Montessori Taught Larry Page and Sergey Brin to Always Ask Questions

(p. 122) “Their attitude is just like, ‘We’re Montessori kids,'” said Mayer. “We’ve been trained and programmed to question authority.”
Thus it wasn’t surprising to see that attitude as the foundation of Google’s culture. “Why aren’t there dogs at work?” asked Marissa, parroting the never-ending Nerdish Inquisition conducted by her bosses. “Why aren’t there toys at work? Why aren’t snacks free? Why? Why? Why?”
“I think there’s some truth to that,” says Larry Page, who spent his preschool and first elementary school years at Okemos Montessori Radmoor School in Michigan. “I’m always asking questions, and Sergey and I both have this.”
Brin wound up in Montessori almost by chance. When he was six, recently emigrated from the Soviet Union, the Paint Branch Montessori (p. 123) School in Adelphi, Maryland, was the closest private school. “We wanted to place Sergey in a private school to ease up his adaptation to the new life, new language, new friends,” wrote his mother, Eugenia Brin, in 2009. “We did not know much about the Montessori method, but it turned out to be rather crucial for Sergey’s development. It provided a basis for independent thinking and a hands-on approach to life.”
“Montessori really teaches you to do things kind of on your own at your own pace and schedule,” says Brin. “It was a pretty fun, playful environment– as is this.”

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: italics in original.)

Growth of Labor Safety Net Made Great Recession Deeper and Longer


Source of book image:

(p. 309) [Mulligan’s empirical results suggest] that employment was dropping not only because of declining demand for the employees’ products, but also because employers were substituting capital and other factors for labor. This surprising finding suggests that although a decline in aggregate demand for goods and services was one of the reasons for the decline in labor, other causes were also at play in most sectors of the economy. This fact is consistent with an inward shift in the supply of labor to the marketplace during this period.

In chapter 3, Mulligan introduces the main culprit responsible for this supplycurve shift–the unintended consequences of increases in the social safety net that substantially increased the marginal tax rate on work. In his model, Mulligan operationalizes this force into changes in the replacement rate (the fraction of productivity that the average nonemployed person receives in the form of means-tested benefits) and the self-reliance rate (1 minus the replacement rate), which is the fraction of lost productivity not replaced by means-tested benefits.
His conjecture is that, in a reverse of government policies in the 1990s that made work pay for single mothers by transforming welfare as we knew it into a program that nudged single mothers off the Aid to Families with Dependent Children rolls and into the workforce, “temporary” government program expansions to mitigate the (p. 310) short-run consequences of unemployment and the bursting of the housing bubble made a prolonged paid period of nonwork an offer that many Americans found too tempting to refuse.
Mulligan identifies and incorporates the major expansions in eligibility and benefit amounts for Unemployment Insurance and food stamps into an eligibility index that shows that most of the 199 percent growth in these programs between 2007 and 2009 was due to these changes. He uses this growth rate in a weighted index of overall statutory safety-net generosity to determine the degree to which it has influenced overall employment. He does a similar analysis of the means-tested Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which facilitated substantial lender-provided discounts on home mortgage expenses for unemployment insurance-eligible workers. He finds that these market distortions that increased the marginal tax on work grew substantially in 2008, peaked in 2009–at almost triple their 2007 level–and then modestly fell in 2010 to a level appreciably above the 2007 level.
. . .
But his empirical evidence shows that the implementation of these “recession cures” was primarily responsible for the Great Recession’s depth and duration.

For the full review, see:
Burkhauser, Richard V. “Review of: “The Redistributive Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy” by Casey B. Mulligan.” The Independent Review 18, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 308-11.
(Note: ellipsis, and words in brackets, added.)

Book that is under review:
Mulligan, Casey B. The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.

Messy Offices Encourage Creativity

(p. 12) Forty-eight research subjects came individually to our laboratory, . . . assigned to messy or tidy rooms.   . . . , we told subjects to imagine that a Ping-Pong ball factory needed to think of new uses for Ping-Pong balls, and to write down as many ideas as they could. We had independent judges rate the subjects’ answers for degree of creativity, which can be done reliably.   . . .
When we analyzed the responses, we found that the subjects in both types of rooms came up with about the same number of ideas, which meant they put about the same effort into the task. Nonetheless, the messy room subjects were more creative, as we expected. Not only were their ideas 28 percent more creative on average, but when we analyzed the ideas that judges scored as “highly creative,” we found a remarkable boost from being in the messy room — these subjects came up with almost five times the number of highly creative responses as did their tidy-room counterparts.
. . .
Our findings have practical implications. There is, for instance, a minimalist design trend taking hold in contemporary office spaces: out of favor are private walled-in offices — and even private cubicles. Today’s office environments often involve desk sharing and have minimal “footprints” (smaller office space per worker), which means less room to make a mess.
At the same time, the working world is abuzz about cultivating innovation and creativity, endeavors that our findings suggest might be hampered by the minimalist movement. While cleaning up certainly has its benefits, clean spaces might be too conventional to let inspiration flow.

For the full commentary, see:
KATHLEEN D. VOHS. “GRAY MATTER; It’s Not ‘Mess.’ It’s Creativity.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., September 15, 2013): 12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 13, 2013.)

