Why I wrote a Ray Tracer this weekend

“The game is to keep learning, and you gotta like the learning process.  I don’t think people are going to keep learning who don’t like the learning process.  And if you don’t keep learning, other people will pass you by. Temperament alone won’t do it – you need a lot of curiosity for a long, long time. "  - Charlie Munger 
Since my wife joined the law firm of Munger, Tolles and Olsen, I've become infatuated with Charlie Munger.  He's the mostly unsung hero of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett's long time partner.  Munger has a few great books out there filled with his wisdom, and one of his strongest encouragements is to keep looking for new things to learn.

My excuse is that I don't have enough time.  Between having a family, a full time job, and trying to keep up with the few friends I still can, I don't have the time to try as many new things as I'd like.  But that's an excuse, and with all things that take time, it's never that you don't have enough, it's that you don't make enough. Life is a prioritization exercise, and you have to prioritize what matters.

Having seen Toy Story 3 come out, I started looking into how computer graphics have evolved.  MIT has a great resource having their entire curriculum online with the Open CourseWare initiative, so I started taking 6.837 Computer Graphics.  It's great, they have the lecture notes, and the problems sets, and the problem sets are coding problem sets where over several assignments you write a ray tracer.  It was a fantastic re-introduction to a lot of Linear Algebra that I'd forgotten, and honestly, a bunch of C++ that I'd forgotten.  Given I work at Microsoft now, I figured I'd use Visual Studio to develop it to make sure I'm up to speed on the tool chain that most of the people on my team are using.

I'm about 70% through the class, and here are a couple images I generated.  Hardly rocket science, or works of art, but pretty fun for me.  I also tried to distill what I'm taking away from this effort:

1. Charlie Munger talks about learning the key ideas in a discipline and applying that to problems you see elsewhere.  The more key ideas you have, the better off you are.  For example, evolution is a key idea in Biology, and being able to apply that competition and survival of the fittest to investing strategies makes you a much smarter investor.  In Computer Graphics, the key idea is to reverse the direction of light, and trace the rays from the viewer's eye, back through the scene to the light source.  That touches on a 2nd favorite theme of Munger's, "Invert, always Invert".

2. It's been years since writing code was my full time job, and I find the further I get from it, the harder it gets for me to fully grasp the time required for each phase of the process.  Digging back in and writing code, and having to crawl through the debugger to find a simple math mistake is a refresher that every manager of software developers should take at least once a year.

A couple crappy looking rabbits, but I'm pretty proud of them.  I'd post the source to my ray tracer, but I figure I'll leave the MIT students to copy their homework from somewhere else.  I'm happy to send it to anyone who contacts me.

Joy - the ultimate incentive

My weight loss challenge ended in March, so I've set a new goal for myself, to run the San Francisco half marathon.  I ran the Boston marathon (without qualifying) the year after I graduated college, so I don't have to prove I can run a full one, and quite honestly, I don't enjoy running enough to suffer through weeks of 2-3 hour training runs.  But I know myself, and without a goal I have trouble motivating.

At the same time, I've been reading "Born to Run," a book describing  a tribe in northern Mexico called the Tarahumara.  This tribe has some amazing athletic ultra distance prowess as they regularly have races where they kick a ball from one person to another in a relay over a race that goes over 100 miles and lasts for several days.  Their approach to these races is amazing as instead of resting up, they party all night the night before the race, getting absolutely smashed on their corn based beer, and then shake off the beer an run miles and miles for several days straight.  The book chronicles how some enterprising Americans got them to come to the US to compete in ultra-marathon events like the Leadville 100, a grueling 100 mile race that hits two mountain summits.  The second year they entered, a 52 year old Tarahumara runner won the race, and the year after that a 25 year old Tarahumara set the course record that held up for 11 years.  And just as quickly as they dominated the race, they stopped participating in it.

