Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are Education (Why are boys falling behind at school?), Psychology (4 signs of short-term thinking), Leadership (Being a leader who inspires people to change), Writing (Selfish writing), Books (Bill Gates reviews '21 Lessons for 21st Century') and Sports (Who will replace Jose Mourinho as permanent boss at ManU?) among others

Published: Dec 23, 2018

g_111695_bg_shutterstock_397255312_280x210.jpgImage: Shutterstock

At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, ranging from zeitgeist to futuristic, and encapsulate them in our weekly ‘Ten Interesting Things’ product. Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are Education (Why are boys falling behind at school?), Psychology (4 signs of short-term thinking), Leadership (Being a leader who inspires people to change), Writing (Selfish writing), Books (Bill Gates reviews ‘21 Lessons for 21st Century’) and Sports (Who will replace Jose Mourinho as permanent boss at ManU?) among others.

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended December 21, 2018.

1) Why are boys falling behind at school? [Source: Financial Times ]
Parents often stereotype girls as quiet readers, and boys as rambunctious adventurers. In developed countries, on average, boys underperform girls at school. They are much worse at reading, less likely to go to university, and their lead in maths is shrinking. Adults with poor literacy tend to have bad health, low wages and little trust in others, says the OECD, the Paris-based international organisation that monitors education globally. Growing numbers of adult men live with their parents; in the UK in 2017, almost a third of males aged 20-34 were doing so, compared with a fifth of females. Across the west, many discontented lesser-educated men vote for right-wing populists such as Donald Trump.

In 1923, an official British report on secondary schools remarked: “It is well known that most boys, especially at the period of adolescence, have a habit of ‘healthy idleness.’” Meanwhile, the report warned, girls tended to be “over-conscientious”, putting their reproductive organs at risk. Historically, sexism has protected boys. Into the 1970s, some British school systems deliberately upgraded boys’ results in the frequently life-determining 11+ exam, writes Wendy Webster of Huddersfield University. Girls were often ignored by teachers, sexually harassed and negatively stereotyped in textbooks, according to a report commissioned by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in 1992.
 
Why is this? The “men’s rights” movement, led by figures such as Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, blames a world overturned by rampant feminism. That ignores the way sexism historically thwarted girls. Jonathan Douglas, director of the UK’s National Literacy Trust, notes: “Boys’ underperformance in reading is not a new phenomenon. Often [it is wrongly] attributed to the women’s movement.” Also, boys enjoy organised, high-achieving environments, says Sir John Holman — emeritus chemistry professor at the University of York, senior educationalist and former head teacher of Watford Grammar School for Boys.
 
The boy problem is finally entering the policy agenda. The UK’s Men and Boys’ Coalition, launched in 2016, is now focusing on male underachievement in education. The House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee just launched an inquiry into male mental health. What can be done? Here are some pointers to focus on boys’ underperformance: 1) don’t punish; guide them; 2) encourage boys to read what they want; 3) closely monitor incipient truancy; 4) find learning methods that appeal to boys; 5) Make school transitions more flexible.
 
2) 4 Signs of Short-Term Thinking [Source: Medium ]
Adapted from Robert Greene’s latest book, The Laws of Human Nature, this piece talks about short-term thinking and how to overcome it. We all plan for long term, but very few are able to stick to it. The best way to overcome short-term thinking is to recognize the clear signs of short-sighted thinking in our lives. Awareness is the first step. According to the author, the four most common manifestations of short-term thinking are: a) Unintended consequences: In 19th century India, under British colonial rule, authorities there decided there were too many venomous cobras in the streets of Delhi, making life uncomfortable for the British residents and their families. To solve this they offered a reward for every dead cobra residents would bring in. the result was people were breeding cobras in order to make a living from the bounty.

b) Tactical hell: Our minds are designed for strategic thinking — calculating several moves in advance towards our goals. In tactical hell you can never raise your perspective high enough to think in that manner. You are constantly reacting to the moves of this or that person, embroiled in their dramas and emotions, going around in circles. The only solution is to back out. c) Ticker tape fever: Our attention span decreases as well as our tolerance for any obstacles in our path. First and foremost we must develop patience, which is like a muscle that requires training and repetition to make it strong. Second, when faced with issues that are important, we must have a clear sense of our long-term goals and how to attain them. Finally, one should have faith in time.
 
d) Lost in trivia: Sometimes we lose track of what’s more important, what problems or details require more attention. Our brain has its limits. Assimilating too much information leads to mental fatigue, confusion, and feelings of helplessness. Sometimes you need to delegate — let subordinates handle the information gathering.

