Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Lifestyle (There's a name for the blah you're feeling), Leadership (4 important lessons from the pandemic for the future of work), Healthcare (Inside India's big pharma-drug distributor team-up) and Climate Change (We're hurtling toward global suicide).

Published: Apr 24, 2021 06:29:21 AM IST
Updated: Apr 23, 2021 04:40:03 PM IST

Image: 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: Lifestyle (There’s a name for the blah you’re feeling), Leadership (4 important lessons from the pandemic for the future of work), Healthcare (Inside India’s big pharma-drug distributor team-up) and Climate Change (We’re hurtling toward global suicide).

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended April 24, 2021.

1)     How people get rich now [Source: paulgraham.com
This article talks about the way people make their fortunes have changed drastically over the years. Every year since 1982, Forbes magazine has published a list of the richest Americans. If we compare the 100 richest people in 1982 to the 100 richest in 2020, we notice some big differences. Previously, most common source of wealth was inheritance. By 2020 the number of heirs had been cut in half, accounting for only 27 of the biggest 100 fortunes. So, how are they making money now?

The main source of new fortunes now is starting companies. People get richer from starting companies now than they did in 1982, because the companies do different things. In 1982, there were two dominant sources of new wealth: oil and real estate. Of the 40 new fortunes in 1982, at least 24 were due primarily to oil or real estate. Now only a small number are: of the 73 new fortunes in 2020, 4 were due to real estate and only 2 to oil. By 2020 the biggest source of new wealth was what are sometimes called "tech" companies. Of the 73 new fortunes, about 30 derive from such companies. These are particularly common among the richest of the rich: 8 of the top 10 fortunes in 2020 were new fortunes of this type.

IBM, founded in 1896, took 45 years to reach a billion 2020 dollars in revenue. Hewlett-Packard, founded in 1939, took 25 years. Microsoft, founded in 1975, took 13 years. Now the norm for fast-growing companies is 7 or 8 years. Fast growth has a double effect on the value of founders' stock. The value of a company is a function of its revenue and its growth rate. So if a company grows faster, you not only get to a billion dollars in revenue sooner, but the company is more valuable when it reaches that point than it would be if it were growing slower. That's why founders sometimes get so rich so young now. The low initial cost of starting a startup means founders can start young, and the fast growth of companies today means that if they succeed they could be surprisingly rich just a few years later.

2)     There’s a name for the blah you’re feeling: It’s called languishing [Source: Indian Express]
The last one year has been tough on everyone. There are times when you might not feel like doing anything. There are times when you might have felt empty or without any purpose. It seems the best way to get forward is by giving it a name. Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness. Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.

So what can we do about it? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness. While finding new challenges, enjoyable experiences and meaningful work are all possible remedies to languishing, it’s hard to find flow when you can’t focus.

3)     4 important leadership lessons from the pandemic for the future of work
[Source: Forbes
Everyone knows that the current pandemic is going to change the way we work forever. More than 90% of executives said in a McKinsey survey that they expect the pandemic to fundamentally change how they do business over the next five years, yet few felt equipped to face those challenges. Here are four important leadership lessons that will endure beyond the pandemic on building a sustainable organization even in greater uncertainty and continuous change. 1) Trust as the Basis for Agility: As Amy Leschke-Kahle, VP of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company, an ADP company, stated in our interview, “what we learned from the pandemic was what we needed to learn for a long time.” She believes one of the biggest takeaways was the importance of employee trust, but we have been thinking about the dynamic of trust all wrong.

2) Empowering innovative cultures: As difficult as the pandemic has been, it has provided a unique opportunity, born out of necessity, for companies to innovate. Leaders are now looking to bring that creativity into 2021 and beyond. According to Gallup, leaders should start by focusing on the employee experience. Strong internal communications play a crucial role in keeping employees informed and engaged, especially in uncertain times. During the pandemic, many leaders spoke more often and openly with staff than they ever had before. 3) Building organizational resiliency: After nearly a full year of remote work and lockdowns, many employees feel anxious, stressed, and emotionally drained. 80% of respondents to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends survey identified well-being as an important or very important priority for their organization's success, making it the top-ranked trend for importance. Despite well-being as a top priority, many organizations miss the opportunity to integrate wellness into the design of their workflow.