As amazing as these people are, the book digs into the motivation of them, and in particular notes how much they laugh and smile, even as they finish the last marathon of an almost 4 consecutive marathon 100 mile race. Their spirit is often a crushing blow to their competitors who see the Tarahumara running lightly and with ease after 75+ miles, while the competitor themselves is struggling to remain upright.  The passage in the book that caught me talked about the motivation to run and how we as Americans have lost the joy of running.  We run to lose weight, to achieve a certain distance, to hit a particular time.  Much of the time running is spent wishing it was over.  The Tarahumara, on the other hand, run as a social event, the elders in front leading the way, and the young bucks chasing them down and pushing them faster.  It's more than fun, it's joy.  And when you run for joy and forget about the competition, it's easy and you actually go faster.

Ok, so there's a bunch of new-age hokum in there.  I don't subscribe to how much American's have lost the joy of running, and I also think some of the glorification of the Tarahumara is exaggerated.  But for kicks, on my 9 mile run this weekend, every time I started lagging a bit, I tried smiling and imagining running lighter on my feet.  Running lighter will force you onto your toes and generally quicken the pace.  And the positive effects of smiling are quite well known.  So how'd it go?  Well, 9 miles is still no picnic for me, but it definitely felt easier and at the same pace as some of my previous grinds had been.

This thought comes to me at the same time as I've had these couple of lectures by Dan Pink sent to me.  The first is a Ted Talk describing how using money as a motivation works well for tasks that are primarily physical in nature, but is actually negatively correlated to tasks where even minimal creativity or higher thought is required.  The second talk is an RSA Animate covering the same material.  I preferred the first as the examples are a little better, but the style of RSA Animate is hard to beat for entertainment value.

Dan's point is to get us to rethink our management practices where we rely on what economists have taught us for decades, that if we want to incent certain behavior, we incent it with money.  Dan's point is that the science doesn't back that up, and that instead, we should focus more on intrinsic motivation.  That people want to work on things because they matter, because they're interesting, because they're important.  Dan suggests we focus on three things:

  1. Autonomy - The idea that individuals should control what they work on as opposed to being directed by management.
  2. Mastery - The desire to get better and better at something that matters.
  3. Purpose - The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
I think Dan's dead on the money, and he's got the management science to back himself up.  I do see the gap in my own thinking.  I try to direct my teams to have Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, but what I teach managers who work for me, and what I talk most about is incentives and overcompensating stars and cutting off underperformers.  

I find a strange parallel to the Tarahumara.  They have Autonomy.  They run because they want to and because their social circle wants to.  They have Mastery.  Running is something that matters in their society, and they are some of the best runners in the world.  They have Purpose.  They are serving the society, something larger than themselves.  And doing those three things brings them joy.

Can I possibly run my teams so they find joy in their work?  A tall order, but I'm a believer that it'll produce the best performers.  

As for my running, I still need my goal, and I still long more for the run to be over.  But I'm trying harder to find the joy in the moment.

How to avoid blowing your presentation

You've finally got the opportunity to present your idea to the right VC with connections in your industry and a track record of success.  You rush out to work on your presentation pulling in all the data, industry trends, snappy graphics, and entertaining anecdotes that support your position.  You conclude with the big ask on the last slide having lead everyone inexorably to your stunning conclusion.  You wind up with 30 slides to present in your 15 minute slot.

And predictably, what happens?  You get through through two slides, there's lots of debate around irrelevant topics and you never come close to getting your point made.  In the last 20 seconds, you race to your last slide on a Hail Mary hoping someone will see the brilliance of your plan from your asks alone.  The meeting ends with a couple nice handshakes and we'll get back to you, which of course they never do. It's a wreck.

Obviously, you blew it, but what went wrong?  The problem was you designed a presentation you wanted to present, not one your audience wanted to hear.  I see this mistake made all the time, and not just with VC presentations, with all presentations.  So now, lets stop and think about how we avoid this mistake.  Go back to the beginning before you even start your presentation.

