Monday, December 5, 2016

Final Reflection

First, I had voted for using electronic devices in class. Also, while I did miss some lectures, I’d guess that I would be in the upper percentile of people that attended the lecture based on the statistics provided of class size (including those that dropped) and just general observation. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there were days where I didn’t contribute anything to the class discussion.

In regards to attendance I actually find my behavior ironic in ways. I’ve had classes where attendance was required (albeit there may not have been any points or system in place to reinforce this) that I would routinely skip. However, I really enjoyed going to this lecture despite having the choice to completely skip lecture because attendance was not required. I thought some of the discussions in class were interesting and overall I had a respect for you, the professor, because of your experiences with business and the University and your overall knowledge of economics. The smaller classroom size probably made the lecture more appealing in that sense. However, what I think may have hurt this experience was having electronic devices in class. It’s too easy to get distracted and from a psychological standpoint we’ve been easily coerced into checking our phones when we feel a slight vibrating buzz in our pocket. For most of us, I felt that our responses were short and didn’t help in creating an engaging conversation. I think this created a sort of hive mind like behavior amongst us – when everyone has their laptops out and has short responses, the behavior is likely going to be repeated.

Now I can ask myself why I didn’t try to break the trend and well, I couldn’t really explain to you why I didn’t. I’d answer occasionally when we had discussions but when it came to the excel homework I was a bit lost so that at least explains in some part my behavior. I don’t think any of us individually want to keep talking the whole class period and that hurts the chances of having classroom dialogue. Also, in the sense of the whole class, we did vote on the policy of electronic devices so that reinforces the class setting in some manner. I think the majority of us are involved with a lot of activities beyond the class and if there’s an opportunity to take our foot off the pedal and slack it’ll likely happen. Slack might not be best word but what I’m trying to convey is that if people have an opportunity to blow something off they can. I don’t want to be pessimistic about the class but I’ve had some classes where I individually blew off for one reason or another because I had an opportunity to do so. I don’t know if everyone as a whole is just more involved and values any extra time to not work or if our intrinsic behavior is to be opportunistic. On the other hand, I’ve had classes where it was quite possible to blow them off but a majority of students didn’t. I’m not even sure how to explain these behaviors I’m just really writing this off of my initial gut feeling. Perhaps in the future to encourage more discussion we could have handouts of some sorts. I think when we physically have something in our hands it gets more of our focus. A laptop and phone have strong pull on students and that reflected on the class’ behavior in some discussions.  Another thought however was that some students may have came to the lecture (despite it being optional) because we could have electronic devices.  If that is taken away then I’d have to wonder if classroom attendance would become poorer than what it was currently. That’s the unfortunate reality of economics, changing one variable opens up a pandora’s box of outcomes (at least in my opinion, you’re more versed and experienced with economics so I may make a poor connection here, I hope you’ll at least appreciate the attempt).

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Personal Reputation

 As an only child I figure I hold a strong reputation with my mom and dad. In addition to being an only child, my parents had me rather late compared to most parents so growing up it was inherent that they invested a lot of their lives into me. I figure this reputation developed as I grew up because they were involved with any activities I did growing up. It was rare if they missed me playing baseball in little league and they were always there to watch the cheesy school performances that our grade school would make us do.

As I grew older and grew more independent from my parents’ care, I realized that while I was in control of my own actions, that my decisions could influence how my parents felt towards me. My parents enjoyed being apart of anything I did as I was an adolescent but they also never crossed the line of being overbearing. For example, when I was younger in grade school I had learned to play guitar and kept up with it for a couple of years. My parents had gotten me a nicer guitar for one Christmas. I figure they had hopes that I would continue playing and that I would appreciate it. Ultimately, I had quit playing guitar and that instance was probably the first tug of war that I had with my own emotions towards how my parents felt about me. I did not want to upset them but at the same time I really wasn’t interested at the time in continuing to play. While it initially hurt my “reputation” with them in the long run it never damaged our relationship. I recall explaining to them that I had interests and certainly appreciated their support but if I didn’t have interest in something anymore wasn’t a big issue. I think at least explaining myself kept my “reputation” among my parents intact.

