The Census bureau says multiracial is the fastest growing demographic. My kids help boost the trend, and even in a small town that is about as white as your typical hockey arena, they are not alone. Still, the category benefits from being so new, and from having a very small base.
Archive for May, 2009
Robert G. Picard, a Swedish media critic, argues that journalists deserve low pay, because for the most part we do not do anything that someone else couldn’t. As he notes, “the primary economic value of journalism derives not from its own knowledge, but in distributing the knowledge of others.”
Picard’s argument is seductive. It seems immediately right. Look at the market for journalism — it seems obvious that the problem for newspapers comes because advertisers pay the bills, not readers. Many kinds of advertising, especially classifieds, work better online, and cost far less. That’s why a site like the New York Times can draw 20 times as many readers as the paper, at a fraction of the revenue.
Most forms of media build a model that uses content as a loss leader to draw readers that can be sold to advertisers. It looked like the Internet would allow writers and other media content creators to bypass publishers and do their own distribution, reaping the rewards of whatever advertising they can sell. Instead, the economics of advertising online mean that aggregators, like Huffington Post, act as publishers, and only the most heavily trafficked content creators see any revenues. The rest work for free. There are exceptions to this, like Drudge, but the rule is that online, you get rid of the loss leader and just get people to produce free content. They get their 15 minutes, the aggregator gets the money.
But here’s where Picard is wrong. He assumes content has value, if only it’s good enough. Yesterday I ran into the smartly opinionated John Landry, former CTO of Lotus and now an angel investor. He was talking about how cloud computing will destroy the value of most computing infrastructure, just as it has ripped the money out of music, software, is starting to take it from video and, of course, is dealing traditional journalism a death blow. By and large, he’s right. There is less and less that one needs to pay for. Yes, people pay 99 cents for iTunes songs and iPhone apps, for now. But how long will that really last?
Back in the mid-1990s, when I got involved in online journalism, I used to joke that the Internet was a Communist plot, because it made everything free. It’s not funny anymore.
Captain Kirk, management guru? Yes, say management experts, in a clever article assessing Kirk’s management of the Enterprise. It highlights six things the typical CEO could learn from Captain Kirk:
Know when to be a pal, and when to be tough. As Kirk found when he split personalities, you can’t be too nice or too tyrannical, but have to mix both elements of your personality.
Know both sides of the story. Kirk forged a truce between a monster and some miners by finding out the root of the anger on both sides.
Know when to change. Kirk intervenes in an ancient struggle by forcibly reframing the problem. A good first step for any management dilemma.
Don’t be afraid to manage up. The example is Kirk being insubordinate (what else is new?), so it’s really about not being a yes man. What usually happens is you don’t get your own spaceship. But Kirk’s bosses don’t like yes men, and he gets promoted.
Change your style. Don’t manage everyone the same way. Kirk didn’t.
Managing Generation Y. Same as 5, really, but more direct in reminding CEOs to value the perspective of their youngest employees.
In fact, after seeing the new Star Trek movie this weekend, I am reminded that Kirk, for all his leadership qualities, was capricious, cocksure and something of a con man. His best management skill? Having a good Hollywood scriptwriter on his side. Star Trek management will only work so well in the real world.
This Business Week story on why 3 million job openings mean bad news for America caught my eye.
As Business Week argues, all these open jobs provide “evidence of an emerging structural shift in the U.S. economy that has created serious mismatches between workers and employers.”
It seem like BW is soft-pedaling the obvious — a lot of the open jobs sound like low-level or low-salary jobs. The bulk of the open jobs are in services: education, healthcare, professional and business services. My guess is many of them don’t pay well and require extensive training (like teaching or nursing), so it will take time to fill them. My experience is that high-level jobs are open, but they often combine unusual mixes of skills and experience — in fact, they are trying to jumble together what should be multiple jobs, and find one person that will do them, for not as much money as either job would’ve paid before the downturn.
Certainly, the kinds of jobs being lost don’t match well with jobs that are open. Meanwhile, the housing bust means people who might fill some of those jobs are trapped in their houses, unable to move.
The solution? Retrain workers. The government and employers both need to invest in training. Even so, says Business Week, “workers and employers will have to accept harsh new realities: lower pay for workers starting new careers, and imperfect fits for employers filling vacancies.”
Business Week notes that there is $3.5 billion in the stimulus package for training. Let’s hope it helps people shift to whatever jobs will be left. Perhaps it’ll help some of those laid-off IBM workers move to India.
The Red Wings-Ducks series is meeting my secret fears. I heard all the experts talk about how Anaheim only had one scoring line and that would cost it against the deeper Wings (before Brian Rafalski went out). My thought was that Anaheim only needed one line to score. Everyone else would play defense all the time, and when the Anaheim scoring line came on, it would play offense and Detroit would get so excited it would forget to play defense, and Anaheim would win.
Last night’s game was a case in point — for much of the first two periods, it seemed like Anaheim had an extra player on the ice. Detroit could do almost nothing offensively. Anaheim’s first goal came from a good defensive play. It has thoroughly frustrated Detroit for three games now, and could be up 3-0. Firing outside shots at a big goalie doesn’t work much.
