Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Lessons Learned

The Economics of Organizations turned out to be a very rewarding course. I had no idea what to expect going into this class, just an interest in how organizations function. There was a lot of new information that I had never really seen in the other economic courses that I have taken. Our exploration of bargaining was of particular interest to me. We looked at how it can be advantageous for the buyer or seller to be truthful in some scenarios and lie in other scenarios. I had never really considered the logic behind truthfulness, or expect there to be a way to model it. I also liked looking at conflicts within organizations. It was interesting to review Schon and Argyris's thoughts on management styles. Some managers could act in a way that does nothing to advance their goals or help the organization, but just create chaos and a terrible work environment. In the future, it would seem likely that a real-world situation would come up similar to what Schon and Argyris describe and the knowledge that I gained from their research could help me solve that potential situation.

I am a fan of how this class was structured. I like that attendance is not a mandatory requirement for success in the class. I've had a few professors claim the same thing, but throw information on a test that you could only have learned if you attended class. However in this course, the readings and homework provided you with the tools necessary to succeed on the tests [knock on wood]. At first I was unsure about the online blogs. I had never really blogged before, but I have begun to enjoy writing out some of my thoughts. It also has helped me gain a practical understanding of some of the concepts we've reviewed in this course.

My process for blogging stayed about the same the entire semester. I would look at the topic a few days in advance of actually writing the blogpost. This would help me come up with better examples or ideas of what to write about in the blogpost. This didn't always come true, but I think overall it helped the quality of my posts. I would spend an hour at the most actually writing the blogpost, but I would spend more time than that thinking out the topic.

I never really prepared for any of the excel homework. Even if there was a reading that helped explain what the homework was trying to accomplish, I would usually do the homework first and then read the relevant information before the tests. The excel homework was usually straightforward and simple. I only struggled with the first few assignments because of some technical issues with excel and not necessarily issues with understanding the homework. The assignments took me anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours.

I would have liked to see more excel assignments in the course. The excel homework was the biggest advantage I had for studying for exams. I was able to complete the assignments a few times and become very familiar with the necessary calculations. I also would have liked a better system for assigning readings. I would have to go through the class calendar to figure out which chapters to read and was worried about missing some important readings. I understand that going to class would eliminate this concern, but a more clear explanation of the assigned readings might even benefit regular class attendees.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Personal Reputation

This blogpost will look my personal reputation in a class here at the University of Illinois. There is one professor that I have taken almost every class they have to offer. So my reputation with this professor has been built over several semesters. Each additional class I take with this professor adds to my reputation with them. The reputation that I have tried to build up is that of someone who is very responsible. I make sure to turn in my work on time. I put additional effort into my classes with this professor to ensure that I score highly on exams. I ask this professor questions that pertain to his interests, as well as follow the topic of the class, to show them that I have similar interests. This reputation started to be built with the first class I took with the professor and was strengthened with each additional class and through all of our meetings or email correspondence.

There have been multiple occasions where I have wanted to stray from my reputation with this professor. Turning in all of my work on time and scoring well on all the quizzes and exams is a very time consuming. Every time I had an assignment due or a test to study for I would have to make the decision to do my school work over hanging out with friends. Now most of the time I would actually do my work and skip hanging out with friends but on some occasions I would rely on my reputation to help me out so I could hang out with my friends.

One occasion sticks out in my memory. I had a fairly large project due in this professors class. I had put some work in on this project but still had a fair amount of work to do. My friends were going to a party that I had been looking forward to for a few days by then. I took a risk and decided to go to this party instead of finishing the work I had to get done for the next day. In this instance, I had abandoned my reputation to get some immediate gain, in this case a fun night out. The next day, I had to face my professor with my assignment not completed. Luckily, after taking so many classes and having built a strong relationship with this professor, I was able to get a few extra days to finish the assignment with no questions asked. My reputation of turning work in time and at a high quality had allowed me to not suffer any consequences from temporarily abandoning my reputation. I turned in the assignment a few days late but at a very high level of quality to repair any damage that may have been done to my reputation in the mind of my professor.