There have been moments where my behavior has strayed away but has not affected my relationship with my parents. Being in college has brought a sense of acceptance that I’m technically responsible for my own actions (and legally as well). To maintain this I’ll give my parents a call throughout the semester and just let them know that everything’s fine. However, being in college it’s only natural to hang out with friends often. And while most of our parents would like to imagine we were staying in and studying it’d be lying to say we didn’t “cash in” on our reputations with our parents. If there is nothing that requires our immediate attention and isn’t a priority it’s likely that people will want to go out at night. There’s always the option to stay in and study to get ahead of schoolwork 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Principal Agent Model

Similar to previous posts, my experience of working at the bike store involved a principal-agent model in the form of a triangle. My duties at the store generally involved anything that had to do with the ecommerce part of the store. I processed orders, managed the inventory, and provided any necessary customer support when possible through online communication. Similar to an associate at a law firm, I was an agent for both the customer and the storeowners. Customers usually expected quick shipping, an accurate product description, and quick communication for any questions they may have. The storeowners expected orders to be processed as soon as possible daily, positive feedback from customers, and that I wasn’t wasteful (not using excessive packaging materials, using larger boxes than necessary, etc.)

There were some cases where the customer’s expectations were on a different wavelength than the storeowners. In one situation, there was a bike helmet shipped all the way across the country to a customer in California. They claimed that when they received the package that the helmet had some busted plastic chunks, probably from damage during the package’s shipment transit. The customer had called the store to talk about the issue and I responded to them quickly. The first issue stemmed in that the storeowners wanted to see a picture of the damaged helmet to confirm there was a problem while the customer just wanted a new helmet replaced instead and as soon as possible. This annoyed the customer and I had to initially agree with her that some stores usually eat the loss and accept the return no questions asked. While I was able to convince the customer to send the pictures (which did confirm the damage) the next issue was getting the storeowner to provide a replacement helmet. One of the owners preferred having a policy of just refunding the customer the money as it would cost us extra in shipping to get the damaged helmet returned and to send out a new one. For the one storeowner, his priority was the bottom line and he was upset about the extra shipping costs. I decided to bring up the fact that while it was unfortunate to lose out extra money in this situation, that good customer feedback was equally important and that in the long run it would be better business for the store to provide exceptional customer service. It could help bring return customers and the positive feedback was valuable. Because the store mainly sold on Amazon, I also explained that too many customer complaints could put a hold on their store account and that dealing with the bureaucratic parts of Amazon can be a slow and painful process for the store. The lost sales from the account being temporarily suspended would cost more than the shipping costs of sending a new helmet. Ultimately, this had convinced the owner to see eye to eye with the customer’s case.

In that situation I suppose I tried to follow the mantra, “the customer is always right”. The business of ecommerce is different with handling returns than in-store operations. A lot of the times you have to put blind faith into the customer and assume they are goodhearted and honest when describing an issue with an item. There are customers that try to abuse the system or they have unrealistic expectations that an employee has to work with. I was always cautious with customer returns, making sure to inspect products sent back to confirm that the customer hadn’t done anything suspicious with the item. Ultimately, I want to please the customer and that may end up displeasing the storeowners at times. They’re trying to make money in the short run, but the customer is key to keeping to their business alive.  

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Summer Conflict

This is another experience from my time working at the bike shop a couple of summers ago. There was a small conflict between two workers over the issue of one of the worker’s late attendance to work. To respect their original identities, Andy will be the name of the worker that would arrive late and Ben would be the name of the worker that took the issue personally.

Andy was an employee that would occasionally arrive to work an hour or two late and would sometimes act apathetic in general. He wasn’t necessarily rude to anyone, but it was clear at times that Andy did not care if he was late. He had a habit of arriving late once or twice a week. While he usually appeared tired, probably from sleeping in late, he didn’t have any problems completing his work with high-quality effort (although in my opinion, our work wasn’t exactly challenging). I’m not sure if the owners ever addressed his tardiness with him personally but he was never fired, as he would perform well enough to not be seen as a liability.

Ben never had an issue with his attendance and was early most of the workweek. The store would open at 10 am with Ben consistently being the first one there to open. Ben was generally relaxed with everyone and was on good terms with everyone. I’d never have any issues with him if I had arrived a little late however over time he grew frustrated with Andy’s schedule of showing up late. I was well aware of Andy’s habits but Ben was the first one to bring it to discussion with myself and other employees. All of the other employees including myself didn’t have any vocal issues with Ben’s tardiness. I suppose we all accepted that our work culture was more relaxed and that there weren’t any serious repercussions as long as work orders and duties were completed on time.

