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They wouldn't go for my story, they wouldn't hear my plea
This week: the problem of extrovert bias, whether love in the first degree constitutes a crime, and what happened when Shostakovich met Lloyd-Webber.
A reader of Tyler Cowen's blog who used to work at Google has emailed a thoughtful account of Google's workplace culture and how it compares to other Silicon Valley companies. I found the whole thing interesting but particularly his identification of what he calls "extrovert bias" as a problem for the tech industry. People who speak most and most loudly do better than people who are quiet, regardless of actual ability or output. This happens at most workplaces, but it's surprising to think of it as a problem for tech companies, which depend so much on specialised cognitive skills and where you imagine there's relatively good hard data on individual productivity. It goes to show what a difficult problem it is, and how powerfully we are affected by superficial factors when assessing people. I wonder what you can do to combat extrovert bias. Cowen's emailer alludes to Amazon's "reading time" - the practice, instigated by Bezos, of starting every meeting with silent reading and thinking. You would also probably want to downgrade the role of unstructured interviews in the hiring process. The "let's chat" model of interviews is notoriously problematic, and biased towards the socially confident; I wrote about that here. And what about - to coin a term - fluency bias? It seems to me that we have a tendency to believe that people who have high verbal abilities also have good judgment. It's really hard not to be impressed by someone who dazzles you with a stream of spontaneously produced, perfectly formed sentences. It used to be that when I was in a meeting with someone like that I found it impossible not to nod along with them; only afterwards, in the street, would I realise they had been talking rubbish. These days, it's quite possible I over-compensate: if I meet or hear someone who is really good at talking, I immediately get very sceptical of what they're saying - I start tutting and rolling my eyes (OK I don't do that). Final point: although it's easy to envy people who are hyper-articulate - and I do - I don't think it's necessarily good for them, intellectually. When the words flow so effortlessly, you don't have to think as hard about what those words mean or whether they're the right ones, which means you can easily end up permanently lost in the Valley of the Glib. Fluency bias is a big problem in politics, of course.
Interesting interview with Russian emigre and chemical weapons expert Vil Mirzayanov, who helped develop Novichok, the poison used on Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Novichok is not on the international list of banned substances, and so the relevant body - the OPCW - doesn't necessarily have methods to detect it; Mirzayanov thinks the British were able to do so because they read about it in a book he published in 2008. He says the Russians wanted the world to know the attack was their work but probably didn't expect the poison to be identified. On the same topic see this excellent thread.
I've said before here that Wikipedia is one of the only websites that truly delivers on the promise of the internet. This excellent article explains why it works and what the tech companies could learn from it.
Football is a big money international business with low standards of governance and is thus rich territory for bullshitters and fraudsters. I love this NYT story about a 26-year-old British guy who has inveigled his way into the boardrooms of several clubs, and advised on big deals, without having any relevant qualifications, experience, or skills. (Tangentially - do imposters ever suffer from imposter syndrome?)
POP IN THE DOCK
'In my view there is no criminal offence in England and Wales of "love in the first degree".' Further legal analyses of pop songs here, courtesy of the Secret Barrister. I'm reminded of this classic reading of 99 Problems.
TURRETS OF NEW YORK
Prepare yourself for some really painful apartment envy.
I have a new book on the way...
Dmitri Shostakovich told Andrew Lloyd Webber that he wished he'd written Jesus Christ Superstar.
HERE COMES THE MOON.
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