Metis: Microfoundations

Microfoundations

 

The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. (TS-3). Recommended to me in 1997 by Spiral Dynamics creators Don Edward Beck and Chris Cowan. Csikzentmihalyi’s sequel to his earlier book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (#17J) makes the case for mindful, directed, psychecentric  evolution. A bridge between Anton LaVey’s Indulgence, Michael A. Aquino’s Xeper, and the self-transformative orientation of Martin Seligman’s positive psychology.

 

Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. New York: Basic Books, 2013. (TS-3). Kaufman is director of the Imagination Institute and a positive psychology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. In this book he argues for the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory of ‘fluid’ intelligence and for the benefits of holistic education. Kaufman explores and evaluates cognitive theories of creativity, learning, skills-building, and talent development. A useful primer on how current debates about human intelligence are redefining education. For some initial considerations of these implications see my Fluid Intelligences Working (30th June and 1st July 2012).

 

Genius 101 by Dean Keith Simonton. New York: Springer, 2009. (TS-3). Dean Keith Simonton is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis. This book provides an overview of Simonton’s influential research program on genius, how it is measured, and under what conditions it can be cultivated and flourish. Builds on Simonton’s earlier book Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) (TS-3) and is a summary of genius research profiled in Simonton’s edited collection The Wiley Handbook of Genius (Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014) (TS-4).

 

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind by John Coates. London: Penguin Books, 2017. (TS-3). Metis involves calculated risk-taking in ambiguous or uncertain conditions. Coates is a neuroscientist formerly affiliated with the University of Cambridge, and as a former risk manager with Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and Deutsche Bank. His study of the neurobiology of financial risk-taking in booms and busts also has implications for competitive sports and military war-fighting. An introduction to the physiology and the neuroscience of risk-taking.

 

Understanding Beliefs by Nils J. Nilsson. Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2014. (TS-3) Nilsson is Kumagai Professor of Engineering (Emeritus) in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University. Nilsson’s artificial intelligence research informs this short introduction into how humans acquire, form, and communicate their beliefs — leading to social, cultural, political, and religious change. Argues for Bayesian probabilistic revision and updates to personal beliefs.

 

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. (TS-1). Anders Ericsson is the Conradi Eminent Scholar and a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. Ericsson’s research on deliberate practice—how individuals use deliberate and mindful effort to cultivate expertise—has changed how learning is conducted in domains such as the arts, sport, and medicine. Provides a methodology to fulfil the mindful evolution vision of Csikzentmihalyi, Kaufman, and Simonton noted above. Malcolm Gladwell popularised Ericsson’s research as the 10,000 Hour Rule in his book Outliers: The Story of Success (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011) (TS-3) which has led to a media debate about Ericsson’s research and its conclusions.

 

Mastery by Robert Greene. New York: Viking, 2013. (TS-3). An exploration using historical and contemporary figures of the pursuit and conditions of mastery: the visible outcome of Anders Ericsson’s deliberate practice noted above. Can be read in conjunction with George Leonard’s Mastery (#17M) and Greene’s other popular books on themes like war, power, and seduction. Greene’s companion book Interviews With The Masters (Seattle, WA: Amazon Digital Services, 2013) (TS-3) interviews nine contemporary masters in-depth.

 

Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. (TS-3). Roy F. Baumeister is Professor of Social Psychology at The University of Queensland, Australia. In this book he collaborates with New York Times science journalist John Tierney to communicate Baumeister’s influential laboratory research on human will as responsible agency, and how self-control is a necessary foundation for self-agency.

Nuclear Politics

During my on-going PhD research at Monash University, I’ve increasingly focused on ‘dissertation to book’ studies from university presses (Cambridge, Cornell, Princeton, Stanford) that develop and test formal theories. This has been a surprise to me – given that my earlier published research used critical theory and journalism experience.

 

The latest study I’m looking at is Alexandre Debs and Nuno P. Monteiro’s Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Causes of Nuclear Proliferation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). They include a puzzle and case study based approach that emphasises the pivotal role of security concerns. Their book includes coding rules and a formal theory: a useful ‘writing model’ for the relevant sections of my draft thesis.