In an earlier blogpost, I looked at a conflict between two people in a work situation. This conflict was from a fictional television show that centered on politics in Washington, DC. Frank Underwood is the main character of this program and he was in a fight with Marty Spinella over an education bill that was being brought to the floor of the House and Senate. I bring up this conflict because it serves as an example of someone abandoning their reputation for an immediate gain. Underwood had worked with Spinella numerous times before they started working on the education bill. The show makes it seem like they are friends during the early negotiations for the education bill. In Spinella's mind, Underwood had created a reputation for being an honest man. Underwood abandoned this reputation though in order to get some provisions that he wanted into the education bill. He lied to Spinella about the contents of the education bill and Spinella trusted what he said about the education bill. Through his lie, Underwood was able to get an education bill that served his interests much more than the interests of the teachers, who Spinella was representing. However, unlike my slight abandonment of my reputation with my professor, Underwood's abandonment of his reputation caused irreparable damage to his reputation and he was never able to work with Spinella after the fact.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Real Estate Agents

The triangle arrangement I would like to talk about involves a real estate agent, a buyer and a seller. Back in 2010, My parents were looking to purchase a house and went through a real estate agent for the process. I wasn't directly involved in the offering process but I had been brought along on a few house tours. The real estate agent has the job of bringing a buyer and seller together and negotiating an acceptable price to both parties.

The seller would like to get top dollar for their home. They do not want to accept a lower price than what they think their home is worth and they will not accept a lower price, at least at first. They also want their homes sold quickly. Someone who's selling their home has probably found another place to live and wants their old home to sell so they can pay off their mortgage on their new house. This can be time sensitive if they cannot afford the mortgage payments on their new home. Therefore, the seller has incentives to sell their house quickly. If their house if on the market for awhile, the seller is more like to accept a lower and lower price for their home.

The buyer would like to find a home that fulfills their expectations for a new home. My parents, for instance, had very high expectations for their new home and were in a position that allowed them to be patient and review all of their options. On top of finding the "perfect" home, a buyer has a budget that they have to keep within a reasonable range. The buyer would like to get the best deal on a home as they can.

The buyer and seller have different expectations for the real estate agent. The seller wants their home sold at top dollar and sold relatively quickly. The buyer wants the best deal they can possibly get on a home. A resolution to the differing expectations of the buyer and the seller comes in the form of a compromise on price. This can be an even compromise, where the buyer and seller meet in the middle or it can fall mostly on either the buyer or seller. If the house has been on the market for a long time, a compromise on price would fall more on the seller because they just want their house sold at a certain point. If a house is new on the market, the seller would be less likely to take a hit on the price. A buyer is willing to come closer to the asking price when the house in question satisfies more of their wants.

Failure for the real estate agent is different for the buyer and seller. If the agent cannot find an acceptable home for the buyer that meets their needs then the agent has failed. If the agent cannot find a buyer for the seller's home then the agent has failed. If the agent cannot broker a deal between the buyer and seller then the agent will fail both parties. The agent fails the seller if they take a long time to sell their home and get a price well below the asking price. The agent selling a home for a low price is in the interest of the buyer, and interestingly enough, in the interest of the agent as well.

I've gone over what the buyer and seller want, but what about the agent themselves? The agent receives a certain percentage of a deal they set up as commission for setting up the deal. So the agent would want the price of the home to be as high as possible so they get the biggest possible commission, right? Not necessarily. I can't remember the percentages off the top of my head but the commission for selling a home is a small percentage. So if the agent was able to get the seller of a home $10,000 more for their home, the agent would only receive $100. The seller would really enjoy that extra $9,900 for their home and would be willing to wait a few extra days or weeks to sell their house if it means a better offer from a buyer. However, the agent would rather lose the $100 and sell the house now then wait a few days or weeks to make that $100. These few extra days or weeks could be time spent on a new house by the agent. This represents a situation of opportunism, which was talked about in this blogpost. The agent benefits from taking a lower price for a home so they can spend time on selling another house rather than get the most money they can for the seller of the home. Based on a commission system, the agent's interests do not actually line up with the interests of the seller.