1. What is your goal for this presentation?
If you aren't clear on that, you're dead before you start.  You want to convince someone to invest.  In other settings, you want additional funding for your project, or to reorganize a team a particular way, or to shift to a particular strategy.  There's some reason you've gathered important people and are taking their time.  You want them to do something.  Be crystal clear with yourself about that before you even get started.

2. What does your audience need to hear?
The second biggest mistake I see is that people present what they want to say.  Perhaps they're proud of a slide they put together, or of the way they implemented something.  They want to talk about how good they are at something, but if the audience doesn't need to hear that, then you've just wasted the time.

3. Be Hyper Aware of the time.
In your most important presentations, you've got an opportunity with the attention of the people that matter.  But you don't have much time, and it's probably hard to get more.  Time is your most precious resource, and you don't have much so think through how you want to spend every minute.  If you've got 15 minutes or 3 hours, plan out how you want to spend it.  In a 15 minute presentation, I'd probably think through something like this:
  • Get them interested (3 minutes)
  • Give your pitch (5 minutes)
  • Support it (2 minutes)
  • Questions (5 minutes)
4. Grab their attention.
Most presenters are boring.  Not a little boring, really boring.  Plus the environment of a darkened room with 10-15 people around a table and a 15 minute slot isn't conducive to paying attention.  Right at the start, you've got to demand that people pay attention to you. If you're funny, say something funny, but be careful because it's really got to be funny.  Lame jokes don't get people's attention, they're just lame jokes.  I often like to start way out in left field.  A few times I've opened presentations by saying I want to talk about a "Really Important Topic" and then flash to a slide with the Boston Red Sox logo.  And then I start talking about the Red Sox, and people are hooked.  How am I going to tie that back to my main point?  Do I have a point?  Plus, the story of how the Sox beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS can't be told often enough.

5. Get to your point
Now that  you've got a goal, and you're aware of the time pressure you're under, and you've got their attention, now you need to make sure you get to the point.  Think carefully about every slide you put in front of your ask, because that's a potential rat hole that will prevent you from getting to your goal.  It's often a good idea to lead with the ask unsupported and have all of your clever analysis and details follow that up.  At a minimum, it ensures that you'll spend the time talking about what you want to talk about.  I've seen many meetings where you open with your conclusion, and everyone starts attacking it, and their questions often lead right into your supporting slides.  "Where did you come up with that revenue forecast?" "Why, I have that on the next slide..." etc.

6. Use words sparingly.  In general use pictures.   
A presentation should be a multi-media entertainment experience.  The fact that you're talking about the important topic you care about is an engineered coincidence to the observer.  Here's my aforementioned Boston Red Sox presentation (with where I was really leading them cut off).  You probably can't follow it.  That's the point. If I'm writing a presentation for you to read, then I've got to use words, but if it's something for me to present, then I speak all the words.  And there's no excuse for not finding good pictures.  With Bing Image Search, you can find the perfect picture in three clicks.  Can you use it legally?  Probably not...but most of the time you're presenting to 10 people who don't care about that.  If you're a presenter for a living and getting paid, then you better find images you're allowed to use.

There's a whole host of other material on how to give effective presentations out there, and I really consider this the basic "101" version.  If you don't think about these points, it doesn't matter how you use your dynamic range, the graphics, fonts, colors on your slides etc.  Your job in a presentation is to communicate and lead to decision, and you have to engineer your time and your delivery to get to that decision.

Facebook's HipHop not fast enough

Facebook developers announced and released HipHop, a compiler that takes PHP code and outputs C++ code to later be compiled by g++.  I'll disclaim that I haven't seen the source code (still not on github as I'm writing this) and am basing my conclusions only on their blog post, but I think there won't be a "tremendous impact" from this project.  It's basic cost/benefit analysis.

The benefits are nearly great enough.  Only 50% CPU reduction?  Let's walk through the math of what that might mean for Facebook in terms of cost savings.  Their post says they do 400B PHP impressions per month, which works out to about 150k/sec.  That's a phenomenal number and a challenge for any site to perform at.  Facebook describes how PHP is used almost exclusively for the front end, and that the back end services are powered by Erlang, Java, Python, etc.  So if we assume they've got the front and back fairly well separated and can scale the front end based entirely on CPU load, we can make up some numbers to guess their total cost.