What I’m Reading

  1. Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason by David Harvey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).  One of Karl Marx’s leading contemporary scholars interprets the three volume Capital in the context of post-2008 secular stagnation. Some interesting comments on how debt and extractive institutions work.
  2. How To Be An Academic: The Thesis Whisperer Reveals All by Inger Mewburn (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2017). The Thesis Whisperer explains why contemporary higher education is like The Hunger Games and offers informed advice on how to survive ‘precariat’ labour and build an institutional profile.
  3. Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation by Douglas Walton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). The University of Windsor professor’s introductory textbook on argumentation and critical reasoning.

 

The Credibility Vortex

In 2006, I studied strategic studies and wrote a Masters mini-thesis on North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program with Dr Andy Butfoy. He’s an Australian expert on arms control, strategic studies, and US-Australian politico-military relations.

 

In late 2016, Andy released his first novel The Credibility Vortex:

 

It’s a political thriller set in Washington. It features intrigue in the National Security Council, rogue officials, dirty tricks, assassination attempts, and the possible end of the world . . .

 

I recommend you check Andy’s first novel out: it’s a gripping read.

Early 2017 Reading Pile

The following books will be on my reading pile for early 2017:

 

  1. Sheelah Kolhatkar’s Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street (New York: Random House, 2017). Kolhatkar is a staff writer at The New Yorker. I followed the insider trading case against Steve A. Cohen and his hedge fund SAC Capital for several years. I thought about writing a PhD chapter on it — but getting access to the court records was going to be expensive and it was out-of-scope to my main focus. Kolhatkar has saved me the trouble — and illustrates why investigative journalism is important.
  2. Ed Thorp’s A Man For All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market (New York: Random House, 2017). Thorp is a giant in quantitative investing and card counting in poker. There’s a lengthy interview with Thorp in Jack D. Schwager’s book Hedge Fund Market Wizards, and this book promises more revelations. Features a foreward by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
  3. Andrew W. Lo’s Adaptive Markets: Financial Evolution at the Speed of Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017). Lo is the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris Professor, a Professor in Finance, and the Director of the Laboratory for Financial Engineering at the MIT Sloan School of Management. This book outlines Lo’s Adaptive Markets Hypothesis – a challenger to the Efficient Markets Hypothesis – and offers a conceptual basis for why some hedge fund trading works.
  4. Siva Vaidyanathan’s Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). Vaidyanathan is Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Intellectual Property (IP) is an intangible asset class that includes copyrights (works of creative expression), trademarks (logos and symbols that differentiate a company in the marketplace), patents (know how and processes), and trade secrets (confidential and secret information). Vaidyanathan explains how IP works and examines its legal / cultural debates. A good primer for content creators.

Grand Intentions

Grand Intentions by Trevor Barr
Grand Intentions by Trevor Barr

Have you ever wondered how powerful chief executive officers negotiate their lucrative compensation packages? Grand Intentions by veteran internet and telecommunicatons scholar Trevor Barr shares their secrets.

 

Barr’s gripping novel opens with the telecommunicatons giant Telco One in crisis: rural Telco One client Thomas Bowie dies of an asthma attack due to a technical line fault. In the aftermath, Telco One’s board fires its chief executive officer and hires Clint Mason – a mid-market CEO with experience at the United States telecommunications firms MCI and Sprint, a fundraiser for the Republican Party, and who has a keen interest in American Native Indian culture and history. Mason is tasked with spearheading Telco One’s privatisation and the operational transformation that is required to remain competitive.

 

The first three chapters of Grand Intentions read like a negotiation masterclass: how Gordon Hunt (customer liaison and government division head), Nathan Thompson (a Telco One board member), and Jennifer Ralston (a Telco One board member and advocacy lawyer) deal with and disagree over the due diligence, compensation package negotiation, and rapid on-boarding of Mason and his operations manager Brad Botein. Australia’s prime minister, unions, and pension fund managers are carefully watching Telco One’s board. Each has a crucial role in vetting Mason’s appointment.

