Posts Tagged ‘what does this have to do w/ org theory?

au contraire, mon frère

À propos of nothing whatsoever to do with orgtheory, herewith my observations after living four years in France on how Americans and the French end up doing exactly the opposite in many situations in order to arrive at the same destination.

Featured image1. In the US one stands on the side of the road and watch a parade go by. In France, everyone walks with the parade.

2. In the US, we use our hands to eat pizza, but it is considered bad manners to put bread on a bare table without a plate. In France, they eat pizza with a knife and fork, yet bread lives free as a bird wherever it may land on the table… but generally never on a plate.

3. In the US, some nice young kid with acne will come and bag your groceries or else the cashier will helpfully open a bag and place items in as they are scanned. In France, some bored looking middle-aged worker will throw your groceries at you and then demand after all of them are scanned whether you want a bag. But at least the people in line behind you don’t ask you about what you are buying.

4. In the US, all of the police have loaded sidearms and use their guns far too often to keep the peace. But one rarely if ever sees the military on the street. In France, there are roving groups of military men who brandish AK-47s openly in areas with lots of people. It’s pretty intimidating until you realize that those guns aren’t actually loaded.

5. In the US there are 10 deaths from guns per 100,000 people including suicides. In France there are 3. Overall, 5.5 Americans of every 100,000 will be murdered. In France the likelihood is 1 in 100,000.

6. In the US we leave the bathroom door open after doing our business to dissipate the evidence for the next person who arrives. In France, they keep it closed to keep the rest of the house from experiencing unwanted odors.

7. In France, sixteen people are killed in a terrorist attack and 2 million people took to the streets in protest. In the US, 152 people have been killed in attacks where at least four people were killed in the first ten months of 2015 and there has been a lot of discussion about it on TV.

8. In France, they buy bread every day from someone down the street who made it by hand that morning. But they buy milk once a month and let it sit out un-refrigerated until it is opened. In the US, we buy milk every other day and let our bread sit in its bag until it starts to turn green.

9. In the US, we smile at people on the street but would never presume to kiss someone you have just met. In France, it is considered fake to smile at someone you don’t know, but you are expected to deliver a peck on each cheek when being introduced to a woman for the first time.

10. The French think American women’s voices are comically high, too loud and pinched. They fail to realize that many of them constrict their throats when they speak in a way that makes them sound to Americans like they are auditioning to replace Jim Henson as the voice of Kermit the Frog.

11. The French observe the posted speed limit on their highways and find it odd that Americans routinely ask “how fast can I actually go?” Also, there is no advertising on the highways. At all. That part is pleasant. But the inability to imagine that you are in a struggle against that guy in the SUV you’ve been trading places with for the last 20 miles makes long-distance driving a bit less lively.

12. The food at rest-stops in France is, as you would expect, pretty darn good. But their idea of bar food is two pieces of bread with butter and a single very thin slice of ham.

13. If you attempt to order coffee before a meal in France the waiter will probably just ignore you and bring it afterwards. Because that’s just how it is.

14. In France, race (mostly Arab vs. European) informs just about everything that happens. But it is never discussed or acknowledged in the hope that eventually everyone will just blend together into a happy whole. In the US, we can’t seem to shut up about how race continues to divide us. But I didn’t appreciate just how important black culture is to mainstream American culture until I spent a few weeks being exposed to French radio. The US is a far more integrated society in some ways than we give ourselves credit for.

15. In New York or Chicago, one swoops in and scoops up dog poop the second it plops out for fear of creating a brown slip-and-slide for others who may follow. In Paris, picking up dog poop is about as acceptable as pissing in public. One moves the dog to the curb and lets the street cleaners get it.

16. The French used to get upset about the intrusion of English into their culture. But now that they feel like they are being overwhelmed by immigration from Arab countries, they are suddenly far more sanguine about cozying up to their English speaking brothers.  In the US, there is no official language.  But lord help you if you are a presidential candidate who dares admit to speaking French.

