Monthly Archives: December 2015

Behavioral dynamics

A blog entry for the University of Pittsburgh business school caught my eye. Mr. Choi points out the benefits of trust over incentives when managing employees. He gives an example of how offering a benefit upfront (a signing bonus) creates trust as long as the employee thinks goodwill, not scarcity, motivates the offer.

Similarly, in interrogation, when incentives are used to generate trust, if the gestures are perceived as genuine goodwill, the suspect tends to open up. Often, it was successful for me to state the unvarnished truth, offer an incentive, then leave: “We are here to help this country become a democracy. We’re not perfect. We make mistakes. But I guarantee that you will be treated humanely in my care. When you’re ready to talk, call for the guard and ask for Mr. Marcus. I am the person who can get you out of this prison.” There’s no point in burying your offer in a series of arguments or a long discussion. The approach works best if the last thing imprinted on the suspect’s mind is the incentive.

Bad managers spend lavishly on incentives and get few gains. Likewise, weak interrogators waste time trying to find the “right approach”, offering multiple incentives over hours of questioning. It’s better just to ask the suspect what he wants directly. Then say, “How do we do this together?” Then offer the incentive and allow time to let it sink in.


Crafting Incentive Systems That Actually Work

Control is a central theme of accounting. It’s no coincidence that in many companies the head accountant is called the controller. Companies use both formal and informal controls to motivate employees. Formal controls include the carrot (performance incentives) and the stick (audits), and provide explicit incentives to encourage employees to exert effort and to refrain from engaging in opportunistic activities.


Thoughts on privacy, authoritarianism, democracy

We guard our intimate conversations not because we feel shame, but because our ideas and problems, joys and sorrows, are uniquely our own; we work them out with trusted allies — friends and family, those whom we trust not to cause us harm.

In authoritarian states, this intimacy is violated by secret police and security services.

Like most Americans, I’d be the first to lead an opposition force if such violations were policy in the United States. Thankfully, our democratic system gives us the ability to investigate and reject state overreach; no such check is available under authoritarian regimes.

In light of this subject, a trailer for a new documentary exposing life in North Korea under totalitarian dictator Kim Jong-un is linked below. An article in the Guardian here describes controversy surrounding the film.

— Marcus

Forced confessions in China, a few thoughts on leadership

The following line resonates from the report linked below:

“Legal experts say the Chinese police are under great pressure to solve capital crimes, and that pressure can contribute to wrongful convictions, often through forced confessions in cases where there is little or no other evidence of guilt.”

A few thoughts: Pressure is a necessary component of effective leadership: Demanding leaders — Steve Jobs, George Patton, for example — get results. But pressure to get a job done at all costs creates counterproductive and unintended consequences. A decade ago our leaders pressured elite agencies to “get tough” with terrorists. The clandestine torture program that resulted ended up undermining the original effort when evidence of abuse became public. Separately, leaders who pressure subordinates to provide strong numerical data as evidence of results, as was the case in the Vietnam War, also court disaster. Pressure needs to come with high conduct standards and open doors to accountability; results should be considered in light of big picture outcomes, not only numbers, or short-term, visceral gains.

— Marcus

Drawings of Police Torture Seize China’s Attention

BEIJING – The hand-drawn images are bizarre and disturbing. One shows a man locked in a cage while a police officer pours boiling water on his head. Another shows him suspended from the ceiling by handcuffs as an officer jabs his side with an electric baton.