3) Outgrowing Advertising: Multimodal business models as a product strategy [Source: Andreessen Horowitz ]
How many advertisements do you come across every day? Can’t count? Imagine having just 2 or 3 a day. How would that change how you felt about the platform? This type of consumer power is the reality for netizens in China today—because Chinese internet companies have adopted business models that are drastically different than the US, especially on mobile. In this piece, Connie Chan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, uses consumer entertainment apps (books, podcasts, videos, and music) as a lens into the different business models and product strategies of Chinese companies. In US, most of the internet companies are either advertising driven or subscription/transaction driven. And this drives how companies think about creating products.

There are extremely compelling reasons to consider diversified revenue streams. Expanding revenue beyond ads allows for the simple fact that people’s preferences change. Digital marketing experts estimate that Americans are exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 ads daily. There is a point where you can no longer stuff more ads down a consumer’s throat; ads become less effective and more annoying. Over time consumers may also not feel comfortable always being forced to pay for a ‘buffet’ with subscriptions, when in fact they only want one item on the menu.

China skipped the PC and the credit card (because people couldn’t afford a computer); smartphones were the way many people were exposed to the Internet for the first time. So today, products aren’t just mobile first, many are mobile only. In part because a mobile ad is much more annoying on a small screen, the emphasis on advertising vs. other revenue streams is very different in China today than it is in the US. “We should not be overloading our users with ads,” said Tencent President Martin Lau in the 1Q earnings call last year.

According to Connie Chan, as the products have got more sophisticated on mobile, business models with diversified revenue streams for content consumption evolved as well. She further addresses four different content categories (books, podcasts, video, music), with different consumer app sectors as case studies that illustrate not only how different the business models are, but also how the business models result in unique and ultimately better consumer experiences. In the past, revenue was often thought of as a result of product brilliance. Studying China illustrates how expanding sources of revenue, not just growing existing revenue lines, is a lens to drive product thinking.

4) How to be a leader that inspires people to change [Source: dariusforoux.com ]
Who is a leader? We falsely assume that a leader is a CEO or president or someone with a similar title. But, a leader doesn’t need to be a CEO or president, he can be a person who takes ownership and apologizes when you get in trouble with your group or friends at school. Leadership is a character trait that we can all cultivate. Darius Foroux, the author of this piece and an entrepreneur and podcaster, feels that leaders aren’t born, they are made.

According to the author, there’s only one leadership strategy. And that is leading by example. There’s no other effective way to inspire people. You can’t force people to listen to you or follow you. If you want your team to be positive, you must be positive. The same is true for your family, partner, and friends. Leadership is about ownership. If you think that your team sucks, you suck.  

While observing mentors is one of the most effective ways of learning, the author lists 22 sayings that he learnt from his mentors. Some of these are: 1) I like to work because that keeps me young; 2) Treat people well. The world is small; 3) I fail all the time. I just don’t give up; and 4) My goal is to learn one new thing every day.

5) Selfish writing [Source: Collaborative Fund ]
Writing is mostly underappreciated and in this piece, Morgan Housel, a partner at Collaborative Fund, elaborates why writing also clears one’s thoughts. He starts with Howard Marks’ memos to clients. For 10 years, Mr. Marks didn’t get a reply to his memos. Not even someone saying I got it. So why did Mr. Marks write these memos? He used to write because: 1) it’s creative, he enjoys the writing process; 2) he thought that the topics were interesting and that he wanted to put them on paper; and 3) writing makes you tighten up your thinking. 

But where do good writers get “perspective”? Where does “context” come from? Most of it comes from the process of writing. Good writers don’t walk around all day with 100,000 words of eloquent wisdom in their heads. They take some vague feeling they’ve been thinking about, dig into a bunch, write down what they’ve discovered, realize half of it doesn’t make sense, delete most of it, write some more, realize the new stuff contradicts itself, panic when they realize they don’t understand the topic as well as they thought they did. And the process goes on and in between you discover something new.

The takeaway for voracious readers is that you can discover new perspectives and new context by writing yourself. What’s your investing philosophy? What’s your investing strategy? Why did you make that investment? How did you feel when that investment didn’t work out? What have you changed your mind about? And why? You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn by writing these things down, even if no one but you reads them.