In my experience, even a poorly implemented PHP site can run around 20 requests per second on a single core.  Assuming Facebook uses beefy 8 core machines, that would be 160/sec per box, and 1,000 machines to serve their 150k/sec load.  Given that their load probably peaks with US traffic, and that they probably need double capacity to handle a co-location failing, I could see that going up to 4,000 machines.

Facebook has over 30,000 machines, most of which I'm sure are used to handle photos data and their tremendous memcached layer, so 4,000 web serving machines sounds about right.  At Facebook's scale, they can probably get a beefy 8 core machine relatively cheaply, but let's use $5k as a number, that means that saving 2,000 machines saves Facebook $10MM.  That's pretty impressive, but 2,000 machines compared against their total machine load of 30k isn't that impressive.  It's 7%.

Further, if we expect this to catch on and have a "tremendous impact" on the world at large, it would have to be a big benefit for all the small PHP sites out there.  I'd wager that almost all small sites are not bottlenecked on PHP CPU performance, but database performance instead.  Even if it was PHP performance, for most small sites the savings would likely be going from 30 machines to 15, which is almost unnoticeable.  For this system to be really effective, I'd want to see a speedup of 10-100x, not merely 2x.

So I've laid out that the savings aren't that great.  But they aren't nothing, a speedup of 2x which saves Facebook $10MM is pretty impressive.  but what does it cost.  I suspect the costs are pretty high and measured almost exclusively in terms of developer productivity.  Let's set aside the man year of development their lead developer spent developing this technology.  Facebook has to integrate this system into the development process, and there are two obvious ways.

1. Developers add a "compile" step to their development cycle and test using HipHop on their development boxes.  This, to me, would represent a worst case outcome (and from their blog post is almost certainly not what they do).  One of the many development speed benefits of scripted languages like PHP and Ruby comes from the fact that developers don't have a compile cycle.  While that compile cycle seems trivial (how hard is it to interrupt your code/test cycle with a 2 minute compile?) in my experience it's a large amount of the benefit.  Sure, dynamic typing is another major benefit, but I believe that if every Facebook developer now has to add a compile cycle, their overall productivity will plummet.

2. Alternatively (and more likely), they keep developers with an interpreted language on their dev box, and they move the compile step into the release process.  They indicate this in their blog post by talking about developers using HPHPi, their experimental interpreter.  The problem here is that you've now doubled your testing.  A developer writes his code and tests it locally using HPHPi, or even the standard PHP install.  After that, they have to compile it with HipHop and test it again to make sure the compiler didn't break anything.  If the compiler were a mature technology, you could probably skip this step, but with an experimental compiler you simply can't trust that it will work on your code.  Further, when you find an issue in production that you didn't anticipate, you're now not sure if it's the compiler or the code that is broken.  Given the difficulty of debugging live site bugs that often come about due to circumstances that are hard to duplicate in the test environment, this seems like a disaster.

So we're left with a system that doesn't provide enough benefit for the costs that will be associated with it.  A neat toy, but if I were Facebook, I would value the developer productivity way over the $10MM I might be able to save in server costs.  What do you think?

On Mark Pincus's NY Times interview: Responsibility and Accountability

Mark Pincus, founder/CEO of social gaming company Zynga, is interviewed in the NY Times Sunday on the topic of leadership and he touches on a couple of my favorite topics: delegation, responsibility and accountability.

You can manage 50 people through the strength of your personality and lack of sleep. You can touch them all in a week and make sure they’re all pointed in the right direction. By 150, it’s clear that that’s not going to scale, and you’ve got to find some way to keep everybody going in productive directions when you’re not in the room.

