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Ideas from HBR

I’ve started listening to podcasts recently, and one that seems to work really well for me is the Harvard Business Review Ideacast. Ok, it’s a little bit B-School, a little bit world-of-work, but it’s surprisingly interesting despite the apparently staid context in which it exists. Here’s some interesting episodes I’ve listened to recently, along with ideas in them:

  1. The “Jobs to be Done” theory of innovation

    It’s an idea that’s come up on my radar recently, but I had assumed it was a new spin on the Getting Things Done productivity method. Turns out, it’s a different way of looking at how people interact with things and companies. In brief, when you’re buying a product (or a service) from a company, it’s not because you want the product, it’s because there’s a proverbial “job” to be done – whether that “job” is satisfying your hunger, or getting to a place; framing it that way rather than buying a burger or jumping in a cab lets you identify better what the actual activity being performed is, and this helps identify areas and ideas for innovation.

    The podcast isn’t necessarily enough to re-orient you towards this way of thinking all on its own, but it serves as an interesting introduction.

  2. How Work Changed Love

    A strange topic for HBR, but interesting insight into where “dating” and modern relationships have emerged from… a quick run down:
    – Until the 19th century, courtship was supervised – the interactions between unmarried men and women was mostly in family or community situations, possibly arranged by someone. This gives me a different perspective on the oft-complained about arranged marriage thing in Indian culture – it’s not that far removed!
    – As women entered the workforce, the context changed with more people away from home and meeting in “unsupervised” ways – so dating as it’s known today didn’t really kick off until the 1910s and 1920s. That’s really recent as far as relationships amongst humans comes from – just three generations removed from where we are today, and yet it’s such an integral part of the youth experience today.
    – Economic mobility has reduced since the 1960s – and one of the reasons for this is that with women becoming more equal, particularly with higher education, there’s less reason for men to look across class lines for relationships.
    – The median age for women at first childbirth is 25, while the median age for women at first marrage is 27. That’s a big swing in how marriage is perceived.
    – Marriage is being looked at as a “capstone” instead of a “cornerstone” – it’s what you get to at the end of your growth as an adult, rather than a foundation.

    I’m genuinely interested in how these things have played out.

  3. The connection between Speed and Charisma

    A few hundred milliseconds are the difference between someone being perceived as charismatic and those perceived as far less so. This is interesting to me because there’s definitely a difference in the speed of my response driven by my comfort and ease with some people, so I wonder if the perceptions of these people are entirely different to those closer to me simply based on the speed of my responses.

  4. Bonus, from the Ezra Klein Show – “We have locked in centuries of climate change”

    Because it’s depressing as shit, but everyone needs to hear it. The world is not in a happy place when it comes to climate change. Be aware, be active, be deliberate in your actions.

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Google now tracking more personally

Google’s relaxing a previous barrier between DoubleClick, their online ad division that controls 75% of the market, and the rest of Google’s data that can track you directly tied to your Google account, as reported by ProPublica.

What does this mean? Well, up until now, you could have a DoubleClick tracking cookie and it would make ads follow you around the web – those creepy ads on random sites that somehow knew what you searched for on eBay 15 minutes ago – but it wouldn’t necessarily be tied into browsing activity elsewhere.

Now, if you’ve got a Google account that you’ve signed into, Google reserves the right to tie those two together – and not just on the same browser or device, because hell, Google knows who you are on your phone as well as your PC or iPad.

So: Google knows who you are, they know who you get in touch with, they know what you’re searching for, and they know where you’re touching the web because any page with ads by Google or their DoubleClick subsidiary are now tied in together.

How long until any page with Google Analytics is tied into the same thing?

This is the price we’re paying for everything being “free” on the web – increasingly trading privacy, increasingly exposing ourselves to more and more specific advertising. Some might say good, irrelevant ads are useless, but at what point does it get to the “creepy” side of the coin?

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Photos from NASA

These photos of NASA robots and vehicles in a minimalist cleanroom style is just gorgeous and perfect – and there’s more with context here on Wired.

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Couldn’t ask for better. These are fascinating and beautiful.

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The importance of context

This post on Stratechery is focused on the emergence of wearables, particularly with the new Snapchat Spectacles, but its opening makes a brilliant point about why the iPhone defined the modern smartphone – it was all about timing it right:

Think about everything that happened between 1992 and 2007 that, at least at first glance, didn’t seem to have anything to do with smartphones:

  • The personal computer moved out of the office and into the home
  • The world wide web was invented and an entire ecosystem was built from scratch
  • Personal electronics proliferated: while by 1992 most people had or used calculators and Walkmans, the 90s saw the introduction of PDAs and digital cameras; the 00s brought handheld GPS devices and digital music players

The reason why we consider 2007 as the start of the smartphone era is that while there were plenty of smartphones released before then… it was the iPhone that, thanks to its breakthrough user interface and ahead-of-its-time hardware, was able to take advantage of all these developments.

Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPhone missed the camera – phone cameras were already a thing even in “feature phones”, albeit terrible – but that was on par with the “iPod, Phone, Internet”, and arguably still remains the key pillars for smartphones today. However, all of these wouldn’t even have been possible if not for the context of the industry – illustrated by a phone from 1992 that had a touch screen and apps… but sent faxes, because it didn’t have the ability to do much else.

