Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Leadership (Honing this one skill can improve your worth by 50%; Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action), Technology (They have millions of fans, but they don't exist!; The rise of the Asian 'super app'), Business (11 types of business failure), and Science (How birds drop 'unnecessary' genes can help us understand evolution)

Published: Dec 28, 2019 08:39:50 AM IST

Ten interesting things we read this weekImage: 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: Leadership (Honing this one skill can improve your worth by 50%; Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action), Technology (They have millions of fans, but they don’t exist!; The rise of the Asian ‘super app’), Business (11 types of business failure), and Science (How birds drop ‘unnecessary’ genes can help us understand evolution). 

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended December 27, 2019.

1) According to Warren Buffett, honing this one skill can improve your worth by 50% [Source: entrepreneurshandbook.co]
The ‘Wizard of Omaha’ was a shy guy as a child and he knew that if he wants to be successful, he needs to be good at communicating ideas and thoughts. He enrolled for a Dale Carnegie public speaking course as he was terrified of speaking publically. Today in Warren’s office you won’t find his diploma from university hanging up on his walls. Nor will you find his master’s degree. But you’ll see the certification from Carnegie’s course. This is because according to Warren developing the confidence to speak in public changed his life. So, how can you improve your communication skills? The author of this piece has jotted down 6 points to help you.

1) Develop a writing habit: When asked which habit shows up time and time again when interviewing some of today’s most successful people, Tim Ferriss replied that 80% of his guests had some form of journaling practice. If you reserve time to write out your thoughts, ideas, dreams, and fears, when it comes time to verbally express them you may be surprised by how much more confident you both feel and sound. 2) Watch popular speeches and learn how to critique them: What better way than watching few speeches by good public speakers. As per the author, few people to start with are Conor Neill, Seth Godin, Mel Robbins, and Simon Sinek.
3) Observe the strong communicators in your own life: Every meeting, encounter on the street, or water cooler chat is an opportunity to learn from the confident communicators around you. Learning by observing is the best way. 4) Record yourself: Practice a speech and record yourself talking in a camera. Look for mistakes and practice again. 5) Reach out to one person a week whose work you admire: Proactively putting yourself in front of people you admire will force you to do your homework and prepare interesting questions. 6) Volunteer to teach whatever you can whenever you can: Opportunities to teach others are all around us and it will greatly improve your ability to simplify complex thoughts while learning how to keep people engaged — which is a skill that will never go out of style.  

2) Here’s how great leaders inspire action – Simon Sinek [Source: Ted Talk]
Why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren't? Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do 100%. Some know how they do it. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by "why" Mr. Sinek doesn't mean "to make a profit." That's a result. It's always a result. By "why," he means: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? As a result, the way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in, it's obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations - regardless of their size, regardless of their industry - all think, act and communicate from the inside out.

Apple was like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this: We make great computers. They're beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one? That's how most of us communicate. Here's how Apple actually communicates. "Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?" You're ready to buy a computer from me. Just reverse the order of the information. People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.

Listen to politicians now, they're not inspiring anybody. Because there are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us. Whether they're individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And it's those who start with "why" that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.

3) They have millions of fans and big endorsements, but these ‘virtual celebrities’ don’t exist [Source: Financial Times]
There are many influencers on various social media platforms having millions of followers. But, digital celebrities are soon taking the centre stage now. As the technologies behind them become cheaper and more accessible, you might find yourself listening to music released by a digital avatar, interacting with one in a convenience store or dealing with them in your workplace. Soon, you may even have one of your own. 3D rendering technology is being used to power a fast-expanding universe of digital celebrities: computer-generated models, pop stars and influencers who are gaining an unlikely foothold in the real world.

According to Kevin Allocca, head of culture and trends at YouTube, there were as of May “more than 5,000 channels self-describing as ‘virtual youtubers’ and videos from these channels had garnered more than a billion views”. Views of these channels have grown by 50% compared with the same month in 2018. On Instagram, virtual influencers have been trending for the past two years. The most famous and lucrative virtual influencer of them all is @lilmiquela, who has more than 1.8m followers on Instagram — less than the following of real celebrities such as pop star Taylor Swift (123m followers), but nearly double that of, say, would-be Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

The willingness to follow virtual celebrities may not be that surprising either. Jerry Stafford, a veteran creative director, notes that contemporary celebrity is already strikingly artificial, its unattainable perfection achieved by plastic surgery, Instagram filters and Photoshop tweaking. “Considering that celebrity has always been about the projection of fantasy and desire on to the other,” says Stafford, “it makes sense that virtual celebrities would be the logical evolution of fame in an aspirational consumer society.” 
4) What Happens to TV After ‘Game of Thrones?’ Ask HBO [Source: The Ringer]
Even before the last series of the much appreciated “Game of Thrones” was about to end, many were asking what will HBO do after that. The show chopped off its protagonist’s head at the end of Season 1; at the end of Season 3, it killed off nearly every member of the family the audience had been told to root for. Thrones introduced most of the world to now-megastars like Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, and Emilia Clarke. And each year, its audience grew, from 2.5 million average viewers in the first season to nearly 12 million in the last season. Game of Thrones was a phenomenon; perhaps the last TV show that will ever be considered such.

