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Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Technology (The story behind Kindle designs), Sports (Pain, pressure and pleasure of tennis top couple), Business (Inside the battle for the soul of HBO), Parenting (Do these 7 things if you want to raise kids with flexible, resilient brains), and Productivity (What high achievers do differently)

Published: Dec 12, 2020 10:00:00 AM IST
Updated: Dec 18, 2020 05:47:28 PM 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: Technology (The story behind Kindle designs), Sports (Pain, pressure and pleasure of tennis top couple), Business (Inside the battle for the soul of HBO), Parenting (Do these 7 things if you want to raise kids with flexible, resilient brains), and Productivity (What high achievers do differently).

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended December 12, 2020-

How the Kindle was designed through 10 years and 16 generations [Source: techcrunch.com

Kindle is surely one of the widely used electronic devices for reading. In this article, Amazon’s Chris Green, VP of Design at its Lab126 hardware arm, talks about the design choices that have defined and redefined the device, and the reasoning behind them. Mr. Green has been at Lab126 for a long time, but not quite for the entire Kindle project. He starts by saying that his first day in office was crazy. That was the day when Kindle was launched. For the next decade, he’d work on getting the Kindle closer to what he called the “gold standard”: paper.

“We can never be better than paper, but we can be as compelling,” he said. “We really didn’t want any bezel or bling or even page-turn buttons — everything we’ve done over 15 generations has been to reduce it to basically a piece of paper.” While the earlier versions of Kindle had keyboard, the fourth-generation Kindle was the first to do away with the keyboard, producing a notably smaller device. Slowly and steadily the experience of owning a Kindle was enhanced with minor but vital tweaks and add-ons.

The Oasis represented the largest change to the design of the Kindle perhaps since the loss of the keyboard. It also signaled further commitment to the e-reader as its own entity that only needs to replicate the printed page in some ways. Mr. Green said that the departure from the old style was a refreshing one for him. He was extremely optimistic as to the future of e-readers in general. It’s a great example of how a device with a single purpose is often the right tool for the job. The Kindle business, he pointed out, is booming: “The last Prime Day was the best sales day ever in the U.S. — and the market is just growing. It’s taking off,” he said. “We’re going to be here for a long time.”     


2)    Tony Hsieh’s American Tragedy: The self-destructive last months of the Zappos visionary [Source: Forbes

Tony Hsieh, the legendary entrepreneur behind Zappos, was known as an epitome of happiness. Hsieh arguably had a bigger effect on online retail than anyone short of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos himself. In investing $350 million into downtown Las Vegas, he lovingly turned a seedy part of town into an arts, cultural and tech hub, with a community of Airstream trailers, one of which Hsieh lived in for years. As a business evangelist, the 2010 title of his New York Times number one bestseller said it all: Delivering Happiness: A Path To Profits, Passion and Purpose. Hsieh died from his exposure to a shocking house fire in Connecticut, where he had been staying. He was just 46.

From Bill Clinton to Ivanka Trump to Jeff Bezos, thousands of people weighed in to share memories, photos and videos of a man who was widely loved, preserving the legacy of a tech entrepreneur who made an impact not just on his peers, but on his employees and even complete strangers, each reciting stories of exceptional generosity, humanity and vision. Taken together, the memories of Hsieh paint an image of a man whose mission in life was to create happiness. But while he directly (by the tens of thousands) and indirectly (by the millions) delivered on making other people smile, Hsieh was privately coping with issues of mental health and addiction.

ShoeSite, later renamed Zappos, came to define Hsieh’s career, as he ultimately invested and then took control of the company. Hsieh made clear from the beginning that it wasn’t just shoes they were selling. In 2005, Hsieh sent out a company email, requesting employees submit what the company’s purpose was. The result was a series of values that defined the company, including valuing employee inputs through their personalities over their position. The key trait they were looking for: passion. “Chase the vision,” Hsieh told Forbes in 2008. “The money and profits will come.” Talking about his son’s died, his father Richard said, “There is no human that did not fall in love with Tony’s humanity, which is why so many have been left heartbroken.”  