6) Why don’t these girls work? [Source: Livemint ]
If you’re a Bollywood movie buff, then you’ll know what’s common in Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Manmarziyaan, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, Raja Hindustani and Dil To Paagal Hai. The lead female characters in these films didn’t have a job! The 1990s, in fact, were a strange decade for leading women in Bollywood. The films which do give them interesting parts, stories where they have ambitions or causes they felt deeply about, failed. For instance, Khamoshi: The Musical, where Manisha Koirala’s Annie wanted to be a singer, or Dil Se, where she wanted to avenge the atrocities of the Indian state in the North-East, or Zubeidaa (2001) where Karisma Kapoor wanted to be an actress.

Heroines worked in previous decades, too. In 1950s, Nargis Dutt worked as a lawyer in Awara, a school teacher in Shree 420, and many more. In 1960s, Sharmila Tagore worked as a flower girl in Kashmir Ki Kali, a school teacher in Daag (1973), and a dancer in An Evening In Paris. In the 1970s, multiple leading ladies had careers on screen—Jaya Bachchan was a street performer in Zanjeer, Hema Malini, a tonga driver in Sholay, and Neetu Singh a doctor. The noughties onward, women have worked chiefly as journalists (Preity Zinta in Lakshya, Priyanka Chopra in Krrish), photographers, film-makers and cinematographers (Anushka Sharma in Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi), doctors (Rani Mukherji in Saathiya, Vidya Balan in Paa, Kareena Kapoor Khan in multiple films) and architects (Deepika Padukone in multiple films, and Anushka Sharma in NH10).

Employment data suggests Bollywood has actually got its representation of Rumi (Taapsee Pannu in Manmarziyaan) and Tanu (Kangna Ranaut in Tanu Weds Manu) right. The female labour force participation rate fell from 36.3% in 2005-06 to 24% in 2015-16, according to the Indian Economic Survey, and continues to decline. Most surprising perhaps is that 68.3% of women in cities and towns, and 67% women in rural areas, who have graduate degrees do not do paid work, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations Development Programme India. That is, two-thirds of women who have passed their exams and got their degrees do not work, a lot like the women we see in the warm, savoury small-town romances. So, how many Bollywood films can you think of with a memorable female lead who also has a career?

7) How video games turn players into storytellers [Source: Ted.com ]
In this Ted talk, David Cage, game designer and an interactive storyteller, throws light on how interactive storytelling can be used to make video games compelling and enticing. The way we tell stories has not really changed since Aristotle defined the rules of tragedy about 2,500 years ago. According to him, the role of storytelling is to mimic life and make us feel emotions. But there’s a dimension of life that storytelling could never reproduce. It’s the notion of choices. Choices are very important part of our lives. We as individuals are defined by the choices we make. Some of the decisions can have very significant consequences and totally change the courses of our lives.

But in a play, a novel or a film, the writer makes all the decisions in advance for the characters. And as the audience, we can only watch passively the consequences of his decisions. As a storyteller, Mr. Cage has always been fascinated by the idea of recreating this notion of choices. His dream was to put the audience in the shoes of main protagonists, making their own decisions and by doing so, let them tell their own stories. Finding a way to achieve this is what he did in the past 20 years. Mr. Cage introduces the new way of telling stories. A way that has interactivity at its heart rather than exposing the theory behind it which could have been boring.

He makes the talk interactive by asking the audience to tell their own stories. He plays an interactive scene and then asks the audience to complete the scene by making decisions. While a linear writer deals with time and space, as an interactive writer, Mr. Cage needs to deal with time, space and possibilities. He has to manage massive tree structure where each branch is a new variation of the story. He needs to think of every possible situation that can happen in a scene. He needs to deal with thousands and thousands of variables, conditions and possibilities. As a consequence, where a film script is of 500 pages, an interactive gaming script is around 4,000-5,000 pages. But in the end it’s the experience that counts. Mr. Cage believes that interactive storytelling can be like what cinema was in the 20th century.

8) Bill Gates on 21 Lessons for the 21st Century [Source: gatesnotes.com ]
In this blog, Bill Gates reviews historian Yuval Noah Harari’s book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. While his previous best sellers, Sapiens and Homo Deus, covered the past and future respectively, his new book is all about the present. He says it’s important to know which things to worry about, and how much to worry about them. And the solution to it is meditation. Mr. Gates also concurs as he himself is taking a course on mindfulness and meditation. The book contains essays on work, war, nationalism, religion, immigration, education, and 15 other weighty matters.

