Weird Economics Concept of the Week #421

Giffen Good. A Giffen good is a good whereby an increased price means increased demand. Cheap essential foods are sometimes asserted to be Giffen goods, as if the price increases, people can afford less of the pricier foods, and must eat more cheap staples. See this Wikipedia article for more information, as well as the related concept of a Veblen Good. Giffen goods are controversial, and some economists don’t believe they exist.

IBM acquires Webify

IBM has just announced that it has acquired Webify, a provider of ‘Service-oriented Business Applications’, which are SOA assets designed specifically for certain markets, such as insurance and healthcare. It will become part of the IBM WebSphere organisation. It remains to be seen exactly how Webify’s products will integrate into the IBM product line, but they sound like they will be a useful addition to IBM’s SOA vision, and I look forward to working with our new colleagues from Webify.

Inflated Job Titles Considered Dangerous

Lengthy and vacuous job titles are increasingly common in many organisations. It’s not uncommon to see ‘User experience practice leader’, ‘Technical data specialist’, ‘Revenue protection officer’, ‘PBT supplier’, ‘Guide planner’, ‘Authorising supplier manager’, or ‘Integrating management expert’. They probably make sense to people in that organisation, but to everyone else they seem like goobledygook.

(Note: I made most of those up - only one of those titles is real - guess which? However, they all use widespread vocabulary, so hopefully they seem familiar.)

Specialisation is good. However, these job titles don’t describe what people do, or even what they are supposed to do. They are vague, and hence they’re dangerous, because they obfsucate the intended structure of their organisation. One of the key tasks for a business is to continually identify mismatches between what people are supposed to be doing, are actually doing, and what needs to be done. This is critical to remain efficient. However, it’s hard when everyone sounds important, and key to the organisation (because, let’s face it, some probably aren’t). So organisations that are self-indulgent with their job titles (perhaps as a retention technique?) aren’t doing themselves any favours strategically.

Please let’s try to move to a world where we can tell what each other does.

Straight 8 and 'Metro-polis'

I went to the Straight 8 film showings at the Vue in Leicester Square with Lizzie last night. We saw the film that Dave, Felicity, and Twm had put together - ‘Metro-polis’ - as well as plenty of others. For those that aren’t familiar with it, Straight 8 is a film competition based around shooting onto a reel of 8mm film about 3 minutes in length. The entrants are not allowed to develop the film, so no editing is possible.

The quality of the shorts was very high - there were 25 films which were selected for the first showing, which included ‘Metro-polis’. Afterwards, the 10 films to be shown at Cannes were screened, which were phenomenal. In particular, if you ever get the chance to see ‘Blockhead’ by Aleysa Young, don’t turn it down - it’s the cutest thing you’ll have seen in a long time.

It’s re-kindled my interest in the creative process. The fascinating thing about this competition is the way that editing is not possible - in fact, because the film isn’t developed until it’s sent back to the organisers, the filmmakers don’t even know exactly what’s been shot until it’s shown. It’s striking how little personal output is like this - apart from conversation, most creative work is editable after creation (for example, I will review and edit this blog entry several times before I post it). Straight 8 is interesting because it forces one to think about how useful that process is, as well as how to prepare well (some of the films clearly required staggering amounts of co-ordination). I hope to participate next year, simply to gain a greater insight into this planning aspect (although I’m sure I won’t do as well as the folks last night).

Well done Dave, Felicity, and Twm!

Clothing Didn't Always Have Content

It seems that sometimes gradual changes can have a huge sociological impact. T-shirts have been around for some time now; they started becoming popular during WWI. As time and technology have progressed, t-shirts have become cheaper than the equivalent shirts. It’s now possible to buy t-shirts from a vast array of suppliers with logos, pictures, sayings, and other types of content (to borrow a Web word) pre-printed on them. Moreover, it’s become simple to order t-shirts with your own content printed on them for a reasonable price.

I’m sure this must have had an effect on society. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, I have a ‘Make Bono History’ t-shirt. As well as it being clothing, I, like many people, use it as a statement of my political beliefs, and it has started conversations (and arguments). Other t-shirts are funny, insightful, or just strange. One hundred years ago, clothing was (by and large) not adorned with statements about the wearer or their thoughts, apart from the subtle guesses that could be made from observing their satorial choices. These days, many items of clothing say something much more directly about the wearer - like a permanent advertising board - although, ironically, much of the actual advertising - slogans and brand names - is for the clothing brand itself, for which the wearer often pays a premium.

Whether there’s any more mileage in this trend of content on clothing remains to be seen.

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