Australia’s Gillard Government has released its Australia In The Asian Century white paper.
Australia’s Gillard Government has released its Australia In The Asian Century white paper.
Yesterday, I had to cancel two papers/presentations with coauthor Ben Eltham at the International Studies Association‘s annual convention in San Francisco in April 2013. We both were unable to get access to research incentive and travel funding for the ISA conference. Some lessons:
1. Negotiate your initial contract carefully. Your university employer makes a valuation decision on your career if it gives you an Academic Level versus a HEW Administrator contract. Academic Level roles are governed by the Minimum Standards for Academic Levels (MSALs) and can access research incentive and conference travel funding. HEW Administrator roles often cannot and don’t have as clear pathways for funding access: they are not considered researchers even if they have an existing track record. These access and resource allocative differences can shape your career and create a ‘success to the successful’ dynamic that is needed to become an academic superstar (Sherwin Rosen). Get access to research funds in writing and in your contract: an email or verbal promise often won’t survive a staff change or a cost reduction initiative.
2. Negotiate some personal discretionary funds. A secret of successful professoriate is that they negotiate a salary loading component during their initial contract negotiations that are personal discretionary funds. This enables conference travel independent of budget, staff or organisational changes.
3. Situate the conference within a long-term research program. University senior management have a ‘value for money’ philosophy. They are interested in grant and journal publication outputs rather than conference papers. You need to show in your conference travel application how the conference will build your international visibility (an MSALs criterion); how the papers will lead to high-level journal publications; and how you will build networks that could become collaborative teams or mentors for competitive grant applications. Be strategic about this: don’t just go to an international conference because of the exotic locale. You are instead reframing the ‘value for money’ philosophy as a strategic level investment in your research career, and with up-front, observable research outputs. Know what the economic value added of your research program is to your university. Link your research program to university areas of distinctive specialisation or strategic investment priority. Use the pre-panel discussions to find out what other national and international researchers and research teams are doing in your area.
4. Get an institutional champion. Explain to your boss or supervisor why the conference is important to your research program and overall career. Get their advice and help in dealing with the institutional paperwork for conference travel funding. Having an institutional champion means you won’t feel isolated and you have someone who can help to make the ‘research case’ to senior decision-makers if needed. Your professional association might also have a conference travel fund that you should apply for.
5. Develop healthy psychological barriers from your organisation’s problems and self-narrative. The rejection of conference travel funding might relate to other factors such as budget austerity, misaligned incentives (which can involve decision rights and moral hazard), or a change in research funding priorities. You need to differentiate yourself and your research program from the “struggle” narrative (Dr. Jose M. Ramos) that occurs in organisational reform initiatives. You likely did not cause institutional debt or the failure to invest in the necessary infrastructure and strategic portfolios — and you can be part of the change management initiative. Don’t take the funding rejection personally: practice mindfulness techniques and try to be psychologically resilient.
6. Write the papers anyway. If you don’t get conference travel funding then reframe this as a self-limit to work around. Think like a New Wave (1978-84) musician: if you decide to self-fund the conference travel then ensure your financial affairs and taxation records are in order. I liked Ben Eltham’s advice: “Let’s use this energy to write write a couple of shit-hot peer-reviewed papers.”
I’m giving a PhD Confirmation talk as part of Monash University’s annual PSI Symposium on 26th October (at the 1:30-3:00pm session in HB.39, Caulfield campus).
I opted for a ‘document format’ rather than the aesthetic communication wizardry of Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology. Maybe next time.
“Monetisable analytics” is a phrase on netizen’s lips these days. Google Analytics, Facebook and Twitter dominate the “social web” and are three of the most-used internet platforms. But as The Atlantic Monthly‘s Alexis Madrigal notes, the pre-2004 internet had its own, rich, overlooked social history: BBSs, IRC, Gopher, Usenet, ICQ, and other early instant messaging platforms. The idea that the pre-2004 internet was just a bunch of disconnected links and that the post-2004 internet is an immersive, user-driven environment is a shibboleth. Social network and search engine optimisation (SEO) consultants promote the “social web” interpretation of internet history as self-justification.
