How to turn a liberal hipster into a capitalist tyrant in one evening

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Zoe Svendsen’s “play” at the Young Vic, titled World Factory, is more of an eye-opening roleplaying game:

The choices were stark: sack a third of our workforce or cut their wages by a third. After a short board meeting we cut their wages, assured they would survive and that, with a bit of cajoling, they would return to our sweatshop in Shenzhen after their two-week break.

But that was only the start. In Zoe Svendsen’s play World Factory at the Young Vic, the audience becomes the cast. Sixteen teams sit around factory desks playing out a carefully constructed game that requires you to run a clothing factory in China. How to deal with a troublemaker? How to dupe the buyers from ethical retail brands? What to do about the ever-present problem of clients that do not pay? Because the choices are binary they are rarely palatable. But what shocked me – and has surprised the theatre – is the capacity of perfectly decent, liberal hipsters on London’s south bank to become ruthless capitalists when seated at the boardroom table.

The classic problem presented by the game is one all managers face: short-term issues, usually involving cashflow, versus the long-term challenge of nurturing your workforce and your client base. Despite the fact that a public-address system was blaring out, in English and Chinese, that “your workforce is your vital asset” our assembled young professionals repeatedly had to be cajoled not to treat them like dirt.

And because the theatre captures data on every choice by every team, for every performance, I know we were not alone. The aggregated flowchart reveals that every audience, on every night, veers towards money and away from ethics.

Svendsen says: “Most people who were given the choice to raise wages – having cut them – did not. There is a route in the decision-tree that will only get played if people pursue a particularly ethical response, but very few people end up there. What we’ve realised is that it is not just the profit motive but also prudence, the need to survive at all costs, that pushes people in the game to go down more capitalist routes.”

This appears to be a revelation to the people involved.

In short, many people have no idea what running a business actually means in the 21st century. Yes, suppliers — from East Anglia to Shanghai — will try to break your ethical codes; but most of those giant firms’ commitment to good practice, and environmental sustainability, is real. And yes, the money is all important. But real businesses will take losses, go into debt and pay workers to stay idle in order to maintain the long-term relationships vital in a globalised economy.

Naturally the Guardian turns this into a call for more regulation.

Elon Musk Quotes

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

These memorable quotes from Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future do paint an interesting picture:

We’re all hanging out in this cabana at the Hard Rock Cafe, and Elon is there reading some obscure Soviet rocket manual that was all moldy and looked like it had been bought on eBay.” — Kevin Hartz, an early PayPal investor, describing an outing in Las Vegas that was intended as a time to celebrate the company’s success.

That is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t.” — an anonymous Tesla employee recalling an e-mail from Musk after missing an event to witness the birth of his child.

They got my best [expletive] friend to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up. And that [expletive] hurt.” — Elon Musk, who said he was hospitalized after one beating and couldn’t return to school for a week. He was living with his father, who was said to delight in being hard on his sons.

He goes into his brain, and then you just see he is in another world. He still does that. Now I just leave him be because I know he is designing a new rocket or something.” — Elon Musk’s mother describing how as a child Elon sometimes seemed to drift off into trances. He wouldn’t respond when spoken to and would have a distant look in his eyes. Musk’s parents and physicians thought maybe he was deaf and removed his adenoid glands thinking that would improve his hearing. It made no difference.

I wanted him to meet me behind security so he couldn’t pack a gun.” — Jim Cantrell, describing his first meeting with Elon Musk. Cantrell was once accused of espionage by Russians, so he was fearful when he received a call from a stranger with an accent asking to help him with a space program. They met in an airport, hit it off, and would later travel to Russia hoping to buy rockets.

If that “no excuse” note seems over the top, that may be because it never happened. Elon Musk replied:

I have never written or said this. Ashlee’s book was not independently fact-checked. Should be taken w a grain of salt.

