Vol. 1 | #15 | 09.07.18

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BS Jobs and the Meaning of Work
If you’re not familiar with the concept of the UBI — Universal Basic Income — it’s time to start learning. Not because it’s necessarily the solution for the problem of poverty – there’s lots of debate about that, as you can imagine. Rather, the concept is more important because it is in the context of talking about UBI that a looming problem is at least getting discussed with some seriousness. What to do in a possible future when technology (be it AI, robotics, or both) makes the meaningful employment of large swaths of society obsolete?


2More on the History and Future of Work
It’s easy to fall into the notion that the “gig economy” is a relatively new phenomenon just because companies like Uber and WeWork are relatively new companies. In this podcast (you can either listen or read the transcript at the link above), author Louis Hyman discusses the argument of his new book, Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary — that the roots of the gig economy originally sprouted in the ’50’s and ’60’s as a result of the new thinking about how corporations should conduct themselves.


3The Real Challenge Facing Tesla
Yes, Tesla is learning that manufacturing car at scale is a seriously tough feat, both from an engineering and an operational standpoint. And while they still have quite a ways to go there, Tesla’s sales haven’t suffered. Just take a look at the numbers of all electric and electric-hybrid vehicles sold in the US last month:

But even assuming they successfully tackle the manufacturing challenge, that isn’t the end of the game. It will just mean the game for market dominance is officially on. Few people write as smartly about the larger trends of the tech world than Andreesen Horowitz ‘partner’ Benedict Evans. His analysis of the four pieces of the game Tesla is aiming to win — and the one that actually matters the most — is a great example of deep strategic thinking. If you only click through and read one thing from me this week, this is it.


4The Even More Pressing Challenge Facing Tesla
There is simply no way to sugar coat this: Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, is saying and doing things of late that are giving even his most ardent defenders pause. From his repeated bizarre lewd insult of one of the rescue divers in Thailand (for which he is being sued) to his half-cocked tweet about taking Tesla private (for which he is being investigated by the SEC and is also being sued), Musk’s mouth and tweets are creating havoc for Tesla. If the reports by the Wall Street Journal linked in the title here are true, Musk’s behavior as the day-to-day leader and CEO are becoming a problem as well. Of course, none of this is playing well for Tesla’s stockholders.

via GIPHY


5The Wonder Years of Web Design
It’s called the Web Design Museum, and let’s just say it’s a fabulous diversionary time machine walk through the garish colors and dense designs of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Here’s what CNN.com looked like on the day it was launched:

 

Vol. 1 | #14 | 08.31.18

1

Gritty Companies
In the last week I started reading the bestselling Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. So it was quite a serendipitous surprise when I saw in my Twitter feed a link to this article coauthored by Duckworth from the forthcoming issue of Harvard Business Review. In the article, Duckworth pairs the lessons of her research on grit with the individuals, teams, organizations and leaders involved with developing world-class medical care in places like Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic here in Ohio.

If you’re not yet familiar with Duckworth’s work on grit, here she describes her essential findings from the TED stage.


2Who Really Killed Geoffrey?
Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t simply the rise of online retail (with its limitless shelf space and anytime/anywhere access) and the decline of traditional, big-box retail chain stores. This is an interesting story about the hedge fund investors who drove Toys ‘R’ Us away from a workout plan during its trip through Chapter 11 bankruptcy and off the cliff towards liquidation. While it takes an understanding of commercial bankruptcy law to understand all the details and finer points, the overall game at play is simple enough: when a lender of money stands to make more money from you if you fail than if you succeed, then they’re not an “investor” in any rational sense of the word.


3Trickshot to Save Earth
When I come across stories like this, it is a humbling reminder to be grateful for the armies of super-smart people doing innumerable number of super-smart things aimed at making all of our lives better and — in the case of protecting Earth from a killer asteroid — more likely to continue into the future.

