Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Business (Indian CEOs are in high demand!), Communication (Fakery and puffery plague corporate lingo), Sports (American women are running faster than ever), Music (From busking to performing at concerts globally), and Technology (Oral History of Lawrence G. "Larry" Tesler)

Published: Mar 7, 2020 09:07:58 AM IST
Updated: Mar 7, 2020 11:09:55 AM IST

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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: Business (Indian CEOs are in high demand!), Communication (Fakery and puffery plague corporate lingo), Sports (American women are running faster than ever), Music (From busking to performing at concerts globally), and Technology (Oral History of Lawrence G. “Larry” Tesler).

1) Nine reasons the Indian CEO keeps coming to the rescue [Source: CNN Business]
Looks like the Indian CEOs are in high demand globally. Recently, IBM tapped Arvind Krishna as its next CEO. And WeWork confirmed it hired Sandeep Mathrani as its new chief executive. Also, some of the famous Indian CEOs heading global corporations are Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Sundar Pichai (Alphabet, parent of Google), Shantanu Narayen (Adobe), and Ajay Singh Banga (Mastercard), among others. The author of this piece highlights 9 factors that all of us can learn from. 

Some of these are: 1) An acceptance of change and uncertainty: Every company is grappling with some form of disruption. It allows innovation and patience with process to coexist in a corporate bureaucracy. 2) Seeing around the corner: The ability to predict what's shaping our marketplace is a necessary trait in a leader. Indians are especially equipped, thanks to their embrace of data and constantly, perhaps unconsciously, crafting a Plan B. 3) Education, especially STEM: Indian immigrants are among the most highly educated in the US; according to Pew, 77.5% had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2016 -- the highest share of any top origin country -- compared to 31.6% of native-born Americans.

4) Diversity: A diverse workforce and leadership has perhaps never been more important to companies. A survey by Deloitte (also run by an Indian CEO) found 69% of employees who believe senior management is diverse see their working environments as motivating and stimulating versus 43% who don't perceive leadership as diverse. 5) A belief in meritocracy: An immigrant rising to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company is rare and remarkable, and yet also supposed to be the way America works. "I am very blessed...plenty of opportunities and plenty of luck," Mr. Mathrani told a nonprofit human rights group honoring him last year. "So the American story is alive and well."

2) Corporates need to stop using superfluous language for better [Source: vulture.com]
Have you come across a weird word/phrase while reading a copy? Have you ever wondered why you need words and phrases that are difficult to understand for something simple? If yes, this piece will surely ring a bell. The author of this article, Molly Young, explains how people in various workplaces use superfluous words and phrases instead of something understandable and simple.

Molly gives several examples of how words and phrases used by some of the big brands/companies do not make sense at all. The problem with these words isn’t only their floating capacity to enrage but their contaminating quality. She also writes how Anna Wiener, the author of Uncanny Valley, says that this is nothing but “Garbage Language”.

Language is always a matter of intention. No two people could have less in common than when they are saying the same thing, one sincerely and one with snark. And so with every exchange, you have to acknowledge a reality where words like optionality and deliverable could be just as solid as blimp and pretzel. The meaningful threat of garbage language — the reason it is not just annoying but malevolent — is that it confirms delusion as an asset in the workplace.

3) American women are running faster than ever! [Source: The New York Times
This year more than 450 women participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon in Atlanta. To qualify to race, a woman had to complete a marathon in 2 hours 45 minutes or faster sometime in the last three years, roughly a pace of 6 minutes 17 seconds per mile. These women are accountants and anesthesiologists, mothers and coaches, teachers and television producers. Some are participating in their first Olympic trials, and some in their fifth. Some are still in college. Some are in their mid- and even late 40s.