Internet of Things Reaches Into the Trucking Business

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

The so-called Internet of Things has reached the trucking business:

“It used to be, in our industry, for us to find out what happened with a driver and with a vehicle we had to wait for them to come back to the office,” Brian Balius, Saia VP of transportation, said in an interview. “Now we can see these things happening all day long — as they occur.” In its first year, the program led to a 6% increase in fuel efficiency, which translated to $15 million in savings for Saia. The company said it paid for itself.

BusinessTown

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

BusinessTown explores what value-creating winners do all day — in the style of Richard Scarry:

BusinessTown Brogrammers

BusinessTown VCs

Why CEOs make so much money

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

A retired CEO explains why CEOs make so much money — or, rather, why they started making so much more a couple decades ago:

Thank our regulators and corporate governance efforts to reduce CEO compensation through disclosure and oversight of board decisions.  I’ve been a long time observer of public companies and a reader of their proxy statements. In 70’s and even the 80’s the compensation of the CEO seemed to be mostly a matter arrived at between the board and the CEO that resulted from discussions and negotiations and the public disclosure was a matter of a few pages. But there was then nothing like the  pressure to conform to best practices backed up by the reliance upon the advice of consultants and the concommitant availability of market data that there is today.

You can guess how it works. No board that isn’t about to fire its CEO really wants to admit that their CEO is a less-than-average performer by paying him or her less than average. But if the lowest-paid CEO’s are always being brought up to the average, then the average increases every year. Then for the high performers to be paid well, their compensation needs to be increased, but that raises the average… and so on every year. And the compensation committee and the board always have this market data before them, the recommendations of their consultants and “best practices” to adhere to. These influences are not easily resisted. You see the result.

Like many regulatory unintended consequences, it’s hard for me to see an easy way back. But it’s more than an academic question if you are a director serving on a compensation committee.

Hayek and Business Management

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Arnold Kling cannot emphasize enough how much he agrees with this:

If extensive knowledge is possible, then bosses might be able to manage big companies well. If not, then centrally planned companies will be inefficient. Sure, perhaps competition will eventually weed out egregious incompetence, but market forces might not grind so finely as to eliminate all inefficiency.

Kling explains:

Because I spent 15 years in business, I got an opportunity to see large organizations close up. I saw that in a large business, the top management cannot keep track of more than about three major initiatives at a time. I saw that compensation systems have to be frequently overhauled, because employees learn to game any system that stays in place for more than a couple of years. I saw the “suits vs. geeks” divide, as specialists in information technology or financial modeling had difficulty communicating with executives who had only general knowledge.

The notion of large, efficient organization is an oxymoron. If you think that large corporations have overwhelming advantages, then you have explained why IBM still dominates the computer industry, while Microsoft and Apple never really got amounted to much of anything. I like to say that if you are afraid of large corporations then you have never worked for one.

Of course, large corporations do exist. That is because as clumsy as they are, they can still be less clumsy than the alternative, which is to break a corporation into a network of contractually related divisions.

Marvel’s Farm System

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

It’s not the actors who make the character, but the character who makes the actor:

Disney-owned Marvel has mastered that approach and made A-listers out of previous unknowns. Chris Pratt, for example, was best known for his supporting role on the sitcom “Parks and Recreation.” Then he landed the starring role in last summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” by far the season’s biggest box-office winner, bringing in $774 million. He’s now one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men and will star in “Jurassic World” this June.

Mr. Hemsworth was an Australian soap-opera star before Marvel plucked him to play the titular God of Thunder in 2010’s “Thor.” Soon afterward, he played the lead role in a second franchise, “Snow White and the Huntsman,” and has headlined thrillers including “Rush” and “Blackhat.”

Marvel takes the same approach with directors—in contrast to competitors like Warner Bros., which has entrusted its superheroes to high-end auteur Christopher Nolan and experienced action director Zack Snyder. Kenneth Branagh’s career directing big-screen Shakespeare adaptations petered out several years before Marvel picked him to direct “Thor.” After that film hit it big, Mr. Branagh continued a second career in big-budget movies such as last year’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” and March’s live-action “Cinderella.”

