Tag Archives: Perspective

A Lesson in Overcomplicated: Gender-Neutral Washrooms

If you’ve ever been part of an organization, there’s a better chance than not that you’ve been involved in a meeting where at some point, you found yourself thinking, “what the heck are we doing?” Well, hopefully you’ve found yourself saying that, otherwise you might have fallen into the trap of overcomplicating something.

There was a great (and short!) post on Pacific Standard about the “problem” of a sign for a gender-neutral bathroom:

“But what would you put on the door?!” said a facility manager at an airport, his concern echoed by an administrator at a university: “When people are looking for a restroom, they look for the ‘man’ or ‘woman’ icon. It’s what we know to look for that means restroom.”

And the sign that answers this problem:

Wow, right?

This situation is a perfect example of how overthinking something can lead to a terrible and overcomplicated solution. Is this sign really necessary to signify that there’s a toilet behind the door (or around the corner, in the case of many airports)? Absolutely not.

While there are many problems we can talk about, let’s look at the key issue: false dilemma. Presumably, upon trying to to develop a solution to this problem, the people in the meeting thought that something had to be added to the existing sign. That is, the sign is usually a little man or a little woman, so we’ve got to make it resemble that little man or woman or people might be confused. There are clearly more options than creating that weird looking sign. From the post, there’s this sign offered:

That seems like a pretty good alternative to me. It’s universal in that many people know what a toilet looks like. To be sure, the person who came up with the idea of this pictorial representation took his laptop to a coffee shop to ask patrons if they could hazard a guess as to what was being the sign: 100% of participants were able to identify what would be behind a door with this sign on it. The author, obviously in jest, explained that his research was limited to a corner in Philadelphia, but I think it’s safe to say that most people would be able to perform as well as his participants.

So, the next time you’re in a meeting where your team is trying to come up with an idea that uses an existing structure/idea, double-check that it might not be better to approach the problem from a different perspective.

How Smartphones Can Lead to Better Parents

Over three years ago, I wrote a post about cell phone etiquette. At the time I wrote that, I wouldn’t have guessed that three years later, I’d be considering the possibility that smartphones could actually lead to better parents.

But that’s exactly what this post is about.

The stereotype goes that many parents will bring their children to the park (and/or some activity) and upon arriving, they shoo away their children only to peer down at their cell phone. Some folks do this while out to dinner with friends (even though they don’t have kids, see here). Many will cringe upon seeing parents sitting on the bench enwrapped in the goings on of their cell phone. Farhad Manjoo, however, points out how smartphones can actually make for more available parents [Emphasis Added]:

But we rarely consider how, by liberating us from the office, smartphones have greatly expanded the opportunity for certain kinds of workers to increase their involvement in their children’s lives. Because you can work from anywhere thanks to your phone, you can be present and at least partly attentive to your children in scenarios where, in the past, you’d have had to be totally absent. Even though my son had to yell for my attention once when I was fixed to my phone, if I didn’t have that phone, I would almost certainly not have been able to be with him that day — or at any one of numerous school events or extracurricular activities. I would have been in an office. And he would have been with a caretaker.

Stop and consider that for a moment: having a smartphone can actually make you more available as a parent. Now, this isn’t a commercial for smartphones, but it’s certainly something that should give you pause for consideration. I know it did for me when I read it. This idea put forth from Manjoo is exactly the kind of thing that I’m talking about when I say putting a new perspective on things. Someone who is so focused on how smartphones are bad for parents and how they keep parents from their children wouldn’t be able to see the possibility that for a small population, having a smartphone can actually allow a parent to be away from the office and with their children.

This idea isn’t meant to invalidate the idea that smartphones are changing the relationship we have with our children, but the idea that smartphones are allowing us to be with our children more is, to be hyperbolic for a moment, paradigm-altering. A key step to being a better parent is being able to be with your children. So, if smartphones can get us out of the office and next to our kids, isn’t that an important step?

~

There still might be some of you out there that unequivocally think we shouldn’t be on our phones when we’re with our kids and that’s okay, but I hope that you’ll at least consider (reflect, think about, ponder, etc.) the possibility that the opposite may be true. It’ll put you one step closer to defending against the confirmation bias.

