Monday, March 26, 2012

Information Intensive Jobs

It is hard to describe most any job today without including the information component.  What I mean is that jobs all contain duties that include constant learning and even searching for information.  Whether it is handling large computer controlled machines, using sales data to develop new sales prospects, or getting news on a competitor.  There used to be ratings of professions based on their information intensity.  That has become less necessary because of rapid change and automation.  Both of these factors necessitate better Find & Learn skills for workers at all levels.  One of the largest new areas of expertise is in data mining.  Companies large and small are mining the data (information and electronic records) they have on customers, transactions, events, and web clicks.  This is being reported in the news as recently as two weeks ago when Target said it has used data mining to develop a model of behavior that allows them to track in-store and purchasing records of customers to predict whether or not they are pregnant!  Information tools and skills are driving business today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Search Tips #15: Essential Job Skills

Do you need excellent Find & Learn skills for jobs today?  Yes you do.  Over and over, I have seen them discussed related to essential skills in the job marketplace.  The chief executive of Netflix, Reed Hastings, gave a talk about his corporate culture that clearly reveals this (see http://www.slideshare.net/reed2001/culture-179866). I highlighted the key phrases that relate to Find & Learn skills.  His presentation posed nine skills and various behaviors that are highly valued in Netflix (here are some excerpts):

1. Judgment
: “You make wise decisions… despite ambiguity.”
2. Communication:
“You are concise and articulate in speech and writing.” 
3. Impact: "You exhibit bias-to-action, and avoid analysis-paralysis"
4. Curiosity: "You learn rapidly and eagerly", "You contribute effectively outside of your specialty" “You are broadly knowledgeable...”
5. Innovation: "You challenge prevailing assumptions when warranted, and suggest better approaches"
6. Courage: "You say what you think even if it is controversial", "You make tough decisions without agonizing", "You take smart risks"
7. Passion: "You inspire others with your thirst for excellence", "You celebrate wins", "You are tenacious"
8. Honesty: "You are quick to admit mistakes"

9. Selflessness: "You are ego-less when searching for the best ideas." “You share information openly and proactively.”



Think About Searching, #11

How much can you hold in your head at one time?  For decades, starting with the Bell System, researchers have found that the number 7 holds the answer.  Our minds are amazing tools, but they are not limitless.  As we have discussed below, there are some inherent pitfalls to how our minds work.  In addition, our capacity to pay attention and pull from memory different items seems to reach its limit at 7.  This is the reason that the Bell System researchers created phone numbers consist of 7 digits.  One trick that cognitive psychologists suggest, and I have found very useful, is to repeat a name, sentence, or number that you need to remember to yourself for at least 15 seconds.  If you repeat it over and over for just a short while, instead of just making a mental note to remember it, then your chance of retrieval later is much higher.  Another oft repeated tip is to associate the name or event with an image.  The funnier and more outrageous the picture, the better.  If you need to remember Neville's name, picture an anvil that replaces his head.  Anvil rhymes with Neville and you will remember it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Library Dilemma

More on the dilemma that libraries face --  yes, there is more information online, but that is only part of the equation.  You can't leave out books, library-only databases, reader advisory help, reference help, etc.
Read this story about libraries in Cuyahoga County Ohio.  It poses the issues of the "common good."  What should we have as our priority - one mass online library or local branches that offer help.
SEE http://librarycity.org/?p=4653    By the way, Overdrive is one of the major audiobook and e-book vendors that supply content to public libraries.  So we do want to support them - but at the expense of the local branches?  What do you think?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Habits

Cant' help but think habit plays into this entire discussion of decision-making.  We do have habits of thinking and deciding.  In his new book, "The Power of habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business," NYT reporter, Charles Duhigg mines the fields of neuroscience and social psychology to figure out the new findings about habit formation and change.  Bad habits (and I think of the laziness of a quick Google search when more is required), can be changed by painstakingly practicing a better response that "wears a new groove" in our brains.  With successful finding comes motivation to take a similar path next time.  With failure comes the motivation to look beyond our current searching habits.  The author does mention the mental habits we have when we interpret a situation -- sometimes in detrimental ways.  This certainly applies to the activities of find & learn.   It would take finding new perspectives and a desire to move from negative thinking that could lead to uncovering a better story.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Think About Searching, #10

Two more pitfalls when we search.  During the last time you had to go out and find information:
1. Did you get distracted by all the facts?
2. Did you stop your search early?

As we read about a topic that we are unfamiliar with, we can get sidetracked or even misled by the facts.  This is sometimes called the "anchoring effect."  If we first go to a website with very high prices, then we may, unconsciously, assume that the product we are searching for is costly and we may settle for a medium priced brand instead of looking for a low priced one.  We need to be aware of the context or parameters for our issues before we make a judgement.  Let the facts frame our thinking, instead of convenience.