Casey Bloys, HBO’s president of programming, knew that one day the series would end, and he had started working towards it almost 2 years ago. In retrospect, the Thrones finale is when HBO’s 2019 fortunes turned, at least in terms of narrative. The controversial end of Game of Thrones brought the beginning of Chernobyl, Craig Mazin’s miniseries that found a surprisingly sizable audience and went on to garner 19 Emmy nominations. When Casey Bloys took over from Michael Lombardo as president of programming in 2016, he knew that winter was coming. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had already stated that they planned to end the show after eight seasons, and Bloys wasn’t going to push them off that resolution.

Mr. Bloys seems to have his head down, compulsively determined to keep HBO on the pedestal on which the viewing public has placed it, which paradoxically means pushing the network to places it hasn’t gone before. “That’s the philosophy that informs all of ’20,” he says. “Everybody overuses the word ‘curated,’ but hopefully it does feel like they’re all very different but you could easily say, ‘That feels like an HBO show,’ because they have those common traits of being well-made, well-written, well-acted. Thematically, getting at something other than just entertaining.” Mr. Bloys adds one last note of optimism. “Hopefully, doing both, you know?”

5) FT Person of the Year: Satya Nadella [Source: Financial Times]
Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft has put the company back at the top of the tech heap without attracting the resentment and anxiety provoked by some other tech leaders. The software company was once considered to be the model of the corporate bully, using its monopoly over PC software to hold sway over the tech world. The equanimity that has accompanied its recent rise is a testament to the new purpose at the heart of the company, as well as a corporate culture that reflects the personal qualities of a chief executive more given to humility than the intellectual arrogance the company was once known for.

One mark of Mr. Nadella’s success in 2019 has been how seldom his company has been in the headlines. When Mr. Nadella took over, Microsoft was in danger of having missed almost every important new technology trend since the turn of the century. At the root of the problem was Microsoft’s addiction to the monopoly profits churned out by its PC operating system. The effort to keep Windows at the centre of the computing universe handicapped engineers, hampering efforts to break into mobile and cloud computing.

Mr. Nadella’s efforts to paint Microsoft as the responsible face of tech are already some years in the making. He was earlier than Silicon Valley rivals to warn of the potential pitfalls of AI — and also earlier to codify possible responses. Under Microsoft president Brad Smith, Microsoft has championed a “Digital Geneva convention”, setting out terms for managing future cyber conflicts. According to Mr. Nadella, regulators around the world will not stand in its way, no matter how large the company gets, as long as it generates more wealth for people who rely on its services than it does for itself. “We have to create a local surplus in every country,” he says. “Bigness by itself is not a problem, as long as the surplus around it is broad. I feel like we’re on the right side of history.”

6) Sourav Ganguly: ‘Being a captain is like being an investment banker’ [Source: Scroll.in
This old interview of the now Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President Sourav Ganguly throws some light on leadership skills. It was his belief that made him build a team after a match-fixing scandal had left Indian cricket in tatters at the turn of the century. Whether it was orchestrating a massive run chase at Lord’s against England in the Natwest series final or using public outrage as fuel to lead his side to the World Cup final in 2003, there was little doubt that the ‘Prince of Calcutta’ thrived on supreme self-confidence.

On captaincy, he says, “A coach has to take a step behind. It’s a captain’s game, cricket. I think coach has to support the captain. It cannot be the other way around. That’s how it is with good teams always.” He also says that every captain has a shelf life, and a captain is like an investment banker. The higher the pressure the more you get burned out. The pressure comes in, expectations go up. You have to find new ways.

Finally, he says that retirement is never easy. Because the thing you love most, the thing which you wanted to do for the best part of your life, you had to give up. But that’s life. Everybody has to finish. Maradona finished, Borg finished, Bradman finished, Tendulkar finished. Everybody has to finish. That’s the rule of professional sport. It’s like when you have a loss in your family. You know at the back of your mind that with age, it has to come to an end. But it takes a little bit of time to get used to it. Like life and death, you’re born, you grow, you lead a life, you die. Everything has an end.

7) Fintech: the rise of the Asian ‘super app’ [Source: Financial Times]
Fintechs such as Ant Financial, Paytm and Go-Jek are among Asia’s biggest business disrupters, posing a threat to traditional banks and other financial institutions — and forging business models that could yet be used in other parts of the world. “What people in London, New York and Silicon Valley don’t understand is that Asia is now setting the pace in financial services innovation,” says James Lloyd, a partner at EY Asia-Pacific focusing on fintech and payments.

The sheer scale of the fintech groundswell is captured by the number of start-ups across Asia. Almost 800 companies have received financing from venture capital and private equity houses since December 2016, according to data compiled by the Asian Venture Capital Journal. China leads the way, with 266 fintech start-ups. India is second with 190 while south-east Asia ranks third with 183. Some 44 are in Indonesia and 86 in Singapore, according to AVCJ numbers.