Anaheim has also had good bounces; I still don’t understand why the 2nd power play goal wasn’t waved off for goalie interference (I’ve never understood how that rule is interpreted). The fast whistle at the end last night contrasts with the slow whistle in 2007, when Dominik Hasek seemed to be laying on top of the puck but no whistle blew. Of course, the Ducks would have won again in overtime, so the ref was really just sparing Detroit fans some lost sleep.
Here’s hoping the experts are still right and Detroit wins the series, but it needs to figure out how to play a different kind of offensive game.
Wired to Care will make some readers crazy with love. Others, though, will view its message with deep skepticism. At its heart, “Wired to Care” offers a management manual for those who think business cannot be run by the numbers. “Quantitative data and facts are no substitute for real-world experience and human connection,” write Dev Patnaik and his word wizard, Peter Mortensen.
The premise is that business people will do better when they take the time to understand others – customers, partners, suppliers, potential acquisition targets. If it sounds a bit like Dale Carnegie, well, it should. Carnegie gets a big hug from Patnaik early on, for noting the obvious, that “it’s just human nature to be interested in people who are interested in you.” What does it mean for business? Patnaik says “If you want to create products and services that other people care about, you should put aside your problems and start caring about other people’s lives.”
Not profits, not sales goals – people’s lives. We read a few pleasing success stories that prove the point. Lou Gerstner saves IBM because, as an ex-customer, he knows what customers really need. Zildjian thrives for 400 years by its ability to constantly shift where its customers want it to go. Nina Planck divines that British consumers really want fresh, locally grown produce, and creates a booming business in farmers’ markets.
Patnaik then invokes science to give the theory something less squishy to stand on. In fact, he waves the neuroscience wand, discussing things like the discovery of mirror neurons by a team of Italian scientists. He also looks at research in cognitive science that shows why it’s hard for us to identify with people who aren’t like us. It’s the gentlest, most palatable science discussion a businessperson could hope for, and it blesses the book with the miraculous secrets brain science reveals. What business can’t use miraculous secrets?
To be fair, Patnaik takes care to point out that the research cited “suggests” things, rather than being definitive. But you would have to be a careful reader not to get swept up by the idea that we are in fact wired to work together, to want to connect. Hence the chapter on the Golden Rule, arguing that business success starts by revising that fabled rule, changing ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ to ‘do unto others as we would have them do unto us.’ (By the way, Patnaik gives us the biological basis of The Golden Rule, the less felicitous ‘reciprocal altruism.’)
It’s a tempting argument, but the book sits under a couple of huge shadows. One is cast by “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” which argues in part that many successful companies run into trouble exactly because they listen too closely to their most important customers, and miss important market shifts. Patnaik does try to show how empathy can overcome “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” He looks at ‘the car wreck in slow motion” that has been the Big Three automakers over the last several decades, and argues that the automakers gradually turned Michigan into a vast corporate town, the world they wanted to exist, and removed themselves from the world they actually had to compete in. He may be right, but a weakness of the book is that it does not do much to explain how companies can avoid this problem.
Another shadow comes from the obvious problem that we are not wired to care for everyone, and some people seem wired to care for little but themselves. Empathy may have evolutionary advantages, but it also comes with costs, and in business, looking out for others can make a company look less profitable than more selfish rivals.
Still, it is hard not to like “Wired to Care.” The book reads well, and can be finished in a middling-length plane ride, say. Its business anecdotes are powerful. In fact, the whole thing plays on our mirror neurons. You want to empathize with Patnaik’s nice, smart, caring, successful managers. You want to be like them. Unless, of course, you don’t.
Update: here’s a good review from the San Jose Mercury News.
I recently did a Q&A with Katie Smith Milway for the Boston Globe Magazine (it is not online or I would link to it). I told my editors that she, and her kids book on microfinance, One Hen, would be a big deal. Yesterday, she was the Person of the Week on ABC News.
Rod Brooks, the robotics guru who co-founded iRobot and now runs a startup called Heartland Robotics, is speaking at the Nantucket Conference. He thinks robotics has been stymied by a basic cost problem: it costs 10 times more to integrate robots into product lines than the robot itself.
That means it’s only cost-effective to use robots in high-volume, high-value product lines. He believes that he can create robots that trash this model and make it cost-effective to use robots in a wide variety of manufacturing environments, eliminating the cost advantages of countries with cheap labor.
Brooks is cagey about when this might happen.The one thing he said about Heartland is that “we’re not doing anything with batteries or wheels.” He stonewalled me afterwards, in a charming and good-humored way.
He did throw out these four Holy Grails for robotics:
- make robots as visually adept as a two-year old child.
- give robots the language capabilities of a four-year old child.
- give robots the manual dexterity of a 6 year old – (this may need the development of new materials).
- give robots the social awareness of an 8-year old child (he used the 8 for symmetry, but really, the goal is to be at a 9-year-old’s level).
He does not think much of the video-friendly humanoid robots being developed in Japan.
“I see Japanese companies as kind of lost,” he said. “The videos are great, but they’re awfully … it’s great engineering but no applications.”