Posts tagged with diversity

Years ago, manufacturers could build a sequence of prototypes and use these to discover and rectify any problems. But now competitive pressures [have reduced] the time to bring a vehicle to market…. Automotive manufacturers aim to … design … a new vehicle and the manufacturing facility … in an entirely virtual world.

This speeds the introduction of the new product, but it does mean that designers … aim to anticipate … problems before a physical build of the vehicle is completed or a new production facility is built. Experience [from] the past is useful, but new vehicles have new features…. For these reasons, we need models that predict how humans of different types will behave in vehicle and workplace environments.

I love Julian James Faraway's reasoning process at the beginning of his paper on ergonomic simulation. He starts out by addressing the most important question: why should I care? rather than assuming “STEM is useful” or “Mathematics is good by fiat”.

Instead of saying that some bit of maths is "important" because “important” is an adjective and he felt like putting an adjective there, Dr. Faraway explains why mathematics is relevant to this specific problem which people already care about.

  • Because of the production constraints, the automobile manufacturers need to figure this out on computer before building and testing something in reality.
  • Because we don’t have infinite money to build a lot of test space programmes, we have to calculate exactly the trajectories and rocket pulse timing beforehand.
  • Because the Aswan dam is so hugely expensive, we need to mathematically plan how it should work before making it.

And so on. It suggests that the practical application of mathematics is in areas where prototyping is prohibitively expensive.

Or where prediction is necessary. For example, actuaries predict large-scale (i.e., central limit theorem applies) insurance losses before they happen.

The racial category Asian lumps together widely diverse groups with no common language, phenotype, or culture who come to the U.S. under vastly different circumstances…

How do you mash together Laotian war refugees and Japanese business investors and come up with an average or mean experience?…

So let’s get it straight. The term “Asian” in the U.S. was chosen by Asian American activists as an alternative to the pejorative “Oriental.” The Oriental is the creation of Europeans for whom the Orient was an object of curiosity and a source of riches to be studied and exploited. In modern times, the study of the Orient, especially in contrast with the civilized world of the Occident (aka Europe), solidified an idea of Orientals as exotic, potentially dangerous Others.

Activists back in the 1960s decided they wanted to reject the label Oriental and call themselves Asian American instead. Subsequent generations of Asian Americans have gathered as a coalition under the Asian American banner in order to resist being treated like Orientals. But don’t get it twisted, the idea of an Asian or Oriental race is a creation of white people, not of Asians.

Scot Nakagawa (via untilasinglesolitonsurvives)


Just like Thomas Sowell said:

an amalgamation of widely varying subgroups

I recently saw some solid predictions in a real estate projection, but they were solid because the subgroups were actually fairly similar. It was like a rational middle ground between everyone being a special individual snowflake with no similarities to anyone else, and stereotypes that ignore the variation within subgroups. If you can find a subgroup that actually is fairly homogeneous, and you can predict that subgroup, then you can multiply your predictions out and get somewhere helpful with the arithmetic.

Of course, defining realistic subgroups occupies a lot of minds in marketing, because if you can find a mass of similar people you can market to all of them at once, and that’s a business opportunity. In the case I’m thinking of, though, it was like tying changes in a metro area to demographic shifts. But rather than imply “All old people are the same" by just saying "the population is aging", it talked about a specific kind of older person with less variable wants and means.

Here’s a pretty good example:

Messrs Kharas and Rogerson calculate that the number of poor in “non-fragile” states has fallen from almost 2 billion in 1990 to around 500m now; they think it will go on declining to around 200m by 2025. But the number of poor in fragile states is not falling—a testament both to the growing number of poor, unstable places and to their fast population growth. This total has stayed flat at about 500m since 1990 and, the authors think, will barely shift until 2025.

Lesson being, if you consider a couple different sorts of people living under $2/day—refugees, slum-dwellers, rural people in large medium-income countries, poor in poor countries (eg Papua)—then you’re at least looking at more homogeneous components, whereas lumping together refugees with an American businessman who made negative income this year is just way too amalgamated.

(Source: baysian)

I might be exaggerating a little if I say things like

  • We’re taught to measure our personal worth against exam scores;
  • We’re taught that there is One Competition and those who win the tournament get the goodies;
  • We’re taught that the children of Tiger Moms go to Yale and then Harvard Law and then become McKinsey consultants and then go on to head large corporations or i-banking or essentially win at life and rule the world in myriad ways;
  • We’re taught that the rest of us suck.

But I wouldn’t be completely making sh_t up. Those messages, or something like them, ∃ in the culture I come from and maybe in the culture you come from as well. Peter Thiel described a tournament to get into an Ivy League school, followed by a harder tournament to get into Stanford Law, followed by a harder tournament on Wall Street, … and left out of his story the 99.99% of us who didn’t even make it to the first tournament.

What about the supermajority? I’m pretty sure a hundred weak people can lift more weight than the strongest man on Earth. And I’m even more sure that the 50 smartest people on the planet can’t run Wall Street by themselves—let alone all the shops, shipyards, data centres, and engineering the runways of the airstrips to a millimetre of precision, that make up the economy.


So what about the rest of us? How much sense does it make to see the world in Thiel’s terms—the best versus the rest?

Well basic economics 101 tells us that a modern economy is made up of many specialised actors. The people who bend the tubes to make neon lights don’t know much about sewing shoes or sourcing the material for shoes, and none of those people know—or should know—how to do Ruby on Rails or Haskell.

Some people who research expertise also have developed a theory of 10,000 hours. If you practise something for 10^4 hours—so five years of work experience or ten years as a very, very consistent hobby—then you become awesome at it. A related theory is that if I have been doing something for a year or two and Peter Thiel tries to compete with me on it, I will still win regardless that he’s a chess master and a Stanford Law graduate and handsome and so on.

In other words, ∃ an equally or more compelling narrative than the A Player narrative: about everybody being different and that being okay and in fact more efficient.

Viewing education as a signalling mechanism to rank a one-dimensional hierarchy of best to worst people is one possibility—and one that BCG possibly uses to its advantage in applying profitable friction to the large companies who for some reason decide that some A+++ 24-year-olds know how to run their business better than they do. (Ooh, I really wanted to work in ‘fiction’ and ‘friction’ somehow. Too bad I was never a good enough student or I could have worked it.) But the dominant messages I hear from people who went into highly-paid frictional professions—accounting, law, consulting, finance—are that they want their kids to “find their own path”—i.e., do something with a tangible contribution to the society. Not necessarily fundraising for Laotian villagers, but something profitable that measurably increases the wealth of their community.


So the “everyone is a special individual” message doesn’t just come from warmhearted Kindergarten teachers wearing seashell necklaces. If specialisation, difference, and diversity are more important than uniformly learning

  • the same parts of history,
  • the same mathematics,
  • and being compared to each other on a fabricated 7-dimensional scale (grades)
  • to see if we can get to be included in the golden inner circle of whatever mysterious ritual the white-shoe white-collar firms perform to add an order of magnitude more value to their customers per employee,

— then the hard-nosed economists are also telling us the same message. Maybe it is not about me being better than you and worse than Peter Thiel, but rather a high-dimensional poset network of symplectic skills and attributes, mostly not substitutable by smart people over dumb people and yet all worth pursuing as they complementarily add size to the world GDP.