Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Apple samsung docking connectors

The sheer size of patent war between Apple and Samsung won’t be the only hurdle to overcome when negotiations between the two parties begin on May 21. The firms have very different cultures—not just at the corporate scale, but culture at a more fundamental level. Apple has been hailed as a quintessentially American company—it was started in a garage and has risen to be the largest company in the world by market capitalization. Samsung, on the other hand, is a archetypal Asian firm—it started small, quickly diversified, and now makes and sells everything from smartphones to ocean-going container ships.

Jeanne Brett, a professor of management and organizations and an expert on cross cultural negotiations, thinks the two firms’ cultural differences will strongly influence the negotiations, particularly with respect to the odd relationship they have, which is both competitive and cooperative. While Apple and Samsung are duking it out in the smartphone market, Samsung also supplies Apple with important components such as memory for its iPhones and other devices.

“The East Asians ability to tolerate contradictions, a way of thinking that does not tend to be shared by Westerners should help the Koreans to accept that they are at the same time supply partners with Apple and competitors with regard the patents,” Brett said.

There’s another barrier that could stand in the way, too. “A major cultural difference between Western and East Asians is the analytical approach that they take toward problem solving,” Brett said, citing a publication by Richard Nisbett and others.

Western cultures tend to take a more Aristotelian approach to problem solving, she said, which is more linear, logical, and rational. East Asian cultures, on the other hand, tend to be more Confucian in the way they tackle problems, which is more holistic and dialectical.

“Applied to this situation,” Brett noted, “we may see the American company focused rather narrowly on the issues in dispute and the Korean company focused more broadly on the relationship between the two companies and how this dispute fits into that bigger picture.”

Photo by Dave Schumaker.

This is the second in a series on Apple and Samsung’s patent negotiations. Read parts one, three, and four.

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Apple iPhone 4 and Samsung Nexus S

Apple and Samsung are currently facing off in 50 lawsuits in ten countries, a patent war on a scale that’s unprecedented. But none of those suits have gone to trial yet, so on May 21, lawyers from the two companies will meet in San Francisco in an attempt to negotiate a settlement and avoid the courtroom.

These are certain to be high-stakes negotiations, and their mediator, magistrate judge Paul Grewal, has a difficult task ahead of him. To succeed, Grewal “has to focus on both facets of the relationship, the dispute and the underlying supplier/buyer relationship,” said Jeanne Brett, a professor of management and organizations and an expert on negotiations. “If the mediator focuses simply on the patent dispute, that narrows the scope of the possible options for resolution.”

The potential benefits to settlement are huge for both companies. Pursuing litigation in 50 separate suits in ten different counties would be extraordinarily expensive, Brett said, and both firms would run the risk of being distracted from what they do best—selling smartphones.

Those facts will give Grewal some options when negotiations begin. “He ought to try to see if they can reach a resolution that recognizes the ongoing relationship on the supply side without determining who is right and who is wrong on the patent side,” Brett said. In preparation, Brett suggests reviewing the IBM-Fujitsu case from the late 1980s would be helpful. (Brett and her colleagues have written about those contentious negotiations.) The two companies clashed when IBM claimed Fujitsu illegally copied some of its server software. In the end, they settled out of court after a lengthy negotiation.

Grewal’s experience with intellectual property—he worked in a private practice specializing in patent litigation before being appointed to his current judgeship—may or may not beneficial. “It is increasingly the tendency when searching for a mediator to search for one who is an expert in the subject matter of the dispute,” Brett said.

“There are pros and cons to this,” she pointed out. On the positive side, an expert mediator does not have to learn much about a subject to get up to speed. They may also bring more creative ideas to the table, which can hasten a settlement, Brett said. But on the other hand, expert mediators may focus too much on legal aspects, potentially ignoring “the whole picture of the relationship,” Brett adds. Furthermore, experts may unwittingly bring their own views to the table, further complicating negotiations.

While Grewal’s job as a mediator won’t be easy, ultimately, the parties with the most at stake are Apple and Samsung. “The challenge they face is to see if they can arrive at a solution that does not destroy the underlying, mutually profitable relationship they have on the supply side at the same time that they find a solution that both can live with on the patent side,” Brett said.

Photo by Kai Hendry.

This is the part one in a series on Apple and Samsung’s patent negotiations. Read parts twothree, and four.

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Regret and old age


We all have things we regret—a failed business opportunity, a late birthday card, a missed bus. Like many emotions, some experts suspect an evolutionary explanation for regret and how our perception of it changes over time. A new study published last week in the journal Science explores the hypothesis that disengagement from regret in old age keeps us happier in our later years.

To test that theory, the researchers asked participants—nearly equally divided among psychologically healthy young people, psychologically healthy older people, and depressed older people—to play a game that induced feelings of a missed opportunity, a sort of proxy for regret. One group was observed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see which parts of the brain activated in response to regret. Another was tested while having their skin conductance and heart-rate measured.

The researchers discovered that depressed older participants and younger participants responded the same to regret. Psychologically healthy older participants were different. In particular, the part of their brain responsible for managing emotional responses—the anterior cingulate—lit up on the fMRI scans. They more successfully detached themselves from the emotion.

Neal Roese, a professor of marketing and an expert on regret, said this new finding supports a conclusion he and a colleague drew in a 2008 review of the literature on regret. Specifically, they wrote, “Older adults tend to have regrets that might be described as ‘neutered,’ in the sense that the affective sting is mitigated.”

The study offers compelling physical evidence, but Roese cautioned that it doesn’t close the book on the relationship between old age and regret. “The research examines very mild regrets,” he said. “Like missing a subway train or spilling a soft drink, these laboratory-induced regrets will dissipate rapidly.”