Even much smaller start-ups are making inroads into south-east Asia’s financial marketplace. Oriente, a firm co-founded by Geoffrey Prentice, who previously helped found digital telecommunications group Skype, has made more than 2m loans to people who have downloaded the firms’ apps in the Philippines and Indonesia. “We charge interest of 3% a month, a lot lower than the pawnshop lenders that typically charge [interest of] over 10% a month,” says Mr. Prentice. “We are disrupting the pawn shops,” he adds. The same dynamics are in play in India. Paytm, founded in 2010, had more than 350m registered users as of June, greater than the population of the US.
8) The 11 types of business failure – and how you can learn from the mistakes of others [Source: yourstory.com]
Humans and organisations are not immune to blunders. From startups to established brands, many companies have made serious mistakes, and decayed or disappeared. Founders and business professionals can learn a lot about the failure landscape from Robin Banerjee’s new book, Who Blunders and How: The Dumb Side of the Corporate World. So, here are few lessons from the book. 1) Missing the innovation bus: Innovation is a continuous journey, but many successful companies have failed to adapt to changing times or come up with flops. “Innovation is the calling card to the future,” Robin explains. The inability to assess the strength of new entrants led to the decline of the Blackberry.

2) Founder and CEO blunders: “Bossy bloopers” abound, Robin observes, pointing to Bill Gates underestimating the search engine market, Steve Ballmer launching Zune too late, and Fitbit CEO James Park ignoring Apple Watch’s entry. 3) Skimping on quality: In the mad quest for business speed or cost-cutting, many companies have deliberately and inadvertently cut back on quality and training. Incompetence, callousness, and disregard for warning signs are to be blamed in many of these cases. Examples include Toyota’s faulty brake incident in 2009-2010, GM’s safety lapses with ignition switches.

4) Family businesses – Infighting and succession: Unfortunately, many of the businesses don’t last beyond three generations, and there have been high-profile incidents of family in-fighting and lack of succession planning. Success stories of “lucky sperms clubs” (in the words of Warren Buffet) include Ford, Dior, BMW, Suzuki, Swarovski, Samsung, Wallenbergs (ABB, Electrolux, AstraZeneca), Ayala, Mahindra, and Bajaj. The book wraps up with more tips on how to interpret and bounce back from mistakes. “Inexperience provides us with experience,” Robin explains. Learning from mistakes is enlightening.

9) Teenagers are rewriting the rules of the news [Source: The Economist]
The president of El Salvador gets it. Addressing the UN General Assembly in September, Nayib Bukele paused to take a self-portrait at the rostrum. “Believe me, many more people will see that selfie once I share it than will listen to this speech,” he said, adding, “I hope I took a good one.” And he is not the only one. There are many other political leaders who are active on social media. These minor politicians provide a pithy summary of how teenagers and those in their early 20s consume news today. It is almost entirely on social media. And today, teens are intrigued to memes on social media.

Between 2009 and 2018 the share of teenagers who read newspapers declined from around 60% to close to 20%, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), an educational league table of 15- and 16-year-olds in the OECD, a group of mostly rich countries. Young Indians are half as likely to visit timesofindia.com, India’s biggest English-language news site, as older ones; they are also far more interested in videos and Bollywood news. Some 80% of Arabs aged 18-24 years old now get their news from social media, up from 25% in 2015. They favour Facebook, though the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, are captivated by Snapchat.

“When your starting position is social—WhatsApp, Instagram, whatever—your loyalty to any given publisher is much lower,” says Satyan Gajwani, who runs the digital arm of the Times Group, India’s biggest media conglomerate. More than half a billion people visit its digital properties every month; more than 100m do so every day. “How do we build enough confidence and trust in them that they become brand-loyal?” he asks. Manvi, a 15-year-old in Delhi, exemplifies his worry. Her family subscribes to two Times Group newspapers but online she reads whatever “pops up on the phone when I open Chrome”. Asked where the news comes from, she says, “I don’t know anything about that.”

10) How birds drop ‘unnecessary’ genes can help us understand evolution [Source: thenextweb.com]
Humans, the latest tally suggests, have approximately 21,000 genes in our genome, the set of genetic information in an organism. But do we really need every gene we have? What if we lost three or four? What if we lost 3,000 or 4,000? Could we still function? Each gene in a genome provides the code for a protein that affects our lives, from the growth of our hair to allowing us to digest certain foods. Most of the genes found in the human genome are probably safe for now, but there are some organisms that, over time, have cut down their genome to live in various habitats.

Scientists previously thought that every gene in an organism’s genome was essential for survival because humans have little variation in our genome sizes from person to person. However, studies using animals with smaller, streamlined genomes have proven this untrue. Genomes can change in a variety of ways. Changes can be slight, involving just a single DNA building block, or large-scale, such as the duplication or loss of a large chunk of DNA. It is even possible to lose entire gene pathways – groups of genes acting together. Large losses in DNA over time are known as genome streamlining.

Fast-moving birds are only one of the more energetically complex species which have undergone genome streamlining. As researchers continue to explore genome streamlining, we move closer to understanding how genetic adaptations arise, how the loss of genetic information affects the genomes of species, and just how few genes a species must have in order to survive in unique, challenging environments.

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