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    Several years ago, I found myself frequently debating with leaders and teams about the merits of a metaphor: Are our work lives marathons or sprints?

    What I eventually realized, however, is that they are neither. A marathon gives off the impression that work is a slog we have to push through. A sprint leaves us out of breath and energy pretty quickly–although some have argued that the analogy was supposed to instruct us to perform sustainably. After all, we need time to recharge if we want to perform.

    Lately, I’ve been likening work life to non-contact boxing. The sport trains us to confront conflict and complexity with maximum impact and minimal harm–a more apt metaphor for what it takes to be a great colleague or leader today. Here are the reasons why:

    Boxing teaches you how to deal with internal conflict

    When clients approach me, they generally think the problem is other people, but end up resolving a conflict with themselves. When part of them isn’t in alignment, they end up clashing with colleagues.

    At work, these days, many of us feel fearful and angry–whether we’re dealing with a competitor who is disrupting our industry, or we’re the ones doing the disrupting. We are exhausted, and negative emotions, such as outrage, intensify as a result.

    Boxing happens in rounds, so you’re forced to take a break to pause, reflect, rest, and recover. Boxing is also intrapsychic. You are your toughest opponent.

    When I coach executives for a “fight” against colleagues (such as a negotiation), I employ a metaphorical mirror. Regardless of whether we are prone to fight or flight, flop, freeze, or friend, we’re fighting against ourselves. In boxing, to get out of our own way, we need to move swiftly (“fast feet”), block ourselves for protection, slip out of the way of what is coming, and weave to avoid mistakes we’ve made before.

    We can train our reflexes so that behaviors that serve us best are more automatic. When we activate all of our senses, including intuition, we equip ourselves to recognize when we’ve been here before. In business, as in boxing, pattern recognition connects us to the past even as we cultivate a capacity to stay present and alert to a possible future.

    Boxing also teaches you how to fight with an opponent

    Stress can compel us to react in a negative way. But boxing lets us cultivate a healthy defense. We learn to be agile, and we adopt a bouncy stance. This prevents us from getting hit when we’re in danger, particularly in instances when attacking or running away is not ideal.

    In life, danger can come in all sorts of forms, and the appropriate response will vary in across instances. Boxing teaches us when we need to slip away from a situation, when we need to (forcibly) advance, or defend ourselves.

    Because boxing requires us to learn a sequence of moves that become automatic, it allows us to add value with our whole brain by switching between the Task Positive Network (task-focused, more left-brain or tactical, analytical) and Default Mode Network (unfocused, more right-brain or big picture, creative). Both modes are essential for leadership and business success.

    It’s more than a metaphor

    You might be wondering, what does it matter which sport we use to conceptualize success our working lives?

    In neuroscience, neural circuits that function to fulfill one purpose sometimes fulfill another. This process, called neural reuse, is an effective tool for learning and a fast track to meaning at work.

    A strong metaphor can act as an effective reminder for our brain. We’re living in an era and a political climate in which aggression (including gender discrimination, racism, and other human rights violations at work) is all too common. It is natural, but not helpful in all situations, to assume a role of victim, perpetrator, or savior. Non-contact boxing offers us agency and flexibility, and trains us to adopt a growth mindset.

    Yes, we need stamina. Yes, we need breaks. But we also need a regime that keeps defenses healthy and maintains strength and courage to optimize our performance when we do put ourselves out there. Sure, we might miss some punches in the process, but we’ll do so with grace, and we’ll also learn to hit our targets with accuracy, speed, and power.


    Dana Bilsky Asher, PhD, is the founder of RELATED ExPERIENCE (Rx), a culture strategy and leadership development consultancy focused on relational leadership. Follow Rx on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


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    The growing complexities of the streaming wars, and what they will mean for consumers, came into view this week when WarnerMedia reportedly reached an agreement with Netflix to keep the (still) popular sitcom Friends on its streaming service while also allowing it to be available on WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming apps, which are set to launch in late 2019.  

    WarnerMedia’s strategy boils down to wanting to have its cake and eat it, too. Netflix, after all, pays a hefty sum for the licensing rights to Friends, which is a top performer on the service. In 2014, when Netflix first bought those rights, it paid $500,000 an episode. Granted, that fee will diminish once the show isn’t exclusive to the platform, but WarnerMedia clearly doesn’t want to give up a significant revenue stream from Netflix. And in the meantime, it’s reportedly squeezing $100 million out of Netflix to allow the company to have Friends for one last exclusive year, in 2019. 

    The strategy is in contrast with that of Disney’s, which is making content on its own entertainment streaming app Disney+, also due out next year, entirely exclusive. To that end, it is wrapping up its lucrative licensing deal with Netflix in order to make its Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Disney Animation titles (as well as all kinds of original content) only available on one streaming product: Disney’s. 

    The Disney app will be all about bejeweled brands in a you-can-only-get-this-here setting. CEO and chairman Bob Iger has said that the service’s TV shows and movies will be presented in separate categories: Marvel, Star Wars, etc. Whereas Randall Stephenson, chief executive of WarnerMedia parent AT&T, puts the emphasis on getting content out to as many people as possible. In November, speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s Tech D.Live conference, he said, “‘[W]hen you have premium content, distribution is everything. And broad and wide distribution is something I feel very strongly about . . . do I care if Friends is shown on Netflix and on a WarnerMedia SVOD service? Probably not.”   

    Granted, Disney can afford to cling more devoutly to exclusivity, given how many beloved brands it has under its umbrella, and how faithfully they all adhere to the same family-friendly category. With HBO, Warner Bros., and TBS, WarnerMedia’s content is a bit more diffuse. But given the growing competition in streaming—Apple is also getting into the game, and Netflix and Amazon are upping their content spending—it’s curious that WarnerMedia doesn’t want to differentiate itself more emphatically with TV shows and movies that can only be seen in one place. If you’re a Friends fan who already has Netflix, what’s the incentive to add on another subscription service just to get more of the same?   

    And no one should underestimate the passion of Friends fans. Over the weekend, when the show’s Netflix page was updated to say it would be leaving the service at the end of the year, complaints raged on Twitter and other social media sites. 

    Adding to the complexity is that despite WarnerMedia’s stance on Friends, the company’s chief executive, John Stankey, has also said that WarnerMedia shows will indeed migrate back from other streaming platforms once WarnerMedia launches its apps. Last week he said to analysts, “Some of the incumbents should expect that their libraries are going to become a lot thinner.” 

    So what does this mean for consumers? Mainly, that they’ll have to do their homework to figure out what services have what content, and that curating television is about to get a whole lot harder.  


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    The workers have weighed in, and the best companies to work for run the gamut of industries—including tech, food, travel, and apparel, according to Glassdoor’s extensive annual survey. Among the large corporations highly rated by their employees, Bain & Company, Zoom Video Communications, and In-N-out Burger cinched the top three spots with close to perfect ratings.

    1. Bain & Company (4.6 rating)
    2. Zoom Video Communications (4.5)
    3. In-N-Out Burger (4.5)
    4. Procore Technologies (4.5)
    5. Boston Consulting Group (4.5)
    6. LinkedIn (4.5)
    7. Facebook (4.5)
    8. Google (4.4)
    9. Lululemon (4.4)
    10. Southwest Airlines (4.4)

    Facebook, which was No. 1 last year, dropped to No. 7 for 2019, going from a 4.6 rating to a 4.5 rating among U.S.-based employees. This marks Bain’s fourth appearance in the No. 1 spot since 2008. Google and Apple were the only other companies that have made the list each year since its inception.

    Glassdoor’s ranking algorithm takes into account a number of attributes from tens of thousands of employee reviews, including the company’s overall rating, career opportunities, compensation and benefits, culture and values, senior management, work-life balance, the likelihood it would be recommended to a friend, and a six-month business outlook.

    Culture is very important to employees, as evidenced by the number of comments related to the work environment at the best companies. “Bain fosters a really supportive and fun work environment,” according to one associate there. An account executive at Zoom reported, “Fantastic company culture of ‘Happiness.’ You feel it every day and you can’t wait to come to work because you feel “cared for.”

    Opportunities for advancement also got mentioned by workers. An In-N-Out database administrator said, “They offer great training and have a great support structure,” while a software engineer at Procore reported opportunities for career growth. “Procore is all about making you better and letting you follow your interests.”


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    You can fill a room with studies on leadership that hail the importance of being a likable, honest, caring, and modest boss.

    In the work world, however, that’s not what people want most. When people have a chance to choose whom to work with, and their own success depends in part on those people, a new study finds that cold competence becomes more important and likability less so.

    When money is on the line, in other words, most people would rather work for a very competent jerk than a nice but less competent boss.

    “It should be obvious, but it’s not,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, who coauthored the study with Peter Belmi at University of Virginia. “If you believe the literature, you’re supposed to be honest, modest, and authentic. But if you look at actual leaders, that describes nobody running either a company or the government. It isn’t Jack Welch, or Larry Ellison, or Steve Jobs. It’s not Donald Trump.”

    To be clear, Pfeffer is not arguing that companies should hire obnoxious bullies just because they’re ruthlessly competent. In fact, the study cautions that ignoring the value of “soft contributions,” such as the ability to foster collaboration, can undermine a team’s performance in the long run.

    Can they hit the ball?

    What Pfeffer is saying, however, is that people are surprisingly hardheaded, analytical, and “instrumental” about sizing up work partners and bosses. In a trio of studies, he and Belmi show that this is especially the case in situations where a person’s compensation depends on the performance of his or her teammates.

    “If you’re building a baseball team, you don’t care whether a player is nice–you want to know if he can hit the ball,” Pfeffer says. “If you’re looking for a surgeon, you don’t ask about personality.”

    In the new paper, Pfeffer and Belmi focused on how “reward interdependence” affects people’s preferences for competence versus likability.


    Related: The 4 types of bosses–and how to deal with them


    In one experiment, for example, the researchers surveyed 443 working adults over Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. The participants were asked to imagine that they were investment bankers who had to decide between four competing job applicants.

    Overall, 77% said they would prefer the candidate who had been described as “highly competent” but “not very warm, friendly, or sociable.” Only 23% preferred the candidate described as “not very competent” but very sociable.

    That preference for competence over social warmth was higher, at 83%, for people who were told that their pay would depend in part on the performance of their entire team. By contrast, just 71% of those whose pay was based only on their own performance put the priority on competence.

    In a separate study, Stanford students were put into what they thought was a real-life situation. They were told that they’d be paid to participate in a series of lab experiments and that they would spend “quite a bit of time” with their partners over the next five weeks. Then they were asked about the kind of partner they’d prefer.

