One of the books I have read recently was “Predictably Irrational“
by Dan Ariely, ‘The hidden forces that shape our decisions.’
Three concepts were revealing in understanding certain decisions
1. arbitrary coherence that directs preconceptions
2. market norms and social norms influencing what is considered
in explaining resolving conflicts
3. how ownership pervades our life and shapes many things we do.
Arbitrary coherence signifies an anchoring effect (being first to set a
price or cost or salary) that encroaches on our minds for decisions.
Considering where this preconception arises and how irrational it
may be can allow us to bypass this habit of mind. (think: negotiation
and other numerical choices)
The most telling concept for me was the difference and impacts of
market and social norms on decisions. Social norms seem to be
common in collective cultures. It results in collaborations that lead
to a benefit to one person or group and builds on a social relationship.
Market based norms are revealed when money is involved and you
feel like you get what you pay for. It can be controlled by contracts
or involved when rewards are given that have a certain monetary value
Companies like to influence a market based transaction by bringing in
a social component. It is this mixing of market and social norms
that changes the nature of decisions and the appearance of ethical
Companies also like to bring in social based norms in motivating
Finally, Ariely highlights how we feel the influence of owning a
physical (house, shoes, pen, whatever) or
nonphysical item (idea, virtual, insurance)
on decisions to change. Ariely introduces several lines of thought
that help us manage our urges when ownership can impede our
There are many situations where managing these psychological
concepts can lead us to more professional behaviors.
Have you ever thought about what it will take for you and
each one of us to reach the American Dream of the pursuit
of happiness, fulfilled life and liberty (equality, rights and
justice under law)?
So much is heavily weighted on how the privileged have
advantages. The fact remains that outside of that, luck and
skill play roles for ourselves and our careers.
We have talked about practicing and putting in the time and
energy to master skills where in the end
success = potential * serendipity [LUCK]
We have mentioned Jim Collins’s concept of Return on
Luck, in other words, when good fortune happens what you
do with it. He also strategizes on how you plan for and
Building on these is a nice piece by Bob Frank in NYTimes
Are you successful, where he cites
+ Mona Lisa became famous after an Italian maintenance
employee at the Louvre stole it and it was recaptured LUCK
+ Statistical correlation between Economics professors
where manuscript authorship is in alphabetical order giving
lead authors faster recognition LUCK
+ Your country of origin and even your month of birth
can correlate in the past with different success measure
To me M Mauboussin’s piece gave me a moment to pause,
as he asked three questions in relation to the relative
importance of luck and skill-
1- can you accurately predict an outcome and from a set of
starting conditions /influences? If so, is it easy to implement or
easy- SKILL dominates; challenge- LUCK may.
2- what is the frequency of ‘reversion to the mean’ outcomes?
low- SKILL high- LUCK or external influences
3- can forecasters predict outcomes consistently?
yes- SKILL no- LUCK, or bad question or phrasing
Being able to look at any outcome and appreciate the
contributions of others, nonetheless will influence
attitudes and future opportunities in striking ways.
Look at every chance to express your appreciation
for that will be an influence.
LUCK = preparation + attitude + opportunity + action 1 comment
Al Sklover posts a “did you know…” blog post every once in a
while. So, I thought it might be worth mentioning something
some applicants would consider after interviewing. Knowing
something about what else may be expected from each
successful applicant includes polygraph, credit, security
Applicant medical evaluation and drug testing.
You might be aware of mental and competence testing that
some employers have third parties administer. Also, it is required
by federal law to pass alcohol and drug testing of blood and
urine. There is a benefit for employers since insurance premiums
can be lower. In addition, employers seek to maintain a drug free
perception, which also includes nicotine from tobacco products.
Complications occur with medications and statutes that legalize
controlled substances in certain states. Thus, marijuana is listed as
a schedule I drug under federal statutes leads companies to fire or
refuse to hire, if detected.
Certain prescription medications may also trigger a red flag, so it
is worth knowing about medications that physicians prescribe for you.
Can job security be relegated to rely on algorithms?
My short answer is probably not, because it makes assumptions
to achieve an outcome in a reasonable amount of time.
Our careers make many shifts, turns, abrupt endings, transitions
and shifts at many unexpected times. Why are they so
unpredictable? For one thing, they are human endeavors
that result in and from mistakes or put another way less
than optimal outcomes.
I viewed Derek Lowe’s blog “The Algorithms are coming,”
in which he discusses and Angewandte Chemie article about
developing optimum and projected synthetic organic chemistry
paths to making synthetic target molecules with computer
As we decide it is a more efficient habit to employ algorithms
in our life, it is appropriate to ask such a question in relation to
important outcomes like dealing with job security.
An algorithm is a set of commands or instruction steps designed
to achieve a suitable outcome or optimization, like page-rank,
min-max, and many others. Algorithms have been in vogue
for centuries. We observe many situations where robots, laser
optical devices and machines are making tasks minimizing human
intervention and judgment. In fact, many “aggregators” use
algorithms to match up job descriptor keywords to display
positions a job seeker might apply for.
There will be an increasing marketing of career path algorithms
to lead you making your choice. It is a very complicated
series of decisions that has a very long lead time, building
up of experience in some cases, developing soft and
wise skills and assessing your own desires and needs,
which often cannot be put into a search tool keyword list.
I found McHenry Community College has a nice list of
suggestions offering that it is not just a concern when in
a job seeking mode, but throughout our career as things
change. An algorithm will not do this.
