A superb excuse to read. Or write. Or not.
Cause and effect. How does x influence y? Or what influences y? Sounds geeky but it’s not just something that researchers (or engineers) think about. It surrounds us in every day life.
Hours of sleep → Alertness the following day
Hours of study → Exam grade
I have been accused periodically of thinking too much about cause and effect.
- Employee walks into office and says “So&so is driving me crazy, what a twit!”
- My response: “Let’s think about that for a minute. What is So&so’s job? What kind of stress might So&so be under? What factors might be causing So&so’s behaviour? How can we help So&so, and how can we work within these constraints?”
In previous lives, this often led to some more swearing. I can be annoying. But I do this because I think there is a reason behind everything. I believe that people are inherently very similar and wake up every day with good intentions. But behaviours (y) are different because of various reasons (x): where you are born, how you are raised, challenges you face, gifts you have been given, all of this and more… And so behaviour is often explainable.
By taking time to understand the cause of an effect, it can give us a bit of insight into someone else’s situation, and provide a whole new perspective.
Cost savings. A term used often in business when trying to argue for change. “If we do this, instead of that, we can save mucho money.” It often makes a lot of sense. The field above was (and I expect still will be) made of artificial turf. There is a rather pricey backhoe sitting idle (and will be for three days) and a hundreds of bags of what I’m guessing is turf. Not annual maintenance type stuff, but a full overhaul.
Artificial turf fields are an interesting example of the cost savings argument. We can all imagine how those conversations go. Someone from council, or a staffer, says “Let’s convert a few of our fields to turf.” Everyone gets excited until the reality-checker says, “Wow, that will cost a lot of money. We cannot afford that. Backhoes, turf, design, lots of upfront costs.” Then the maintenance folks say, “Yah, but we will save a lot in operating costs. No watering, no re-sodding, no fixing holes, or removing rocks, no lawn-cutting. Awesome.” So someone is asked to run the numbers.
The number-running has a tendency to go something like this: the cost of the turf field is underestimated, and the cost to operate a grass field, well, somewhat overestimated. And even then, payback in years seems just a little too long for everyone’s liking. So during the business case discussion, someone who actually remembers what the fields are used for chimes in and says, “What about the soft benefits? The kids can start their season earlier, end it later, and play in torrential downpours, even on snow.” Everyone nods, and agrees that this is priceless. The balance is tipped. Turf field it is.
Now, arguably the business case makes sense. The field pays for itself over a period of time, due to the avoidance of annual operating costs. But remember the part about underestimating the cost of the turf field? Well, this happens a lot. Why? Because often the change is new. Nobody really knows for sure. And the folks who sell the turf field, well, they like to underestimate the ongoing costs as well. What many struggle with when looking at something that has such a high upfront cost is the reality that the initial purchase is just the beginning. The initial cost plus the ongoing costs (including loans, etc…), less the resale value, are, collectively, the total cost of ownership.
Total cost of ownership applies in many situations. Take, for example, a car. Often we think about the initial cost of the car, but there are ongoing, annual costs, that must be taken into account: insurance, maintenance, gas, etc… Along with the resale value. Sometimes the cheaper car on the lot can turn out to be a lot more expensive in the long run.
So when I looked at the turf field this morning, and the backhoe, and the hundreds of very large bags of little bits of plastic, I mumbled to myself, “I hope someone factored this in to the business case.”
My commute normally looks like this. And usually worse. Cars don’t move much on the Decarie Expressway in Montreal, at any time of day.
Yesterday, my commute looked like this. I walked from a service centre located at the corner of Decarie and Van Horne, up to HEC Montreal. Many people passed me. Apparently I’m out of practice. It was steamy and my laptop felt a bit more desktopy after a few minutes. And then I discovered a whole new world, of families, children, public schools, corner stores, and plenty of flowers. I have lived in Montreal all of my life. And yesterday’s walk taught me that there is still a lot to see.
Some problems are hard to solve. Some just take a few chunks of cement, a little bit of space and a compassionate designer. Here’s a pic of some bears playing in front of the Ste Justine’s children’s hospital. Fear alleviating.
Running. I have been out of the business for a few years now. I procrastinate on my writing with the idea of running, and then procrastinate on my running to write. But it’s time to run. With one year until (maybe) tenure, I am setting goals. Why not be all healthy when I make my acceptance speech?
So today I ran and lived to write about it. I wasn’t so confident when I laced up, as two years ago a drunk driver crashed full speed into a parked car that I had passed only seconds before. It was about 8 pm. I was running towards a t-junction on the left hand side of a boulevard, head down, solving world hunger. Before I had time to lift my head, I heard tires screeching and an engine roaring towards me. I looked up to see a car careening around the corner, struggling to get onto the boulevard. And failing. The driver lost control and smacked full speed into a parked car, just outside of a body shop (seriously). A small child inside the shop yelled “Papa.” I turned around, saw the driver jump out of the car, and I walked away.
I have first aid training. I was in the army reserves for 8 years. I have given first aid to car crash victims. It’s an innate reaction. But apparently with some exceptions. I was the only one who witnessed the crash. And, it turned out, the only one willing to place the drunk driver behind the wheel. But I walked away.
I called hubby, told him the story, climbed up on the lawn of a house, and kept on walking, from one lawn to the next, far from the sidewalk, farther still from the street. I walked all the way to a police station, 4 Km away, that turned out to be closed. So I walked back to my daughter’s soccer game and went home.
The next day I drove to the police station to tell my story. And they told me theirs. The driver had been arrested three times already for drunk driving. The other witnesses refused to place the driver behind the wheel, even though they saw him get out of the car. So if I could identify him, they could arrest him. But I had walked. And I had no idea what he looked like. And so I cried. A lot.
My body knows how to run. I have run for years. I even ran a marathon once, although they were picking up the cones behind me. When runners pass me by, my legs look up and say “Let’s try again, shall we?” and my heart aches. Because I wish I didn’t walk away.
Sometime in May 2018, a bunch of tenured professors convened at my university to decide if I deserved tenure. This blog is about my reflections in the year that led to the decision.