In "loss aversion," we may accept the first answer we find, relieved that we found anything ( unconsciously fearful that we will not find what we need).  We may assume that what we are reading is all there is - but, in fact, there may be other sources and better information that we have not uncovered.  As we gain fluency in searching, we can look for clues to reassure ourselves that we have done our due diligence.  But be aware of our tendency to stop short and settle for the first reasonable answer we find.

Friday, March 9, 2012

True or False


A number of issues persist in public debate, despite a preponderance of evidence for a  conclusion.  That is not a Find & Learn exercise -- it is emotional.  If rather, we had a scale and could pile experts or reports or research articles on one side or the other -- with one side PRO or True and the other side CON or False.  What would we have?  Mobile devices or microwaves destroying our brain - false; mankind’s impacting climate change – true; and the U.S. President controlling gas prices – false.  

I could simply do searches across scholarly research databases to find the number of items for each cause.  Or I could find excerpts from reports showing lists of experts or institutions and their views and we would see the results. 

But the media keeps our emotions revved up.  In a recent report on dig.com: “News is again blaming the Obama Administration for rising gas prices -- a claim that has been repeatedly debunked by energy analysts. But back in the summer of 2008 when the average U.S. gasoline price hit a record high of $4.11, Fox said that ‘no President has the power to increase or to lower gas prices’ and the only way to reduce our vulnerability to gas price spikes is to use less oil.  –whoops!  I think that searching for evidence- at least 3 different sources for any issue would dispel such heightened rhetoric. Challenging positions and looking for history works.  Recently, Gingrich has received a lot of press with his promise of gas at $2.50.   But is any of his reasoning clear?  What does his plan do that no other president was able to do?  Or take other examples where president’s do have more control over prices.  Mexico's government owns its national oil company Pemex – yet prices are not lower nor is the company profitable.   Think about it.  


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Think About Searching, #9

Interesting phrase - :"sin of certainty" -- since most of our culture is set on appearances of certainty.  Why is it that we have to pretend to know?  When it comes to finding and learning, self-assurance is a flaw.  If we are eager to learn, then we can abandon ourselves to the journey.  This involves questioning what we know and questioning what we find.  Imagine trying to learn how to grow carrots.  As we read about it, shouldn't we question what they mean by sandy soil?  Is it all sand or can we just mix some sand into the soil we have?  What we conclude makes a big difference in how much effort we will need to expend.

We need to encourage that inner dialogue that forces us to think about what we are finding and reading.  If we become sensitive to that sense of disturbance in what we read -- when we ask ourselves, "is that really what they are seeing," then we become learners.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Think About Searching, #8

Most of us tend to use intuition when it comes to judging: Have I found the right answer yet?  This works under certain conditions, however, and not others.  If you know something about the subject, then you can probably judge if you "got it."  If the question is very straightforward, of course, you know.  But for other searches - often the ones most important to us - it might be difficult.  As Kahneman's book covers, having accurate intuition about an answer is not magic.  It is a long-acquired skill obtained after many hours.  A surgeon's "guess" about the root cause of an illness.  A teacher's know-how in determining how to approach teaching something.  A car mechanic's choice of a car part or tool that will solve the problem.  You need to immerse yourself - to learn "the language" and to see the "ins-and-outs" of the situation.

The main pitfall that we are tempted into.  When faced with an inherently difficult question, we often answer an easier question instead of the difficult one.  And we usually do so, without noticing the substitution.  Think about it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Google Privacy

You don't have to panic.  Yes, Google will be tracking but, by and large, only if you login to one of your accounts.  Not as if they hadn't been before - but now it will be a bit more thorough.  It will gather a "dossier" on what you do across its platforms - which it will enable it to suggest much more pertinent items of interest.  For example, suggesting a YouTube video that relates to searches you did.

If you are concerned over your past web activities- go to www.google.com/history and login with your gmail account.  Simple click "remove all web history."  If you want to know what Google assumes it knows about you - you can check at www.google.com/dashboard.  Again, you have to login.  You can delete all your past search activity.

Cavaets:  Tracking of activity is separate for the Chrome web browser.  If you don't login, then Google still tracks by IP address or web browser identifier.  But that would only point to a machine, not a person.  Also, smartphones with Google's Android software will also use the new comprehensive tracking.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Think About Searching, #7

From the materials discussed below, I think this line is very important:

   *"People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved."

Think about that -- importance that is determined by the abundance of coverage (determined by the media) and not by what is most pressing, critical, or needed.  If something can be easily found, it certainly means that it has been a topic of discussion.  But we cannot conclude it is focusing on the key issues.  Do we pay attention to what is being thrown at us?  Or do we spend time on those subjects that are most important to us, our families, our jobs, our churches, etc.