Links for January 15, 2012

The rise of the new group think [Susan Cain/New York Times].

Virtually all American workers now spend time on teams and some 70 percent inhabit open-plan offices, in which no one has “a room of one’s own.” During the last decades, the average amount of space allotted to each employee shrank 300 square feet, from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet in 2010….

Privacy also makes us productive. In a fascinating study known as the Coding War Games, consultants Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister compared the work of more than 600 computer programmers at 92 companies. They found that people from the same companies performed at roughly the same level — but that there was an enormous performance gap between organizations. What distinguished programmers at the top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed. Sixty-two percent of the best performers said their workspace was sufficiently private compared with only 19 percent of the worst performers. Seventy-six percent of the worst programmers but only 38 percent of the best said that they were often interrupted needlessly.

I work in an open-plan office and I rather like it, mainly because my coworkers are fun and because my clean, small, mostly quiet work area is such a nice change from my sprawling, messy, mostly noisy house. We work on a puzzle together when we’re taking a break from work and wear headphones when we want uninterrupted time. I wonder, though, if I’d be more productive with a private office or even a cubicle. I don’t achieve flow as much I’d like at work. Not sure if that’s because the job is relatively new to me or because the work environment is an obstacle.

Hume, causation & science [Barry Ritholtz/The Big Picture]. “We humans love a grossly over-simplified narrative.” Determining when we can attribute causation to a correlation is one of the major challenges of research design and statistical analysis.

How to work from home like you mean it [Kevin Purdy/Fast Company]. I’m thinking of working one day a week at home to achieve some of that flow I’ve been missing. If I do, I’ll follow some of these tips so it doesn’t devolve into eight hours of Internet surfing.

Lack of interest and aptitude keeps students out of STEM majors [Olga Khazan/Washington Post On Small Business blog]. “A study released this week by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that recent graduates in computer science, mathematics and engineering all had unemployment rates below 9 percent (with the rates dropping below 6 percent among those who had some experience.) Conversely, the rates for graduates in architecture and the arts were 13.9 and 11.1 percent, respectively.”

What is college for? (Part 2) [Gary Gutting/The New York Times].

Concretely, students graduating from high school should, to cite one plausible model, be able to read with understanding classic literature (from, say, Austen and Browning to Whitman and Hemingway) and write well-organized and grammatically sound essays; they should know the basic outlines of American and European history, have a good beginner’s grasp of at least two natural sciences as well as pre-calculus mathematics, along with a grounding in a foreign language.

Students with this sort of education would be excellent candidates for many satisfying and well-paying jobs in, for example, sales and service industries, except for those that require highly specialized skills. From the standpoint of employment, high school graduates would have no need of college unless they wanted to be accountants or engineers, pursue pre-professional programs leading to law or medical school or train for doctoral work in science or the humanities. Apart from this, the only good reason they would have for going to college would be for its intellectual culture.

Compelling idea, but seems unlikely to happen because (1) our high schools are mostly incapable of providing such an education and (2) our culture is overly invested in the idea of college as the basic ticket to success in today’s economy. E.g.: D.C. may require college application for all [Joanne Jacobs].