This piece profiles a few women who have qualified for the race. Cailtin Kowalke of Cross Plains, Wis., hung up her running shoes after the 2016 Olympic trials. That didn’t last long. She decided to try qualifying for the 2020 trials, and ran a 2:43 marathon in 2018. She raced in Atlanta six months after giving birth to her daughter. The overall number of participants isn’t necessarily growing, as it did in the 1970s and 1980s and the early 2000s, but the fastest women are getting faster.

Two recent structural changes across the sport have also played a role in the record size of this year’s field. The first is that to encourage participation the qualifying standard for the full cycle ahead of the 2020 Olympics Trials Marathon was 2:45. The standard had been relaxed from 2:43 just ahead of the 2016 Trials Marathon. The second structural change is shoes. Advancements in shoe technology — in particular, in a line of Nike shoes called the Vaporfly 4% and the Vaporfly Next% — have become an explosive issue among runners, as professional and amateur racers alike debate whether the shoes save so much energy that they amount to an unfair advantage.

4) The Story of the Michelin Guide [Source: lookers.co.uk]
Getting Michelin Stars for restaurants is of utmost importance for all restaurateurs. Gordon Ramsay, the celebrity chef, was so distraught when his New York restaurant, The London, lost its two prestigious Michelin Stars in 2015, that the news made him weepy. But what is it about the Michelin Star that can reduce a grown man to tears? Michelin Stars are coveted by all chefs as these are awarded for food excellence in restaurants. When a restaurant is awarded one Michelin Star, it is a sign that the chef has succeeded at the highest level. Two Stars and the restaurant is likely to be populated by the glitterati. Three, and the restaurant is often booked out for months in advance and populated by the glitterati.

But, how did it all start? Michelin Stars originated in a country best known for its passion for cuisine – France. Originally they were a feature of the Michelin guide books published in 1900 by Andre and Edourd Michelin - the founders of the Michelin tyre company. The guide listed a wealth of information for motorists which included where to find the best meals and accommodation whilst touring in their cars. The dining element was in so high demand that Michelin set up a team to go out and rate restaurants on a 3-category basis. The rating systems – still in place today and with more than a passing nod to its motoring roots - was referred to as ‘Michelin Stars’. 3 stars being ‘exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey’, 2 stars ‘excellent cooking, worth a detour and 1 star, a very good restaurant in its category’

By 1933, 23 restaurants in France were rated with three stars. Today, Michelin Stars are awarded selectively to a small number of restaurants globally, for outstanding quality. The 2016 guide lists 3 restaurants in the UK as having the maximum three stars – The Dorchester (Alain Ducasse), The Waterside Inn (Michel Roux) and – here Gordon Ramsay can shed tears of joy - Gordon Ramsay (for his eponymous restaurant). Michelin themselves recognise the marketing benefits: "From an image standpoint, it certainly has helped as a halo for a tyre brand. Because tyres, of course, aren't the sexiest product," Tony Fouladpour, Michelin director of corporate public relations, has commented. "The image of Michelin is that of a premium, high-quality brand. And some say that the Michelin Guide is the Bible of all dining guides," he says.

5) Three lessons from one of Hollywood’s most successful bosses [Source: The Economist]
Bob Iger recently explained his approach to running Disney as, “I don’t know if the word disrupter was the right word to use back then, but I’ve always been willing to take some chances.” Today, Disney is one of the world’s most formidable content-and-technology powerhouses. Profits quadrupled from $2.5bn in 2005 to $10.4bn in 2019. Disney’s market capitalisation rocketed from $48bn to over $230bn. But, on February 25, Mr. Iger surprised everyone by announcing his departure from the corner office. He will remain as executive chairman, focusing on the firm’s creative process, until the end of 2021 but has handed day-to-day running of the firm to Bob Chapek, a safe pair of hands who most recently ran Disney’s amusement parks.

