Monday, January 30, 2012

Cooperation vs. Competition

One of the important questions of the future is the application of cooperation vs. competition in society. While competition has been widely praised, it is largely a myth that competition is good for the species as a whole. Competition, like fear, is only useful in an illogical and idle society that cannot reasonably identify way to advance society and evolve as individuals. Cooperation is better able to harness differing viewpoints and strategies to create scenarios where groups of individuals become greater than the sum of their parts and are able to accomplish things otherwise unattainable.

Competition is imbedded into our society because it is one of the principle tenants of capitalism. It is not necessarily a bad thing for it can act as a driving force for technological advancement and as a means to control overzealous profiteers. Unfortunately these benefits of competition are only benefits in the context of a fragmented society. For instance in a society where people are self-motivated and have the necessary foresight to reasonably prepare for potential problems competition loses its benefits vs. the application of cooperation. When cooperating with another individual and/or group the primary goal is to create a situation where all parties benefit in a greater capacity than either side would benefit if operating alone. This benefit typically embodies either an increase in capital acquisition (increasing profit or lowering costs) or the development of a new product or technique.

The act of cooperation eliminates the need to utilize competition to control profiteers because all sides are benefiting from the partnership and continuation of the partnership will create greater long-term gain than any potential short-term gain created from deviation. Most entities that engage in cooperation will typically have multiple dealings with one another, thus creating the avenue for greater mutual gain. Unfortunately human nature tends to avoid viewing future interactions in favor for present interaction, thus making cooperation a potentially dangerous investment if parties do not consider the long-term benefits. Therefore, to further neutralize short-term gain constructs, one side can punish those looking for only short-term gain by ending the relationship and collaborating with another party or in multiple groups networks simply remove the offending network. In such a strategy one isolates the offending party weakening them to the point where their ‘competitive’ mindset ceases to be useful.

For instance take the popular Prisoner's Dilemma scenario. Recalling the situation two suspects are in separate rooms being questioned regarding their involvement in a particular crime. Each suspect has one of two options: claim innocence or guilt. If both claim to be innocent then both receive 3 years in jail. If both claim to be guilty then both receive 1 year in jail. If one claims innocence and the other claims guilt then the one declaring innocence goes free and the one declaring guilt goes to jail for 10 years.

When viewing the Prisoner's Dilemma using Nash Equilibriums, a compellation component to capitalism frequently used in global trade where each participant strives for the best individual outcome assuming that all other participating individuals are doing the same, each prisoner should pled innocent because the best that can happen is gaining freedom and the worst that can happen is 3 years in jail. In a Nash Equilibrium example if a prisoner pleads guilty the best outcome is 1 year in jail and the worst outcome is 10 years in jail, initially pleading guilty clearly appears inferior to claiming innocence. Of course under Nash Equilibriums each prisoner will receive 3 years in jail because both will claim innocence. Unfortunately for the prisoners if each plead guilty they would only receive 1 year in jail, a 67% reduction in their Nashian sentence. So if the prisoners would adjust their strategy from taking an action that is solely in the best interest for themselves to taking an action that is in the best interest for the group both prisoners come out ahead.

The biggest problem with cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma is that both prisoners have to accept 1 year in jail because it would be easy for one prisoner to screw over the other prisoner and stick him with a 10-year sentence while obtaining freedom for himself. Of course this problem would not be a concern if both prisoners act in a logical fashion and abide by their previous cooperation agreement. Overall that is the key to cooperation, especially in situations where repeated interaction is improbable, is to have faith in the other individuals/groups remembering that everybody gains more when everybody looks out for one another rather than going at it alone.

Another example utilizing competition versus cooperation is an example that can be called the cash question. Consider the situation where two individuals are walking down the street (Person A and Person B) when another individual approaches them and offers Person A a choice; this individual would give Person A 5 dollars and Person B 3 dollars or he would give Person A 11 dollars and steal 4 dollars from Person B. What should Person A do? Competition indicates that the second selection should be made where cooperation indicates that the first selection should be made. If each of these situations were made in a vacuum it would be difficult to argue against the second option if one excluded any morality issues (taking money from another individual to increase your level of gain). However, when dealing with people in real life rarely is a situation like this conducted in a vacuum. Each decision one makes bolsters an aspect of your personality where other individuals will either respond positively or negatively to the new aspect and may change their overall opinion of an individual’s character.