    As in the other experiment, the students were also divided between an interdependent group, where each person’s pay would depend in part on the team’s performance, and a second group, where pay would be based only on individual performance.

    Here, the contrasts were even more striking. Fully 72% of those in the interdependent group picked competence over sociability, while 59% of the students in the independent group picked sociability over competence.

    Pfeffer says that makes sense.

    “If there aren’t any consequences, then of course you are going to prefer people who are likable and fit your norms of social desirability,” he says. “But if your success depends on how well those people perform, which is the case in many organizational settings, then you’re going to emphasize competence.”


    This article was originally published on Stanford Business and is republished here with permission.


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    From the time they were first invented in 1888 through the middle of the 20th century, all straws were paper. Older people might remember trying to drink milkshakes through straws that fell apart after a few sips. Plastic slowly began to supplant paper in the 1950s, though, and paper straws were swiftly swapped out for the more durable alternative. By the late 1960s, Aardvark, a family-owned straw company that traces its origins back to the original paper straw, had completely switched its product to plastic.

    [Image: Aardvark]

    While sturdier, though, those straws–along with other plastic products–wreaked havoc on the environment. Today, the world produces around 300 million tons of plastic, which is made from crude-oil chemicals that seep into waterways. Around 4% of global oil that’s extracted becomes plastic, and another 4% is used to power the manufacturing process. And once plastic is made, only around 9% of it is ever recycled–much of it ends up in the oceans, where it’s damaging marine life.

    [Photo: Aardvark]

    As awareness has grown around the damaging effects of plastic on the world, environmental groups like the Ocean Conservancy and the Surfrider Foundation began to call for a transition away from all single-use plastic. In doing so, they landed on straws as a focal point. The small pieces of plastic are very difficult to recycle, and when swallowed by birds, turtles, and other sea creatures, they cause injury. David Rhodes, global business director for Aardvark, recalls being approached by environmental activists in the early 2000s. They had identified the company as one of the oldest straw manufacturers in the U.S., and asked if Aardvark would consider converting its product back to its original paper form.

    In 2007, Aardvark reintroduced the paper straws–albeit in a more modern form. With a proprietary formula, Aardvark creates paper straws that are durable, safe for human use (Rhodes has said he’s willing to be filmed eating the paper, glue, and ink that go into the straws), and marine-degradable and compostable.

    As the efforts of environmental activists reached the ears of businesses and political leaders, many also began looking for alternatives to plastic, and found them in Aardvark’s revamped paper straws. The steakhouse chain Ted’s Montana Grill was the first retailer to approach Aardvark with a request for a deal that would help them phase out plastic straws across all its locations.

    After that, growth remained steady, Rhodes says. Sales of paper straws were doubling every year since 2007. “But fast-forward to 2016 and 2017, and something changed,” he says. “Now, we’re seeing a 50-x increase in demand.”

    [Image: Aardvark]

    What’s driving it, Rhodes says, are the same forces that encouraged Aardvark to switch back to paper straws in 2007. They’ve just grown bigger. “The snowball has been building for a while,” he says. But newer activist groups like the Lonely Whale, founded by actor Adrian Grenier, and The Last Plastic Straw, started a louder call for retailers and municipalities to phase out plastic straws (these phase-outs, it should be noted, are much more complicated for disabled straw users). “All these groups that have been working on the plastic issue started to come together to call for an end to plastic straws,” Rhodes says.

    The pinnacle, he adds, was the announcement last fall that Seattle would completely ban plastic straws in 2018, becoming the largest metro area in the U.S. to do so after an extensive lobbying campaign by the Lonely Whale. Seattle was followed by California cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Carmel, Berkeley, and Malibu, as well as Miami Beach in Florida and Monmouth Beach in New Jersey. New York City has legislation banning plastic straws pending. Outside the U.S., Scotland will ban plastic straws by 2019 and the whole U.K. is moving in this direction, Vancouver and Aruba have already done so, and Taiwan will ban single-use plastics, including straws, by 2030.

    [Photo: Aardvark]

    On top of that, private companies continue to drive the trend. Alaska Airlines has banned straws, the food service company Bon Appétit, which serves stadiums like AT&T Park, the Getty Museum, and numerous colleges and universities, is phasing out plastic straws from its 1,000 cafes. Starbucks is also phasing out straws. SeaWorld and aquariums, perhaps obviously, have also been leaders. Once Aardvark introduced custom printing in 2015, brands began using the straws to get additional branding exposure; Rhodes points to a frozen-drink straw emblazoned with the Bacardi logo as an example. They’ve also pioneered a way to make durable, bendy paper straws to make the products accessible to people with mobility needs.

    For Aardvark, this boom in demand has been, of course, good for business. But it’s also put a strain on the company’s operations. Its Fort Wayne, Indiana factory was chugging along when growth was more modest, but its struggled to meet the demand spikes following bans like those in Seattle. “It can be frustrating,” Rhodes says. Large orders, at the current factory, can take up to 12 weeks to fulfill. “Our position right now, when we meet with localities and companies that want to switch to paper straws, is: ‘Don’t go too fast,'” he adds. Currently, Aardvark doesn’t have the capacity to immediately fulfill orders of the magnitude that would enable, say, New York City, to completely switch to paper straws.

    But they’re setting themselves up to be able to do so. In August, Aardvark was formally acquired by the paper products company Hoffmaster. The acquisition presents a good business opportunity for both–with demand for paper straws booming, Andy Romjue, president of Hoffmaster, estimates that paper straws could quickly grow to 50% of the market share for straws, up from the less than 1% it’s previously commanded. To that end, Aardvark and Hoffmaster will be building out a new factory in Fort Wayne, slated to open in 2019, to manage growth. They’ll be hiring around 150 new employees, and while the companies won’t disclose how many people currently work at Aardvark’s factory, the new hires represent “a significant increase,” according to Romjue.

    One of the main complaints about the focus on plastic straws is that, while numerous, they only account for a tiny fraction of overall plastic waste–just around .03%. But both environmental advocates and paper straw manufacturers like Aardvark are not discouraged by the statistically small impact of what they’re doing. For one thing, paper straws are a simple starting point, something that could wake people up to the problem of single-use plastic–and the potential of alternatives to it–without asking them to dramatically shift their lifestyles. And the fact that Aardvark is building out an entirely new factory for plastic alternatives should demonstrate that this type of change could soon come–probably faster than you might expect–to other plastic-dominated sectors.


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    The 76th Annual Golden Globes will kick off awards season on Sunday, January 6, 2019. Before you can start planning your nominee-themed Golden Globes party menu (Atlanta-style barbecue, House of Abundance tablescape inspired by Pose, Barry pie, and Killing Eve cocktails?), you’ll need to know who the actual nominees are. To get a jump on it, tune into the ceremony where the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will announce the nominees for its film and TV awards, which is taking place this week.

    When are the Golden Globes nomination announcements?

    The nods will be announced on Thursday, December 6, at 8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT. Set your alarm now!

    Where can you watch?

    The nominations announcement will stream on the Golden Globes’ official Facebook page, no cord, TV, or exclusive VIP pass required, but sorry to pop-culture fanatics who closed their Facebook accounts in the wake of the company’s many scandals.


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    Burger King is running a clever promotion in order to get people to use its mobile app. You can buy a Whopper for only one cent using the app if the Burger King you are buying it from is within 600 feet of a McDonald’s, reports CNBC. The app uses geofencing to determine the user’s location to a McDonald’s, and if they are within 600 feet, the deal will be enabled. Once they order the one-penny Whopper in the app, the app will give them directions to the nearby Burger King where they can pick their order up.

    Burger King’s app can be downloaded for Android or iOS here. The one-cent Whopper promotion runs from now until Wednesday, December 12th.


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    A 2017 New Yorker cover by R Kikuo Johnson painted a dystopian scene. Robots pace and trundle past a homeless human kneeling at their feet, while one deigns to lower its gaze to flip a few coins in his cup. The image expressed perfectly the pervading, and misplaced, pessimism around the impacts of automation not just among East Coast sophisticates, but across the U.S. and the developed world. In fact, it is a view that has even infiltrated one of the last pockets of optimism about the future: the wide-eyed utopianism of Silicon Valley.

    Tech Support by R. Kikuo Johnson. [Image: R. Kikuo Johnson (illustration)/The New Yorker]
    When even the technorati are starting to agonize over the future of artificial intelligence and the perils of automation, you have to wonder. Elon Musk–often a champion of the human ability to improve its condition through material progress–is becoming fearmonger-in-chief of the artificial intelligence apocalypse: “There certainly will be job disruption. Because what’s going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us . . . I mean all of us.”

    The most widely held fear, and one that taps into our earliest fears about industrialization, is of mass unemployment as robots take most of the jobs. Other critiques of the proliferation of artificial intelligence and increased automation are more nuanced. Some say that it will drive even greater inequality between the “cognitive elite” and the deskilled masses. The Guardian reflected a widespread concern over the potential concentration of power by the robot-owning corporations: “If you think inequality is a problem now, imagine a world where the rich can get richer all by themselves.”

    These concerns lie behind growing calls for Universal Basic Income, robot taxes, and the break-up of Big Tech giants like Google and Amazon. But the situation isn’t as grim as we might think. Automation need not be stirred into a doom-laden soup along with Trump and climate change. In fact, if we step back from the narrow focus on technology and take a wider historical, economic, and humanist view, the picture is far from bleak. Counterintuitive as it may seem, automation can play a key role in creating more and better jobs, and rising prosperity. There are broadly three reasons to be cheerful about the march of the robots.

    [Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

    Automation drives growth

    Since the Industrial Revolution, the automation of human labor has run hand-in-hand with productivity gains, economic growth, and an increase in the number of jobs and prosperity. It is productivity growth that largely accounts for why most of us are six times better off than our great-grandparents. As Paul Krugman put it, in economics, “Productivity isn’t everything–but in the long run, it’s almost everything.” How can automating work create more jobs?

    A classic example of how this process can work is that, during the Industrial Revolution, 98% of the manual labor involved in weaving cloth was mechanized. But, despite the concerns of the Luddites, the number of textile workers in the U.K. exploded. As costs plummeted, demand grew, and so did the size of the industry–and therefore job numbers. The cake got bigger. The jobs also changed from hand weaving to operating the weaving machines. A more recent example is the impact of Electronic Discovery Software (EDS) on junior lawyers and paralegals, who traditionally spent the bulk of their time sifting through piles of documents. EDS was first applied in the 1990s, and did the job more quickly and more accurately than humans. Yet paralegal and junior lawyer jobs have grown quicker than the rest of the workforce since 2000.