 

Mason has a strategic vision for Telco One: to shake-up Hunt’s customer liaison activities and identify new revenue sources, to improve Telco One’s share price by dramatically cutting head count, and to build and roll out a Next Generation Network – in only nine months. He has a close eye on the successes of Apple, Google, and today’s visionaries like SpaceX’s Elon Musk.

 

It’s a strategic vision of disruption that will also be familiar to shareholders of QANTAS, Commonwealth Bank, Rio Tinto and other companies who face a combination of industry, regulatory and technological head winds. Barr offers an informed insider’s view into the C-suite and senior management discussions that take place. In doing so Grand Intentions goes beyond media rhetoric about Silicon Valley disruption to convey the dilemmas and decision-making that business leaders face.

 

Barr traces the impetus and fallout from Mason’s corporate revitalisation through a range of Telco One employees. Gordon Hunt champions a consumer advisory council that will get close to Telco One’s customers. Hunt’s exchanges with Mason and Botein in a performance review meeting are eye-opening in how he gains buy-in for the council initiative. Barr shows Mason and Botein’s commercial acumen and what they really privately think about Hunt’s council. Other Telco One senior managers like marketer Jasmine Spencer and networks and systems engineer Lars Sorenson have their own competing ideas and initiatives.

 

Hunt hires counselors Paul Brooks and Max Groves to chair the consumer advisory council. Brooks and Groves are new to Telco One’s commercial world and they each grapple with Hunt’s neoliberal agenda. The council has to be solutions-based and identify new products and services. Brooks and Groves differ in their reactions to these pressures. Barr contrasts their experiences with their partners Karen and Nicole’s worlds of community radio and teaching.

 

Barr also has a few important ‘reality-check’ comments about Mason’s decision to shutdown Telco One’s research labs and instead create a senior management advisory. In the newly privatised Telco One, researchers now need to generate new revenues and have fundable research programs. Researchers can no longer be a cost centre or be solely reliant on government grants.

 

As Mason’s change agenda proceeds each of these characters faces career turbulence and ethical challenges. Some are able to thrive on the disorder and to emerge stronger: to be antifragile as philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes. Other characters make suboptimal decisions and must face the consequences. Mason’s change agenda thus acts as a sorting mechanism: a fictional depiction of the Tournament Theory process of economists Edwin Lazear and Sherwin Rosen, and the noncooperative Game Theory interactions of the late mathematician John Nash Jr (A Beautiful Mind). But Barr’s characters are not one-dimensional either, as Mason’s encounter with Aboriginal elder Amanyi Kunoth shows: he is deeply critical of Australia’s on-going mistreatment of its first peoples.

 

Grand Intentions is filled with Barr’s commentary and reflections on why telecommunications is the underlying infrastructure for today’s internet economy. It’s an opportunity to be privy to conversations inside corporations about growth initiatives that capture and sustain the media’s attention. It’s a cautionary guide for MBA graduates on how to accumulate power, navigate organisational politics, and climb the career ladder. Finally, Grand Intentions is poignantly candid about the human costs and casualties of disruption, and what winner-takes-all really looks like.

 

Grand Intentions is available in Australia from Readings and other good bookstores. Internationally, it is available from Book Depository (with free shipping), from AbeBooks resellers, and as an Amazon Kindle ebook.

Prisoners of Reason

PrisonersofReason

 

In 2011 when I began my PhD studies at Australia’s Monash University, Dr Andy Butfoy and I had a conversation about John Nash Jr, Thomas Schelling, the RAND think tank, and game theory. I had also recently re-watched the Adam Curtis documentary The Trap (2007) on how Nash’s insights influenced corporate negotiators and labour unions.

 

My first task for Andy was to reconstruct the history and prehistory of strategic culture theory-building, I soon found the parallel work of Jack Snyder, Colin S. Gray, and Ken Booth for RAND, the Hudson Institute, and US war colleges. It became clear that Nash and Schelling’s game theory was a rival research program to strategic culture and also to rational choice theory which Snyder adopted in later research.

 

Now, MIT’s S.M. Amadae has given us Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and the Neoliberal Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) – a well documented history of how game theory’s emphasis on strategic rationality influenced research and policymaking in nuclear strategy, economics, sociobiology, and the environment.