4) Courageous leadership is fundamental: It is fundamental to the human condition. Leschke-Kahle summarizes it well when she says the best leaders ultimately create organizational norms that communicate, "I see you for all of you. I see you for the best of you." It's simple because it roots us in the most basic of things-our shared humanity. Yet it's profound because as we emerge from the crises we’ve faced, it shines a light on how we can use this unique moment in history to lead ourselves, our companies, and our nation to the future.

4)     End of the digital divide: Fast-spreading digital revolution offers a new growth path for India and other emerging nations [Source: The Times of India
Many developing countries are now catching up with the standards of the developed ones. Most of the credit goes to narrowing digital divide. India is home to as many new technology players today as France and Germany, and its companies are growing much faster. From Bangladesh to Egypt, it is easy to find entrepreneurs who worked for Google, Facebook or other US giants before coming home to start their own companies. There is a so-called Amazon of China, but there are now Amazons of Russia, Poland, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Local firms also dominate the market for search in Russia, ride hailing in Indonesia and digital payments in Kenya.

India ranks 12th in the world with digital revenues as a share of the economy, approaching 3%. In fact, since 2017 digital revenue has been growing in emerging countries at an annual pace of 26%, compared to 11% in the developed ones. Led by e-commerce, the pace of growth in India has been even faster with revenues growing by nearly 33% a year over the same period. The European Center for Digital Competitiveness scores G20 nations by pace of progress in digital ecosystems and “mindset”, and puts four emerging nations in the top 5: Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, China and Argentina.

The “digital divide” is narrowing, in many places. Most of the big countries where internet bandwidth and mobile broadband subscriptions are growing fastest are in the emerging world. Last decade, the number of internet users doubled in the G20 nations, but the biggest gains came in emerging nations such as Brazil and India, “narrowing the gap” in access to digital services. Since 2010, the cost of starting a business has held steady in developed countries while falling sharply in emerging countries, from 66% to just 27% of the average annual income. Entrepreneurs can now launch businesses affordably, organising everything they need on a smartphone.

5)     Why Ponzi schemes never go out of fashion
[Source: Livemint
Ponzi schemes have been running since many years now. Many Ponzi schemes also have a supposed “business model" to make it seem like a legitimate business generating revenues. The first lot of investors who get into the scheme and earn the high return on offer become its brand ambassadors, giving it a very strong word of mouth publicity, and attracting newer investors. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, money is being taken from newer investors to pay off the older ones. The most important characteristic of a Ponzi scheme is that they offer a high rate of return to investors. The question is how high is high. Charles Ponzi had offered to double investors’ money in 90 days. This implies a return of 100% in three months. If his scheme had lasted a year, it would have ended up giving a compounded annual return of a whopping 1500%.

In 2010, a Ponzi scheme called Speak Asia became the rage in India. This involved an initial investment of ₹11,000. Against this investment, the investors had to participate in two online surveys every week. For every survey, they were promised a payment of ₹500. This would mean an earning of ₹1,000 per week or ₹52,000 during the course of the year, an annual return on investment of 373% on the original sum of ₹11,000. Stock Guru, a Ponzi scheme which was busted in 2012, offered a return of 20% per month for the first six months. The principal amount invested was repaid to the investor over the next six months. But nothing could beat the sheer chutzpah of MMM India, a Ponzi scheme which hit the country in 2013. The website of the company showed that an investment of just ₹5,000 could be turned into ₹3.4 crore by the end of the year.

Many Ponzi schemes these days have some semblance of a business model, so as to make people believe that they are investing in a proper business rather than a financial scheme. In fact, many multilevel marketing (MLM) companies have turned this into an absolute art form. On the face of it, those who become a part of the MLM scheme are supposed to be selling a product, which can be anything from gold coins to health supplements or even washing power. To conclude, greed and herd mentality are the two main reasons why people keep falling for Ponzi schemes. The prospect of higher returns makes them not ask the most basic question: How will these returns be earned?

6)     Inside India’s big pharma-drug distributor team-up [Source: The Ken
The events of the last couple of years have culminated, in April 2021, in the quiet acquisition of two companies—market research firm AIOCD Pharmasofttech AWACS Pvt Ltd and business-to-business healthcare tech platform Pharmarack Technologies. On the surface, the deal is an unlikely one. The entity that acquired these two companies, DigiHealth Technologies, isn’t just a company that offers tech and marketing solutions for pharmacy chains. It’s a consortium of Indian drug makers that includes majors such as Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Cadila Healthcare Ltd, Lupin Ltd and Torrent Pharmaceuticals Ltd among others. In addition, AWACS is a joint venture between pharma distribution company All India Origin of Chemists and Druggists Ltd (AIOCD Ltd), and Mumbai-based market research agency Trikaal Mediinfotech. In short, it’s a union of pharma retailers, distributors, and pretty much everyone else that could possibly be a part of the drug distribution system in India.