What gets me most about this plan — there are several other design theories being investigated and advocated — is the sheer mathematical audacity of it. There’s a great scene in the first episode of the series From the Earth to the Moon that I mentioned last month where NASA’s original Flight Director, Dr. Chris Kraft, is shown describing the challenges of rendezvousing two objects in space:

“Rendezvous. Two spacecraft meeting up in orbit. You wanna have fun? Come over to my house. You stand in the back yard. I’ll stand in the front yard. You throw a tennis ball over my roof. I’ll try to hit it with a rock as it comes sailing over. That’s what we’re going to have to do. Two spacecraft flying at five miles a second hundreds of miles up with a communication system spread all over the world like so many trading stamps.”

Take that concept, multiply the variables of size, distance and time to ridiculous levels, and you have this asteroid deflection plan.


4The Secret Life of Planes
I was just talking to two friends earlier today about how the use of drone photography in real estate marketing provides an interesting new perspective on the property. Seeing things from directly above, while high enough to appreciate scale but low enough to discern detail, opens up observations one wouldn’t be able to appreciate on the ground.

Photographer Mike Kelley puts that different perspective to work, but instead of using drones to sell houses, Kelley charters helicopters to enable him to capture the life cycles of commercial aircraft: from the Boeing Field (their official birthplace as finished airliners) to the Bradley International Terminal at LAX to the bone yards of the Mojave Desert.


5Automotive Engineering, Lego Style
In the world of supercars, the Ferraris and Lamborghinis of the world may be the most well known, but the pinnacle of the form comes not from Italy, but Molsheim, France. The Bugatti Chiron is the height of automotive engineering and art … and the inspiration behind the greatest achievement of Lego engineering and design in history.

The Chiron on the left is the 261 mph / 1,500 hp version (price tag: just shy of $3M) version handbuilt in France. The Chiron on the right is made almost completely of Lego Technic pieces — over 1,000,000 pieces. What’s even more amazing is that it works. Check out the video of it on the move at the article linked in the headline.

For more Lego automotive engineering fun, check out this working Lego car assembly line, using the programmable robotics of Lego’s Mindstorms series. With the end of August upon us, teenagers all over the world are embarking on this year’s FIRST Lego League season, in which they must build a Lego Mindstorms robot and write the code to program it to accomplish Lego-sized missions. Having coached a FLL team last year, let me tell you: these kids do serious engineering and programming work.

Vol. 1 | #13 | 08.24.18

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The Essence of The Excellence Dividend
If you are unfamiliar with management legend Tom Peters’ style, here it is in a nutshell: excellence focused, exuberantly delivered. Peters’s most recent book is The Excellence Dividend, and people quoting from it have been showing up in my Twitter feed ever since its release back in the spring.

Recently, Peters posted a 10-page document on his website, free for all, that captures the basic fundamentals of his arguments in the book. (The whole thing is, of course, worth buying and reading as well!)


2Big Trouble in Google’s China
Once upon a time, Google was admiringly defined (or roundly mocked, depending on your perspective) by it’s all encompassing core value statement of “Don’t Be Evil.” The phrase, which had been an overt part of Google’s culture since 2000, was unceremoniously phased out earlier this year.

Whether that step was taken in preparation for Google’s future business plans in China is anybody’s guess. What is clear is that a sizable contingent of Google’s employees think Google is crossing the “don’t be evil” line by it’s plans to operate a government censored search engine in China. Codenamed “Project Dragonfly,” the planned search product “would remove content that China’s authoritarian government views as sensitive, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest. It would “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases.”

(And yes, I am quite proud of that punny headline up there…)

via GIPHY


3Life After Google Reviewed
Even as Google is focused on tamping down its employee revolt over its Chinese plans, technology futurist George Gilder thinks it has a much more fundamental problem on its hands. In his new book Life After Google, Gilder makes the case that the consolidating effect of the modern internet organizing model exemplified by Google — a all-encompassing model of free internet-based activities in exchange for your data for purposes of the targeted advertising that earns  eye-watering revenue — will be undone by the next information revolution: the decentralized and secure system made possible by blockchain technology.