“Everyone pays attention to who’s starring, who’s directing, who’s writing Marvel movies,” said producer and former Sony executive Michael De Luca. “Because of their track record… how can you not pay attention to their farm system?”

[...]

To secure lead actors for its series of interlocking sequels and spinoffs, Marvel typically signs them to six-movie deals. For stars, upfront salaries are paltry by Hollywood standards, often just barely over $1 million per picture for the first two films in a deal, after which they start to rise.

Actors receive bonuses when films meet box-office milestones, but the total payday is still far below what A-listers like Johnny Depp regularly earn on similarly successful blockbusters like “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

[...]

The company’s successful track record ironically allows for more experimentation in genre and form than is typically allowed in Hollywood these days—so long as it’s done with comic-book characters. It’s unthinkable that any other studio would greenlight a big budget political thriller like next year’s “Captain America: Civil War” or a science-fiction action-comedy like last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

In addition, since the studio makes only two to three movies a year, its president and top creative executive Kevin Feige is personally involved with every project, and the company rarely develops scripts it doesn’t intend to make.

“It makes a huge difference to deal with Kevin all the time, as opposed to several layers of people trying to guess what their boss wants,” said Anthony Russo, co-director with his brother Joe of last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Mr. Feige is said to be a firm believer that the characters and the Marvel brand itself are the stars of his films. That approach syncs well with Mr. Perlmutter’s tight-fistedness and gives Mr. Feige the leeway to make bold choices. He cast Mr. Downey as “Iron Man” in 2008, even though the actor’s career was on the rocks at the time, because his showboating bad-boy persona mirrored the character of Tony Stark, the man behind the Iron Man mask.

A Story of Entrepreneurship

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Tim Ferriss really goes out of his way to explain why he would interview his latest guest:

The goal of my blog and podcast is to push you outside of your comfort zone and force you to question assumptions.

This is why I invite divergent thinkers and world-class performers who often disagree. I might interview Tony Robbins and then Matt Mullenweg. Or I might have a long chat with Sam Harris, PhD, and later invite a seemingly opposite guest like…

Glenn Beck.

This interview is a wild ride, and it happened — oddly enough — thanks to a late-night sauna session. I was catching up with an old friend, who is mixed-race, a Brown University grad, and liberal in almost every sense of the word. I casually asked him, “If you could pick one person to be on the podcast, who would it be?”

“Glenn Beck,” he answered without a moment’s hesitation. “His story is FASCINATING.”

He described how Glenn hit rock bottom and restarted his life in his 30’s, well past the point most people think it possible. Fast forward to 2014, Forbes named him to their annual Celebrity 100 Power List and pegged his earnings at $90 million for that year. This placed him ahead of people like Mark Burnett, Jimmy Fallon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Will Smith. Glenn’s platforms — including radio, tv, digital (TheBlaze.com), publishing, etc. — get somewhere between 30 and 50 million unique visitors per month.

This interview is neither a “gotcha” interview nor a softball interview. I ask some tough questions (e.g. “If you were reborn as a disabled gay woman in a poor family, what political system would you want in place?”), but my primary goal is to pull out routines, habits, books, etc. that you can use. This show is about actionable insight, not argument for argument’s sake.

First and foremost, this is a story of entrepreneurship, and whether you love Glenn, hate Glenn, or have never heard his name, there is a lot to learn from him.

Star Wars: The Digital Movie Collection

Friday, April 10th, 2015

So, the Star Wars movies are finally coming to digital, but they’re coming in “special edition” form. Sigh.

When you’re selling a beloved piece of people’s childhoods, don’t you sell them the version they know and love? I suppose once you start down the dark path of revising the movies, forever will it dominate your destiny.