From an interpersonal psychological issue when both participants gain, the non-active participant will have greater respect for the active participant and should be more likely to select a mutually beneficial option when he/she is the active participant. Remember it is likely that there will be multiple times when similar situations arise, not in the same context, but similar gain-gain vs. gain-lose outcomes. In this situations Person A will not always be making the selection. Therefore, because these situations do not occur in a vacuum the long-term gain is enhanced when considering less short-term gain. For instance if the situation arose 10 times with each participant selecting 5 times and each participant selecting the same choice as the last participant if parties compete with each other the overall gain for both participants would be + 35 dollars. If parties choose to cooperate the overall gain for both participants would be + 40 dollars. Of course one could try to sneak in a couple of short-term decisions in attempt to maximize their gain, but such a tactic would more than likely not go unpunished over multiple selections and result is greater loss for both parties.

Of course it is easy to cooperate with another party if gains are greater when working together than working apart. What is to be done if one side can gain more by shunning not only cooperation, but hurting another party? One could point out that if the net gain in the first option is greater than the net gain in the second option after one full turn in the above game, it would make financial sense to select the first option (assume the payoff was not 11 dollars, but instead 13 dollars). Unfortunately this is true, but somewhat dishonorable to punish the second individual solely because you want to acquire more even if you are not in competition with the second individual. The nature of human greed is the principle element that needs to be combated when striving for more cooperative relationships between humans over the present strategy of competition.

Initially it is difficult to comprehend why people are greedy for it appears to be in the best interest of individuals to support others around them in order to build a stronger community. The continuing relevance of greed can be rationalized in one of two ways. First, when human beings first evolved they were typically divided into a vast number of nomadic tribes with sparse populations. Although these individuals were in groups, the group existed primarily as a safety mechanism, protection from other nomadic tribes and wild animals in line with the old saying "Safety in Numbers". The irony of the situation was that looking at group dynamics, most tribe members acquired material and resources for themselves and their mates instead of distributing among the group in order to make the entire tribe stronger, a strategy that would go further in protecting all members. The reason behind such behavior was to improve their standing/power within the group. So the nature of greed could be thought of as evolutionary because even at an early age humans tended to hoard resources for purposes of increasing power instead of freely distributing them among their fellow members.

The second reason for developing greed through the accumulation and eventual hoarding of resources could be derived from mating dynamics for it is common behavior that in early human history females looked to mate with males who they believed could provide the most stable environment for raising young and provide the necessary support for survival. An important factor in providing this level of security comes from resource acquisition where in some way one could state that the number of resources one has is proportional to the ability provide these desired characteristics. Therefore, if one shared resources with the community, that particular individual would lose some level of attraction to the available females while enhancing the attractiveness of other males.

The above reasoning may help to explain the evolutionary rational behind male greed, but what about females? Females are a little more difficult to characterize because the roles assigned to them by society have only recently changed. For instance in the early years of nomadic tribes the principle role of females entailed raising children and once-in-a-while foraging for food. Back then there was little time to acquire resources for survival because other less able entities (children) were dependent on these females for survival, thus part of the reason females sought out males with large amounts of resources. In modern times, although females are still largely regarded as the primary caregiver in the family community, they now are not stereotypically tied to such a role. Therefore, now the acquisition of resources by one's own hand is a legitimate reality. So now females do not need to rely largely on the resources acquired by males in order to support a family and can now use resources to enhance social status and standing.

The nature of greed does have an evolutionary tinge, but the origins of these tendencies stem from a disjointed social structure. Now there is a more cohesive social structure and community where cooperation is easier and more beneficial. Although the evolutionary tendencies towards mating may remain, they should not be principally responsible for the level of greed that still seems to persist in society. The reason for greed can then be characterized by the first ‘evolutionary’ element, simple vanity and insecurity disguised as self-confidence and self-worth.

Unfortunately in modern society many people are not strong enough to stand on their own two feet when it comes to creating a level of positive and healthy self-worth and confidence. In essence certain people need to regard themselves as better than other people to feel good about themselves. Realistically as long as people hold this attitude a classless society can never exist because people will always be striving to prove to themselves that they are better than someone else and competition will continue to suppress genuine cooperation. One of the best ways in the current society to move up in social structure or class is to acquire more material possessions than most people and to acquire material possessions one needs money, thus greed and acquisition of money becomes a top priority.

