Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Category: Future (page 2 of 24)

A profession as bad off as academia: Protestant clergy

At least that’s the impression I get from this Atlantic piece by David Wheeler, which describes issues facing new clergy that would sound very familiar at the AHA: older pastors are retiring but not being replaced with full-time positions, the amount of time for contemplation is down, and high levels of personal debt are a way of life.

This in particular jumped out at me:

Working two jobs has become so common for clergy members, in fact, that churches and seminaries have a euphemistic term for it: bi-vocational ministry.

Working multiple jobs is nothing new to pastors of small, rural congregations. But many of those pastors never went to seminary and never expected to have a full-time ministerial job in the first place. What’s new is the across-the-board increase in bi-vocational ministry in Protestant denominations both large and small, which has effectively shut down one pathway to a stable—if humble—middle-class career….

Sometimes evangelical pastors, especially those planting a new church in an economically disadvantaged area, intentionally choose a bi-vocational life. Fredrickson says these pastors often “sense that they will be able to serve their neighborhood better if they are engaged on a regular basis in their community.” One example of a deliberately bi-vocational church is Love Chapel Hill in North Carolina, where five co-pastors share the workload of the church and work other jobs on the side.

“We are reaching an eclectic group of people,” says Mat LeRoy, one of the five co-pastors. “We have a growing core of young families and professionals, a large collection of college and grad students from [the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] and a beautiful group of local homeless friends. With this type of socioeconomic diversity, bi-vocational ministry is currently a strategic necessity for a sustainable outreach.” He adds, “This is not an easy choice for us, but it is worth it to continue our mission in our community.”

As someone who’s done a lot of thinking about (and experiments around) the viability of being a scholar outside the traditional academic track, a lot of this sounds familiar. The sense that there are advantages to this kind of foot-in-two-worlds situation that can outweigh the disadvantages; the problem that if it’s not what you expect and train for, it can be a rude shock when you graduate; and the structural factors that make this not a crisis but something more like a state of exile.

But he did know how to drum the Confederacy into submission

Ulysses S. Grant on his musical ability: “I know only two tunes. One of them is Yankee Doodle. The other isn’t.”

Source: Sally Reis, “Ten thousand hours of practice, musical aptitude and inner fire: developing musical talent in young people,” Gifted Education International 25 (2009), 217-236.

C. S. Lewis: “you can’t study men”

“I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing.” (C. S. Lewis in That Hideous Strength, quoted in Humphrey Carpenter’s J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography)

“tech punditry has yet to reckon with the coming era of hard limits”

Ned Resinkoff, writing in The Baffler:

For the most part, tech punditry has yet to reckon with the coming era of hard limits, which is why it can get away with extrapolating current First World consumption habits into the indefinite future. Instead of imagining a world of iPad-toting social media consultants, the purveyors of Skymall futurism should be thinking about what happens after the planet can no longer sustain their present lifestyle.

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work” (Flaubert)

I hope Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals, on the daily schedules of various creative people, is selling well, because it’s the volume that’s launched a thousand infographics. The most recent one I’ve found is by Podio (which does some kind of time management / workflow / CRM / best practices thing, I dunno), and it maps out the creative routines of 26 people:


Want to develop a better work routine? Discover how some of the world’s greatest minds organized their days.
Click image to see the interactive version (via Podio).

The full-sized version is much easier to read, and has some other cool features.

Fourth of July in Cloverdale

My wife and I are in Cloverdale, California, a town about 90 minutes north of San Francisco, for the Fourth of July. We’re on our way to pick up our kids from summer camp, and it’s much more pleasant to break up the drive; fortunately, since that means stopping somewhere in Sonoma or Napa, it’s not a hardship.

Since it happens to be the Fourth of July, we chose a town where there would be fireworks, and the Cloverdale fireworks (sponsored by the local Lions Club) did not disppoint. After a larger than rational dinner at an excellent burger and BBQ place just on the edge of town, we went to the local high school football field, with just about everybody else in town, it seems.

The fireworks themselves were excellent, but they were just the most grown-up of the many displays.

It turns out the Cloverdale is one of the few places left in the state that still allows fireworks to be set off by just about anyone (and indeed, as I write any number of them are going off in people’s backyards and driveways).

