How Your Team Can Make Better Decisions By Conquering the Asch Effect

two hands writing in notebook

Your team is awesome—you’ve gotten through the four stages of group development (which you, of course, studied in Smartly’s Organizational Behavior: Working in Groups and Teams course), and you’re performing at peak efficiency and effectiveness. You come into work energized and excited to tackle challenges with your team.

And then something happens. The team’s attitude is still upbeat, but you notice that its output is diminishing. Team members are making mistakes they shouldn’t have, and it’s costing you big time… What gives?

Sadly, even the best teams can run into a number of major threats to their effectiveness. Here’s how to deal with at least one of them, the Asch effect.

If you’ve ever found it difficult to speak up with an unpopular opinion, then you’re already familiar with the Asch effect: it’s a phenomenon in which individuals go along with the majority view regardless of their own opinions. Unfortunately, this leads teams to make poor decisions.

Luckily, there are several concrete steps you can take to avoid this effect:

  1. Appoint a devil’s advocate: select someone from your team to provide the alternative position to any major decision you’re making. This helps team members to step out from behind the curtain of unanimity and take a look at a challenge from all angles, helping to avoid costly mistakes.
  1. Change team member roles from time to time. Change forces us to see things from a different angle, sparking creative thinking and problem solving.
  1. Try an anonymous survey: Whether formally or informally, get feedback from group members individually and provide the results to the team. People can’t succumb to the Asch effect if they don’t know how their teammates would vote!

Already employing these tactics? Awesome! You’re well on your way to bulletproofing your team dynamics and decision-making. To learn even more about building and maintaining an amazing team, check out Smartly’s Organizational Behavior: Working in Groups and Teams course!

*photo credit: http://deathtothestockphoto.com

Careers, Learning

What’s it like to be a Smartly Content Developer?

Typewriter and laptop on desk

Image from a Macroeconomics lesson in Smartly on Economic Development in the World.

Smartly content developers come from all of over the world and have varying educational and professional backgrounds, but one thing unites them: they’re great at taking hard concepts and breaking them down in clever, humorous ways so that Smartly customers enjoy learning something new—fast!

Taylor, a top-notch Smartly content developer and PhD candidate at the University of Kansas with a background in Economics and Quantitative Analysis, describes his experience writing for Smartly. Find out why he thinks it’s important to learn macroeconomics for everyday life and what his absolute favorite thing he’s written for Smartly is!

1. What’s your name?

Taylor Drane

2. Where are you based?

Lawrence, Kansas

3. How and why did you start writing for Smartly?

I was referred to Smartly by a current writer.

4. What’s your professional and educational background?

I am currently in the PhD program at the University of Kansas where I also received my Masters in Economics. I completed my undergrad at Franklin College in Indiana where I received a Bachelors in Quantitative Analysis and a Bachelors in Economics. I have also completed two internships at Jabil Circuit where I worked for their treasury department and their business unit.

5. What are some of the courses and subjects that you’ve written about in Smartly?

I have written for the Macroeconomics courses; specifically international trade and fiscal policy.

6. Why do you think it’s important for students and business professionals to understand economics?

There are a multitude of reasons why economics is important. From a political perspective, it is usually the most important issue, especially in the past decade. If you turn on the news, you’ll likely hear about topics like the Federal Reserve, GDP, fiscal policy, exchange rates, etc. To have an informed opinion, one must understand how the economy works on both a micro and macro level. From an everyday perspective, economics is all around us. If you care about your education, your wages, your lifestyle, and your future, then you should care about economics.

7. What’s your favorite whimsical or snarky answer message you’ve written in Smartly?

First let me say that 99% of the humor and wit in the lessons I have written should entirely be credited to my editor, Tiffany Chen. She is far more creative than I am. Though it was not a message, there was an international trade lesson focusing on economic development in the world. We were using a fictional fruit world where all the nations were named after a fruit. Cherryland happened to enact some policies which enabled them to develop faster and they were able to “enjoy the fruits of their labor (pun fully intended)”.