17. In the US, freedom of religion means that the government cannot influence your religious beliefs. In France, the idea of laicity roughly translates to “leave me the hell alone”.  It ensures one’s freedom from being influenced by other people practicing their religion.

18. French philosophy is about the hidden or buried meanings that lay behind the reality that we experience. American philosophy is about building new realities that are better than the one we experience.

19. In France, anyone with a high school education will have a pretty interesting take on philosophy and will leap into it over a (bitter, small) cup of coffee. An American talking about philosophy is either a latté-sipping student at the University of Chicago, Brown, Oberlin… or else is probably a future Unabomber.

20. Or both.

21.  The French (all Europeans actually) love to point out that Americans ask “how are you doing?” but don’t expect a response more complicated than “I’m good.”  In France one often hears “je vous enprie” as a form of “thank you”. It translates roughly to “I’m in your service,” yet I have yet to see anyone say this while bowing their heads and offering their wrists in submission.

22.  It is only in exactly three neighborhoods in Paris that people actually wear black all the time and dress like they are on a perpetual catwalk. In other parts of France, its considered cool for guys to wear three-quarter length pants, neon sneakers and enough gold around the neck to make Mr. T jealous. They make the Jersey Shore look like Milan.

22. In the US, we fill the wine glass all the way up (a) as a show of generosity and (b) to maximize the time needed between interruptive re-pours. In France, they fill the wine glass only to its widest point because (a) it smells best that way and (b) it ensures many opportunities to fill everyone else’s glass as a show of friendship.

23. The US loves lists. In France, they prefer paragraphs.

Written by seansafford

October 20, 2015 at 2:16 pm

chill out with icebreakers

For many of us, our first day of classes and the arrivals of guest speakers have meant initiating “icebreaker” activities to get students connected with one another and the faculty.  Until a few months ago, I didn’t think about where the term icebreaker originated.  In fact, I had always assumed it was something to do with making cocktails with ice – i.e., shaken, not stirred.

Some of us (meaning, yours truly) know better now, especially with an ill-fated recent attempt to recreate the Mawson expedition to the Antartic.

A US Coast Guard ice-breaker making its way to the North Pole in time-lapse images:

A Russian nuclear-powered ice-breaker en route to the North Pole:

More icebreaker action in Antartica with penguins, courtesy of Stanford and NSF:

Written by katherinechen

March 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm

can bureaucracies change?

Two years ago a Washington, DC woman was arrested and charged with murdering her four daughters, ages 5 to 16. Their bodies had been decomposing in the home for about four months and may have done so for longer if deputy federal marshals had not arrived to serve the family with an eviction notice. I could go on about the ironies of a system that seems to remember the existence of vulnerable children only when the time comes to take away some benefit as opposed to when they should have been receiving services but that would be a purely political and emotional argument. The point here is to remind us all that not all bureaucracies are created equally. Specifically, some are much more mired in routinization and extreme divisions of labor than others.

Across the country, local and state agencies responsible for the well-being of children and families have been under scrutiny, generally as a result of the tragic loss of a child or children in a home that was under the supervision of these households but somehow slips through the administrative cracks. The tragedy is then not simply due to the often horrific nature in which these children die but also because of a sense that their deaths could have been prevented IF ONLY these agencies were fulfilling their roles. After the public outrage comes the creation of a task force to investigate these agencies, the public firings of a few officials, and the report that points to a lack of coordination among the various governmental agencies and employees responsible for tracking these families. I haven’t conducted the analysis as yet but I’ll bet my mint condition X-Men #1 that in every one of these public cases that lack of coordination and communication across job titles and across agencies are given as primary factors for the “failure” of these systems to protect these children until it is too late.

