Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Age of Disruption.

Adrian Wooldridge, Management Editor and Schumpeter columnist for The Economist, has written a book entitled “The great disruption: How business is coping with turbulent times.” He gave a fascinating talk on this subject at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), Thursday 23rd April 2015, in London. Following are selected excerpts from his talk, some of which are paraphrased:

We live in a period of sustained disruption driven by technology. The pace of technological change has sped up, and it’s more pervasive than anything we’ve seen before. Television went from invention to common usage in about 70 years; electricity took about fifty years. The cell phone was used by relatively few people in the mid-nineties. Now most people on earth have a cell phone, including many poor people. The internet took less than ten years to gain wide usage, then began mutating at an extraordinary speed, evolving from something you look at for information to become social, mobile, and all pervasive.

Another disruption is the premium put on companies that are asset and people light. Companies driving the global economy today employ very few people. Contract based companies arrange transactions between someone who needs a service and someone who can provide it for a price. Uber exemplifies this trend, connecting people who need transportation with car owners. Companies are becoming intermediaries, facilitators of transactions. There is a spot market in talent, a spot market in opportunities, and no real organization, thus the virtualization of organizations. This trend goes beyond taxi services and includes professional services. In many ways this will become the employment model of the future.

Recorded highlights from Mr. Wooldridge’s talk are available in a program entitled “The Age of Disruption,” a segment on the program “Big Ideas” on RN, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast on 5/21/15.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

The Reading Mind.

When I was a young boy I did not enjoy reading and I didn’t enjoy being taken to the library by my mother, who loved to read. On occasion my mother would insist that I sit at the kitchen table and read in her presence. Eventually I came to enjoy reading. I still remember the first book I picked out on my own and really enjoyed: “The Dillinger Days” by John Toland. I was probably around twelve or thirteen at this time. When I moved to New York City and started commuting on the subway regularly I stepped up my reading tremendously. Instead of waiting impatiently for a train to arrive, I pulled out a book and got lost in it until the train came. I felt a sense of community reading on the subway. There were always several people reading around me and I enjoyed the variety of books I saw on the train: everything from Jane Austen to Tom Clancy. It was also interesting to see how many people were reading a current best seller. I had a lot of company reading Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” on the train, no doubt due in part to the fact that the book is set in New York City and seemed to foreshadow events and personalities in the news.

As I was browsing through the archive of past editions of OnPoint, hosted by Tom Ashbrook, I was intrigued by a program entitled “The Reading Mind,” which aired on 9/7/07. His guests were Maryanne Wolf, professor of child development at Tufts University and author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain”; Constance Steinkuehler, professor of educational communication and technology, University of Wisconsin at Madison; and Jack Beatty, senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly. Professor Wolf explained that the act of reading actually shapes the human brain by causing groups of neurons to create new connections and pathways among themselves. Learning to read has a profound impact on a child’s brain. As children learn to read and the neurons in their brains get connected, this process facilitates the acquisition of cognitive skills like inferential thinking. Tom asked professor Wolf if exposure to digital media will impact the brain negatively and she was cautious in her reply. She said she knew for certain that reading print material is highly beneficial for the brain but she couldn’t say the same thing about digital media. When I walk into a library and see people sitting at computers and all the shelf space devoted to DVDs, I am glad to see people checking books out, especially when they have children in tow.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

A portrait of Weimar Germany.

Back in the late seventies I saw an exhibit of photographs by the German photographer August Sander. I was visiting a friend attending graduate school at the University of Michigan at the time and I saw the exhibit at a University gallery. Sander was a portrait photographer and this exhibit showcased a project he undertook to capture a cross section of German society during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). I was struck by the powerful beauty of the photographs and especially by the variety of people depicted. There were people of all classes, from laborers to executives, but there were also people dressed as if they were photographed in an avant-garde gallery in Soho in 1980s New York City.

I have never forgotten this exhibit, so my curiosity was piqued by the 10/30/07 edition of OnPoint, hosted by Tom Ashbrook, entitled: “Weimar Germany Revisited.” Tom’s guests in this show were Eric Weitz, then professor of history at the University of Minnesota and author of the book “Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy” and Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst and senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly. Professor Weitz argued that this period in Germany has been overshadowed by twelve years of the Third Reich that followed it. He took pains to point out that the Republic did not “just collapse.” Rather, he argued, it was undone by a coalition of the established Right (those occupying powerful positions in state bureaucracy, churches, the officer corps, and universities) and the newer, extreme Right, including the Nazis. In addition to highlighting the many political and artistic achievements in this period, he offered a few lessons for our times, one of which is to beware of efforts of extreme groups to target as enemies particular ethnic or religious groups. Like August Sander, Professor Weitz painted a vivid portrait of this period in German history.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

And I am sure you will agree that was a great landing!