At one point over the summer, Ben had apparently had enough of Andy’s lateness and took it upon himself to personally talk to Andy. While I don’t know the details of their conversation the discussion clearly had not gone as well as Andy and Ben made it an effort to not interact with each other. I also don’t know if the interaction had been brought up to either of the two store owners but I figure one of the owners, who was well liked by everyone, was able to help calm things down between the two. While Andy and Ben still had minimal interaction with each other, the conflict had simmered down and there was no further escalation between the two. I and other employees might have joked about the situation but everyone enjoyed the relaxed culture that we had and didn’t want to ruin the environment we had created. Also, Andy seemed to improve his attendance a bit after the conflict but there was always one day of the week where he would show up tardy.

From the beginning it was clear that the workplace ethics of Andy and Ben would conflict at some point over the summer. It may have been difficult to avoid in the beginning however as Ben was a laid back person that didn’t really hint at his frustration toward Andy. When I became aware of the situation I decided to lay off anything as I felt that I didn’t have anything to do with the situation and that at the worst Andy would say something to the owners. I feel that the other employees didn’t want a part of the conflict and probably thought it may have been too petty to be involved with it too. We all understood the owners didn’t actively complain about the tardiness and now looking back at the situation I’m surprised more people did not abuse this as well (although in an earlier blog post I explain how a lot of us felt apart of the store). In my opinion I feel that workplace conflicts like these are inevitable but each situation is unique and may or may not have a proper action that can be taken to settle things.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fairness Within Teams

In some earlier blog posts, I mentioned about a small bike shop that I had worked for. After reading the three articles and looking back at my experiences working there I realize that there were some sorts of gift exchanges going on that reflected the team's production.

At the bike store, our team would be all of the employees and the two owners. Technically, there were three departments of the store that we worked in. We had online sales, the sales floor, and then the repair shop. Sometimes we had to work in different departments if we didn’t have much work for that day. For example, if some of the maintenance guys would help out on the sales floor if there weren’t any service orders to fill. However, a majority of the time we worked in our respective departments. These departments all held an equally valuable role in the company and for the most part our wages were relatively close to each other. The only aspects that made us different as team members were age and experience. There were older members that had worked in the store or bikes in general for a longer time but the majority of us were college students. However, there wasn’t any senior roles in the store nor was there a store manager. The only people who held more power were the owners, but they wanted a more hands-off approach with the company (similar to our class discussions on how effective teams let individuals take their own responsibility for their work).

In “When a Child Thinks Life is Unfair, Use Game Theory” KJ Dell’antonia talked about some instances where a parent could use game theory to make children feel that they were being treated fairly. In a lot of these methods, Dell’antonia talked about the effectiveness of them. She noted in some methods that age played a role. While I mentioned that some employees at the store were older, that didn’t matter as much with our production. What I believe mattered was that fact that we were all getting paid around the same for our work and that in the eyes of the owners every position mattered to the store. In the example “Tit for Tat”, to make children feel fair you give them similar tasks to be done. If someone has to pick up trash you have to pick up trash too. The idea being that the tasks were done were of equal value and that no one was getting preference over one another. At the bike shop, we all worked independently and without much supervision besides the occasional check in. I was always able to process shipments for orders that day, the repair guys always met deadlines for when they needed to repair bikes, and anyone doing sales on the floor was proactive about helping customers. It's possible that this efficient production came from the fact that we all felt that our positions brought value to the company. In “The Power of Altruism”, David Brooks explained how moral motivation can have a stronger effect that financial motivation. The owners had a passive approach to managing us and had an established a system in which we all fault that we were equally important to the store. The owners gave trusted us and gave us freedom and equality. In return, finished our work on time every day and without much assistance needed from them. 

What was even more interesting about this situation and what also supports some of the ideas from the articles is that during the time I was working at the store, the business was actually losing money. In these types of hardships, it wouldn’t have surprised me if the owners had become more involved with how everything was running. With all due respect we were mostly kids getting paid a little bit above minimum wage, so when the owners start losing money you would figure they’d trust us less. However, one of the owners would instead just check in on us for the day to make sure we weren’t running into any problems and that we finished our work. This gift exchange was likely helpful in turning the company around. While I don’t work there anymore and don’t know the financial situation of the store, I’ve still driven past in plenty of times so I can only assume their style of organization has continued to work so far.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Risks and Rewards

When I think about managing future income risk I usually consider the amount of assets and liabilities I currently have along with how much I could have in the near future. For that, I consider the amount of money I currently have in my account and anything that I do that I know will generate money. One summer I was working a job that was paying ten dollars an hour. I was able to calculate how many hours I should put in that summer and then estimate a rough amount of how much of that would go to taxes and other expenses for the job (lunch, gas, etc.). The last summer, however, I worked for myself as I pursued some business ventures. This was a bit harder to calculate, as the amount of money I’d make would be harder to calculate as some parts of the venture worked while others failed. Overall, for assets, I try to get a rough idea of how much money I’d have to my name, along with any other assets such as my laptop (in the worst case where I’d have to sell something off to pay a bill).