Friday, October 31, 2014

House of Cards

House of Cards is a television show about the inner workings of Washington D.C. The show follows Frank Underwood, a democratic congressman from South Carolina and the House majority whip. Frank is in charge of getting legislation passed through the house and, as a result, finds himself in numerous conflicts. One particular conflict arose over an education bill.

Frank Underwood was instructed by the President to craft an education bill and get it passed the house as quickly as possible. In order to accomplish this, Frank had to get the support of the teacher's unions and their head lobbyist, Marty Spinella. Marty wanted the bill to not include performance standards for teachers. Frank and Marty almost came to an agreement, but Frank had to return to his district to deal with a political foe trying to take his seat. Marty had to keep the teachers at the negotiation table but not having Frank physically at the negotiations put a lot of strain on Marty. Marty grew more upset the longer Frank was back in South Carolina. When Frank finally returns to Washington, Marty realized he included an amendment on collective bargaining and that Frank had lied to him. Marty decides to organize a nationwide strike with teachers to pressure Frank to meet their demands. Frank participates in a few sketchy tactics, including framing Marty's people for throwing a brick through his window, to undermine Marty and make the teachers look bad. The conflict comes to a peak when Frank calls Marty in for a meeting to resume negotiations over the education bill. However, when Marty arrives to the negotiation, he finds Frank unwilling to negotiate. Frank tries to get under Marty's skin by using a few choice words and it works. Marty punches Frank in the face, which is a felony because he is a US congressman. Frank threatens to report Marty unless he agrees to the bill as it stands, which Marty does, thus ending the conflict.

The source of the problem that causes this conflict starts with Frank leaving the negotiation table while negotiations were going on about the education bill. Frank had to leave in order to protect his seat in Congress. Marty did not understand why a district matter would take precedence over a very important education bill. Marty became rather upset with Frank due to his absence. Frank should have done a better job explaining to the teachers, as well as Marty, why he had to leave the negotiations. If he had thoroughly explained his absence then there would have been less tension and this conflict wouldn't have escalated as it did. Frank also could sent a member of his team in his place or another congressmen, these actions would of kept Marty and the teachers happy.

The conflict escalated when Marty figured out the bill had a collective bargaining amendment added. Frank had told Marty he would include any such amendment so Marty was livid. Marty sees this action by Frank as very disrespectful and he started a nationwide strike over it. Frank realized what he was doing, tricking Marty in order to get a bill that served his interests. The public sided with the teachers on their strike and Congress, the President and Frank lost favor with the American people.

The conflict ended due to Frank manipulating Marty into assaulting him. Marty knew what Frank was trying to get him to do but he did it anyway. By assaulting Frank, Marty had no choice but to agree to any bill that Frank wanted to enter the House. Frank may have made some mistakes along the way in this conflict but he got what he wanted at the end. I think the source of the conflict definitely could have been avoided but the conflict benefitted Frank. I believe that Frank was going to try and make an education bill that served his interests the most from the beginning. The conflict could have taken on a different look and maybe not have ended in such a literally breaking point, but there always was going to have to be a conflict.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Team Production with Gift Exchange

 A New York Times article from 2012 looks at an experiment carried out with toddlers. The experiment involved a cup, some marbles and a length of rope. This experiment reveals a fundamental aspect of human nature: fairness. When the toddlers believed that a collaborative effort went into acquiring the marbles, they made sure to split the spoils evenly amongst themselves. It makes sense: if the work is evenly split, so too should the reward. Now the real world isn't as simplified as this little experiment. It's often difficult to know the division of labor and who contributed the most. The reward also may not be immediately evident or might be something that cannot be shared. Even with these complexities, this little experiment can help explain interactions between coworkers.

In many businesses, teamwork can take a backseat. Coworkers may all be contributing to the companies bottom line but they don't work together. An example of such a business would be an Investment bank. Investors work to earn as much profit for the company as they can. They're usually motivated by bonuses explicitly tied to their performance, as monitored by how much money they bring in. In this case, there is no incentive to help out coworkers. If you were to help one of your coworkers complete an investment, you would be helping the company and the coworker profit, but you personally wouldn't see any direct financial benefit. Therefore, that helpful interaction between you and a coworker would never happen. But what if you had the opportunity to make a deal but a coworker held some crucial part that would be necessary to complete the deal?

