February 2, 2015
Back in June 2014, I submitted a claim to Aetna for services from health care providers. The providers in question are among the increasing number who bill their patients for services, then have their patients submit receipts to their health insurance provider.(This is in the USA, by the way. You can tell that it doesn’t involve a single-payer system.)
The expectation is that the insurers reimburse the insured. At least, that was my expectation. I think that it is also Aetna’s expectation and intention. But, seven months and many phone calls and electronic messages later, I have yet to receive the bulk of the reimbursement. I did receive one check, but that was for less than 10% of the amount due.
I think that this is due to incompetence on the part of Aetna. The many employees I talked with on the phone seemed sincere in their wish to help me. They also seemed to be having difficulty getting the relevant information from their information systems. That’s why I suspect that it is organizational, rather than individual, incompetence.
Could it be an attempt by Aetna to avoid paying? I don’t think so. Aetna has not argued that it is not liable to pay for the particular services for which I sent the receipts. I think that Hanlon’s razor is applicable here: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
Aetna claim that a check was sent to a previous address, even though a new and accurate address was on file. I believe that. I requested a stop of that check, and the issue and sending of a new check. Aetna said yes.
We now seem to be in a cycle.
- I ask Aetna where the check is, since I should have received it by now.
- Aetna tells me that the previous check wasn’t stopped, and that a new check wasn’t cut.
- Aetna tells me that the previous check will be stopped, and that a new check will be cut.
- Time passes.
- Back to start of cycle.
I decided to try to find a senior Aetna executive whose part of the organization deals with paying claims. I think that person is Meg McCarthy, Exec VP, Operations & Technology. I tried to find her email address. I did not succeed, although I did find out about many awards and media appearances, and that her annual compensation exceeds $4M (that’s four million US dollars).
Any ideas on how to get Aetna to actually cut and send the check? I’m getting so desperate, I may resort to writing a letter on paper and sending it to Ms McCarthy, in the hope that she or someone who can actually get something done in Aetna sees it. Thank you for reading, anyway.
January 22, 2015
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform: an internet service that enables the funding of projects by bringing together the creators of those projects with backers, who provide the money to fund the projects. The typical successful project has many backers (hence the term crowdfunding), each of whom receives a reward. (This note on the Kickstarter Ecosystem is also available as a single-sheet PDF, which includes three figures and one table.)
One particularly successful project, the COOLEST cooler, attracted over 60,000 backers and over $13M (yes, that’s thirteen million dollars, US). Over $50,000 of those backers chose as their reward one cooler delivered within the USA, at a cost of $200 ($185, plus $15 shipping). Shipping made the cost higher for the over 7,000 backers who had a cooler delivered to a country other than the USA. Other backers chose more modest rewards, such as a COOLEST party cup and blended drink book for $25. The most expensive reward cost $2,000, and included a visit from the project creator.
The COOLEST example illustrates two essential and specific flows between creators and backers. First, payment flows from backers to creators. Currently, Kickstarter directs backers to an Amazon online payment service. It will soon migrate to the Stripe service.
The second process, fulfillment, includes the packing, transport, and delivery of rewards to backers. Kickstarter leaves the fulfillment decision to project creators.
Kickstarter, then, is not only a web site: it is also an ecosystem, including online services, logistics providers, and other creatures. The figure illustrates this ecosystem. (In the PDF, it is Figure 3, and the relationship between Kickstarter and specific social media is illustrated in Table 1.)
One of the advantages of crowdfunding for the project creator is that backers have incentives to recruit further backers. If a project does not achieve its funding goal, backers do not get their rewards (and neither do they make their payments). Some projects are structured so that this incentive persists even after the funding goal has been met. Creators may specify stretch goals: specific funding targets above the initial goal, with rewards improving as each stretch goal is met. This is an economic incentive for backers to recruit. There may also be a social incentive: backers may feel that their friends would like to know about the opportunity to fund the project, and to receive a reward for doing so.
Backers and creators often use social media to tell prospective backers about projects. Facebook and Twitter fit here, since they are so widely used. Other social media have a narrower focus, and are important within specific niches of the Kickstarter ecosystem.