8. What’s one of your favorite images used in Smartly?

Also in the economic development lesson, we used an image displaying two desks side by side. One side had a typewriter, feather pen, and a sheet of paper while the other side had a laptop, tablet, and a smartphone. The question was who would be more productive.

9. What do you admire about Smartly learners?

If someone uses Smartly it is because they have the desire to learn. While this may seem obvious, the desire to learn is a very powerful and admirable trait. There is a huge difference between having to learn something and wanting to learn something. The former will yield mediocre results but the latter will result in true knowledge.

10. What do you do to keep your learners in mind?

I try to tailor each lesson to match the perspective and needs of the learner. So from the beginning of the lesson-creating process until the end, I am always asking myself questions such as: Is this important for the needs of the person learning? Does this example seem plausible to them? Essentially I try to keep myself in the shoes of the learner at all times.

11. Anything else you’d like to mention?

I think that Smartly is not only filling an educational void, but is filling it with a quality model that is perfect for the learner in this day and age. Keeping in mind the goals and the environment of the learner has led to a learning platform that combines technology and pedagogy in a way that has not been done before.

For more on Smartly, visit https://smart.ly


Five Simple Steps to Push Your Application to the Top

blue tiles spelling words

As you may have noticed on the Smartly blog, Pedago is currently on the hunt for motivated content developers and back-end engineers to help bring Smartly’s bite-sized, interactive courses to life. Part of my job is to review and prioritize the diverse writing samples and resumes submitted by our eager content developer applicants. In doing so, I’ve noticed that taking just a few simple steps can make a huge difference in getting your application to rise to the top when applying for a new job. While the items on this list may seem obvious, it’s never a bad idea to review the basics so you can focus on being the number one, standout applicant.

  • Proofread your resume. If your job requires “attention to detail,” make sure that’s reflected in your resume; you’ll stand out in a bad way if you misspell the word “meticulous” while listing it as one of your top five traits! What better way to impress your hiring manager (and give them a peek into your future work at the company) than to showcase a resume that is ship-shape and devoid of typos and grammar errors. This absolutely goes for personal websites and your LinkedIn profile as well—if you’ve provided links to an online resume or portfolio, make sure it represents your best work.
  • Read the job posting. Perhaps your future employer is looking for a cover letter; maybe they want you to apply via a special link, or they’ve provided specific instructions for a required skills test. Regardless of the instructions provided, it’s crucial that you demonstrate your interest in the position and ability to understand instructions by following them to a T. It’ll help you make a great first impression!
  • Do your research. Spend a little time on your potential employer’s website. Check out the current employees, do a little digging into the company mission, and try to figure out their main focus as a company. If you’re able to do so for a minimal cost, try out the company’s product! This should be done before you apply—how else will you be able to tell if you really want to apply?
  • Focus on what you bring to the position. Once you’ve taken the time to read the job posting and consider how your skills might be a great fit, and then tell us about it. You can focus on the compensation details once you have a job offer in hand. We know you’re looking for decent pay, fair vacation time, maybe flexible work arrangements, and more. But, you can leave those details until later, once you’ve determined that you’re a good match for the position itself.
  • Be polite, even if you don’t get the job. Employers often have a large pool of candidates for each job posting. You may never know whether you were the second choice or last in line for the position, but you can guarantee that your resume will never get a second chance if you reply to a rejection notice in a negative fashion. Keep it positive, and keep your chances of scoring a position on the next go-around!

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all the things to keep in mind when applying, it’s a great place to start. What other tips would you add to the list? Happy hunting!


*photo credit: http://deathtothestockphoto.com


Pedago Seeking Content Authors and Editors

Smartly team photo

Pedago is on the hunt for a full time Content Developer to join our growing content team. Pedago’s ideal content developer is adept at taking complex concepts, breaking them down, and weaving them into clever, engaging, educational lessons that are easily understood and internalized for use in the real world. To succeed in this position, you must have a strong attention to detail and be able to learn new concepts independently.