This review of Gilder’s book, written by sci-fi writer Tony Daniels, was an interesting enough primer to Gilder’s work to prompt me to add a couple of his books to my ever-growing “to be read” list. The other? – Life After Television, his now prescient predictive piece from 1990 about how the internet’s decentralized nature (as originally designed and before the corruption/consolidation of digital advertising) would be the undoing of the centralized world of television programming. Imagine predicting the cord-cutting effect of computing nearly 20 years before Netflix made its switch from mailing DVD’s to streaming movies.


4Is Netflix Forgetting Who It Is?
Speaking of Netflix, when they launched their original service of DVD rental by mail, their business model threatened the existing business model of movie rental stores everywhere. Most notable of the business threatened by Netflix was Blockbuster Video, which had as many as 9,000 retail locations in 2004. There is now a single Blockbuster left in business — Bend, Oregon, if you’re interested.

Netflix’s bigger impact has been on the viewing habits of media consumers more generally. As Netflix moved away from DVD’s in the mail to movies and television shows streamed over the internet directly, services like Hulu and others joined the fray. Then Netflix opened up a new front in the battle for eyeballs by launching into the production of original content in 2012. Suddenly, media consumers had “cord-cutting” as an alternative to the long hated subscription package bundling of cable and satellite television providers. Choice was the major appeal to consumers who made the move to a streaming television viewing world, but there was another, equally attractive reason to cut the cable cord: no more commercials. Paying a single monthly subscription fee for the pleasure of watching your favorite shows without the constant and obnoxious interruptions of revenue-generating commercials is the best feature of watching television shows on demand.

And now it appears Netflix thinks it’s time to start undoing that great feature of being a subscriber: they are testing “video promos” of suggested content in between episodes of whatever you’re watching. You know how enjoyable it is to watch NBC endlessly plug their own shows while you’re watching the Olympics? Yeah, something like that.


5“It’s Easy,” They Say
Here’s the article’s headline in full, which is … something: “This company embeds microchips in its employees, and they love it.”

What are these grain-of-rice sized microchips embedded in the webbing of employees’ hands for, you may be asking? — “They’re intended to make it a little easier to do things like get into the office, log on to computers, and buy food and drinks in the company cafeteria.”

These folks “love” being a company cyborg with an implanted RF-transmitter under their skin so that things like opening doors and buying a Coke can be “a little easier.” Because using the standard card key on a retracting belt leash and a credit card is such a drain on life and productivity!

Vol. 1 | #12 | 08.17.18

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Communicating Tough News
Actually, that headline maybe generalizes the point a bit too much. The Harvard Business Review headline is better: “How to Tell Your Team That Organizational Change Is Coming.”

Two issues I have with this author’s approach:

  1. “Even when businesses are doing well, organizational and structural change is to be expected…” — while this may be true as a descriptive statement, it’s too easily accepted as an explanation for a never-ending series of changes, restructures, and cost-saving layoffs. Treating one’s workforce as disposable, fungible costs to be cut or “re-org’ed” is neither effective nor historically a simple fact of business life. At least, so say professors at Wharton.
  2. Over 1,100 words on how leaders should plan and deliver hard news about how corporate restructuring will affect their employees, and no form of the words “honestly” or “truthful” appear even once.

2Losing the Fight for Attention
“This is us: eyes glazed, mouth open, neck crooked, trapped in dopamine loops and filter bubbles. Our attention is sold to advertisers, along with our data, and handed back to us tattered and piecemeal.”

If behavioral patterns can shape the evolutionary process, I shudder to think what this means for our future selves’ ability to think focused thoughts and do deep work.


3Why Teaching Is Hard
Having been married to a professional teacher for over two decades, I was not surprised to hear this teacher’s explanation for how hard her job is, and why. What captured my attention was who she was and where she came from. Lucy Kellaway was an award-winning journalist with London’s Financial Times until last year, when she decided to leave that career behind and embark on being an inner-city high-school math teacher (or “maths,” as the Brits evidently call it). Not only did she make such a striking career change, but she founded Now Teach to encourage similarly aged professionals to join her in doing so.

In this 1:41 clip, hear Lucy describe to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria how teaching is the “hardest job I’ve ever done.” Her TEDxLondonBusinessSchool talk explaining why she did this is both insightful and entertainingly funny.