    How so? As searching became cheaper and quicker, law firms searched more documents, and judges allowed more expansive discovery requests. Economists have a name for the intuitive, but mistaken, idea that there is a certain amount of work to do in an economy, and if productivity increases there will be fewer jobs to go around–the Lump of labor fallacy. There are, of course, occupations that fared less well in the face of technology, such as typesetters, once graphic designers adopted desktop-publishing software in the 1990s. But the general pattern is that machines take over mundane tasks, and humans move on to do more sophisticated–and often meaningful–work that machines can’t do yet.

    And the net effect in a buoyant economy is job growth. A long view reveals that each round of automation brings similar fears–when the first printed books with illustrations began to appear in the 1470s, wood engravers in the German city of Augsburg protested and stopped the presses. In fact, their skills turned out to be in higher demand than before, as more books needed illustrating.

    Automation makes work more rewarding

    The general assumption is that if the robot doesn’t replace you, it will deskill you. Yet a study by the Boston University School of Law into the impact of automation on 270 occupations in the U.S. since 1950 found that only one was eliminated: lift operators.

    The other jobs were partially automated and in many cases, this automation led to more jobs, often more skilled positions. The impact of ATMs on bank clerks is a case in point. The number of branch employees has grown since cash machines were first installed: ATMs allowed banks to operate branches at lower cost, enabling them to open many more. At the same time, banks morphed into financial-service providers, giving clerks more opportunity for upward job mobility. Machines generally take on the simple tasks, as humans move to more complex–and often more meaningful–work.

    [Photo: Franck V./Unsplash]

    Overestimation of machines, underrating humans

    In 1979, Fiat ran a television ad in the U.K. for the Strada with the tagline, “Handbuilt by robots.” In the 1980s, the march of the robots was seen as inevitable and, as with the assembly line, car production would lead the way. Forty years later, Toyota, the guru of manufacturing innovation, has robots doing less than 8% of the work on the factory floor–a ratio that hasn’t changed in 15 years. When asked why, the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, replied that “machines are good for repetitive things, but they can’t improve their own efficiency or the quality of their work. Only people can.”

    Even in manufacturing, automation isn’t as easy as many assume. Pessimists tend to overestimate the extent to which humans can be replaced and how fast it will happen. They share a faulty assumption with artificial-intelligence optimists, who look forward to “singularity,” when computer intelligence will supposedly surpass our own. They see impressive breakthroughs in narrow and bounded machine-learning problems, like beating humans at board games, and extrapolate that this singularity is inevitable and around the corner.

    This assumption runs far ahead of current knowledge. Neuroscientists are only scratching the surface of understanding how our brains perceive, learn, and understand, while human consciousness is still a highly contested topic in both philosophy and psychology. We’re a long way from understanding human intelligence, never mind surpassing it. Gloom merchants tend to imbue technology with superpowers while running down human ingenuity. Surely our perception, curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, judgment, and adaptability will drive the world forward–aided by more automation.

    We shape technology and, of course, it shapes us, but it does not define our future. Social and political forces are pivotal. The fatalism around robot-driven inequality suffers from peering at the future through technology blinkers. If robots drive inequality, how is it that Sweden has three times as many robots as the U.K. as a proportion of manufacturing workers–and much lower levels of inequality? Many other factors feed into the U.K.’s relatively high levels of inequality, such as low investment in education and in research and development, an overreliance on cheap labor, and an erosion of union power.

    It is no coincidence that inequality in the U.K. soared between 1979 and 1990, during Margaret Thatcher’s assault on the unions. Fretting about robot-induced impoverishment tomorrow obscures the real policy-related causes of wage suppression today. With living standards stagnating across the developed world, boosting productivity growth should be a pressing priority. Far from running scared of it, we should be ramping up our investment in automation.

    Of course, the road to semi-automated economic renewal will not be pain-free–many jobs will be lost in parts of the economy, while others will be created elsewhere.

    But even more will be lost if the economy continues to ossify. This is where the state has a key role to play in devising and implementing an industrial renaissance strategy to navigate the disruption caused by the next wave of automation. This should include investing in R&D in job-creating sectors such as autonomous transportation, virtual and augmented reality, and data security, as well as introducing automation to the backward construction industry as part of a desperately needed expansion in housebuilding. There is, after all, no shortage of problems to solve and work to be done, including in human-intensive sectors that desperately need revitalization, such as healthcare and infrastructure.

    An ambitious program to support and retrain workers for the parts of the economy that will grow as a result of automation is also needed. In short, timidity, not technology, is the problem. We have nothing to fear, but the fear of robots itself.


    Kevin McCullagh is founder of the London-based consultancy Plan


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    “I’d love to see a show of hands,” says Ashley Yuki. “How many of you have heard of IGTV?”

    The 30-year-old product manager in charge of IGTV, Instagram’s long-form video platform, is standing in front of a small crowd of twentysomething digital editors and content creators on a warm September morning at Rosaliné, a bistro in West Hollywood. Tucked among trendy boutiques and overpriced salons, the space features ivory tiles, mid-century modern furniture, and cascading green flora, giving it a distinctly “Instagrammy” feel—to borrow a term used by Instagram employees to describe the composed, art-directed aesthetic that defines the image-sharing app.

    Most hands shoot up, and Yuki, who has the enthusiastic energy of a camp counselor, looks relieved. “Okay! That’s good! Lots of hands. Keep your hand up if you’ve actually used IGTV.”

    Sensing the crowd’s trepidation, she soothingly urges, “It’s okay. Be honest.”

    Several arms descend, but Yuki keeps smiling as she assures the crowd that today “will hopefully inspire you to try it.”

    IGTV is Instagram’s five-month-old bid to become more than just an app that you scroll through during life’s in-between moments to see photo and video snippets of your friends. It aspires to be a “lean back” experience that users tune in to for long stretches of time. Like YouTube, the platform that it’s most trying to ape, IGTV allows creators to upload video—up to 60 minutes for certain influencers—onto a “channel.” But unlike YouTube, IGTV requires all of its content to be shot and viewed in a vertical format, to complement the way people actually hold their phones. This behavioral change is a risk that Instagram is very aware it’s taking: “In the whole history of humankind, we haven’t shot video this way or looked at video this way,” Yuki tells the crowd. (This is true but for Snapchat’s efforts to create this habit, which has been successful in limited doses but not for TV-length programming.)

    As a next step in Instagram’s evolution, IGTV makes strategic sense. Instagram’s 1 billion users already watch 60% more video on the platform than they did a year ago, and it has amassed a creative class of influencers that it would like to retain as exclusively as it can. Although Instagram doesn’t directly make money from influencers, they drive up the platform’s audience and engagement. Also, as advertising dollars continue to migrate from traditional TV, a new video advertising product could lure marketers who already love Instagram and are increasingly wary of YouTube.

    But for IGTV to power Instagram—and Facebook—into the future, it needs to continue Instagram’s heretofore unblemished record of rolling out unequivocally adored (and adopted) products: video, direct messages, time-lapse videos, GIF-like videos, non-square photos, and Stories. Just two months after Instagram launched Stories in 2016, for example, the company hit 100 million users. (Snapchat, which originated the Stories format, reached 100 million users overall about 18 months after launching it.) Instagram hasn’t released any IGTV viewership numbers, but individual video views tend to be disappointingly low, in many instances garnering tens of thousands of views while the same clip gets millions on YouTube. Executives at the company insist on referring to IGTV as a “work in progress.” Creators, brands, and financial analysts have not decreed it a bust, but they are a little flummoxed thus far. “Lots of promise,” says BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield. “Not lots of execution to date.”

    The IGTV stumble comes at a particularly inopportune time for Facebook, which acquired Instagram in 2012. In late September, Instagram cofounders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger abruptly announced that they were leaving the company, where they had reputedly enjoyed unusual independence. Reports in the wake of their departure noted that their status there had shifted, and that the pair had had to fight to get a green light for IGTV because some Facebook executives were reluctant to divert focus from Facebook’s own struggling video platform, Watch.

    IGTV product manager Ashley Yuki is a new type of leader within Facebook, one with both business and product chops. [Photo: Anastasiia Sapon]
    How Yuki and her boss, Adam Mosseri—who was elevated in October from Instagram’s product chief to running the whole service—address IGTV’s deficiencies will be crucial for the future of both Instagram and Facebook. Instagram’s stature as “the most important visual platform for anyone under 30,” as Gabrielle Rossetti, SVP of strategy and innovation at Havas Media, puts it, has made it invaluable to Facebook, as the world’s largest social network struggles to retain younger users. Meanwhile, Facebook’s advertising growth has slowed (while Instagram’s skyrockets), and the parent company is also facing heightened scrutiny around its security and data-collection practices and their societal implications. Two years ago, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook would become a “video first” company, and reports in the fall of 2017 suggested that the company could spend up to $1 billion on original content to support this effort.

    IGTV is arguably Facebook’s best shot to get long-form video right, and in the process take a bigger share of the $170 billion global video advertising market. If Instagram can become a one-stop social and entertainment platform, then Facebook will have a growth engine to help the company through its crises.

    But first? People need to know IGTV exists.


    “We sat down and were like, ‘All right, what is the next big thing for Instagram?'”

    Krieger is effusive and chummy in mid-September as he recalls how IGTV came to be. It was October 2017, and he and Systrom made a list. “We were imagining what the future could be. It was fun.” One idea: “The next generation’s TV-viewing experience.”

    The leap felt natural given the success Instagram had been having with Stories. According to James Whatley, a strategy partner at Ogilvy U.K., Facebook recently told the agency that “40% of time spent in Instagram is now spent in Stories.” But Stories segments can only be 15 seconds apiece. Instagram’s Live service, which launched in November 2016, was another proof of concept: Users often went back to rewatch live streams. IGTV was initially just a code name, but it stuck.

    IGTV’s mission may be similar to Google-owned YouTube’s, but Krieger and Systrom wanted the likeness to end there. They latched onto vertical video and tried to keep things simple and intimate. When users tap into IGTV (via a small button to the right of the In­stagram logo), full-screen video immediately starts playing. A single swipe starts the next one. To navigate around, there’s a single-row tray that displays more clips. “So it’s not like, ‘I’m going back to a guide,’ ” Krieger says. “You’re still in the experience.”

    By December 2017, the internal pitch presentation was ready. By February, the team was in place. Four months after that, IGTV launched at a splashy event in San Francisco with avocado toast, selfie stations, and IGTV clips by Kim Kardashian and beauty influencer Manny Gutierrez playing on huge, portrait-mode screens. Tellingly, the videos had to be reformatted minutes before the event was supposed to begin after a technical snafu deleted the files, delaying the affair by an hour. Sources say that the overall rollout of IGTV was affected by the “political shit show” going on between Facebook and Instagram.