3)    Pain, pressure and pleasure of tennis top couple - Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf [Source: Hindustan Times

In order to enjoy the fruits of success, struggle is the key. And that’s what Andre Agassi, Chairman of the Board, Andre Agassi Foundation for Education and Founder, Agassi-Graf Holdings and Stefanie Graf, Chairman of the Board, Children for Tomorrow and founder, Agassi-Graf Holdings, talk about in this article. “We all struggle. It might look like a beautiful bed of roses because you’re holding a trophy, but the pain and suffering that goes into it creates the same anxieties in all of us,” said Agassi, who has given a riveting account of his fall from the top in the mid-1990s due to injuries, drug use and a broken marriage with Brooke Shields in his autobiography, Open.

No such emotional roller-coaster for Graf, a 22-time Grand Slam champion who was glued to the top of the world rankings for a record 377 weeks, it’s safe to assume? “I was a good actress, then,” Graf quipped. “Oh, I’ve had my ups and downs and challenges. In tennis, every day you go out on the court and strive to reach your limits. And it’s difficult to find that emotional balance. You might have it physically, but sometimes emotionally it’s hard to, day after day, ask the best of you. When you get closer to the top, the expectations and demands that you have, you don’t always feel that way but you’ve still got to ask the best of you. It’s hard, and you don’t realise the amount of pressure that sometimes you ask of yourself, not even from the outside. You’re far from having that equilibrium that you hope.”

The two have also found their calling in philanthropy in their post-tennis life. While Agassi has formed the “Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation” to provide educational opportunities for kids, Graf has established the “Children for Tomorrow” that supports children from war-torn places. “I felt like my lack of choice, being forced into tennis at a young age and out of school, left me very disconnected with my life,” Agassi said about taking the plunge into charity. “At one of the lowest points of my career is when I decided to give children with no choice that opportunity. Getting involved in this gave me the platform to move forward with my educational objectives.”

4)    The pandemic may be encouraging people to live in larger groups [Source: The Economist

Joint families were the way of living previously. But as people got good education and jobs, they started living in nuclear families for freedom and privacy. That’s the trend now. But, this might change soon due to Covid-19. As lockdowns have limited socialising beyond cohabitants or small groups known as “pods” or “bubbles”, stories abound of people moving in with others to lessen isolation or share housework. In fact, the pandemic may merely have accelerated an existing trend. More and more, people in the rich world are once again choosing to live together.

From hunter-gatherers to workhouses, people lived in big groups, often including non-relatives, pooling resources such as food and sharing tasks such as cooking and child care. It is only after industrialisation, when work moved outside the home, that people in the Western world started to live in nuclear families. In much of the world living in bigger family groups never stopped. Almost two thirds of households are extended family ones in Senegal, for example.

Proponents of communal living say it has made lockdowns more bearable. Lisa Feardon, a doctor who worked long, arduous shifts, says returning to her home at The Collective (London), a British outfit running co-living buildings, was “a lifesaver”. In a normal rented flat she would have “just come home and collapsed doing nothing,” she says. “But as everything is under one roof here I was able to still have some sort of work-life balance.” Will people start living together again, instead of living in nuclear families? Time will tell.


5)    The home of the Sopranos is under siege: Inside the battle for the soul of HBO [Source: cnbc.com

This article talks about the transition from Time Warner to WarnerMedia, and the bumps that have happened along the way. In December 2018, John Stankey, AT&T veteran running WarnerMedia at the time, sat down with HBO CEO Richard Plepler and his leadership team. Mr. Plepler laid out a simple path forward. Plepler's team estimated this plan would guarantee $7.5 billion in annual revenue plus future upside depending on the success of the new content. Stankey heard them out. Then, he ignored their advice. Stankey had bigger ambitions for streaming video. Less than three months later, Plepler announced he was leaving WarnerMedia.

Along the way, Stankey has dismantled the old Time Warner, spurring dozens of executives from all parts of the company to depart. He is attempting to funnel all of the company's resources from cable, film, and HBO into HBO Max. His vision has irritated some recently departed veteran WarnerMedia executives, who question Stankey's knowledge of media. For now, investors don't like what they see. AT&T is trading near a 10-year low. Meanwhile Verizon, AT&T's closest competitor, is trading near an all-time high. The most glaring difference between the two companies? Verizon didn't spend $170 billion buying Time Warner and DirecTV in the past five years.

