Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Economy (Three economists on way ahead for India), Online Gaming (Dark side of the online gaming business in India), Technology (Covid-19 is great news for Big Tech; Who is winning the technology battle between the US and China?) and Lifestyle (Importance of stillness in our life)

Published: Apr 17, 2020 06:49:55 PM IST
Updated: Apr 17, 2020 07:46:50 PM IST

readingImage: 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: Economy (Three economists on way ahead for India), Online Gaming (Dark side of the online gaming business in India), Technology (Covid-19 is great news for Big Tech; Who is winning the technology battle between the US and China?) and Lifestyle (Importance of stillness in our life).

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended April 17, 2020-

1) Unlikely Optimism: The conjunctive events bias [Source: Farnam Street]
We often overestimate the likelihood of conjunctive events—occurrences that must happen in conjunction with one another. The probability of a series of conjunctive events happening is lower than the probability of any individual event. This is often very hard for us to wrap our heads around. But if we don’t try, we risk seriously underestimating the time, money, and effort required to achieve our goals. To make it look simple, the author gives an example from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. 

Conjunctive events bias makes us underestimate the effort required to accomplish complex plans. As Max Bazerman and Don Moore explain in Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, “The overestimation of conjunctive events offers a powerful explanation for the problems that typically occur with projects that require multistage planning. Individuals, businesses, and governments frequently fall victim to the conjunctive events bias in terms of timing and budgets. Home remodeling, new product ventures, and public works projects seldom finish on time.”

The more steps involved in a plan, the greater the chance of failure, as we associate probabilities to events that aren’t at all related. That is especially true as more people get involved, bringing their individual biases and misconceptions of chance. When we are doing planning where a successful outcome is of importance to us, it’s useful to run through our assumptions with this bias in mind. It is also extremely useful to keep a decision journal for our major decisions, so that we can be more realistic in our estimates on the time and resources we need for future plans. The more realistic we are, the higher our chances of accomplishing what we set out to do.

2) Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan, Abhijit Banerjee write: A long haul, spend wisely, but don’t skimp on the truly needy [Source: Indian Express]
As the lockdown gets extended, the biggest worry for the Indian government would be ensuring adequate supplies to the poor. That’s what the three experts believe. We need to do what it takes to reassure people that the society does care and that their minimum well-being should be secure. We have the resources to do this; the stocks of food at the Food Corporation of India stood at 77 million tons in March 2020 — higher than ever at that time of the year, and more than three times the “buffer stock norms”. This is likely to grow over the next weeks as the Rabi crop comes in.

Indeed the government already has shown a willingness to use the stocks — it has offered a supplementary PDS provision of 5 kg/person/month for the coming three months. However, it is quite likely that three months will not be enough, since even if the lockdown ends soon, the process of reopening the economy will take time. Also, there are many whose ration cards are pending approval. What about them? Around 7 lakh pending applications for ration cards. There is also evidence that there are a lot of bona fide applications (for example of old-age pensioners) held up in the verification process, partly because the responsible local authorities try to avoid letting anybody in by mistake to avoid any appearance of malfeasance.

The correct response is to issue temporary ration cards — perhaps for six months — with minimal checks to everyone who wants one and is willing to stand in line to collect their card and their monthly allocations. The cost of missing many of those who are in dire need vastly exceeds the social cost of letting in some who could perhaps do without it. We need to spend wisely given the enormous likely demand for fiscal resources in the coming months, but skimping on helping the truly needy is the surest way to lose the plot.

3) The dark side of India’s gaming boom [Source: Livemint]  
Gaming is bound to see massive jump in terms of number of users. In an interview with Microsoft’s Satya Nadella late February, Mukesh Ambani said he believes that gaming will be the next big industry in India. “It is very hard to imagine but gaming will be bigger than music, movies and TV shows put together," he said. Industry experts widely cite three reasons for this peculiar rate of growth: cheaper smartphones, better internet connectivity, and most significantly, the digital wallet, which allows for immediate withdrawal of winnings and payment of entry fees.

But there’s a fourth tool now available to the gaming industry; one they’re particularly hesitant to talk about. It is your data: when you like to play, who you lose to and win against, how much money you spend, the tables at which you like to sit, and how you respond to changes in gameplay. Deployed effectively, this data could take a potentially addictive product and make it impossible to resist. Since most of the gaming platforms interface with an external wallet, the wallet will also have data on how much a player spends on gaming. The wallet will see the frequency and volume of deposits and withdrawals over time. They will be able to understand the broader context of the gamers’ financial habits.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), gaming operators in Europe have to explain what data they collect and how they use it. Because of the economic costs of this, many well-loved games have had to shut down. Any new regulation in India would come down heavily on a fledgeling industry. But the laws must evolve, because this old industry has been transformed by the tools of surveillance capitalism. It’s not just that this house always wins, it’s also that this house knows who you are and how you play.

