Monday, April 16, 2012

Escalation of Commitment

Barry M. Staw in his 1976 paper, "Knee deep in the big muddy: A study of escalating commitment to a chosen course of action," described a recurrent phenomenon that causes humans to persist in actions in which the outcome is increasingly more costly than anticipated or nonfunctional.  It may be manifested in different ways:

1.  An employer hires a person who does not seem to be working effectively; and rather than cutting his or her losses by terminating the person, continues to give that person time to become productive.  (Can anyone not think of an example?)

2.  A company invests some money in a product, but sales do not live up to what was planned.  (The Edsel)

3.  A nation embarks on an economic policy that doesn't live up to expectations, like the bail-outs of the banks and General Motors.

4.  An army engages in a large-scale strategy that does not result in intended outcomes, but simply in heavy losses, like the French army in World War I (See Richard Watt, None Call It Treason.)

5. A nation initiates a war with another country, thinking it would be small-scale, and finding out that it results in more casualties, loss of material, and money than was expected.  (The Civil War, the Boer War, the Viet Nam War, Russia's war in Afghanistan, etc.)

As a matter of fact, this failure to accomplish the intended may result in more motivation.

There's likely to be several reasons why this pattern persists.  First of all, there's the self-defeating tendency to save face and not admit that it maybe was a bad idea.  This is coupled with the idea that just maybe, if we keep at it, then the result would be good and happy days would be here again.

Some policy reversals may be politically costly, and that influences their not being made.  Just imagine what would happen if a President launched us in a war, got Congress to go along, and then went back to them back and said, "My bad."  Whether he's a Republican or a Democrat doesn't matter; the other party would whack him without mercy or end.

We also have a lot of adages warning us against quitting: "Winners never quit; quitters never win."  These may be part of the problem.

Notice that some of these situations did come out ultimately successful; but at a cost greater than anticipated.  Others were total failures.  Why do the people involved not simply withdraw and accept it as a bad job?  A basic reason is that the piling up of costs or losses, whether human lives, money, or simply time, has the effect of changing the motivational basis from what it had originally been when the decision to do it had been made.  In other words, there is greater pressure towards continuing the course of action than there had originally been at the time of the start of the action!

So what can be done?  There's the high road: simply admit that the policy or practice was not a good idea.  In other words, admit that one was mistaken; that it was an error in judgment.  And accepting the consequences.

This is sometimes called "taking one for the team."

Or you can continue grimly towards the end, hoping that the course will ultimately turn in you favor.  This is more attractive if the costs of the poor choice are noncatastrophic.

Or, you can pussyfoot around, using some ploy to change the emphasis.  For exmple, get people to wear "WIN" buttons to lick inflation, raise a banner, "Mission Accomplished," re-issue the old Coke and style it "Classic Coke," take your clothes off, or launch into sufficient platitudes that people will be so glad that you've finally shut up that they stop caring about the failure.

When in question or in doubt,
Run in circles, scream, and shout;
Give them Hell, and fire a gun,
Hoist the signal up, "Well done."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

No Boogermen

I think several people are getting entirely overboard about things to worry about in the recent political climate.

When I was very young, I was told not to do something or to go off because the boogerman would get me.  [I know some people spell it bogeyman, but I'm spelling it like it is said in the South.  And I think Humphrey Bogart might prefer my version, anyway.]  I'm a bit more worldly wise nowadays enough to recognize that this was adults' ways back then of keeping children out of harm's way in the form of child predators, heavy machinery, fast cars, and other things that are out there without either raising too many pointed questions.  So they scared the crap out of kids.  Oh well . . . .

In my opinion, there is this neat little tendency going on still; but it's directed towards grownups.

So read me in black and white (and red all over):  Whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or some player to be named later is elected President in November, things are not going to go to the dogs.  And the same could have been said about Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, or some of the others who may be talked about in 2012 or 2016.

Likewise, don't worry overly much about Republicans or Democrats or Brand X parties.  People will differ in opinions, and that's okay.  And the same can be said for the Christian Right, the Tea Party, the Occupy people in their various locales, and the holy rollers.   Did I leave anyone out?

Don't get the idea that this hysteria is solely from the right, or the left.  Both play that game.  Practically speaking, a President can only do so much.  Yes, the Presidency is a bully pulpit; but many of us are votaries of Morpheus while sermons are going on.  Congress can pass laws; but they are limited by real life concerns.  The Supremes may overturn some laws now and then as unconstitutional, but that's now and then.  In short, inertia is built into the system: it's hard to turn the direction of government very much.

And that's not a bad thing.  And gridlock is not a bad thing.  Democrats serve as a check to the wretched excesses of the Republican party, and Republicans are good to have around to keep the Democrats from being more stupid than they are inclined to be.  Thank God we are not governed either by Rush Limbaugh or the NYT editors.

Didn't Franklin D. Roosevelt once say that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.  [Okay, you old codgers, stop crossing yourself or genuflecting -- he was not as awful or as great as you were led to believe.]  So smile.  And have a beer.

Doesn't that feel better?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Odd Book Titles

As we meander into the Spring, thoughts of readers naturally trend toward finding something offbeat yet uplifting to read.  Here are some that have in recent years been reckoned as among the oddest book titles.These are real book titles.  No April Fool joke is involved.

Estonian Sock Patterns All Over the World 
A Taxonomy of Office Chairs
Cooking with Poo
The Great Singapore Penis Panic
Mr. Andoh's Pennine Diary: Memoirs of a Japanese Chicken Sexer in 1935 Hebden Bridge
After the Orgy
Archaeology in the American Bottom.
The Anger of Aubergines
Celtic Sex Magic

Better Never to Have Been
Bombproof Your Horse
Living with Crazy Buttocks
Confessions of a Pagan Nun
Coyotes I Have Known
Fabulous Small Jews
God Makes Sex Great!
Fancy Coffins You Can Make Yourself
The History of Concrete
How to Shit in the Woods

Italian Without Words
The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox
The Joy of Chicken
Knitting in the Fast Lane
People Who Don't Know They're Dead
The Book of Marmalade
Rats for Those Who Care
Reading Toes
Reusing Old Graves
The Sexual Politics of Meat

Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan
Teabag Folding
The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories
Bacon: A Love Story
I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears
Is the Rectum a Grave?
The Quotable Douchebag
A Tortilla Is Like Life
Schoolgirl Milky Crisis
Mickey Mouse, Hitler, and Nazi Germany

Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter
A Century of Sand Dredging in the Bristol Channel
Scouts in Bondage
The Making of a Moron
How to Make Love While Conscious

Underwater Acoustics Handbook 

Superfluous Hair and Its Removal 
The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes
How to Be a Pope: What to Do and Where to Go Once You're in the Vatican

Lightweight Sandwich Construction