These two entities—pharma companies and retailers and distributors—have traditionally been opposite sides of the story. The former wants a slice of the distribution pie, and better profits, while the latter wants better margins. In fact, the All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD; not to be confused with AIOCD Ltd)—an organisation of distributors—has threatened to boycott drug makers that do not offer a combined total of 30% margins (10% for distributors and 20% for retailers) despite the government’s orders to cap the prices of drugs. AIOCD’s members currently comprise around 11,000 distributors who supply to about 300,000 retailers. AWACS collects data on the sale of drugs from distributors and retailers and sells it under a subscription model. Pharmarack collects similar data and uses it to help distributors expand their business. Together, these two companies have representative data on which medicines are sold where and when in India.

Not only are big conglomerates moving in, behemoths Reliance and Amazon are keen on introducing private labels for drugs, priced lower than branded generics. The government, too, is trying to make cheaper medicines available by asking doctors to prescribe the molecule, instead of the brand. So far, distributors and retailers were voluntarily sharing data with AWACS for free, based on AIOCD’s goodwill. But most of them are unhappy, said Dilip Mehta. Mehta is a former president of AIOCD and one of its senior members as well as the head of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers Association (PWA). How much more value Indian pharma can create with the AWACS deal will only be evident over the next few years. With competition not far off, both sides of the fence— pharma companies and distributors—will have to find a way to work together to carve out what they can.

7)     How do we exit the post-truth era? [Source: The Walrus
Tackling fake news in this digital is surely a daunting task. There are many forwards doing the rounds on social media which are actually spreading fake news. We now consider disinformation a defining part of the contemporary experience. In 2016, Oxford Languages chose post-truth as its word of the year. The essential characteristic of our age, the accompanying press release stated, was the loss of a distinction between truth and feeling; we were entering an era in which “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

The term fake news became widely used during the 2016 US presidential election, when the internet was flooded with inaccurate information. A BuzzFeed News investigation at the time showed that many of these deliberately false headlines came from an unexpected source: content writers in Macedonia were profiting off the advertising revenue from the increased traffic on their sites. Governments and social media companies have employed various strategies to address the threat of disinformation, including closer scrutiny of political ads, flagging posts as “inaccurate,” or tweaking algorithms to favour reliable outlets. But these efforts have had little effect on the widespread production and sharing of disinformation.

Media-literacy campaigns often seem like the most promising solution to this problem: instead of simply giving people facts, we should teach them how to assess the quality of information on their own. But, as a group of researchers in Denmark recently concluded, people don’t spread fake news because they think it’s real. Media-literacy programs are grounded in the same kind of naive reasoning as fact-checking is: the idea that the spread of disinformation is caused by ignorance as opposed to by issues of polarization and distrust. The beginning to a possible solution is to realize that, although the world is politically divided in many ways, the main division is not between rational, intelligent people and irrational, emotional ones. Fact, opinion, and emotion often go hand in hand—in politics, journalism, and any kind of social interaction.

8)     We’re hurtling toward global suicide [Source: New Republic
Climate change was the top-most topic of discussion before the pandemic hit the world. But, it’s time to think again about our planet Earth. An eye-catching article titled, “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future”, was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science. The article was co-written by 17 scientists. the authors wrote, “humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity and, with it, Earth’s ability to support complex life.” As many as a million animal species—and 20 percent of all species—are facing near-term extinction. Humans have altered 70 percent of the planet’s land surface and “compromised” or otherwise despoiled two-thirds of its oceans, and the climate has only begun to warm. Humanity—or some of us, anyway—“is running an ecological Ponzi scheme in which society”—or some sectors of it—“robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

Those 17 scientists did not want you to despair. “Ours is not a call to surrender,” they wrote. It was meant as a kick in the ass—a reminder that our only chance is a thoroughgoing transformation. Specifically: “fundamental changes to global capitalism, education, and equality, which include inter alia the abolition of perpetual economic growth.” In 2019, 11,258 scientists from 153 countries signed a “Warning of a Climate Emergency” that called for “bold and drastic” changes to the economy, including a shift away “from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being.” Two years before that, the Alliance of World Scientists made a similar call in a “Warning to Humanity” that garnered 15,364 signatures. We are supposed to listen to science now. This is what the scientists are saying: Everything must change.