    Krieger acknowledges that the development time for IGTV was unusually fast. “I’ll tell you what went wrong in Stories and what went right in IGTV,” he says, leaning forward in his chair. “With Stories, we were in there for every single decision, which meant that we had a hand in that product at a very detailed level.” But often, that meant when Krieger and Systrom’s attention had to be elsewhere, Stories’ developers would be stuck waiting for answers. The cofounders stepped back during the IGTV build in order to empower the team. Another expediting factor was that Systrom was on paternity leave. “So if you were gonna call him, it had to be really important,” Krieger says, laughing.

    [Illustration: Timothy J. Reynolds]
    Despite reports of tensions between Instagram’s leaders and their Facebook overlords, Krieger was magnanimous when discussing the role Facebook played in IGTV’s creation. Although IGTV ultimately competes for attention with the year-old Facebook Watch, Krieger says the IGTV team had weekly meetings with Fidji Simo, Facebook VP of video, where “it was like, ‘Here’s all we’re learning. Anything that stands out from what you learned?’ ” In addition, “We had [Facebook’s] world-class video infrastructure just waiting to be integrated with,” he says.

    Once IGTV was live, there were issues. Content jumped from low-quality DIY videos of teens in their bedrooms to sleek Mercedes-Benz–branded clips. (Worse, graphic videos depicting child abuse were discovered in September as being algorithmically recommended to users; Instagram apologized and removed them, though it didn’t ban the users who posted them.) The lack of any playlist or curation features made navigation within IGTV difficult.

    Krieger doesn’t flinch when reminded of any grievances. Instead, he smiles and reveals another gripe: Shortly after launch, his wife told him, “ ’That little banner [that comes up at the top of Instagram when someone you follow posts an IGTV video]? I never tap on it.’ And I’m like, We clearly have work to do.” He admits that IGTV’s presence within every aspect of Instagram—the feed, Stories, the Explore tab, and user profiles—needs to be better thought through. “Those are [version] 0.5, not even [version 1 issues], because we’re just getting out there to learn,” he says. “And now it’s a matter of figuring out how it integrates with the rest of the system.”

    Two weeks later, though, he and Systrom were out.


    Facebook was once defined by the bifurcation at the top of its leadership: There were product people, like Zuckerberg, Systrom, and Krieger, and businessfolk, like COO Sheryl Sandberg.

    IGTV product chief Ashley Yuki represents a new wave of leader within the organization, one with experience in both disciplines, much like Simo, her counterpart at Facebook Watch. Yuki studied business and engineering as an undergrad at the Wharton School, and she’s shifted between advertising and product roles since she joined Facebook, in 2013. At Instagram, which has been her focus for the past four years, she ran the ads team, developed the monetization strategy for Stories, and is credited with launching Instagram’s support for non-square images.

    “A lot of the time, I’m a really diverse perspective in the room,” Yuki says, picking at a plate of glass noodles at the Slanted Door, a famed Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. “I connect with the business differently than a lot of the men [do].” She’s wearing white skinny jeans and strappy heels that show off a French pedicure, a Marc Jacobs bag slung over her chair. “I shop, maybe, more than some men. That could be a stereotype, but it’s true in my case.”

    Yuki studies Sandberg during the Facebook COO’s weekly Q&A sessions, calling it “leadership in action,” and says that as a result she’s developed more confidence, particularly in addressing gender imbalance issues in tech. (She once changed a company off-site venue from a paintball park to a pumpkin patch.) Yuki’s point of view makes her incredibly valuable at Instagram, and her enthusiasm for the celebrities and fashion brands that have helped drive its growth is genuine. She casually references the fashion and nail-art vloggers she follows, and she can walk you through the latest workout routine that Taylor Hill, a Victoria’s Secret model, posted to her IGTV channel.

    The video service is off to a slow start, but celebrities, internet stars, and brands are experimenting. Six to click:

    Like Krieger, Yuki readily engages on the topic of IGTV’s challenges, saying that her primary focus is helping users discover IGTV videos they’ll like. “Quite frankly, there’s such a better job that we could be doing of showcasing content in the right way,” she admits. Then there’s the trick of making sure the app notifies users about that video at appropriate moments. “Right now, the only time we’re doing that is the second you open up the app,” she says. “That might be actually one of the hardest times for you to have a moment to go watch a [longer] video.” One idea is to send out IGTV alerts later in the evening, when “you’re unplugging and trying to sit back for a little bit longer with something.”

    Launching IGTV as its own separate app (in addition to within Instagram itself) was the original answer to the watch-or-scroll confusion that IGTV presents. Yuki had believed that users would “just tap it and be like, ‘Okay, I’m in. I’m in IGTV mode.’ ” But according to the analytics company App Annie, downloads for the dedicated video app were middling upon its debut and have since trailed off significantly.

    Even before Adam Mosseri was promoted to run Instagram in October, Yuki’s team had begun implementing tweaks to IGTV. The banner that Krieger’s wife had thought was too small? It’s now bigger and includes a thumbnail clip of the video it’s promoting. As Instagram amasses more data on what people actually watch, higher-quality videos are commanding a more prominent place in the “For You” lineup. Mosseri, in a statement to Fast Company, pledges to continue this momentum and says he’s “committed to investing more time and effort” into fine-tuning IGTV.

    Yuki has placed her faith in what Jeff Bezos often refers to as the “flywheel” effect, meaning that IGTV will require a lot of effort to gather momentum but will eventually propel itself. She says that if she can foster the connection between creators and their audiences, then the videos will get better, users will make IGTV a habit, and everything will work out. “Our whole job,” she says, is, “How do we create the petri dish where that really takes off?”


    IGTV’s comeback effort starts with creators, which is why Yuki is courting them at events like the one at Rosaliné. On hand that day were Jayden Bartels, a 13-year-old dancer, singer, and gymnast who goes by MissJaydenB, and Paula Galindo, aka Pautips, a Colombian beauty guru. “On Feed, you can just put 60 seconds of video,” Galindo says after the event, pushing a long strand of highlighted hair out of her face. On IGTV, “you can show detail, how to blend the products, and tell the brands that you’re using [their products].”

    Other creators, though, are struggling to get traction. Makeup tutorials, for example, traditionally rely upon graphic overlays that use the horizontal aspect ratio to detail the products being applied. “There’s a way that a video speaking to an audience is supposed to look,” says 22-year-old beauty influencer Eleanor

    Barnes, whose Instagram handle is Snitchery, “and now that’s breaking.” She’s posted two IGTV videos, both related to her tattoos. One garnered more than 500,000 views, while the other received less than 35,000. “Nobody has a blueprint.”

    Since the video service launched in 2005, many competitors have aspired to knock it off its throne. Here’s how they’ve tried.

    As a result, many creators who have embraced IGTV use it merely to post vertical trailers for their YouTube channels–certainly not what Instagram has in mind. “Why would I shift my time and effort from YouTube, where some of our top talent makes six figures a month on [Google ads] alone?” says Adam Wescott, a partner at Select Management Group, which represents such social stars as Gigi Gorgeous, Tyler Oakley, Jay Versace, and Tré Melvin. Wescott says that none of these clients have used IGTV in a significant way to engage their followers even though they frequently use Instagram itself. Even lower-budget video formats—direct-to-camera setups that require little to no editing—aren’t migrating to IGTV because there’s no money in it yet. Instagram had originally planned to start rolling out monetization before the end of 2018, but it’s been delayed until the product is further refined.

    Still, Wescott acknowledges that the platform can’t be ignored. “If [Instagram does] one day turn on the faucet for advertising, why not be a step ahead of it if you have the resources and the bandwidth?”

    This impulse has inspired brands and digital media companies to experiment. Warby Parker sees IGTV as a platform to “tell a long­er, more coherent story than one that is a patchwork of 15-second clips,” says co-CEO Neil Blumenthal. The company has created the IGTV series #WearingWarby, which showcases talent like Marley Dias, the #1000BlackGirlBooks activist; food blogger Molly Yeh; and Joffrey Ballet dancer Parker Kit Hill–all talking about their lives and their glasses. Blumenthal says that the company sees the greatest engagement on Instagram’s regular feed, followed by Stories and then IGTV, but thus far he’s satisfied. “From a business strategy perspective, we’ve found that being an early mover on a social platform always pays off.”

    The activism-oriented digital media brand Attn: debuted a series on IGTV in September with a major get: Joe Biden. The former vice president hosts each episode of a weekly talk show called Here’s the Deal, and it airs exclusively on IGTV for 24 hours before being uploaded to other social outlets. Attn: cofounder Matthew Segal says he’s operating in good faith that Instagram will provide some kind of revenue in the near future—with heavy emphasis on near. “We’re putting on a show that we’re paying for ourselves because we believe in it,” he says, “but ultimately we want [Instagram] to fund shows. If you want good quality content, it costs money.”

    The platform has a long way to go to establish itself as a destination, but there are things it could be doing to speed things along. Certain types of content, such as fashion lookbooks, which would benefit from IGTV’s verticality, could generate easy wins. Hollywood agents are hoping IGTV develops into a portal for content that would otherwise be sold to Adult Swim or FX, making it a powerful proposition should the ad market support it. (In October, Snapchat added 12 original short-form scripted series and docuseries to its lineup of shows.)

    Instagram’s own efforts also hint at how IGTV might differentiate itself. In a September research meeting, the assembled analysts discussed how “emerging” digital stars see IGTV as a place to show off a different side of their creativity, such as an actress who’s aspiring to be a musician. Instagram can spotlight and drive viewers to the people who are trying to invent the formats that might define IGTV. “Everyone does makeup tutorials,” one creator told them. “I want to be more original.” Newer, less-proven influencers also have less of an issue with the vertical format, presumably because they haven’t spent the past 5 to 10 years shooting horizontal video. Also, because they’re so new and eager for exposure, they care less about monetization.

    “Everyone’s trying to figure it out,” Yuki says. “That’s why we’re encouraging everything, because who’s to say?”

    Free-for-all experimentation has never been part of Instagram’s DNA. The app’s aspirational tone and sense of careful curation has always separated it from its peers. It’s what makes Instagram, well, Instagrammy, and IGTV–at least so far­–feel like a code name.


    0 0

    I open an app. I place a dot. Minutes later, a white minivan saunters to the curb to pick me up. In the post-Uber world, this is far from remarkable. Except that this minivan is driving itself.

