29 September 2010

The Cycle of Life (MGT323 Paper)

This took me 38 minutes to write from start to finish.  Sometimes I even amaze myself. Chapter 4 of my textbook contained the background about Maslow and the Expectancy Theory.

Tour de Psychobabble Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Chapter 4
    For Lance Armstrong, his surviving testicular cancer and his motivation to win seven consecutive Tours de France can be explained either through Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs or through the Expectancy Theory.  I will focus on the former scenario with Maslow, since cancer represents a far greater magic carpet ride up and down the pyramid, while in the latter scenario I will demonstrate that the theory applies very well to Lance Armstrong as well as to sports in particular.
    When Armstrong got cancer, his motives on the Maslow pyramid immediately shifted.  As a general matter, being given a 40% chance of survival (Armstrong 2000) will punt one squarely off of self-actualization, where Lance's cycling career previously had him, and directly back down to the Physiological Needs/Survival stage on Maslow's pyramid.  It has been said that “the dividing line between a live hero and a dead one is a sharp sword...you don't want to end up on the dead guy side of the line.” (UESP 2010), and for Lance the sharp sword was the medical skill of his cancer team.
    After the immediate concern of surviving cancer was out of the way, Lance, still an up-and-comer in the cycling world, had to find both his sense of security and belonging, first by assuring himself that he could still make a living in cycling and then by finding his personal satisfaction in the adulation and cooperation of his teammates.  In the interview we watched in class, Lance said that he felt awkward accepting an individual Athlete of the Year honor when he clearly knew it was his team that made that possible; this is Belonging writ large across the landscape even in a case where one would normally expect Esteem to be the prime motivating factor behind Lance's actions.  Lance got his esteem not from the adoring public but from his fellow cyclists.  Peer motivation clearly works far more effectively for Lance Armstrong.
    However, all in Maslow is not simply climbing pyramids like a tourist in the Mayan ruins of Belize.  Lance still had to ensure the security of his ride with the Postal Service team, and for that he may have resorted to more sinister means.  The Los Angeles Times reported in 2006 that Armstrong almost certainly engaged in blood doping during at least the 1999 Tour, and the French magazine L'Equipe has been pounding that particular drumbeat since Armstrong's win in that very race.  Floyd Landis, after being disqualified when he got caught using synthetic testosterone and stripped of his win in the 2006 Tour, implicated Lance Armstrong and said that he and Lance had used those drugs together when they were teammates during Lance's 1999-2005 Tour de France winning streak (Ford 2006).  Regardless of whether these accusations are ultimately true, their credibility speaks to a very strong motivating factor of security for Lance, in addition to an almost desperate need to keep winning at any cost because the capstone of Maslow's pyramid, self-actualization, demands continued attention...attention that Lance Armstrong would go to any length to achieve.
    As well, Lance clearly missed the adulation and even at a far more advanced age, Armstrong competed in the 2010 Tour, trying to recapture his lost glory.  Sadly, it brought to mind Willie Mays for the '73 Mets or Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform, a sad shell of a once-great man trying to recapture lost glories.  It should be interesting to watch Lance Armstrong try and move forward in his life as he has to redefine his expectations for esteem and self-actualization in light of the changing circumstances.  Lance turned 39 on September 18, 2010.  If indeed life begins at forty, he should be able to find satisfaction in raising his young son and, should he remain clear of any drug allegations being proven, he will have his reputation as an all-time great athlete (Jones 2008) to carry him through.
    The previous page was a psychological overview of a man's life, but the Expectancy theory of motivation works on a far more micro level.  It is all well and good to assert that Lance Armstrong met this or that emotional need, but what got him on that bike every day?  What convinced him that he could win seven consecutive Tours de France, with or without performance-enhancing drugs?  For that, a very simple pattern emerges.
