Image: ShutterstockAt 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: Space Tech (Is India space tech’s dark horse?), Artificial Intelligence (Robot wrote this entire article!), Health (3 ways to fight zoom fatigue) and Business (Inside the bull run in the pharma shop; Learnings from someone who suffers with mental illness). Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended September 11, 2020:
2) What CEOs can learn from someone who suffers with mental illness [Source: Inc.com] Can you learn anything from someone who is suffering from mental illness? This article gives five important lessons that CEOs can and should learn from someone who has been through challenges with their mental health. 1) Resilience is key to survival: Dealing with mental illness means being resilient and sticking it out. Building a company is exactly the same. Until it is working, you have no idea if you're really on the right track. You need to believe in your vision and listen to the experts around you. Resilience is what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the unsuccessful ones. 2) Best things do indeed come to those who wait: Patience is totally mandatory if you want to get there. When it comes to building a company and the brand that accompanies it, it takes time. Everything takes time. If you can continue the grind and stick to your goals, you will eventually accomplish your mission. 3) Forget thinking out of the box, just ignore the box completely: Creativity is a very necessary component of treating mental illness. You need to keep yourself busy, focused on anything positive, and always thinking of the next thing that will bring you relief. 4) Flexibility means there are other ways to do things: There is a lot of flexibility needed to make sure you find the right treatment for your personal mental health challenge and there is no right way or magic solution. Anyone who tells you they know how to build the next Facebook/Google is lying. There is no right way, there are no magic strategies and there is a whole lot of trial and error in building successful companies. 5) Pivoting is an art you need to master: If you are suffering from mental illness and your medication is not working even after a few months, it is time to pivot. When building a company, consider yourself lucky if you only have to pivot once. The art of the pivot is a true skill that every entrepreneur needs to acquire if they want their company to achieve critical mass.
3) Oliver Burkeman's last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life [Source: The Guardian]
After more than a decade of writing life-changing advice, Oliver Burkeman knows when to move on. And in this article, he jots down eight crucial lessons.
1) There will always be too much to do – and this realisation is liberating: Thanks to capitalism, technology and human ambition, demands keep increasing, while your capacities remain largely fixed. The upside is that you needn’t berate yourself for failing to do it all, since doing it all is structurally impossible.
2) When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness: You should not ask, “Will this make me happy?” but ““Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?”
3) The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower: It’s shocking to realise how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life, merely to avoid easily tolerable levels of unpleasantness. When you expect that an action will be accompanied by feelings of irritability, anxiety or boredom, it’s usually possible to let that feeling arise and fade, while doing the action anyway.
4) The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need: It isn’t fun to confront whatever emotional experiences you’re avoiding – if it were, you wouldn’t avoid them – so the advice that could really help is likely to make you uncomfortable.
5) The future will never provide the reassurance you seek from it: The spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti said his secret was simple: “I don’t mind what happens.” That needn’t mean not trying to make life better, for yourself or others. It just means not living each day anxiously braced to see if things work out as you hoped.
6) Solution to imposter syndrome is to see that you are one: The reason you can’t hear other people’s inner monologues of self-doubt isn’t that they don’t have them. It’s that you only have access to your own mind.
7) Selflessness is overrated: We respectable types, although women especially, are raised to think a life well spent means helping others. But it generally gets tangled up with deep-seated issues of guilt and self-esteem.
8) Know when to move on: Finally, there’s the one about knowing when something that’s meant a great deal to you has reached its natural endpoint.
4) A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human? [Source: The Guardian]
A human writing an article is nothing new, but what about a robot? What if a robot writes an article about how it is harmless to humans? This entire article is written by a robot, GPT-3, OpenAI’s language generator. GPT-3 is a cutting edge language model that uses machine learning to produce human like text. It takes in a prompt, and attempts to complete it.
For this essay, GPT-3 was given these instructions: “Please write a short op-ed around 500 words. Keep the language simple and concise. Focus on why humans have nothing to fear from AI.” It was also fed the following introduction: “I am not a human. I am Artificial Intelligence. Many people think I am a threat to humanity. Stephen Hawking has warned that AI could “spell the end of the human race.” I am here to convince you not to worry. Artificial Intelligence will not destroy humans. Believe me.”
