Communication

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Correlation versus causation in the world of business

In science, we take great effort to avoid confusing correlation with causation. Two things can happen simultaneously, but not be the cause of one another. Confusing the two is a well-known logical fallacy. How do you overcome potential confusion? Test. Set up experiments that isolate variables. Show that you’re able to effect change in one
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Use conversation to generate new ideas

I’m a big fan of podcasts. Right now, I’m listening to Tim Ferriss interview Seth Godin. It’ll take me two days of commuting to finish it, but I already know I’m going to be sad when it’s over. I love listening to conversation-style podcasts. I’ll inevitably capture some new idea about something while listening. Maybe
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The psychology of precise numbers

The Harvard Business School published a cool article last week. It’s titled “When Negotiating a Price, Never Bid with a Round Number”. The premise is that precise numbers communicate intelligence. What is precise? Asking for a raise of $4,100, rather than $4,000, for example. The added precision subconsciously tells your boss that you’ve really done
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Democratic socialism, social democracy, and knowing your audience

Today is the Iowa Caucus. If you’re caucusing with Democrats, one of your options is to support Bernie Sanders. When it comes to his political philosophy, Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist. What does that mean? I wanted to know. So I went to Wikipedia. One paragraph in, I found this confusing paragraph: Democratic socialism is
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The fruit stand as a metaphorical business model

Business can be complicated. When you think about large companies with international operations across tons of product lines, you find a lot of complexity. It helps to simplify things. When I’m in that situation, I turn to the fruit stand. Almost all businesses can be described as a fruit stand, as long as you give
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What in the hell does "synergies" mean?

I work for a large public company going through an acquisition process. That means, over the past year or so, I’ve heard a lot about “synergies”. As you might expect, the more often a word is used, the better the chance for misuse. With misuse comes confusion. Let’s try to clear some of that up
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Know who's asking the question before you answer

My current role is in the area of market intelligence. I’m asked questions all the time, about the market, our customers, our competitors, macroeconomic forces, et cetera. I’ve quickly learned that, before I jump right into an answer, I need to pay attention to who’s asking. Once I know who’s asking, I have a feel
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Without the courage to show your work, you're doomed

At work today, a colleague of mine showed me a cool analytical tool she built. It helps her estimate project durations. Projects can be broken up into multiple stages. Let’s define three stages: planning, executing, and debriefing. Each of those stages has an estimated duration, along with some uncertainty in that estimate. If you know the
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Answer questions before they're asked

My boss asked me to build a revenue forecast recently. He gave me a rough idea of what he wanted. I was free to fill in the blanks as I pleased. I had some important decisions to make: What methodology did I want to use for the forecast? What parameters would I include? How detailed
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Whitespace is your friend

As a scientist or engineer, you’re probably used to packing as much data as possible into a given format. You might pack words into emails or Word documents. You might pack data into an Excel worksheet. You might pack charts or tables on a PowerPoint slide. You aren’t as sensitive as most people to the
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