Although Stankey was new to media, he suffered the same disease as every other media executive: Netflix envy. He thought Plepler was aiming too low. Plepler's plan to generate $7.5 billion in annual revenue was 12% more than HBO's eventual 2019 revenue. But it was a far cry from the $20 billion Netflix generated. Even if Stankey can learn from the strategic errors AT&T with DirecTV, many former executives feel the damage to HBO's internal culture is irreparable. HBO has churned out critically acclaimed material for nearly two decades. Series like "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City," and "Game of Thrones" are credited with sparking a new golden age of television and supplanting movies as the most prestigious form of video storytelling.


6)    Only time will tell who is right, bullish markets or bearish commentators [Source: Business Standard]       

In this article, Akash Prakash of Amansa Capital talks about the bullish and the bearish investors and commentators, and their point of view. After being down 40% at one point, the Indian equity markets are now up double digits for the year. Powered by a stronger-than-expected economic recovery, massive corporate cost-cutting, record low interest rates and surging foreign flows. But, will this sustain? And if so, how far? Many commentators are bearish on the Indian markets and are concerned about the long-term structural growth rate for India.

While most are bullish, we are also witnessing very concerning and negative articles on India from highly respected and knowledgeable observers of the Indian economy. These commentators are not being negative for the sake of it; they are genuinely worried about the Indian economy and its outlook. Their basic concern is around the long-term structural growth rate for India. Has it come down to sub-5 per cent? It is obvious that India will see a rebound in FY22, owing to the base effect and normalisation. The question is what happens after that.

As of today, all major banks have raised equity and are extremely well capitalised; the large corporate non-performing assets (NPAs) problem is recognised and provisions have been made, the NBFC crisis has mostly played out. Liquidity conditions have never been easier, and mortgage rates are near all-time lows. It is common in India to dismiss the markets as casinos and having no signalling ability. Globally, equity markets are regarded as being part of the leading economic indicators. Policy-makers take their movements seriously. Today, there is a clear divergence. Only time will tell who is right, the bullish markets or the bearish commentators. It will be an interesting 12 months.


7)    Five annotation strategies that will make your charts stand out [Source: Sloan Review

Charts are an integral part of any research paper to show data. Applying the right annotations, small additional pieces of visual elements, to the data on a chart can bring the insights within the material to life. Here are five strategies that you can use to make the chart look compelling.

1) Highlight data with a pop of color: Draw attention to your data by using color highlights on the most important pieces of information. Use neutral colors for the rest of the chart.

2) Add labels to charts to communicate what’s important: Charts often include a lot of numbers and data, and it can be hard for a viewer to know where to look. To draw attention to the most important points, call out statistics with labels or large type in addition to using a contrasting color.

3) Bundle with brackets to make charts easier to read: Bracketing data on a chart shows the differences or summations of different elements by incorporating some math. This simple annotation helps connect data points and weave a story about how much data has changed or stayed constant.

4) Delineating data shows shortfalls and surpluses: Adding a simple horizontal line to indicate a baseline turns a simple chart into a clear visualization of where benchmarks are being met and where they are not.

5) Dissect data by exploding it out: To provide additional information on one data set, create a secondary element on the chart where you highlight subcategories with colors and graphics.


8)    Nancy Duarte explains the power of what it means to share a story so that it engages [Source: YouTube; Duarte, Inc.] 

You have collected all the data, facts and figures for your report. But, is that enough? Too much data and dry facts bore your audience, unless they're interwoven in a story that engages and moves your audience. Nancy Duarte, a communication expert, starts by saying how important stories are. Cultures, laws and beliefs have been passed down from generations to generations of humankind. That’s how powerful stories are. So, what is it about a story? We get excited. What’s going to happen next? We are engaged.

There are basic two types of writing. One is a report. A report is exhaustive with facts, figures, tables, and details. So if you work for a large consultancy which pays you do a lot of research, you do your research and come up with an exhaustive report. But, to convey and communicate our research, we need a different creative process to follow than report-making. The second one is story. It’s basically dramatic writing. These are the two extremes, and you’ve got a job to amalgamate these both and come up with a convincing presentation! 