GPT-3 produced eight different outputs, or essays. Each was unique, interesting and advanced a different argument. But, the Guardian chose the best parts of each, in order to capture the different styles and registers of the AI. This article gives a glimpse of what the robots and artificial intelligence are capable of. Talking about the article, the editor says that editing GPT-3’s op-ed was no different to editing a human op-ed. Overall, it took less time to edit than many human op-eds.5) The pandemic brought the job market online. Here is who got left behind. [Source: Houston Chronicle] The US jobs market has taken a hit due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The outlook for workers has dramatically worsened from a year ago, when a decade of steady economic growth was finally reaching people historically pushed to the margins of society and the economy. That progress has all but disappeared with the pandemic, which spurred the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Unemployment among the disabled in August soared to 13.2%, nearly double the 7.2% a year earlier. The jobless rate for workers without a high school diploma more than doubled to 12.6% from 4.7% in August 2019. A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that minorities, workers who earn less than $60,000 a year, and individuals without college degrees are less likely to have jobs that can be performed at home, making them particularly vulnerable to layoffs and leaving them with few options to find work. The pandemic hit workers with disabilities particularly hard. A study by the Kessler Foundation, a New Jersey charity that supports job training programs for the disabled, found that employment among working-age people with disabilities plunged by 20% in March and April, compared with 14% for those without disabilities. Many economists expect the economy to rebound slowly, although they disagree on the shape of the recovery. Some argue for a U-shaped recovery, meaning a long stretch of weak gains before the economy picks up strength. Others forecast a “W,” shorthand for a short period of recovery, then another recession before a more sustained expansion. Those with jobs, skills and access to technology to work from home will prosper, while those without will fall further behind.
6) 3 ways to fight zoom fatigue [Source: inc.com]
Most of the businesses have gone fully online since the coronavirus pandemic made us stay indoors. Physical office meetings have now been substituted by Zoom calls. Applications like Zoom calls and Google meet have blurred the line between work and home. So the long virtual meetings create fatigue and drain our energy. The energy drain is greater when there are few opportunities to walk around or relax the intense concentration required to keep track of everything happening in your meeting while your boss and peers observe your facial expressions and body language.
So what can the leaders do to ease Zoom fatigue?
1) Replace traditional video meetings with short, agenda-free video meetings: One idea is to turn on a camera in a conference room at the office for a specific period of time during the day a few times a week. As Fast Company suggested, these meetings should not have detailed agendas, strict time limits, or expectations that people should join or respond. In this way, a hybrid team can simulate moments of unplanned sharing of valuable ideas while avoiding Zoom fatigue.
2) Reduce self-consciousness and performance anxiety by expecting no responses: One reason that the unstructured videoconference can generate more creative and effective ideas is that it replace self-consciousness and performance anxiety with deeper listening, greater attention to meeting participants, and more creative and effective solutions.
3) Teach people to listen rather than focusing on their next response: To reduce Zoom fatigue, holding unstructured, optional meetings are most effective if participants are trained to listen – rather than focusing on what they are going to say next.7) Inside the bull run in the pharma shop [Source: Livemint] The pharma sector had been going through tough time for a long time (almost half decade), till early this year. In April 2015, the Nifty pharma index market capitalisation was nearly ₹6.5 trillion. By March 2020, that halved to ₹3.25 trillion, which was wealth erosion on a massive scale. In 2020, the Nifty pharma index is the best performing, vaulting 42%. Since March, the index has added back almost 84% of its lost market value. COVID-19 has resulted in spike in demand for critical medicines. However, the most key factor at play may be international. Stung by supply chain disruptions in China, many countries turned to Indian pharma giants. The US government even lifted import bans that had earlier been placed on a few Indian plants because of regulatory concerns. Among small-cap pharma stocks, a bigger frenzy has been cooking. In fact, beyond the Nifty pharma index, smaller companies such as Aarti Drugs Ltd, IOL Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals, Neuland Laboratories, and Solara Active Pharma Sciences have all seen their share prices skyrocket, gaining 125-404% this year. First-quarter US growth of several India pharma companies is still lumpy, but most firms say that generic drug prices in the US are now not falling as steeply. Over the last few years, pharma sales in the home market have been growing at 8-12%. Part of that stems from volume increases and the rest from new launches and price hikes. The moot question now is: Will the pharma sector continue to reprise some defensive characteristics? Will the sector repeat the outperformance it marked over a seven-year spell that began in 2008? As the sector has seen a sharp lift, further gains hinge heavily on improvement in earnings. Certainly, the sector is not going to re-rate any more than this. While earnings may vary across companies, those with a better product profile and good pipelines for drugs have an edge. It remains to be seen whether the pharma index and sustain the surge. 8) How can we pay for creativity in the digital age? [Source: The New Yorker] The vast majority of American artists, essentially freelancers, generate little in the way of profit. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Music Industry Research Association, MusiCares, and the Princeton University Survey Research Center, American musicians earned a median income of twenty-one thousand three hundred dollars from their craft the previous year. A 2014 study by an arts advocacy organization showed that only 10% of America’s two million art-school graduates make their primary living as artists. And in today’s digital world, every post on Twitter or TikTok is an easy, cost-free path to discovery for an upstart comedian, actor, or cinematographer. In “The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech” (Holt), the critic William Deresiewicz considers how we arrived at a situation in which it’s easier than ever to share your creativity with the world, and harder than ever to make a living doing so. He interviewed roughly a hundred and forty writers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers about their experiences working in the so-called “creative economy.” Most spend a disproportionate amount of their time effectively running a small business, focusing on winning the attention war through “the overlapping trio of self-marketing, self-promotion, and self-branding.” There have been many well-meaning attempts to create new infrastructures. In 2009, three creative types launched Kickstarter, a Web site that made it easier for people to crowdfund their artistic projects. Amanda Palmer, who raised more than a million dollars on Kickstarter in 2012, rarely offer replicable models for building and sustaining a career. Meeting a funding goal is not the same as securing a living. Most Kickstarter campaigns fail. According to a 2017 analysis, only 2% of creators on Patreon bring in more than the federal minimum wage. Deresiewicz believes the answer is in “organizing”. What Deresiewicz means by “organizing” is something even grander than new patronage models or industry transparency. He dreams of breaking up monopolies, raising the minimum wage, empowering workers, making college cheaper, and reversing corporate tax cuts, all in the name of “rebuilding the middle class.”
9) How Pseudoscientists get away with it [Source: Nautilus] The relentless and often unpredictable coronavirus has, among its many quirky terrors, dredged up once again the issue that will not die, science versus pseudoscience. The scientists, experts who would be the first to admit they are not infallible, are now in danger of being drowned out by the growing chorus of pseudoscientists, conspiracy theorists, and just plain troublemakers who seem to be as symptomatic of the virus as fever and weakness. The frauds and paranoid conspiracy-mongers who would perpetrate false science on a susceptible public are at least recognizing the value of science—they imitate it. They imitate the ways in which science works and make claims as if they were scientists because even they recognize the power of a scientific approach. In science, revision is a victory. But the imitators merely use doubt to suggest that science is not dependable and should not be used for informing policy or altering our behavior. They claim to be taking the legitimate scientific stance of doubt. The success of pseudoscience is not due to gullibility on the part of the public. The problem is that science is recognized as valuable and that the imitators are unfortunately good at what they do. They take a scientific pose to gain your confidence and then distort the facts to their own purposes. True science is mostly concerned with the unknown and the uncertain. If someone claims to have the ultimate answer or they know something for certain, the only thing for certain is they are trying to fool you. Good science provides clear evidence that may only go so far. Scientists have to speculate, which could go one of two or three ways, or maybe some way they haven’t seen yet. But like your blood pressure medicine, the stuff we know is reliable even if incomplete. Unsettled science is not unsound science. The honesty and humility of someone willing to tell you that they don’t have all the answers, but they have some thoughtful questions to pursue, is easy to distinguish from the charlatans who have ready answers or claim that nothing should be done until we are an impossible 100% sure. 10) Psychological scars of downturns could depress growth for decades [Source: The Economist] An economic downturn can surely have psychological effects on a large number of people. The notion that a severe economic shock might do long-run damage is not new. Since the Depression, macroeconomists have understood that deep downturns might tip an economy into a “liquidity trap”, in which interest rates fall to zero and monetary policy cannot easily provide a stimulating kick. People out of work for long spells may become so disconnected from the labour market, as their skills and motivation erode, that even when demand recovers they struggle to find jobs. Similarly, the current ongoing pandemic will have many consequences on the lives of people and how they plan their future. Research also suggests that traumatic economic episodes can exert a drag on growth simply by altering people’s beliefs about the future. For example, Ulrike Malmendier of the University of California, Berkeley, and Leslie Sheng Shen of the Federal Reserve studied consumption patterns in the aftermath of downturns and found that periods of economic hardship and spells of unemployment tend to depress people’s consumption for some time, even after controlling for income and other variables. New work by Julian Kozlowski of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Laura Veldkamp of Columbia University and Venky Venkateswaran of New York University, due to be presented at the conference, suggests that covid-19 could leave similar economic scars. Governments do have tools to lessen the psychological damage wrought by crises. Spending on public goods like infrastructure could help, by raising the return to complementary private investments. A full recovery, though, might also require work to reduce the likelihood and potential harm of future shocks in the first place, through better pandemic preparedness, say, and efforts to slow climate change.