I met Mark once, and from what I could tell he operates at a frenetic pace all of the time.  So perhaps at that frenetic pace he can touch 50 people in a week, however the number for most mortals is much lower.  I max out around 20.  So if you plan to scale, you have to delegate effectively, and that's one of the biggest challenges people face when they turn into 2nd level managers.  You need to delegate completely so that you don't have to worry about the details of a particular function, but you also are still responsible for it being done properly.  So how do you know if the person you've delegated to is up to the task?

You have to first make it clear to everyone what they are responsible for and give them all the tools they need (Gallup Q12 #1 and #2).  One of the most important tools is the ability to make their own decisions in that framework (Zod axiom #4).  Once you've made the responsibilities clear, you then have to hold people accountable.  You have to set up the right mechanism to check in on people and make sure they're getting the work done properly so you can catch mistakes before they veer too far off course.  Setting milestones and regular reviews of them are key.  You trust your people to perform well, but you check on them anyhow.

Pincus continues:
One thing I did at my second company was to put white sticky sheets on the wall, and I put everyone’s name on one of the sheets, and I said, “By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you’re C.E.O. of, and it needs to be something really meaningful.” And that way, everyone knows who’s C.E.O. of what and they know whom to ask instead of me. And it was really effective. People liked it. And there was nowhere to hide.  
Here I like the concept, but not the implementation.  By calling people C.E.O.'s he's making it clear that all of the responsibility and accountability goes to the person.  If you're CEO of selecting a phone system, then you are tasked with gathering the input from everyone, evaluating all the vendors and making the decision.  Important here is that you own the decision, there isn't a committee of deciders among which to share the responsibility.  The credit/blame resides fully with one person, and that provides accountability.

His implementation leaves something to be desired, however.  He's asking his team to sign up for responsibility and then he'll hold them accountable for it.  That will work provided that no two people sign up for the same responsibility, and that all of the responsibility you want to delegate gets assigned.  If two people both agree to be CEO of phone vendor selection, then now you've got a committee and shared decision making, which just doesn't work.  Further, if nobody signs up to select the phone vendor, then either you're left with that responsibility, or (more likely) the work won't get done.  So as a manager, you want to solicit input from your team on what they want to own, but ultimately you own the responsibility for dividing up your responsibility in a way to ensure everything is covered and nothing is left undone.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Employee Needs (with help from Gallup)

I previously talked through Zod's axioms, which form the cornerstone of my management philosophy.  However, they aren't the complete set as I've added a few things to how I think about management.  Consider this the second pillar of my overall management philosophy.

The Gallup organization surveys companies all over the world, and once they had amalgamated data from over 1,000,000 employees, they dug into their data and did some research.  Their goal was to distill management principles that were the most predictive of a successful company.  The result was Q12, a set of 12 questions that best predict company success based on the engagement of their employees.  While Gallup uses them as a measuring tool, it's interesting how many of them form a checklist to management to ensure they're creating the right environment.  I find these questions are something of a Maslow's hierarchy of needs for employees, ranging from the most basic necessities to some of the last few which I don't worry as much about.  The questions are all true/false and phrased as statements from the employee.

1. I know what is expected of me at work.
This is so basic and obvious that managers assume they have explained this already, and often haven't.  If an employee isn't 100% certain how he's being measured and what you expect of them, they have almost no chance of delivering against it.  Especially when someone is joining a new organization it may not be obvious what falls in their domain or not.  Is setting the schedule the engineering manager's job?  or the product manager's?  How about prioritizing the next 3 months? Is the current product critical and has been promised for customers?  Or a research project?

Regular reviews are critical for delivering on this statement.  New employees particularly should have quarterly reviews, and once they're got the rhythm you can probably fall back to semi-annual.  Reviews should cover clear goals of what you expect should be done, and evaluation of how they've done against those goals in the previous period.

2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

If the first statement is water, this one is food. Knowing what you need to do and not having the tools to get it done is a recipe for frustration and resentment.  Again, it's so obvious as to be frequently overlooked.  Perhaps your Unix developers need a side windows box to read the Word file requirement documents.  Or Valgrind doesn't work on your platform so you need to find an alternate memory leak detection tool.  Your job as a manager is to remove obstacles for your stars, and providing the right tools is one of the simplest obstacles to overcome.