Madrigal counters the “social web” interpretation with a counter-view. “Dark social” is a “vast trove of social traffic” that “is essentially invisible to most analytics programs.” Madrigal describes some experiences that TheAtlantic.com has had with real-time web analytics firm ChartBeat and he reaches several conclusions. First, “The only real way to optimize for social spread is in the nature of the content itself” [emphasis original]. Second, “the social sites that arrived in the 2000s did not create the social web, but they did structure it.” Third, “The history of the web, as we generally conceive it, needs to consider technologies that were outside the technical envelope of “webness.”” Dark social is thus more about user-driven referrals, instant chat logs, and other data that existing web analytics has failed to capture.
The rise of “monetisable analytics” creates a market for new analytics like Madrigal’s Dark Social. But it might create challenges for journalists who cover technology issues or who mix historical critique with ‘proof of concept’ pitches. (Will Madrigal develop a venture capital pitch for Dark Social as an Atlantic content partnership or spin-out company?) The pre-2004 internet was already about publishing: home-built, personal websites. Friendster, Facebook and MySpace’s ‘share’ option simply made it easier to diffuse or to transmit viral content but it didn’t create internet publishing from ex nihilo. To-date, the only people to really monetise content are international publishing conglomerates. What Madrigal has rediscovered in this piece is the philosophy of dotcom era content developers and creators which social media and SEO consultants have since eclipsed or obscured. Tools like ChartBeat might empower analytics-driven decision-making but the underlying value of content creation has always been there.
Why is the “social web” now “the dominant history of the web”? One reason is that sites like Wikipedia have editorial policies that limit or prevent the use of primary sources, memoir, in vivo interviews, archival analysis, and other types of historical research. There may also be country ‘home biases’ in the material that editors approve, based on their own knowledge and judgment of historical significance. This might make Wikipedia a useful free source for information but not necessarily for historical analysis of user experiences about the early internet. A second reason is that the circa 1993-2004 period remains undocumented apart from documentaries like Startup.com or We Live In Public about Josh Harris. A third reason is the unconscious projection of today’s standards — Google, Facebook, Twitter — back onto the early-to-mid 1990s web. Netscape Navigator, Altavista, Compuserve, Geocities, Pseudo.com and other early internet sites might seem primitive or static to today’s audience but they were a big deal “back in the day.” Hell, even Usenet, Gopher, Mosaic, and email were a big deal in 1993. As Madrigal notes: “How was I supposed to believe that somehow Friendster and Facebook created a social web out of what was previously a lonely journey in cyberspace when I knew that this has not been my experience?”
Madrigal could be Dark Social’s visionary entrepreneur. Alternatively he might write a short book on revisionist internet history.
For two decades the ARC has been one of Australia’s most important funding agencies for competitive research grants. ARC funding success provides career prestige and national visibility for an academic researcher or collaborative research team. The ARC’s Discovery and Linkage rounds have a success rate of 17-19% whilst the DECRA awards for Early Career Researchers (ECR), or first five years after PhD completion, has been 12%. An ARC grant is a criterion that many promotions committees use for Associate Professor and Professor positions. This competitiveness means that a successful ARC grant can take a year to write. The publications track record needed for successful applicants can take five to seven years to develop.
The ARC’s freeze decision is symptomatic of a deeper sea change in Australian research management: the rise of ‘high finance’ decision-making more akin to private equity and asset management firms.
Richard Hil’s recent book Whackademia evoked the traditional, scholarly Ivory Tower that I remember falling apart during my undergraduate years at Melbourne’s La Trobe University. Hil’s experience fits a Keynesian economic model of universities. Academics got tenure for life or switched universities rarely. There was no ‘publish or perish’ pressure. There was a more collegial atmosphere with smaller class sizes. Performance metrics, national journal rankings, and research incentive schemes did not exist. The “life of the mind” was enough. Universities invested in academics for the long-term because they had a 20-30 year time horizon for research careers to mature. There was no intellectual property strategy to protect academics’ research or to create different revenue streams.
