Incentives and cognitive surplus

Via TechDirt I found this very cool video on how our “standard” notions of incentives don’t always work very well, especially when it comes to cognitive work. There’s a ton of cool ideas in the video (and more in the TechDirt piece, including some cool links).

The incentives in the talk are typically money, but I suspect that there are interesting things to be said about grades as an incentive in the academy. Does anyone know of work along those lines?

One really interesting story is about Atlassian, an Australian software company. (Their stuff is cool, and we’ve used some of it here at UMM in the past, but it’s gotten pricey and we’ve moved to other tools.) Apparently Atlassian gives their employees a 24 period every quarter to work on whatever they want, and then they have a party where people share what they’ve done. This apparently leads to a ton of cool ideas, bug fixes, and development. So, so cool.

How could we apply that here in the academy? What if we gave everyone in our Computer Science discipline a 24 hour period to work on whatever they wanted to and then had a big party where people shared what they did? Could we do it? Would it make sense if we did? What would it mean? We’d probably have to cancel at least our CSci classes that day, and probably make sure that no one was giving an exam the next day, etc., etc.

Because we would only control our discipline’s behavior, though, we wouldn’t give many of the students the freedom they’d need to really take advantage of the opportunity. It would presumably work a lot better if we did this across the entire campus – no classes, no exams, no papers due, and then some sort of event (or set of events distributed across campus) at the end for people to share their results.


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Dead people scare me, so it’s nice to know that Saddam is still on the Terrorist Watch List

Yellow Shadow
Creative Commons License photo credit: PieterMusterd
As most anyone who’s flown much in the last few years can attest, the existing TSA airport security system frequently borders on the ludicrous. I know I’m more comfortable in the air knowing that 7-year-old John Anderson (of Minneapolis) is on the national Terrorist Watch List, and his parents have to “check in at the ticket counter so an airline official can see that he’s a child”.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to be even further depressed on this issue, I definitely recommend the ACLU’s short “national security quiz”. It’s really nice to know that “The U.S. government can seize your laptop, cell phone or PDA as you enter the U.S. and download all your private information—all without a warrant or probable cause” ’cause we are the Home of the Free and the Beacon for Democracy or some such. It’s also reassuring to learn that there are over 1 million people on the national Terrorist Watch List (which is then reduced to little more than a massive fishing expedition), and that includes a number of high profile dead people.

‘Cause dead people are so scary when they fly…

Man, oh, man, what a boondoggle. Absolutely enormous amounts of money and energy being expended, little of which actually does anything to make us more secure.

Another proud resume item for Our Fearless Leader. And another reason to be grateful that his fiasco of a presidency will end soon.

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