Models of My Life by Herbert Simon
Simon describes his life. He's a geek. This rocks.
In a subsequent algebra course, he (Simon as a boy, quite different from the man, so he uses 3rd person) was troubled by the fact that osm equadratic equations had two solutions, some had one, and some none. The irregularity seemed ugly, although he could see the reason for it graphically. He was pleased to learn a little later that by adding complex numbers to the reals, all quadratic equations could be provided with exactly two solutions.
I have said that the boy was a good listener. He was often sought out as a confidant, even by adults and even when he was quite young. When family feuds occurred -- and his grandmother had some talents in this direction -- he often heard each side of the story from the principals. Before he was twelve, he had learned that quite reasonable and truthful people could perceive the same set of events in remarkably different ways. Sometimes he found himself the mediator, interpreting for each protagonist the viewpoint of the other. Whatever view was presented to him, he could see the merits in the opposing view, and often took it up.
In self-defense (against accusations of conventionality), I had to spend time listening to Stravinsky, and looking at Picasso, and reading James Joyce until, of course, I came to enjoy them all. I expect that would have happened even without the goading, but we did not run a controlled experiment.
Only a few insurance companies had at that time enough statistical sophistication to appreciate the study (mapping Bay area housing construction to fire losses), and to the best of my knowledge, it went largely unnoticed and unused. Nearly forty years later, I received an admiring letter from a fire insurance actuary, who assured me that the study had been a generation ahead of its time. That was comforting, but did not make the work seem less futile.
Before mailing the exams back to Chicago, I had them copied as insurance against possible loss, and I still have those copies. On casual rereading they now look most impressive -- I was able to cite hundreds of Supreme Court cases by title and date and to drop the names of numerous obscure political philosophers. On the other hand, while my answers on the political parties and propaganda exam had seemed brilliant and even original to me at the time, they seem less so now. Occasionally the questions I answered were rather different from the ones that were asked, still a common failing on students' examinations.
In the seminar (to General Atomics), I said essentially that there would very likely be an industry here in thirty or forty years, but that the pioneers who built it up would probably lose a lot of money in the meantime. That message (although it turned out to be an awfully accurate one) was not cheerfully received. I spent two days in my office, but no visitors came. I waited through Monday and through Tuesday. At noon on Wednesday, I went to the harbor, rented a small sailboat, and spent the rest of the week sailing on San Diego Bay. My advice could have saved them hundreds of millions of dollars, and I did not even ask for a cut of the savings.
I started out with Lewis Mumford's The Culture of Cities, which apotheosizes the medieval city. Now, according to Mumford, the medieval city was not planned (although individual buildings often were), but grew in an "organic" way, following some laws of nature he never quite elucidates. Its beauty is not a formal, man-made beauty, but a natural one. Following Mumford's argument, some of the brighter (architecture) students came to see that not all order and design come from the mind of the planner. A city can grow, and so can beauty, out of the interaction of many natural and social forces.
The introduction of ths autobiography promised you mazes without minotaurs. Perhaps that was a little optimistic, because the maze of loyalty and national security that we have just been through did house a minotaur. Fortunately, and by not too wide a margin, I escaped being its victim. At the same time, I surely did not slay it, nor has it ceased to claim other victims. It remains a dangerous beast at large in a democracy
I will just mention how their entrepreneurial skills were tested by their first great success -- the introduction of linear (dynamic) programming into the oil industry for blending gasoline in refineries. Prudent businessmen, like prudent educators, always follow Alexander Pope's precept: "Be not the first by whom the new are tried; nor yet the last to lay the old aside". The problem of the entrepreneur is to persuade someone to go first; the others will follow readily enough.
At first I did not recognize that when you are in a position of authority you cannot debate freely with people in your organization without some of them believing that they may endanger their careers if they disagree with you too vigorously. Perhaps they are right -- I like to think not in my case, but self-deception is easy. People who agree with you are apt to seem a little more intelligent than those who don't. Power does corrupt.
His course, "Human Relations in Industry", was built around a combination of lectures, role-playing sessions, and pure Elliott Smith. He was one of the pioneers in the use of role playing as an educational device, and probably unique in hiring and coaching students of the Drama Department to play roles opposite the management students. The management students interviewed secretaries, applied for jobs (with Smith as prospective employer), presented consulting reports, and disciplined erring employees on the GSIA stage, in front of their fellow students and critiqued by Smith.
It is harder today to bring about real innovations in a university than it was before the democratization took place. I regret that, and think the price of organizational democracy has been high. Moreover, I do not believe that this kind of democracy within organizations has any connection with, or relevance for, democracy in the society at large.
I once phoned a very wealthy man, with whom I was on warm first-name terms, to ask him to donate a company product worth $400 to scientists in a Third World country. Without a moment's hesitation he replied, "I'll split it with you." I regard this man, whom I like very much, as intelligent, interesting, and possessed of enlightened social views -- not as liberal as mine, but far from reactionary. What struck me about his response was its automaticity -- a knee-jerk reaction. Even trifling amounts of money were not to be disbursed casually.
Apparently, he used to tell his PhD Cognitive Psych students at the beginning of the course:
This is the last lecture I am giving you. From next class on, I will only respond to your questions. This course has plenty of readings. If you don't have questions, it is either because you have not done your reading, or you are too stupid to be in this course.