I haven’t been in a place with this much smoke since the Ted Nugent concert I went to in high school.

 

Deliberate practice, mastery, and performance

Since the publication of their now-classic study of deliberate practice in a Berlin conservatory, Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer’s 1993 article has been the subject of a lot of discussion. It was the key source of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,00 Hour Rule” chapter in Outliers, and people who study skill acquisition, expertise, and genius— and who argue about how much genetics, social factors, and practice play in making people world class— almost all cite it, if only to try to demolish it.

One of the claims Ericsson et al make is that deliberate practice is the thing that determines who becomes a great violinist, and who goes on to an okay but not great career. Now, a new article on “Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions” performs a meta-analysis of 88 studies of deliberate practice, in order to answer the question, “How much of the total variance in performance is explained by the accumulated amount of deliberate practice?”

The answer, they say, is that it matters— but the impact varies a lot from field to field.

Moderator analyses revealed that the strength of the relationship between deliberate practice and performance varied by domain. In terms of percentage of variance in performance explained, the effect of deliberate practice was strong for games (26%), music (21%), and sports (18%), and much weaker for education (4%) and professions (< 1% and not statistically significant). Why were the effect sizes for education and professions so much smaller? One possibility is that deliberate practice is less well defined in these domains. It could also be that in some of the studies, participants differed in amount of prestudy expertise (e.g., amount of domain knowledge before taking an academic course or accepting a job) and thus in the amount of deliberate practice they needed to achieve a given level of performance.

Moderator analyses further revealed that the effect of deliberate practice on performance tended to be larger for activities that are highly predictable (e.g., running) than for activities that are less predictable (e.g., handling an aviation emergency), as we hypothesized. Furthermore, the effect of deliberate practice on performance was stronger for studies that used retrospective methods to elicit estimates of deliberate practice than for those that used a log method. In fact, for studies using the log method, which presumably yields more valid estimates than retrospective methods do, deliberate practice accounted for only 5% of the variance in performance. This finding suggests that the use of what Ericsson (2014) termed a “high-fidelity” (p. 13) approach to assessing deliberate practice (e.g., video monitoring) might reveal that the relationship between deliberate practice and performance is weaker than the results of this meta-analysis indicate. Finally, the relationship between deliberate practice and performance was weaker for studies that used a standardized objective measure of performance (e.g., chess rating) than for studies that used group membership as the measure of performance.

For those of you who are a little geekier, here’s the statistical stuff:

Domain was a statistically significant moderator, Q(4) = 49.09, p < .001. Percentage of variance in performance explained by deliberate practice was 26% for games (Formula = .51, p < .001), 21% for music (Formula = .46, p < .001), 18% for sports (Formula = .42, p < .001), 4% for education (Formula = .21, p < .001), and less than 1% for professions (Formula = .05, p = .62; see Fig. 3).

[T]he percentage of variance in performance explained by deliberate practice was largest (24%) for activities high in predictability (Formula = .49), intermediate (12%) for activities moderate in predictability (Formula = .35), and smallest (4%) for activities low in predictability.

Personally I love the Ericsson article, but I think that music education is a bit unusual, in ways that limit the generalizability of their results. Music education is quite structured; pretty much everyone agrees on what a great performance is, what counts as a subtle interpretation, what technical skills a great performer has to have, and so on. The more well-defined your field is, the more you can have deliberate practice to prepare for it. In contrast, in lots of professions deliberate practice is do because the standards guiding good professional practice are ill-defined.

Still, I quite like the original article, and have found it quite inspiring in my current book project.

“selling cookie-cutter visions of the future one paperback, slogan, and consulting gig at a time”

Evgeny Mozerov's review of several new TED books— pamphlets, really– is one of the greatest things I've read in a long time. You know you're in for a wild ride when the opening paragraphs starts like this–

Only the rare reader would finish this piece of digito-futuristic nonsense unconvinced that technology is—to borrow a term of art from the philosopher Harry Frankfurt—bullshit. No, not technology itself; just much of today’s discourse about technology, of which this little e-book is a succinct and mind-numbing example.

–and then gets vicious.

Most of the review focuses on Parag and Ayesha Khanna's ebook Hybrid Reality. Apparently the Khannas accidentally once ran over Morozov's dog in their Range Rover, and didn't stop because they were too busy dishing dirt to News of the World about Morozov's mother. Or so I gather, because nothing less would explain the review.