    I’m in Chandler, Arizona, on a crystal clear, 75-degree day, amid strip malls and desert palm trees, as one of the first people to try Waymo One just days before it goes public. It’s the world’s first self-driving taxi service–like Lyft, but automated. I should feel like I’m living in futureworld! A freakin’ four-wheeled robot is driving me through the city! But really, I’m just a grown man sitting in the backseat of a minivan. It’s equal parts comfortable and infantilizing, as riding in the backseat of a minivan always is and always will be.

    That is until the van tries to make a routine left turn at an intersection. There’s no one coming, so it eases in and then brakes–hard. I don’t see anything. It eases on the gas again, then brakes, even harder this time, so hard my seat belt wedges itself painfully between my shoulder and collarbone.

    That’s when I glance at the screen in the backseat to see what’s really going on. A message with the no-nonsense aesthetic of NYC subway signage reads, “Object Detected.” To be clear, this means a van I have zero control over hallucinated an object in the middle of the street, then made a driving mistake, twice!

    It is precisely such outré robot behavior that Waymo’s designers and engineers have spent the past few years trying to humanize. And it’s a big job.

    Waymo One is the company’s new, autonomous self-driving car service born almost 10 years ago out of Google’s highly experimental X lab. In 2014, Google unveiled its Firefly car, a cute, some might say dweebie, autonomous car without a wheel in Silicon Valley. Over time, they’ve grown up, spun off to be run by Alphabet instead of Google, and moved to the suburbs of Phoenix. Today, Waymo is a fleet of more than 600 modified Chrysler Pacificas, retrofitted with proprietary vision cameras, a giant Lidar (laser) scanner that harkens back to 1980s conversion vans, and ever-whirring secondary Lidar, which spin like zoetropes on the front and rear bumpers. It’s a dizzying array of technology that Waymo has worked tirelessly to render downright dull–a design strategy the company believes will be key to dominating the $7 trillion self-driving car industry.

    [Photo: Jesse Rieser for Fast Company]

    When cars drive themselves

    The arrival of self-driving cars doesn’t just mean we’ll one day lease Kia crossovers that can drive the family to Disneyland on their own. Autonomous vehicles are poised to disrupt transportation of people and goods alike into a post-ownership, post-Uber society. Small vehicles will deliver pizzas, groceries, and Ikea dressers. People will have sex in-transit. Cities will be planned differently, with real estate prices shaken, simply because a transit system has no limits, and a cab can appear at your door on a whim. Traffic fatalities will decrease by as much as 90%. Heck, buildings might even go mobile. With all this in mind, it’s almost an afterthought to consider that the automobile industry itself will change, as people may no longer buy cars at all.

    But the design of these self-driving technologies–most of which still fall far, far short of actually replacing human drivers–will play a crucial role in how, and how much, they disrupt transportation. Take computers and smartphones. Neither could go mainstream before they adopted the graphic user interface of the Macintosh, and iPhone, respectively. So too do self-driving cars have to leverage design to make autonomous driving approachable. But the tactics with which the auto industry has presented self-driving technologies thus far have varied wildly.

    Most car manufacturers have offered semi-autonomous tools, like auto-breaking or auto-steering that can keep you in a lane, as safety features–all while slowly trying to figure out the best way a driver can hand over control to the car, then take it back at will. Elon Musk put Tesla “Autopiloting” cars on the road like a time machine into our blindingly bright future, but Tesla Autopilot can really only handle parking and highway driving, plus the cars require you always keep a hand on the wheel, otherwise they beep like an alarm and force you to take over. (Tesla’s Autopilot has been involved in three driver fatalities to date.) It’s a model that makes sense for Tesla, since its business model is to sell cars.

    Uber and Lyft have both been investing considerably in their own top-secret driving programs to sell a service. Lyft employs 300 engineers–a staff it plans to double shortly, with $200 million in new investments from self-driving technology partner Magna. It also runs the booking platform for 30 vehicles by Aptiv, which circle the Las Vegas Strip offering autonomous rides between the hotels and major attractions. Uber has over 1,000 employees working on self-driving vehicles. Until recently, Uber was even in Arizona; the state has a perfect climate, wide roads, light traffic, and generous regulations, making it a hotbed for the autonomous driving industry. However, Uber company pulled out of Tempe earlier this year after one of its vehicles fatally struck a pedestrian at night. Uber has suspended all 200 of its self-driving vehicles while the company resets from the tragedy.

    Waymo, meanwhile, is the first to market with what’s dubbed “Level 4” self-driving technology. That means you can say, “pick me up here, and drop me off there,” and the car is smart enough to handle the rest. Because Waymo is the first through the breach during a time autonomous vehicle fatalities are still front-page news, public perception of self-driving cars will largely be shaped by this one company–at least to start. Which may help explain why Waymo is positioning autonomous vehicles not as exciting and futuristic, but as a nonthreatening public utility here to prevent 1.25 million deaths in auto accidents a year.

    And so Waymo’s designers and engineers have worked to make the service “courteous and cautious,” in the words of Dan Chu, the head of product at Waymo. That narrative is reinforced across the full Waymo One experience. It’s everywhere from the car’s interface, which cautions and reassures you at every turn, to the way it drives, which brakes early and often to avoid the whiff of an accident. To assuage people’s fears of climbing into robo cars (and to prevent a truly catastrophic media event), Waymo One vehicles still have a human “driver” inside. It’s an employee who actually just sits awkwardly at the self-steering wheel with their hands on their lap, prepared to hit a red “stop” button that’s secured in the car’s center cup holder with what looks like beer koozie.

    More than once during my visit, Waymo employees suggest how “boring” the experience is for their riders after one or two times. They’re right; by my second trip across the suburbs of Phoenix, I feel like I’m running pesky Saturday morning errands, rather than being whisked through Phoenix by minivan Optimus Prime. It’s a remarkable feat of usability design: Waymo has made the technology so mundane, it no longer feels like a novelty.

    [Photo: Jesse Rieser for Fast Company]

    Mitigating fear through familiarity

    The Waymo van I’ve hailed drives up a deserted street, then pulls up slowly–oh so slowly–to the curb. There it sits idling in the sun like my loyal pet.

    And it does look like a pet, or perhaps a toddler’s toy, retrofitted as it was with soft, round corners. “You won’t see any harsh angles or aggressive lines,” Ryan Powell, head of the UX research and design team at Waymo, points out. “We really want them to feel approachable.” The Lidar scanner atop the car has a black dome, reminiscent of an evil Dr. Who Dalek. But it’s been smoothed into the roof line with custom white paneling. The spinning sensor on the rear bumper gives the van a tail, and hints of anthropomorphism.

    [Photo: Jesse Rieser for Fast Company]

    But the attempt to make the experience feel familiar starts even before I see the car. Booking a vehicle with the Waymo app is a cinch, and it will feel like second nature to anyone who has called an Uber or a Lyft. It’s the same map and pin interface, but with a few key updates. Because the driver is a robot that has optimized pickup points, you can’t actually place the pin wherever you like. Instead, the app suggests a pickup point near you. If you don’t like it, you can drag your thumb across the screen, and it will eventually snap to another option in the area. You then repeat the process for drop-off, since you can’t tell the driverless car, “Hey, pull up to the curb right here” at your destination.

    [Photo: Jesse Rieser for Fast Company]

    This semi-placeable pin is the first instance I notice of how Waymo works hard to give me even a small sense of control over an automated system. Solutions like this one weren’t immediately obvious to Waymo; they were born from loads of user testing. Since April, 2017, Powell’s team has been carefully studying 400 “Early Riders” invited as Waymo’s first beta testers in Phoenix. They conduct interviews, go on ride-alongs, and, of course, dig through piles of data gathered from the platform and app itself (which goes so far as to force the user to rate the ride, and specify what they liked or didn’t like at the end of each trip). All of this feedback shaped the Waymo experience.

    Pickups and drop-offs continue to be a vexing challenge for both the design and engineering teams. After moving the majority of its testing from the Bay Area to Phoenix to scale the program, Waymo realized that Arizona had sprawling parkings lots, unlike Mountain View, where most pickups can be done at a curb. And when you have a load of bags outside a Target on a busy Saturday, just where do you want that car to pick you up?

    “Clearly, it’s right in front of the entrance, right? But it’s not,” says Chu. “If you have six bags you want to load, you don’t want to be the obnoxious person stopping traffic. Our early riders were like, ‘Don’t send me there, send me to the side road so people aren’t honking at me!’ The way we address that is giving more control in the mobile app.”

    As I walk up to my waiting van, my smartphone silently syncs up with the vehicle, verifying my identity and unlocking the door. (Ideally, the door will magically open for you. But that feature is still in the works, I’m told.)

    [Photo: Jesse Rieser for Fast Company]

    Climbing in, I hear a chiming soundtrack reminiscent of an airline safety video, or the Tokyo subway. It’s meant to relax me, and to help me transition from the hectic outside world to this automated bubble where I can sleep, socialize, or get work done. Other than the start or the end of the ride, Waymo is conservative with the soundscape. The team has found that audio notifications increase the passenger’s likelihood to check the screen by 50%, so it’s used judiciously. They don’t want the ride to “feel like a video game,” Powell says.

    [Photo: Jesse Rieser for Fast Company]

    Inside, the van has dedicated buttons to pull the car over if you want, or to call for “immediate assistance.” They’re positioned clearly, right above your head like OnStar. Waymo knew that the assistance button would be necessary, lest riders feel trapped inside a machine, but they had no clue it would prove so popular. Customers on their first rides call for assistance frequently, as it turns out, with all sorts of questions about the robot driver like, “Does the car know I’m in a construction zone?” A few rides in, the riders stop calling. Waymo was initially surprised by how frequently calling was used, but now it’s started looking at these 1:1 chats as an onboarding cost.

    Meanwhile, people almost never hit the pullover button, Waymo says. As it turns out, the robot does a good enough job driving, so riders don’t feel they have to. But seeing that little button, right within my reach, I’m quietly comforted when I should really feel like I’m held hostage by a robot.

    [Photo: Jesse Rieser for Fast Company]

    Screens give a peek into the algorithmic mind

    There’s only so much that experience design can do to make a rider comfortable inside a machine. One of Waymo’s biggest challenges is helping users understand what’s happening inside the computer’s mind–a driver that can make billions of calculations a second but lacks a face–so that they can trust its decisions.

    “We learned pretty early on from user research that we needed a proxy for a lot of communication that happens between you as a passenger and human driver,” says Powell. “There’s direct communication–you ask where you’re going–and indirect, you see the driver shift their hands on the steering wheel because you know they’re going to turn.”