Disney’s $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Disney is applying Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic to its Magic Kingdom with its new $1 billion bet on magical wristbands:

Go to Disney World. Then, reserve a meal at a restaurant called Be Our Guest, using the Disney World app to order your food in advance.

The restaurant lies beyond a gate of huge fiberglass boulders, painstakingly airbrushed to look like crumbling remnants of the past. Crossing a cartoon-like drawbridge, you see the parapets of a castle rising beyond a snow-dusted ridge, both rendered in miniature to appear far away. The Gothic-styled entrance is teensy. Such pint-sized intimacy is a psychological hack invented by Walt Disney himself to make visitors feel larger than their everyday selves. It works. You feel like you’re stepping across the pages of a storybook.

If you’re wearing your Disney MagicBand and you’ve made a reservation, a host will greet you at the drawbridge and already know your name — Welcome Mr. Tanner! She’ll be followed by another smiling person — Sit anywhere you like! Neither will mention that, by some mysterious power, your food will find you.

“It’s like magic!” a woman says to her family as they sit. “How do they find our table?” The dining hall, inspired by Beauty and the Beast, features Baroque details but feels like a large, orderly cafeteria. The couple’s young son flits around the table, like a moth. After a few minutes, he settles into his chair without actually sitting down, as kids often do. Soon, their food arrives exactly as promised, delivered by a smiling young man pushing an ornately carved serving cart that resembles a display case at an old museum.

It’s surprising how the woman’s sensible question immediately fades, unanswered, in the rising aroma of French onion soup and roast beef sandwiches. This is by design. The family entered a matrix of technology the moment it crossed the moat, one geared toward anticipating their whims without offering the slightest clue how.

How do they find our table? The answer is around their wrists.

Their MagicBands, tech-studded wristbands available to every visitor to the Magic Kingdom, feature a long-range radio that can transmit more than 40 feet in every direction. The hostess, on her modified iPhone, received a signal when the family was just a few paces away. Tanner family inbound! The kitchen also queued up: Two French onion soups, two roast beef sandwiches! When they sat down, a radio receiver in the table picked up the signals from their MagicBands and triangulated their location using another receiver in the ceiling. The server — as in waitperson, not computer array — knew what they ordered before they even approached the restaurant and knew where they were sitting.

And it all worked seamlessly, like magic.

Too Much Talent

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Researchers looking at basketball, soccer, and baseball found that more talent can hurt the team:

In each sport, they calculated both the percentage of top talent on each team and the teams’ success over several years. For example, they identified top NBA talent using each player’s Estimated Wins Added (EWA), a statistic commonly employed to capture a player’s overall contribution to his team, along with selection for the All-star tournament. Once the researchers determined who the elite players were, they calculated top-talent percentage at the team level by dividing the number of star players on the team by the total number of players on that team. Finally, team performance was measured by the team’s win-loss record over 10 years.

For both basketball and soccer, they found that top talent did in fact predict team success, but only up to a point. Furthermore, there was not simply a point of diminishing returns with respect to top talent, there was in fact a cost. Basketball and soccer teams with the greatest proportion of elite athletes performed worse than those with more moderate proportions of top level players.

Why is too much talent a bad thing? Think teamwork. In many endeavors, success requires collaborative, cooperative work towards a goal that is beyond the capability of any one individual. Even Emmitt Smith needed effective blocking from the Cowboy offensive line to gain yardage. When a team roster is flooded with individual talent, pursuit of personal star status may prevent the attainment of team goals. The basketball player chasing a point record, for example, may cost the team by taking risky shots instead of passing to a teammate who is open and ready to score.

Two related findings by Swaab and colleagues indicate that there is in fact tradeoff between top talent and teamwork. First, Swaab and colleagues found that the percentage of top talent on a team affects intrateam coordination. For the basketball study, teams with the highest levels of top performers had fewer assists and defensive rebounds, and lower field-goal percentages. These failures in strategic, collaborative play undermined the team’s effectiveness. The second revealing finding is that extreme levels of top talent did not have the same negative effect in baseball, which experts have argued involves much less interdependent play. In the baseball study, increasing numbers of stars on a team never hindered overall performance. Together these findings suggest that high levels of top talent will be harmful in arenas that require coordinated, strategic efforts, as the quest for the spotlight may trump the teamwork needed to get the job done.

