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How Bad People Rise to the Top

If I had a list of Top 10 topics that people like to talk about in life, this one would undoubtedly be on it: How is it that jerks always seem to get ahead while nice guys finish last? In his book of the same name, Harold Kushner asked a similar question: Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People

Based on my observations of awful, corrupt leaders over the past 15 years or so, here are a few suggestions:

They have infinite ambition. You and I want to go home at the end of the day. We want to have a life, go to the movies, make art. We feel bad when our work commitments cut into our family time. But to a corrupt leader, the only thing that matters is getting the position they're after.

They lack emotional intelligence. You and I feel bad when we see somebody crying. But the corrupt leader either doesn't notice or doesn't know why they should care. They don't relate to other people.

They feel deprived of something they perceive as owed to them. You and I say to ourselves, we have to work for stuff in order...

The Algorithms That Tell Bosses How Employees Are Feeling

Every day, humans type out more than 200 billion emails, hundreds of millions of tweets, and innumerable texts, chats, and private messages. No one person could pick through even a tiny sliver of this information and stitch together themes and trends—but computers are starting to be able to. For more than a decade, researchers have been developing computer programs that can ingest enormous amounts of writing to try and understand the emotions stirred up by an idea or a product.

The field—known as sentiment analysis—got its start in market research. As online reviews started to gather steam in the mid-2000s, companies who wanted to understand how their products—or their competitors’ offerings—were being received  began to use algorithms to aggregate reviews, says Bing Liu, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who has written extensively about the history of sentiment analysis. The algorithmic approach could reveal broader insights than a focus groups or surveys, the thinking went.

Sentiment analysis has bloomed into a large and lucrative industry. Dozens of startups now focus exclusively on providing these services to other companies, Liu says, and many bigger tech corporations have developed their own software...

How Statistics are Twisted to Obscure Public Understanding

Mark Twain attributed to Benjamin Disraeli the famous remark: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.’ In every industry, from education to healthcare to travel, the generation of quantitative data is considered important to maintain quality through competition. Yet statistics rarely show what they seem.

If you look at recent airline statistics, you’ll think that a far higher number of planes are arriving on schedule or early than ever before. But this appearance of improvement is deceptive. Airlines have become experts at appearance management: by listing flight times as 20-30 per cent longer than what the actual flight takes, flights that operate on a normal to slightly delayed schedule are still counted as arriving ‘early’ or ‘on time’. A study funded by the Federal Aviation Administration refers to the airline tactic as schedule buffering.

It is open to question, however, whether flights operating on a buffered schedule arrive ‘on time’ in the sense that ordinary people use the term. If a flight is scheduled for 2.5 hours and takes, on average, only 1.5 hours to reach its destination, then is any flight that arrives at its scheduled time really on time? Or have...

We Remember Our Coworkers’ Misdeeds, but What about Our Own?

Every office has them: colleagues behaving badly. Whether they always pad their expense reports, call in sick then go to the beach, or just avoid refilling the printer paper, their shenanigans seldom stop.

New research from the Kellogg School’s Maryam Kouchaki may help explain why. Simply put, her findings suggest that people recall their unethical behaviors with less-than-vivid clarity—increasing the likelihood that they will take similar actions in the future.

“It’s a phenomenon that we see over and over in organizations, in everyday life—people repeatedly engaging in unethical behavior,” says Kouchaki, an assistant professor of management and organizations. “This paper is our attempt to answer why.”

None of us like thinking poorly about ourselves, she explains, so as a defense mechanism we tend to have murky memories of when we acted poorly in the past. This faulty recollection, her research shows, can lead to unethical behavior in the future, since we don’t have our own experiences at hand to act as a deterrent. She calls the phenomenon “unethical amnesia.”

However, this phenomenon can be avoided. “A habit of self-reflection helps to keep such memories alive and to learn from them and to not act unethically...

'Get Out of My Face!' We’re More Antisocial in a Shared Office Space

“If we all work side-by-side in an open-plan office or ‘hot desk,’ moving from place to place, it’s sure to increase collaboration!”

It turns out that may be wrong. If you don’t have your own space, perhaps you are better off working remotely with your cat for company.

Our research found that there were increases in “employee social liabilities” in shared working spaces: distractions, uncooperativeness, distrust, and negative relationships. More surprisingly, both coworker friendships and perceptions of supervisor support actually worsened. Although prior researchers have claimed shared work spaces can improve social support, communication, and cooperation, our results indicated that coworker friendships are of the lowest quality in hot-desking and open-plan arrangements when compared to those with their own offices or who share offices with just one or two others. It is possible that these shared offices may increase employees’ use of coping strategies such as withdrawal and create a less friendly environment in a team.

As part of our research, we surveyed 1,000 working Australians. We asked them whether they shared their office space with others, what sort of coworker friendships and supervisor support they had, and any negative relationships they had (such as lack of...

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