    Lance Armstrong clearly has a very strong internal locus of control, and that is the unstated factor in determining one's expectations regarding one's own effort, performance, and result.  At the higher levels of probability, it is implicit that one have confidence in the results of those efforts.
    Lance Armstrong had a very high effort-to-performance expectancy; indeed, by 2005 it almost seemed like the public, not just Lance himself, had a 1.0 effort-to-performance expectancy for the Tour de France that year.  While it was probably not a perfect 100%, Lance clearly believed in himself and believed that getting on that bike and going full-out would lead to wearing the maillot jaune on the Champs-Elysees for the Epilogue stage.
    Meanwhile, the Performance-to-Outcome expectancy rests in large part on the shoulders of Lance's teammates.  Performance and ability are only two-thirds of the equation; Steve Carlton won 25 games for a 1972 Phillies team that went 57-105, but if his expectation was to win a World Series ring, his environment (playing on a gods-awful baseball team) ensured failure on that front.  Lance Armstrong suffered no such difficulty.  From 1999 to 2005 he was surrounded by the best supporting cast that money could buy and that supporting cast found its own motivation in being able to share the podium with their star when the Tour reached its conclusion.  The great illusion about cycling is that it is an individual sport; it is nothing of the kind.  Lance Armstrong's performance and ability could only carry him so far; it was the environment, made possible by his teammates, that turned a performance-to-outcome expectancy from the near-nil it would have been had Lance's situation been more like Steve Carlton's into the near-certainty with a rating close to 1.0 that gave Armstrong the confidence to say to himself, “get on the bike, ride like hell, and we will win this thing.”
    Seven consecutive victories certainly speak to the mathematical axiom that 1.0 times 1.0 equals 1.0.  There was no variance for seven years.  Lance Armstrong got on his bike, rode the length and breadth of the land of Vercingetorix and Napoleon, and in the process rode into sporting immortality.
    Though once again, the specter of steroids raises its ugly head.  If indeed Lance is telling the truth and confidence alone was enough to motivate him, then why the persistent collection of sources and cites saying otherwise?  Circumstance and hearsay are only good for so much, but not for nothing does the “List of doping allegations against Lance Armstrong” article on Wikipedia contain, as of this writing, forty-one total citations from at least two dozen unique sources.  Question the validity of Wikipedia all you like, but 41 citations?
    This suggests that Lance had a crisis of confidence.  This suggests that his expected probability of success in his own mind was far lower than the evidence indicates.  Perhaps he looked at the cycling landscape, saw the multitude of dirty athletes injecting gods-know-what into their veins, and next thing Lance knew his 1.0 became an 0.3 and had to be rectified by any means necessary.
    If Floyd Landis is to be believed, there was a pervasive culture of performance-enhancer use on that USPS cycling team.  Even if Lance was completely clean, would his 1.0 performance-to-outcome expectancy have been that high if his teammates had been truly clean?  Or would the perception of playing for the '72 Phillies have busted that down to an 0.4 and caused Lance to doubt himself on the racecourse?
    Far be it from me, a mere college student with 1500 words to fill and a penchant for diarrhea of the pen, to impugn a man's motives.  But the duck test applies.  If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's on steroids.  That would sure go a long way toward turning “0.4x0.3=0.12” into “1x1=1” for expectations and results on the valence level.  And it would sure serve to explain Lance Armstrong in an Occam's razor sort of way.
Abrahamson, Alan. “Allegations Trail Armstrong into Another Stage.” Los Angeles Times, July 9, 2006.
Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages, The. “Oblivion: Tun-Zeeus”. http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Oblivion:Tun-Zeeus.  Retrieved September 29, 2010.
Ford, Bonnie D. “Landis Admits Doping, Accuses Lance.” ESPN. http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/cycling/news/story?id=5203604. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
Armstrong, Lance and Jenkins, Sally. It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. New York; Putnam, 2000.
Jones, Chris. “The Things We Forget, Part 3: Lance Armstrong and David Tyree.” ESPN The Magazine. December 3, 2008.

