What motivates the motivators?
March 27, 2012, 6:46 pm
Filed under: Brain dump, Editorializing, Research

Gamification is the concept of using the principles of game design in non-game settings, whether it’s making work more productive and rewarding or encouraging people to live healthier lives. I’ve had the pleasure recently of attending two panels on gamification applied to more sustainable lifestyles. As it turned out, the most interesting part of the panels wasn’t how the companies motivate consumers to reduce their environmental impact, but rather how the companies’ business models motivate the design of their programs. What are the incentive structures of the organizations that are creating incentive structures for the rest of us?

The participants in the panels came from Recyclebank (which recently acquired Greenopolis), Terracycle, Practically Green, and MyEnergy, among others. Other companies doing similar work include Daily Feats, Opower, Wattz On, Mint, Weight Watchers, and Good Guide. Continue reading


The information revolution will not be streamed online
June 14, 2011, 12:54 am
Filed under: Editorializing

We are confronted be an increasing amount of choice. How many flavors of jam do you have to choose from at your local supermarket, despite evidence (from Sheena Iyengar’s research) that we are less likely to make a purchase when confronted with so many options? Yet at least we have marketers there to help us decide. We know we want (or need) Gatorade or McDonald’s or Nike or Xbox because marketers have been so kind as to make up our minds for us. Also, those of us with office jobs have many other decisions made for us, or at least have to make many difficult decisions only infrequently. To save for retirement, we select an option (or take the default, if offered) at most once per year; our employers don’t even request our input when deciding which insurance provider we will use. As Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo write, the poor often have an uphill battle against the human urges we all share, to spend now and plan to save later, because they don’t have the benefit of an employer putting savings aside out of their wages or direct depositing them in a bank, for instance. Continue reading

Science as faith, Precision as doubt
June 14, 2011, 12:07 am
Filed under: Editorializing

Several years ago, I started reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead (or Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State). I really just made it through the (very thorough) introduction to the translation I was reading. I was put off by the precision of the text — six bardos, 31 realms, 42 peaceful and 58 wrathful deities, etc. The precision in recounting the invisible seemed to belie an inevitable inaccuracy. How could they know? Continue reading

Millennium Village USA?
April 18, 2011, 12:50 am
Filed under: Ideas

The Millennium Villages project is a cool idea — coordinate development interventions in African villages to reach a tipping point beyond which development becomes self-sustaining, removing any excuses that a development intervention would have worked if only some other factor had been present, if some other chicken had laid some other egg, prior to your figurative development chicken laying its egg, so those eggs could grow up to make sweet economic love. Are you following me?

It doesn’t really matter, because I don’t want to talk about the Millennium Villages anyhow. I want to talk about the US of A. And maybe Europe and China, but mainly the US of A because that’s what I (sorta) know. Continue reading

Modeling (Sustainability)
April 12, 2011, 9:34 pm
Filed under: Brain dump | Tags: , , ,

So you want to build a model that rates companies?! (Please nod your affirmation, or this whole post will be pointless.) Well, there are three steps you’ll need to follow. We’ll go through them first in principle, and then I’ll hopefully follow-up to add in some examples.

Step 1. Identify your issues.

Step 2. Choose your indicators.

Step 3. Define (mathematical) relationships between them to generate a score.

Continue reading

best in class
April 12, 2011, 1:00 am
Filed under: Editorializing | Tags:

Here is a good example of where a “best in class” methodology for identifying better or worse companies or products can run into problems. How you define the class, the basis for comparison, is everything. It makes sense that you wouldn’t necessarily compare an oil company to a publishing company. But if we’re talking about personal vehicles, I’d think that to tout gas mileage that leads the losers is a somewhat misleading proposition. Talkin’ to you, Ford. [Notice the “answer” doesn’t say “yes” or “no.” And just where is that asterix of qualification supposed to direct my attention?]

You can lead a horse to water, but why then drown him in it?
February 23, 2011, 12:40 am
Filed under: Editorializing | Tags: , , ,

Sometimes good intentions go wrong. It’s bad enough when it happens on a small scale, as when an intended compliment of today’s haircut turns into an insult of last week’s haircut; but it can be tragic when it happens on a large scale, as when international aid and investment projects with the ostensible goal of helping people actually turns out to harm the so-called beneficiaries. As I heard tonight, help forced upon you isn’t really help. Continue reading