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Is Multitasking Still a Skill to Boast About?

Multi Tasking Cartoon

Over the last 4-5 years I have read many articles (popular as well as academic) that have consistently tried to educate people that multitasking is inefficient, error-prone and negatively impacts the mental health of the so-called multitasker.

However, I still receive job applications with resumes that highlight the multitasking skill of the applicant. So, I chased this a bit, and discovered that even consultants helping people apply for jobs advice them to highlight their multitasking skills (or is it a single skill?). I have also found ‘multi-tasking skill’ as a checklist item in the interview evaluation forms of a few organizations.

Evolution of the Multitasking concept

The word ‘multitasking’ first appeared in the description of the capabilities of an IBM computer (System/ 360) in 1965. People started using the word for human beings in the 1980s as a desirable skill and something that enhances productivity.

So, what is multitasking in human beings?

Human multitasking is the apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task, or activity, at the same time. The term is derived from computer multitasking.

Wikipedia

In the last ten years, multiple controlled experiments and studies have been conducted to understand the concept of multitasking in humans. The research consistently shows that humans cannot pay attention to multiple things at the same time. So they are essentially doing rapid context switching. This increases the total time taken and also increases the errors. People who typically multitask, perform poorly (compared to people who do not typically multitask) even when they are asked to do tasks sequentially.

Multitasking is Not Recommended

So, unless it is absolutely necessary, do not multitask (I am using the word multitasking as is commonly used – actually it is some kind of rapid context switching). And do not take pride in your multitasking. Here are a bunch of reasons:

  1. It could be dangerous – like talking on the phone while driving, or texting while walking on a busy road. In some professions, trying to simultaneously do more things than what is absolutely required may be fatal to others (surgeons, air traffic controllers, pilots, etc.).
  2. It is slower and less efficient. According to some studies productivity can reduce by around 40% when you multitask.
  3. It is error-prone. Research consistently shows that people make more errors while multitasking. So, the tasks that you get “First Time Right” reduce significantly.
  4. There is no sense of satisfaction of completion, because there are multiple tasks in progress, and the sense completion of one task  is overshadowed by the rest of the ‘work-in-progress’.
  5. Communication becomes unclear and unsatisfactory – in professional and personal life. Because you cannot pay continuous attention to what others are saying. Nor can you convey a complete concept that requires long communication. This could impact relationships too.
    For example, because you were on the phone while typing an email, you may mark the email to the wrong persons, or send the email with partial / wrong information – thereby creating confusion that needs further communication and sorting out.
  6. Multitasking increases stress. When we start to drop balls,and make mistakes our feeling of overwhelm increases, and the stress keeps building.
  7. Multitasking reduces the IQ (temporarily) by around 10 points – roughly equivalent of missing one night’s sleep – for people who are already sleep deprived or already have a low IQ, it may be a disaster :-).
  8. Multitasking becomes more difficult with age. As all of us are ageing at the same rate (1 day per day, 1 year per year), we will be able to do less and less of ‘multitasking’ as time flies.
  9. Multitasking while eating can make you overeat – so it is not aligned with healthy eating.
  10. Need to multitask may be addictive – you may be soon be unable to focus on a single task for a long duration, even if that is essential (like answering a 2 hour examination without your cellphone or tablet or laptop or TV or favorite book).

Unknowns

Here are some aspects of multitasking for which I could not get very definite answers.

  • Does gender play a role in the ability to multitask?
  • Are some individuals significantly better than others at multitasking?
  • Does multitasking reduce attention span? Or do individuals who lack attention span typically tend to multitask?
  • Can we train people to be good at multitasking?
  • Are there some combination of tasks that are conducive to multitasking? What are their characteristics? (For example – it is perfectly natural to speak to someone seated in a car while you are driving, but not to speak on the cellphone;  one can listen to music and answer emails, but one cannot cook while answering emails).

Read more about multitasking and how to better handle the situation in the article: More on MultitaskingClick here if you have not yet read it.

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available. You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author :-).


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

Cartoons on CMMI®, Novels with CMMI® as a Background?

When a concept is popular and touches many people, it also gets on the radar of popular cartoonists and is used by novelists as a background for their popular novels (e.g., the lead character being a CMMI® consultant/ appraiser – just like protagonists are sometimes salespersons or programmers or lawyers or stockbrokers or even accountants).