    To give you a literal look inside these algorithms, Waymo installed two screens hanging from head rest of the front seat. These screens have a daunting job: They have to replace all of the subtle cues and conversation you get from a person. They display all the stuff you’d expect: Your name. Your destination. Your arrival time. And a big blue “start ride” button. (Starting a ride can’t be automated, I’m told, because how can a car know that everyone is actually inside?)

    [Photo: Jesse Rieser for Fast Company]

    Hit start, and you’re ushered to a new interface–the Waymo design team’s masterpiece. It’s a GPS-like view of everything the car sees, to give the rider a way to look inside the black box algorithm that is its computer driver.

    “One of the questions we got early on was, just how much can our cars actually see?” recalls Powell, who was most recently grilled on this topic when visiting his family over Thanksgiving. The answer is, a lot, and a lot more than humans can–a full 300 yards in 360-degrees at all times. Engineers can see this view in its raw output for debugging, which is an awesome but nonsensical collection of sensor waves and objects wrapped in boxes.

    [Image: Waymo]

    “It’s a very overwhelming look of what the car is able to see. And it’s not very trust-inspiring,” says Powell. “So we spent a lot of time on the design side thinking how to curate the scene.”

    [Image: Waymo]

    The final result is a view of your car–which gleams with as much sparkle as a minivan can on the screen–then ahead and behind the vehicle, a long green line denotes the car’s path on the road. (Why green? It’s Waymo’s brand color, and yes, because green is shown to be calming.) Other cars appear as blobby rectangles. The screen also shows crosswalks and curbs. And unlike the UI-fudging we’ve seen with Uber’s phantom car–in which the Uber app will place fictional vehicles driving fictional routes on your screen–everything in Waymo’s interface is real to reinforce trust in the machine.

    Occasionally the interface gives TMI to really demonstrate its instrument sensitivity in moments where a rider might be nervous. Riders often wonder if the car can spot a construction site. It can. And it will render 12 traffic cones, spaced unevenly on the street, because the car sees 12 traffic cones that some construction worker dropped unevenly in the street. “It’s a very honest representation of what the car is seeing,” says Powell.

    Humans in the car’s vision get an even higher-fidelity treatment than those traffic cones. Rather than being presented as bathroom-like icons, as you might expect, they’re drawn as pointilist clouds, constructed from the 3D dot map built by the car’s lasers. Look closely enough, and you can notice their legs and arms moving, slight visual intricacies that seem to whisper to the rider, “It’s okay, we know these are people, we know they are vulnerable, and we know they are more important than buildings and cars.”

    [Photo: Jesse Rieser for Fast Company]

    Teaching robots to drive less like robots

    Waymo’s next challenge is greater than anything a user interface alone can solve. Because if Waymo wants to make robot cars feel safe and comfortable, sooner or later, it has to teach them to drive in a way that feels more human.

    Simply put: When you ride in a Waymo vehicle, it just doesn’t feel like you’re being driven by a human. At all. The vehicle has a tendency to accelerate evenly through turns. It stops painfully early for yellow lights. Once it jerked the wheel out of the way of a pickup truck in the next lane–with a staccato sharpness I’ve never felt a human driver execute. And often, it will gently tap the brakes or gas when I simply don’t know why.

    On one such occasion, I glance down to the screen. Why were we speeding up and slowing down so often? It ended up that my vehicle was responding to a car, maybe four lengths ahead. I knew this because anything actionable–anything that the Waymo bot is considering in its driving decision–is highlighted in green on the screen. That goes for pedestrians, bicyclists, even cars that are far removed from you in traffic. If they glow green, Waymo is taking them into special account.

    So in this case, with that car so far ahead of us being highlighted, I quickly inferred that my Waymo was just keeping what it considered a safe distance, even if that would be “too safe” by my measures. Waymo was mitigating the spectacular weirdness of being driven around by a robot through a slight touch of UI. “It does feel a little different than how a human would drive,” Powell says. “It has all that rich data, way more than we as humans do, so it’s going to navigate its environment differently than a human. So we try to get across [that] fact.”

    Waymo knows this design stopgap isn’t enough, though. Up next, it needs to mitigate the uncanny feeling of a robot driver, and to design all of the micro moments of acceleration and turning to feel more human. That’s easier said than done. As Waymo’s team explained to me, it’s hard to identify just which moment during a 15-minute trip bothered a rider, since they generally just rate the ride at the end. Secondly, Waymo has learned from its user feedback and data it has that we don’t actually all agree on what a normal human driver feels like.

    “You have one rider that feels like it was way too conservative, and almost the exact same ride, another rider is like you were way too aggressive,” says Chu. “How do you tune it for riders when rider preferences are so different . . . Can we get to a place where we can almost predict that, and look at a ride and say, this type of user probably wouldn’t like it, this user would like it? That’s an interesting challenge to tackle, because it’s not one-size-fits-all, at all.”

    So what will the future of Waymo feel like? Will we eventually have hyper-personalized rides, with algorithms that tune to our preferences from Sunday drive to Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Probably not, Chu says. Instead, they imagine finding some middle ground that’s 80% there for everyone–perhaps a car that’ll leave a bit of extra space between itself and other drivers, but still jam on the gas to make a yellow light.

    Waymo One service goes live today to the public, and as its service ramps up in the coming weeks, it will allow anyone in the Phoenix area to book a robot taxi for the first time. The news should be either terrifying or terribly exciting. Instead, the transportation revolution starts, not with a gasp, but a yawn.


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    Every year Fast Company taps some of the most productive people in business, entertainment, politics and more to find out their secrets to getting so much done. We get a peek inside their routines and habits and even some of their favorite books that inspire them.

    Here are five books that help fuel the work of 2018’s Most Productive People:

    Creativity Inc. 

    Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming The Unseen Forces That Stand In The Way Of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

    Perhaps unsurprising for a budding enterprise–but rare for one that grew out of an arts society–Janelle Monáe’s company Wondaland (a record label, production studio, brand consultancy, management firm, and more) turned to business books to determine how best to structure itself. One that particularly resonated with them was Ed Catmull’s chronicle of Pixar’s rise, called Creativity Inc.“We really passed that book around,” says Chuck Lightning, Wondaland’s creative director, who says it demonstrated “the importance of figuring out who’s on our team, making sure that everyone we worked with understood what we were trying to do creatively.”

    Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

    Even more significant to Monáe and her Wondaland team was Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’s Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, which inspired them to create the company’s Vision Board, along with a set of core values and guiding principles. “We handed [printouts] around to everybody at the meeting when were getting signed at Atlantic [Records] so they could understand what our big, hairy, audacious goals were as an organization,” says Lightning. “And we can always go back to the core values when any shareholder or manager asks us about doing shows or endorsements or whatever. Even in the studio, one of us can always opt out of a lyric by going to the core values–to say, like, “ ’That would make sense if we were making a party song, but this is a song about climate change.’ ”

    Read More

    Log off: How to Stay Connected After Disconnecting

    Log Off: How To Stay Connected After Disconnecting by Blake Snow

    Headlines are important, especially these days, but too much news consumption can be distracting (and dismaying). Limit your all-day intake to two sources: a trusted news-gathering organization and a feed related to your industry, says Blake Snow, author of Log Off: How to Stay Connected After Disconnecting.

    Read More

    Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

    “Seventy-five percent of Americans can reach their phones without moving their feet 24 hours a day,” says Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. “It’s easier to resist the charms of your inbox if it’s not within reach.”

    Read More

    Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success With the Secrets of the ADHD Brain

    Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, And Success With The Secrets Of The ADHD Brain by Peter Shankman

    Some of his tactics may seem extreme: When Peter Shankman was two weeks from a book deadline in 2014, he bought a $5,000 round-trip business-class ticket to Tokyo, hopped on the flight the next day, and returned home 30 hours later with a finished draft. But many of his approaches can apply to anyone, whether they have ADHD (and $5,000 to spare) or not. Shankman offers many tips for boosting your productivity, in his most recent book, Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success With the Secrets of the ADHD Brain.

    Read More

    Social Media Wellness

    Sometimes the obvious solution is also the best: Delete the apps from your phone. If everybody did, we’d reduce an incremental creep that makes it harder and harder to resist social pressure, says Ana Homayoun, author of Social Media Wellness.

    Read More


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    If you commute over bridges and overpasses each day, there’s a fairly good chance that some of them might need repair (more than 54,000 U.S. bridges are rated “structurally deficient”). As the country’s infrastructure ages, bridge inspections get even more important, but the work is expensive, time-consuming, and dangerous, requiring engineers to rappel down the side of a bridge hundreds of feet above a river. It’s a task that might be better suited for drones.

    [Photo: Intel]
    In two recent bridge inspections–one at the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis, and the other at the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge at the Ohio-Kentucky border–Intel partnered with transportation officials to use drones to capture detailed high-res images of each structure.

    [Photo: Intel]
    “It’s collecting a series of images, and the second part is actually stitching these images to gather and recreate what you call a digital twin,” says Anil Nanduri, general manager of Intel’s drone group. “Imagine you have a bridge over a river, but then you have an exact replica of it–you can zoom into the finest details, including a sub-centimeter level of detail, on your computer screen.”

    Current inspections are often done with pen and paper, so the data is difficult to share. A drone’s data is both easier for a group of people to analyze and can be tracked over time. As more and more data is collected, AI and machine learning can begin to automatically highlight cracks, corrosion, or other defects.

    While a manual inspection might take weeks, and can force traffic lanes to shut down, a drone can cover a bridge in just a matter of days, Nanduri says. In the case of the Stone Arch Bridge, the shift could save taxpayers around $160,000 in the cost of inspections over 10 years. Despite the advantages, though, it may take a little more time before the tech scales up widely. The FAA is still working on regulations for unmanned drones, and it takes experience for a pilot to fly a drone now. As the technology improves, the drones will become simpler to operate. Software also still needs to be developed that can quickly go through the thousands of images that the drones can collect. “My team’s focus is to make it as simple as possible by leveraging automation,” says Nanduri.


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    You probably know that in the future, what you’ll need to be successful at work will be different than what it takes right at this moment. There will be new skills to learn, new tools and procedures to master, and new responsibilities to take on. It’s difficult to predict exactly what your job will look like in 10 years. When social media came along, not many people predicted that it would lead to a new career path.

    But uncertainty doesn’t stop predictions. People do make them on good grounds, but there are ideas that harm your career and mind-set rather than help it. Here are some of those “future of work” myths that might be holding you back from success.

    1. You need to be a quick learner to succeed

    Yes, the workforce is always changing and, yes, you’ll constantly need to learn new things. But the idea that you should be able to pick up a new skill and master it at the drop of a hat in order to thrive is . . . well, unrealistic and not entirely true.

