Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Sports (Learnings from the "Black Mamba"), Technology (Prepare now for the jobs of tomorrow! The inside world of the happiest tech company), Market Risk (Risk is what you don't see — Like Coronavirus), Crime (People who pay people to kill people) and Lifestyle (Why are rich people mean?).

Published: Jan 31, 2020 04:52:02 PM IST

reading picture bgImage: 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: Sports (Learnings from the “Black Mamba”), Technology (Prepare now for the jobs of tomorrow! The inside world of the happiest tech company), Market Risk (Risk is what you don’t see – Like Coronavirus), Crime (People who pay people to kill people) and Lifestyle (Why are rich people mean?).

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended January 31, 2020.

1) Learnings from the “Black Mamba” [Source: Medium; theplayerstribune.com]
This week one name was all over the globe, Kobe Bryant. This a bit archaic article throws light upon the NBA legend’s extraordinary career. This article is about paying homage to an individual with immense authenticity and a profound desire to exhaust every finite niche of their potential. It is about a person who was obsessed with greatness and allergic to mediocrity. The key takeaways from this piece are his intrinsic qualities and leadership traits. His love for basketball can be gauged by the poem he had penned few years ago, during his retirement. Here’s it…  

Dear Basketball, from the moment I started rolling my dad’s tube socks and shooting imaginary game-winning shots in the Great Western Forum I knew one thing was real: I fell in love with you. A love so deep I gave you my all — From my mind & body to my spirit & soul. As a six-year-old boy deeply in love with you I never saw the end of the tunnel. I only saw myself running out of one. And so I ran. I ran up and down every court after every loose ball for you. You asked for my hustle I gave you my heart because it came with so much more. I played through the sweat and hurt not because challenge called me but because YOU called me. I did everything for YOU because that’s what you do when someone makes you feel as alive as you’ve made me feel. You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream and I’ll always love you for it. But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer. This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.…

So what are the qualities that you can learn from him? 1) Master Your Craft: He showed that mastery in any field does not transpire overnight, that it is a long transformative journey and process, not merely a destination. 2) Own Your Greatness: While it is imperative to have a support system of individuals in your corner who will motivate and support you, greatness starts within. 3) Overcome Challenges: It is about controlling what is in your power, putting in the work to get better not bitter and growing from what might seem like a disappointing occurrence or setback in the moment. 4) Seize the Opportunity: It’s the power of performing at your best when the best is needed. 5) Find Your Passion: There is nothing wrong with taking the road less traveled. You need to know what your calling is.

2) Why it is critical to prepare now for the jobs of tomorrow [Source: Inc.com; weforum.org]
They say flexibility is the key to future of jobs. The World Economic Forum's annual Future of Jobs report paints a clear picture of what businesses leaders can expect to see by the year 2022. More importantly, it provides a cautionary outlook to anyone who believes jobs and businesses today are safe in the near future. From the start, the report indicates that half of all businesses say they expect to reduce their workforce by 2022 due to improvements in technology, with as many as 75 million jobs being replaced with automation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Of course, technology alone will not fuel this continued change. Just as important are a variety of important socio-economic trends that continue to influence business. These include mainly the impact of increased access to and expansion of education in the middle classes and developing economies that technology provides. Also, the expanding understanding and adoption of green technologies, which will shape the future of many industries.

The report is not entirely pessimistic for workers. While 50 percent of companies expect to reduce their workforce in favor of some form of automation, 38 percent expect to extend their workforce to include new productivity-enhancing roles. According to the report, the types of future jobs that we can expect an increased demand for include: Data Analysts and Scientists, Software and Applications Developers, Ecommerce and Social Media Specialists, among others. Also, flexibility is the key to future. It includes not only the ability to change but to manage change. This is not so much a skill but a mindset, one that will allow you to be the future problem solver that new businesses, technologies and industries ultimately need to succeed.


3) Coronavirus and emerging market equities – What is the risk for investors? [Source: gam.com]
What’s the talk of the town these days? Certainly, Coronavirus. And in this article, GAM Investments’ Tim Love considers the impact this could have on emerging market equities. He feels that as a manager of emerging market (EM) equities, it is his job to consider how long-term holdings should be positioned to navigate through these types of ‘Black Swan’ events. In his view, such an occurrence could have more influence on these markets than US dollar movement or cyclical commodity/growth factors.

