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jerryking : adam_smith   9

For workers, challenge is all to easily ducked
July 2017 | Financial Times | Tim Harford

Cal Newport: Deep Work
Robert Twiggs : Micromastery

The modern knowledge worker — a programmer, a lawyer, a newspaper columnist — might appear inoculated from Adam Smith’s concern. We face not monotony but the temptations of endless variety, with the entire internet just a click away. All too easily, we can be pulled into the cycle of what slot-machine designers call a “ludic loop”, repeating the same actions again and again. Check email. Check Facebook. Check Instagram. Check Twitter. Check email. Repeat....what is a ludic loop but “performing a few simple operations, of which the effects, too, are perhaps always the same”?

Smith was concerned about jobs that provided no mental challenge: if problems or surprises never arose, then a worker “has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention, in . . . removing difficulties which never occur.”

For the modern knowledge worker, the problem is not that the work lacks challenge, but that the challenge is easily ducked. This point is powerfully made by computer scientist Cal Newport in his book Deep Work. Work that matters is often difficult. It can be absorbing in mid-flow and satisfying in retrospect, but it is intimidating and headache-inducing and full of false starts.

[Responding to ] Email is easier. And reading Newport’s book I realised that email posed a double temptation: not only is it an instant release from a hard task, but it even seems like work. Being an email ninja looks professional and seems professional — but all too often, it is displacement activity for the work that really matters.

A curious echo of Smith’s warning comes in Robert Twigger’s new book Micromastery. Mr Twigger sings the praises of mastering one small skill at a time: not how to cook, but how to make the perfect omelette; not how to build a log cabin, but how to chop a log. We go deep — as Newport demands — but these sharp spikes of skill are satisfying, not too hard to acquire and a path to true expertise.

They also provide variety. “Simply growing up in the premodern period guaranteed a polymathic background,” writes Twigger. To prosper in the premodern era required many different skills; a smart person would be able to see a problem from many angles. A craft-based, practical upbringing means creative thinking comes naturally. “It is only as we surge towards greater specialisation and mechanisation that we begin to talk about creativity and innovation.”

Three lessons:
(1) learning matters. Smith wanted schooling for all; Twigger urges us to keep schooling ourselves. Both are right.
(2) serious work requires real effort, and it can be tempting to duck that effort. Having the freedom to avoid strenuous thinking is a privilege I am glad to have — but I am happier when I don’t abuse that freedom. [Mavity says: “If you need to produce an idea, isolating yourself can be enormously beneficial.”......“How you do that in a big open-plan office with 100 other people trying to be creative at the same time?.......Solitude is in hopelessly short supply at a time when companies are captivated by the financial allure of the open-plan office and its evil twin, hot-desking. ]
(3) old-fashioned craft offered us something special. To Smith it was the challenge that came from solving unpredictable problems. To Twigger it is the variety of having to do many small things well. To Newport, it is the flow that comes from deep immersion in a skill that requires mastery. Perhaps all three mean the same thing.

Smith realised that the coming industrial age threatened these special joys of work. The post-industrial age threatens them too, in a rather different way. ....“The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments,” wrote Smith. So whether at work or at play, let us take care that we employ ourselves wisely.
Adam_Smith  books  busywork  Cal_Newport  distractions  expertise  GTD  hard_work  industrial_age  knowledge_workers  lessons_learned  productivity  polymaths  premodern  procrastination  skills  solitude  thinking_deliberatively  Tim_Harford  what_really_matters 
august 2017 by jerryking
How I learnt to love the economic blogosphere
July 27, 2016 | FT.com | Giles Wilkes.

Marginal Revolution
Econlog
Cafe Hayek
Stumbling and Mumbling
Brad Delong
Nick Rowe - Worthwhile Canadian Initiative
Steve Randy Waldman - Interfluidity
Slack Wire - JW Mason