4Science Visualized
This video illustrates beautifully how gravity works according to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. To replicate it, all you need is some PVC piping, a giant piece of spandex, clips to hold it in place, and various weights and marbles. My favorite aspect of this video is the setting and what is going on here. The instructor is Dan Burns, a high school physics teacher in Los Altos, CA. His demonstration is part of a weekend workshop for new physics teachers. Teachers teaching teachers on Saturday to more effectively teach students come Monday.

For an even more wild example of visualizing science for the sake of learning it, check out what chemistry class looks like when enhanced with 3D augmented reality technology.


5Katie’s New Face
There’s no other way to say it: this piece by the National Geographic Channel is hard to take in. It is equal parts heavy emotional viewing with mind-blowing, awe-inspiring medical miracle working. Katie Stubblefield shot herself in the face in order to commit suicide … and survived. She was 18 years old at the time. Three years later, a surgical team at the Cleveland Clinic made Katie the 39th person in the world to receive a full facial transplant. This is a story of depression and suicide, of the never-ending road of impossibly hard work loving parents will walk for their daughter, and of the science fiction-level medicine being delivered by gifted surgeons using cutting edge technology, all told through a visual medium that moves as much as it informs.

Vol. 1 | #11 | 08.10.18

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LinkedIn: the Site for Professional … Athletes?
Ever since it formed the backbone of my TEDxDayton talk, the idea of defining ones’ self by one’s professional identity is a topic that always captures my attention. Interesting to see how the more stuffy of all the social media networks is being used by professional athletes to navigate the journey of transition for how they see themselves. In the words of former WNBA great Tamika Catchings: “Yeah I was an athlete, that’s what I did, but now this is what I do.”


2The Rationale Behind “Space Force”
Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence provided the first extended remarks aimed at fleshing out the Trump Administration’s plans for a new sixth branch of the military aimed at space. In Pence’s speech, he said “space environment has fundamentally changed in the last generation. What was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial.”

After pondering the symbol of international cooperation in space — the ISS — and wondering what Pence was talking about, I found the article linked above from Wired magazine. Now I know what he was talking about.


3All Game, No Gain
The idea of cognitive training is an intriguing one. If the muscles of the body can be made functionally stronger by doing non-functional exercises like lifting weights, why not the same for the muscle of the mind, the brain? Thanks to the concept of neuroplasticity, that’s the idea behind the plethora of brain training sites and apps. You might remember the commercials for Lumosity that were all over your TV about 5 years ago or so.

While prior studies had called into to question the claimed benefits of brain training games, this new study out of Western University in Canada appears to conclusively answer the question. No, brain games do not build brain capability that translates to performance in other areas. You wanna make your brain as strong as possible? The science says the unsophisticated conventional wisdom is still the best: “Sleep better, exercise regularly, eat better, education”


4The Costs of Stock Buybacks
The study being reported on in this piece raises an interesting question. According to the authors, McDonalds spent enough money on average in stock buybacks over the last three years to have given every one of its 1.9 million employees a raise of $3,800.
Now, for that interesting question this raises: whose investment should matter most and thus be rewarded with the payouts of profits? — those who invest their money (shareholders), or those who invest their time (employees)? Sure, the answer seems obvious because it’s always answered the same way — investors > employees — but that doesn’t mean that’s the only proper answer. If scarcity creates value, then one’s time is far more a valuable resource to invest in a company than one’s money. It reminds me of the line from the movie Braveheart:

Robert the Bruce: Wait! I respect what you said, but remember that these men have lands and castles. It’s much to risk.
William: And the common man who bleeds on the battlefield, does he risk less?

5The Relationship Between Leading and Following
In a new study involving over 200 recruits going through commando training with Britain’s Royal Marines, and interesting dichotomy emerged. Those recruits who saw themselves as natural leaders were more likely to be recognized as such by their commanding officers. Conversely, those recruits who self-identified more as a “follower” were more likely to be seen as leaders by their peers.