This leads me to two questions. The first is why do some bureaucracies more closely resemble this organizational type than others? That is, is there a specific historical trajectory an organization follows to take it down this path? Second, if we can assume that I am correct in my observations regarding the lack of coordination and communication in these cases, what can be done about it? If we can assume away any ‘friction” such as costs, is there a way to institute organizational change such that these problems might actually be resolved?

Written by lhinkson

October 23, 2009 at 8:30 pm

the eight limbed path

eight limbed pathIn honor of my good friend Kazim Ali who is blogging on poetry at the Kenyon Review, an homage:  The eight limbed path of social science:

  1. Positive action:  Argue for something.
  2. Restraint:  Keep it real.  Don’t over-claim.
  3. Posture:  Invest in a good chair.
  4. Learning of breath:  Measured rhythm and pace.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.
  5. Stillness of the senses:  Save the incendiary stuff for a blog.
  6. One-pointed focus:  ‘nuff said.
  7. Stilling of the mind-states:  Chill out.  Luminous ideas may erupt.
  8. Understanding:  Social scientists cannot write by numbers alone.

Written by seansafford

July 15, 2009 at 3:36 pm

national health care and american competitiveness

Greg Mankiw points toward a recent CBO report arguing that a national health care system would not improve American companies’ competitiveness. His case essentially rests on the following sentence in the report:

…cash wages and other forms of compensation would have to rise by roughly the amount of the reduction in health benefits for firms to be able to attract the same number and types of workers.

The upshot: national health care would turn out to be a zero sum game as far as competitiveness is concerned because employers would end up having to pay more to attract employees.

Mankiw focuses in on a very narrow definition of ‘competitiveness’: for him, it all seems to come down to labor costs.  The thing is, competitiveness can be defined in a few ways.  One is increasing the long term endogenous growth potential of the economy relative to other advanced economies. Another is increasing the productivity of American workers vis-à-vis others countries’ workers.  Mankiw is likely right that health care reform would not improve competitiveness if you restrict it only to mean labor costs.  But in either of the alternative senses, health care reform would plausibly contribute to American competitiveness.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by seansafford

May 27, 2009 at 5:05 pm

data as art

Kieran gave a workshop in Chicago last week.  His insights were, of course, engaging.  But meeting with some students afterward, their first comments had to do with how he presented his data.  He got mad props for great use of color, movement and animation, and generally for wringing clarity out of empirical messiness.

Experiments with data presentation have been scarce in orgtheory.  Jason Owen-Smith, Woody Powell and colleagues have produced some intriguing movies showing network formation of biotechnology in San Diego using pajek.  But cool as those movies are, they don’t quite reach the visual impact of, say, the visualization of shipping traffic or taxi-cab movements in London as captured by the BBC program “Britain from Above.”  Or, of the neato interactive graphic that appeared in the New York Times last year, showing the ebb and flow of box office receipts reaching back to 1986.  (These and a few others were highlighted by the folks at as among the best of 2008. is another place to go looking for data as visual art.  Btw, technical info on how that NYTimes graphic was produced is found in this paper).

Geographic data is particularly amenable to artistic renditions, often with menacing overtones: for instance, visualization of Walmart spreading like a disease, or Slate’s recent look at the deterioration of the US economy.

Visualizations have been around for a while.  But might the future lay in audio?  For instance, re:sound, a program on Chicago Public Radio, had a story this afternoon recounting the lives of refugees who had migrated to the US.  Good story.  But this sound installation, called Chorus of Refuge, got my attention (scroll down and hit play on the audiofile called AfghanistanBurmaBurundiIraqSomaliaSudan).  It takes the voices from the refugee interviews, modulates them both rhythmically and tonally and then coordinates them into a performance.  As the presenter on the radio show put it, “the details of the refugees’ stories are different, but the arc is the same”.  Sounds like logitudinal data analysis to me.  I think its pretty stunning.  It reminds me also of “Lost Tribes of NYC” which superimposes the voices of New Yorkers on to inanimate objects around the city (watch that video to the end).

Written by seansafford

May 16, 2009 at 7:37 pm