty-two per cent said they’d be happier in the latter case, but eighty-four per cent said they’d choose the former.
This may seem crazy at first--that one would be happier making LESS money if they were making more than their neighbors. Are we really THAT petty? Is our happiness tied to a perception that we need to be "happier" than our neighbors? If this is true, than we can never hope to elevate the "overall happiness" of the world. There is some fixed amount of happiness, and like all limited resources, the problem becomes one of allocation/distribution, equity, efficiency(?), and the other dynamics that economists teach us.
Take a clean sheet of paper (8.5x11 or A4) and lay it in front of you. Without touching it, imagine folding the paper in half (it doesn't matter which direction). Now, fold the page as you had imagined it. Did the paper "fold" like you had seen it in your mind? Of course it did. You've folded paper before, and even if you hadn't, it's not too difficult to "see in your mind" what the paper folding would look like.
Now try this. Take the same paper that's already folded, and without touching it, imagine folding it in half again. Then imagine folding it again. Imagine that you are "folding in half" six more times from the original fold. Take your time -- really try to imagine in your mind what the paper would look like.
Now, take the page and fold it like you had imagined it, i.e., fold it in half six additional times. What happens? Did the paper fold like you thought it would?
The "punchline" is that even for something that we're very familar with (like folding paper), at some point, our mind fails in its ability to "predict" or "see what will happen". Furthermore, it's even difficult to know at what point our previous experience fails us (at which fold did things start turning out differently than you had expected?). The complexity here is due to the magic of the power of two and the resulting "thickness".
This reminds me of the enterprising boy who tried to strike a deal with his father regarding allowances. That blog is for another day...(or night).
Do you think the "folding paper" demo is a good way to illustrate the "punchline" above? I do a lot of facilitation associated with my work, and am wondering if this actually works...
playing cards with James Bond / dancing the forbidden dance
I recently finished a project that involved the use of Monte Carlo simulation. In a nutshell, it allowed me to express revenue projections not as a single number, but with a "% probability of reaching" specific goals. So instead of saying that the revenue will be "$x", the analysis showed that there was a 75% chance of reaching $y and a 95% chance of reaching $z. It's much superior than the standard sensitivity analysis, which is often used more as a CYA than to add insight to a problem.
The underlying system dynamic model was built in PowerSim. The on-line documentation recommends an alternate and competing analysis called "Latin Hypercube". This painted a "The Far Side" - like cartoon in my mind where a room of statisticians are divided along two camps. One side has the Monte Carlo-ists, dressed in their tuxedos and ready to play a mean game of baccarat; the other side has the Latin Hypercubists, decked in their suave South-American attire ready to do the forbidden dance. I felt like a hapless model-builder who happened to pass through a wrong set of doors.
Links are now available on the right side of the page. No, not BBQ links, but links to some sites you might find useful and some blogs I try to keep up with. I have noticed traffic increasing in the last week, so thanks for visiting (and revisiting, and telling others).
How powerful are blogs? Just ask White House correspondent James D. Guckert and Eason Jordan, the chief news executive for CNN. Both have resigned due to some powerful blogs. This article also has a quick history of blogs, as well as the impact that it's having on media today.