Friday, December 5, 2014

Review and Critique

I did not know what to expect when I registered for Economics of Organizations but thought that it would coincide well with an Organizational Communication course that I registered for simultaneously. I found that I was able to connect some but not all examples covered in either class to each other and apply those examples to help further understand the course material. To my pleasant surprise, one of the books required for this course, Bowman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations, provided more communicative approaches to organizations that I did not expect to learn from an Economics course. Furthermore, I was able to learn new topics in economics that I had not previously been taught.

There are two lessons that I particularly enjoyed in this course. First, I enjoyed the lesson on Argyris and Schön’s theories for actions. The Model I and Model II approaches taught me about interpersonal dynamics that I did not expect to be taught in this course. As I am a student majoring in Economics and minoring in Communication, this topic appealed to both my academic interests. I also enjoyed the lesson and excel homeworks that involved the Prisoner’s Dilemma. This was a topic that had been mentioned in previous Economics courses that I had taken, but it had never been explained in depth in my classes before this one. As this is a common topic discussed in Economics courses, I am glad to have finally learned it in this course.

The structure of the course was quite different from many courses I have taken before. It has the feel of a seminar without actually being labeled as a seminar. At such large universities as the University of Illinois, this is a rare atmosphere to find. While I did not actively participate in many of the discussions, with the exception of being the first to answer a question on the first day of class, this atmosphere allowed me to develop my own thoughts and also develop a context for the course materials. Although my time is limited to a mere one semester here at U of I, I hope to find this atmosphere in another course. 

Concerning the blog posts, as I had homework due most of the week before Friday, I determined that Friday morning was the day to complete them. I struggled with a few of the blog posts conceptually and had trouble connecting my own personal experiences with the material in the beginning, but as the course went on, I was able to more quickly determine what personal experiences are appropriate to write about. Friday is also not a day that I regularly, at least in the past, do homework and that certainly affected my mindset while writing the blog posts. There were some Fridays in which I was really motivated to finish the posts and some Fridays in which I was highly unmotivated to even start the post. As for the excel homeworks, I found them to be a very unique way of learning course concepts. I have never seen homework like this before and was very pleased to apply some of my Excel knowledge gained in my summer internship. As was expected, in the beginning of the course I quickly worked through each homework. This caused me to not fully understand the course concepts but also motivated me to work more earlier and more carefully on the homework.

I do not have any suggestions for the improvement of this course or about things I would have liked to see in the course. The class has been well developed and teaches a wide variety of topics. The grading procedures were quite fair and the deadlines for assignments, specifically blog posts, were very appreciated. Despite the development and generosity of this course, I believe that I could done a much better job preparing for class discussions and exams. There were some sections of the course that I simply could have taken a little extra time on in order to fully understand them.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Family Reputation

The domain in which I usually have the strongest reputation is with my family. My family is comprised of my two parents and my younger siblings. I am the oldest in my family with one brother who is three years younger than me and twin sisters who are seven years younger than me. Personal reputation amongst family is unique in that it has been developed over the span of an entire lifetime. Each action that I have taken over the course of that time contributes to my reputation as a whole, especially in the eyes of those who are able to judge it best (based on the passage of time): my parents. It is also unique in that the people who judge my reputation are the very people who I live with and are closest to me.

My personal successes both socially and academically have contributed the strong reputation I have in my family. For example, events such as that described in my earlier post “Opportunism - Getting Out of a Pickle” are the events that routinely characterize me and contribute to my reputation. By choosing a route that characterizes that “hard work will always pay off in the end”, I have conveyed that I am a hard working individual to my family. Throughout childhood, academics surround a person’s reputation. Parents brag about their children being honors students, getting good grades and even projects. In contributing to a parent’s own reputation, good students can also develop their own reputation that conveys they are not only competent but hard working. Following this assumption, my academic success further contributes to my reputation. I have been quite successful academically as I was most always an honors student and am now attending the University of Illinois where my academic success has stayed consistent with that of my performance throughout K-12. Throughout every event, I have shown that I am also reliable to both my siblings and my parents. I have made a point to put family first in my decisions and it has further enhanced my reputation.

