Bye Bye Truckers

the replacement of truckers is inevitable. It is not a matter of “if”, it’s only a matter of “when.” So the question then becomes, how long until millions of truckers are freshly unemployed and what happens to them and all the rest of us as a result?…

According to the American Trucker Association, there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US, and an additional 5.2 million people employed within the truck-driving industry who don’t drive the trucks. That’s 8.2 million trucking-related jobs.

We can’t stop there though, because the incomes received by these 8.2 million people create the jobs of others. Those 3.5 million truck drivers driving all over the country stop regularly to eat, drink, rest, and sleep. Entire businesses have been built around serving their wants and needs. Think restaurants and motels as just two examples.

More here.

I read this and think a few things:
1. Wow, stuff delivered by truck is about to get a WHOLE lot cheaper.
2. Rail is going to take a beating. Berkshire’s investment in rail looks bad.
3. Commercial auto insurers will be the first to suffer the coming Armageddon of auto insurance that many of my clients worry about. I’ll have more on this eventually.
4. What about roadside service centers that are so crucial for road trips?
5. I wonder, on the theme of the article but in a slightly different spirit, what the economy is going to do with all those people. Time to read more Tyler Cowen.

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Hamming on Leadership

Hamming sees leadership as command and control, a simplistic view I disagree with. My thinking on leadership is much more heavily influenced by Dan Rockwell who emphasizes leadership as service. In that frame the led do the work; the leader enables them do amazing things. Here’s Hamming:

A man was examining the construction of a cathedral. He asked a stone mason what he was doing chipping the stones, and the mason replied, “I am making stones”. He asked a stone carver what he was doing, “I am carving a gargoyle”. And so it went, each person said in detail what they were doing. Finally he came to an old woman who was sweeping the ground. She said, “I am helping build a cathedral”.

And another quote about the same cathedral:

You may claim in both cases the larger aim was so well understood there was no need to mention it, but I doubt you really believe it. Most of the time each person is immersed in the details of one special part of the whole and does not think of how what they are doing relates to the larger picture. It is characteristic of most people they keep a myopic view of their work and seldom, if ever, connect it with the larger aims they will admit, when pressed hard, are the true goals of the system. This myopic view is the chief characteristic of a bureaucrat. To rise to the top you should have the larger view—at least when you get there.

Someone needs to guide our hands. That’s the leader. Here’s my three-part definition of leadership:

  1. Vision: what should I do next?
  2. Mediation: I want this and she wants that. Can’t do both. Both are important. What’s the compromise? Could also call this politics.
  3. Coaching: how do I get better?

One more observation: cleansed of human interaction, my definition of a leader is a lot like Hamming’s Systems Engineer:

Systems engineering is the attempt to keep at all times the larger goals in mind and to translate local actions into global results. But there is no single larger picture. For example, when I first had a computer under my complete control I thought the goal was to get the maximum number of arithmetic operations done by the machine each day. It took only a little while before I grasped the idea it was the amount of important computing,not the raw volume, that mattered. Later I realized it was not the computing for the Mathematics department, where I was located, but the computing for the research division which was important. Indeed, I soon realized to get the most value out of the new machines it would be necessary to get the scientists themselves to use the machine directly so they would come to understand the possibilities computers offered for their work and thus produce less actual number crunching, but presumably more of the computing done would be valuable to Bell Telephone Laboratories. Still later I saw I should pay attention to all the needs of the Laboratories, and not just the Research Department. Then there was AT&T, and outside AT&T the Country, the scientific and engineering communities, and indeed the whole world to be considered. Thus I had obligations to myself, to the department, to the division, to the company, to the parent company, to the country, to the world of scientists and engineers, and to everyone. There was no sharp boundary I could draw and simply ignore everything outside.

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A Rule Of Life

If someone offers you gum or a mint or any other breath freshener, take it.

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Those who like to learn, teach

Ho and Isaac Chuang, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and senior associate dean of digital learning at MIT, led a group effort that delved into the demographics of MOOC learners, analyzed participant intent, and looked at patterns that “serial MOOCers,” or those taking more than one course, tend to pursue.
“What jumped out for me was the survey that revealed that in some cases as many as 39 percent of our learners are teachers,” Chuang says. “This finding forces us to broaden our conceptions of who MOOCs serve and how they might make a difference in improving learning.”

More here via MR. Would it surprise you if you learned NBA players watched lots of basketball or directors watched lots of movies?

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Who is Smarter?

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Hariri argues that foragers need more intelligence than farmers. Foragers need to know much more about their environment, including information about many varieties of plants. Farmers just need to know a routine for raising a staple crop.

One can argue that ordinary workers in the early stages of the industrial revolution did not need to know much, either. More recently, the skill demands of jobs have gone up, so that we may be reverting to forager-level intelligence.

That is Arnold Kling.

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Be a Vampire

Your job, I often tell the junior people under my watch, is to make everyone above you more productive. Sometimes I call it a pyramid and that everyone’s job is to push everyone else up the pyramid to higher value activities. Right up to the top where the job is to identify and focus the organization on the problems of the world.

OK that’s one principle. Next one: waste. Wasting higher value resources is much more costly than lower ones. So to the extent that it can, an organization will concentrate the waste on lower value resources rather than higher ones.

So to lower level employees, who generate much more waste, work can look insane. Why do we waste so much time?

I often delegate tasks to others and when they’re done tell them to wait until I have the time to review it. Sometimes I totally forget and they sit idle for a while. Then when I get around to it I realize that I actually want something a bit different and make the redo everything. And they get pissed off a bit with me. And feel like they’re wasting their time.

I suppose that’s true but the waste would be much greater if I had been forced to walk down that blind alley. Likewise between me and my boss. So in a sense, organizational hierarchy makes Vampires out of its managers, sucking the life out of subordinates.

And I’m here to say that’s a good thing. The alternative isn’t no waste. The alternative is worse waste.

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Well, Google went and did it

Google has built its insurance aggregator.

Insurance aggregators are no new idea, yet many note that Google has carved out an excellent business in the airline aggregator business and expect them to do the same here.

Sure, probably. But I’d say Google’s business model is half of what it should be. The real quirk in the insurance business isn’t that it’s hard to find the best price for your auto insurance. It’s that staying at the best price requires switching fairly frequently and that is costly. Good risks don’t think too hard about their insurance too often and that lets insurers crank up the prices slowly. All insurers make their money on renewal business, not on new business.

If Google wanted to really shake things up they would build an aggregator that would notify you immediately as soon as another good deal comes up at your renewal. Increasing churn would hurt the giant auto insurers and benefit consumers.  Until insurers react, anyway.

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