Alas, I have come across just one Dilbert cartoon (with CMMI® as the focus) by Scott Adams, dated 13th March 2013.

Here is the link to the Dilbert CMMI® cartoon (though it is a decent cartoon, it is not one of the best from the Dilbert stables – did CMMI® dampen Scott Adams’ humor quotient?).

Humor should be a prerequisite to life’s lessons. It helps keep us sane; keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. It calms our apprehensions and puts life’s imperfections into perspective. Humor is the diversion we need to get us through the trials and tribulations of our lives.

The Importance of Humor, 123HelpMe.com. 24 Dec-15

There are some more CMMI® cartoons available, but they are created by  CMMI® consultants / appraisers to explain concepts of the CMMI® – and not really funny. I have not found any more in the ‘popular’ cartoon category meant for non-specialists.

I also have not found any bestseller fiction where any of the main characters is a CMMI® consultant / appraiser.

What does this mean? Is the field arcane? Is the CMMI® profession more boring than even accounting? Is there nothing funny in/ around CMMI® that common people will understand?

 

Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.

–Francis Bacon

 

Please feel free to to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available.

You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.

Notes:
Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, country, government, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author of this post :-).


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

CIA-OSS Manual for Workplace Sabotage

Recently, the CIA declassified a document titled ‘Simple Sabotage Field Manual’. This manual was created by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II–era precursor to the CIA. It is dated 1944, for use by CIA operatives in Europe who were trying to recruit civilians living in countries occupied by the Axis Alliance (Germany, Italy and Japan).

A scanned version of the document is available in the pdf form at the CIA’s website, here.

OSS-CIA Manual Cover

The documents has around 32 pages. The most interesting parts for me were in the last few pages in a section titled ‘General Interference with Organizations and Production.’

One sub-section of this part is reproduced here:

(a) Organizations and Conferences

(1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to, expedite decisions.
(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible – never less than five.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to reopen the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision -raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

The manual continues to other such sub-sections titled (b) Managers and Supervisors, (c) Office Workers, and (d) Employees. You can read all the sections in pages 28-32 of the manual available here.

What is amazing is that I see this behavior in most organizations, displayed by most people, though they may not have been recruited by the CIA (at least, I think CIA has better sense than to spend money when there is no need).

And that is why you have management gurus and management consultancy firms, much in demand, trying to reverse the situation, with maybe negligible effect. We have experts in OD, employee motivation, leadership development. operational efficiency, process management, organizational alignment, Balanced Scorecard, Six-Sigma, Lean, Agile, ISO, CMMI®, People CMM®, and so on…, but nothing seems to change.

The  beauty of the principles in the document are so inherently ‘aligned’ to human nature, that these principles have insidiously and organically crept into all aspects of all organizations, maybe even in the CIA.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions. Read pages 28-32 of the manual available here.

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available. You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author :-).


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services Ltd (MMFSL) Appraised & Rated at Maturity Level 3 of the People CMM®

On 30th Sept, 2015,  Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services Ltd (MMFSL), India was appraised and rated at maturity level 3 of the People CMM® as a MMFSL Logoresult of an appraisal conducted using SCAMPISM-A. MMFSL (started in 1991) is a large NBFC (Non-Banking Financial Company) with a workforce of more than 14K people.

The result of this SCAMPISM-A is available at the CMMI Institute site containing Published Appraisal Results (PARS), here (https://sas.cmmiinstitute.com/pars/pars_detail.aspx?a=25252).

This result has also been reported in the media, here.

This appraisal and rating was a milestone in an ongoing journey at MMFSL that was initiated around two years ago by Mr. Vinay Deshpande, their CPO (Chief People Officer). The objective was to improve the skills, motivation, engagement, and alignment of their people for achieving higher levels of organizational performance.

Here are a few highlights of MMFSL, their people related processes, changes implemented during the People CMM® journey, benefits accrued, and future plans.