I live and work near several airports. It seems like I can hear a jet or see one on the horizon every time I look up in the sky. Given the number of flights every day, the industry has a very impressive safety record. In addition to amazing technology and rigorous maintenance practices, the industry benefits from excellent pilots. One such aviator, Qantas pilot Richard de Crespigny, tells the story of how he and his crew coped with a catastrophic engine explosion on an Airbus A380 in a riveting interview entitled “Richard de Crespigny,” a segment of the program Conversations with Richard Fidler on RN, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast on July 3, 2013.

Richard Fidler starts his interview with Captain de Crespigny by asking about his background and aviation training. The Captain describes a training flight while he was in the Royal Australian Air Force. He was in a fighter jet with a more experienced pilot who suddenly put the jet into a spinning dive, then sat back smiling with his arms folded and asked de Crespigny what he was going to do now. The new pilot pulled the jet out of the dive and never took a smooth flight for granted after that experience, which left him mentally prepared to deal with a sudden emergency at any time during a flight.

Richard de Crespigny was Captain of Quantas Flight 32 out of Singapore on November fourth, 2010. Shortly after taking off, an engine exploded, causing massive damage to several of the plane’s systems. The cockpit was flooded with warning messages and alarms from the jet’s computers. In order to deal with the engine explosion in the A380 he decided to “invert the logic,” a strategy that he recalled being used by Gene Kranz, NASA’s Flight Director during the Apollo 13 mission. The idea is to switch your focus from what isn’t working to what is still functional. The crew focused on establishing that they had an aircraft with systems functioning well enough to keep flying and safely land on the runway available to them at Singapore Airport. One step in this process was to simulate some landing maneuvers while still in the air.

The passengers felt and heard the engine explode and some of them could even see fuel leaking out of the plane. As related by Captain de Crespigny, the Cabin Services Manager, Michael Von Reth, exuded calmness and confidence throughout the ordeal and kept good order in the cabin. After the crew safely executed an extremely difficult and risky landing, Von Reth went on the public address system and calmly announced “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Singapore. The local time is ten to eleven on Thursday, November fourth. And I am sure you will agree that was a great landing!”

To listen to the program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience, visit this URL below:

Please, sir, I want some more.

My favorite paragraph in any novel is the first one in “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. In addition to being a fantastic writer, Dickens was a highly influential social reformer. This point is driven home in “Please Sir, I Want Some More,” a segment on the program “Big Ideas” on RN, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast on 10/14/07. In this segment, host Terry Lane talks to Dickens biographer Jane Smiley and Professor David Paroissien, Editor of the Dickens Quarterly. When Dickens was a child his father fell deep into debt and as a result Charles had to go to work in a boot black factory and live with a highly unpleasant land lady. That experience gave him a lot of empathy for children with difficult lives. According to Smiley, Dickens broke with tradition by illustrating how mistreatment in childhood can lead to antisocial behavior in adulthood, including crime. Smiley contends that before Dickens popularized this enlightened view it was thought that people were criminals because they were born that way. Dickens also brought to light the appalling living conditions that poor Londoners had to endure. In this program an actor reads a strikingly powerful and eloquent excerpt from Oliver Twist, which describes living conditions in a slum in London.

To listen to the program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience, visit this URL below:

The internal report on innovation at the New York Times.

The New York Times recently completed an internal report that assesses the paper’s difficulties in positioning itself for success in the digital era. The report was leaked and is readily available on the Internet. It’s full of insightful analysis and a great source for anyone interested in the impact the Internet has had on journalism. Joshua Benton, Director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, wrote an article about the report entitled “The leaked New York Times innovation report is one of the key documents of this media age.” Mr. Benton discussed the report in a program entitled “The internal report on innovation at the New York Times,” which aired on the May 22, 2014 edition of Media Report on Radio National from Australian Public Radio.

To listen to the program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience, visit this URL below:

Mr. Benton’s article, through which you can access a copy of the innovation report, can be accessed at this URL:

Digital photography, social media and memory.

I was at the Coast Guard Beach on the National Seashore on Cape Cod in Massachusetts one recent evening and saw an amazing moon rise. The moon first appeared as a deep red semi-circle; within a few minutes the full moon was visible low over the ocean in brilliant red; as it rose higher in the sky it turned silver within about twenty minutes. As I watched the moon rise I decided to take a picture of it with my phone. A friend commented on how digital photography has changed the way people take pictures, suggesting that the ease and low cost of taking pictures often leads people to pull out cameras and photograph images instead of savoring them in the moment.