 

Amadae contends – as Curtis also did in The Trap – that noncooperative game theory and coercive bargaining gave economic and political elites the leverage to dominate others. The result is a highly competitive society in which brinkmanship and rentier extraction outflanks more cooperative solutions: winner-takes-all.

 

I’ll likely cite Amadae in Chapter 1 of my thesis.

Roy Christopher’s Summer Reading List 2015 + Bonus Material

I have some book suggestions in Disinformation alumnus Roy Christopher’s Summer Reading List 2015.

 

The emergent theme in my list this year is: the wealth extraction strategies of oligarchical elites and how to Become them.

 

Here is some bonus material I wrote that you might find useful:

 

Lasse Heje Pedersen Efficiently Inefficient: How Smart Money Invests & Market Prices Are Determined (Princeton University Press, 2015). Lasse Heje Pederson is the John A. Paulson Professor of Finance and Alternative Investments at the New York University Stern School of Business. Perdersen’s “efficiently inefficient” theory of financial markets focuses on active investors who have a comparative advantage. This book examines six economically motivated investment styles and eight hedge fund strategies. It contains one of the best descriptions I have read of how active management works. Pedersen also interviews influential hedge fund managers and investment managers including James Chanos, Cliff Asness, George Soros, Myron Scholes, Ken Griffin, and John A. Paulson. For a history of hedge funds see Sebastian Mallaby’s More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (Bloomsbury, 2010).

 

Han Smit and Thras Moraitis Playing At Acquisitions: Behavioral Option Games (Princeton University Press, 2015). Han Smit is a Professor in the Faculty of Economics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Thras Moraitis was Group Head of Strategy and Corporate Affairs at Xstrata. Playing At Acquisitions offers a synthesis of three business strategy methodologies: behavioural economics, game theory, and real options. An in-depth case study on the company Xstrata is also provided. Smit and Moraitis provide a personal synthesis that will enable you to perceive your own cognitive biases, to understand others, and to make more effective decisions under uncertainty. For a conceptual understanding of business strategy see J.C. Spenders Business Strategy: Managing Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Enterprise (Oxford University Press, 2014).

 

Lauren A Rivera Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs (Princeton University Press, 2015). Lauren Rivera is Associate Professor of Management & Organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Pedigreefollows in the footsteps of Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca in examining how the processes of elite reproduction and social stratification occur in elite firms who hire students from elite schools into entry-level jobs. Rivera uses interviews and participant observation to discover how employers use a range of filtering mechanisms to reproduce elites in a way that is reminiscent of ancestral heritage and cultural transmission. This book also offers novel insights on the sociological study of contemporary elites and elite circulation. For a micro-study on elites, non-elites and economic stratification see Robert D. Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

 

Karen Dawisha Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Schuster, 2014). Karen Dawisha is the Director of the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at Miami University. Putin’s Kleptocracy was originally under contract at Cambridge University Press before potential libel concerns led to Simon & Schuster publishing the book. Dawisha uses archival, internet, interview, and other sources to show how Putin rose to power and how he and a small oligarchical elite succeeded in extracting economic wealth from post-Soviet Russia. Dawisha’s research informed the PBS Frontline documentary Putin’s Way (13th January 2015). Putin’s success at wealth extraction can be compared with Thor Bjorgolfsson’s Billions to Bust – and Back (Profile Books 2014) and Bill Browder’s Red Notice (Simon & Schuster, 2015) in which self-styled ‘adventure capitalists’ and emerging market financiers were not so lucky. On Putin’s use of sociological propaganda to restructure post-Soviet Russia see Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible (PublicAffairs, 2014) and Jason Stanley’s How Propaganda Works (Princeton University Press, 2015).

Reading Pile

1. Loretta Napoleoni. 2015. The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East. New York: Seven Stories Press. PhD supervisor Luke Howie and I have discussed me including a section on ISIS in my study of terrorist organisations as strategic subcultures. Napoleoni contends that ISIS engages in a new form of nation-building in order to re-establish the Caliphate. One of several quickly written books to emerge as ISIS has gained military power projection in Iraq.

