Recent quotes:

IBM is ending its decades-old remote work policy — Quartz

Team proximity appears to help foster better new ideas. One Harvard study found that researchers who worked in close physical proximity produced more impactful papers. Another report used data from badges that collect data on employee interaction to argue that employees who have more chance encounters and unplanned interaction perform better. This idea, known as the “water cooler effect,” has been embraced by the most successful technology companies. Steve Jobs was obsessed with creating unplanned meetings, going so far as to propose building all of the bathrooms in Pixar’s offices in only one part of the building to encourage them (luckily for Pixar employees, someone vetoed this idea). Facebook offers workers a $10,000 bonus if they live near headquarters.

More trust = giving more, expecting kharma

To measure trust and its reciprocation (trustworthiness) objectively, my team used a strategic decision task developed by researchers in the lab of Vernon Smith, a Nobel laureate in economics. In our experiment, a participant chooses an amount of money to send to a stranger via computer, knowing that the money will triple in amount and understanding that the recipient may or may not share the spoils. Therein lies the conflict: The recipient can either keep all the cash or be trustworthy and share it with the sender. To measure oxytocin levels during the exchange, my colleagues and I developed a protocol to draw blood from people’s arms before and immediately after they made decisions to trust others (if they were senders) or to be trustworthy (if they were receivers). Because we didn’t want to influence their behavior, we didn’t tell participants what the study was about, even though there was no way they could consciously control how much oxytocin they produced. We found that the more money people received (denoting greater trust on the part of senders), the more oxytocin their brains produced. And the amount of oxytocin recipients produced predicted how trustworthy—that is, how likely to share the money—they would be. Since the brain generates messaging chemicals all the time, it was possible we had simply observed random changes in oxytocin. To prove that it causes trust, we safely administered doses of synthetic oxytocin into living human brains (through a nasal spray). Comparing participants who received a real dose with those who received a placebo, we found that giving people 24 IU of synthetic oxytocin more than doubled the amount of money they sent to a stranger.

The Neuroscience of Trust

Respondents whose companies were in the top quartile indicated they had 106% more energy and were 76% more engaged at work than respondents whose firms were in the bottom quartile. They also reported being 50% more productive—which is consistent with our objective measures of productivity from studies we have done with employees at work. Trust had a major impact on employee loyalty as well: Compared with employees at low-trust companies, 50% more of those working at high-trust organizations planned to stay with their employer over the next year, and 88% more said they would recommend their company to family and friends as a place to work.

To succeed, plan to fail (occasionally)

Do Vale conducted a pair of diet-related experiments. A ‘straight striving group’ was asked to adhere to a strict regimen of 1,500 calories per day with limited food choices, while an ‘intermittent striving’ group was given an even stricter diet of 1,300 calories with limited choices; however, after six days of strict dieting the second group was allowed one day of 2,700 calories with unlimited food choices. Do Vale found that the ‘intermittent’ strivers had higher self-regulatory abilities, while generating a greater variety of strategies to overcome food temptations: they were more motivated to see the diet through. Participants in the ‘straight striving’ group, meanwhile, were more likely to quit the diet and report emotional setbacks when they accidentally overate. It follows that, so long as it is planned, it is often good to be bad. ‘The only way to get rid of temptation,’ Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, ‘is to yield to it.’

Plan to fail (occasionally)

Rita Coelho do Vale is an assistant professor at the Católica Lisbon School of Business and Economics, where she researches the human decision-making process with respect to self-regulation. She says that we not only can but should engage in behaviour antithetical to our ultimate goals. In experiments conducted with Rik Pieters and Marcel Zeelenberg, and published in January 2016 in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, do Vale surveyed the way people go about achieving their goals. She concluded that it is better to make plans to fail intermittently – to splurge on occasional luxuries when saving for a house; to have a slice of chocolate cake when trying to shed a few pounds – than to end up failing anyway and getting so demoralised you give up your goal altogether. ‘It’s something that’s so obvious, but no one has ever studied these phenomena,’ do Vale told me. ‘We all plan for breaks during the day – coffee, a nap – and we know that we will feel better after these rests. But with goals we simply don’t think like this.’

Animals, like humans, place a higher value on what requires more effort.

We have examined the justification of effort effect in animals and found a pattern similar to the one in humans but we propose a simpler underlying mechanism: contrast between the greater effort and the resulting reward that follows. The contrast model predicts that any relatively aversive event will result in a preference for a reward (or for the signal of a reward) that follows. Much evidence supports this model: Signals for reward are preferred if they are preceded by having to make a greater number of responses, encountering a longer delay, or experiencing the absence of food (when food is presented on other trials). Contrast has also been found when the signals are associated with greater rather than less food restriction. We have also found a shift toward the preference of a food location that requires greater effort to obtain. Analogous effects have been found in humans (both children and adults) using similar procedures.

How many friends can you have?