This also applies in business, they suggest.

One Woman’s Drive to Revolutionize Medical Testing

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

Elizabeth Holmes, the 30-year-old CEO of Theranos, is a driven young woman:

Her home is a two-bedroom condo in Palo Alto, and she lives an austere life. Although she can quote Jane Austen by heart, she no longer devotes time to novels or friends, doesn’t date, doesn’t own a television, and hasn’t taken a vacation in ten years. Her refrigerator is all but empty, as she eats most of her meals at the office. She is a vegan, and several times a day she drinks a pulverized concoction of cucumber, parsley, kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, and celery.

Growing up, Holmes was in constant motion. Her father, Chris, worked for government agencies, including, for much of his career, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department, often travelling abroad, overseeing relief and disease-eradication efforts in developing nations; today, he is the global water coördinator for U.S.A.I.D. Her mother, Noel, worked for nearly a decade as a foreign-policy and defense aide on Capitol Hill, until Elizabeth and her brother Christian, two years younger, were born. The family moved several times, which meant there was little opportunity to develop lasting friendships. Holmes describes herself as a happy loner, collecting insects and fishing with her father.

“I was probably, definitely, not normal,” she said. “I was reading ‘Moby-Dick’ from start to finish when I was about nine. I read a ton of books. I still have a notebook with a complete design for a time machine that I designed when I must have been, like, seven. The wonderful thing about the way I was raised is that no one ever told me that I couldn’t do those things.”

Chris Holmes’s great-grandfather Christian Holmes emigrated from Denmark, studied engineering, settled in Cincinnati, and became a physician. When Elizabeth was eight, she was given a tour of the local hospital where he worked and which was named in his honor. He had married the daughter of a patient, Charles Fleischmann, who pioneered packaged yeast and built a baking empire around it. (A nephew, Raoul Fleischmann, started this magazine in 1925, with Harold Ross.) Not all of Fleischmann’s children shared his entrepreneurial drive, and this was a common subject of conversation in the Holmes household. “I grew up with those stories about greatness,” she said, “and about people deciding not to spend their lives on something purposeful, and what happens to them when they make that choice—the impact on character and quality of life.”

In 1993, when Elizabeth was nine, her father took a job in Houston, as executive assistant to the C.E.O. of Tenneco, which was then a manufacturing and energy conglomerate. She knew that her father felt guilty for uprooting the family, so she wrote a letter to console him: “What I really want out of life is to discover something new, something that mankind didn’t know was possible to do.” She reassured him that Texas suited her, because “it’s big on science.”

For several years in the nineteen-eighties, Chris Holmes spent two weeks a month in China, helping American companies invest in large-scale development projects. Soon after the family moved to Houston, Elizabeth started studying Mandarin; by the summer following her sophomore year of high school, she was intent on taking summer classes in Mandarin at Stanford. She repeatedly called the admissions office for information, only to be told, each time, that the program did not enroll high-school students. One day, her father recalls, the head of the program became so annoyed that he grabbed the phone from the employee who was talking to Holmes. “You’ve been calling constantly,” he told her. “I just can’t take it anymore. I’m going to give you the test right now!” He asked questions in Mandarin; she answered fluently, and he accepted her on the spot. She completed three years of college Mandarin while still in high school.