This conversation was on my mind when I listened to a radio program on this very subject from the program Future Tense on Radio National from Australian Public Radio. “Staying in the picture: photography, social media and memory” was broacast on 3/30/14. Host Antony Funnell had four guests on the show, including Dr Linda Henkel, cognitive psychologist at Fairfield University in Connecticut.

Dr. Henkel described a study she conducted in which subjects visiting the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University were instructed to either photograph objects in the museum or try to remember them. Among other findings, it turned out that those who photographed the objects had more trouble remembering what they had seen, which Dr. Henkel called the “photo-taking impairment effect.” If you want to use photos to remember an experience, Dr. Henkel advises reminiscing by looking at the photos as well as talking about and organizing them. I listen to podcasts freqently, sometimes several different programs, of varying lengths, in a single day. About five percent of them end up in this blog. I have found that unless I discuss a podcast with someone, take notes on it, or write a blog about it, I tend to forget it fairly quickly. Technology has amplified our ability to gather information in various forms, but evidence suggests that unless we take the time to think it over and, ideally, share what we have learned, we tend to retain relatively little of what we have captured in electronic form.

To listen to the program, read a transcript, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience, visit this URL below:

Dr. Henkel’s study is described in a brief article, “Taking photographs ruins the memory, research finds,” published in The Telegraph, 12/10/13, available at this URL:

The Library of the Future.

The Internet has disrupted many industries, including travel agents, brick and mortar bookstores, car dealers, and journalism (particulary newspapers and magazine newsstand sales). Public libraries have also felt the impact of the digital revolution. People only have so much time to read and digital content is taking a growing portion of that time, allowing people to access reading material without going to a library. In this podscast, “The Library of the Future,” host Paul Barclay, along with three librarians (including one American) and a writer, discuss how public libraries can survive and thrive in the new digital world. This discussion was a segment on the feature “Big Ideas” on the program RN, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcast on 3/10/14.

To listen to the program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience, visit this URL below :

Women in 1950s England; the woman behind a medical miracle; and a 19th century murder mystery set in Russia.

When my book group read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot a few years back we had an unusually large turnout for the discussion. I found the book very interesting so I was excited to see that it was featured in one of my favorite book discussion programs, Books and Authors, on the BBC on 6/24/14. Harriet Gilbert is the host of the show. She and each of her guests pick a book and they all discuss each one in turn. Financial adviser Alvin Hall picked the book about Henrietta Lacks and lead the discussion, including his perspective as an African American who grew up in segregation around the time a scientist removed some cancer cells from Ms. Lacks, also an African American, without her permission, and without informing her family. These cells were widely used in medical research, including the development of the polio vaccine.

Journalist and author India Knight chose the novel “Jane and Prudence” by Barbara Pym and lead that discussion. This novel, about the lives of two women in England in the 1950s couldn’t be more different than the book about Henrietta Lacks. I never thought I would be interested in reading a book by Ms. Pym, but after hearing about her witty social observations I might give this one a try. The discussion was at times hilarious. The last book, recommended by Harriett Gilbert, was “The Winter Queen” by Boris Akunin, which according to Ms. Gilbert was very popular in Russia recently. In addition to being a very good story, it was noted that the translation from Russian is outstanding.

This edition of Books and Authors was especially entertaining because of the wit, humor, and insightful comments from Ms. Gilbert and her two guests. To listen to the program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience, visit the URL below, then scroll down until you come to the program entitled “A Good Read: India Knight and Alvin Hall,” and dated 6/24/14.

How much would you pay for this blog post?

Online publishers are trying to figure out how they can afford to deliver quality digital journalism when so much content from competitors is available to consumers for free. Publishers have tried different experiments with paywalls over the years, some more successful than others. As explained in NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday on May 03, 2014, Slate was one of the first online magazines to try a pay wall in 1998, but the effort failed and they had to stop charging for content. David Folkenflik of NPR points out that Slate “can’t simply expect that online advertising and some of the revenue they get from their podcasts, from which they derive about 20 percent of their revenues, will be enough to sustain the journalism” people have come to expect from them.

In a new effort to earn money to run the site, Slate has launched Slate Plus, described on the site as “an all-access pass for readers who support our journalism and want a closer connection to it.” For $5 a month or $50 a year, members will have exclusive access to Slate writers, as well as access to private events, and enhanced podcasts. Articles will still be free to those who don’t sign up for Slate Plus, says Folkenflik. Jacob Weisberg, the chairman of the Slate Group, reportedly “wants readers of Slate to think of themselves as customers of Slate, or even as members of Slate.” It will be interesting to see if this model, akin to the way NPR funds its journalism, will work for Slate.

To listen to the program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience, visit the URL below: