Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Management (Sleeping your way to the top, CEOs that read the business like a book), Lifestyle (The parent trap — control!, Taking time to recharge), Business (multi-million-dollar 'dummy director' scam), and Health (Revolutions against the emperor of maladies)

Published: Mar 14, 2020 09:13:30 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: Management (Sleeping your way to the top, CEOs that read the business like a book), Lifestyle (The parent trap – control!, Taking time to recharge), Business (multi-million-dollar 'dummy director' scam), and Health (Revolutions against the emperor of maladies).

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended March 13, 2020:

1) The case for reading fiction [Source: HBR]
One thing that most billionaires such as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, Elon Musk and others believe is important for anyone to be successful is reading. And this article, precisely tells why reading fiction is crucial for everyone. When we read, we hone and strengthen several different cognitive muscles, so to speak, that are the root of the EQ. When it comes to reading, we may be assuming that reading for knowledge is the best reason to pick up a book. Research, however, suggests that reading fiction may provide far more important benefits than nonfiction.

One reason fiction works so well in the workplace is that characters, plots, and settings in foreign locales help anchor difficult discussions. The narrative allows participants to work through sensitive and nuanced issues in an open and honest manner. Also, research suggests that reading literary fiction is an effective way to enhance the brain’s ability to keep an open mind while processing information, a necessary skill for effective decision-making.

Research on reading shows literature study to be one of the best methods for building empathy critical thinking, and creativity. Maryanne Wolf, cognitive scientist and author of Reader, Come Home, argues that “the quality of our reading” stands as “an index to the quality of our thought.” If we want better thinkers in the business world, we have to build better readers.

2) Can parents really control how their kids turn out? [Source:]
Parents do or at least try their best to do everything to give a good upbringing. They plan their parenting approach even when the baby is in the womb. But, this piece throws light on how all the plans go in vain. An entire industry has sprouted to promote methods for raising super fantastic kids. Is it possible that all of it, all the books and blogs and podcasts, all of the expert advice, is simply bunk? Does parenting actually work?

Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker holds the answer to this. In the 1990s, Mr. Pinker helped bring to prominence the work of the psychology researcher Judith Rich Harris. In 1995, Harris caused a stir when she published an article in Psychological Review that began with this stark claim: “Do parents have any important long-term effects on the development of their child’s personality? This article examines the evidence and concludes that the answer is no.” In The Blank Slate, Mr. Pinker writes that “about half of the variation in intelligence, personality, and life outcomes” is influenced by genes.

“There are environmental effects,” Mr. Pinker says. “But this is an important point that Harris makes: Environmental effects must not be equated with parenting effects. There is also the culture, and when we talk about kids, culture equals peer group, pretty much.” A social circle, in other words, helps shape a kid’s personality and developmental outcomes, but a parent for the most part does not.

3) Here’s how a Singapore sales conference spread coronavirus around the world [Source: Livemint
Coronavirus is gripping the whole world with fear. One of the events from where it started spreading was in Singapore. Last month, 109 people gathered in a Singapore hotel for an international sales conference held by a UK-based company that makes products to analyze gas. The virus had a 10-day head start on health authorities who, after belatedly learning a 41-year-old Malaysian participant was infected, began a desperate effort to track the infection through countries including South Korea, England and France.

After this conference, around 94 people left Singapore. Some joined Lunar New Year dinners. Others went on vacation, one to an Alpine ski town. They had eaten, taken car rides and shared a roof with others who then boarded more planes to places the virus hadn’t yet reached. Singapore, whose health authorities have confirmed 86 cases there, has deployed dozens of contact tracers and data analysts to hunt down every bit of information.

When the conference began Jan. 19, Singapore had no confirmed cases. The gathering was a 2020 sales kickoff hosted by U.K.-based Servomex Group Ltd. For four days, guests from around the world mingled at Grand Hyatt Singapore. Some participants were from China, including Hubei province, Singapore health officials later learned. The Singapore authorities have sprung in action and haven’t reported deaths among the conference-goers. They still don’t know how the virus got there.

4) Meet five bureaucrats who show the way forward for Modi's Rs102 trillion infra plan [Source: Economic Times]
Completing an infra project in India in time is a big ask. Many projects take longer due to litigation over land acquisition, financial woes and political mudslinging. But this piece throws light on how few are proving this wrong by completing projects before time or are scheduled to finish in time. Anurag Sachan: As the head of the Rs81,000 crore Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation (DFCC), Mr. Sachan coordinates with district magistrates on issues concerning last-mile land acquisition and also with superintendents of police on law and order issues. He has taken it upon himself to ensure the timely completion of the corridor — a rare linear project in independent India that passes through nine states, 62 districts and 21,000 villages.