22 September 2010

Social Misadventures V: Can't Fake the Funk.

There's a "networking event" on campus Friday evening.  It's mandatory for students taking Management 321 (Effective Business Writing) because someone got it in their heads that a writing course should come bundled with the college trying to do something about Nevada's 14.3% worst-in-the-nation unemployment besides tell everyone they're special.

This is all well and good except for one problem; I'm about as good at "networking" as Glenn Beck is at not being an asshole.  That is to say, drop me in a social situation with formal rules of procedure and I'm going to seize up like a car engine without any oil in it.  This is a recipe for me cowering in fear, trying my level best to suck it up and doing very poorly at it to the point where I've started having nightmares again, and having a lively internal debate over whether the penalty (loss of half a letter grade in a class in which I'm already doing very poorly, to the point where I may end up with a C or worse by the end of the semester) is worth it.

I haven't been this freaked out over anything in life in years.  I can't even figure out why exactly.  The whole thing's going to be facilitated by the Career Counseling department of the College of Business, nobody in attendance is going to expect me---despite my age, still a third-year college student and regarded as such---to be anything other than horribly green about this whole process, and while I've never worn a suit and tie to an event in my 33 years on this planet, it's not like I can't dress myself like a big boy (even if I look positively ridiculous in a suit and tie, at least in the cognitive dissonance, perception of myself sense) and act like a grownup for a few hours.

But I am FREAKED THE FUCK OUT by this entire thing.  I'm quiet.  Introverted.  Completely out of my depth when dealing with professionals because all I really want out of life is a computer, a basement office, and a stack of financial reports to compile and/or audit; I'm not a mover or a shaker and I'm often the only introverted student in the room in my business classes.

The chairman of the Accounting Department said at boot camp last month, "Business is not for introverts.  You're going to have to get out there and sell yourself if you want to succeed."  Which sounds like something a pimp would say to a whore, but ever since the chairman said that, I've felt an overwhelming sense that I don't belong, that I don't have a chance in hell of ever being successful, that all I will ever be is someone's pawn and that the world is closed off to me due to my failures socially and emotionally.

I probably should've majored in creative writing.  At least people like it when I do that.  There's a "career exploration" event and I'm pretty sure I'll be the only one there who's listed "creative writer" as his first choice of career.  I am still on the record as saying I would leave all of this highfalutin' business stuff behind tomorrow if someone offered me a decent writing job at a decent rate of pay sufficient to pay off my student loans without forcing me to eat cat food and ramen noodles for every meal.

But hey, at least my readers like me just the way I am.

14 September 2010

Memo to the Higher-Ups

(my Effective Business Writing professor makes us submit a hard copy of our first draft along with the finished assignment for no other reason than to penalize getting things right the first time.  This time I decided "fuck it, might as well make the first draft funny."  Enjoy.   Note that "Marty Chernov" was the fictitious person named in the assignment in the textbook.)

To:    Marty Chernov

From:    Fox Doucette

Date:    September 14, 2010

Subject: The Loan Ranger: Getting That $35,000 Funding

In advance of your meeting with John Garrison Boyd IV at Metropolitan Bank tomorrow, I have prepared this list of tips to ensure that your communication impresses the city-slickers and Mr. Drysdale wannabes at the bank so our salvage yard can secure the funding it needs to break more junk into smaller junk more efficiently.

Stand tall and give a firm handshake to Mr. Boyd when you meet him.  Your posture will project our company as a strong player in the salvage industry and show yourself as worthy of Mr. Boyd's trust.  Smile; the James Gammon impression you call a management style may work with the guys in the yard (especially at the company softball game; we love the Major League act) but it may not go so well in a professional setting.

Speak like you want to be heard.  Now is not the time to let your voice waver; speak as if the loan's acceptance is a matter of mere formality and if necessary, use that booming baritone of yours to good effect.

It probably goes without saying that you should show up on time, but since you haven't been in the office before 11:00 since Ronald Reagan was still President, I suppose anything is possible.  You don't need a management consultant; you need to dig your dead mother out of the ground and get the old shrew to teach you your manners afresh.

Might want to pop a Valium while you're at it; you twitch like a Tourette's sufferer on meth when you forget to take your medication and quite frankly the boys out in the yard are amazed you've never gone Redd Foxx on us and had a heart attack while moaning for that wife you sent to an early grave---long may Mrs. Chernov rest in peace, the poor dear.

Wear your best suit.  No, not that cheap suit you got at Don's Draperies for a buck fifty back in 1978.  I mean a real suit.  I'll send my girlfriend to bring you to Men's Wearhouse, but after she gets that job done you owe me about five cases of beer to get me through all the nights she'll make me sleep on the couch.

In closing, Marty, you may be a drunken lout with the business sense of a chimpanzee, but you're OUR damn dirty ape and we love you.  Now get out there and get us that loan.

08 September 2010

Pseudoscience! Bullshit! It must be MANAGEMENT!

This was written for Management 323 (Organizational Behavior) after we were instructed to take a Myers-Briggs-style personality assessment and get "one friend or family member and one business associate" to report on the findings.  You can guess how I felt about this.