  • MMFSL is the first NBFC in India with a large workforce (over 14K employees), with a pan-India presence to have successfully implemented maturity level 3 aligned processes.
  • MMFSL has, in the last two years been able to hire over 60% through employee referral, saving considerable hiring costs. This also reconfirms that employees are acting as ‘promoters’ of the organization in the job market.
  • During the People CMM® journey, MMFSL has implemented a robust competency framework that is used for hiring, individual development, internal job postings, training, and succession planning.

Other companies of the Mahindra Group in the Finance Sector are also adopting the People CMM® framework.

We hope to share more experiences from MMFSL soon on this website.

The appraisal team was led by Rajesh Naik (CMMI Institute Partner: QAI India).

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available. You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.

Other related posts uploaded on the same blog:

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author :-).

SM-SCAMPI is a service mark of Carnegie Mellon University.


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

Interview: Shri RG Rajan, CMD, RCF on the People CMM®

RG Rajan Photo

Mr RG Rajan is the Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) at RCF (Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Limited).
In this interview, Mr Rajan shares RCF’s experiences in implementing the People CMM® and benefits that RCF (website: http://www.rcfltd.com/) gained in the journey.  RCF was appraised and rated at maturity level 2 through a SCAMPISM Class A appraisal in Jan 2015 (see details of the appraisal listed here.

Q: Please tell us about your organization – RCF.

CMD: Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd. is a leading Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) in India, and is engaged for the past five decades in the production of various fertilizers and industrial chemicals at Chembur (Mumbai) and Thal (Raigad district, Maharashtra). We market these products all over India. We have also been in the forefront of the ‘Green Revolution’ in India and have been serving the farmers of the country for several decades.

RCF is certified to ISO 9001:2008, ISO 14001:2004, and OHSAS 18001:2007.

Our greatest asset is our committed workforce of over 4000 employees. We have taken various initiatives involving employees – these include Quality Circles, Kaizen and Five-S. We conduct ‘Organizational Climate and Employee Satisfaction Surveys’ and also participate in the ‘Best Companies to Work for’ studies conducted by organizations such as ‘Great Place to Work Institute’.

Q: Please tell us about your decision on adopting the People CMM® model. And about your People CMM® journey.

CMD: In 2012, we found that BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited) had adopted the People CMM® for their HR processes – this prompted us to assess the feasibility of adopting this model for RCF.

We understood the concept and the framework of the People CMM® by interacting with various experts and services providers in India.

To get the maximum benefit, we decided to cover the entire organization under the People CMM®. We undertook a SCAMPISM Class-C to find out where we stand, and identify the gaps in our processes. We worked hard to close the gaps identified. Then we performed a SCAMPISM Class-B to assess our readiness for a formal appraisal, before being appraised using the SCAMPISM Class-A method.

Internally, a project team of around thirty officials from HR and HRD was formed with the Executive Director (HR), Shri P G Deshpande being the Sponsor. This project team drove the project with assistance from external experts.

We ensured that all required resources were made available for the successful progress and completion of this project.

Q: There is a feeling that the People CMM® is applicable only for IT companies. Yours is a manufacturing organization – what is your impression now that you have implemented a part of the People CMM®?

CMD: The People CMM® is generic in nature and I can confidently say that it is independent of factors such as geography, sector or industry.

Q: What is your message to other public sector companies in India regarding the People CMM®?

CMD: All PSUs can definitely gain by implementing the People CMM®.

And we at RCF are more than ready to help other PSU organizations.

We have requested SCOPE (Standing Conference of Public Enterprises) to organize a session of HR heads of various PSUs where we can share our experience of People CMM® rollout. This will facilitate the PSUs to understand the immense benefits of People CMM®. It will also help them address any misgivings they may have about using the model in a PSU.

Q: What are the key benefits that RCF has started realizing as a result of implementing the People CMM®?

CMD: Often, the perception of the employees is not in congruence with the intent and hard work put in by support departments like HR and HRD. We were looking out for some method through which HR is seen to be contributing as a Business Partner. The People CMM® helped us achieve this. One of the results of implementing the People CMM® that gladdens me most is that now people perceive that ‘HR has come closer to employees’.

Tracking of many of the people related requests, complaints, and transactions, such as quarter allotments, repair of facilities, status of claims of reimbursements, etc. have been upgraded through a computerized help desk during the People CMM® journey.