This position is ideal for those who love to read non-fiction, write academically (but with wit and humor!), and educate others in the process.

Your key responsibilities when working with Pedago will include both creating and editing short, amusing educational lessons that take difficult topics and break them into bite-sized chunks for on-the-go learning.

Interested? We’d love for you to take some time to get to know us. Read through https://smart.ly/press to learn more about who we are and where we come from. Spend some time in the Smartly platform seeing the kind of content you’ll be creating at https://smart.ly.

Still Interested? We’d love to see a writing sample. Use the prompt below to create a sample lesson. Send it, along with your resume, to jobs@pedago.com. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Writing Prompt:

For your writing sample, consider a subject you know well. Take ~30 minutes to prepare a slide presentation (PowerPoint is fine) that teaches your subject in an organized, enjoyable, and comprehensible fashion. Demonstrate why your content is meaningful, and explain it in a way that is compelling. Be fun and accessible!

Your sample lesson should take your audience 5-15 minutes to go through as a learner.  Please indicate in which sections of your presentation you would like to incorporate interaction to enhance the learning experience. For example, you could add images, ask a question, write ‘fill-in-the-blank’ statements, etc. As you’re writing your lesson, remember to have fun with it—we want our learners to enjoy their learning experience! 

Pedago supports workplace diversity and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender identity/expression, national origin, age, military service eligibility, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, physical or mental disability, or any other protected class.


The Blue Ocean Mind

blue ocean waves

Ten years ago, I picked up a copy of Blue Ocean Strategy at an airport bookstore.

At the time, I was in my third year of running Rosetta Stone as CEO and we were enjoying annual growth rates of close to 100%. While still operating out of a converted seed warehouse in rural Harrisonburg, Virginia, I engaged consultants and advisers who invariably asked me: “Who’s your competition? What are your competitor’s strengths? How can you stay ahead or catch up?” or “Do you know how big the language learning industry is today? How fast is it growing? How can you gain market share?” Those weren’t the things we were focused on! We were thinking about how to build an interesting, enduring and delightful company.

We were an emerging company and were…well…a bit odd. Our price point was tenuous (twenty times the cost of rival language learning software). Marketing spend also seemed unsustainably dominant (with sprawling kiosks and crazy-high ad spending), all managed without an integrated media plan. Indeed, we were unfocused in terms of our end markets, offering the same curriculum in 25+ languages to the US Army, Fortune 500 companies, school districts, homeschoolers, and individual consumers. We were a legacy of seemingly illogical decisions (we were told) in need of a strategy to become more competitive.

And yet, we had just become the #1 company in the US language learning industry by revenues overtaking the long established brick-and-mortar based Berlitz. We were profitable, and were one of the fastest growing companies in the nation. We certainly did not feel like we were all wrong—even if we didn’t have it together in all sorts of ways. We were doing well, and enjoying the ride.

Discovering Blue Ocean Strategy was a pivotal moment for me. It provided a framework for what we had been doing and explained why our independent and unusual approach was working. It spurred me to hone our strategic approach as we evolved new innovative offerings and business models. And as colleagues also became familiar with Blue Ocean Strategy, the powerful concepts became part of our common parlance across the company, inspiring product designers to re-think English language training in Asia, while also helping with on-boarding new collaborators who typically wanted to teach us their more reasonable way of focusing on beating the competition.

While not every single Blue Ocean Strategy turned to gold, it was the right framework for designing solutions to age-old problems. Like anything in life, it will not work every time and reality is unpredictable. But it is a wonderful way to approach work and life in general—a license to do what you think is right, and to stop wasting time on stuff that you don’t think is required. It is what explains success such as Tesla, Cirque du Soleil and IKEA—and how they escape the traditional competitive mindset that is so limiting and even exhausting. If you haven’t yet used the Blue Ocean Strategy framework to think about your company and life, please do so! You’ll be happier for it.