Tabletop games provide an example of a niche, and of the categorization of Kickstarter projects. A creator may place a project in one of a number (currently fifteen) of broad categories, some of which have subcategories. For example, the Games category has two subcategories: Tabletop and Video.
Tabletop games include board games and card games. Such games are the focus of BoardGameGeek. If the purpose of a project is to fund a new board game, the project’s creator is likely to be active on BoardGameGeek, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Kickstarter itself.
Finally, the exhibit shows that there are other Kickstarter complements, besides those already discussed. One example is Kicktraq, which takes data from Kickstarter projects and generates charts and other material of interest to creators and to others who use or watch Kickstarter.
I welcome comments, especially suggestions for improvement on this version of this note on Kickstarter. I am thinking of expanding on other Kickstarter complements. I stopped writing here because the PDF/Word version just fits on to one (double-sided) sheet of paper, but that’s a rather arbitrary limit.
January 21, 2015
I can’t remember where I found out about Monument Valley (“adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness”) but I do know that it has been played a lot in our house since I bought it a week or so ago. Yesterday evening I couldn’t play, or read the ebook I wanted to, because each kid had claimed one of our two iPads.
The image is a screenshot from the second “chapter” of MV. The game encourages screenshots. I presume that’s so that people will take and share them; it seems to have worked on me.
Princess Ida, in white, needs to step on to the button in the center near the top. Some of the path (the darker part) can be turned using the handle. But that part of the path seems to have risen far above Ida as a result of the last button she stepped on to. What’s a Princess to do in order to get to the next lovely set of puzzles?
The base game consists of ten (X) chapters. My favorite is The Box (XIII), which I can’t describe without spoiling. Then Forgotten Shores adds eight (viii) appendices. That’s eighteen (X + viii) levels, each with its own look and theme. While I love MV, I understand that some people prefer longer, tougher games. I don’t understand the people who trashed Forgotten Shores because it cost money ($2).
As you journey through the levels you see and inhabit different environments, find new ways of changing those environments, encounter black crows and have the princess in white interact with them in various ways. You may well feel, as I did, that the game-makers want to you overcome the challenges, without making too many of them too easy for you, and that the main reward is entering and experiencing the next environment.
Congratulations on Monument Valley to ustwogames, who recently posted some interesting numbers about the game: sales of over $5M; development costs, substantial but far lower; and so on. Michelle Starr at CNET contrasted Monument Valley’s pricing with the freemium model: I for one am glad that I never saw ads in Monument Valley.
November 27, 2014
I am deeply thankful for games, and for the people with whom I have played them over the years. I am particularly thankful for board games. Clarifications: I am not criticizing video games, or the people who play them; some of the board games I like best are actually card games; perhaps tabletop games is a better term than board games; I am not thankful for every tabletop game ever, and do acknowledge than many of them stink; neither am I thankful for every single person with whom I’ve played a tabletop game…
Is this board games’ golden age? Owen Duffy’s article in yesterday’s Guardian argues that it is. I agree, and hope that an even better (platinum?) age will follow. It is certainly a good time for board/tabletop games: “the past four years have seen board game purchases rise by between 25% and 40% annually.”
So why is this a good time for board/tabletop games? There are at least two explanations. I think of them as the compliments explanation and the complements explanation.
“Games are simply getting better” is the compliments explanation. That quote from the article compliments designers and publishers of games on making better games available.
Another quote illustrates the complements explanation. “The rise of smartphones and tablets has given players an inexpensive way to try digital versions of board games, and many go on to buy physical copies as well.” The digital and physical versions are complements, rather than substitutes. To be more specific, and perhaps more surprising: the existence of the digital version increases, rather than decreases, purchases of the tabletop version, even if the tabletop version costs ten times more than the digital version.
Dear readers of this post, it may be time for parting words. If you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, I hope that you do so safely and happily. If you are “tabletop game compatible”–and I believe that most humans are–I hope that games play a positive part in your holiday season, and in the rest of your life.