The main academic paper referred to in the commentary is:
Vohs, Kathleen D., Joseph P. Redden, and Ryan Rahinel. “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity.” Psychological Science 24, no. 9 (Sept. 2013): 1860-67.

Brazil’s Cardozo Envies England’s Rule of Law


“Michael Palin.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C11) For his most recent project in Brazil, which will go on to become a PBS series, Mr. Palin interviewed former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, who is often credited with the country’s economic turnaround. Whereas he says most political leaders are hesitant to say anything controversial, Mr. Cardoso was refreshingly straightforward. “I asked him, ‘Brazil has so many good things going for it–the people are friendly and relaxed, the economy is booming. Is there anything you envy about us in England?’ ” He was surprised by Mr. Cardoso’s answer. “He said straight out, ‘The rule of law.’ He said, ‘Our problem here is we have endemic corruption,’ ” says Mr. Palin. “I just thought it was incredibly honest for a world leader.”

For the full story, see:
ALEXANDRA WOLFE. “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Michael Palin Takes on the World; The former Monty Python performer is turning his global adventures into comic tales.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): C11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)

Key to Google: “Both Larry and Sergey Were Montessori Kids”

(p. 121) [Marissa Mayer] conceded that to an outsider, Google’s new-business process might indeed look strange. Google spun out projects like buckshot, blasting a spray and using tools and measurements to see what it hit. And sometimes it did try ideas that seemed ill suited or just plain odd. Finally she burst out with her version of the corporate Rosebud. “You can’t understand Google,” she said, “unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids.”
“Montessori” refers to schools based on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician born in 1870 who believed that children should be allowed the freedom to pursue what interested them.
(p. 122) “It’s really ingrained in their personalities,” she said. “To ask their own questions, do their own things. To disrespect authority. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In Montessori school you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is really baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They’re always asking ‘Why should it be like that?’ It’s the way their brains were programmed early on.”

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: bracketed name added.)

To Save Lego, CEO Fired Almost a Third of Workers


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A15) Only 10 years ago, Lego was posting record losses; retailers were backlogged with unsold Lego toys; and it was unclear whether Lego would survive as an independent company. An internal review discovered that 94% of the sets in its product line were unprofitable. The turnaround story that followed is well told by Wharton professor David Robertson in “Brick by Brick.”
. . .
Upon coming to power, Mr. Knudstorp cut 30% of Lego’s product portfolio, including many of its newer offerings. To stave off financial doom, he also sold the company’s headquarters building and moved into simpler accommodations–and, more painfully, let go almost a third of the workforce.
But how to move beyond the rescue stage and toward growth? Based on input from top retailers and a large customer-research study, Lego executives concluded that even though young fans of buildable toys were a minority, there were enough of them to make a worthwhile market–and their parents were willing to pay premium prices. The company would now organize its innovation efforts around its potentially very profitable core audience.
Mr. Robertson, with the benefit of access to staff at Lego and partner companies, provides unusually detailed reporting of the processes that led to Lego’s current hits (and, inevitably, some misses). Among the hits is the Mindstorms NXT, the second generation of Lego’s robotics set, which hadn’t been updated or advertised since 2001. Mr. Robertson describes how Lego navigated between relying on sophisticated users to determine the product’s design and relying on its own expertise in the creation of building experiences.

For the full review, see:
DAVID A. PRICE. “BOOKSHELF; The House That Lego Built; Lego balked at licensing warlike ‘Star Wars’ toys. But then anthropological research convinced company executives that kids like to compete.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 23, 2013): A15.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 22, 2013.)

The book under review, is:
Robertson, David. Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry. New York: Crown Business, 2013.

For Innovator It Is Better to Use Wealth to Innovate than to Donate

“Steve Jobs, a founder of Apple, has focused on his work to improve the lives of millions of people through technology.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

The column quoted below, written before Steve Jobs’ death, asks an important question: should an innovative entrepreneur be a prominent philanthropist? I believe that innovative entrepreneurs can often do the most good by using their wealth to innovate rather than to donate.

(p. B1) Steve Jobs is a genius. He is an innovator. A visionary. He is perhaps the most beloved billionaire in the world.

Surprisingly, there is one thing that Mr. Jobs is not, at least not yet: a prominent philanthropist.
Despite accumulating an estimated $8.3 billion fortune through his holdings in Apple and a 7.4 percent stake in Disney (through the sale of Pixar), there is no public record of Mr. Jobs giving money to charity. He is not a member of the Giving Pledge, the organization founded by Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to persuade the nation’s wealthiest families to pledge to give away at least half their fortunes. (He declined to participate, according to people briefed on the matter.) Nor is there a hospital wing or an academic building with his name on it.
None of this is meant to judge Mr. Jobs. I have long been a huge admirer of Mr. Jobs and consider him the da Vinci of our time.
. . .
(p. B4) . . . Mr. Jobs has always been upfront about where he has chosen to focus. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in 1993 , he said, “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.”

For the full commentary, see:
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN. “DEALBOOK COLUMN; The Mystery of Steve Jobs’s Public Giving.” The New York Times (Tues., AUGUST 30, 2011): B1 & B4.
(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis within last paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUGUST 29, 2011.)