Thursday, January 12, 2017

Big Data Meets 2017 Resolutions


It's that time of year when we all resolve to be happier and healthier, and that often means better eating and more exercise.  But in a culture of "Big Data," why not look to data to know what makes us happier and healthier?  And what better place than the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has been following two cohorts of white men (sorry ladies) for almost eighty years, since 1938.

Now under the direction of Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the study monitors physical health and keeps tabs on social activities, quality of marriage, and job satisfaction.  The result?  Good relations are the best way to stay happy and healthy.  Younger folks are happier with more relationships, older folks with a few quality relationships. And everyone does better with a strong, supportive marriage.  "Over these 75 years," Waldinger says, "our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships with family, with friends, with community."


Fitbits and gyms, diets and triathalons may help, but it all comes back to people.


And now you know.


Happy 2017!


More Heat to Start 2017

When John Mandyck and I wrote Food Foolish in 2015, we focused first on hunger and then on its relationship to food loss and climate change.  While our interests ranged from carbon emissions to fresh water to urbanization, we never lost sight of the fact that 800 million people around the world are chronically hungry, and that climate change, at its roots, is a question of social justice.
An article in the recent issue of the MIT Technology Review ("Hotter Days Will Drive Global Inequality") makes this all too evident.  “Extreme heat, it turns out, is very bad for the economy,” the article states.  “Crops fail.  People work less, and are less productive when they do work.  That’s why an increase in extremely hot days is one of the more worrisome prospect of climate change.”  Scientists at Stanford and the University of California have now hung some numbers on this threat, estimating that the average global income is predicted to be 23 percent less by the end of the century than it would be without climate change.
Warmer weather, and weather extremes, are going to destroy a quarter of all economic wealth created by human beings by 2100.

Reframing the Question

An excellent article in the recent HBR by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg  (“How Good Is Your Company At Problem Solving?”) surfaced a problem that faces some of the most aggressive,  get-it-done entrepreneurs: They don't spend enough time framing the question before they rush in to solve it.

Here' how it works:  You own an office building.  Your tenants are complaining that the elevator is too slow. 
How do you solve the problem?

One perfectly good way is to upgrade the elevator or install a new one, making the elevator faster.

Another—and this is genius—it to put mirrors up around the elevator, which causes people to stare at themselves, an infinitely interesting activity.  People stop complaining.  The elevator is no faster, but the problem has been reframed from “How do we speed up the elevator?” to “How do we make the wait more pleasant?”

Entrepreneurship Past: Three Losses

Me in my Monstro nightmare.  More below.
We recently lost three good people of special note to folks interested in entrepreneurship.

The first, distinguished American historian Joyce Appleby, died on December 23, 2016 at age 87.  She began her career as a newspaper reporter but was told she “didn’t have the brassy spirit to be successful.”  So, while raising three children at age 32, she began her Ph.D. training in history, eventually writing several important books about the formation of the United States.  Appleby taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, for most of her career, was selected to serve as the Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University, and served as president of the Organization of American Historians.  She also challenged some of the giants of history over just what motivated the Founding Fathers--not bad for someone who started late, in a male-dominated field, and lacked a brassy spirit.
A classic for entrepreneurs
My favorite Appleby book is Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans.  Her research for this book included reading dozens of memoirs of Americans born in the early Republic.  She found her subjects to be optimistic and entrepreneurial in ways that sound very much like modern America.  “The elaboration of a national market depended upon many, many young men leaving the place of their birth and trying their hands at new careers,” she wrote. “The range and sweep of their entrepreneurial talents, defined best as the ability to take on novel economic undertakings as personal ventures, suggests the widespread willingness to be uprooted, to embark on an uncharted course of action, to take risks with one's resources. . .Those who did so turned themselves into agents of change.”  Doesn't this sound familiar?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Some Say Icebergs, With Apologies to Robert Frost (A Bauble)

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
Yet as for ocean ships that ply
On frigid seas where icebergs lie
If we insist they perish twice
I think we know enough of steam
To say that for destruction fire
Is also great
And plenty dire.