In 2001, in her senior year, Holmes applied to Stanford, was accepted, and then was named a President’s Scholar, which came with a small stipend to select her own research project. Her parents sent her off with a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations,” her father said, “to convey to her: Live a purposeful life.” Holmes elected to study chemical engineering. She was drawn to the work of Channing Robertson, the chemical engineer and, at the time, a dean at the engineering school. Robertson is seventy-one and fit, with thinning hair and a relaxed smile; I visited him in his home on campus. Holmes’s first class with him was a seminar on devices designed to control the release of drugs into the human body. One day, in her freshman year, Robertson said, she came to his office to ask if she could work in his lab with the Ph.D. students. He hesitated, but she persisted and he gave in. At the end of the spring term, she told him that she planned to spend the summer working at the Genome Institute, in Singapore. He warned her that prospective students had to speak Mandarin.

“I’m fluent in Mandarin,” she said.

“I’m thinking, What’s next? She’s already coming into the research group meetings at the end of her freshman year with my Ph.D. students. I find myself listening to her more than to them about the next experiments to be done and the progress that’s been made. I realized she’s different.”

That summer, at the Genome Institute, Holmes worked on testing for severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, an often fatal virus that had broken out in China. Testing was done in the traditional manner, by collecting blood samples with syringes and mucus with nasal swabs. These methods could detect who was infected, but a separate system was needed to dispense medication, and still another system to monitor results. Holmes questioned the approach. At Stanford, she had been exploring what has become known as lab-on-a-chip technology, which allows multiple measurements to be taken from tiny amounts of liquid on a single microchip. “With the type of engineering work and systems I had been focussing on at Stanford, it was quite clear that there were much better ways to do it,” she said.

Before returning to Stanford, Holmes conceived of a way to perform multiple tests at once, using the same drop of blood, and to wirelessly deliver the resulting information to a doctor. That summer, she filed a patent for the idea; it was ultimately approved, in November of 2007. Once back on campus, she went to see Robertson in his office and announced that she wanted to start a company. Robertson was impressed by the idea but urged her to at least consider finishing her degree first.

“Why?” she responded. “I know what I want to do.”

Holmes was consumed by the idea of developing a company. “I got to a point where I was enrolled in all these courses, and my parents were spending all this money, and I wasn’t going to any of them,” she said. “I was doing this full time.” Her parents allowed her to take the money they had set aside for tuition and use it to seed her company. In March, 2004, she dropped out of Stanford; one month later, she incorporated Theranos (the name is a combination of “therapy” and “diagnosis”). She persuaded Robertson to spend one day a week as a technical adviser to the company and to serve as her first board member. Eventually, he retired from his tenured position, and began working at Theranos full time.

Robertson introduced Holmes to several venture capitalists. She insisted that they abide by her terms, which included an understanding that she would retain control and pour the profits back into the company. By December of 2004, she had raised six million dollars from an assortment of investors. As she and the chemists and engineers dug deeper, she became convinced that they could accomplish five objectives: extract blood without syringes, make a diagnosis from a few drops of blood, automate the tests to minimize human error, do the test and get the results more quickly, and do this more economically.

A key to the company’s success was the hiring of Sunny Balwani, a software engineer, now forty-nine, whom Holmes had met in Beijing the summer after her senior year of high school. At the time, he was getting an M.B.A. from Berkeley. He had worked at Lotus and at Microsoft and been a successful entrepreneur, and in 2004 he began graduate studies in computer science at Stanford. He and Holmes spoke often, and they shared a belief that software, not just chemistry or biology, mattered. If Theranos was going to be able to analyze a few drops of blood, engineers would have to develop the software to do it. In 2009, Balwani joined as C.O.O. and president. “Our platform is about automation,” he says. “We have automated the process from start to finish.”

Theranos has managed to keep its technology a secret for much of its decade of existence in part because it occupies a regulatory gray area. Most other diagnostic labs, including Quest and Laboratory Corporation of America, perform blood tests on equipment that they buy from outside manufacturers, like Siemens and Roche Diagnostics. Before those devices can be sold, they must be approved by the F.D.A., a process that makes their tests’ performances more visible to the public. But, since Theranos manufactures its own testing equipment, the F.D.A. doesn’t need to approve it, as long as the company doesn’t sell it or move it out of its labs.