I must also realize that my reputation in my family affects each of my siblings’ performances. As the oldest child, I have first and foremost set the precedence for each child in my family in my performances socially, academically and in how I have built my character. This motivates me to perform as best as I can to serve as a role model to my siblings and use my reputation to motivate their own performances. For example, if I achieve success academically, my siblings will look up to me and be motivated to also achieve the same success. My reputation is then further enhanced by serving as this role model. As a role model to my siblings, there is little moral value for me to stray from the behaviors that give me a strong reputation. I must consistently serve as this person for the better of my siblings. 

Constantly keeping my reputation intact and enhancing it also gives me the opportunity to take advantage and in a way “cash it in”. As every college student might, I use my previous reputation acquired to gain the occasional Illinois hoodie or other souvenir when my family comes to visit me or when I am back at home. I can use the argument that, “I have been working so hard” or something along those lines to convince my parents to do these things. I this way, I am using my perviously established reputation for a personal gain. I may not be completely abandoning my reputation or even harming it but I am able to take advantage of my position to make an immediate gain.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Triangle: Government, Dairy, and Other Interests

I recently read a 1999 economic article titled “‘If It’s Yellow, It Must Be Butter’: Margarine Regulation in North America Since 1886" by Ruth Dupre. The paper uses George Stigler’s economic theory of regulation and interest group theory of government to analyze why exactly the margarine industry was so heavily restricted from the end of the nineteenth century through the end of the twentieth century. I would like to point out an example of a triangle like arrangement in the midst of the regulations passed against the margarine industry.

First, a little background is necessary. The invention of margarine created a fire under the seats of dairy farmers throughout North America. As dairy farmers were the producers of butter, the product margarine sought to substitute, they had the most to lose in the event margarine were to take a strong hold on the market. Dairy industry lobbyists then pushed, supposedly in the “public interest”, for laws that went from bans on artificial “butter yellow” coloring of margarine to total prohibition (354). Up until World War I, beef fat and cottonseed oil were the fats used in the production of margarine in the US, and their corresponding industries, Western cattle farmers and Southern cotton growers, fought the dairy lobby (360). After new processes for hardening fat were created in Europe around 1920, coconut oil became a large part of the margarine industry and domestic interests, cattle and cotton, became much less interested in fighting the dairy lobby and much more interested in getting their products into margarine (360). Over the next twenty years, margarine slowly regained the support of these domestic industries and started to fight against dairy once again (361). 

In the face of similar examples of conflicting interests is where the triangle arrangement lies for government legislators. In particular, the Ontario government was, “torn between two agricultural lobbies: the dairy producers and the soybean growers,” after ‘domestic fat laws’ were passed to stop the use of European coconut oil (360, 361). It is important to note that until this point of this conflict between lobbies, margarine was totally prohibited in Ontario. The dairy industry and the soybean industry accounted for a large part of Ontario’s agricultural economy, and were fighting each other for policies exactly opposite of one another. The Ontario government had the conflicting task of creating policies that somehow appealed to both interests. As each economy had high stakes to gain or lose associated with the passing of any kind of law, the government could not simply appeal to only one interest without simultaneously harming the other interests and themselves. In a manner of speaking, the government had to create regulations in which each party would lose the least. Even more simply spoken: the government had to create a compromise. 

In the case of Ontario’s dilemma, Dupre does not go in to detail but directly states that Ontario chose, “the compromise of a coloring regulation” (361). Compromises seem to have become the ideal strategy to resolve such triangle arrangements and dependent upon the circumstances, there may be no “correct” way to create a compromise. There is a great amount of negotiation involved in these situations, and in many cases, the options are nearly endless. With the daunting task of choosing one of nearly endless compromises, each end of the triangle is pressured to come to a consensus. This pressure continues until an agreement is made, or the parties may enter a cycle of negotiation that may go against the self interest of each party. 


Friday, October 31, 2014

Workplace Conflict and Potential Resolutions

I will describe an ongoing conflict a friend of mine has been undergoing for the past three months and that I have been observing for that same amount of time. I will replace their names with an alias in order to protect their identities and privacy. 