Mr. Chapek needs to learn the three lessons that were dear to Mr. Iger. 1) Quality matters: In Hollywood lingo, content is king. Belief in content led Mr. Iger to collect one beloved franchise after another, in a buying spree that verged on the foolhardy. Soon after taking over in 2005 he spent $7.4bn to buy Pixar, the animation studio famous for “Toy Story” movies. Three years later he bought Marvel Entertainment, with its stable of comic-book superheroes such as the Avengers, for $4bn. 2) Trust acquired talent: At most firms in most industries, when a big company buys a small, nimble one, the buyer’s managers defend their turf and foist headquarters culture onto the acquisition. Mr. Iger’s Disney instead let Pixar lift its middling in-house animation team.

3) A bit of paranoia can be productive: No boss succeeds without supreme self-confidence, and Mr. Iger is no exception. However, he has shown time and again that he is willing to question his own judgment and to revise strategies as the business landscape evolves. Mr. Iger leaves his successor a company in good shape, but also in the midst of two transformations: digital and, with 20th Century Fox to fold in, organisational. Both will soon test whether Mr. Chapek has learned Mr. Iger’s lessons.

6) A high-energy dance party of saxes and drums [Source: Livemint]  
This piece talks about how a lesser-known band, started by busking, rose to fame with their unique blend of Jazz and Funk. Moon Hooch’s line-up consists of two saxophonists and a drummer. Ten years ago, the trio began busking on the sidewalk in front of New York’s Metropolitan Museum. They used to play jazz but then moved to dance music and began busking in the Bedford Avenue subway station in Brooklyn. They quickly became a hit.

Their sets were so infectious and people began dancing so wildly that the New York police department had to stop them because commuters could run the risk of falling off the edge of the platform. Many of Moon Hooch’s songs originate during their sound checks before gigs. The band members jam and joust with each other during these sessions by taking a tune and riffing with it till a complete track emerges and, eventually, makes it to an album. Jazz remains the bedrock of the band’s music but influences such as funk, electronic dance music (EDM) and R&B abound. Also, most of their songs are recorded live in one go!

There are hidden nuggets as well to Moon Hooch’s story. The band is committed to sustainable living and conscious conservation of the environment. It runs a blog, Cooking In The Cave (cookinginthecave.net), in which it logs the way the members use locally sourced ingredients to make vegan food while on tour. Innovative use of technology is yet another of Moon Hooch’s dimensions. At gigs, they play through what they call a “Reverse DJ" set-up, where live sounds from the saxes run through a computer program on laptops that process recorded effects for the output.

7) The virus is coming [Source: The Economist]
Coronavirus has been spreading across globally more rapidly than in China. Many governments have been signalling that they will stop the disease. Instead, they need to start preparing people for the onslaught. Experts say that the virus may be five to ten times as lethal as seasonal flu, which, with a fatality rate of 0.1%, kills 60,000 Americans in a bad year. Across the world, the death toll could be in the millions. China’s experience hold three important lessons: talk to the public, slow the transmission of the disease and prepare health systems for a spike in demand. 

1) Talk to public: A good example of communication is America’s Centres for Disease Control, which issued a clear, unambiguous warning on February 25th. A bad one is Iran’s deputy health minister, who succumbed to the virus during a press conference designed to show that the government is on top of the epidemic. The best time to inform people about the disease is before the epidemic. 2) Slow the transmission of the disease: Flattening the spike of the epidemic means that health systems are less overwhelmed, which saves lives. If, like flu, the virus turns out to be seasonal, some cases could be delayed until next winter, by which time doctors will understand better how to cope with it. By then, new vaccines and antiviral drugs may be available.

3) Prepare health systems for a spike in demand: Hospitals need supplies of gowns, masks, gloves, oxygen and drugs. They should already be conserving them. They will run short of equipment, including ventilators. They need a scheme for how to set aside wards and floors for covid-19 patients, for how to cope if staff fall ill, and for how to choose between patients if they are overwhelmed. By now, this work should have been done. What governments need to understand is that if we can’t stop it for now, at least we should be prepared for the worst.

