Tag Archives: Freakonomics

Economics, Big Picture and Fun

Economics: Wonder how the local governments are going to handle the reduction in tax income?  Some places have it figured out…  If you haven’t gotten the ticket yet, it seems you will.

Big Picture: I am reading a very interesting book, The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life, by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot.  The idea is that we need to have some sense of numbers before we can make rational decisions.  The book is broken up into chapters like Count, Size and Average. In each, the authors try to show how a little thinking can help us understand what we read and how people can use numbers to confuse.  On a related point, the Freakonomics blog today talks about why it may be better for us to move to an SUV rather than a Prius.  How could this be?  Well, it has to do with our understanding (or lack thereof) of the most common statistic related to fuel economy, miles per gallon.

Fun: There is this group called Improv Everywhere.  They stage fun, surprising scenes.  For the past 8 years, they have staged the No Pants Subway Ride, where their teams (in 22 cities this year, with over 1200 participants in New York alone) get on the subway wearing only their undies.  No harm, no fuss, just bringing fun to the world.  Their latest escapade was to provide a wedding reception to a couple who had just been married by a judge in New York City. What a great gift. The world needs more Improv.

Economics, Technology and Behavior

Economics: The Freakonomics blog points us to Al Roth of the Harvard Business School.  He talks about the opposite of repugnance.  These are things that we as a society promote, even though there are no good financial or political reasons.  They include: monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, home ownership and donating to charity.

Technology: Lots of talk about this new product that Google introduced (not released) at their IO Conference, called Google Wave.  A good overview article can be found at Techcrunch, but if you have an hour and a half to spare, I heartily recommend you watch the keynote speech where the development team demonstrated the tool.  Wave solves some of the problems that we have today with out communications products, by providing a single repository for waves that can contain multi-media and can be edited by a specified group.  The good news is that Google is planning to release Wave as an open source product, so developers can use common interfaces to build new features, much like the Firefox browser.  This also means that Google will probably not be using this as an advertising vehicle. Lots of whiz bang stuff has been included like real time search, context sensitive spell check, easy two way integration with blogs and real time translation.

Behavior: My most popular column to date is the one I entitled “The Young Entrepreneur“.  Tomatonation wrote a version that was more life centered and less business life centered.  But it belongs on the reading list for any 25 year old.

Tools, Behind the Scenes and Entrepreneurship

Tools: Zamzar.com is an online file conversion tool. It will take almost any kind of document, spreadsheet, presentation, text file, compressed file, audio file or video file and convert it to another format.  One of the neat new tricks is to convert a document into an audio file.  It is not a professional reading the file, but it is serviceable.

Behind the Scenes: Another in a series of posts that discuss the creation of something that you take for granted from a behind the scenes viewpoint.  Today’s topic: Magazine Subscriptions.

Entrepreneurship: Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich is a polarizing guy.  Some people love him, others… not so much.  Today, he talks with leading venture capitalists about what they look for in new business pitches.  For all of you entrepreneurs looking for capital out there, this is required reading.

Marketing, Quotable and Big Picture

Marketing: The folks in the UK have found solace in a bit of WWII history.  They have resurrected a poster created in time of war that is eerily appropriate for our current economic conditions.  However, the entrepreneur in me, likes this version even better.

Quotable: Justin Wolfers in talking about economics partnerships: “The best way to keep learning economics is to find opportunities to be the dumbest guy in a very smart room.”. I think this is true for all endeavors.

Big Picture: Clay Shirky writes a nice long blog post about the history of the newspaper business and what comes next, by looking at history.

Management and Motivation

Management: I was catching up a back issue of Fast Company magazine.  In the December/January issue, there were a couple of very interesting articles. The first was a report on how John Chambers is changing the corporate culture at Cisco, a $26B company.  By developing  a decentralized decisionmaking structure, Cisco has been able to generate significant new business in a fraction of the time that it used to.  The second article talked about the future of solar energy, both thin-film and photovoltaic technologies.  The future for these technologies is very (excuse the pun) bright.

Management: I am continually amazed by the lack of leadership in the big corporate executive suites.  From Wall Street to Detroit to San Jose, it seems the only lesson they know is “Where’s Mine?”.  These titans of industry are now regarded by the average American as being slightly less honest and ethical than the average attorney.
Why is it that no corporate leader has said “We will not lay anyone off this year.”?  “We may have to reduce our profit levels from what Wall Street expects, but we are willing to take that hit for our employees and our nation. We’re all in this together.”  Wouldn’t this have enormous strategic value?
Then, we have Larry Summers, by all accounts a smart guy.  He was a former Treasury Secretary, then president of Harvard, now Director of the White House’s National Economic Council.  He has made the determination that AIG must pay $165M in bonuses to the derivative traders that were at the heart of the Wall Street collapse. Sure seems like sticking it to the shareholders in AIG (that’s us, if you weren’t paying attention, the US government owns 80% of AIG).