3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
This statement echo's Zod's first Axiom that people don't change. Since people don't change, the job of a manager is to put people into a role that plays to their strengths, allowing them to do what they do best every day.  Take the person who is super anal, and put them in charge of a very complicated project management task with lots of details.  Give your creative person an open ended design problem to solve.  Not only will they do it well, but they'll love their work since everyone loves doing something they're good at.

The challenge here is that you have a set of work that needs to be done that usually doesn't match up 100% to the skills you've got on your team.  That's the art of management.  Understanding the principle that you want to assign roles based on what people are great at, you will also have to get people to do work that doesn't match up 100%.  The key to me is "every day" not "all day". There will always be work that doesn't match your interests, but you should have some time every day to work on something you are great at.

4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work. 
5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person. 
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
I lump these three together as the Maslow equivalent of "Love."  Does someone care about you and work to make you better.  #4 is so basic and easy, and one that I struggle with.  I'm just not a cheerleader and I assume that people know that I appreciate the work they're doing.  But it's so cheap and easy to tell someone "great job on that feature!" that there's no excuse not to.  #5 and #6 are reflections of Zod's axiom that you are only as good as your lieutenants. If you hope to develop and take on more responsibility, then you need to be encouraging your lieutenants to develop and care about them as people.

7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
This argues for a transparent decision making process where input is broadly solicited.  Oracle is well known for having a top down decision making process.  The top exec team decides on the priorities and strategies and maps those down through the organization.  Google, on the other hand, is known for a bottom up decision making process.  I've heard managers there complain that they can't even get their own team to work on something.  To ensure that people's opinions count, it's got to be clear where to express them to have an impact on the company.

8. The mission/purpose of my company makes me feel that my job is important.
This simple sentence really needs it's own post.  It's super important for every person on the team to know how what they're working on maps to the short term projects, and how those map to the companies strategy, and how that maps to the overall mission of the company. 

9.  My associates are committed to doing quality work
While not immediately obvious, this is a corollary to Zod's not being a communist in compensation.  Your job as a manager is to build a high performing organization, and it's critical to highly reward the high performers, and to get rid of the low performers.  Jack Welch talk's extensively about 20%/70%/10% and the culture of rewarding high performers and getting rid of the bottom 10% each year.  While it may seem a little harsh, letting the low performer remain in your org will lead to people thinking their peers aren't committed to doing quality work, and thus they don't need to work as hard.  It's a cancer in your organization that will spread if you don't get rid of it.

10. I have a best friend at work

11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about your progress.
12. In the last year I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow
The rest of the list.  11 and 12 are a little redundant with 4-6.  10 is something that comes about when the culture is excellent, but I see it as more akin to self actualization than driving actions for the management team.

I use this list as a checklist, particularly at review time.  I run through the list and try to answer for all of my directs, and for the key people in their orgs.  Any areas that I find I don't have good answers to create a clear list of actions I need to take.

Doing incentives right

I joined a group of my friends in a 90 day body fat challenge starting this January 1st.  We each pay $100 into the pot, and there are monthly winners and the overall 90 day winner takes the bulk of the money.  We're two weeks in and I'm pretty impressed with the group average being 3% weight loss, and 13% body fat loss (that's percentage of a percentage, so 22% body fat down to 20% body fat).

We'll see how it goes, but I am fascinated by this graph.  It's the Google Trend graph of "fitness" with a two week spike coming each January as people make their New Years resolutions.  If that's any predictor, then most of the people in my contest should start dropping out over the next couple weeks.  I suspect, however, that the money component people paid in should change the outcome significantly, as I suspect people will be motivated to try harder.  Further, I think the weekly public spreadsheet we're keeping of everyone's progress will also better motivate people.