4) Interview with Howards Marks [Source: Farnam Street]
In this interview, Howard Marks talks about a wide gamut of topics covering how to think better, how to position yourself to get the odds on your side, a little bit of investing in market cycles, and lots more. On taking action in the stock market, he says that people tend to buy more when everyone is buying. In other words, emotion causes people to buy more, the higher prices go. Usually they look out for sales while shopping, but when it comes to stock market, they buy more when the prices rise.

He also talks about his views on universal basic income, technology, AI, machine learning and self-driving cars. He feels that self-driving cars will be a big issue. Not only will they put all the taxi drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers, limo drivers out of business, but think about the body shops. Because self-driven cars won’t have any accidents and the paint shops. And the insurance companies, because you won’t need insurance adjusters since there won’t be any accidents to inspect. And then take it further down, people won’t want cars. They’ll do with cars what they do today with bicycles. 


Lastly, talking about teaching his kids about money, he gives a few pointers. 1) Money is a very real thing, and it’s essential to develop good attitudes toward it early. You should not insulate your kids from the discussion of money. 2) You have to keep money in its proper place. And it should not be the be-all end-all, and if you’re at the dinner table, you should try to avoid saying, “Oh, that guy’s a millionaire, so he must be a good guy,” or, “That person is poor, so they must not have any merit.” And that’s really so important. 3) Avoid saying yes to everything that they ask for. We want to give them what we didn’t have, we want to give them what their friends have, we want them to feel good. And that’s what we should avoid.

5) Aggressive testing, contact tracing, cooked meals: How the Indian state of Kerala flattened its coronavirus curve [Source: Washington Post]
The companies in India can learn from Kerala how one can manage a crisis efficiently. Even though Kerala was the first state to report a coronavirus case in late January, the number of new cases in the first week of April dropped 30% from the previous week. With just two deaths, 34% of positive patients have recovered in the state, higher than elsewhere in India. “We hoped for the best but planned for the worst,” said K.K. Shailaja, the state’s health minister, while cautioning that the pandemic is not yet over in Kerala. “Now, the curve has flattened, but we cannot predict what will happen next week.” Kerala’s approach was effective because it was “both strict and humane,” said Shahid Jameel, a virologist and infectious disease expert.

Henk Bekedam, the World Health Organization’s representative in India, attributed Kerala’s “prompt response” to its past “experience and investment” in emergency preparedness and pointed to measures such as district monitoring, risk communication and community engagement. The health minister said six states had reached out to Kerala for advice. But it may not be easy to replicate Kerala’s lessons elsewhere in India. In more than 30 years of Communist rule, the state has invested heavily in public education and universal health care. Kerala has the highest literacy rate and benefits from the best-performing public health system in the country. It tops India’s rankings on neonatal mortality, birth immunizations and the availability of specialists at primary care facilities.

Kerala also announced an economic package worth $2.6 billion to fight the pandemic days before the central government instituted a harsh lockdown that left many states scrambling. It delivered uncooked lunches to schoolchildren, liaised with service providers to increase network capacity for Internet at homes and promised two months of advance pension. But there have also been some blips. The state was criticized for going ahead with a local festival in early March that drew thousands of people. Amar Fettle, the state officer responsible for health emergencies, said there was still room for improvement on aspects like social distancing in markets, cough hygiene and lockdown implementation.

6) Sanjiv Mehta of Hindustan Unilever on Future of Work, Jobs and Careers after Covid-19 [Source: YouTube; upGrad]
In this conversation with Ronnie Srewvala, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman & MD of Hindustan Unilever shares his views on Covid-19, and further elaborates on what the future holds. He says that the government has done a good job by locking down the country. But what would be the likely recovery path? He says that this would depend on a lot drivers, such as a degree to which the demand has been delayed, or the degree to which demand has been lost. He says that the Economists broadly sketch recovery into three broad scenarios, a V, a U or an L-shaped recovery. V being the best case and L being the worst case. Being an optimist, he feels India will go through a V-shaped recovery. 
Talking on the relevance of MBAs in today’s world, Mr. Mehta says that he is a firm believer that MBA is still relevant. The kind of skills it gives is important. It’s not that without an MBA you can’t succeed. But if you go to a good school, what will take you trial and error, many years to learn, you can back it in two years. He also feels that one should work in sales if you get an opportunity, as it hones your leadership skills. 

To senior managers, he says, “Become a learner yourself.” And it’s very important for each one of us, if we don’t want to be fossilized, to invest in learning. To reinvent yourself. If you don’t reinvent in an organization, the longevity goes away. Similarly, he says not to be worried about the technology. You need to have passion, and keep reinventing. Talking about which sectors will shine in next 6-12 months, he says healthcare will benefit. This is the time to build healthcare capabilities, and India can become the medical capital of the world.

7) Why Covid-19 is great news for big tech [Source: swarajyamag.com]
The Covid-19 cases refuse to flatten and have been surging globally, especially in Italy, Spain and the US. However, none of these nations come close to China which employed the might of its digital surveillance programme to flatten the curve — or perhaps, to flatten anyone disagreeing with the surveillance. In the United States or European Union, the mere thought of doing the same would be equivalent of a crime.