    No doubt about it, there are some advantages to picking things up quickly. But if this isn’t something that comes naturally to you, you’re not doomed to fail. First of all, practice can help. Second of all, there is no correlation between how long it takes someone to learn something and how intelligent and capable they are. Todd Rose, author of The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness and the director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at Harvard School of Education, referenced a TED Talk where Kahn Academy founder Sal Kahn presented a chart showing students who needed to spend extra time to understand and master a concept. The chart showed that once they got over that hurdle, they were able to “race ahead.”

    The thing is, it takes a long time to master a difficult skill. And mastery is about continuous commitment to improve and fine-tune. Don’t get discouraged if you feel like it’s taking you longer than your peers to learn a new skill at work–what matters is your openness to adapt to change. As former Y combinator alum and ex IBM strategist previously wrote, “Some of us are born with more potential to adapt, but each of us can get better at it over time. We all have that friend who loathes change and another who thrives on new experiences.” The key is to train yourself to be the latter.

    2. If you want to do something innovative, you have to be an entrepreneur or work at a startup

    In today’s era, innovation is synonymous with entrepreneurship. Startups and new businesses “disrupt” industries, and those that are passionate about solving large-scale problems should either join a startup or establish their own ventures. People don’t often consider legacy businesses when they think about innovation.

    But this isn’t always true. Yes, the Kodaks of the world have been very slow to move and adapt with change, and there are many startups that are tackling issues that very few businesses have chosen to focus on, or that their behemoth competitors can’t crack. But many legacy brands know they have no choice but to be innovative if they want to survive in the future. And this responsibility isn’t confined to the CEO and the owner. Companies will provide opportunities for employees to be innovative because that’s what they need to do. That will always be the case as technology forces businesses to transform their practices.

    And as George E. L. Barbee, author of 63 Innovation Nuggets for Aspiring Innovators told Stephanie Vozza in a previous Fast Company article, you don’t always need to be in a leadership position or be the “visionary” to be innovative. He said, “Realize that top executives have to have internal innovation; they can no longer depend on acquisition to grow a company . . . Find a way to link to that by looking for two or three people in the middle of the organization who want to break through and do something customer facing.”

    3. You need to learn to code

    Yes, there is supposedly a tech talent shortage (although many have questioned the validity of that statement.) Learning to code isn’t going to hurt, but you don’t need to aspire to be a software engineer, data analyst, or UX designer if your interests (and frankly, talent) are elsewhere.

    As neuroscientist Tara Swart put it in a previous article for Fast Company, the key to thriving in the future of work isn’t about practicing computer science, but training your brain how to think computationally. Swart wrote, “If you want to set yourself apart from the pack, you need to break down problems and become familiar with the way that machines come up with solutions and sequences.”

    Columbia astronomer Moiya McTier also suggested that workers can benefit from learning how to think like a scientist to thrive in the future of work. In a previous article for Fast Company, she suggested that one can learn to approach their work with a series of questions, not tasks. That way, you’re not stuck on doing things with a tunnel vision and you’re less likely to miss out on potential solutions. She wrote, “Asking the right questions can help you identify what you’re really looking for while leaving room to explore all possible solutions.”

    4. Automation is bad for workers

    Speaking of understanding how machines work, perhaps one of the most pervasive (and fear-inducing) myths is the idea that robots are here to take over your job, and there’s not much you can do about it.

    This is a dangerous belief to have, according to Swart. Fearing robots puts our brain in a “loss-avoidant” and fight-or-flight mode, which hampers the very skills you’ll need to work with machines. After all, as Swart pointed out, machines can actually help you do your job better. But in order to do that, you need to be willing (and open) to learning about how you can do your job in conjunction with machines in the first place.

    Joe Greenwood, executive lead of data and program director at MaRS, a Toronto-based innovation hub, previously wrote for Fast Company that the introduction of machines will create more jobs than it kills. He gave the example of the ATM. When it was introduced, many believed that it was going to be the job-killer for bank tellers. The reality? Banks hired more tellers, because ATMs lowered the cost of running a bank.

    5. A humanities education is pointless

    The debate on the merits of a liberal arts degree isn’t new. But in a tech-centric world (accompanied by rising student debt and the expensive price of a college education), many are questioning its validity more than ever. The thing is, understanding the humanities is even more important in a machine-oriented world–whether or not that education comes from a university.

    Avi Goldfarb, coauthor of Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence told Fast Company‘s Ruth Reader that while technical skills are important, it’s understanding subjects like art, philosophy, sociology, and psychology that will allow people to understand how to put artificial intelligence to use. Doing so, according to Goldfarb, requires a broad range of knowledge and a multidisciplinary mind-set.

    Entrepreneur and author Faisal Hoque put it this way, “The constant cascade of new technologies will continue to create a more empowered population. We will be increasingly connected and isolated at the same time. We will demand more self-expressions. Within this topsy-turvy context, we all will have to learn how to leverage humanities to connect, inspire, and influence others and ourselves.”


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    We’re squandering increasing amounts of time distracted by our phones. And that’s taking a serious toll on our mental and physical well-being.

    In 2017, U.S. adults spent an average of three hours and 20 minutes a day using their smartphones and tablets. This is double the amount from just five years ago, according to an annual survey of internet trends. Another survey suggests most of that time is spent on arguably unproductive activities like Facebook, gaming, and other types of social media. This is bad news because research by myself and others shows that excessive technology use is linked to depression, accidents, and even death.

    Perhaps ironically, software developers themselves have been on the forefront of efforts to solve this problem by creating apps that aim to help users disconnect from their devices. Some apps reward or even “punish” you for staying off your phone for set periods of time. Others block you from accessing certain sites or activities altogether. But what makes some of them work better than others? Behavioral science, my area of expertise, can shed some light.

    [Photos: João Silas/Unsplash, Ryan Gifford/Unsplash, Arif Riyanto/Unsplash]

    Why we need help

    Technology is meant to be addictive. And a society that is “mobile dependent” has a hard time spending even minutes away from their app-enabled smartphones.

    This addiction has consequences. The most serious, of course, is when it leads to fatalities, like those that result from distracted driving or even taking selfies.

    But it also takes a serious toll on our mental health, as my own research has demonstrated. One experiment I conducted with a colleague found that looking at Facebook profiles of people having fun at parties made new college students feel like they didn’t belong. Another study suggested that people who spent more time using social media were less happy.

    Ultimately, our phones’ constant connection to the internet–and our constant connection to our phones–means that we miss out on bonding with those that we care about most, lowering everyone’s happiness in the process.

    [Photos: João Silas/Unsplash, Ryan Gifford/Unsplash, Arif Riyanto/Unsplash]

    Trying to unplug

    The good news is that most of us aren’t oblivious to the negative effects of technology and have a strong desire to disconnect.

    As you might expect in a market economy, businesses are doing their best to give us what we want. Examples include a Brooklyn-based startup selling bare-bones phones without an internet connection, hotels offering families discounts if they give up their mobiles during their stay, and resorts creating packages built on the idea of creating sacred spaces where consumers leave their devices at home.

    And app developers have also risen to the challenge with software aimed at helping us use our phones less. Behavioral science research offers some insights into what features you should look for in a productivity app.

    [Photos: João Silas/Unsplash, Ryan Gifford/Unsplash, Arif Riyanto/Unsplash]

    Goal setting is key

    Research suggests that you should download applications that ask you to set specific goals that are tied to concrete actions. Making commitments upfront can be a powerful motivator, even more so than financial incentives.

    For example, Moment asks users to set specific goals around technology use and tie them to daily actions, such as by asking you to reduce your technology use each time you send or receive a calendar invite. Offtime prompts users with warnings when you are about to exceed the limits for an online activity you’ve set.

    Flipd takes it a step further and actually completely blocks certain phone apps once users have exceeded pre-determined targets–even if you try to reset the device–making it the ultimate commitment app. Similarly, Cold Turkey Blocker prevents users from accessing literally any other function of their computer for a certain period of time until they have completed self-set goals, like writing.

    [Photos: João Silas/Unsplash, Ryan Gifford/Unsplash, Arif Riyanto/Unsplash]

    Defaults are your friend

    Choose an application that helps you alter your “defaults.”

    In their award-winning book Nudge, for example, Nobel Prize winner Richard Thaler and Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein showed how adjusting the default for a company’s retirement plan–such as by requiring employees to opt out rather than opt in–makes it easier to achieve a goal like saving enough for your golden years.

    Your phone’s applications can take advantage of that technique as well. Freedom, for example, is an app that automatically blocks users from visiting “distracting” apps and websites, such as social media and video games. Ransomly alters the default setting of a room–such as the dining room–to be phone- and screen-free by using a sensor and app to automatically turn off all devices when they’re in the vicinity.

    So look for apps that modify the default settings on your phone in a way that helps you achieve your goals.

    [Photos: João Silas/Unsplash, Ryan Gifford/Unsplash, Arif Riyanto/Unsplash]

    Rewards and punishments

    Another good strategy is choosing an app that involves rewards.

    We tend to highly value rewards earned through effort, even when they have no cash value. Indeed, our smartphone software frequently takes advantage of this idea, such as in various apps that offer “badges” for hitting certain daily fitness milestones.

    Productivity apps like Deliberate incorporate these rewards as well, by providing users with points for prizes–such as shopping discounts and yoga experiences–when they meet their screen-time goals. Since static rewards become demotivating over time, choose an application that provides uncertain and surprising rewards.

    An even more powerful motivator than earning rewards can be losing them. That’s because research shows that losing has a larger impact on behavior than winning, so if you’re serious about changing your behavior try an application that incurs critical costs. Examples include Beeminder–which takes $5 from your credit card for every goal you don’t meet–and Forest–which provides you with the chance to grow a beautiful animated tree (or to watch it slowly wither and die) depending on whether or not you meet your technology goals.

    [Photos: João Silas/Unsplash, Ryan Gifford/Unsplash, Arif Riyanto/Unsplash]

    Persistence pays

    Persistence is one of the hardest parts of accomplishing any new goal, from losing weight to learning how to cook.

    Research suggests that capitalizing on social motivations–like the need to fit in–can encourage persistent behavioral change. Apps like Ransomly–that involve your friends and family members–are most likely to encourage persistent behavioral change.

    Constant connection to technology undermines happiness, relationships, and productivity. Applications that take advantage of the latest insights from behavioral science can help us disconnect and get on with living our lives.

    Ashley Whillans is Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. This post was originally published on The Conversation.


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    Nostalgia sucks, but I can’t help but love it, because I’m old. Which is why I felt an instant connection with these modern digital brands reimagined as the objects of the 1980s and ’90s.