How can you bring new ideas to an organization? When
first mentioned, members will say–that’s crazy! We’ve
done it before or it has been tried and look what happened….
Three possible revolutionary (and helpful) ideas are
offered here. One has been mentioned before, free dissemination
of high quality chemical information. Free the science!
There is a large hew and cry about increasing employment
opportunities for people in the chemical enterprise–
technicians, engineers, biochemists, and many sub-disciplines.
Are we asking the blind where to look and how to find trends,
opportunities, and ideas? We should have a whole division
entitled, Chemistry and the Economy which uses Economists
tools of data analysis and superforcasting!
Can we predict the outcome of experiments? Yes when we are
lucky… that is why we do experiments. A group from LANL,
I heard from a member of my network, uses informatics based
adaptive design to define new materials.
DISSEMINATE KNOWLEDGE FREELY
Many are not aware but over a hundred years ago a group of
scientists separated from the ACS and formed their own
society since their needs were not met. At this time the
critical needs of the world are not met by large commercial
interests and privatized, high cost journals. There is a
critical need to radically change how good information is
shared. A model for this has been published and is being
implemented. The incremental, “nibble at the apple” approach
that is not affordable outside large institutions should change.
NEW DIVISION: ECONOMICS AND CHEMISTRY
Chemists are not economists. Economists are not chemists.
Why are we asking chemists to assess the economy and
report on how the chemical enterprise evolves and what
will be viable career fields in the future. You can not look
at the past to predict the future. Things change fast.
We need, as a society, a new division dedicated to asking
economics questions about STEM fields.
The ACS, NESACS and other sections and divisions have
no influence over creating jobs in the private or the
public sector. There is a crying need for the ACS to
define a new and important role, outside of the chemical
realm that asks the questions we are not able to develop
answers or even superforecasts. Please let’s develop a
LANL INNOVATIVE DEVELOPMENT
Many have learned that hunches tested by trial and error
have yielded new materials for practical materials. Think
of for example lithium battery cathode material. The
LANL group has developed a partial factorial designed
experiment approach that is quicker and more efficient.
This brings in innovations in statistical design much
needed in designing materials of the future.
Approaching a job search and change feels like a change in mental
frame of mind, yet it should be little different than our routine.
Since what we think and how we behave comes down to routine
actions in response to a cue to achieve an outcome, certain habits
should be our professional pattern. However, in different circumstances
and millieus, it might be different. Thus, we need to figure out our
professional presence in these settings to be productive.
Some elements of our professional presence are expressed in
Charles Duhigg’s latest book. Duhigg writes about
a motivation (in particular “the five whys”)
b teams and group norms that matter most
c managing our focus (understanding reactive thinking and cognitive
d stretch and proximal goal setting (plan with probability, not certainty)
e decision making (using Bayesian psychology and probabilities)
f innovation (using scaffolding and choice combinations)
Much of this we learn after the fact and some we do not ever
recognize. If a job is not a good fit, we can feel less confident and
it seems like an act. Trust can be missing with co-workers.
Much has been discussed about what to look for in our careers.
Anna Hunter described it well when she mentioned the cultural
fit of us into an organization is the highest indicator of satisfaction.
The fit, she indicates, is a feeling (emotional), matches our interests
and values, involves tasks and interactions that serve our skill set
to continually grow and improve.
What tasks engage and excite you?
With whom did you work with and how were you related to them,
PEER-PEER] What was the nature of your role?
Early in your career it may be helpful to experience different situations
and perform a pause moment to think about the experience both during
and reflecting afterwards on its bigger picture.
Pausing will help you prioritize the cultural aspects.
When we are involved in the interviewing continuum, which happens
earlier now than in the past, we would seek out directions rather than
destinations and explore what we need to make progress. Many positions
are not advertised and we need to match our intentions which we need to
put into words and demonstrate in competences and potential.
One of the short discussions we had in our class this year was
on the role of critical thinking. It was not elaborate or drawn
out with many inferences and examples like it could.
It was about reading with a “thinking” attitude.
One of the members brought up how he would teach undergraduates,
especially how to read the technical literature. The citation he used
mentioned the old paradigm structure of the scientific method, as
if it were gospel.
Another view is to seriously evaluate the source who funded
the work, who gains from its publication and the true value? What is
it do you want to learn from the report, communication or
article? Is this too hard to ask?
This blog has cited Galea’s Fortune piece which points out biases.
Scientific literature can be read [or mis-read] with a structure
to influence the readers’ take-away message.
The Economist offered a remarkably insightful piece about corporate
financial results on which we depend on for employment, investment
and purchasing. It should be totally unbiased and reflect truth as
well. The article puts forth the “carnival of confusion, obfuscation,
and fibbing” that would make “even presidential candidates blush”.
The article speaks to Valeant, Microsoft, SunEdison, GM, GE
restating earnings, adjusting figures, and using measures of
profit that do not have regulatory significance.
Rules of thumb: profit should be revealed in standard accounting
rules, without adjustments for mature firms
firms should not have large and persistent gaps
between official accounting and adjusted profits
firms should not have low tax payments, since
it should be reporting profits to investors and government
look at the “cash flow”
Look at this before sending in your application!
TECHNOLOGY REALITY CHECK: PATENTS
For the first time I have seen CEN talk about reading the patent
literature [and not an ACS journal article] to learn about something.
The recent issue revealed more significance can be gained
from reading the patent literature. While not the headline
or example, this statement is something we will not find
many research professors teach our students and post-docs.
There is something legally binding in patents. When researching
the literature about your work or potential job applications,
patents should be a must area to review.