Remember the creatures in Aliens who bleed concentrated acid? Tha's what comes to mind when you read this.

It's. Fabulous.

[A]ll the features that the Khannas invoke to emphasize the uniqueness of our era have long been claimed by other commentators for their own unique eras…. What the Khannas’ project illustrates so well is that the defining feature of today’s techno-aggrandizing is its utter ignorance of all the techno-aggrandizing that has come before it. The fantasy of technology as an autonomous force is a century-old delusion that no serious contemporary theorist of technology would defend.

What's it say about TED? Nothing good, I'm afraid:

I spoke at a TED Global Conference in Oxford in 2009, and I admit that my appearance there certainly helped to expose my argument to a much wider audience, for which I remain grateful. So I take no pleasure in declaring what has been obvious for some time: that TED is no longer a responsible curator of ideas “worth spreading.” Instead it has become something ludicrous, and a little sinister.

Though I have to confess that it felt like he was getting dangerously close to describing som eof the work i've done with this paragraph:

[O]ne can continue fooling the public with slick ahistorical jeremiads on geopolitics by serving them with the coarse but tasty sauce that is the Cyber-Whig theory of history. The recipe is simple. Find some peculiar global trend—the more arcane, the better. Draw a straight line connecting it to the world of apps, electric cars, and Bay Area venture capital. Mention robots, Japan, and cyberwar. Use shiny slides that contain incomprehensible but impressive maps and visualizations. Stir well. Serve on multiple platforms.

And the bit about how the Parangs and Tofflers are both "fast-talking tech-addled couple[s] who thrived on selling cookie-cutter visions of the future one paperback, slogan, and consulting gig at a time" sounds like a kind of a good gig. If you can do it in a more intellectually responsible way, of course.

“the sector’s problems are not the byproduct of unpredictable events”

John Kay's latest essay on the current state of the financial sector, published on the heels of a report he just released for the British government on state of financial services, is well worth reading:

In the equity investment chain, asset holders and asset managers need to be trusted stewards of savers’ money. Company directors need to be trusted stewards of the assets and activities of the corporations they manage. In the absence of such trust, intermediaries become no more than toll collectors.

It is hard to see how trust can be sustained in an environment characterised by increasingly hyperactive trading, and it has not been. Trust is essentially personal and cannot easily be found in a dark pool. Impersonal trust can be established only in a rigidly disciplined organisation – the kind that retail banks were once but are no longer – or by regulation of a ferocity that has not been achieved and is probably not achievable.

He also has this great observation of the ways analysts and regulators are naturally captured by complicated industries that rely on

behavioural regulation, designed to combat inappropriate incentives by detailed prescriptive rules. The outcome is regulation that is at once extensive and intrusive, yet ineffective and largely captured by financial sector interests.

Such capture is sometimes crudely corrupt, as in the US where politics is in thrall to Wall Street money. The European position is better described as intellectual capture. Regulators come to see the industry through the eyes of market participants rather than the end users they exist to serve, because market participants are the only source of the detailed information and expertise this type of regulation requires. This complexity has created a financial regulation industry – an army of compliance officers, regulators, consultants and advisers – with a vested interest in the regulation industry’s expansion.

I think you can see variations on this in all kinds of policy worlds (foreign and military policy especially), and in technology and futures research. Futurists don't regulate the future in any meaningful way, but they and industry analysts do have a close relationship with their objects of study and clients, and it's "natural" that a kind of regulatory capture occurs in these relationships.

I can only hope that he's correct that more people now recognize that "the sector's problems are not the byproduct of unpredictable events but arise from a wrong turning in the culture of an industry that has come to prioritise transactions and trading over trust relationships."

Nassim Taleb on signal, noise, and the toxicity of data

Nassim Taleb has a short but very worthwhile piece on the Farnam Street Blog about signal and noise, and how thanks to always-on connectivity and real-time data we tend to consume a lot more of the second than the first. The big idea:

In business and economic decision-making, data causes severe side effects —data is now plentiful thanks to connectivity; and the share of spuriousness in the data increases as one gets more immersed into it. A not well discussed property of data: it is toxic in large quantities —even in moderate quantities.

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