As one of our first courses at Pedago, we’ve developed a quick intro to Blue Ocean Strategy via our new platform Smartly. Whether it is your first contact with the framework or more of a refresher, with Smartly, you’ll breeze through it!

And in the process, you’ll get to see what Alexie, Ori and I, and the rest of the Pedago team, have been up to over the past couple of years. We think we’ve come up with a powerful new way to teach using technology, and we hope that it works for you. In the future, we’ll develop many more courses using this platform and technology.

Our solution is designed for the smartphone, and works great on desktop and tablet. And there aren’t any plans for a CD-ROM or any bright box packaging! So get going and escape the red ocean by going to https://smart.ly/blue-ocean-strategy.

May Blue Ocean Strategy become your team’s strategic lingua franca!


Git Bisect Debugging with Feature Branches

Inspectocat, courtsey of GitHub
Inspectocat, courtesy of GitHub

At Pedago, we follow the GitHub Flow model of software development. Changes to our app are made in feature branches, which are discussed, tested, code reviewed, and merged into master before deploying to staging and production. This approach has become pretty common, and in most cases does a good job of balancing our desire to ship quickly with the need to control code quality.

But, what happens when a bug inevitably creeps in, and you need to determine when it was introduced? This article describes how to apply git bisect in the presence of numerous feature branches to quickly detect when things went awry in your codebase.

Enter Git Bisect

git bisect is tool for automatically finding where in your source history a bug was introduced. It saves you the pain of manually checking out each revision yourself and keeping a scratchpad for which ones were good and bad.

Here’s how you get started: Continue reading


Fixturies: The speed of fixtures and the maintainability of factories

train rails tracks

We had a rails app. We used factories in our tests, and it took ten minutes to run them all.  That was too slow. (spoiler alert: by the end of this blog post, they will run in one minute.)

We suspected that we could speed up the test run time by using fixtures instead, but worried that fixtures would be much more difficult to maintain than our factories.

As it happens, we are not the first developers to deal with the issue that factories are slow and fixtures are hard to maintain.  I cannot explain the issue any better than the following folks do, so I’ll just give you some quotes:

“In a large system, calling one factory may silently create many associated records, which accumulates to make the whole test suite slow …”

“Maintaining fixtures of more complex records can be tedious. I recall working on an app where there was a record with dozens of attributes. Whenever a column would be added or changed in the schema, all fixtures needed to be changed by hand. Of course I only recalled this after a few test failures.”

“Factories can be used to create database records anywhere in your test suite. This makes them pretty flexible and allows you to keep your test data local to your tests. The drawback is that it makes them almost impossible to speed up in any significant way.”

In our case, 99% of our tests were using identical records.  For example, we were calling FactoryGirl.create(:user) hundreds of times, and every time, it was creating the exact same user.  That seemed silly.  It was great to use the factory, because it ensured that the user would always be up-to-date with the current state of our code and our database, but there was no reason for us to use it over and over in one test run.

So we wrote the gem fixturies to solve the problem this way:  Each time we run tests, just once at the beginning, we execute a bunch of factories to create many records in the database.  The fixturies gem then dumps the state of the database to fixtures files, and our tests run blazingly fast using those fixtures.

We saw a 10x improvement in run times, from ten minutes down to one.  We still use factories here and there in our tests when we need a record with specific attributes or when we want to clear out a whole table and see how something behaves with a certain set of records in the database.  But in the vast majority of cases, the general records set up in that single run at the beginning are good enough.

If you are using factories in your tests to re-create the same records over and over again, and your tests are running too slowly, give fixturies a try and let us know how it goes.  It only took us about half a day to refactor 700 tests to use fixturies instead of traditional factories, so there is a good chance it will be worth your time.