A New Way to Use Pinterest: Financial Charts

I don’t remember when I first signed up for Pinterest, but I do remember that when I did, I had “big” plans of using the site to create a vision board. As you can see from my Pinterest page, I haven’t used it since I signed up. There are any number of explanations I could offer as to why I haven’t really done what I had initially thought I would, but this post isn’t about my usage of Pinterest, no, it’s about Josh Brown’s.

You see, many people (or at least it certainly seems like it) use Pinterest for shopping. That is, they see something they like and Pinterest is a way to bookmark that image. There are also those businesses who use Pinterest to get a better understanding of how their customers like or dislike their products. There are those hobbyists or designers who are trying to showcase their ideas. There are even people who share recipes through Pinterest. In all that I’ve heard of Pinterest, never had I heard someone use it to share financial charts.

Can anyone tell me what this is an example of? Hint: I wrote about this decision-making bias as recently as last month.

Functional Fixedness.

Josh Brown, the person I mentioned earlier, uses Pinterest to bookmark “amazing charts.” These financial charts, in a way, are breaking through that bias of functional fixedness. By using Pinterest to showcase financial charts, Brown found a way to use Pinterest that was a little out of the ordinary.

There are probably dozens of examples of these in your daily lives. On your commute this morning/afternoon (or the next time you head to work), I want you to take a wider perspective and see if you can notice anyone using something in a way that you hadn’t considered. Maybe someone’s using a skateboard as a “wagon” as they’ve tied a string to truck (where the wheels are) and is letting someone pull them down the street. Maybe by watching them participate in what some may consider a dangerous activity, it gives you that flash of an idea you’ve been looking for on a problem you’ve been having. Lateral thinking begets lateral thinking.

The Long View Perspective on Big Data and Metrics?

One of the things that I like to write about is perspective. In my opinion, it’s so important to continue to look at things from different angles and assume other viewpoints to understand the many ways that things can interact. A little over a week ago, I came across a series of tweets from Chris Hayes that presented a perspective that I hadn’t considered:

Big Data is certainly something that has captivated the popular press and some might even say rightfully so. Of course, it’s important that we use metrics when making decisions, but is it possible that the pendulum has swung too far to metrics? It’s hard to say. Chris Hayes certainly seems to think so.

I like how he’s compared this to another phenomenon (can we call it a phenomenon?) from history where engineering took the world by storm. To be honest, given my age, and what I know about ‘recent’ history, I don’t know that engineering had as much hoopla as big data has today. Regardless, this perspective, this long view, is something that we all would be better off with. That is, looking at things from a longer perspective. Considering the adage that ‘history repeats itself.’ Maybe there’s something from our recent past that would help us better understand where we are today.

A good example of this might be international relations. If you’re looking for a ‘fictional’ example, may I recommend the movie “Now You See Me?”

Solving False Equivalence in Politics?

Last week, John Oliver had a great segment that poked fun at how most (all?) television outlets cover climate change. Take a look:

Upon watching it, I didn’t think that Oliver was going to “even out” the representation in a physical manner. Instead, I thought that he was going to solve the issue of the “talking heads” appearing equal. Let me explain. Watch this:

That’s Lewis Black from the 2006 film, Man of the Year. I have no doubt that this sentiment had been expressed before this film, but this was the first time that I had heard it in this way. Hosting someone on a TV program with ideas that are clearly incorrect and putting their “talking head” up next to someone who has legitimately studied and confirmed that the other person is incorrect is a form of false equivalence.

As Black explains, to the viewer, both of these sides appear “equal.” It appears that one person is expressing an opinion and that the other person has a different opinion. What’s being missed is that one person’s opinion is factually erroneous (just as we saw in the video with Bill Nye earlier).

When I was watching the Oliver video, it made me think that he was going to do something else. I thought he was going to show the two talking heads in boxes (as you usually see on “debates” on political talk shows), but instead of giving them both a 50/50 split on the screen, I thought he was going to ration it more appropriately given the overwhelming support for climate change. I thought he’d give Bill Nye’s box 97% of the screen and the other guy’s box 3% of the screen.

I realize that this probably wouldn’t work in an actual talk show, but since I knew it was supposed to be semi-satirical, it seemed like a plausible idea.

