Insights of the week – 40th week of 2020

Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, author of the book “Emotional Intelligence”, divides Emotional Intelligence into twelve elements, grouped into 4 categories – emotional awareness, self awareness, emotional control, and relationship management. This breakdown is useful for analysing areas where someone can improve, and reveals possible areas of oversight. Just because someone is emotionally intelligent in some areas, doesn’t mean that they don’t have areas that they can work on.

I, for example, would rate myself highly on conflict management and emotional self control, but I know that I have some work to do in social awareness. Someone else could be incredibly empathetic and have excellent self-management, but may not have the relationship management skills needed to advance in an organisation. The HBR article suggests that just reading the list can help someone understand what they need to work on, and that all of these skills are needed to perform well at high levels.

HBR, 2020

Hi all, hope your week has started well. If you are only here for business and psychology, skip now to How Opportunists (not the Good Kind) get Promoted, and then to the end. Up next for everyone else is a summary of a couple of articles on online tracking and “social cooling”, a cynical take on how to get promoted at work, and a quick summary of how your phone makes you stupid. If you leave the article now, remember to like the article on LinkedIn, it helps to get my articles to more people each week. Thanks, Callum

The Ubiquity of Tracking and its Effect

You are being followed across the web. Everywhere you go, almost everything you click on. You might think that Google stops knowing what you do when you click on something and leave the search engine, on many websites they continue to track you after that. Facebook and Oracle also track you. These large companies then sell your data on to other advertisers.

Often I think “my data isn’t all that valuable, why should I worry?” But this isn’t about people like me, this is about people who want to be able to search the internet for information without repercussions. Advertisers track users of websites like SPART*A who provide information to people in the military about being trans, people who wouldn’t necessarily like it to be publicly known that they are accessing these websites.

The issue in focus in this article highlights that website owners often don’t know who is tracking their users. Just installing a “share to Facebook” button means that Facebook can track the website users, process their actions, and use that information to target ads.

So what if we are tracked across websites? Enter social cooling. This article explains how, just like oil causes global warming, big data causes social cooling – the change in behavior caused by the fact we know that big data is watching us. Online activity is turned into digital scores, has effects on many areas of our lives. There are companies that use social media data to approve loans, Cambridge Analytica used social media data to target ads at people who could be convinced not to vote, health insurance companies are using social media data to change your premiums, and women are less likely to be shown ads for high paying jobs on Google.

People change their behaviour, which leads to a culture of increased conformity, a culture of risk aversion, and possibly social rigidity. The internet is not the free place it once was, where you were able to find any information for free. Now finding the information comes at the cost of letting all advertisers know that you are interested in that information. The only place you can find information without it affecting the algorithms is an incognito window or the library.

How Opportunists (not the Good Kind) get Promoted

The Peter principle states that people get promoted to the level of their incompetence. Someone does good work and gets promoted, and this loop continues until they aren’t good at at their new job so they stop getting promoted. But this article has a different take.

Good companies attract opportunists. Opportunists are people who see that they can reap the benefits of a good company without putting in the work. Opportunists try to climb the ladder. To climb the ladder they need to do more than just their job (if you are too good at your job you might be too good, but unlikely). The author of this article suggests a couple of ways opportunists can work towards promotion. First, describe any failure as a matter of degree – “the codebase is such a mess this team can’t ship anything until we spend three months refactoring” becomes “we need to work toward paying off the technical debt”. Next, grow your team faster than the rest of the company, and make it look well managed. Finally, go through the OKR and KPIs with energy, knowing they are just performative. Box ticking needs to be done and done energetically. But importantly, don’t have any acute failures.

One of the reasons this works is because of lag metrics. Lag metrics measure things that have already been done, like looking at light from a star. Opportunists aim to get promoted before the metrics arrive to bite them in the arse. One way to counter this that you can apply in your life is by trying to use lead metrics, which measure inputs rather than outputs. (This article is very useful when it comes to understanding lead vs lag metrics.)

Your Phone makes you Stupid

The presence of your phone in a room takes away cognitive capability. A study from 2017 got participants to put their phones somewhere visible (e.g. on the table), somewhere not visible but close (e.g. in their pocket), or in a different room, and then measured their working memory and problem solving ability. Those with their phones closest to them had reductions on both these measures, and the authors found that this effect was moderated by how dependent the participant was on their phone. So when you are working, at home or at the office, put your phone away. It might just make you smarter.

Gustave Caillebotte – Paris Street; Rainy Day

Long Reads

Two long reads. Jeff Bezos is being blackmailed. A mouse was found on a volcano.

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s update, remember to like it on Linkedin for me, it helps to spread the article to more people, and helps the algorithm to show it to you next week.

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