Your Horoscope For Today: Personality Type Report

    P.T. Barnum once said “There's a sucker born every minute.”  I can think of no greater aphorism that applies to getting a room full of idealistic business majors to shell out $15 a head for a gigantic exercise in the Forer effect writ large across the landscape.  David Keirsey's exercise in pseudoscience has become a splendid means by which insecure people can delude themselves into believing they are special and engage in the peculiarly American tradition of dividing ourselves into categories when there is nobody around to do it for us.

    First, a discussion of the Forer effect.  You can read the original paper at http://www.scribd.com/doc/17378132/The-Fallacy-of-Personal-Validation-a-Classroom-Demonstration-of-Gullibility, but I will quote from Wikipedia purely to simplify: “The Forer effect (also called the Barnum Effect after P.T. Barnum's observation that "we've got something for everyone") is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.”  I thought of this instantly when reading the descriptions of the four personality types.

    But enough editorializing; we will come back to this later.  A job worth doing is a job worth pawning off on one's friends, so I asked Nora Sawyer, who has known me since we were five and in kindergarten together in 1982, and Marcella Caldwell-Gadson, an Indiana-based attorney whose professional relationship with me primarily consists of questioning my sanity at having decided to major in business; her stake in my life extends in large part to encouraging my creative writing so that she may act as my literary agent.  I asked them the questions in the assignment sheet.  I also put the question to my 157 followers on Facebook; their comments will be interspersed in the text as I go.

    My Keirsey temperament was the Crafter variant of the Artisan personality type.  Indeed, though I may appear gregarious and outgoing on the surface, I am anything but; my reserved, quiet style and complete distaste for human interaction beyond small groups and one-on-one relationships netted me a diagnosis of atypical autism from a psychologist when I was eighteen.  Nine points for introversion vs. extraversion surprised and slightly disappointed me; living in a trash can with a green Muppet (according to some of my ex-girlfriends) should have netted me a ten.  I am a get-down-to-business sort with a strong BS detector; I've no patience for feelings when there is thinking to be done and scored a 10 out of 10 on the Thinking side of the Thinking/Feeling spectrum.  I was surprised by the Sensing score; every Myers-Briggs-type assessment I have ever taken to this point has been “INTx” but the Keirsey sorter gave me eight points for S.  Judging/Perceiving was a 6:4 split and indeed has been the most variable type indicator in the history of these sorts of tests.

    Said Marcella: “I think you are probably reserved in situations where you do not know people or feel uncomfortable. Although you appear to be an extrovert most of the time, I think you are an introvert because you"...are more concerned with the inner world of the mind... You enjoy thinking, exploring your thoughts and feelings..." and that "... being around people drains...your energy.”  Nora, for her part, had similar commentary on my introversion, saying “Like me, you were one of those rare introverts who always dominated discussions in and out of class, and had trouble keeping ideas and opinions to yourself.”  I have no tolerance for what I perceive to be stupid, grossly inaccurate ideas, so of course I'm going to be a loudmouth in that academic discipline most greatly enamored with what I have publicly referred to as “rah-rah BS.”

    Said Nora on the subject of the Crafter type, “'Humorously insightful,' sure. 'Closet daredevil?' See years 1993 through current. I definitely would agree with the assessment that you 'may sometimes act without regard for procedures, directions, protocol, or even [your] own safety. I'd also agree that you 'enjoy self-sufficiency' and that you 'take pride in developing [your] own solutions to problems.'”  Marcella's comments, influenced as they have been by my literary efforts, said “I think that you feel that education is solely for achieving an economic safety net and that learning for the sake of learning is a waste of time which is sort of in conflict with your ability to speak and write extensively on a number of topics unrelated to accounting.”

    That conflict is one of the strongest conflicts at the core of my personality, and Marcella truly nailed it down.  I have said tongue-in-cheek that “if someone offered me a staff writer job at a decent pay rate tomorrow, I'd be out of here faster than you could say Jack Robinson.”  It is not so much that I purely believe education to be a means to an end, only that the harsh reality of student loans being unable to magically pay themselves off influences my behavior as a rational actor in the US economy.  My vocation will be accounting; my passion is creative writing.  If I could make the latter practical I would have no need of the former.