My good friend Tony is in an ongoing workplace conflict with his coworker Tammi. They both work as pharmacy technicians. She has been a constant critic of Tony's work. For example, she will go to their manager to criticize or question Tony's work even when this is a process she has not taken part in before or a process that Tony generally has a good track record in completing. It is worthy to note that he is twenty years old and she is twenty four years old, so she may feel like she has some authority over him because of their age discrepancy. She has also used the argument that she has been a manager elsewhere, so she would know about what to do better than Tony would in their identical job. That being said, Tony has also been in this position for a longer period of time than Tammi. 

Another root of the conflict appears when the pharmacy is getting busy. The pharmacy is low on staffing, which is recognizably a problem in itself, and occasionally Tony will ask if Tammi would mind filling some prescriptions while he takes care of some customers as he cannot do both jobs at simultaneously. Tammi replies, "Actually, I do mind,” and in most cases go either on a break or start to complete other tasks that are not necessary to be completed in the immediate future such as organizing the already-completed prescriptions. By doing this, she is setting up Tony to work in insurmountable odds as well as create an unproductive environment in the pharmacy. 

In order to try to resolve this conflict, Tony approached Tammi and called her out on what she has been doing to him. In response, she laughed and told the senior technicians and pharmacists on duty, “Look what ‘your boy’ said to me now.” Backlash also occurred from this attempted resolution. An increased number of instances occurred where she undermined his work or under-produced on her end of the job. After these increases in occurrences, one of the senior pharmacy technicians, Nikki, has now taken notice of the conflict. She started to notice that she not only acts this way towards Tony but to other people as well. She proceeded to ask Tony if Tammi has done it towards anybody else and why he did not bring this up to her or anybody else before. He then explained that he attempted to resolve this situation on his own before. This conflict was then escalated to the pharmacy manager Bianca. Tammi’s rude behavior has since been treated with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. They have also modified the schedules to prevent Tony’s and Tammi’s shifts from overlapping with each other as much as possible. 

Ultimately, this conflict has since resolved pretty well but it is hard to determine whether the backlash from confronting Tammi could have been prevented. If Tony would have first brought this conflict up to a senior technician or manager, backlash still could have occurred just after the conflict would have been “resolved”. It was inevitable that it came to some form of solution along with some backlash, but I am of the opinion that it could have come either sooner if Tony would have spoken up or came up with other strategies for a resolution. I also believe that the solution to this conflict can be attributed to a discussion I have had in my previous post on team production concerning distributive and procedural fairness. It seems to me, as an observer, that the manager Bianca acted to resolve this conflict with more distributive fairness than the procedural fairness that is in place. This method of distributive fairness is where the resolution is what she believes Tammi deserved. As an alternative, in these events, an employee may be written-up and these acts may be put on file to contribute to further conflict resolution or to determine whether the employee should be working there anymore or not. It is the opinion of not only myself but of the senior technicians on duty with Tammi that she should have been written-up for her actions. This act of procedural fairness coupled with Tony speaking up earlier may have resolved this conflict with significantly less backlash.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Marching Band and Solutions for Successful Team Production

Throughout high school, I played the trumpet and was a part of our school’s marching band, the Marching Knights. Our marching band was a competitive marching band and took part in many competitions throughout the course of the fall from September into November. In order to prepare for these competitions, we would start practicing in June to learn the “basics” of marching band as well as to begin working on our competitive show. We would learn one show that lasted approximately eight to eleven minutes long each year to perform at all competitions in that season. If you are unfamiliar with marching band shows or functions, it is a highly cooperative process. Each individual must know their separate parts in both music and choreography or “drill”. Music is split up by both instrument and part based on the level of skill and individual has. Drill is made up of individual sequences of movement that collectively form different shapes and effects that can be seen on the field.

It can be assumed that the collective goal of the marching band is to succeed at competitions and each individual will essentially share in the satisfaction of winning a competition. The success of a marching band largely relies on each individual’s success in both music and drill but is inherently, as mentioned before, a cooperative process in that each individual must also work together to succeed, especially musically. A minor musical mistake by an individual has the potential to produce many problems and even chaos throughout the band. I would like to consider the music portions of practice in this post in order to evaluate a team production that strives to share the satisfaction of winning a competition.