What can be done about this psychological deficiency that catalyzes greed? In an ideal world one could recommend that the sense of emptiness and despair produced by feelings of inadequacy can be remedied by encouraging strong relationships between individuals and developing significant and realistic goals to accomplish. One could assume that this strategy would create a sense of meaning in life eliminating the drive to accumulate wealth as a means to establish meaning and worthiness. Unfortunately this does not appear to be the case else more people in this world would be happy and there would be fewer detrimental actions. So why does this strategy not work? Two options are available to explain this circumstance. First, individuals are not aware of the potential of this strategy to eliminate their emptiness. Second, the strategy is unsuccessful for a particular individual because he/she believes that amassing material objects is a faster and more thorough way to obtain self-worth. Neither reason is acceptable because the status quo is unacceptable, thus it must change.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Brief Discussion about Leadership

It can be said that the world is divided into leaders and followers. There are significant differences between good followers and bad followers, but the general understanding of a follower is well defined and accepted. Creating a consensus on what actions and characteristics typically define a leader is more difficult for there are a variety of opinions regarding essential leadership traits. Leaders are largely defined by their actions in groups and how those actions influence the dynamics of a group. One of the key attributes of a good leader is the optimization of the work environment, both from a personnel and a resource perspective.

Focusing first on the personnel aspect. It is not a leader’s job to promote harmony in the group; while harmony would be nice, the primary obligation of a leader is to make sure that Person A and Person B do their respective jobs. This duty can be more difficult if Person A and Person B do not like each other, but have to work together because their skills and expertise will produce better results. Thus it is a leader’s job to ensure that the disharmony and dislike between Person A and Person B does not interfere with their job performance. What happens if either Person A or Person B allows his/her personal feelings to influence performance? Such a situation is unfortunately complicated because the easiest solution is to remove the individual that is deemed less important (assume Person A for this scenario) from the team and bring in an individual with similar skills (Person A’). Using this strategy the job the released person was responsible for and the remaining individual (Person B) should increase in efficiency with little lost time or resources.

There are two obstacles with the easiest solution: it is frequently only useful in the short-term and it is questionable whether or not a Person A’ exists at the company in question. Person A was assigned to that particular team for a reason, more than likely because he/she was the best individual with the particular skill set, so if Person A’ even exists he/she will be inferior in skill at some significant level else Person A’ would have been assigned to the team in the first place. Therefore, the benefit of Person A’s dismissal must be weighed against the time and resources lost versus the gain of a productive Person A over the Person A’. In short the leader has to consider many cost-benefit questions on a theoretical level as noted below:

- What is the difference in skill level between Person A and Person A’ under normal working conditions?
- Are there skills and/or knowledge that Person A has that Person A’ does not? If so how relevant are they to the task at hand and how long would it take Person A’ to close the gap?
- What is the production drop-off from Person A when working with Person B and visa-versa?
- What would be the production change in both Person A’ and Person B when working together?
- What would be the time and resource expenditure when attempting to reconcile the differences between Person A and Person B?
- How many more projects would it be useful to have Person A and Person B work together (for skill set purposes)?

So although a leader is not obligated to play psychologist between Person A and Person B, he/she might have to for the benefit of the current project or future projects. Clearly the best way to neutralize these ill feelings would be to keep Person A and Person B segregated from each other. If they have to work together it is best to make it clear to both of them that the primary goal is the success of the project, how they feel about each other is irrelevant as success benefits both while failure would hurt both. This approach is necessary in most instances because typically when two people do not like each other to the point that it hurts productivity, that dislike is deep seated and the leader does not the time or resources to understand its origins and whatever may rectify it.

One of the more interesting questions regarding optimization of performance in a group is should the leader lead by example or act through delegation of duties? Leading by example seems to be the buzz phrase for leadership as it is frequently uttered in the business, political and entertainment world. The chief strength of leading by example is characterized by an increase in drive and motivation of other team members for witnessing the leader work directly ‘in the trenches’ to accomplish the goal typically enhances their own will to accomplish the goal.

An interesting element to this motivation enhancement is not any potential increase in motivate, but ensuring no decrease in motivation. Naturally any individual on a team should be instinctively motivated to accomplish the goal regardless of outside factors; however, in certain instances a weak and idle leader can foster deterioration in both confidence and willingness to work amongst team members creating an environment of inefficiency, jealousy and possible strife. Many people will attest that it is difficult to follow a leader who does not appear to do anything. Therefore, avoiding this drop-off in productivity is the primary issue for a leader to take an active role in achieving the goal.

Two main concerns stem from this type of leadership strategy. First, a strong and effective leader can instill complacency in other members of the team. Some individuals may allow a strong leader to perform much of the work either because they are just lazy or lack confidence in their own ability. With this potential outcome it is important for a leader to ensure that other team members are consistently being prodded for their input and are given significant tasks with realistic timetables.