‘High finance’ decision-making creates a different university environment to Hil’s Keynesian Ivory Tower. Senior managers believe they face a hyper-competitive, volatile environment of disruptive, low-cost challengers. This strategic thinking convinced University of Virginia’s board chair Helen Dragas to lead a failed, internal coup d’etat against president Teresa Sullivan with the support of hedge fund maven Paul Tudor Jones III. The same thinking shapes the cost reduction initiatives underway at many Australian universities. It creates a lucrative consulting market in higher education for management consulting firms. It influences journalists who often take the public statements made at face value instead of doing more skeptical, investigative work.
The ARC has played a pivotal role in the sectoral change unfolding in higher education. Its journal rankings scheme the Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) provided the impetus for initial organisational reforms and for the dominance of superstar economics in academic research careers. ERA empowered research administrators to learn from GE’s Jack Welch and to do forced rankings of academics based on their past research performance. ARC competitive grants and other Category 1 funding became vital for research budgets. Hil’s professoriate are now expected to mentor younger, ECR academics and to be ‘rain-makers’ who bring in grant funding and other research income sources. Academics’ reaction to the ARC’s freeze decision highlights that the Keynesian Ivory Tower has shaky foundations.
The make-or-buy decision in ‘high finance’ changes everything. Hil’s Ivory Tower was like a Classical Hollywood film studio or a traditional record company: invest upfront in talent for a long-term payoff. Combining ERA’s forced rankings of academic staff with capital budgeting and valuation techniques creates a world that is closer to private equity or venture capital ‘screening’ of firms. Why have a 20-to-30 time-frame for an academic research career when you can buy-in the expertise from other research teams? Or handle current staff using short-term contracts and ‘up or out’ attrition? Or your strategy might change in several years to deal with a volatile market environment? Entire academic careers can now be modeled using Microsoft Excel and Business Analyst workflow models as a stream of timed cash-flows from publications, competitive grants, and other sources. Resource allocative decisions can then be considered. ARC competitive grants and research quality are still important — but ‘high finance’ decision-making has changed research management in universities, forever.
Today’s young academics face a future that may be more like auteur film directors or indie musicians: lean, independent, and self-financing.
A PhD insight: study the leading scholars in your domain and read books from the imprints of leading university presses. This month I’m looking at new titles of the Stanford Security Studies series from Stanford University Press. Thomas Mahnken‘s anthology Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century provides an overview of the geopolitical landscape centered on United States-China rivalry. Meir Finkel‘s On Flexibility examines how doctrinal and strategic surprise affects politico-military actors and institutions: a study that might fit within the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture. Sheldon M. Stern‘s The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory re-evaluates the ‘memoir’ tradition about ExComm’s crisis decision-making under uncertainty, and the leadership and political myths that have grown up around the 13 day confrontation. Collectively, these books provide benchmarks and examples of security studies research that will inform my in-progress PhD chapters.
I’ve followed Einhorn since his book Fooling Some of the People All of the Time revealed his analytical research approach to value investing.
Einhorn’s list of long and short stocks is an interesting read. You sense Greenlight Capital‘s research and valuation processes: the significant factors (management view, company, industry, market, macroeconomic and causal) that shape companies, and the Bayesian inferential view of investor beliefs about them; how this analysis then translates to a market forecast; and how Einhorn intends to capitalise on these dynamics. The estimate assessment of multivariate factors shape investor beliefs and decisions. The market action which occurs from this creates opportunities using behavioural finance and market microstructure models (with a nod to technical analysis and high-frequency data analysis of transaction flows and volatility). It’s like reading Michael Mauboussin about how to think about investment ideas; or Peter Schwartz about trend forecasts and scenarios; or Robert Jervis and Gregory Treverton on strategic intelligence.