On that note, can you imagine if that’s how political talk shows actually did things? That is, instead of having that 50/50 split, when they were talking about something factual, the size of the box for the talking head espousing the nonfactual opinion would be smaller. Of course, there’s all kinds of problem that could be raised with regard to censorship, but it’s certainly creative.

Why Does Respect Fly Out the Window When Women are Involved?

Yesterday, Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland asked — ahem, tried to ask — a question during Question Period of the government. Unfortunately for her (and those watching), she wasn’t given the same respect afforded other MPs. As far as I can tell, this was the first question she’s asked during question period and as folks would expect who’ve read her work, she asked a question that was grounded in research [this one happened to be from the IMF]. The video doesn’t seem to be up on YouTube and all I could find was the link through AOL, which doesn’t embed nicely on this site, so you’ll have to watch the video here (2 minutes and 23 seconds in all).

On most days, Question Period can seem a bit immature, but I took particular issue with this instance because of some of the comments that followed on Twitter. Actually, the comment from the Minister of State was a bit off the wall, but most answers in Question Period don’t really address the details of the question. The comment on Twitter that came from a journalist (!) no less, which has since been deleted:

Part of the reason that it seems so appalling that this came from a journalist is because Freeland herself, was a journalist before she became an MP. I would have thought that if any profession were to cut Freeland a little more slack, it might be journalists. Freeland’s response on Twitter:

Exactly! It’s 2014! Why are we still marginalizing women in such a sexist fashion. I was glad to see Michelle Rempel, a Conservative MP, tweet the following, shortly after Freeland’s tweet:

This was the same Michelle Rempel who came under fire because of the way she posed in her Twitter pic! It’s absurd to me just how awful we still treat women in our society. As Freeland said, it’s 2014, for Pete’s sake!

Beyond all of this, though, I don’t necessarily hold the journalist completely at fault for what he said. [He did apologize, too — twice.] Yes, it was awful and unnecessary, but in a way, we are all a bit culpable. How? Why? Well, because we all live in this society and we all help to create the norms and values upon which we act and behave. One of the best ways to help effect change here: awareness. Go watch Miss Representation and tell your friends to do the same!

85 People Have As Much Wealth as 3.5 Billion People

Just think about that headline for a second… 85 people have as much wealth as 3.5 billion people. Eighty-five vs. Three and a half billion. Maybe looking at the words isn’t enough, let’s look at it in numbers. 85 vs. 3,500,000,000. If I were graphically inclined, I’d make a quick “infographic” showing 85 people on one side and 3,500,000,00 on the other side. That’s an astronomical difference.

The article in The Guardian where I first read it had a good analogy:

The world’s wealthiest people aren’t known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe could squeeze onto a single double-decker.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about wealth inequality and it probably won’t be the last. There are two posts that come immediately to mind. The first is the one from a couple of years ago where I shared a graphic that came from a paper by two researchers studying the wealth distribution in the US. Most notably from the graphic was that the perception of American was way off from reality. Americans thought that the top 20% had approximately 60% of the wealth and they wanted the distribution to be that the top 20% was closer to 30%. In actuality, the top 20% (at the time) had close to 90% of all wealth in the US.

The second post was just under a year ago and it took a deeper look at the graphic that I shared in the first post. Someone animated the chart, that is to say, they made a video of the information to make it more accessible to people and it was shared heartily across the internet — it’s currently over 14,000,000 views.

So what does all of that have to do with today’s information? Well, as is pointed out in the article in The Guardian, the World Economic Forum is starting in a few days, so talking about these kinds of issues are important. That is, reminding folks that the people in attendance at Davos will make up well over half of the wealth in the entire world

The image I’ve used for this post comes from that same article and it’s how I’d like to finish today’s post. Take a look at the United States. In 1980, the top 1%’s share of the national income was 10%. In 20 years, that’s doubled to 20% (of the national income). There’s been movement in other countries, but none as great as the US. I’m not picking on the US, but it’s quite clear that if you’re interested in being part of the wealthiest sect of the world, the US is a good place to do just that.

My point in sharing this image is to forward the conversation on this matter. People have very different opinions on how money should be spent, especially when that money is tax dollars. I’m not necessarily trying to trumpet one opinion more than the other, but I think it’s important to highlight this massive disparity and question whether this is how we want to live in the world.