Imagine two business men in a meeting with a manufacturer of napkin dispensers. Businessman A has had a close relationship dealing with the napkin dispenser manufacturer for a while. He has brokered numerous deals for the manufacturer with restaurants in the area. Unfortunately, Businessman A has run out of restaurants and is struggling to find new business for the manufacturer. However, Businessman B works with Businessman A at the Napkin Middle Man Dispenser Company and B's father owns a whole chain of restaurants thats looking to upgrade their dispensers. Now B would like to just set up a deal for his father himself, but he can't offer dispensers at the price his father demands. Luckily, A is able to get cheap napkin dispensers from his napkin dispenser manufacturer guy. It seems like A and B should help each other out to complete the deal. However, the Napkin Middle Man Dispenser Company only allows one businessman to collect commission on each sale.

If we take a look back at the article, if these businessmen were the toddlers, they would have one of them collect the commission and then evenly distribute it amongst themselves. Lets assume each businessman put in the same amount of work to get their respective clients ready to make a deal. Like the toddlers, they would see that it took a collaborative effort to get the reward so the spoils should be shared. However this touches on a topic addressed in an earlier blogpost, opportunism. Opportunism basically describes someone taking advantage of a situation for their own benefit. It puts an ethical dilemma into consideration. Since there is no internal mechanism at the businessmen's company to split commission, one of the businessmen will gain the entirety of it. It would be in the personal interest of that businessman to keep the money for himself. He would lose the trust of the other businessman and possibly the company as a whole, but in the present, he would be better off. It would probably be a rare case that a sales company wouldn't be able to split commission among a team that worked to make the sale, but without that internal mechanism by a company, some sales may not occur due to lack of trust among coworkers. I think opportunism throws a wrench into the ideals of the experiment.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Looking Ahead or Behind?

As a college student, especially as a senior, I should have my thoughts and actions focused on maximizing my potential in the job market. I attended college to receive a sheet of paper that should help me  find a job, but not just any job,  a good job. I chose a major that I thought would be desired by employers and land me stable, well-paying work. But did my other choices throughout college have that same focus on the future?

My freshman year at the University of Illinois began Fall 2011. I entered as an economics major and I was the only person I knew, out of the 30 kids who came to UofI from my highschool, that was an econ major. I chose to major in economics for a few reasons. I had taken an introductory economics course in highschool, which I enjoyed and I performed well in that course. This can be seen as a choice that didn't  consider my future following graduation, but my future as an undergrad by picking a major that I could enjoy and had some experience with. Economics is a major with a strong mathematical foundation. I have a reasonable understanding of statistics from my economics courses and have gotten a lot of experience with Microsoft Excel. Both of these make me more employable.

My sophomore year at U of I concluded with a decision to double major in Economics and Political Science. I was able to take a few political science courses during my first two years of college and found that I had a strong interest in the subject. At the time, I was also thinking about going to law school following my completion of undergrad and political science is a common undergrad major for law students. Political science would help prepare me for all the reading and critical thinking/writing that I would face in law school. So I studied political science to keep law school as a viable option after graduation and not necessarily to land me a job. I also found that political science had a large research component to it that involved statistics. My background in statistics from economics helped me thrive in my political science courses that involved research. Improving my understanding of statistics and using statistical software through political science was a bonus and improves my skill set.

Last year, I took an atmospheric science course and fell in love with the subject. I immediately tried to figure out if I could pursue atmospheric science as a major, unfortunately I did not have enough time to finish my double major and pick up atmospheric science. I decided to pick up a minor in atmospheric science instead. I originally started studying weather out of pure fascination and enjoyment, but I quickly saw the benefits of my new minor. I gained some experience with coding and got even more practice with Excel. Atmospheric science has a mathematical foundation, like economics, and also involves a lot of statistics. In this area, all my areas of study relate to each other. My minor will not get me a job as a TV meteorologist but it has improved on the skills I picked up studying economics, which will only improve my chances at landing a job after graduation.

In summary, my areas of study at the University of Illinois have all been chosen, in part, to improve my chances at future employment, but classes aren't the only part of college. My summers haven't quite considered the future as much as my studies.