While facts and figures are a must for such exhaustive report, molding it into an interesting story is also of utmost importance. Once you’ve got the data, in some places, you can turn that data into a compelling story. Just like a great story, you will be able to change people’s beliefs and make them believe you. So, one needs to mix a little of data with a little of story, and change all of your presentation into wonderful explanations of your idea. That’s how you stand out from your competitors.


9)    Harvard psychologist to parents: Do these 7 things if you want to raise kids with flexible, resilient brains [Source: cnbc.com

Molding a child’s brain is a task of utmost importance for the parents. Based on years of research in neuroscience and psychology, here are seven parenting rules to help your kid build a brain that is flexible and therefore resilient.

1) Be a gardener, not a carpenter: Carpenters carve wood into the shape they want. Gardeners help things to grow on their own by cultivating a fertile landscape. Likewise, parents can sculpt their child into something specific, say, a concert violinist. Or they can provide an environment that encourages healthy growth in whatever direction the child takes.

2) Talk and read to your child a lot: Research shows that, even when children are just a few months old and don’t understand the meanings of words, their brains still make use of them. This builds a neural foundation for later learning.

3) Explain things: It can be exhausting when your child is constantly asking, “Why?” But when you explain something to them, you’ve taken something new and novel from the world and made it predictable. Brains work more efficiently when they predict well.

4) Describe the activity, not the person: When your son smacks your daughter in the head, don’t call him “a bad boy.” Be specific: “Stop hitting your sister. It hurts her and makes her feel annoyed. Tell her you are sorry.” The same rule holds for praise.

5) Help your children to copy you: Have you noticed how some tasks that seem like work to you (i.e., cleaning the house or weeding a garden) can be play to a child? Children learn naturally by watching, playing, and most of all, by copying adults. It’s an efficient way to learn, and it gives them a sense of mastery.

6) Expose children (safely) to lots of people: According to research, babies who interact regularly with speakers of different languages may retain critical brain wiring that helps them learn other languages in the future.

7) Applaud agency: Children love to try things on their own without your help, like getting dressed or assembling puzzles. This is good. You want them to develop a sense of agency. Even actions that look like misbehavior may be a child’s attempts to understand their effect on the world. Knowing when to step in and when to step back can be challenging. But if you’re always present, guiding your child and taking care of their every need, they don’t learn to do things themselves. Sometimes, letting them struggle builds resilience and helps them understand the consequences of their actions.


10)  What super productive people do differently [Source: HBR

Why do high achievers are able to perform better than the rest? The author of this article interviewed a number of rock star authors, musicians, entertainers, entrepreneurs, and business leaders to find the answer. There were four tips that stood out:

1) Batch your meetings: The idea is that you only look at your inbox two to three times a day or pause notifications for a period of time so that you can focus on work without distractions. Batching meetings, calls, or virtual events can be equally effective. Research from Ohio State University has shown that when we have a meeting coming up in the next hour or two, we get 22% less work done compared to when we have no upcoming meetings at all.

2) Avoid using the mouse: A study by Brainscape found that most people lose an average of two seconds per minute of work by using their mouse instead of keyboard shortcuts. That’s eight days a year! The benefits of learning keyboard shortcuts can be enormous for your productivity. Fortunately, most software shares the same shortcuts, meaning the more you learn, the faster you will become across the board. “I almost never ever touch the mouse,” Rahul Vohra, founder of Superhuman (an email software that claims to provide the fastest email experience in the world) told. “And that’s a rule that I abide by, not just for how we built Superhuman, but in almost every piece of software I use,” Vohra said.

3) Nudge your way to better behavior: If you’re trying to set better work habits, Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress and Automattic, told that small behavioral hacks can lead to the biggest payoffs. “If what is closest to my bed when I wake up is the Kindle and not the phone, I’m more likely to read,” said Mullenweg. “But if the phone’s on top of the Kindle I’m more likely to look at the phone.”

4) Read your work out loud: Whether you like it or not, we are all writers. Every day, our success at work or at school is in part determined by how well we can communicate our thoughts through email, reports, projects, and perhaps even articles or books. Being productive is not about doing more, but about doing things in an efficient manner.


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