We had broken up for about a year when I saw Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place (1950). I had restarted a ‘lapsed’ undergraduate degree at La Trobe University, majoring in cinema studies and politics. I thought of you during Dr. Geoff Mayer’s class on Pre-Code cinema when he examined the origins of Hollywood’s ‘fallen angel’ image, and its influence on contemporary femme fatales. It was in Mayer’s film noir class that I saw In A Lonely Place. Afterwards, I saw our relationship in a new light.
In A Lonely Place explores the rise-and-fall arc of a brief, romantic relationship between screenwriter Dixon “Dix” Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and neighbour Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). Steele is suspected of murdering nightclub girl Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) and his relationship with Gray unravels. Ray deals with popular themes in film noir: early Cold War paranoia; Hollywood cynicism; the dark heart of some personal relationships; and the suspicion of major characters as unreliable narrators. Today, In A Lonely Place is regarded as a film noir classic.
Ray’s film evokes a larger truth about the Romantic ideal of living with a writer versus its day-to-day realities. Significant others might initially approach this as the opportunity to live with a cultural creative or to be their muse. Gray and Steele’s initial whirlwind courtship reinvigorates their creative work and they become a dyadic couple. But the Atkinson murder investigation makes Gray suspicious about Steele. Writer’s block also shatters their domestic harmony: both Gray and Steele suffer from decision regret. Steele never develops a habitual routine to write. A writer stuck in their material can become irritable, moody, and withdrawn to live with: absent. D.T. Max’s recent biography Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story (New York: Viking, 2012) evokes these feelings about the late author and critic David Foster Wallace, who struggled with depression, and self-loathing about his giftedness and family.
Our relationship spanned an early, formative period of my academic and journalism career (publications). We met and started dating as I wrote a New Journalism account for Perth’s REVelation Magazine (now a film festival) of Noam Chomsky’s 1995 lecture tour in Australia. In the next three years, I wrote eight published articles on topics ranging from profiles of maverick quantum physicist Jack Sarfatti and computer scientist James Martin, to a roundtable on artificial intelligence and an influential profile of memetics in advertising. I had other, then-unpublished material, including profiles of the progressive rock band King Crimson and author Philip K. Dick (in archive boxes and not available online yet); a rejected profile of roboticist Hans Moravec; and private, initiatory self-work (in the Gurdjieff Work and the Temple of Set). We broke up soon after REVelation and 21C both fell apart. I had an interview with Terence McKenna accepted for REVelation; and an interview with space migration exponent Marshall Savage edited for 21C. During our break-up and its aftermath I finished a profile of designer Jeffrey Veen. Collectively, the published work was around 40,000-50,000 words with a similar amount of unpublished material.
All writers can suffer from the cognitive bias known as ‘positive illusions’. It’s us versus our emotions, thoughts, and a blank page: being in a (potentially) lonely place. As Gray discovered about Steele, we can carry our in-progress writing around as a projective identification onto others. We enter a liminal, subjective state that can be superimposed on others and the objective world. If not inspirational muses then we may look for initiatory allies and significant others to share in the unfolding creative process, to read our work, and to keep us tethered to the everyday world. At its extremes, a writer can venture deep into their material and may not come out of it. David Foster Wallace spent a decade writing drafts and redrafts of his novel The Pale King before he committed suicide in 2008.
You were disinterested to read what I wrote. Fine, I thought, you don’t know or care who guerrilla ontologist Robert Anton Wilson was, when I interviewed him for REVelation. You were not going to read or do the exercises in Prometheus Rising. But we had common, shared experiences and polarities. At that period of my life, I wanted to share the exploratory promise of self-change with you and others. When the self-change occurred it wasn’t what I wanted or had hoped for: I learned that you can help to create the conditions for change but that personal growth is different for each individual. Eventually, you found a new fiancé: an ‘indie’ musician who was more emotionally direct and expressive with you than my writing was.