The Dunbar number is actually a series of them. The best known, a hundred and fifty, is the number of people we call casual friends—the people, say, you’d invite to a large party. (In reality, it’s a range: a hundred at the low end and two hundred for the more social of us.) From there, through qualitative interviews coupled with analysis of experimental and survey data, Dunbar discovered that the number grows and decreases according to a precise formula, roughly a “rule of three.” The next step down, fifty, is the number of people we call close friends—perhaps the people you’d invite to a group dinner. You see them often, but not so much that you consider them to be true intimates. Then there’s the circle of fifteen: the friends that you can turn to for sympathy when you need it, the ones you can confide in about most things. The most intimate Dunbar number, five, is your close support group. These are your best friends (and often family members). On the flipside, groups can extend to five hundred, the acquaintance level, and to fifteen hundred, the absolute limit—the people for whom you can put a name to a face.

All together or all apart

The researchers then had the teams complete a decision-making activity (in this case, act as top management for a fictional Hollywood studio tasked with green-lighting the production of one or more screenplays) and then answer a survey about the experience wherein they rated other team members. "We learned that if you want to have a clear leader emerge, you are better off having them all located face to face or all working remotely," Reeves said. "It's when you start mixing and matching -- some on site, some virtual -- that's when the real confusion comes into play."

Compromise nearly guaranteed when a woman is involved in decision-making pairs: Study finds when making joint decisions, men need to prove masculinity, 'push away' from compromise -- ScienceDaily

"The compromise effect basically emerges in any pair when there is a woman. However, surprisingly, when you have men choosing together, they actually tend to push away from the compromise option and select one of the extreme options. Say two men are choosing a car and the cars they are considering differ on safety and fuel efficiency -- they will either go for the safest car or the one that offers them the most fuel efficiency, but they won't choose an option that offers a little of both." In contrast, individuals and mixed-gender and female-female pairs will likely go for the middle option since it seems reasonable and is easily justified.

Pocket: My List

Just be optimistic about the future of your relationship. In a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Edward Lemay, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, found people who predicted that they would be satisfied with their relationship in the future were more committed to their partners and treated them more kindly in the present-day.
Overall, guests asked to make a specific commitment and who were given a pin were most likely to hang towels for re-use, and they hung a greater proportion of their used towels than guests in the other conditions.  These guests were also more likely to turn out the lights when leaving the room than guests in other conditions.  Interestingly, those guests given a Friend of the Environment pin who did not get any message were actually less likely to hang towels for re-use than those in other conditions.   Advertisement Guests who agreed to the general goal to save energy were at best slightly more likely than those who received no message at all.  Thus, the general goal had little impact on people’s behavior.  This finding is interesting, because people were somewhat more willing to commit to the general goal than to the specific one.

What Great Listeners Actually Do

To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehended it well enough to  want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialog, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.

Twitter stops buying ping pong tables

Asked why Twitter stopped buying tables, spokesman Jim Prosser says: “I guess we bought really sturdy ones.” Twitter spokeswoman Natalie Miyake says: “Honestly, we’re more of a Pop-A-Shot company now,” referring to an indoor basketball game. Is the tech bubble popping? Ping pong offers an answer, and the tables are turning. “Last year, the first quarter was hot” for tables, says Mr. Ng, who thinks sales track the tech economy. Now “there’s a general slowdown.”

When to dig

As a little girl, she used to help dig a grave before winter came. “You knew someone was going to die,” she says, and if the ground was frozen, the body would have no place to go. “As a kid, you would think: That could be anybody. That could be me.”

Attitude makes a champion, study shows: Attitude distinguishes champions on the bumpy road to success -- ScienceDaily

The results showed that elite performers expressed an internal drive and commitment to their sports that their "almost" great colleagues lacked. The elite approached training with a "never satisfied" attitude, whereas "almosts" might avoid challenging training exercises. Following an injury or a failure to perform, high performers were determined to get back to their sports, stronger than ever. Low achievers, on the other hand, often expressed surprise at their failures, telling how they lost enthusiasm after such incidents.

Apple organizes around specialties, not products

Apple employs what is known as a “unitary organizational form” — U-form for short — which is also known as a “functional organization.” In broad strokes, a U-form organization is organized around expertise, not products: in the case of Apple, that means design is one group (under Ive), product marketing is another (under Schiller), and operations a third (under Williams, who is also Chief Operating Officer). Other areas of expertise represented by the members of Apple’s executive team include Software Engineering (Craig Federighi), Hardware Engineering (Dan Riccio), and Hardware Technologies (Johny Srouji). What is most striking about that list is what it does not include: the words iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Watch. Apple’s products instead cut across the organization in a way that enforces coordination amongst the various teams:

In marketing: use an analogy to create questions, then answer the questions

Consumers like to figure out analogies for themselves; when the analogy is close, consumers don't need a great deal of additional information. For test subjects who read the first Coravin ad, the extra details about expanding their palates was detrimental. "When we give too much information, consumers are like, 'We get it. Stop bugging us!" she said. "We rob them of the positive feeling they get from understanding it themselves." Meanwhile, those who read the second Coravin ad found the palate details beneficial. As Herzeinstein's research noted, when an analogy is distant, too little information leaves consumers confused and annoyed. Marketers need to give a lot of information to help consumers understand the analogy, she said.

