November 2007

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November 11, 2007 O #


It's convenient returning for the designated week for LFM recruiting, and not having to do any interviewing. Most the other sponsored students stayed at their internships. Now, having spent the week back during recruiting, I would highly recommend that future sponsored students return for the week. Seeing everyone is fun, but I found a lot more value than I anticipated in discussing plans other people have, and getting a feel for expectations that other companies have for returning LFM's. I'm contracted to Northrop Grumman, and I've already begun sorting out details for my reentry plan, but the time to reflect on opportunities and expectations was highly valuable.

Favorite Interview Commentary:

"Alright, so I'm not going to find my ideal job, where I can run around in nice suites and look really pretty, and that be my major contribution to the company. I thought consulting was going to be it, but I'm not sure that's going to work out."

"I was interested in production management, but I interviewed with the Finance president. He asked about my opinion on methods of corporate budgeting, and instead of telling him I had no idea what he was asking, I did the stupidest thing... I started talking!"

(Day trip to NYC for a Pakistan Visa)

I love aesthetically designed buildings.

On the engineering side of campus...

"So, do you want to see the strongest material on earth?"

That makes for a good laugh coming from any material scientist, but it's even cooler when the guy is serious! There's another team in another country which might actually be ahead of them, but they're on a similar track.

This weekend has also been the SEDS SpaceVision 2007 National Conference. It's been good to see several of my space friends who I haven't seen since leaving Los Angeles. I finally read The Alchemist, after too many people recommending it over too many years. Great read. Short and sweet. It's fitting how much that book chronicles the nature of the paths of some of my space friends. One went from the X Prize, the pinnacle of anti-government-bureaucracy, and is now working for the FAA, the literal embodiment of government bureaucracy. It's a concrete representation that if you want to be involved in Space, or any objective for that matter, you can find a way to be involved so long as you keep working at it. Your path may be entirely unpredictable from your present position, but you can keep it moving forward, so long as you stay with it.

But on the less random aspect of life-stories, there were many people who eventually got involved in this conference, but it cannot be underestimated how much influence the MIT chapter president of SEDS had on making this happen. Ryan McLinko, an undergrad, soft spoken, and short and thin, has been an amazing driving force bringing this all together. Judging by his appearance and demeanor, it would be easy to underestimate his capacity for productivity. He leads and delivers results. I admire people like him.

November 12, 2007 M#

Peanut Butter

It's official. I've tried every kind of peanut butter sold in England, and none of it is good. I take that back. It's good, but not nearly as smooth and tasty as the multitude of brands available in the States. Something so simple, but such an essential staple of a diet.

November 18, 2007 O #

Snobbery and Academic Research

I've been doing some research for my thesis, and I ran across a pretty cool blog: CuriousCat Blog . It's pretty diverse, and the guy writes on many management topics in short concise insights like Don't Empower employees and Stop De-motivating employees.

While surfing the web for this research, it's been interesting to see the way snobbery works. I consider myself to be pretty egalitarian, recognizing that intelligent people walk all sorts of paths through life. Credentials (such as MIT, Harvard, etc) are as much a result of circumstance as they are of talent and persistence. Still, I found myself asking "Can I cite a paper from Kentucky University in my thesis?"

This snobbery reflex isn't totally unwarranted. Reasonable academic rigor requires I reference sources more accredited than the Curious Cat Blog. That's not because his insight is any less interesting, but insight is different than formally validated research. The purpose of academic research isn't to prove you're right, but to objectively evaluate theories on a comprehensive scale.

For example, one of my process implementations with Schlumberger identified an error saving us $14M in lost sales. That's great for business, but it doesn't necessarily validate Lean as a complete theory. I'm having trouble quantifying the rest of my implimentations in actual $dollars(where it actually matters).That's why I went to the web, looking for ideas... and those ideas can come from a practitioner like Curious Cat Blog.

In the world of economics, Keynes introduced insight that influenced a whole generation of academics and U.S. government, leading to the big spending government technocracy growing through the 60's and 70's. Eventually, Friedman countered that insight, bringing academia back to the Free Market (with government grudgingly following). All throughout the era when Keynes held sway, academics were researching to validate his theory. Eventually (over decades), economists found the Keynesian multiplier didn't hold up to it's promise in practice, while those researching Friedman's theories consistently turned up analysis more consistent between theory and reality. People with Friedman's theory always existed, but it took formalized rigorous research to validate the theory, and discredit Keynes.

Lean appears to be in a similar state of study. Just as Economics can't be studied in a lab like chemistry, so is the study of Business Management. In business, you do what it takes to survive, and try to make sense of it along the way. In academic research, it is more importan that you properly follow the objective process of research. So, while snobbery is an impediment in business, it is necessary in the role academic research plays in our society.

It really will be intersting as the web-connected world continues to play out, and we watch the effect it has on the traditional hierarchy of credibility. While web sites by experts have proliferated over the last decade, it doesn't seem that the traditional houses of credebility have been threatened. On the contrary, the web seems to serve as a watch dog for traditional institutions, scrutinizing the integrity and bias of the institutions and their professors. At the same time, the web gives new organizations with perceived credibility, such as the IPCC, strong momentary sway on public opinion. Time will tell if this organization can withstand scrutiny. As with all insittutions throughout history, those who best use the new conditions in both the short and long term will survive.

Coincidentally, the most readily accessible university papers I've found through Google have been published at MIT (probably because they're most frequently referenced). Other universites showed me an abstract, but wanted a fee for the paper. The most frequent Google finds were research sites who wanted a fee for papers. MIT seems to be adapting to this web based world, where credibility is built by integrity, but also ease of access. To thrive, you have to be a snob, but a snob who shares with the masses.

This is a personal web page. Things expressed here do not represent the position of my employer.

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