Formal systems of listening to employee voices through periodical surveys of services such as canteen, hospital, etc. have been institutionalized.

We have shifted from a ‘performance appraisal system’ to a ‘performance management system’ wherein constant feedback is being given to employees about their performance and the line managers have been trained to impart performance counseling in situations where required.

HR has started connecting with employees on a regular basis using a forum called ‘HR, aap ke dwaar’.

Q: Now that you are maturity level 2, will you be pursuing higher maturity levels?

CMD: Having experienced the immense benefits of maturity level 2, our HR professionals are now aiming to reach higher levels of maturity of the People CMM®. In addition to imparting delight to the employees, People CMM® is also adding to their professional competencies.

I am sure that within next seven to eight years we will reach maturity level 5 of the model.

===============

Thank you Mr Rajan, for your time and sharing your thoughts. And wish you and RCF all the best!

Mr RG Rajan is the Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) at RCF (Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Limited).

Other related posts uploaded on the same blog:

Please feel feel to share your views, experiences or queries, using the “comments” feature available.
Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the interviewer or the interviewee :-).

SM-SCAMPI is a service mark of Carnegie Mellon University.


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

RCF (Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers) Successfully Adopts the People CMM®

RCF LogoOn 23rd January, 2015, Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Limited (RCF), India was rated at maturity level 2 of the People CMM® as a result of an appraisal conducted using SCAMPISM-A.

The result of this SCAMPISM-A is available at the CMMI Institute site containing Published Appraisal Results (PARS), here (https://sas.cmmiinstitute.com/pars/pars_detail.aspx?a=23729).

This result has also been reported in the media, here.

This appraisal and rating was a milestone in an ongoing journey at RCF to improve the skills, motivation, engagement, and alignment of their people for achieving higher levels of organizational performance.

The adoption of the People CMM® by RCF is a bold initiative because it is possibly without precedence on many aspects. Here are a few key aspects in which RCF may be a pioneer in adopting the model:

  1.  RCF is a public sector undertaking (PSU) in India. Very few other Indian PSUs have adopted the People CMM® and none have successfully completed a SCAMPISM-A appraisal. RCF may even be the first  public sector organization in the world to be rated at any maturity level of the People CMM®  (though I can’t be sure, because the definition of a PSU varies across the world).
  2. RCF is involved in continuous manufacturing, sales, distribution and marketing of fertilizers and industrial chemicals. RCF is one of the very few in this industry (and may be the first) to achieve maturity level 2 of the People CMM®.
  3. RCF is over 50 years old and possibly the ‘oldest’ organization to have successfully completed a SCAMPISM-A appraisal.

RCF is currently a ‘Mini Ratna Cat-1’ PSU. According to news reports (see here and here), RCF’s status is likely to be upgraded to a ‘NavRatna’, given its past performance and new initiatives that it pursues. The ‘NavRatna’ status will increase RCF’s financial autonomy – some details are available on this wikipedia page.

RCF’s executive management is keen to share RCF’s experiences with other organizations. Some of this sharing will be soon published at AlignMentor.

The appraisal team was led by Rajesh Naik (CMMI Institute Partner: QAI India).

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available. You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author :-).

SM-SCAMPI is a service mark of Carnegie Mellon University.


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

People CMM® Appraisals – 2014 Update

Another year has passed and it is time to summarize data related to Class-A appraisals for the People CMM®. (the first post was Adoption of People CMM® -01: Appraisal Results).

Here is the updated data with the People CMM® SCAMPISM-A published results of 2014 added:

No. of People CMM® Appraisals Upto 2014

Data for 2010 to 2014 has been picked up from the Published Appraisal Results Site maintained by the CMMI Institute. Earlier data has been picked up from multiple sources as given in the table. Some appraisals may be missing from the data, if the appraised entity did not wish to publish the results (for whatever reasons).