If the leader can take on extra work it is appropriate to do so as long as all other team members have significantly important roles in the progression of the project. Realistically such a strategy should frequently be implemented, but as a neutralizing factor it should merely act as a backup plan as team members should be naturally motivated to succeed and such motivation should not diminish in the presence of a motivated and strong leader. A leader undertaking additional roles is important, but must be tempered with reason for if a leader over-extends in duty, it will have a negative effect in all areas of performance. Over-extension is the second potential drawback of direct active leadership for a leader can misinterpret his/her own superiority and skill based on position or preliminary results, which could accelerate parts of the project before they are ready. Such rapid movement can easily lead to wasted time, resources and damaged confidence among team members, especially if the leader participates in portions of the project outside his/her area of expertise.

Unlike a leader that leads by example who can simply take over the team and literally 'will' it to success, a leader who delegates needs to subtly control the direction of development and how each portion of the project advances. When teams are comprised of confident and competent members, delegation leadership is easy, just make sure everyone stays out of each other's way and slowly funnel information into the overall objective. When teams are comprised of less confident and/or competent individuals, delegation leadership becomes harder because the leader needs to identify relevant yet manageable goals for these members to ensure efficient progress. The main positive in this strategy is that delegation leadership has a tendency to improve the quality of a team faster than leadership by example because the probability of growth by each individual member is greater.

After considering the natural characteristics of the leader, a delegation strategy seems to be superior in situations where a solution will create a large number of new questions that will need to be answered by the same group. The delegation strategy creates a strong and more prepared team to solve the additional problems as long as they remain in the skill sets of those within the team. Leadership by example seems to be superior when striving for an isolated solution that needs to be attained in an accelerated fashion because team unity after the fact is not very important.

Overall the leader must be aware of when to apply one strategy versus the other for maximum results. Maximizing results should be a matter of personal pride for the leader because most people will tend not to care or criticize either strategy as long as the project moves forward in a positive way, but maximum output at lowest cost should always be the goal.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Climate Reporting in the Media

Recently climate blogs like Climate Progress and The Daily Climate have lamented the drop in reporting on climate related issues including what they perceive either as an unwillingness or inability to ‘connect the dots’ linking global warming to extreme weather events. The glaring problem with this lamentation is its lack of focus. What exactly do the administrators and commenters on these websites want and how do they propose to accomplish their desires? Initially one could conclude that they want more general stories about global warming, but how would those stories be presented? One option, as they suggest, could be to make a connection between extreme weather events and global warming. However, would this be appropriate?

While only an ignorant individual would conclude that the occurrence probability of extreme weather is unrelated to global warming, the problem with ‘tying’ global warming to extreme weather is that it is scientifically irresponsible to associate the actual occurrence of a given extreme weather event to global warming. Basically one cannot say that the only reason flood x or drought y occurred was solely due to global warming as providing definitive scientific proof for such a claim is nearly impossible. Unfortunately depending on changes in probabilistic magnitudes to associate global warming influence with extreme weather is confusing not just at a lay level, but also at a purely scientific level due to uncertainty.

Based on these elements it seems unlikely that any increase in climate reporting can develop correlations between global warming and a single specific extreme weather event. Therefore, within the confines of extreme weather events expansion of reporting on global warming appears limited to general analysis pieces explaining that the probability of occurrence and magnitude of extreme weather events increases by some unknown variable which increases as the planet warms. Unfortunately these information analysis pieces will more than likely not significantly increase the number of climate related issues discussed in the mainstream media because such a topic changes little with time. Thus multiple presentations of this information over a consistent short timeframe could result in most readers tuning out the information as ‘exactly the same as 5 days ago’ or ‘exactly the same as a report in publication y a week ago’. A number of individuals believe that a similar psychological attitude has handicapped the ability to properly respect the magnitude of detrimental consequences to global warming as a form of ‘doom saying’.

It is difficult to conclude that these individuals are lamenting about a lack of coverage regarding individual climate-related events because such reporting is reactive not proactive. Basically it is difficult to report on a hurricane that has not happened yet. For the most part most media organizations do a respectable job covering single climate based events and as discussed above it is impossible to associate the 100% occurrence of a given event with current climate conditions, thus media organizations cannot do so despite what their detractors may want.