It's about setting the incentives properly.  Behavioral economists have long said that if you design the incentives properly, you can get people to do anything.  I even think the incentives in our contest are poorly designed.  I expect in a few weeks a small group of people will be way out in front, leaving the rest of the pack with little to no chance to catch them.  People will then see their money in as a sunk cost, and essentially drop out of the contest.  I proposed that instead of an entry fee and prize, that we go to a tax model.  For each person, if they lose 20% of their body fat, then they pay nothing.  If they lose 15%, then they pay $25, 10% pays $50, 5% pays $75 and 0% pays $100.  That way, even if you were losing late in the game, you still have an incentive to continue dieting and exercising.

Incentive design is a tremendous problem in the workplace.  I'll run through just a couple examples that are fairly well known:

Empire Building
In reviewing promotions within the management ranks, one of the first things that is reviewed is the size of a manager's organization.  HR will regularly say that org size isn't an important criteria in getting promoted, but the truth of the matter is that it is a very quick gut check on how much span of responsibility a person can handle.  Someone who is succeeding with a 200 person team can likely handle more span of responsibility than someone who is succeeding with a 20 person team.  However, as soon as this gets recognized within the ranks of an organization, you can count on the following behaviors:
  • Turf wars as people compete to keep all parts of their organization, regardless if they make sense or not.
  • Low performing orgs.  This isn't as obvious as managing out low performers typically results in the manager getting a backfill to upgrade.  But if you have high performers, you need fewer of them to do the same work, so perversely, you're incenting low performing orgs.
  • Refusal to do anything new without additional headcount.  New projects are typically the only time when new heads are given to teams, so teams routinely cost out a new project, but say that they can't get it done within their own team.
I've seen all these and more.

Management by metrics

Many management guru's have preached the value of metrics with one liners like "Inspect what you Expect!"  I couldn't agree more with the practice as metrics focus you on the areas you really care about, and give you a yardstick by which to measure your progress.  The problem with most metrics is that they are imperfect and can be gamed.  In the early days at Yahoo, one of the most important metrics we reported to wall street was page views.  Gaming this metric is trivial because you can design a flow that has extra steps in it.  Logging into mail takes 4 clicks to get to your inbox instead of 3.  This metric improvement comes at the expense of your user, but if this is the system you set up to reward (either directly, or what wall street sets up), then you can bet the incentives are in place to drive this behavior.  This line of reasoning makes me very suspicious about the current search share war that the press is focused on with Bing and Google.  In search, doing fewer searches is usually indicative of a better product (you found what you were looking for).  Too much focus on metrics can eventually doom them.

Sales targets

Sales people are usually given a quota and given a bonus based on how well they do on a quarterly basis at achieving that quota.  Typically they have a target bonus for hitting 100% of their quota, and then a scale for missing or going over.  Sell 50% of quota, get 0% bonus.  75% of quota, get 50% bonus.  150% of quota, get 300% of bonus, etc.  Since the top and bottom of the incentives are usually capped at 50% and 150%, this can lead to incenting tom strange behavior.  If a salesperson is having a great quarter and has already hit the 150%, then they have no incentive to sell more this quarter, and instead have an incentive to delay sales to next quarter.  Or if a sales person has sold 95% of their quota, they may call their accounts to get them to move next quarter's order into this quarter to get to the 100% bonus.  Or if they're selling terribly, they may decide to take a bath on this quarter and come in below 50% and delay all pending sales to next quarter.

The key lesson to take away from here is that the incentives you set up for your employees are what they will work towards.  Even if they're trustworthy and high integrity people, there have been many many studies showing people will always shade towards their own self interest when incented to do so.  So be very careful designing your incentives.  Going back to the body fat loss challenge, the biggest concern I have is that it's on the honor system, and measuring body fat is an inexact science.  The method we're using is based on measuring your girth in several places.  I suspect that come March, those tape measures start squeezing bellies in a bit more than they did on Jan 1st.

That said, if the $100 I paid continues to motivate me as much as it has for the past two weeks, then it will have been money well spent.