Three different points of view on this topic: Aaron Zelinsky writes about a creative way that the government can classify these bonuses as to make it a little more palatable to the owners. Another idea has been floated by Matt Miller, who wrote about another idea to help the AIG traders and executives get a little backbone. Eliot Spitzer took a more skeptical view on Slate.

Motivation: The Freakonomics blog tells the story of why basketball teams that are behind by one point at halftime have a higher game winning percentage.

Technology, Marketing, Ethics & Movies

Technology Paul Heinz wrote a thoughtful essay on Lost Arts.  It is a riff on all of those things that we used to be able to do. Now, technology has changed things, mostly for the better, but it is fun to wax nostalgic.

Marketing: Mental Floss has a good article on the marketing of the movie Coraline.  Lots of good tidbits here, but what hit me most was the viral marketing campaign around the alphabet cards.

Ethics: Freakonomics looks at the law of unintended consequences in two articles and how it affects the disabled.

Behind the Scenes: On my list of all time favorite movies is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  A transcript of the story conference between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan (the writer) has been posted to the web.  Lots of interesting examples on how creative people think and then execute in the film.

Talent, Wordplay, Entrepreneurship and Done

Talent: Stephen Dubner of the Freakonomics blog pointed to a poster that he found in his neighborhood in New York.  He looked at it as an interesting example of the Talent discussion that has been discussed by Colvin in Talent is Overrated and Gladwell in Outliers.  I look at it as an example of entrepreneurship starting early.

Wordplay: I love a pun more than the next guy, so I was tickled by this picture. On so many levels.

Entrepreneurship: Jason Calacanis, CEO of Mahalo.com, wrote a deeply personal and enlightening article in Business Week on What to do if Your Startup is Failing.  No sugar coating here, but required reading for any entrepreneur in this economy. If you are still looking for that perfect business idea, check into this post on fear.

Strategy: The chatter around the The Cult of Done Manifesto is increasing.  I agree with a lot of this, but what I really love are the posters.

Economy, Reputation, Entrepreneurship & Writing

Economy: Each of us is affected by the current economic situation. Bob is a sound engineer in LA.  He has been forced to declare bankruptcy and has started a blog to document his travel along the path.

Business: One of the key guiding principles that I use in my life (both business and personal) is that your reputation is crucial to your success.  You can’t afford to mess up on a project without figuring out how to fix it, possibly at a financial loss, for example.  I may be rethinking how often I publicly declare my feelings on reputation management. Freakonomics pointed me to an interesting interview with Bernie Madoff, several years ago.

Entrepreneurship: Sales has always been one of my weakest areas.  Today, Seth Godin talked about what are the prerequisites for sales at a first grade level, just perfect for me.

Writing: As part of this blog writing thing, I have had to find my voice as a writer. I know that some of you feel that I should probably find another one, but I believe that I need to use more of a strong active voice. Cindy has written a good post today on the ways that Eric Holder is using active voice and powerful verbs. I guess I could do worse than to try to emulate him.

Finance and Google

Only two topics today, although there is a lot of meat on the first one…

Finance: There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of publishing, especially newspapers.  The financial subscription and advertising models that used to work are not working now; actually they haven’t been working for years, but it has finally caught up with the publishers. 

Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time Magazine, wrote a Time cover story that advocated the utilization of micropayments.  In this model, the reader would pay some small amount to access the articles they wish to view.  The income generated in this manner would fund the operations of a complete news organization, advocates believe.

I am not so sure. There are a lot of problems with this idea, including the transaction costs and the nuisance of nickle and diming customers. Michael Kinsley, writing an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, agreed with me.

Jack Shafer believes that we already have a model for paying for discrete units of information.  We just need to think outside of the box, the browser box, that is.

The debate continues. On the Freakonomics blog, they asked 4 experts their thoughts on micropayments. Ian Ayres believes the solution to be creation of national endowments for investigative journalism by all world democracies.

Another interesting discussion is going on at Harvard’s Law School Blog, where Doc Searles and others are debating the micropayments issue.  A compelling side point in the comments talks about users willingly paying papers for coverage of certain topics.  In other words, changing the entire newspaper business model on its head.

Google: Google has made a couple of announcements this week that add some neat features to some of their products:

Google Docs has added the ability to have validation for cells in Spreadsheets.  This will allow you to check for valid email addresses or dates and not allow bad data to be saved to your spreadsheet. (via Blogoscoped)

GMail has added the ability to define custom colors to its screens.  Now, I am not a designer, so I will continue to use the themes that they announced in November, but if you have the color sense, you can now craft GMail into your style.