If you are interested in the impact of technology on our lives, please bear with me for another paragraph or two. It seems strange that tabletop gaming and smartphone usage are on the rise at the same time. Who wants games with components of cardboard and wood, costing dozens of dollars, when there are so many mobile games available for a few bucks, or at no immediate financial cost? One answer is that such gamers are rare, and becoming rarer.
Despite our affection for them, the market for board games tumbled 9 percent in 2010 and the road ahead is straight downhill… With apps, every boardgame can be brought to the screen, be carried in your pocket…. online game centers… knit people together.
The quote, from Michael Saylor’s book The Mobile Wave (2012), presents an argument that games on mobile platforms will substitute for games (sometimes the same games) on the tabletop. The book presents an argument that connected mobile devices will substitute for pretty much every existing way we do pretty much any thing. I suspect that data from the few years provide tend to support the general mobile wave thesis.
But the games for which I am thankful seem to be buoyant, their cardboard boxes floating on the mobile wave rather than being swept away by it. I think that tabletop games will remain on top the the wave, although sales figures may bob up and down.
Here are some of the questions on my mind. I’d love to see responses, and further questions.
- Will the current “golden age” of board/tabletop games continue, or even turn into a more precious age?
- Are digital versions of tabletop games complements to, rather than substitutes for, the tabletop game itself?
- In what other arenas are digital versions complements to, rather than substitutes for, “the real thing”?
Have a great Thanksgiving, or Thursday, or weekend, or whatever it is for you,
ps edited for clarity on Dec 3, 2014
October 8, 2014
Some rather hardy MBA students recently asked me for book recommendations, on top of the book I’d just recommended to them, which in turn was on top of the books and other materials I’d assigned for the course. This post provides those recommendations, and shares them with you, even if you are not one of the students who made the request. (It also provides an Amazon affiliate link to each of the books, but I’ll be pleased if you just consider some of these books, and there are lots of other ways to obtain them.) The book I recommended is:
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. I recommend it for reasons including the following. It’s about an important and interesting topic: how people influence each other. It is founded in research (including Cialdini’s own research), but it is approachable and applicable. It is well-structured, with each of the six central chapters focusing on a different “weapon of influence” (e.g., Liking, Authority). Each of these chapters includes a section on self-defense, that is, on resisting assaults using this particular weapon. So the book is for, not just influencers, but also potential influencees.
Two of the books I did assign for the course belong here. Each is similar to Influence in that it is approachable, applicable, founded in research, and relevant to “behavior in organizations”*.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. Dan Pink is not an academic researcher, but he does make sure that he understands research relevant to his topic. In this, my favorite of his books, his topic is motivation, especially intrinsic motivation. Driven blends clear explanations of research with strong examples from practice, and suggests ways in which readers can better harness their motivations.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Daniel Kahneman is one of the most influential social scientists of the last hundred years. He is a psychologist best known for his work, with Amos Tversky, on judgment and decision making. He won a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002. Why did research in psychology earn the economics prize? Because it showed how human judgment and decision making depart from rationality, and it did so convincingly, extensively, and influentially. This book makes Kahneman’s thinking about human thinking very accessible. While it might be more academic than Influence or (especially) Drive, it is also more personal: it is dedicated to Tversky’s memory.
I wrote something similar to this post for Business Week about eight years ago. BW asked a bunch of business school profs for book recommendations: mine are still online. The first recommendation from 2006 certainly belongs here.
Co-Opetition by Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff. I wrote in BW that:
This is my favorite book on business strategy. The combination of competition and cooperation has become if anything more important in the decade or so since Co-Opetition was first published. It delivers solid content while avoiding heavy writing.
The only change I’d make to is to note that it’s now almost two decades since Co-Opetition was published, and it continues to wear extremely well. In fact, looking back to BW, but without looking back into all the books, I would still make most of those previous recommendations (although if you want a view from two veterans of The Economist magazine on how the world is changing, you might go with their recently-published The Fourth Revolution, rather than A Future Perfect).
Although the title of this post refers specifically to business books, I see that my BW piece concluded with recommendations for fiction, including some fantasy. I do still enjoy novels set in other worlds, such as:
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. If you follow the link, you’ll be able to look inside the book and read the first few pages. (See, these Amazon links can be useful to you.) If you enjoy those early pages, chances are you’ll enjoy the rest of the book. If you enjoy the book, chances are you’ll enjoy the second and third in the series.
