Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Double or Nothing

This is the year you are going to really study. No more Super Mario Brothers or in class. Goodbye Facebook, Twitter and fantasy football. The weekend shrinks back down to two days, maybe one. It's all going to be different this year, and your grade point average is finally going to show your true potential.

Wanna bet?

Ultrinsic will take that action. This new company, in its beta phase, invites college students to bet that they will beat their statistically predicted grade in a particular course. A student who wants to bet provides information about how he's done in college so far, available data regarding applicable grading curves for various departments, professors, and courses. Ultrinsic runs the data through a formula that predicts how he'll do in a particular course and offers a wager that the student can't beat it. If the student beats the predicted grade, Ultrinsic pays off according to the predicted handicap. If the student doesn't, he pays. The house makes money the old fashioned way, the predictive formula stacks the odds for the house. It wins more than it loses.

During the pilot last year, 600 or so students at NYU and Penn took the bet. This year, Ultrinsic plans to expand to 34 campuses.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to Get to the Corner Office

Randy Schrum speaks his mind about social media on MyCorporateMedia. He's a CEO who wants to confess, really explain how blogging, twittering and status updating plays out in the corner office, the boardroom and in the market.

The essence of social media activity is social-- and that's the problem. He says:

"The premise and value of the "social media" movement is the power of the collective in the production, distribution, and ownership of goods, and the reasons executives resist this model is that it flies in the face of their existing worldview which, quite frankly, has been pretty successful to date. . . . Most of us have a pretty big chip on our shoulders, attributing our career success to the years of diligence, education, ambition, delayed gratification and sacrifices we've made to reach the leadership levels we've achieved. Therefore, the anti-capitalistic notion that my work and contributions would be homogenized with the uninspired masses, and that ultimately my value would be determined by the randomness of the collective is a jarring and unplatable departure."

Schrum offers an interesting insight into the psyche of executives. The term "executive" isn't so much a title as a mindset that manifests in childhood. People with executive tendencies spent high school taking AP classes, and working a couple of part time jobs. They spend their college years running student organizations, doing internships and taking an overload of classes to finish early. Executives are compulsive high achievers but they tend to shrink from public recognition of their achievements. Schrum notes that "executives are non-narcissistic in a You-Tube world." "In a society that brags, blogs and Tweets about the tiniest personal minutia, [executives] couldn't care less because, frankly we expect success. . . . It's like Vince Lombardi's admonition to his running back after an overly exuberant display. "Next time you make a touchdown, act like you've been there before."

Executives hate social networking because they hate "networking." They dread the roomful of strangers, the awkward chit chat, never enough food. Executives are introverts who value their privacy and consider the ROI (return on investment) for each moment of time.

Schrum's rant puts a name to a reaction I've observed in myself. I'm not so sure that social networking is or can be a business tool, or that the act of sharing half-baked ideas should substitute for the hard and lonely work of baking them.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Oh, Puleeeeze

The eye roll is in peril as a form of political speech. In Elmhurst, Illinois, the eye roll may be criminal disorderly conduct. The City Council Chairman ejected a citizen who dared to show her disgust with committee proceedings with a roll/sigh combo. Backpeddling after some backlash, the Chair has sent the City Attorney to the library to do a memo on what exactly constitutes criminal disorderly conduct in Elmhurst. (This is my nominee for worst legal research assignment of the summer-- What's yours?)

The Chicago Tribue editors have this to say:

"Where do you draw that line? (Eyes uplifted, palms outstretched, as if beseeching the heavens.) Menacing others, throwing objects and setting fire to the dais are clearly out of line. But is it disorderly to yawn, fidget, smirk or scowl? To circle an ear with an index finger to signify "cuckoo"? To feign a self-induced upchuck, as we're doing now?

Funny thing about public meetings: They tend to expose disparate viewpoints, especially if the discussion is about something like whether it's a smart idea for one government body to spend taxpayer dollars to lobby another government body for more taxpayer dollars. (Ahem.) Reasonable people can disagree, and before you know it, they're raising their voices and (eyes wide in mock horror) making faces.

Our advice to public servants who think citizen discourse is somehow disrespectful to the democratic process: Get over yourselves. Your job is to heed those opinions, like them or not. If a pair of arched eyebrows can bring the legislative process to a halt, then it's time to throw out the aldermen, not the citizens. And we say that with a completely straight face."

Bundles of Joy

If you've ever wondered whether practicing law is more interesting and fulfilling than driving kids to the orthodontist, take a look at Moms Who Won't Quit on The Careerist.

My kids asked me once why I wasn't a "real mom." I answered that if I stayed home all day, I'd vacuum holes in the rugs, alphabetize all their books, and stack their toys by color and size. I kept my day job and we all got by.