The Pebble and the Avalanche

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Current Revolutions in Business and Technology

by Dr. Moshe Yudkowsky,

author of The Pebble and The Avalanche: How Taking Things Apart Creates Revolutions


Tue, 2009-Jan-20, 12:33

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Silence (and Cheaper Rooms) at eComm

For once I'm attending a conference without speaking — from the podium, that is. I certainly intend to pay careful attention to the talks and to allocate generous dollops of time for networking.

The eComm conference schedule and registration is here. I have a discount code which ought to get you 10% off the registration: YFEDHW5E. Oh, and sometime in the next 24 hours it ought to be fixed, but the room rate has now dropped to just $159 per night (instead of $189 per night as listed on the web site and with the call centers).

Tue, 2008-Apr-01, 08:51

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How to Transform a Competent Person into an Expert

How do you help someone move from incompetence — not a pejorative term, just a descriptive one — to competence, and how do you help someone go beyond ordinary competence to true expertise?

At a recent conference in Melbourne, Australia, the people who educate the educators met to discuss various techniques, including better ways to use standardized patients. Among them was Dr. Rachel Yudkowsky, who discussed the role of disaggregation in becoming an expert.

Wed, 2006-Sep-13, 08:52

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IBM and the Universities

Universities cherish their academic freedom above all else. Academic freedom gives them the ability to explore ideas and make pronouncements (wise or foolish) that are unthinkable in other venues. A set of initiatives by IBM breaches the separation between businesses and academic curriculums — to the detriment of both the universities and IBM.

IBM funds some college courses and dictates, at least in part, what the students will study. Instead of professors offering their best judgment based on research, the courses instill IBM theories and IBM methods into the students:

In the past two years, IBM has been drilling its priorities into graduate and professional schools to help ease its transformation from a manufacturer of hardware and software to a provider of what it calls "solutions" and "services," including consulting and support services. The Armonk, N.Y., company has even developed a new academic field: "Service Sciences, Management and Engineering," or SSME.

The universities surrender their academic freedom for money; at least they receive a return. But IBM will receive less, not more, for their pains. By reversing the traditional disaggregation between university studies and the doctrines of IBM, IBM forgoes the benefits: instead of receiving new ideas along with their crop of newly-hired graduates, they will receive employees pre-programmed with IBM's internal theories. In this program, IBM looses even more than the university does.

Wed, 2006-Jul-19, 16:05

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Google the Utility

Designed for kids but useful for adults, a web site that's devoted to education has put together a list of different search engines and what they're good for.

One lesson from this educational web site: Google isn't everything, but it is most things. Many search sites use Google as a base and add additional features. But the list also shows that there's a "Deep Web" that isn't indexed by Google, information that the web site owners restrict to their own site. The existence of the "Deep Web" implies that new business models will be needed to take that information out of the confines of the restricted web sites, and I wonder what those business models might be — because someone will become rich by discovering them.

Thu, 2006-Jun-15, 08:36

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Civil Rights and the Disaggregation Debate

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argues that

disaggregating student achievement data into race, income, and other important categories is necessary because it reveals our nation's wide and unacceptable achievement gaps.
They go on to say
It is estimated that nearly 2 million students across the nation have scores that went uncounted. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states have the discretion to leave out scores of students if the subgroup is statistically small or "game the system."

From my own discussions with an educator at one of the world's top high schools, here's the flip side of that argument. The Chicago area boasts one of the world's very best high schools — an absolute top-notch school with students that out-score other students from around the world in math and science. But that very same school is in danger of being certified as a "failed school" by the No Child Left Behind Act because a literal handful of students from a minority group just moved into the school district. Their schooling is not yet up to the standards of the rest of the students, but the bureaucracy of No Child Left Behind Act doesn't give the high school any time to get new, disadvantaged students up to speed.

Is disaggregation useful? The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argues that it is, but that disaggregation be used to prevent schools from hiding data about minorities. The school districts who have to actually educate children will also find disaggregation useful — but to prevent the numbers from obscuring the real progress and real achievements of the school. Given the different agendas of these two constituencies but the agreement on disaggregation, perhaps the two sides on this debate will be able to come to common ground.