The Big Tech, however, has not shied away completely, and are using non-personal data sets (NPDs) to assist the government, local administrations, and citizens in the fight against Covid-19. Facebook is working on a ‘data for good’ programme that aids the curb of the outbreak by mapping population movement. Google has launched its own version of movement range trends in the form of mobility reports that capture data from users’ locations. While Apple has launched a screening website and app, helping people conduct a basic self-assessment test, Amazon has been the biggest facilitator for social distancing by cutting down people’s trips to the grocery stores and ensuring the delivery of online orders.
The buck does not stop here, for going forward, the likes of GAFA would compete for markets like India where the focus could (must) move towards indigenous capacity building or in markets like Africa and South America where they would have to encounter significant Chinese influence. A tech trade war, even before the Covid-19 outbreak, was anyway imminent. Covid-19 will merely accelerate it. Already, China is pushing forward its digital version of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which includes funding for telecom networks, e-commerce, mobile payment systems, and big-data projects across the world. Over $17 billion has already been extended in such loans and investments. Covid-19, while validating the existence of Big Tech in its current form, has also given it its next big disruption — the digital healthcare industry.

8) The U.S. vs. China: Who is winning the key technology battles? [Source: Livemint]
America has technological edge over all countries, but China is not very behind. China is slowly closing the gap. China’s progress has spurred President Trump’s all-out trade and economic battle with Beijing, encompassing tariffs, export controls and a crackdown on Chinese scientists allegedly stealing American companies’ secrets. The Trump administration is weighing new curbs designed to hamper China’s ability to make leading-edge semiconductors, according to people familiar with the matter. The chairman of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co. warned last month that Beijing would impose its own restrictions if the U.S. moves forward with that plan.


This piece throws light on how the technology battle between the US and China is shaping with some interesting charts. It further discusses who has an edge in terms of 5G, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, Semiconductors, and Autonomous Vehicles. While the US is leading in almost all these categories, China is not far behind. And with China’s increasing investments in technology, it might be able to close gap soon. 

On autonomous vehicles, the US is 2-3 years ahead of China due to head start in Silicon Valley businesses such as Google’s Waymo and General Motors Co.’s Cruise. Mr. Andrey Berdichevskiy, director of Deloitte’s Future of Mobility Solution Center says, “I expect U.S. and Chinese players to first become successful in their home markets, but regulations and consumer perception makes it harder for either side to flourish on the other’s territory without a local partner."      

9) Pico Iyer - ‘This moment moves us to think about life and death’ [Source: Livemint]
In this interview, essayist and novelist, Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer, known as Pico Iyer, throws light on why stillness is important in each one’s life. Talking about sights and insights, he says, “When I wrote a little essay for TED called The Art Of Stillness: Adventures In Going Nowhere, I was trying to suggest that empty streets might be less our problem these days than empty minds. It matters not how far you go, as Henry David Thoreau famously pointed out, the farthest commonly the worst; what matters is how alive you are.” 

On conquering solitude being mainly about managing diversions and distractions, he feels it’s less about “conquering” stillness than about making one’s peace with it. “I’ve noticed people talk a lot these days about “cutting through the noise." Which suggests that there’s so much clamour around, we can’t hear ourselves think (or not think)… We can’t hear anything wiser than ourselves, we can’t hear what the world is saying to us and we can’t hear one another,” he says. 

Though stillness is a luxury, he feels it’s a necessity to try to get it a little. And, of course, so many of our neighbours across the planet are caught up in warfare, or living on the streets, or so oppressed with immediate concerns—of trying to find food to last till tomorrow—that stillness can seem the last thing they need to think about. “Stillness," as defined in his book, is less about stopping movement than about stepping away from the world, the better to make sense of it and to gather one’s resources. Lastly, he says that this current moment is a pause.

10) You’re unhappy because you haven’t grown up [Source: Medium]
We all want to be happy, but rarely do we know what happiness is. We think of happiness as an inside job and unhappiness as an outside one. It’s not the external events that make us unhappy. Unhappiness is the result of a combination of behaviors, traits, thought patterns, and adaptations. We imagine that it is merely the result of external events, which is why we fear losing control. Some are happy even with little, and some are unhappy even though they have almost everything. 

It’s not about what’s around us but what’s within us — and almost all unhappy people have one specific personality trait within them. And that’s immaturity. When we are kids, we cry for our parents to fix our problems. As adults, we can only turn to ourselves. It’s at the root of every habit and behavior that ultimately leads us to be dissatisfied with our lives. When we do not take responsibility for our words and actions, we fire them off at random and end up severing relationships and hurting people. This is immaturity. 

When we grow and mature properly, we start taking responsibility for our appearance, our homes, our jobs, and — ultimately — our outcomes. Over time, we come to find that we source some of our greatest joy from doing so. The root of unhappiness is an unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s life. It is remaining in a perpetual childlike state and wondering why the world doesn’t respond.


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