Wearables like the Apple Watch or Fitbit (or even my favoured Pebble) have two tentpoles – health (pumped up pedometers), and notifications (“I’d like to use my phone less.”). Wearables like Google Glass or these new “Spectacles” offer different propositions, but no-one’s quite yet cracked the “must have” tentpole that makes them the New New Thing. Maybe we haven’t seen it yet, maybe wearables is too diffuse or personal a field to be barking up, but until it cracks the “makes my life easier” list, I’m not sure we’ll see quite the space we saw 8-10 years ago emerging in the smartphone space.

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Under the Ice

Free diving under ice lakes:

What an amazing world under there. That’s still planet Earth.

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Jury Duty

Thoughtfully written behind-the-scenes peice from a juror serving on a homicide trial:

At some point, one of the older women gets out her makeup kit and gives Ally a makeover. This is literally a scene from The Breakfast Club. Edith looks up from a game of solitaire and casually mentions that she actually thinks the murder was committed by the accomplice, who was never found and is not on trial. But since the defendant’s lawyer did such a poor job exonerating him, she concludes, she’s going to deliver a guilty verdict. My jaw drops. No one questions her obviously flawed reasoning, because she’s on their side.

Molly mentions that she watched 12 Angry Men over the weekend.

“It’s so good,” she says. “It’s just like this.”

Brilliant perspective on how people interact and how flawed jury trials can easily become. It takes just one informed person acting on principle to swing that, and it’s scary how easily it could go the other way.

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The Little Mermaid for the 21st Century

This is brilliant:

A photo posted by Rich McCor (@paperboyo) on

Great photos from this guy, holding little cut outs in front of monuments to transform the scene.

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Patrick Rothfuss’ Thoughts on Pratchett

Patrick Rothfuss writes on Terry Pratchett’s passing – and interestingly, he’s writing as a fan, not a “fellow writer”:

Odds are, if you know much anything about me, you know I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for years. If you follow me on goodreads you’ve seen me write reviews so gushy that they border on the inarticulate.

I didn’t know him. Honestly, I didn’t even know too much about him. I saw him speak once at a convention in Madison, and got to meet him very briefly. I wrote about it on the blog.

He goes on to talk about the exact impact Pratchett had on him, because of this quote from Pratchett in an interview about why he writes in “fantasy” only:

Pratchett:  Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy… Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown.

This turns around Rothfuss’ view on his own work:

Even these days, people look down on fantasy. They think of it as kid stuff. They dismiss it as worthless. They say not real literature. People say that *NOW* despite the fact that Game of Thrones and The Hobbit and Avengers and Harry Potter are bigger than The Beatles.

Then I read that article, and it filled me with hope. With pride.

If there’s one thing I’ll say about this, it’s much the same connection – although I’m by no means a fantasy writer, or even a budding one as Rothfuss apparently was when reading the quote – that Fantasy is too easily looked down on as being somehow childish or escapist, when ultimately it is the fiction, the stories that have held through time for humanity. To escape into a world of fantasy is what we’ve done for millennia – and to look down on this is to deny the reality of where we came from.

So I’ll continue to read fantasy, without any pretensions to being more “mainstream”, because really, how would life be without worlds like Tolkien’s, or Jordan’s, or Martin’s to escape to, or wit like Pratchett’s to laugh at?

It’d be boring, that’s what.

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Elon Musk, The World’s Raddest Man

Part 1 of a multi-part series, profiling Elon Musk:

In college, he thought about what he wanted to do with his life, using as his starting point the question, “What will most affect the future of humanity?” The answer he came up with was a list of five things: “the internet; sustainable energy; space exploration, in particular the permanent extension of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code.”

He was iffy about how positive the impact of the latter two would be, and though he was optimistic about each of the first three, he never considered at the time that he’d ever be involved in space exploration. That left the internet and sustainable energy as his options.

Pretty sure the heftiest question on my mind in college was “How can I get away with doing the least amount of work for the most amount of reward?” and went shallower from there. Definitely keen to find out more.

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The Ripple Effects of the price of Oil

An analysis of the ripple effects of cheap oil

The [1974] oil shock altered power relations between the world’s main geopolitical players and created new ones. Higher oil prices had many unexpected consequences—from breeding oil wars to fueling the international spread of Islamic fundamentalism thanks to funding from newly super-rich countries like Saudi Arabia. Today’s drop in crude-oil prices, which began in the summer of 2014, may be as disruptive as the quadrupling of oil prices that created the oil shock of 1974.

It’s amazing how much of an impact the price of oil has on the geopolitical and financial landscape – and it would be fascinating to see the development of oil alternatives shake out into an entirely new landscape. Underlying all that is a fundamental factor that plays into the climate change discussion as well – it’s all about energy, and humans need it increasingly so to maintain the modern living standards we’ve become so used to in the developed world.

This goes without examining the more micro-level changes – with low oil prices, will airfares drop? Will people suddenly take more holidays in further off destinations? Will people resume buying high fuel consumption cars, too late for car companies like Ford & Holden to reverse their courses? How does that change cultural consciousness around energy use? All those things changed because the nominal price for something so fundamental to our lifestyle changes one way or another; is the price oil a proxy for all manner of things?