Why are we being examined on this?

By Gordon Rugg

It’s a fair question, if it’s being asked as a question, rather than as a complaint about the cosmic unfairness of having to study a topic that you don’t see the point of. Sometimes, it’s easy to answer. For instance, if someone wants to be a doctor, then checking their knowledge of medicine is a pretty good idea.

Other times, though, the answer takes you into deep waters that you’d really rather not get into, especially if there’s a chance of some student recording your answer and posting it onto social media…

Why do some answers take you into deep waters? That’s the topic of this article. It takes us into history, politics, proxies, and the glass bead game.

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Beyond the 80:20 Principle

By Gordon Rugg, Jennifer Skillen & Colin Rigby

There’s a widely used concept called the 80:20 Principle, or the Pareto Principle, named after the decision theorist who invented it. It’s extremely useful.

In brief, across a wide range of fields, about 80% of one thing will usually come from 20% of another.

In business, for example, 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your customers. In any sector, getting the first 80% of the job done will usually take about 20% of the resources involved; getting the last 20% of the job done will usually be much harder, and will take up 80% of the resources. The figure won’t always be exactly 80%, but it’s usually in that area. Good managers are very well aware of this issue, and keep a wary eye out for it when planning.

Here’s a diagram showing the principle. It’s pretty simple, but very powerful. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. It can actually be developed into something richer and more powerful, which is what we’ll describe in this article.

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Truthiness, scienciness, and product success

By Gordon Rugg

This is a Tempest Prognosticator.

800px-Tempest_Prognosticator“Tempest Prognosticator” by Badobadop – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tempest_Prognosticator.jpg#/media/File:Tempest_Prognosticator.jpg

It’s a splendid example of nineteenth century ingenuity, right down to the name. What does it do? It’s intended to let you know if a storm is approaching. The way it does this is as wonderfully nineteenth century as the name. The Prognosticator is operated by twelve leeches, each of which lives in a bottle. When storms are approaching, the leeches become agitated, and climb out of the bottle. When they climb out, they disturb a piece of whalebone, which activates a bell. The more serious the risk of storm, the more leeches climb out, and the more bells ring.

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Death, Tarot, Rorschach, scripts, and why economies crash

By Gordon Rugg

The best examples of powerful principles often come from unexpected places.

Today’s article is one of those cases. It’s about why it often makes excellent sense to use a particular method, even when you’re fully aware that the method doesn’t work as advertised on the box, or doesn’t work at all.

It’s a story that starts with one of the most widely misunderstood cards in the Tarot pack. The story also features some old friends, in the form of game theory, pattern matching and script theory. It ends, I hope, with a richer understanding of why human behaviour often makes much more sense when you look at the deep underlying regularities, rather than at the surface appearances.

So, we’ll start with Tarot cards. A surprisingly high proportion of people who use Tarot packs will cheerfully tell you that the cards have no mystical powers. Why would anyone use Tarot cards if they don’t have those powers? There are actually some very good reasons.

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People in architectural drawings, part 2; the mathematics of desire

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the second in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life.

The obvious approach doesn’t work very well. If you just ask people what they want, you tend to get either no answer, because people don’t know, or to get low-aspiration responses, for various reasons that are well known in requirements acquisition research.

If, however, you instead show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically.

This series is about showing people a range of possibilities via images of buildings, which are intimately linked with a lot of other lifestyle choices.

In the first article, I looked at artistic representations of future and fantasy buildings, to see what trends emerged there, and what they could tell us about people’s desires. One trend that emerged strongly was for those buildings to be awe-inspiring, with lofty towers and huge portals.

This, however, raises one of those issues which are so familiar that we seldom think about them. Why are lofty towers and huge portals awe-inspiring in the first place, given that they can be wildly impractical?

Part of the explanation involves human cognitive biases and human preferences, which are the subject of this article.

In this article, I’ll look at those topics, and look at their implications for competition and change, with particular reference to concepts and literatures that give deeper insights into what’s going on.

From humility to hubris: Doors and desiresdoors2

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Things people think

By Gordon Rugg

There’s a wryly humorous summary of models of humanity that floats around in academia. It appears in various forms; the one below has an astute punch line that highlights the amount of implicit assumption in the early models.

Models of humankind:

  • Man the fallen creation (the Bible)
  • Man the thinker (the Enlightenment)
  • Heroic man (Nietzsche)
  • Economic man (Marx)
  • Man the rat (Skinner)
  • Man the woman (feminism)

It’s humorous, but it cuts to the heart of the matter. The models that shape our lives – political models, religious models, economic models – are based on underlying assumptions about how people think and what people want. As is often the case with models, these assumptions are often demonstrably wrong.

In this article, I’ll examine some common assumptions, and I’ll discuss some other ways of thinking about what people are really like.

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Images from Wikipedia and Wikimedia; details at the end of this article

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Game theory

By Gordon Rugg

I’m interested in game theory for various reasons. One reason is that it makes sense of a wide range of phenomena which otherwise look baffling.

Another is that it can be combined with approaches such as Transactional Analysis and script theory, to provide systematic and rigorous analyses of how individual people view the world, and what the likely outcomes will be when those views collide with other people’s views, or with the things that life throws at us.

It’s a powerful technique, and it often produces unexpected and counter-intuitive results.

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