While Mr. Gates appreciates the book, he doesn’t agree with everything that’s there in the book. He was glad to see the chapter on inequality, but Mr. Gates is skeptical about Mr. Harari’s prediction that in the 21st century “data will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset” separating rich people from everyone else. Mr. Gates feels that land will always be hugely important, especially as the global population nears 10 billion. The Microsoft co-founder was also dissatisfied with the chapter on community. Harari argues that social media including Facebook have contributed to political polarization by allowing users to cocoon themselves, interacting only with those who share their views.

It’s a fair point, but he undersells the benefits of connecting family and friends around the world. He also creates a straw man by asking whether Facebook alone can solve the problem of polarization. On its own, of course it can’t—but that’s not surprising, considering how deep the problem cuts. Governments, civil society, and the private sector all have a role to play, and Mr. Gates feels Mr. Harari should have said more about them. To sum it up, Mr. Gates feels the author has teed up a crucial global conversation about how to take on the problems of the 21st century.

9) Man U: Who will replace Jose Mourinho on a permanent basis? [Source: BBC ]
Now that Jose Mourinho, a Portuguese professional football coach and former football player, has been ousted from Manchester United, the question that everyone has is who will be the next boss at Old Trafford. For now, Manchester United has confirmed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager.

Whoever comes in as the boss at Old Trafford needs to: 1) Get the most out of United's big-money signings and create an identifiable style; 2) Develop young players; 3) Understand the philosophy, culture and core values of the club including its attacking traditions; 4) Create a positive environment with players and staff; and 5) Work within a new structure, including reporting to a technical director of football.

The three most popular choices are: 1) Mauricio Pochettino: He will be top of the list. Pochettino has a reputation for extracting the maximum out of the squad he has and has been credited with developing several young English players at the core of Gareth Southgate's vibrant, exciting national side. 2) Zinedine Zidane: Three Champions League titles in three years managing one of the biggest clubs in the world at Real Madrid. How's that for a managerial CV? 3) Diego Simeone: Simeone is tactically well organised, has punched above his weight in La Liga, and is great at creating a siege mentality like legendary United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, and Mourinho, at their best. 

10) Why Raja Rammohan Roy started India’s first Persian newspaper [Source: Madras Courier ]
Raja Rammohan Roy started India’s first newspaper, the Mirat-ul-Akhbar on 12 April 1822. Then, newspapers were new tools to speak and to be heard. An erudite Persian scholar and a tenacious social reformer, Raja Rammohan Roy believed in searching for the truth through the light of discussion. As a language, Persian, still recognized in courts, was seen as a means to reach the intelligentsia, the top policymakers of the country. Rammohan also realised that he could express himself best in a language he was most comfortable with, Persian. At a time, when the British-owned press and the Indian-owned press functioned in exclusive watertight silos, Rammohan and James Silk Buckingham, an English journalist, would spend many evenings discussing matters of common interest and issues concerning the publication of the Mirat-ul-Akhbar.

The newspaper’s objective was to enlighten the public to improve their social conditions and communicate to the rulers the knowledge of the real situation on the objects. The newspaper was published every Friday. The newspaper used dignified language and offered constructive criticism. However, Rammohan didn’t impose any form on self-censorship upon himself. He dealt with subjects critical of social and administrative evils of time. He criticized the British Government for the injustices perpetrated in Ireland, supported the Turks in Greek war of independence, and denounced the Baptist missionaries on ecumenical matters.

Rammohan’s call for religious reforms attracted the wrath of the orthodox Hindu groups. And on the other hand, his criticism of British administration attracted the wrath of the colonial rulers. In 1823, John Adam, who took charge as the interim Governor-General, brought in a draconian Press Ordinance to curtail the freedom of the press. All printed material needed licence from the Governor-General-In Council, signed by the Chief Secretary of the Government. On 4 April, 1823, the day the Press Ordinance was registered in the Supreme Court and became law, Rammohan closed the Mirat-ul-Akhbar in protest. This story of India’s first Persian newspaper continues to resonate even today. Those in power call the press the enemy of people and try to shut them down.
 

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