Even with the grim opportunity presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, which slowed the economy so much that growth in fossil fuel production dropped an almost unprecedented 7% last year, governments have so far dumped much more stimulus spending into high-carbon industries than into renewable energy. According to a recent Oxfam report, the richest one percent produce 100 times more emissions than the poorest half of the planet’s population, and the richest 5 percent were responsible for more than a third of all emissions growth between 1990 and 2015. Leveling this gross inequity is a question of survival. If we do actually listen to the science, then we understand what ghastly futures await us and we know how bold we must be to avoid them.

9)     Jeff Bezos says Amazon needs to do a better job for employees in his final shareholder letter as CEO [Source: cnbc.com
In his final letter to shareholders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos laid out a broad vision for the future of the company, committing to extend Amazon’s famous obsession over its customers to the same level of care for its employees. In his letter he says, “We’ve come a long way since then, and we are working harder than ever to serve and delight customers. Last year, we hired 500,000 employees and now directly employ 1.3 million people around the world. We have more than 200 million Prime members worldwide. More than 1.9 million small and medium-sized businesses sell in our store, and they make up close to 60% of our retail sales. Customers have connected more than 100 million smart home devices to Alexa.”

On creating a much better working environment for the employees, Mr. Bezos says, “Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success. We have always wanted to be Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company. We won’t change that. It’s what got us here. But I am committing us to an addition. We are going to be Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work.” Mr. Bezos also rejected claims that Amazon has cultivated a brutal workplace culture in its warehouses. “Our employees are sometimes accused of being desperate souls and treated as robots. That’s not accurate,” he said.

Mr. Bezos also took steps to ease shareholders’ fears about what a reimagined focus for the company might mean for Amazon’s future. He reiterated that it “remains Day 1” and highlighted continued growth at Amazon, including that the company now counts 200 million Prime subscribers, up from 150 million at the beginning of last year. “If any shareowners are concerned that Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work might dilute our focus on Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company, let me set your mind at ease,” Bezos said. “Think of it this way. If we can operate two businesses as different as consumer ecommerce and AWS, and do both at the highest level, we can certainly do the same with these two vision statements. In fact, I’m confident they will reinforce each other.”

10)     If aliens exist, here’s how we’ll find them [Source: nautil.us
In this article, two esteemed astrophysicists peer into the future of space exploration. Suppose aliens existed, and imagine that some of them had been watching our planet for its entire four and a half billion years. What would they have seen? Over most of that vast timespan, Earth’s appearance altered slowly and gradually. Continents drifted; ice cover waxed and waned; successive species emerged, evolved, with many of them becoming extinct. But in just a tiny sliver of Earth’s history—the last hundred centuries—the patterns of vegetation altered much faster than before. This signaled the start of agriculture—and later urbanization. The changes accelerated as the human population increased.

There’s no denying that NASA’s new Perseverance rover speeding across the Jezero crater on Mars may miss some startling discoveries that no human geologist could reasonably overlook. But machine learning is advancing fast, as is sensor technology. In contrast, the cost gap between crewed and autonomous missions remains huge. We would argue that inspirationally led private companies should front all missions involving humans as cut-price high-risk ventures. There would still be many volunteers—a few perhaps even accepting one-way tickets—driven by the same motives as early explorers and mountaineers. The phrase “space tourism” should be avoided. It lulls people into believing such ventures are routine and low-risk. If that’s the perception, the inevitable accidents will be as traumatic as those of the space shuttle were. These exploits must be sold as dangerous, extreme sports, or intrepid exploration.

We are perhaps near the end of Darwinian evolution, but technological evolution of intelligent beings is only just beginning. It may happen fastest away from Earth—we wouldn’t expect (and certainly wouldn’t wish for) such rapid changes in humanity here on the Earth, though our survival may depend on ensuring the AI on Earth remains “benevolent.” Few doubt machines will gradually surpass or enhance more and more of our distinctively human capabilities. Suppose that there are indeed many other planets where life emerged, and that on some of them Darwinian evolution followed a similar track to the one on Earth. Even then, it’s highly unlikely that the key stages would be synchronized. If the emergence of intelligence and technology on a planet lags significantly behind what has happened on Earth then that planet would reveal no evidence of ET. Earth itself would probably not have been detected as a life-bearing planet during the first 2 billion years of its existence.

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