Virulent Word of Mouse

November 26, 2009

How to explain public policy for the Internet to my father

What is the best advice you ever received? If you ask me, here is what I say: If I cannot explain something to my father it probably is not worth knowing.

That is the last thing I said on this podcast. You can read the same remark on this write-up of the podcast.

These focus on a rather esoteric topic — public policy for the Internet. The remark about my father explains the tone and focus of the interview.

That is probably not self-evident, so let me explain.

Here is what that phrase means. I am in the research business, but not every part of the research business. I focus on what academics call “applied research.” Applied research seeks to address questions of interest to managers or policy makers.

Is that the only type of research? Not a chance. You cannot imagine how easy it is to become distracted by other matters, such as theoretical esoterica or statistical nuance.

While I find much enjoyment in studying that esoterica — as much as the next economist (ok, maybe not as much as ALL economists), some of these esoteric facts and theories simply do not serve applied research goals.

In short, how do I choose between those worth the trouble and those not? As much as the next person, I need rules of thumb to keep me disciplined.

This is one of my rules. If I cannot explain it to my father, well, then it probably is not worth knowing. To be sure, my father is a smart fellow, but he has limited patience for esoterica. He is a CPA, and, after all, in the CPA business it is important to get to a bottom line.

This is a long way of explaining today’s post about the podcast, which comes to us from IBM’s Forward View series of interviews. I was interviewed by Paul Carlstrom about the policy issues for the Internet. He turned the interview into a pod cast and a short write up.

This was a very pleasant assignment, but it had one challenge. Paul wanted me to focus the comments on a typical manager, a smart and educated user or producer of IT, who has not taken the time (recently) to bone up on the particular issues in the podcast.

That assignment requires simplifying and summarizing without dumbing-down the material. That is harder than it sounds. So, honestly, throughout the interview I tried to talk as if I was talking to my father.

Here is a link to the interview. Here is a link to the podcast.

By the way, the pod cast includes one more thing.

I am also in the teaching business. The best piece of teaching advice I ever received came from Iain Cockburn. If you want to see what it is…. well, you have to read the interview or listen to the podcast. Enjoy!

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