Drop your voice to win the debate ... hmmm

In the first of two experiments, 191 participants (ages 17 to 52) individually ranked the importance of 15 items they were told they might need to survive a disaster on the moon. They then worked in small groups on the same task. The researchers videotaped these interactions and used phonetic analysis software to measure the fundamental frequency of each utterance. They also looked at "how one person's answers converged with the group's final answer" as another way to measure influence, Cheng said. The study participants and outsiders viewing their interactions tended to rate those whose voices deepened between their first and third utterances as more dominant and influential than participants whose voices went up in pitch. None of the subjects or the outside observers was aware that the study focused on the relationship between vocal cues and status.

Echo as hub came 'as a lark'

Connecting the Echo to Internet-enabled lightbulbs and thermostats made by other companies hadn’t been a focus within Lab126 until late 2014. On a lark, an engineer had rigged the speaker to work as a voice controller for a streaming TV device. It was a forehead-slapping moment for Bezos, according to one employee who worked with him directly. “It was something he grew to embrace, aggressively,” the person said. Amazon’s vision for the Echo now relies heavily on the speaker serving as a hub for the so-called smart home. Limp jokes that it’s only a matter of time before some enterprising developer writes a program to use the Echo’s voice controls to flush the toilet.

Alexa 'always almost ready to ship'

Even as these fundamental changes went on, the lab’s leadership was convinced the speaker was almost ready. For three consecutive years, the product was expected to ship within six months. The $50 target price seemed more and more far-fetched.

Amazon's secret patents

Amazon kept its fingerprints off the original patent applications. Instead, Rawles LLC was named the assignee—the organization that would own the patent. Rawles had been incorporated in Delaware just two weeks before Amazon started filing patent applications related to augmented reality. In the years since, Lab126 employees have applied for dozens of patents listing Rawles as the assignee, all relevant to augmented reality or voice control. No one has ever claimed Rawles as an employer on LinkedIn, and its correspondence with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been handled by lawyers based in Washington state, where Amazon is headquartered.

A neural link between affective understanding and interpersonal attraction

At the neural level, changes in interpersonal attraction were predicted by activity in the reward system of the observer’s brain. Importantly, these effects were specific to individual observer–target pairs and could not be explained by a target’s general attractiveness or expressivity. Furthermore, using multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA), we found that neural activity in the reward system of the observer’s brain varied as a function of how well the target’s affective behavior matched the observer’s neural representation of the underlying affective state: The greater the match, the larger the brain’s intrinsic reward signal. Taken together, these findings provide evidence that reward-related neural activity during social encounters signals how well an individual’s “neural vocabulary” is suited to infer another person’s affective state, and that this intrinsic reward might be a source of changes in interpersonal attraction.

The Office Workers Left Behind by the Casual Dress Revolution

Just before Thanksgiving, Chicago-based accounting firm Crowe Horwath put out a video instructing employees on what to wear and what not to. In it, company executives are wearing bad outfits that land them on the company's dress code "Most Wanted List." Violators stand in a mock police lineup in ripped jeans and wrinkled shirts. The video ends with Chief Executive Officer Jim Powers demonstrating shorts that are "too casual for the office," a "C-E-No." It's exactly as cheesy as it sounds. The video was an introduction to Crowe's new "Dress for your Day" policy, a daily extension of a casual Friday experiment that started a few months earlier. The video was a lighthearted, albeit nerdy attempt to emphasize that some outfits are still too casual for work. No hoodies, gym shoes, or leggings, for example. "Just look in the mirror before you walk out the door, and make sure you look appropriate," said Wendy Cama, office managing partner at Crowe. "You don't look like you're going out to the bars. You're going to work." The policy isn't a wholesale relaxation of the company dress code. When meeting with clients, the firm's accountants, across its 31 offices, can't wear jeans.

To better reach goals, record progress physically and share it publicly.

A systematic literature search identified 138 studies (N = 19,951) that randomly allocated participants to an intervention designed to promote monitoring of goal progress versus a control condition. All studies reported the effects of the treatment on (a) the frequency of progress monitoring and (b) subsequent goal attainment. A random effects model revealed that, on average, interventions were successful at increasing the frequency of monitoring goal progress (d+ = 1.98, 95% CI [1.71, 2.24]) and promoted goal attainment (d+ = 0.40, 95% CI [0.32, 0.48]). Furthermore, changes in the frequency of progress monitoring mediated the effect of the interventions on goal attainment. Moderation tests revealed that progress monitoring had larger effects on goal attainment when the outcomes were reported or made public, and when the information was physically recorded.

What is a Product Manager?

I’ve always defined product management as the intersection between the functions business, technology and user experience (hint — only a product manager would define themselves in a venn diagram). A good product manager must be experienced in at least one, passionate about all three, and conversant with practitioners in all.

Turn taking and sensitivity key to good work groups

As the researchers studied the groups, however, they noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. ‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’ Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. One of the easiest ways to gauge social sensitivity is to show someone photos of people’s eyes and ask him or her to describe what the people are thinking or feeling — an exam known as the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. People on the more successful teams in Woolley’s experiment scored above average on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. They seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average. They seemed, as a group, to have less sensitivity toward their colleagues.