Friday, July 23, 2010

Work Work Work

I just got done with about 14 hours of revising my methodology. Sadly, I was supposed to be working primarily on doing analysis of my data (I got in about an hours worth). But, I feel much better for having done it, I have to say. At least now I can go into the weekend in good conscience.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Note to self

I apparently use the word apparently quite a bit, apparently.

I am not feeling the joy

I did my methodology section on my dissertation today, only to realise that I can't express why I did a lot of what I did. Also, I apparently can't express why I'm a good candidate for a job in written form (apparently I'm just fine, verbally). As such, I think I'll try to express myself physically (no not that way) at the gym.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Just a thought...

When will we have The Great Gadsby of the 21st century? Surely there must be someone writing about the insecurity of a post 9-11 world mixed with the optimism of new technology, taking the reader on a journey from the Bush years into a post-Obama world?

Or maybe not.

Covering Up

After much trepidation, I finally got my cover letter done (well, more drafted than done). It's still way too long, but there are now dots of darkness on the sea of blank pixels that had haunted my dock for the past week. The task of actually finishing it and sending it on to various companies in the hope that they pity me enough to offer up a job still remains, but there are (surprisingly) a number of jobs that I'm at least moderately qualified for/have at least a sliver of interest in.

The work on my dissertation never ceases, though, after talking to those on my program, we've realised that expecting more than a couple of hours work on it in any one day is probably pushing it. But I figure if I stick to a couple of hours each day, I should actually complete it. All I can say is thank god for having to learn typing in school. It's a lifesaver.

Now to procrastinate a bit more before I completely flip out and realise my methodology is completely baseless...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why Complexity is Better than Simplicity

There's been talk recently about pushing forward climate change legislation...again. So far as I can tell, this is the third time this year it's been resurrected. Something tells me it won't go through yet again. The lack of action by all parties is beginning to strain our connections with europe (so says The Times), and I suppose it could potentially have significant trade implications down the line if we continue not to act (as U.S. goods won't have certain externalities priced in).

The more I consider the issue, though, it seems to me that the framing is wrong. Caps sound negative, and don't speak to incentives (even though they are fundamentally embedded). Instead, let's frame it as a withholding tax. OK, I realise that sounds just as bad, but bear with me.

Every paycheck, your employer withholds a certain amount of tax based on what you have in your W4 form and your expected earnings.If the amount of tax you owe is under what was withheld: bingo, sweet refund! Alternatively, if you withheld too little: pay up, buddy. Federal tax rates are progressive (10% on the first $8, 375, 15% from $8,375 to $34,000, etc.) based on your earnings, but then there are certain deductions which reduce the amount on which you're taxed. The government provides programs to its citizens, and our taxes go to support these programs and help pay for certain social benefits.

Think about a pollution withholding scheme (see, sounds better already) as similar to this. First, we have to assume that polluting shouldn't be free, and it has to be priced into the system to pay for its effects. Let's say, under this scheme, we decided to go for a straight tax of 1% of revenue for every 10,000t of carbon emitted.

Then let's assume there are deductions, say for the amount you invest in clean technology as a percentage of your overall revenues (for every 1% of revenue reinvested in clean technologies/renewable energy sourcing, you get a 10,000 t reduction in your total carbon 'bill'). So a business that's smart could actually negate its tax by ensuring it invested enough in renewables to reduce its tax burden (which could end up being less expensive than paying the tax). The brilliant thing about this is that assuming it made good investments in, say, increasing the efficiency of its plants, the tax burden would be lowered in that first year with the deduction, as well as the subsequent years since you would continue the tax benefits of a reduced CO2 output.

I'm not going to go into the effects for small business and consumers, as economically we are already paying those costs, just indirectly. This actually allows people to be more empowered to pick businesses that chose to be efficient assuming some costs are passed on to consumers.