The Retro Electric Moped That’s Taking Over Europe

Friday, March 20th, 2015

The Motorman electric moped offers simplicity in a retro design:

The Motorman may fit the legal definition of a moped, but it has no pedals. The drivetrain is fully electric. No human power required. Tech-wise, though, this is no Tesla. The 2kw engine won’t allow you to do burnouts or evade the polizia. There’s no iPhone charger, blind spot detection sensor, or autonomous driving mode. Not even a lousy cup holder for your macchiato.

What you will get, though, is brilliant industrial design. While other moped and scooter companies are striving to make all their models look like Tron light cycles, Mr. Meijs has gone full retro. The Motorman — with its balloon tires, low-slung gas tank, oversized headlight, and spring-mounted leather seat — looks like a cross between a Schwinn cruiser and a 1915 Harley-Davidson.

Motorman Electric Moped in Red

The ride isn’t bad either. At just 99 pounds (less than half the weight of a typical moped), the Motorman is easy to balance and maneuver through congested streets. “If you can ride a bike,” says Meijs. “You can ride a Motorman.”

[...]

That “fuel tank” holds a lithium polymer battery, the ideal choice for light EVs because of its high power density rating. That translates to some respectable specs. Range: 43 miles. Top speed: 28 mph. Charging time: 6 hours. Not road trip numbers, but ideal for office drones who like the idea of lowering their carbon footprint without breaking a sweat. The Motorman is also maintenance-free and economical to operate: less than two cents per mile. That may help soften the blow of the sticker price: $5,158 for the base model (available in Jet Black or Ruby Red). This being Europe, tack on another 21 percent for the V.A.T. Options, like Bauhaus paint jobs, leather saddlebags and custom logos, will pad the bill further. Which only proves that not every Dutch treat is cheap.

My first instinct is to drop the “fuel tank” to the lowest point on the frame.

Workforce Science

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Michael Housman, chief analytics officer for Evolv, discusses workforce science with Stephen Dubner (Think Like a Freak):

We looked specifically at pay in a research study that we just finished. We found, there is no question that pay enables people to stay longer, and they perform better. But the magnitude of the effects were actually not as big as we had expected. So for every 10 percent increase in pay, there’s a 5 percent reduction in quitting behavior. So it’s a less than one-for-one offset. And what’s more, is that when someone receives a raise, there are kind of these warm fuzzies that are associated with receiving the raise. There’s this halo effect. We found that that effect lasts longer than a week, but not as long as a month.

[...]

Your supervisor alone accounts for about as much variance in terms of longevity in these roles as everything else combined. The effects are staggering. Anecdotally, this seems to resonate with people because everyone has had a bad boss that made them leave the job. And we’ve really made understanding that supervisor/employee relationship a priority of ours because I came into this thinking that it was all about raw talent. You get the right person in the job and everything will work itself out, and that’s really the key decision. Our research has actually show that that’s actually a relatively small piece of the pie, something in the range of 10 to 15 percent.

[...]

What we found was that people who said they were honest actually were 33 percent more likely to be terminated for policy violations. So, learned our lesson, which is you don’t ask people if they’re honest because you tend not to get an honest answer.

[...]

We came up with a very creative way of measuring what we think is honesty and integrity, which is that we asked them upfront, early in the assessment, how are your computer skills, what’s your typing speed, do you feel comfortable with the keyboard and mouse, toggling between the screen and so on and so forth. And then guess what? About five or six screens later we tested them. We asked them what’s the shortcut for cutting and pasting text using a word processor. We actually measured their typing speed and accuracy. And what we found when we compared their self-assessed responses to their actual technical proficiency is that there were two groups of people that came out. One group was relatively honest. They were what they said they were in terms of the technical skills. And the other group we will call a little bit creative in that they claimed to be exceptional with the keyboard and mouse, but they couldn’t type more than 10 words a minute.