Further analysis of the past 20 appraisals (of the last 3 years) listed in the Published Appraisal Results Site (with Filter People CMM® v2.0)  shows the following:

  • Eighteen of the 20 appraisals in the period 2012-2014 were led by three LAs (D Sankararaman, K Kothandaraman and Rajesh Naik).
  • The 20 People CMM® appraisals (of the last 3 years) were accounted for between five LAs.
  • There are 11 authorized LAs for the model on 5-Jan-2015 (the number of LAs was 9 in 2013). Five of the eleven have done at least one listed SCAMPISM-A appraisal in the last 3 years. (for a list of People CMM® LAs go to the Partner Directory; select “CMMI Institute Authorized SCAMPI with People CMM Lead Appraiser” option –> you will get the list of LAs for People CMM®).
  • Most appraised organizations of the last 3 years belong to the IT, ITes and engineering domains. Though there are some from other domains like telecom (Dialog).
  • Accenture – Tech units across the globe has the highest number of entries in the list of the last 3 years.

The reasons for the low number of appraisals for People CMM® have been discussed in the post Adoption of People CMM® -03: Why is it Low?  – I believe the same reasons continue to apply even today.

Hope we have a greater adoption of the model and more number of reported appraisals in 2013 and beyond.

Other related posts uploaded on the same blog:

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author :-).

SM-SCAMPI is a service mark of Carnegie Mellon University.
The People CMM® (by Bill Curtis, Bill Hefley, and Sally Miller) has been available for more than 15 years. Version 1.0 of the model was released in 1995 and version 2.0 was released in 2001.


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

Book Review – “A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper” by John Allen Paulos

This is the book from which I had adopted two puzzles that I used in the last few posts.

A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper Cover

Title A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper: Making Sense of Numbers in the Headlines
Author John Allen Paulos
Publishing Date 1995
Publisher First by Basic Books, then by Penguin
Formats Available Paperback, Kindle
Available at Amazon.com, Amazon.in, and Flipkart.

Here is an example of mistaken precision quoted in the book:

“…museum guard who claimed the dinosaur on exhibit was 65,000,038 years old. When pressed about the precision of the number, the guard says that a scientist told him the dinosaur was 65 million years old when he was hired 38 years before”

In this book, John Allen Paulos takes us through the various sections of the newspapers and explains how math and numbers are key elements behind every story that we read. The book is quirky, perceptive, and uses a ‘light’ approach. Each chapter is very short (about 2 to 3 pages) and covers one topic or one segment of the newspaper. He keeps using analytical thinking and logic together with numbers and simple formulae to keep us hooked. Surprisingly, I found that the longer chapters were more engrossing than the shorter ones.

There are sections on population, taxes, horoscopes, sports, literacy, SAT scores, gender issues, rodent population, rate of technological changes, health care plans, drug approvals, the super collider, and other such topics that we read in the newspapers every day.

Here is something I found interesting in his coverage on obituaries:

“I wonder about the relationships among the obituary’s length, L; the deceased’s achievements, A; his or her fame, F (which is largely independent of achievement); the interval between these and death, I; and the number of other “important” deaths that day, D. Maybe it’s something roughly like L = (A X FXF)/ Sqrt (I X D)….”

Another interesting concept was how minor differences between two populations can seem huge when we consider the behaviour at the extremes of the populations. For example, if we compare student admission percentages to top colleges across different communities, we may find that a minor difference in education levels in the two communities can result in huge differences in the number of admissions, because we are looking at the extremely talented population of both communities.

And through many examples, he illustrates that human beings do not have an intuitive grasp of probability. For example, we are likely to get many continuous sequences of heads (or tails) in real flips of a coin, than we expect (we expect the results to keep changing from head to tail more frequently).

Having read this delightful book, I think I will end up applying a bit more critical thinking to newspaper articles I read from now on…

About the author

John Allen Paulos is an American professor of mathematics at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Professor Paulos is famous for his work on mathematical literacy and illiteracy.

Other books by Paulos are Innumeracy, Mathematics and Humor, Irreligion, I Think, Therefore I Laugh, Beyond Numeracy, A Mathematician Plays The Stock Market, and Once Upon A Number.

You can also view this rather long video where the author talks about randomness and many mistakes we make while dealing with it (uploaded on youtube):

If the clip does not load click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__-S2WXmJwU

The book is available at: Amazon.com, Amazon.in, and Flipkart.

Please use the comment feature below to send in your responses.

Other Book Reviews

Other book reviews uploaded on the same blog:

Please feel free to share your views, experiences or queries, using the “comments” feature available.

Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author of this post :-).


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

Probability/ Stats Puzzles – 2 & 3 (Solutions)

If you’ve not seen/ attempted the puzzles, the links are here: puzzle-2 and puzzle-3. These were presented in earlier posts.

Both these puzzles are adopted from a delightful little book by John Allen Paulos titled A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper.

I will provide more details about the book next week. For now, here are the solutions to the two puzzles.

Puzzle-2

You need to call the throw of a dice a 1000 times. Like all dices, in each throw, this dice also gives you a number between 1 and 6. You are also told that the dice is slightly distorted / damaged – the probability of getting the six results is as follows: 1- 20%; 2- 10%; 3- 25%; 4-15%; 5-15%; 6-15%.

What strategy would you use to call the answers for the 1000 throws? Your objective is to get the right answer for a maximum of the throws.

Solution:

Call 3, 3, 3, 3…. all the 1000 times. This will get you aprroximately 250 right calls.

Or better still, tell the dice roller that your call is 3 all the thousand times, go for a coffee, or do something useful, come back after some time.

Puzzle-3

Two contestants are to decide on the winner of 10 mn by flipping a coin. The winner will be the one who reaches six (6) correct calls first.

After 8 flips, contestant A has 5 correct calls, and contestant B has 3 correct calls. At this stage they agree NOT to continue with the flipping of the coin. Here are some proposals on how the money should be shared:

  1. Contestant A says that since he is leading, he should get the 10mn.
  2. Contestant B says that since the flipping was called off before the final result, the 10mn should be shared equally.
  3. The show-host says that TV quiz program sponsors should retain the 10mn, since both the contestants agreed to call off the contest.
  4. Someone from the audience suggests that the prize money be split in the 5:3 ratio (5 for A and 3 for B), in line with the number of right calls
  5. A mathematician calls in to suggest that the money be split A7:B1 (try and guess the logic here, it is related to the probability of winning from this point, if the flipping had continued)

Solution:

The question on how the money is to be shared is not a mathematical /statistical problem at all! It is a matter of fairness and justice, and each solution proposed (and some yet to be proposed) has its own merit.

However, if you have not yet worked out the logic of why the mathematician proposed option # 5 above, here it is:

For contestant B to win 6 calls in a row, he/ she needs to call ALL of the next three calls correctly (even if he / she calls one incorrectly, A will reach 6 right calls. So the probability of B winning is (0.5) x (0.5) x (0.5) = 0.125; which means A has a probability of 0.875 – that is 7:1.

Next week, I will cover the source of these puzzles, a book titled A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper by John Allen Paulos.

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Notes:

Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, country, government, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author of this post :-).


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

Probability/ Stats Puzzle – 3

I encountered another problem in the same book (I will disclose the name of the book in a later post along with the answer). Here is the problem:

Coin FlipTwo contestants have reached the last round of a TV quiz contest and one of them is hoping to be the winner of a prize of 10 mn (currency deliberately left vague) via a tie-breaker. Even after the tie-breaker, neither of them has beaten the other.

The show-host offers to break the tie with a coin (my guess is that the show host did not have any more questions left :-)). However, to maintain the suspense and gain more TRP, he proposes that the winner will be one who reaches six (6) correct calls first.

After 8 flips, contestant A has 5 correct calls, and contestant B has 3 correct calls. At this stage both the contestants agree NOT to continue with the flipping of the coin (maybe the coin is lost or it breaks or falls into something disgusting – use your imagination). They have to decide on the winner based on result of the 8 flips.

Here are some proposals:

  1. Contestant A says that since he is leading, he should get the 10mn.
  2. Contestant B says that since the flipping was called off before the final result, the 10mn should be shared equally.
  3. The show-host says that TV quiz program sponsors should retain the 10mn, since both the contestants agreed to call off the contest.
  4. Someone from the audience suggests that the prize money be split in the 5:3 ratio (5 for A and 3 for B), in line with the number of right calls
  5. A mathematician calls in to suggest that the money be split A7:B1 (try and guess the logic here, it is related to the probability of winning from this point, if the flipping had continued)
  6. Any other…

It is interesting to note so many options to a simple situation.

Please share your suggestions in the “comments” feature available below.


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.