In A Lonely Place taught me that creative work and its choices will usually have personal costs. Gray and Steele’s relationship did not survive the rumours and suspicions about Atkinson’s murder. Director Nicholas Ray and actress Gloria Grahame’s marriage fell apart during filming. I have mixed feelings about the creative work from this period: you felt I became absent and did not pay you enough attention. 21C’s print edition had cultural cachet: to be published in my early twenties alongside cultural critics like Greil Marcus and Mark Dery was an honour. It’s one reason why Richard Metzger (now running the popular blog Dangerous Minds) asked me to write for the alternative news site Disinformation in 1998 and how I became its site editor in November 1999 (1998-2003 site archive). But you didn’t stay for this journey. You decided beforehand that pursuing these dreams was not feasible when the publisher cheque never comes, your credit card defaults, the telemarketing stop-gap job becomes too unstable, and the realtor sells out your rental house from underneath you. After some difficult experiences I agreed with Richard Metzger to “Find the Others” (quoting Timothy Leary) in new, emerging internet subcultures.
REVelation, 21C, and Disinformation gave me the opportunity to do deep background research on the countercultural topics of interest in my early-to-mid twenties. I got to work with leading writers, editors, designers, marketers, and publishers. Disinformation made me part of the dotcom era’s internet history and I had to create a public persona to deal with fans’ expectations. The reality was that I sat in rooms for eight years with computers as the site changed and the company evolved. I made new friends and gave lectures at This Is Not Art (TINA) between 1999 and 2004: the youth arts festival we had heard about one afternoon on Triple J radio (as TINA’s precursor, the LOUD Festival). I took our break-up and turned it into my first peer reviewed academic article on the Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile (1999).
Most importantly, I served an ‘apprenticeship’ period — 10,000 hours of deep/deliberate play/practice — to develop expertise. Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson articulated this approach to talent development whilst Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Geoff Colvin‘s Talent Is Overrated, and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code popularised it. REVelation, 21C and Disinformation gave me the opportunity to discover who I was as an emerging writer. TINA enabled me to share these insights with others. I learned about meso-cosmoi; how cultural transmission works; the creative synergies of high performance teams; and the significance that writing can have on your audience. I helped attract an audience for Disinformation’s other book and DVD projects, and promoted the Disinfo.Con 2000 ‘happening’.
Recently, I calculated the content and value I created during this ‘apprenticeship’ period versus the actual income earned. It was a sobering valuation exercise. (Read Valuation, Sources of Value, or Value Maps for more details.) My freelance journalism period occurred mainly from late 1994 to early 1998: 1500 hours on magazine articles ($A750 to $A1750 per article), interviews, and two book proposals. I did two editorial stints for Disinformation (November 1999-August 2002 and April 2003-February 2008) at $US100 per week salary, or $US42,000 in total. Over 8 years, I spent between 6,000 and 8,000 hours on editing the site; writing articles, news items, and a daily newsletter; responding to emails; handling site redesigns; representing the company in interviews; and from 2005, participating in weekly teleconferences. Add several thousand hours for two Masters degrees, and you get Ericcson, Gladwell, and Coyle’s 10,000 hour target to develop expertise. The per-hour salary of $A6.67 for freelance journalism or $US5.25-$US7 for Disinformation was on par with an entry-level administrative or sales job. However, the body of work produced continues to be of interest and value to others.
The downside was a lesson in offshore economics and cost reduction strategies that many white collar jobs will face in the hyper-competitive future. I left money on the table: I could have negotiated better deals; not signed away rights and potential royalty streams; used process redesign to manage time and task; and not have overestimated the length of my publishing career. Some other mistakes: The ‘standard’ magazine contracts controlled reprints, ancillary markets, and new technologies. For Disinformation, my editorial salary was fixed no matter how much content I produced whereas freelance contributors received $US50 per article or dossier. The salary also remained constant over 8 years. As an offshore contractor, I lost money on currency exchange rate fluctuations and inflation; and did not get end-of-year bonuses, salary benefits or superannuation. Disinformation’s successful expansion into book publishing and DVD distribution meant I had a continued salary but I never had an equity share in the company (so I didn’t share in its growth). I failed to translate my internet work into regular contributions to book anthologies, successful book proposals or projects with other publishers. When I became a university researcher on internet futures my bosses became anxious about Disinformation instead of leveraging this relevant industry experience.