"Sympathetic opinions coalesce in clusters of mutual congratulation (“must read: fellow blogger agreeing with my point of view!”). Dispute is often foully bad-tempered. Opposing positions are usually subject to a three-phased assault of selective quotation, exaggeration and abuse.'..."Lacking an editor to roll their eyes and ask what’s new, many writers soon become stale... Editors exist not only to find interesting pieces to publish but also to hold at bay the unstructured abundance of bilge that we do not need to read."....."...nothing as reliably good as the (eonomics) blogosphere. Some of its advantages are simply practical: free data, synopses of academic papers that the casual dilettante is unlikely to ever come across, a constant sense of what clever people are thinking about. But what is better is how its ungated to-and-fro lets a reader eavesdrop on schools of academic thought in furious argument, rather than just be subject to whatever lecture a professor wishes to deliver. No one learns merely by reading conclusions. It is in the space between rival positions that insight sprouts up, from the synthesis of clashing thoughts. Traditional newspaper columns are delivered as if to an audience of a million, none of whom might reply. The best blogs are the opening salvo in a seminar rather than the last word on the matter. They dumb down less "....."Ancient thinkers such as Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and Iriving Fisher were deployed not as some sort of academic comfort blanket but because their insights are still fresh, and beautifully written."..."Reading the economic blogosphere in 2008 felt to me like the modern equivalent of watching Friedrich Hayek, Keynes and Friedman quarrelling in front of a graduate class about how FDR should react to the depression. "...."Interfluidity is where to find such brilliancies as “the moral case for NGDP [Nominal Gross Domestic Product] targeting”, a political look at a seemingly technical subject, and “Greece”, a furious examination of how the term “moral hazard” is being traduced in the euro crisis. "..."Waldman’s thoughts go far beyond such a crude duality. After a long discussion of measurement problems, the institutional constraints on innovation and much more, he zeroes in on how governments build institutions to handle the disruption wrought by technological change. In a few hundred words he flips around Cowen’s stance and, instead of looking at the growth of government as the problem, makes a case for its opposite. Technological change creates concentrations of power, which “demands countervailing state action if any semblance of broad-based affluence and democratic government is to be sustained”. We have always needed institutions to divert spending power to those left behind, otherwise social disaster beckons. "....When reading, look for sources with something new to say!
economics  economists  blogosphere  Tyler_Cowen  Paul_Krugman  Adam_Smith  information_overload  social_media  Brad_Delong  blogs  Friedrich_Hayek  Milton_Friedman  political  economy  editors  tough-mindedness  FDR  Great_Depression  insights  John_Maynard_Keynes  sophisticated  disagreements  argumentation  technological_change  innovation_policies  moral_hazards 
july 2016 by jerryking
Don’t Confuse Capitalism With an Absence of Regulations - The Experts - WSJ
Nov 26, 2013 | WSJ | Kim Campbell.

Adam Smith did not recommend unregulated markets. If people insist on equating capitalism with an absence of rules and regulation, we run the risk of discrediting capitalism as the basis of an economy that can coexist with tackling the major issues of our time–i.e. climate change, political stability and upward mobility.
capitalism  regulations  Adam_Smith  leadership 
november 2013 by jerryking
What is good for a business isn’t necessarily good for the country
Aug. 27 2013 | The Globe and Mail |CHRISTOPHER RAGAN
...Most non-economists probably think economics and business are the same. But anyone who has studied economics knows they are very different. Having done so for about 30 years, I am very comfortable thinking about how markets work, how they often fail to function effectively and how various government policies affect their operation. But I readily admit to having no expertise about product development, marketing campaigns, distribution networks or managing employees.

I only wish more business people admitted to having the opposite ignorance. People successful in their businesses obviously know a lot about running their own companies and dealing with their unique competitive challenges. But many of them believe their business acumen extends to the broader economy. They suffer from the misconception that what is good for their business is good for the country as a whole. And this is where they are terribly wrong.... Adam Smith was crystal clear about business interests, writing in 1776 that “people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”...Fortunately for us, [James Moore] understands the difference between business interests and the national interest.
Adam_Smith  business_acumen  business_interests  businessman_fallacy  delusions  economics  humility  misconceptions  marketing  national_interests  policymaking  pro-business  product_development  rent-seeking  self-interest 
november 2013 by jerryking
‘Can You Make a Living After Studying English? Sure You Can’ - At Work - WSJ
June 6, 2013,| WSJ | By Robert Matz

Why study the humanities? For readers of The Wall Street Journal, here are two economic arguments.

...can you make a living after studying English? Sure you can. Students who major in English acquire skills in high demand in a knowledge and service economy: clear writing and communication, attention to detail, flexible and creative thinking.

First, there is the law of supply and demand. Blanket recommendations that college students study a STEM field are obviously self-defeating. If every student were to follow this advice, there would be too few jobs in STEM to support them. We have seen this kind of glut with the law degree.

Second, a humanities education creates a positive externality. You can’t meter the benefits of critical intelligence or imagination, but you wouldn’t want a populace that lacked them. Adam Smith, the author of Lectures On Rhetoric and Belles Lettres as well as of The Wealth of Nations, worried in the latter that the division of labor would make the laboring poor “incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation . . . of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment,” or of forming judgments regarding “the great and extensive interests of his country.” A nation with only technical expertise will similarly lack these virtues.

But can you make a living after studying English? Sure you can. Students who major in English acquire skills in high demand in a knowledge and service economy: clear writing and communication, attention to detail, flexible and creative thinking.

Still, not everyone should major in English. As a teacher in the field, I can tell you that some students couldn’t cut it. The deficits in their writing are too great to overcome, as are their difficulties in extrapolating from the particular to the general, or in thinking about problems in creative or original ways.

But students who can master the English major should feel confident that they are engaged in an enterprise that is valuable: personally, socially, and economically.

Robert Matz is chair of the George Mason English department.

This essay is part of a series on humanities studies and post-college employment.
humanities  STEM  career_paths  Colleges_&_Universities  Communicating_&_Connecting  liberal_arts  Adam_Smith  critical_thinking  English  self-defeating  externalities  detail_oriented  engaged_citizenry  extrapolations  writing 
june 2013 by jerryking
A letter to capitalists from Adam Smith - FT.com
January 9, 2012 7:03 pm
A letter to capitalists from Adam Smith

By David Rubenstein
David_Rubenstein  Carlyle_Group  private_equity  Adam_Smith  capitalism 
january 2012 by jerryking

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