Since the summer going into college, I have worked at a garden/park as a landscaper. This summer job provided me with the spending money I would need for college. It was a sweet gig that I didn't have to work exceptionally hard at and was able to work each summer. It would have definitely been more productive and better for my employability for me to find an internship that relates to my major. I choose the easy way though and will probably suffer after graduation because of my decision. My summers weren't complete loses though, I would take a course each summer to stay in the college/studying mind-frame.

Another consideration for college students is how much debt they'll have by the time they graduate. In my case the debt is nonexistent. I am very fortunate to have parents with the means to pay for my college education and living expenses. My parents took advantage of a program called College Illinois when I was a baby. In essence, the program allows parents to prepay their children's college tuition if they go to a public university in Illinois. If the kid chose an out of state or a private university, the balance of the College Illinois account would be returned, but if they do choose an instate, public university all the tuition and fees, besides room and board and books, are covered. My parents always talk about how College Illinois was the best investment they ever made. (I believe they paid around $20,000 initially and now that completely covers my undergrad tuition at U of I for all four years.)

Even though there are a few things I would have done differently (look for an internship), I believe that my college career has taken the future into account.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Have you ever tried registering for a class, but they're too many people ahead of you and the class fills up before you get the chance to register? Have you ever wanted to check out a book at the library, but someone had already checked it out and now there is a waiting list for said book? Well, now there's a solution! It's called "IlliniBucks" and they are brought to you by your friendly administration here at the U of I. These so called "IlliniBucks" will allow you to go to the front of any sort of line and skip all that pointless waiting. Your probably asking yourself: How do I get my hands on some of these magical "IlliniBucks"? Well friend, you're in luck! The U of I administration has made an allocation of "IlliniBucks" to each student.

Students who attend the University of Illinois find themselves having to wait for many services provided by the school. All of these are potential areas where "IlliniBucks" could serve a useful purpose. One of the most common areas that students find themselves in a line is when registering for classes. The time you get to register for classes is based on a few things, but mainly how many course hours you have completed. Students who are athletes or in various scholar programs get priority when registering. After they register, its based on the number of class hours you have completed. "IlliniBucks" would completely circumvent this system and allow you to register for the class you want regardless of the amount of hours you've taken. Getting tickets to sporting events could also adopt the new "IlliniBucks" system, although I've rarely ever had trouble getting tickets to any basketball or football game. The Library could also let people with "IlliniBucks" skip to the head of the waiting-list for any book. Professors could embrace this new system and let students ensure themselves the earliest meeting time the professor has by using "IlliniBucks". Likewise, getting appointments for the various health services at McKinley could  give students with "IlliniBucks" preferential times. Students could also use their "IlliniBucks" to get the best dorm assignments, which were random before "IlliniBucks" were implemented. These are a few areas that "IlliniBucks" could be implemented in.

One issue I notice applies to registering for classes. The old system ensured that seniors would have priority access to classes to make sure they are able to take all the classes they need to graduate. A system that lets students skip the wait for registration regardless of class standing will inevitably lead to seniors not getting into the classes they need to graduate.

If the administration prices the "IlliniBucks" too low then the system will face a few challenges. To start, there would be too many people using them. If two people want a library book and they both use their "IlliniBucks" then who gets to check out that book? Likewise, which student would get the first appointment to meet with their professor? Having too many students use "IlliniBucks" would result in lines and waiting just like the old system. Using "IlliniBucks" wouldn't mean you get to cut the line but rather get to cut everyone who didn't have "IlliniBucks" and still have to wait behind those who have them, which would be a lot of students given a low price.

If the price of "IlliniBucks" was high, the system would face a few different issues. With a high price, students might try to barter with their "IlliniBucks", assuming they could transfer between students. Students who have their mind on making a quick buck would find themselves in trouble when trying to register for classes. The students who decide to stockpile "IlliniBucks" would get their pick of classes and face no waiting for any school service. A high price also gives a considerable advantage to students who are well-off. Seniors wouldn't be the ones with preferential access to registering for class, but rather it would be the rich students. This system would be unfair to the students who have to watch their finances. High prices could also act as incentive to students to take out larger loans so they can ensure they get in all their favorite classes.