It is unsurprising that when a virulent virus comes along, it will test the World Health Organisation (WHO), and additional global response measures, to reduce cross-continent contagion. The ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Congo already has both the WHO and investors on a high state of alert. Mr. Love also feels that China’s National Health Commission is dealing with this outbreak in a coordinated and transparent manner with its global counterparts. At present, the market response has been very similar to its initial reaction to that of SARS (Asia’s last major outbreak). During that period, the market response remained negative for a lot longer than current behaviour indicates. This points to a potentially material downside (+20%) should it migrate to a global pandemic scenario.

Sectors that have benefited from a concentration of people have been negatively impacted: travel companies (such as Chinese online operator Trip), airlines (globally, but China in particular), casinos (Macau’s US owned Wynn) and global cruise liners (Carnival) are all down markedly. The question for EM investors at this juncture, is should the market double up these responses or unwind them should the WHO measures prove effective? The answer lies in an investor’s risk profile: how should this risk factor be viewed? Is it more of a threat or a regression to normality (ie an opportunity)? Risk analysis, as always, is the key here. He suggests a watch-and-wait mode over the short term.

4) Risk is what you don’t see [Source: collaborativefund.com]
This piece starts with an interesting incident pertaining to Harry Houdini, the famous escape artist, and how he was surprised by a blow. He wasn’t prepared for it. The riskiest stuff is always what you don’t see coming. Risk is complicated, which is why we’re not great at dealing with it. It’s more than just something bad happening. How risky something is depends on whether its target is prepared for it. A big event people have time to prepare for can be handled without much fuss. A smaller one out of the blue can be deadly.

The biggest economic risk is what no one’s talking about, because if no one’s talking about no one’s prepared for it, and if no one’s prepared for it its damage will be amplified when it arrives. Two things happen when you’re caught off guard. One is that you’re vulnerable, with no protection against what you hadn’t considered. The other is that surprise shakes your beliefs in a way that leaves you paranoid and pessimistic. Paying attention to known risks is smart. But we should acknowledge that what can’t see, aren’t talking about, and aren’t prepared for will likely be more consequential than all the known risks combined.

To take inspiration, think of risk the way California thinks of earthquakes. California knows a major earthquake will happen. But it has no idea when, where, or of what magnitude. Emergency crews are prepared despite no specific forecast. Buildings are designed to withstand earthquakes that may not occur for a century or more. It’s better to be cushioned comfortably. If you think recessions will reduce your wealth by 20%, design your allocation to be able to withstand a decline of, say, 40% or more, realizing the powerful recession you aren’t thinking about will be more impactful than the one you envision. After all, it might be that all you need is some extra padding.

5) How social media shapes our identity [Source: The New Yorker]  
We spend hours wading through streams of photos, many of which document, in unprecedented ways, our daily lives. Facebook was invented in 2004. By 2015, Kate Eichhorn writes in “The End of Forgetting: Growing Up with Social Media,” people were sharing thirty million images an hour on Snapchat, and British parents “posted, on average, nearly two hundred photographs of their child online each year.” Growing up online, Eichhorn worries, might impede our ability to edit memories, cull what needs to be culled, and move on. “The potential danger is no longer childhood’s disappearance, but rather the possibility of a perpetual childhood,” she writes. We may, in short, have traded “screen memories for screens.”

Everyone, Eichhorn writes, benefits from experimentation in adolescence. During that time, we exist in what the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson called a psychosocial “moratorium”—a stage in which we hover “between the morality learned by the child and the ethics to be developed by the adult.” The moratorium is a period of trial and error that society allows adolescents, who are permitted to take risks without fear of consequence, in hopes that doing so will clarify a “core self—a personal sense of what gives life meaning.”