 

2. Richard Seymour. 2014. Against Austerity: How We Can Fix The Crisis They Made. New York: Pluto Press. A left-wing polemic that anticipated current political events in Greece, the Queensland state election, and in Australian federal politics. Seymour describes austerity as neoliberal crisis management, and as an elite strategy to change socio-economic foundations. An angry and insightful analysis of the conditions that might lead to oligarchical collectivism (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four).

 

3. Luke Howie and Peter Kelly. 2015. ‘Sociologies of Terrorism: Holographic Metaphors for Terrorism Research’, Journal of Sociology, 1-15 (online first). The authors propose a ‘holographic theorising’ framework and ‘holographic social scientific imagination‘ [emphasis original] (p. 2) for how terrorism studies researchers can explore, interrogate, and re-evaluate data. A central challenge the authors identify is that terrorism events ‘develop, shift, and change‘ [emphasis original] (p. 3) whilst interview transcripts and other research data can remain ‘forever frozen in time‘ [emphasis original] (p. 3). The article includes insights from an on-going interview research project, theorist Donna Haraway, and popular media including Star Trek: Voyager, and I, Robot.

Picks & Pans

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker (New York: Allen Lane, 2014). (TS-3). Steven Pinker is a cognitive scientist and psycholinguist who is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. In The Sense of Style, Pinker defends classic style as an metacommunication strategy for writers to communicate effectively with different audiences. He explains how grammar and syntax work as language structures. One of Pinker’s major contributions is a chapter on the ‘arcs of coherence’ – structural forms of paragraphs, sections, and chapters – that writers use. This book will help you to write more efficiently and effectively.

 

DBT Skills Training Manual (2nd edition) by Marsha M. Linehan (New York: The Guilford Press, 2015). (TS-4). In the early 1990s, Lineham developed Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) as a specific form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to deal with Borderline Personality Disorder and suicidality. This training manual and the accompanying DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets manual (2nd edition) explain the major DBT frameworks and skills-building exercises, which are influenced by Platonic dianoia (reasoning) strategies to deal with eikasia (imagination) and pistis (emotion).

 

The Nature of Value: How to Invest in the Adaptive Economy by Nick Gogerty (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014). (TS-3) (MAM-3). After the 2007-09 global financial crisis, companies and governments have reacted to the post-bubble draw-down with austerity budgets and ‘efficiency dividends’ (meaning: redundancies and restructures). The language used to defend such decisions is ‘value add’ or ‘value creation’ – taken from General Electric’s former chief executive officer Jack Welch who influenced the operational models used in asset management and private equity firms. Yet on a closer examination this ‘value add’ rhetoric is more often about balanced budgets. Gogerty’s book will equip you with a solid framework for how ‘value creation’ works – drawing in part on the Santa Fe Institute’s frameworks for complex adaptive systems. The Nature of Value also offers insights into the economic models used by the hedge fund Bridgewater. Gogerty builds on the earlier conceptual frameworks in Eric D. Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics (New York: Random House, 2006) (TS-4). Gogerty’s adaptive economy framework may also help you to understand how complex adaptive systems might work in macroeconomic contexts.

 

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters (London: Virgin Books, 2014). (TS-3) (MAM-1). Thiel co-founded the internet firms PayPal and Palantir, was the first outside investor in Facebook, and has funded LinkedIn and Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture. ‘Vertical or intensive progress means doing new things—going from 0 to 1’ (p. 6), Thiel writes, which he equates with technological change. This book distils Thiel’s insights on entrepreneurship and innovation from a Stanford course that co-author Blake Masters took. It deals with the unfolding process of seeking after mysteries – and offers a methodology on how to create more Liberty in the world. Potential Gandalfs and Hari Seldons, take note.

 

The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia by Christopher Frayling (London: Thames & Hudson, 2014). (TS-4). Frayling is a cultural historian who has written the probably definitive historical and literary analysis of Sax Rohmer’s Dr Fu Manchu novels. Fraying locates the Yellow Peril fears about China in an historical context that includes the British-China opium wars and treaties; racialist stereotyping; and popular culture manifestations. The Yellow Peril can be read illustratively as a case study on the intersection of magic and politics, and operatively as a primer on how societies create villains as Evil, and why.