During practices, there would be time for “sectionals” where each individual section would go out on their own to practice the musical elements of the show. As I was both a member and a section leader of the trumpet section during my time in marching band, I was able to observe the behaviors of individuals from multiple perspectives and would like to discuss some behaviors. Looking back, I have noticed that the success of a sectional largely determined on how a leader framed the sectional.

Consider an extraordinarily bad practice that was off musically, which was the case a majority of the time during bad practices. Now, suppose a leader attempts to solve the problem by having each individual play their part in front of their fellow section members in sectionals. Theoretically, by finding who does not know their part completely, the leader would find who needs to practice more and who is bringing everybody else down. While it may be good to find who does not know the part, it could also cause the other members to think, “Well since he/she is the one that doesn’t know the part, why should I practice more? I clearly know my part.” In essence, a small portion of the section is given the blame for a bad practice. That small portion can be assumed by other group members to be the only ones who must contribute more effort and practice in order to be successful collectively. This lack of further collective contribution to the section could result in more problems in the future and certainly less of a cooperative effort mentality amongst the section.

An alternative solution, which I found to be more successful as both a member and a leader, was to convey a cooperative effort mentality by distributing the blame equally amongst the section. Take the same bad musical practice as before. A leader could instead have the group play portions of the music together in sectionals and possibly say, “I do not know who exactly is off right now, but if we do not all play together and know each of our parts, we are done for.” This could spark the group to concentrate collectively, and motivate each individual to find the root of the problem in their own work. While this is a more passive approach, by conveying that the section will only be successful if everybody knows their part and then listens to one another to be more together and musical, a team effort mentality is created. Moreover, everybody in the section possesses a share of the blame for a bad practice. Each individual must then find a way to contribute more on an individual basis for the good of the group.

This example shares elements of what Jonathan Haidt wrote in his article, “How to Get the Rich to Share the Marbles”. Haidt describes some of the success of “grand national projects,” in which, “everyone was asked to pitch in.” The same idea of equal share of the blame and asking everyone to pitch in to the overall success can be found in the more collective, alternative solution that I posed above. Furthermore, each solution touches slightly on the idea of “distributive fairness” and “procedural fairness” as posed by Haidt. The first solution seems to fall under the idea of “distributive fairness” in which people “got what they deserved”. As you point out an individual’s lack of preparedness musically, you are essentially pointing out that they are the only ones who must work to be more successful collectively. Those who have their parts down are not given a part of blame whatsoever. The second solution posed presents “procedural fairness” in which each member is given an equal opportunity to prepare better and share and equal amount of blame for a bad practice. In this example, the solution of “procedural fairness” was pointed out to be a more successful solution to become collectively more successful and therefore share a piece of the satisfaction of succeeding competitively.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Managing My Future Income Risk

Over the past two years, my path towards graduation and a career after graduation have been completely altered and several events have affected the way I manage my future income risk. Allow me to elaborate on my path leading up to the past two years.

I entered the University of Illinois majoring in statistics. After a semester of being in this major, I did not feel like it was the right choice for me and decided to transfer into economics after taking, and thoroughly enjoying, an introductory microeconomics course. This was a particularly risky decision at the time, as I did not have much experience in economics other than a high school course and a single introductory course in college. I also did not know what kinds of jobs could be attained by majoring in economics. With a job in the forefront of my mind, I sought more information through the advice of academic advisors and my parents to reduce this risk. Both of these sources explained the versatility of economics in the job market, and in the beginning of my sophomore year, after completing a few required courses, I decided to officially transfer into the Economics major. I have found that the emphasis on developing critical thinking and basic understanding of market behaviors will provide a solid basis for many different jobs which goes to show the versatility of this major.

At the end of the first semester of my sophomore year, I made an appointment with my advisor to check if I was on track for graduation. With a career in mind again, I also asked what courses she would recommend that I take in future semesters to help with my career. Rather unexpectedly, she responded by telling me that I was on track to graduate in three years. I have since decided to pursue that path and am now a senior in my third year of school here. This has moved my timeline back an entire year and has forced me to start thinking about a career much sooner than I had originally intended. Not only does this provide an interesting and rather impressive talking point with potential employers, I am also potentially more financially sound by making this decision. Many students will be swimming in great amounts of student loan debt, but I am better off by making this decision and saving a little more money than the average student. A more accurate way to describe this would be instead of better off, I am less worse off than the average student. This will allow me to theoretically consume more sooner than later. I will also be able to obtain a job and start earning an income sooner than the average student. For both of these reasons, I believe I have reduced my future income risk.

With the end of my college career coming to a close sooner than expected, I also decided to apply for a few internships in order to build my resume and build a rapport with a potential employer. The internship I attained is the same one I have described in my previous posts at Zurich North America in Schaumburg. The experience and connections I gained from this job have been quite valuable to me in managing my future income risk. First, the job experience has given me a context to apply course concepts to which has made my college courses much more valuable. This allows me to understand course concepts better and also bring talking points from courses into job interviews in the future. Second, the connections I made during the internship, given those connections are the positive ones I have made, are simultaneously sources I may use as references for future job applications and potential future employers. By potentially being able to utilize these connections, I make my job search more efficient either with applying to the same company I have a rapport with or the positive recommendations they may provide me for other job applications. In either case, I have reduced my future income risk.

My cousin Kurt recently graduated from Illinois State University and is now working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a college student, Kurt never thought he would be working in a different state than Illinois. Clearly, this is not how the future panned out for him. His experience has shown me that the ability to be versatile and accept different opportunities is a very valuable skill to have. I believe the versatility of the Economics major, the experience I have gained and the connections I have made have developed both of these lessons Kurt has shown me through his experiences in the job market. 

Friday, October 3, 2014


The use of an allocation of “Illinibucks” by students could be used in several common contexts on campus. Some of situations are set in the context of a first come first serve basis. For example, a student could find him or herself at a career fair but be in the back of the line. The booths set up at career fairs overflow with people and unless you have something to differentiate yourself from the pack, many of the people at the front of the line may have an advantage over those in the back of the line in terms of presenting themselves and what they have to offer. Another situation similar to this is an “RSVP” situation such as the different lectures and meetings held that have limitations in space. Those who sign up for this opportunity first or discover the opportunity first have a clear advantage. Illinibucks could be spent in these situations to get a student to the front of the line or ensure a spot in an RSVP situation, therefore giving them an advantage they previously did not have. 

Another context includes allocations based on a priority basis. In a student’s first year, odds of getting his or her top choices are drastically reduced because many common choices are are allocated on a priority basis. In addition to this, priority is generally based on seniority. For example, a student may want to live in Ikenberry Commons (also known as Six-Pack) but have to defect to a second choice such as Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Hall because of their position in priority rankings. Illinibucks could be spent by a first year student such as this one to select what dorm they live in that year or any subsequent year. In effect, Illinibucks could be spent to reduce what I will call the “seniority effect” that comes with priority basis contexts.

In both of these examples, high or low pricing could have adverse effects on the market of Illinibucks. If the administered price were too low, a higher demand for use of Illinibucks towards gaining an advantage, or “getting to the front of the line”, could outweigh the quantity of opportunities supplied, whether that is the number of spots available for university housing or “RSVP” situations. Illinibucks could potentially be sold an underground market to satisfy the needs of some of those in demand but this would not satisfy the needs of all those in demand of these opportunities. In the opposite situation, if the administered price were too high, the demand for these opportunities would drastically decrease and much of the supply of opportunities provided would remain unused. In either situation, low or high administered prices, the advantages and profitability found in the use of Illinibucks would be lost.

Based on the two previous examples, it is interesting to note that the use of Illinibucks could change based on seniority. In other words, as students get older, reasons to use Illinibucks shift from gaining advantages in priority based contexts to gaining advantages in "RSVP" contexts. For example, a first year student may primarily use Illinibucks to reduce their disadvantage in a “seniority-effect” that comes with many priority basis contexts. A fourth year student may not feel the “seniority-effect” that comes with priority basis contexts any longer, so he or she may use Illinibucks to get front of the line for first come first serve contexts such as career fairs or “RSVP” situations. As I am a senior and now concerned with my career path after graduation, I would use my allocation of Illinibucks for the latter of these two examples. Gaining an advantage in first come first serve or “RSVP” contexts would benefit me far greater than in a priority based context where I already have and advantage due to my seniority.