    Created by French London-based freelance art and creative director Thomas Ollivier, these objects make intangible platforms tangible. The fleeting nature of Facebook is translated perfectly into a pager, while Instagram morphs into a disposable camera nearly as ephemeral as the photos we upload into the social network. My personal favorites? The Spotify Walkman and the Adobe Illustrator Etch-a-sketch.

    [Image: Thomas Ollivier]

    I asked Ollivier what drove him to create the project, and he described the close relationship we have with these ephemeral brands today. “These brands are part of our daily life, they have developed an intimate link with their users,” he explained over email. “It’s this connection that I thought was interesting to play with.”

    The digital era has virtualized nearly every aspect of our lives, and Ollivier sees a primitive need to make some of those things tangible again. He wonders if this need will eventually fade in the future–or if it will, instead, lead more people to largely abandon virtual life and embrace real-life experiences once more. We can only hope so.

    You can follow Ollivier on Instagram and Twitter.


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    Former CBS Chairman Les Moonves may not get the $120 million severance package he believes he deserves. Moonves resigned from his position in the wake of multiple credible claims of years of sexual misconduct painstakingly documented by The New Yorker.

    Now, lawyers for CBS have released a report of their own and determined that Moonves’s behavior was even worse than The New Yorker reported. They spoke to 11 of Moonves’s 17 accusers and verified that he “engaged in multiple acts of serious nonconsensual sexual misconduct in and outside of the workplace, both before and after he came to CBS in 1995,” the New York Times writes. The paper got an advanced look at the lawyers’ 60-page report, which also includes previously undisclosed allegations, including multiple reports of Moonves receiving “oral sex from at least four CBS employees under circumstances that sound transactional and improper to the extent that there was no hint of any relationship, romance, or reciprocity” and “a network employee who was ‘on call’ to perform oral sex on Mr. Moonves.” The report concludes that Moonves tried to use CBS resources to silence actress Bobbie Phillips, who had accused him of assaulting her in the ’90s.

    The lawyers also assert that Moonves “deliberately lied about and minimized” his sexual misconduct to investigators.  They determined that Moonves tried to cover his tracks, deleting hundreds of potentially incriminating text messages, and when asked to turn over his iPad to investigators, gave them his son’s instead.

    The lawyers contend that the CBS board has justification to deny Moonves his $120 million severance package. According to The New York Times, the board has not made a decision and might not do so until January.


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    Funeral services will be held today for former President George H.W. Bush, who passed away last week at the age of 94. The services are set to begin at 11 a.m. at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. A departure ceremony will take place later in the afternoon at Joint Base Andrews. You can find the full schedule here. Per NPR, today’s services will feature multiple members of the Bush family, including former president George W. Bush.

    If you’re looking to watch the services online, the easiest way to do that is on YouTube via one of the many outlets covering the funeral live. The following three are all offering full coverage:

    I’ve also embedded the PBS NewsHour video below.


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    Roughly 4,150 years ago, in modern-day Iraq, a Mesopotamian king named Gudea commissioned a sculpture of himself. In it, he is depicted as an architect, with his hands clasped over a tablet showing an architectural plan of a temple built during his time as ruler. On his legs, rows of Sumerian glyphs describe the architecture itself, and the materials he chose, including cedar and “treasure confiscated” from across the Middle East.

    Architect With A Plan is the oldest architectural plan ever discovered, and the oldest illustration in Drawing Architecture, a beautiful new tome from Phaidon and architect Helen Thomas that spans 2130 BC to 2018 AD.

    [Photo: Phaidon]
    It’s an unusual and unpretentious book, featuring hundreds of drawings across more than 4,000 years of working architects. There’s no chronology: Gudea’s self-regarding statue is situated between drawings like a 1979 drawing from Daniel Libeskind and another from 1573 by Inigo Jones and Andrea Palladio. There’s also very little commentary, aside from a brief blurb and some necessary identifying information: “The intention is to provide imaginative space for the reader to make their own connections between the images and their stories as they resonate with personal experience and knowledge,” Thomas explains in the book’s brief introduction.

    Instead, Drawing Architecture invites you to just look at the damn drawings in a way that’s refreshing. Some are etched in wet river clay, others are annotated via iPad and shared through WhatsApp, and there’s virtually no distinction between them. That makes it subtly provocative–especially in a field that has spent decades, and plenty of ink, debating whether drawing is “dead.” Without specifically addressing that debate, Thomas manages to make it seem a bit silly. Check it out at Phaidon’s website.


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    Having a best practices lists can boost productivity when employees don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Tried and true methods can save time, money, and frustration, but sticking too closely to them without reevaluation can be dangerous.

    “When an organization has processes and practices in place that are seen as ‘the way we do things around here,’ people may tend to simply go through the motions,” says John Taylor, practice development manager at RiseSmart, a provider of career transition services. “Legacy ways of doing things will naturally cause productivity to dip if they aren’t periodically examined for improvement, or if new ways of doing things are dismissed too quickly.”

    Best practices could become worst practices if you’re not careful. Here are five common workplace practices to reconsider:

    (Too) Hands-on Management

    One of the quickest ways to increase turnover in a company is by creating a culture that allows micromanaging, says Alex Nadal, assistant general counsel and HR consultant for the HR solutions provider Engage PEO. From providing excessive oversight on a task to demanding to be cc’d on every email, micromanaging is counterproductive and stifling to creativity and progress.

    “Micromanagement creates high turnover, is demoralizing for employees, and destroys trust between the employee and the manager,” he says. “Micromanagement destroys autonomy for employees, which means that over time employees will lose the desire to do anything except what the micromanager specifically demands, and nothing more; micromanaged employees do not go the extra mile. Unfortunately, even in 2018, many managers still employ this outdated and morale-crushing technique.”

    Instead, companies should create an open-door policy where team members can receive coaching or guidance only when needed. “Put more emphasis on managing your organization’s culture than on managing your employees,” says Nadal. “Effective leaders communicate the vision and values of the company and then trust their team members to complete tasks and projects based on these values. Manage expectations and not the task itself by clearly communicating the goals and the intended purpose of the task.”

    Demanding Excellence

    Setting big goals can be a way to challenge employees. Managers take it too far, however, when they use fear as a motivator, believing people will do better work for a demanding boss, says Amy C. Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth and Novartis professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School.

    “While this practice can work when high-quality work output is both observable and objective–tasks on an assembly line, for instance–for most of the knowledge-intensive work today, where ingenuity and collaboration are required for excellence, fear-based management backfires,” she says.

    Using fear leads people to hide problems and mistakes, says Edmondson. Instead, challenge employees by combining stretch goals with open ears. Start with articulating ambitious goals, suggesting general directions and approaches that might work, and communicating an intense interest in hearing what’s happening out there in the world of action, and why, she says.

    “Stretch goals should be articulated more or less as hypotheses, not as definitive targets, anytime there is uncertainty or interdependence,” says Edmondson.

    “Rewarding” Your Best Workers with More Work

    When you have outstanding employees, it’s natural to give them more responsibilities. If you give them too much work, though, you might overwhelm them and cause them to quit, says Carrie Duarte, PwC’s Workforce of the Future Leader.

    “According to recent PwC research, workload manageability is the number-one ‘at risk’ capability for organizations in North America,” she says. “Increasingly, many people work in a hyper-paced, extremely demanding work cultures, where stress and the risk of burnout are rampant.”

    Instead, create manageable workloads. “Pick the top three to five priorities for them to focus on, and then your overall strategy will be more efficient and effective,” says Duarte. “When strategies fall flat, it is often due to poor execution and lack of focus and productivity of the key contributors to the strategy implementation.”

    Also encourage periods of recovery. “Ensure that people take rejuvenating vacations or sabbatical time away from work,” says Duarte. “Promote short breaks during the workday to improve performance. Enable employees, if possible, to choose when and where they work. And create an effective ecosystem of working environments across the physical and virtual domains.”

    Annual Performance Reviews

    If your company is still holding the annual performance review, stop, saysAnne Gilson, regional managing director, HR consulting at the HR services provider OneDigital. “They don’t work,” she says. “Data regarding real-time feedback works much better.”

    Performance reviews suck up hours, days, weeks, even months in some organizations. The word-heavy process demands that leaders reflect and evaluate.

    “The leader rates more on their own performance than the employee’s, and the most recent events impact the rating than the full performance period,” says Gilson. “It takes time, the ratings are not real, and the employee often feels confused, offended, or unmotivated by the performance discussion.”

    Instead, performance conversations need to be radically frequent. “Weekly is best,” says Gilson. “Ask questions; how is the work going, how the leader can help; what is the employee working on that supports their development and desires.”

    Department-wide Meetings

    Meetings larger than 10 people and longer than an hour shouldn’t happen, says Bob Pozen, senior lecturer, MIT Sloan Executive Education.

    “Think critically of all meetings,” he says. “Social scientists have studied how many people is too many for an effective meeting. The conclusion: More than seven to eight attendees at a meeting reduces its effectiveness. With more than seven to eight attendees, it is difficult to have active debate and discussion, which should be the objective of most meetings rather than to merely exchange information.”

    At larger meetings, attendees also tend to engage in “social loafing” where they take less responsibility for what goes on and let others take the lead, says Pozen. Instead, keep meetings small and short, or replace meetings with email updates whenever possible, he says.


    0 0

    SpaceX is having a very big week.

    On Monday, it launched a Falcon 9 rocket from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, which was headed to space—and the record books. As USA Today notes, the rocket’s booster was the first Falcon 9 to launch three missions, an important part of the company’s plan to reduce costs by reusing rockets. The booster was also the first to launch from all three of SpaceX’s pads (Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and Vandenberg). If that wasn’t impressive enough, the launch was also SpaceX’s 19th launch of the year—the previous record was 18—and it still has three more launches planned before the year is out.

    To cap off this very big week, Elon Musk’s company today is planning to launch a Falcon 9 rocket loaded with thousands of pounds of cargo bound for the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon capsule will deliver more than 5,600 pounds of food and supplies to the crew, as well as scientific experiments, including the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation, which will measure the impact of climate change on the world’s forests. It’s SpaceX’s 16th cargo mission as part of its contract with NASA.

    Here’s how to watch the launch, which is scheduled to take off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1:16 p.m. ET:

    Watch on NASA TV below, or at NASA’s website, or via SpaceX’s own webcast.

    The launch was initially scheduled for Tuesday, but was delayed due to *checks note* moldy mouse food. According to Space.com, if all goes according to plan, the Dragon will reach the space station three days from now, and the ISS crew can start unpacking the load. The Dragon is scheduled to return to Earth in mid-January.


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