Yes, it would be simpler to just have a cap. I'll admit that, but you have to remember that people like to 'game' the system and feel like their winning. You can tell people, just save a bit each month to pay off your taxes. But our complex tax code actually lets people feel like they 'win' when then find a deduction. It's a little victory. A straight tax, while simpler, doesn't give that feeling. A cap sounds simple. People get it, but in many ways people don't WANT to get it. If you can let them feel like they game the system a bit, its empowering, and that's ultimately what people want. Is the power to win over the big guy. Sounds counterintuitive. But think about what brings you more joy (or utility)--paying a straight 10% tax rate, or finding that student loan deduction meaning you now pay...a 10% tax rate.

Though counterintuitive, there is joy in finding loopholes, something a straight cap doesn't bring. So I say, bring on the complexity!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Consumer Choice, Consumer Confusion

Recently, I needed to buy a new face moisturiser, as my old one had run out. I wasn't terribly thrilled with the old stuff, so I decided to go on the hunt for something new. And that's when the confusion set in.

While it's fantastic that companies have created separate lines to cater to their customers needs, often, it seems there's so little differentiation between them, or the difference is unclear, that I'm at a loss for what to buy. Take the face moisturiser. At what age am I supposed to 'graduate' into anti-aging? What's the difference between the blue line and the sport line? And when should I use balm, moisturiser, or cream? Just take a look at the biotherm homme line. There's anti-fatigue, anti-pollution, anti-age, dry, normal, goes on and on.

OK, maybe skincare is unique, since it's trying to target a problem. But then look at the CK men's underwear line. There are at least 5 lines of what appears to be the same product at similar price points. There's so little description that it's hard for me to know what the difference between 365, steel, and stretch underwear is, and what each of the benefits might be.

I'm not saying it's a problem per-se that there are so many lines, after all, we know that product segmentation works. But when the products are at similar price points, and are similar products, it can be difficult for consumers to know what to buy...and so they may end up simply going for the cheapest one. By creating "customisers," in websites, brands empower consumers to choose the best product for them, acting as a consultant in abstentia. Nivea has done this, and while it's not perfect, it's getting there. I would argue that the best kind of customiser would narrow the range down to a single product, to truly make the customer feel that this is the 'right' product for them.

It amazes me that more personal goods companies haven't figured this out. For instance, how long would it take to make a customiser on the Brooks Brothers site that would help me figure out what tie I want? It could ask for the pattern of shirt (stripe, gingham, etc.), the size of the pattern (hairline, large check, mini-check, etc.) and the color(s) involved, and then suggest a couple of ties that would match. It's providing a service to your customer that keeps them coming back. Plus, it's fun.

Bottom line, if you've got a couple of lines in your product range, help us consumers out and put a customiser on your site.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

British Summer?

I'm not sure whether it's pigeon-grey sky that has been looming overhead since this morning, or the fact that my dissertation is ever-further from completion, but I feel stuck in a rut today. I went to do a climbing course today because, frankly, my rock climbing skills aren't where they should be. Especially when it comes to belaying. So I went with Karen and Kate (my regular gym-buddies) to the course today, and whilst climbing the walls, I was struck by a thought I hadn't had since the last time I climbed.

I realise it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that climbing is like life, and I'm certainly not experienced in either one nearly enough to make grand determinations, but it does seem that in both instances, trusting yourself comes into play. In climbing it's trusting your feet to propel you towards your next hold. Without that trust, you over-reach and eventually fall back to earth--sometimes without a rope to catch your fall. So far as I can tell, life seems to be the same way, though instead of feet, the metaphor can be extended to your background and skills.

So much of what we do is predicated on true confidence, and if I'm honest, it's something I've never been great at. Sure, I can project a self-assured stance when I need to, and yes, it often turns out that the projection was the reality, but there's still that fear. I suppose it's something everyone has in the back of their head (I hope). That fear that you'll be found out. That you're not as smart as everyone thinks you are. That it's really all smoke and mirrors. But then, you don't fail. You aren't found out. And you move on to the next hold without crashing back down. So yes, the skills are there, but starting with a base of confidence makes the maneuver all the easier. If you trust your feet from the beginning, you can plan your next move, rather than worrying that you're always on the brink of failing and falling.