That’s enough from me for now. Please feel free to leave your comments, whether they be remarks on the books recommended, recommendations of your own,… Thank you for reading this far, and thank you to the students who prompted this post.
* What I term here behavior in organizations is more often, but less logically, called organizational behavior (OB). It is related to organizational psychology and to a bunch of other more or less impressive-sounding terms.
May 14, 2014
There are many explanations of what net neutrality is, and why it’s a good/bad thing. It’s a good thing, as this video explains.
Perhaps I should be more specific. It’s a good thing for me. It’s probably a good thing for you, unless you are a large internet service provider, or are in the pay of one as a lobbyist, politician, or whatever.
April 7, 2014
Dan Pink is a five-star author, but To Sell is Human is “only” a four-star book. Having started with that sentence, I should explain it. The best start to the explanation is a quote from the book itself. “Clarity depends on contrast… The most essential question you can ask is this: compared to what?”
To Sell is Human (TSIH) is a four-star book compared to other books by the same author, and to other books about the same thing. Now, what is TSIH about? The answer, obvious from the title, is: selling. It is less obvious from the title that this is a book, not only about sales, but also about “non-sales selling”.
“Non-sales selling” is Dan’s term for “moving other people to part with resources—whether something tangible like cash or intangible like attention—so that we both get what we want.” A survey commissioned for the book showed about 40% of respondents’ work time devoted to non-sales selling. (I did a far smaller and less formal survey with a graduate school class, with a similar result.)
So non-sales selling is very similar to influence, and Dan Pink’s To Sell Is Human shares its subject with Influence: Robert Cialdini’s classic account of the psychology of persuasion. Dan is explicit about his knowledge of, and respect for, the earlier book, especially in his chapter on clarity: Influence tops his list of favorite books on the subject. Dan’s judgment is sound: if I were to recommend one book on non-sales selling, it would be Influence (rather than TSIH).
The contrast with Influence may be more harsh than it is fair: TSIH does in some ways go beyond Influence, rather than attempting to go head-to-head with it. Most important, To Sell is Human is a book, not only about non-sales selling, but about sales selling and about change. Selling cars provides a salient example. In the past, the seller was much better informed that the buyer. That information asymmetry has been eroded over time, particularly by the internet. Dan argues that it is now better business, as well as better ethics, to sell based on empathy with the buyer than to attempt to exploit the (potentially well-informed) buyer.
However, sales selling and non-sales selling seem like strange bedfellows, or bookfellows: they don’t fit into the same book as naturally as they perhaps should. This is one of the reasons why To Sell Is Human isn’t in the same five-star class as Influence, and some of Dan’s other books. I could list a few other reasons, but none is major, and it’s time for a shift toward the positive.
TSIH is very much a Dan Pink book, with all the good things that implies. Dan explains convincingly why his subject is interesting and important. He makes each topic engaging with practical examples, draws on and clearly explains relevant research, and provides practical implications. It sounds easy, and Dan’s books make it look easy, but many similar (i.e. popular social science) books end up being superficial, stodgy, or both.
TSIH does not need to be pushed off a bookshelf by Influence and by Dan’s other books, however much this review might have so far put it up against those strong competitors. TSIH complements those other books as much as it competes with them. For example, Influence’s Epilogue warns of the threats lurking in an environment rich in content, when much of that content comprises attempts to influence us, and many of those attempts are deceptive or worse. TSIH is very much about the content-rich environment, but is more positive, and not just because this environment provides buyers with information previously reserved for sellers. The very volume of content provides opportunities for curation: to select from the abundant content, to share the selection, and thus to add value.
With TSIH, Dan also complements his best book: Drive. Drive is about motivation: what drives us. TSIH is about how we can move others. There can be few aspects of psychology as important, or as mutually complementary, as what drives us, and how we can move others.
One last complement is Dan’s website, since it complements his books well. One last compliment: To Sell Is Human is a very good book, and one that I might perceive to be even better were it not for the comparisons invited by a Dan Pink book about influence.