For my expenses, I consider the amount of debt I’m taking on at school. This is easier to predict over my 4 years as for the most part expenses have been the same except for slight increases every year. I don’t have a hard budget but based on what I have I generally have an idea if I can afford something new or not such as the new iPhone. In most cases I could certainly buy a new iPhone however in the back of my mind I know that I may not afford it in the long run after school so I generally look for different options such as a refurbished phone or someone that may have had buyers remorse and is selling it for a couple hundred dollars less.

When I’m considering the big picture overall I look at my expected debt after college versus what I should make after college. Figuring out what I make after college is difficult. For that, I consider the fields I’d like to work in with my degree and what the median pay is for someone fresh out of college and I’ll also consider the fields I could work in that I may not enjoy but could have employment opportunities available. My goal in college is to not take on an amount of debt that would exceed my expected first-year salary. I tend to be conservative when estimating the amount I’d make my first year. However, while I’m writing this post I just realized I don’t consider other things such as insurance benefits, 401k, and other forms of compensation that a job may offer – which again is hard to estimate because every company is different with how they reward their employees.

My cousin was a marketing major in college. She wasn’t really pleased with her employment options so she ended up majoring in a program that focused on the more analytical side of marketing. While she never mentioned it I figure that she chose the program because it would expand her skillset and help her find the job she was looking for. However, I know debt is a big issue with the decision she made. Graduate school is very expensive and she’s always joked how she’ll probably make a loan payment every month until she’s a grandmother. Based on her decisions it seems that she is making the salary she’d like to but is also going to have to pay for it for a while. While her and her husband are not under financial stress it seems like they’ll always have to pay bills every month. For myself personally, I’d rather like to live without bills even if it meant I’d have to cutback on things I enjoy. In one case, that may even be putting off the idea of having a family in my late 20s. My cousin was very adamant about having a family despite the costs of having children and owning a home but at the same time with the income her family makes she can afford the expenses. If there’s anything I took away from their experiences its that you can have the things you want in life but it’s very important to consider if you really want it because the debt associated with it can be expensive and also become apart of your life.  

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Blog Reflection

One theme that I think I am seeing is the relationship between an individual and the organization they are a part of. We’ve talked about being on a good or bad team as well as talking about how employers treat (and want) highly efficient employees. I guess the theme I’m seeing here is you’ll present a situation where there is a “cog” (an individual) and then something is happening with the “machine” (the organization). In some cases, we’ve talked about self-experiences and in others, we’ve had to propose ideas for why certain things happen, as in the case of opportunism. However, I feel that a majority of the posts relate to this cog and the machine type theme.

There are definitely ways to connect what I’ve written to the course themes. I think it helps that I generally read the posts on the econ490 blog page to get sort of an idea of what we’ll be talking about and how to see the bigger picture when it comes to connecting blog posts with coursework. I think the connections become more obvious in class as there is a discussion about our blog posts. I always make it an effort to not read others’ blog posts for the week until I’ve written my own as I don’t want any influence on my thinking. Afterward, I’ll usually read a couple of posts and then the discussion that usually follows in class every Tuesday provides me a more holistic view on the topic being covered.  

My process for writing the blog posts has been more about adapting than evolving. In the beginning, I would read the prompt and then just kind of spew out sentences that would come to mind and I would just go along with the blog post. Now, (assuming I stick with the deadlines for the posts), I more or less write down a couple of general bullet points in a notebook as a reference for my writing so that there is more organization to my blog posts. If I had to relate it something it’d be billiards. Before I was just kind of hitting the cue ball randomly to the first open shot I had (writing what first came to mind) but now I’ll try to look at the bigger picture and structure my approach around that (planning your shots). I still write what comes to mind but by having the reference points I think I have adapted my blog posts to become more cohesive and organized.

For future prompts, I don’t have any overall topics available off the top of my head but I enjoy the reflective aspects of the posts – where we take a concept and try to relate it to our own experiences in life. I think by drawing those connections we can better understand the concepts being taught in class and it also puts more intrinsic value into the coursework. The blog posts and class material have more meaning as I try to relate it to my own life. In high school math classes there would always be students asking “do we really use this stuff in life?” and some teachers would shrug because the advanced levels of calculus would not be something most people would relate to five years down the road in life. On the other hand, I now think of transaction costs sometimes when seeing how a group or organization on campus handles something.