NVS Reddy: 13 years under four chief ministers of two states. That is how long NVS Reddy has been heading Hyderabad Metro Rail Ltd (HMRL). “Stanford or MIT can’t teach you how to execute an infrastructure project in India,” says Mr. Reddy, a 1982-batch officer of the Indian Railway Accounts Service who retired in mid-2016. Besides facing resistance from the government, he’s also faced irk of the people. But that didn’t stop him. RA Rajeev: This metropolitan commissioner of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority laments the missed opportunity in adding aesthetic elements to the 22-km Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), connecting Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. “No two elements are the same. That is the kind of precision required for the project,” says Mr. Rajeev.

Mangu Singh: He had big shoes to fill when he entered Metro Bhawan in Delhi on December 31, 2011. E Sreedharan, widely known as the nation’s metro man, was retiring as MD of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and Mr. Singh was the replacement. Singh went on to prove that metro rail could be constructed faster. His team added another 190 km under phase-III in just seven years (2012-19). Radheshyam Mopalwar: He had his task cut out at the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation. The day he took charge as its vice-chairman and managing director in September 2015, he floated a tender for a pre-feasibility study of a 701-km expressway from Nagpur to Mumbai. The expressway will halve the journey time between Mumbai and Nagpur to eight hours. Since a 22-km stretch of the expressway passes through a wildlife corridor near two sanctuaries, MSRDC decided to partner with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to make the road animal-friendly.

5) The multi-million-dollar 'dummy director' scam using vulnerable Australians to rip off the tax office [Source: ABC]
Everyday there’s one or the other scam in the news. People are being cheated, promoters are absconding, people are creating shell companies to siphon millions, etc. And one such Australian company is Brown Baldwin. The company has been hiring drug addicts and homeless, and making them directors of various companies for a few hundred dollars.

An investigation by Background Briefing has uncovered the ease with which a small group of accountants spent years targeting drug users, homeless people and those down on their luck in order to help clients cheat the tax man and other creditors. It is a scheme that involves nearly 200 companies across almost every state in the country, and for more than a decade, its architects have been getting away with it. The revelations expose gaping flaws in our corporate system and raise questions about how the accountants are able to operate in plain sight of the tax office and the corporate regulator, ASIC.

The tax office's investigation into Brown Baldwin is ongoing, but no criminal charges have so far been laid relating to the dummy director scheme. Brown Baldwin closed its doors in 2019, soon after the ATO raids. But the people who worked there and were implicated in the scheme are still out in the world practising as accountants.

6) Edward Norton on Motherless Brooklyn [Source: YouTube; Talks at Google]  
In this video, Edward Norton, writer, director and award-winning actor, talks about his long acting career and new film, Motherless Brooklyn. Set against the backdrop of 1950s New York, it is a story about a private detective afflicted with Tourette's syndrome who tries to solve the murder of his mentor and only friend. The film is based on the book written by Jonathan Lethem by the same name.

On his character as a detective with Tourette’s syndrome, he says that understanding it is not rocket science. The syndrome is well documented. He gives an example of his friend who is suffering from this, but is handling it perfectly fine. Mr. Norton perfected his role by learning from the real-life examples. Like the tap on shoulder was taken from an NBA player. He also shares his experience of working with other renowned actors, mostly from theatre.

When asked which are the other books that have stuck with him over the years, besides Motherless Brooklyn, he says that there’s one of his favourite American writer, Mark Helprin. His novel “A Soldier of the Great War” is one of the great novels in the last 50-60 years. And also he is working with another director on it. But he has been working on this even before the streaming services started. That’s the book he’s been thinking of late.

7) Your professional decline is coming (much) sooner than you think [Source: The Atlantic]
We all yearn for happiness. As we are young, we strive for the best, personally and professionally. But, nothing lasts forever. In The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, Jonathan Rauch, a Brookings Institution scholar and an Atlantic contributing editor, reviews the strong evidence suggesting that the happiness of most adults declines through their 30s and 40s, then bottoms out in their early 50s. After 70, some people stay steady in happiness; others get happier until death. Others, men in particular, see their happiness plummet. Indeed, depression and suicide rates for men increase after age 75.

A few researchers have looked at this cohort to understand what drives their unhappiness. It is, in a word, irrelevance. In 2007, a team of academic researchers at UCLA and Princeton analyzed data on more than 1,000 older adults. Their findings showed that senior citizens who rarely or never “felt useful” were nearly three times as likely as those who frequently felt useful to develop a mild disability. In some professions, early decline is inescapable. No one expects an Olympic athlete to remain competitive until age 60. But in many physically nondemanding occupations, we implicitly reject the inevitability of decline before very old age. According to research, if you start a career in earnest at 30, expect to do your best work around 50 and go into decline soon after that.