OK, enough with the convoluted metaphor. I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that I need to work on trusting myself more so I can look to the future rather than constantly look back and my past and over-analyse my missteps. Just accept that I'm standing where I am now because of where I've been, and that the only way to progress is to just stand up and do it--something that I've constantly struggled with. Whether it's talking to someone in a bar or at a networking event, asking for a date, even starting a friendship, it's always easy in retrospect. You realise that it wasn't a life-changing event, just another step.

I realise I'm in a good position now. I'm not tied down. I have a good resume, supportive friends, and a few bucks in the bank. Things could be worse. I guess the thing is to just start taking those steps so I can move forward, trusting my feet a little more, and looking to the next opportunity, rather than analysing my missteps.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Has it really been since April?

Well classes are over, and I'm in full swing of my dissertation now. Right now, I'm poised for a distinction, but we'll see if that holds up given my propensity to procrastinate. Either way, despite not writing a thing, I have 333 responses (half of 666, you'll note) to my survey, looking at the marketing of sustainable goods and how they correspond with environmental attitudes. I'm supposed to have my methodology section written up by the 15th, but thus far it remains elusive. I do have an outline though, so I suppose it counts for something.

My new internship with ecoConnect has been going swimmingly, though. I'm really enjoying the chance to do a full-on social media/communications strategy. By the time I finish up on August 1, I should have a podcast, website, strategy, master deck, and a few blog posts under my belt. Not bad for two months work.

However, the job front still remains a mystery to me. I have yet to complete a generic cover letter that apparently is necessary for every job searching site. But I do have a good CV and resume with which to go into the hunt. What's difficult is finding where I fit. I tend to always be torn between so many different angles--business strategy, communications, finance/investment--that it can be difficult to know where I fit in. I suppose that combination will serve me well later on in more senior positions, but right now, I find it hard to pigeon-hole myself into the right job. Hopefully the search and some advice from some "trusted advisors" will help me figure that out. Consulting seems like a given, though I'm tending towards boutique firms right now, since I've had the "Big 4" experience. VC funds seem another avenue, as well as sustainable communications firms. What I know is that I need something that allows me to think, and most importantly, to strategise; however, what form that takes has yet to be fully decided. I did apply for a job with Fahrenheit 212, though, and it would be a fantastic fit, but I have yet to hear back from them. Time will tell, I guess.

Leeds is fine, though, for now. It's not my ideal city, but I only have a couple more months. I think, in the end, I just need a larger place, a better flat, and a bit more to do. People have started to move away, which isn't very fun, but a few of us remain. And I go down to London every few weeks, so it's a good chance to catch up with those who are off in the big city, now.

I did just get back from visiting Rome, though. It was amazing. I lived there for a bit as an undergraduate on a study abroad programe, and it was great to see my old haunts. I stayed with my Aunt Paula and Michael there for a week, up on the Gianicolo overlooking Rome. Since I had seen a lot of the sites, there was no need to go again, but we did hit a few museums, and I got a great tour of the Forum from Michael. The food, the people, and the city were wonderful, and it was hard to go back. But back I came, with suit in hand, no less. We went up to Florence for the day, did a bit of shopping, and even visited an archeological dig. But, on the way back down to Rome, our plans were slightly changed by a train strike, forcing us to stay in Arezzo for the night. Despite not being in the itinerary, it was a lovely town and you can't go wrong eating al fresco under an indigo sky.

So it's back to the grindstone. I'm sure now that I'm trying to actively avoid my dissertation, I'll be blogging more. At some point, I plan on switching back to the old blog--Thrice Told Tales, but I'm not sure when that'll be. Probably when I move out of Leeds, I suppose.

Ciao for now.