Some could argue that the lack of coverage involves too many lulls for ongoing events. One example could be the 2010-2011 drought in Texas and other parts of the Southwest United States. In some context the drought become so commonplace and part of the general environment that it was no longer interesting to report on in the national media. Therefore, almost by default individuals could start to consider the drought conditions as the new normal despite that fact that they shouldn’t accept that as inevitable. Such a mindset is similar to the frog accepting a slowly and continuously warming frying pan not reacting and escaping until it is too late. While most climate stories are not ‘sexy’, heck it could not be surprising if ‘Jerry Sandusky’ has been mentioned more in the last four months than ‘global warming’ has been mentioned in the last 3 years, it does appear important for media organizations to continue to address the non-normal climate conditions to avoid a general malaise of acceptance.

Unfortunately amid all of the lamentation little productive information is being given with regards to how the media should correct itself. The only refrain is ‘more coverage, more coverage’, but suggestions on how to effectively accomplish this goal are few. While some may argue that blanket coverage (more regardless of quality as long as it acknowledges the reality of global warming and its dangers) is suitable because eventually enough of it should convince people, this strategy is probably not effective. First off as previously mentioned simply increasing the amount of climate stores could result in individuals ‘tuning out’ the stories limiting their effectiveness on combating malaise.

Some would argue that this ‘blanket’ strategy is the same general strategy used by global warming deniers to try to tip public sentiment in their favor and while true there are other factors at work. The strength of the denier argument is in the controversy they create. People inherently are distrustful of ‘guarantees’, especially when they are negative. The guarantee that global warming is real and it will be seriously detrimental allow a better acceptance environment for deniers to make inaccurate to crazy claims about how it is not true. Another advantage for the deniers in this ‘blanket’ strategy is the ability to better maintain variety in the attack. Deniers can challenge various aspects of global warming consequences using different ‘theories’ so other individuals do not become bored. For those trying to demonstrate the validity of global warming this variety is not so widely available as the same 5-6 topics dominate in global warming consequence prediction.

Instead of attempting ‘blanket’ coverage an organized information campaign on specific topics could be a better strategy. In this situation the media outlet would devote a specific amount of time to a given component of global warming over the course of a specific timeframe. For example a newspaper may decide to discuss ocean acidification where they devote a page two space once a day for a week. One of the important elements to such a strategy is to maximize the probability that individuals understand what they are reading. Thus the Monday and Tuesday stories would need to focus on more background information pertaining to the particular topic.

An immediate problem to executing the above strategy would be a lack of interest. As previously mentioned climate science and environmental issues are not sexy or typically short-term dynamic thus providing an incentive would be useful to encourage readership. One strategy to develop incentive would involve having a mini-quiz at the end of the week where individuals who answered 80% of the questions correctly would be entered into a contest to win some form of prize. The medium for the contest would be via the Internet or mail order through the U.S. post office. Environmental organizations could help sponsor these prizes if necessary.

On a related side note while the media can be criticized for not effectively addressing their role in fight the acceptance of a new normal most in the environmental community seem not to go far enough either. The environmental community should not only be pushing the media to lay the groundwork for climate understanding to combat malaise and legitimatize genuine importance, but also to provide a debating forum for solutions. Unfortunately a number of individuals in the environmental community do not want this debate. Most simply want the application of their ‘pet’ solutions and are unwilling to address whether or not those solutions are viable.

For example proponents of solar and wind deployment continuously shy away from addressing possible cost overruns due to lack of storage and intermittence in an energy infrastructure that no longer utilizes fossil fuels. Instead they foolishly or dishonestly report ‘grid parody’ prices for wind and solar relative to fossil fuels in the modern fossil fuel based energy infrastructure, numbers that do not make sense because if wind and solar are going to be a solution they must be incorporated into an infrastructure that does not utilize fossil fuels. In addition these same proponents avoid the question of a possible rare earth shortage which will disallow the economic development of a principally wind/solar energy infrastructure. Thus not only must the attitude of the media change with regards to covering climate issues, but so too must the attitudes of those who claim to be its champions.

Digressing back to the media aspect, the issue that environmentalists should be discussing is not necessarily quantity, but quality and how to deliver that quality. The goal of the media pertaining to climate issues is two-fold: provide enough information over a suitable number of intervals to combat malaise/mitigation of importance and provide that information in a way that actually allow individuals to intelligently participate in discussions regarding solving climate related problems. One possible strategy to aid in accomplishing these goals, which the media has thoroughly been lacking, would be to devote constant time to a given aspect of global warming with quizzes and prizes to increase interest and aid learning and retention. However, some could argue that the ‘blanket’ strategy is still an option. If so those making this argument need to address how to evade the concerns discussed above. Overall regardless of what strategies are utilized the environmental community needs to better outline in specific detail how the mainstream media should present climate information over just complaining about the lack of it.