The author of this piece went to South India in search for the answer. He met guru Sri Nochur Venkataraman, known as Acharya (“Teacher”) to his disciples. After listening to his question, the Acharya answered elliptically, explaining an ancient Hindu teaching about the stages of life, or ashramas. 1) Brahmacharya: Period of youth and young adulthood dedicated to learning. 2) Grihastha: When a person builds a career, accumulates wealth, and creates a family. 3) Vanaprastha: Name comes from two Sanskrit words meaning “retiring” and “into the forest.” This is the stage, usually starting around age 50, in which we purposefully focus less on professional ambition, and become more and more devoted to spirituality, service, and wisdom.

8) Why we sleep, and why we often can’t [Source: The New Yorker]
A good night’s sleep is essential for our body to recover from the day-long hectic activities. “If we don’t continue to chip away at our collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success, we’ll never be able to restore sleep to its rightful place in our lives,” Arianna Huffington wrote a couple of years ago, in her best-selling how-to guide “The Sleep Revolution.” But what about insomnia?

According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s 2017 book “Why We Sleep” insomnia is a clinical disorder most commonly associated with an overactive sympathetic nervous system, and it is triggered, typically, by worry and anxiety. Mr. Walker likens the insomniac’s problem to that of a laptop that won’t stop running, even after its lid is closed.

Alice Robb’s book “Why We Dream” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a spirited rebuke to the idea of sleep as a mere parting with consciousness. In exploring the pleasures and uses of dreams, she seeks to persuade us that sleep is not just the “off” to waking’s “on” but another realm of being, a second consciousness, rich in adventure and wisdom. Science has long understood that rem sleep—the stages of sleep characterized by rapid eye movement, in which most dreaming takes place—plays a vital role in our mental health. 
9) Working parents, give yourself permission to recharge [Source: HBR]
Raising kid/kids is a demanding and tiresome task. It’s natural, normal, and healthy as a parent for your attention to shift off of yourself to your children and to many times put their needs ahead of your own at this new stage of life. But many well-meaning parents can shift their focus so much that they completely lose sight of what they need to be happy, healthy people. Here are few ways which can help you spending some quality “me-time”.

1) Emphasize the Quality of Your Time: Trying to spend all of your time with your kids when you’re not working or sleeping can lead to you being physically present, but mentally and emotionally distant. It’s better for you to take some time on your own to be introverted, exercise, or talk with your spouse or a friend, and then come back to your children fully ready to engage than it is to be “with your kids” longer with your eyes glued to the phone, TV, or laptop, or simply glazed over because you’re mentally checked out. 2) Define What You Need: When you decide that you need to also concentrate on yourself, the next is deciding what to do. You can take a nap, exercise, read, spend time with your partner/friends, etc. Identify simple day-to-day activities that help you feel refreshed so that you’re ready to be present for your children when you are with them.

3) Start Small: If you feel exceptionally strapped for time, begin with micro-changes to carve out regular time for yourself. Challenge yourself to find small bits of five to ten minutes throughout your day for small activities that nourish you. 4) Look for Special Opportunities: On occasion, you may have the opportunity for larger blocks of time to recharge. If possible, take them! If you have family that is able and willing to care for your children, consider a weekend getaway every once in a while. 5) Support Your Spouse or Partner: If you have a spouse or partner, work together to support one another in having time to recharge. When you work together to give one another “time off,” you can avoid either one of you burning out on your parenting duties.

10) The Five Revolutions in Cancer Treatment [Source: Andreessen Horowitz]
The world has been battling Cancer since a long time. In this talk, given at the annual a16z Summit, Jonathan Lim, CEO and cofounder of Erasca, shows how far we have gone in cancer treatment today, what’s working and what’s not, and what’s on the horizon. Mr. Lim, a physician-turned-entrepreneur shares the five big revolutions and latest scientific advances creating an enormous breakthrough in how we treat this disease.

1) Surgery Radiation Chemotherapy: This is one of the breakthroughs in the field but there are some disadvantages as well. Chemotherapy kills both healthy and weak/infected cells. 2) Genomically Targeted Therapy: Unlike Chemotherapy, this targets the specific mutation that’s driving Cancer and kills only the infected cells. 3) Cancer Immunotherapy: this includes checkpoint inhibitors (release breaks on immune system), CAR-T cell therapy (harvests immune cells from patients’ blood and engineers them to better fight tumors), and personalized cancer vaccines (boosts patients’ immune system).
4) ecDNA Targeted Therapy: Can we exploit ecDNA to cure Cancer? If successful, this would represent yet another breakthrough in Cancer treatment. 5) Metabolic Therapy: We eat three or four meals a day. And that’s why food is impactful to your health. Mr. Lim gives how a tumor was lessened with following a plant-based diet.