Roese’s more recent research suggests that older people still experience regret, just on a different scale. “We have found that the life events that people find most regretful do not change much with age. Among both young and old, more regrets focus on romance and family relations, and relatively few focus on finances,” Roese said.

As we age, the number of regrets can add up. Roese recommends an antidote: “The best advice to avoiding life regrets when you are older is simply to go out and do things. Try new hobbies, take new classes, meet new people. As Kellogg professor Vicki Medvec has shown, over time people have more painful regrets about the things they didn’t do, rather than those new things that they did try.”

Photo by Santo Chino.

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Arthur Ashe Stadium

Critical ability. In a nutshell, it’s performing your best when it matters most. It’s something top professional athletes possess. And as I sit here watching the final tennis match of the U.S. Open between number one ranked Novak Djokovic and number two ranked Rafael Nadal, I can’t help but admire how much these two possess of that important trait.

Brian Rogers, an associate professor of managerial economics and decision sciences, went looking for evidence of critical ability in the real world to see how it would affect different events. Conveniently enough, he found it in data on professional tennis matches. Tennis, Rogers said, is well suited to a study of critical ability because different points throughout the match have different levels of importance. Take the Djokovic-Nadal final. So far, there have been 32 break points. The outcome of these points are important because the receiver has a chance to win the match by winning that point. In tennis, servers are seen to have an advantage, so break points are an opportunity for the receiver to distance him or herself from their opponent or catch up.

But for Djokovic and Nadal in this U.S. Open final, break points don’t appear to be the only ones where critical ability is, well, critical. Many rallies have lasted a dozen volleys or more. Each volley in those instances seems to ratchet up the pressure. The length of the rallies is part of the reason why, as of this writing, there Djokovic has had 42 unforced errors and Nadal 31. You could argue that the eventual winner has an edge in critical ability, but it’s probably a slim margin given the ferocity of the match.

Update: Djokovic won.

Photo by asterix611.

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Tuesday’s earthquake that shook the east coast of the United States did more than scare the bejeezus out of people unaccustomed to the earth moving beneath their feet. It provided what I think is a good example of synchrony, a phenomenon widespread in the natural world where individuals act in concert with one another without any explicit command to do so.

The story starts at 1:51 PM when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck about 5 miles (8.5 km) south of Mineral, Virginia. That’s a large quake even by the standards of the west coast and nearly unheard of on the east coast. The old, solid rock that underlies large portions of the eastern U.S. relayed the shaking as far away as Illinois and Georgia. So far, little damage has been reported, but there was another cause for concern. Sitting just 7 miles (11.2 km) northeast of Mineral, Virginia, is the North Anna Power Station with its two nuclear reactors.

The plants are owned by Dominion Resources. Traders must have feared another Fukishima was on their hands, because the company’s stock price started to drop precipitously at 1:52 PM, just one minute after the earthquake. The price slid for 23 minutes, losing $1.32 before beginning its recovery. By market close, the stock nearly recovered its losses, but that’s not the real story. The rapidity of the move and the spike in volume—up to 163,000 shares versus the day’s previous high of 64,000—tells me that synchrony was afoot. Knowledge that Dominion’s North Anna Power Station was close to the quake’s epicenter likely spread like wildfire throughout traders’ social networks via instant messages and tweets, leading to the massive selloff. (The nuclear plant lost offsite power and is running on diesel generators as of this writing. No major damage is suspected.)

Brian Uzzi, a professor of management and organizations, Kathleen Hagerty, a professor of finance, and Serguei Saavedra, an associate research professor at Northwestern, detail in their research the uncanny ability of stock traders to synchronize trades based on such a piece of information. No conscious coordination is involved—though traders chat with each other virtually, they do not divulge precisely when they are going to sell. Rather, traders digest messages and tweets from their social network and decide on their own when to move. Trading of Dominion shares mere minutes after the earthquake strikes me as a cool example of what Uzzi, Hagerty, and Saavedra saw in their research. Head over to the Kellogg Insight article to read more.

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Good news! Chevy has discovered the secret behind the perfect handshake. Bad news! The secret is a nearly unintelligible string of arithmetical mishmash:

perfect handshake

The British division of Chevy (also known as Chevrolet) commissioned a professor at the University of Manchester to come up with the formula. I like to think of his formula as the “model” handshake.

Handshakes are part and parcel to everyday life in many places around the world. Keith Murnighan, a professor of management and organizations, said that’s because “touch is powerful. A handshake is an active movement that invades a person’s personal space in a socially acceptable manner. But it’s still an increase in intimacy, however slight.”

Though the press release trumpets the mathematical model’s ability to pick out a bad handshake’s deficiencies, Murnighan said the best way to improve the experience would be to work on people’s sincerity. “Trying to fake it requires real skill that most people do not have.” Chevy would be better off hiring “people who believe in the product they are selling and who really do like people,” he said.

So what’s a salesperson (or any regular Joe) to do if all they can proffer is a limp noodle? “The key is to be sincere, and have all of your actions follow that feeling,” Murnighan said.


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penny auction

I stumbled across an auction site a couple of months ago that implored me to “go bid and win!” an Apple iPad. There were only 12 seconds left in the auction, and the current winning bid was a too-good-to-be-true $10.15. Twenty seconds later, the message refreshed. The price had gone up 30 cents, and three seconds had been added to the clock.

If this were eBay, people would be howling. Instead, it’s Quibids.com, and the apparent contradiction you may have noticed—bidding prolongs the auction—is business as usual. Oh, and those absurdly low prices? You’re likely to pay many times more than that if—and that’s a big if—you win the item.

Feeling cheated already? Welcome to penny auctions.


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