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The Problem With Data Journalism

2014 June 11
by Greg
Nate Silver

Journalism has been thoroughly disrupted over the past decade.  News organizations, especially newspapers, have come under heavy financial pressure, news bureaus have been closed or consolidated and journalists have had to rethink their profession.

Yet amidst the rubble a new form of the craft has emerged—data journalism.  Rather than pounding a physical beat and cultivating human sources, this new breed immerses itself in statistical data and policy papers.

Two paragons of the new form, Nate Silver and Ezra Klein, have recently left traditional outlets to create their own news organizations, FiveThirtyEight and Vox, respectively.  Yet, now it looks like the model might not be as scalable as it first appeared and these new ventures already seem to be struggling.  Data journalism, for all its promise, has a problem.

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How A Genius Thinks

2014 June 8

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said that, “talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”  Lots of people are smart, but true genius has always had an element of mystery to it.

Nobody really knows where genius comes from.  While surely there is a genetic component, most child prodigies do not attain outstanding professional success.  Some creativity experts consider genius to be a method as much as it is an ability.

However, while many people define genius differently, most agree that Richard Feynman was one and there is probably no better example of his brilliance than his famous talk, There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.   It not only launched a revolution in physics and engineering that is still being played out today, it shows us how a true genius really thinks.

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5 Ways Managers Fail Their Employees

2014 June 4
by Greg
Michael Scott

One of the first things you learn as a manager is that your own performance doesn’t really matter anymore.  You might have gotten promoted by being a hot shot, but once you are in a position of responsibility you have to get others to perform in order to succeed.

That’s an uncomfortable position to be put in.  We grow up learning to pursue accomplishments.  Getting good grades in school, making the all-star team in sports, getting into the “right” school and getting the a good job all depend on individual performance.

Yet management is different.  It’s about empowering others rather than glorifying ourselves and, the truth is, few of us are taught or encouraged to do that.  So not surprisingly, many managers never learn how to motivate employees.  Instead, they continue to act as if they were higher status versions of their former selves.  Here are five things to look out for.

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To Create Real Change, Leadership Is More Important Than Authority

2014 June 1

Aspiring young executives dream of climbing the ladder in order to gain more authority.  Then they can make things happen and create the change that they believe in.  Senior executives, on the other hand, are often frustrated by how little power they actually have.

The problem is that while authority can compel action it does little to inspire belief.  Only leadership can do that. It’s not enough to get people to do what you want, they have to also want what you want or any change is bound to be short lived.

That’s why change management efforts commonly fail.  All too often, they are designed to carry out initiatives that come from the top.  When you get right down to it, that’s really the just same thing as telling people to do what you want, albeit in slightly more artful way.  To make change really happen, it doesn’t need to be managed, but empowered.

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Here’s What’s Really Holding Back The New York Times

2014 May 28
Chinese Wall

It’s not clear whether The New York Times Innovation Report was leaked on purpose or not, but it is an astounding document nonetheless.  It is impressively honest, insightful and soul searching.  Perhaps most importantly, it shows true digital literacy.

It’s not often that you see a company with such a rich heritage and history of success take a good, hard look at itself and chart a new path forward.  That’s hard to do for any organization—or anyone for that matter—much less an enterprise that has so much to be proud of.

Yet for all of its courage and intelligence, it still falls short.  The New York Times, like much of the publishing industry, still remains an organization at war with itself.  The time honored tradition of the “Chinese wall” has created an enterprise where the publishing and business sides have separate missions, cultures and values.  That needs to change.

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Summer Reading List: Books That Explain The Future

2014 May 25
by Greg
Reading At The Beach

It was such a long, cold winter that it sometimes seemed as if we would be perpetually buried under a mountain of snow.  As soon as we’d shovelled ourselves out, we’d get hit with another avalanche of it.

Yet somehow, we made it through and summer is finally here.  We can put away our shovels and salt, hit the beach and pick up a beer and a book.  That’s a trade I’ll take any day!

But clearly, that’s not the only thing that’s changing.  From technology to education, business and world affairs, things are moving so fast that it’s hard to keep up with it all, much less make sense of where things are going.  So this year, I’m focusing my summer list on books that explain the future.  As always, you can click on the links to pick one up.

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Why Energy Is Technology’s Next Big Thing

2014 May 21

J. Paul Getty, one of the wealthiest people of the 20th century, reportedly said that his formula for success was, “rise early, work hard, strike oil.”  It was, after all, energy that made the industrial age hum.

Of course, these days ambitious young go-getters are much more likely to seek their fortune in technology. Everybody wants to be the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.  Nobody really dreams of being the next J.R. Ewing anymore.

The reality is that the next generation of mega-tycoons are likely to have their feet in both camps—at the intersection of technology and energy.  A recent McKinsey report argues that we’re headed for a resource revolution.  Citibank claims that we’ve entered a new age of renewables.  Yet this time, the boom will not be driven by geography, but algorithms.

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Content Is Crap

2014 May 18
bill-gates content is king

In a famous essay written in 1996, Bill Gates declared that content is king.  He presciently foresaw that faster connection speeds would make content the “killer app” of the Internet, creating a “marketplace of experiences, ideas and products.”

Yet unfortunately, Gates mistook the transaction for the product.  While his vision of the future was correct and he moved quickly to create and acquire valuable content assets, he largely failed.  Today, almost 20 years later, Microsoft has no significant content business.

The reason is that content isn’t really king.  Content is crap.  Nobody walks out of a great movie and says, “Wow!  What great content.”  Nobody who produces meaningful artistic expression thinks of themselves as content producers either.  So the first step to becoming a successful publisher is to start treating creative work with the respect it deserves.

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5 Business Secrets You Probably Never Thought Of

2014 May 14

Everybody in business is looking for the “secret sauce.” Some gain insights through experience.  Others receive wisdom passed down from a mentor and still others simply learn from experience.

Yet however we come by our ideas, we rarely revisit them. Accepted wisdoms have a way of  becoming second nature. Before you know it they are “how we do things around here” and aren’t subjected to further scrutiny.  That’s where things often go awry.

More than we would like to admit, we manage by myth.  We tend to take conventional wisdom at face value and then blame ourselves when things don’t go well.  Yet the truth is that many widely accepted business practices aren’t based on evidence, but conjecture.  Here are five ideas that you probably never heard of, but are based on fact.

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Why Your Business Model Will Fail

2014 May 11
Wile-e-Coyote cliff

Every great idea begins as a revelation.  Yet when that flash of insight leads to action, it inevitably encounters the real world and that’s when hard lessons are learned. Adjustments have to be made and, with some luck, success can be achieved.  But profitable models rarely come easy.

With growth, comes procedures, processes and a management team to support and strengthen the model. New employees are indoctrinated and it becomes an intrinsic part of the organization’s identity, almost like a corporate version of DNA.

Unfortunately, at some point the model will fail.  That’s always been true, but now it happens with blazing speed.  These days, startups like Instagram and Pinterest become billion dollar businesses in a matter of months—not years—and that pace will only accelerate.  Clearly, we need to stop planning for stability and start managing for disruption.

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