    But there's that word again; practical.  It is a word usually reserved for the “Rational” sorter type.  Meanwhile, two of my Facebook commenters said “The P should be a J”, which would place me in the Guardian type.  The only type I manage to completely avoid on all the judges' scorecards was the NF (Idealist) type which, while it draws me like a moth to a flame when I see it in others, has no correlation whatsoever to my personality except perhaps when I am working with my fellow writers and creative types who pull that sort of behavior out of me and insist that they like me better that way while also being exactly the sorts of people who would detest getting pigeonholed into neat little categories with more meaningless letter combinations than a list of boxing champions.

    With the test itself, even somebody who has known me for 28 years was unable to predict the result; before the interview, when I said I was taking a Myers-Briggs test, Nora said “I bet $5 it ends in TJ.  Maybe FJ.”  Even with her bet hedged she was still wrong (and I scored no points in the F dimension.)  Said my friend Phoebe, who has known me for about half a year, “INTJ is my guess.”  Two out of four.  Fifty percent.  F-minus-minus, thanks for playing, try again.

    Which brings me back to this being pseudoscience.  If indeed there were any validity to this sort of testing, you would think that someone who has known me longer than since last week would be able to successfully guess my personality type based on my behavior and history.  Yet this was not the case.  Indeed, my Facebook commenters were unanimous in their opinion that the test missed the mark at least in part.  This has dangerous, unfortunate implications further down the line as well.

    See, it is no longer acceptable for businesses to classify people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or any of the other protected statuses under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Lacking this ability to discriminate against people the old-fashioned way, businesses have had to come up with new ways to pigeonhole people they don't like.  Personality tests, with the veneer of scientism (rather than science) behind them, make an ideal means of marginalizing certain elements of society to the point where they can be properly exploited.

    Show me a manager and I'll show you an idiot with too much power.  Show a manager an intelligent, insightful, creative, clever employee and, rather than see that employee as valuable, the manager will see him as a threat.  Especially if someone is introverted, this establishes a pattern in business.  Introverted is “the new black”, to steal and repurpose a popular term from fashion and give it a racial context.

    At Accounting 401 “boot camp” here at UNR last month, Dr. Richard Mason, chair of the Accounting department, said “accounting is not for introverts like you may be thinking; you will need strong networking skills to succeed.”  Similar sentiments are frequently echoed throughout the business department.  One person in four in America is introverted by nature; are we simply to sit back and forever discard our hopes and dreams because a bunch of damned extroverts run the world?  Are we little more than servants or playthings?  Or are we men and women with hopes, dreams, and rights and responsibilities of our own, dedicated, passionate, loving, caring, wonderful people in our own right?

    I don't know that the question can be resolved.  I do, however, know that nothing pleases an extrovert more than being told she is special, and nothing serves such a useful purpose to that end as these glorified horoscopes dressed up in science's clothes like a child putting on his father's business suit and pretending to be a grown-up.  The Forer effect is in full force here; indeed, P.T. Barnum would look at the setup the Keirsey Institute has going and think “now that's how you bring 'em in and soak 'em.”  Barnum himself would not have had the cheek to pull such an audacious stunt.

    What's more, Sir Francis Galton believed he was doing humanity a favor when he brought out the idea of eugenics as a means to get “desirable” people to mate and produce offspring.  People with undesirable traits were, in some jurisdictions, sterilized forcibly to prevent them passing on their “feeble” genes, and this was taken to its logical conclusion in the 1940s.  As the rich-poor divide grows and our society becomes more and more socially competitive and descends into economic infighting over increasingly scarce resources, who is to say that a permanent underclass will not be formed out of those who find social contact exhausting and unpleasant, especially with damn fool extroverts?  Indeed, I am filled with despair at my own career prospects because it is not in my nature to “play the game” and no matter how formidable my talents, those avenues will always be closed to me.

    In conclusion, I found this entire exercise strangely demeaning, dehumanizing, and irritating.  It truly filled me with anger and consternation at the nature of business and made me question the wisdom of my choice of major and likely future career while simultaneously thinking “now what?”  But the worst part?  It struck me as little more than the fortune teller's art of painting with a broad brush and letting the psyche of the reader filter out the inaccuracies.  I'll let Nora have the last word (which is more than I could say when we debated constantly in high school US History class): “But you, Mr. Doucette, are as much a cypher as you ever were. I don't think any one personality “type” could sum you up completely.”