Evolv found that the honest employees tested better on just about every performance metric — except sales.

At Their Meets, the Audience Flips, Too

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Utah’s women’s gymnastics team has the highest average attendance in women’s college sports — and in pro sports, too:

The gymnastics team, ranked fourth this season, is averaging 14,682 through four meets. That is on pace to break the team record of 14,376 last year, when only 18 Division I men’s basketball teams regularly played in front of bigger crowds. (Utah was not one of them, and will not be again this year, despite a resurgence to national title contender.)

Plenty of other fans watch from home. Women’s gymnastics meets are, on average, the third most-viewed events on the Pac-12 Network, behind football and men’s basketball.

“And it’s not a distant third, either,” the network vice president Kirk Reynolds said. “It’s right in there with men’s basketball.”

[...]

And if Utah can sell 7,500 season tickets (ranging from $30 to $120), attract 15,000 fans to a two-hour meet, and essentially break even financially, why don’t more universities do the same thing?

Utah, like many other universities, was looking to fill a quota, not seats, in 1975, when it hired a former college diver to coach its women’s gymnastics team:

Marsden, who was paid $1,500, posted fliers around campus looking for would-be gymnasts. At the end of the first season, in 1976, Utah finished 10th in the country. Marsden saw opportunity.

[...]

“No one is going to care as much about your program as you are,” Greg Marsden said. “You can’t abdicate that responsibility.”

Which is why Marsden, now 64 and in his 40th season, still designs the team leotards, down to the placement of every sparkle. And why he knows where every outlet is in the team’s 18,000-square-foot practice facility, and the reason it was placed there.

And why, in the middle of Saturday’s meet with No. 16 Stanford, Marsden walked over to the Utah marketing director Jennifer White and whispered in her ear. He was annoyed that a scoreboard was not working properly. Even while coaching, he was concerned with marketing.

“It was his formula that turned this into an attendance dynasty,” said White, who is in her sixth year.

Marsden’s mantra is unchanged: Create a fast-moving event with no lulls, keep the audience informed of the score and let fans know that their enthusiasm creates an advantage. (Utah’s all-time home record is 431-26.)

The marketing model mirrors the N.B.A.’s. Utah’s gymnasts — nicknamed the Red Rocks, from a marketing campaign 20 years ago that stuck — are introduced with pyrotechnics, dramatic lighting and bass-heavy video production. (Among the introductory boasts: the nation’s leading grade-point average.)

Performances, done one at a time so the crowd’s attention is focused, move from one to another with little lag time. The warm-up minutes between the four events (vault, bars, beam and floor) are filled with contests on the floor and attention-grabbers on the video board. There are cheerleaders, a pep band and a student section.

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“With how dialed in they are, and how structured their meets are, it’s almost like they were waiting for television to arrive,” said Will O’Toole, coordinating producer for the Pac-12 Network. “And that scene, with 15,000 people, the pyrotechnics, the video — I thought I was at a Knicks game.”

Marsden’s quest to streamline the meets has not always endeared him to other coaches. Utah is the only program to reach the national championships every year of its existence, but it frustrates Marsden that the finals are called the Super Six. He has argued that four teams, rotating through four events, would be much easier to follow for fans and better for television. The national championships will be shown live only on ESPN3, the network’s online platform, and will attract a far smaller audience than the likes of Utah see each week.

And why, Marsden wondered, do six gymnasts perform each event, if only the top five scores count? Make every routine matter, he said.

“A lot of sports have done what they can to make their events more friendly,” he said, citing basketball’s adoption of shot clocks and 3-point lines as an example. “Ours has not done that.”

[...]

Utah gymnastics, with a $750,000 budget, breaks even, the university said, thanks mostly to arena revenues from its meets and booster contributions that cover the 12 scholarships.

Steve Sailer notes that the biggest draw in women’s college sports is one where the girls don’t do what they boys do.