Are all photos documentary? In “The Social Photo,” Nathan Jurgenson puts forth the useful proposition that most online photos are about sharing experiences, not creating memories. In one passage, Jurgenson, a founder of Real Life magazine, writes that selfies are “less an accurate picture of me at this time in this place and more . . . a visual depiction of the idea of me.” They’re units of communication, more emojis or hieroglyphics than portraits; they have little context, aren’t discernibly located anywhere, and typically come in the aggregate. “To document,” Jurgenson writes, “is to be involved with our own experience instead of passively letting it float by.”

6) Three years of misery inside Google, the happiest company in tech [Source: Wired]
This piece throws light on Google’s internal battle with its own employees and numerous scandals. When Donald Trump took his post as the President of the United States, he put a federal travel ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and a wholesale suspension of US refugee admissions. And this didn’t go quite well with most of the employees at Google, as most were from some the countries mentioned above. Employees also spent the weekend protesting as private citizens, out in the open. At San Francisco International Airport, a handful of Google lawyers showed up to offer emergency representation to immigrants; many more staffers joined a demonstration outside the international terminal. Even Sergey Brin joined!

Google has always had an open culture, and this can be gauged by the way they have come up with new product ideas. In their best-selling 2014 book, How Google Works, Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, two of the main architects of Google's culture, stressed the importance of open debate in the care and feeding of innovative people. “In our experience, most smart creatives have strong opinions and are itching to spout off; for them, the cultural obligation to dissent gives them the freedom to do just that,” they wrote. 

There have been many scandals in the history of Google, and the author of this piece has jotted a few incidents here. The succession of scandals kept deepening the divide between execs and employee activists. More and more, the latter were questioning the social contract they had lived by. This piece has everything that a successful Hollywood movie would have. From internal revolt to sexual harassment scandals and secret projects.

7) Did capital punishment create morality? [Source: The New Yorker]
The story that Richard Wrangham tells in his new book, “The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution,” isn’t quite definitive—it is still a work in progress. Mr. Wrangham, a primatologist at Harvard, has spent his career studying the great apes, especially chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans. He is perhaps best known for the book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human,” published in 2009. Mr. Wrangham’s first book (co-authored with Dale Peterson), “Demonic Males: Apes and the Origin of Human Violence,” from 1996, is more continuous with “The Goodness Paradox” than is “Catching Fire.” “Demonic Males” was written in the wake of two momentous discoveries: the violence of chimpanzees and the pacifism of bonobos. The premise of the book is that violence is adaptive, i.e., that it promotes survival.

The last of the great apes to be discovered, bonobos are so physically similar to chimpanzees that their skeletons lay in museums for fifty years before it was noticed that they were a separate species. But socially and behaviorally, chimps and bonobos are worlds apart, even though they only live on opposite banks of the Congo River. Unlike chimpanzees, bonobos do not patrol, do not raid, and do not kill their neighbors. The sometimes deadly competition among males for sexual primacy and the rape and beating of females, which are commonplace among chimps, are unknown among bonobos.

Humans seem to have a capacity for violent aggression as strong as that of chimpanzees and a capacity for gentleness and docility as strong as that of bonobos. “Compared with other primates, we practice exceptionally low levels of violence in our day-to-day-lives, yet we achieve exceptionally high rates of death from violence in our wars,” Wrangham writes. There is also a lesson: evolution is much less relevant to our growth than moral imagination. “History is far more important than evolutionary theorizing as a reminder about human potential,” Wrangham protests. We shouldn’t assume that human nature makes progress toward equality and peace either impossible or inevitable. It’s neither; it’s just damned hard.
  
8) People who pay people to kill people [Source: The Atlantic]
Stories of unconsummated contract killings make headlines on a regular basis. Sometimes the motive is shockingly impersonal. Last year, a Houston man allegedly took out a $2,000 contract on the police officer who had been slapping his business’s vehicles with tickets. More often, the crime can be traced to an intimate but fractured relationship. Criminologists have a name for a person who hires a hit man: instigator. They also confirm what news stories suggest.

Lots of instigators get caught because they don’t know what they’re doing. After all, most of us don’t socialize with professional killers. The average person therefore looks to acquaintances or neighbors for referrals, or finds his way to criminal bottom-feeders who are likely to be inept and inexperienced. The former may be inclined to call law enforcement, while the latter may lose their nerve or botch the job. Which helps explain why so many murders for hire don’t produce any dead bodies. But, why do people hire to kill someone? There are many different theories.

Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist who has testified in court cases of criminals ranging from serial killers (Jeffrey Dahmer) to deranged assassins (John Hinckley Jr.), has another theory as to why homicidal people hire help. “My prime suspect is the depiction of hit men in popular culture, such as films, TV, video games, and novels,” noting that the last time he entered hit man into Netflix, hundreds of results appeared. According to Dietz, such entertainment gives “the illusion that this is a service available to anyone.” In a world where dangerous or unpleasant tasks are routinely outsourced, a viewer might think, Well, why not this too?

9) What board games teach us about capitalism and how to modify it [Source: skeptic.com]
In this piece, the author draws similarities between the monopoly, board game, and capitalism, and how it can be modified. The poor get poorer, while the rich get richer — is not only typical of laissez-faire economics. It is also characteristic of a certain dynamic observed in nature, engineering and human relationships, one that mathematicians sometimes describe as unstable equilibrium. What if a game was built in which there was a built-in stabilizing mechanic that actually penalized a player for being in the lead? A game that is designed in a way that helps underdogs instead of penalizing them.

It is not hard to see how Monopoly could be retrofitted in the same stability-encouraging way. Indeed, the game already has a few stabilizing elements such as the Community Chest card that reads “You are assessed for street repairs: pay $40 per house and $115 per hotel you own.” There is another version of this card in the Chance deck that assesses costs for houses and hotels at $25 and $100 respectively. Both of these cards greatly penalize players with lots of houses and hotels, but do little to harm the interests of a player with few assets.

If you wanted to make a more “stable” version of Monopoly, all you would have to do is add a lot more cards like this to the decks, and perhaps increase the assessed amounts. A game of Monopoly ends when one player has all the money and everyone else is bankrupt. But a human society is not something that you fold up and put back in the box. It is not supposed to end. Board games take inspiration from real life. That does not mean they always reflect the values and preferences we exercise in our real-life capacities as workers, family members, friends and political actors. If you want to improve the moral character of a society, you do not necessarily have to change the way people think and feel. Sometimes, all you have to do is fiddle with the rules that govern what happens every time they pass Go.

10) Why are rich people so mean? [Source: Wired]
You must have heard that rich people don’t donate or help the poor much. Do you know what it is called? Rich Asshole Syndrome. Not actually, but as per the author of this piece. And he defines it as the tendency to distance yourself from people with whom you have a large wealth differential. We stay in expensive, quiet hotels rather than the funky guest houses we used to frequent. We use money to insulate ourselves from the risk, noise, inconvenience. But the insulation comes at the price of isolation. Our comfort requires that we cut ourselves off from chance encounters, new music, unfamiliar laughter, fresh air, and random interaction with strangers. Researchers have concluded again and again that the single most reliable predictor of happiness is feeling embedded in a community.

The author also throws light upon how he had developed the psychological scar tissue necessary to ignore the poor. Research conducted at the University of Toronto by Stéphane Côté and colleagues confirms that the rich are less generous than the poor, but their findings suggest it’s more complicated than simply wealth making people stingy. Rather, it’s the distance created by wealth differentials that seems to break the natural flow of human kindness. The author’s wealthy friend once told him, “You get successful by saying yes, but you need to say no a lot to stay successful.” If you’re perceived to be wealthier than those around you, you’ll have to say “no” a lot. You’ll be constantly approached with requests, offers, pitches, and pleas—whether you’re in a Starbucks in Silicon Valley or the back streets of Calcutta.

Researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute surveyed 43,000 people and found that the rich were far more likely to walk out of a store with merchandise they hadn’t paid for than were poorer people. Findings like this could reflect the fact that wealthy people worry less about potential legal repercussions. There is reason to believe that blindness to the suffering of others is a psychological adaptation to the discomfort caused by extreme wealth disparities. Michael W. Kraus and colleagues found that people of higher socio-economic status were actually less able to read emotions in other people’s faces. Books such as Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work and The Psychopath Test argue that many traits characteristic of psychopaths are celebrated in business: ruthlessness, a convenient absence of social conscience, a single-minded focus on “success.”

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