8) Uyghurs for sale - ‘Re-education’, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang [Source: Australian Strategy Policy Institute]
This intriguing report throws light on the level of control that the Chinese government has on its people. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen. This report estimates that more than 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019, and some of them were sent directly from detention camps.

So what’s the solution? 1) Chinese government should ensure that all citizens can freely determine the terms of their own labour and mobility. 2) Companies using forced Uyghur labour should conduct immediate and thorough human rights due diligence on their factory labour in China, including robust and independent social audits and inspections. 3) Foreign governments, businesses and civil society groups should identify opportunities to increase pressure on the Chinese government to end the use of Uyghur forced labour and extrajudicial detentions.

The problem is the policies that require Uyghurs to work under duress in violation of well-established international labour laws. It is vital that, as these problems are addressed, Uyghur labourers are not placed in positions of greater harm or, for example, involuntarily transferred back to Xinjiang, where their safety cannot necessarily be guaranteed. 
  
9) Oral History of Lawrence G. “Larry” Tesler [Source: Computer History Museum]
This dated interview with Lawrence “Larry” Gordon Tesler reveals the history of programming and computing. Mr. Tesler was an American computer scientist who worked in the field of human–computer interaction. He has worked at Xerox PARC, Apple, Amazon, and Yahoo! He starts with how he got interested in computers in his high school.

Talking about working on Lisa at Apple, he says “I decided that I wanted to get involved with the user interface and kind of triage: Which was the biggest issue that would kind of take longest time to fix? So I spent some time looking at the hardware. Was it as easy to swap a board as they said it would be? And it was, yes. And is the keyboard design adequate? It was okay. And the mouse. And so they said, “We’re doing this mouse with an industrial design firm, Hovey-Kelley,” which later dissolved. 

He feels that there are lot of Apple influences in the Valley now that people have spun out companies. He says, “A lot of it is the people who used to work at Apple both in the early days of Apple, the era after Jobs returned and the short time since he’s left us. People left Apple during all those times and seeded many, many companies, I couldn’t even start to list them, either as the founders or as key people in those companies, but it’s really true of any large company in the Valley. You could say that about almost any large company, but I see Apple a lot represented as alumni in a lot of places. But the other thing is just the influence of Apple’s focus on design, on simplicity, on usability.”

10) The man who refused to freeze to death [Source: BBC]
Imagine a situation where you are stranded in the Alaskan wilderness with not much food, clothing and shelter. And you have to survive at least for 20 days till the help comes in. What would you do? This piece talks about the ways that you can use to keep yourself going tough even in a weather like -2 degree Celsius. This piece talks about how 23-year-old Guðlaugur Friðþórsson stumbled towards salvation.  

“You tend to see a lot of problems with cold compounded by dehydration,” says Mike Tipton, professor of physiology at the University of Portsmouth. Having found fresh water, however, dehydration was not Friðþórsson’s biggest problem. His wet clothes were quickly making his condition worse, putting him at risk of hypothermia, which occurs when the core body temperature drops below 35C (95F). “A man in the cold is not necessarily a cold man,” says Tipton. “If you keep moving and you are reasonably insulated you will produce enough heat to stay warm. At maximum exercise, it is like you are running a 2kW fire. When you exercise reasonably hard you can do that in shorts and t-shirt in the cold. Even when you have to shiver you are essentially engaged in light exercise.”

Friðþórsson had fallen into the sea just east of Stórhöfði peninsula when his small fishing vessel, Hellisey VE 503, ran into trouble. He survived six hours in 5 °C cold water. An average person will survive in water colder than 6C for about 75 minutes. Accounts of people surviving for longer are anecdotal and few. In laboratories, test subjects begin to suffer adverse effects within 20 or 30 minutes before they are pulled out. To swim three miles in these seas would take hours. Finally, Friðþórsson reached a village, and around 7am on Monday morning he knocked on someone’s door. He was later discharged from hospital having been treated for his cuts and dehydration. There was no sign that he had suffered from hypothermia at all.

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