For some of Disinformation’s core audience there was always a tension between its countercultural ideals, its marketing image, and its existence as a profit-oriented entertainment company. I got and responded to email flak about this. Today, I have taken the lessons from this period into providing research management advice; a PhD project (2011 proposal); and using event arbitrage, behavioural finance and market microstructure analysis to trade a small Australian equities portfolio. Some disgruntled Disinfonauts view this as a sell-out but it’s more an evolution from this earlier period. I changed who I collaborated with; I set writing limits; I found exemplars in academia (Alastair Iain Johnston, Jack Snyder, Marc Trachtenberg, and Robert Jervis); and investigative journalism (William D. Cohan, Steve Coll, and Lawrence Wright) to carefully study and model. You might have seen the baseball film Moneyball which is really about competitive advantage, negotiation, and valuation. Oakland A’s coach Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) turned a career arc from being a hopeful ‘star’ and then a ‘failed’ baseball player into a second act: mistakes became an invaluable learning resource.
Every day, I try to do the same.
Every year, university research offices compile annual data on research publications for the Australian Government. The Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) exercise includes Australian Government categories for peer reviewed books, book chapters, journal articles, and edited conference papers. There are also recognised non-categories for items like original creative works, expert commentary, and patents. Universities receive research funding from the Australian Government which may be used to fund internal, competitive grant schemes and discretionary funds for individual research accounts. There is usually one to two year’s delay from HERDC data collection to Australian Government funds allocation.
I looked through the HERDC categories whilst beginning to compile my 2012 research publications. One aspect stood out: HERDC appears to have no category — apart from O for Other Publications Category — for internet or online publications. Academics’ work for The Conversation appears to best fit category N for Expert Commentary. HERDC thus focuses on traditional definitions of research publications; it ignores how contemporary scholars actually work; and it overlooks or minimises the internet’s original design goal to share (scholarly) information.
Reformed Broker Josh Brown makes an interesting observation about how money shapes artistic freedom and specifically the freedom to release a creation into the world, on your own terms. Browns’ examples include the late New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger; Renaissance and Medici patronage of artists; and the ‘sellout’ debate about ‘indie’ rock bands.
‘Dabblers’ and non-artists can have a Romantic image of the relationship between artistic creation, money, and freedom. Early career academics talk of an attractive ‘life of the mind’. Journalists talk of a Fourth Estate role in society and the investigative craft. Musicians talk of innovative strategies for new releases. Yet each of these beliefs about freedom also involves financial choices about money. The academic ‘life of the mind’ is often based on institutional incentives, patronage networks, and administrative support. The Fourth Estate and investigative journalism both need funding mechanisms to sustain a ‘quality media’ reputation. The much-touted ‘free’ albums by Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails arose when both artists had fought with their major labels and were label shopping for new contracts. Wilco’s experience in I Am Trying To Break Your Heart is another example of being ‘dropped’ by one major label and using an unreleased album as leverage to create a bidding war with other major labels. U2, Depeche Mode, and New Order now have detailed, archival reissues of their early, influential albums in part because they have strong management, legal and creative teams, and have ‘decision rights’ control of their intellectual property.
Brown is correct that money-awareness is not a Mammon-like ‘sellout’ of artistic integrity. The recent controversy over Amanda Palmer‘s use of ‘crowdsourced’ musicians and whether or not she should pay them is a small-scale incident compared with the business complexities of major labels’ accounting practices, the creation and recognition of ancillary revenue streams, the control of song catalogues, and intellectual property strategy. The latter area will be an important battleground for academics, journalists, musicians, and other so-called cultural creatives. You might start with Intellectual Property Strategy and Essentials of Intellectual Property; consider the Schumpeterian dynamics in Driving Innovation; and understand the corporate and institutional perspectives of Intangible Assets and Harvesting Intangible Assets.