Tuesday 17th January 2017

  • Why the disconnect between Davos and the real world is growing exponentially

    The top executives, financiers, academics and politicians making their way up the mountain to the World Economic Forum will be talking a lot about such non-establishment leaders as US President-elect Donald Trump - whose inauguration in Washington occurs on the event's last day - France's National Front chief Marine Le Pen and Italian populist Beppe Grillo of the Five Star Movement. But they won't be meeting them. Not one of the leaders bent on overturning the world order as Davos has designed it will be present. More here

  • True Leaders Believe Dissent Is an Obligation

    Edgar Schein, professor emeritus at MIT Sloan School of Management, once asked a group of students what it means to be promoted to the rank of manager. "They said without hesitation, 'It means I can now tell others what to do.'" That's precisely the know-it-all style of leadership that has led to so much crisis and disappointment. "Deep down, many of us believe that if you are not winning, you are losing," Schein warns. The "tacit assumption" among executives "is that life is fundamentally and always a competition." But humility and ambition, he argues, need not be at odds. Instead, humility in the service of ambition is the most effective and sustainable mindset for leaders who aspire to do big things in a world filled with huge unknowns. More here

  • Is Canada the world's first post-nationalist country?

    When Justin Trudeau said 'there is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada', he was articulating a uniquely Canadian philosophy that some find bewildering, even reckless - but could represent a radical new model of nationhood. Could Canada be the world's first post-nationalist country? Canada has been over-praised lately for, in effect, going about its business as usual. In 2016 such luminaries as US President Barack Obama and Bono, no less, declared "the world needs more Canada". More here

  • Are corporates really mortgaging the future to achieve quarterly goals?

    Corporates are mortgaging the long-term future to achieve quarterly goals, right? From academics like Michael Porter to politicians like Hillary Clinton, many would have you believe this is precisely the case and that this is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. However, data suggests otherwise! Corporate profits in America have increased steadily since 1980 and short-termists were around even in the 1980s. Surely, 36 years is a long period. Moreover, according to the World Bank, in 1980 the number of people living in extreme poverty globally was around 2 billion, some 44% of the world's population, which numbered about 4.5 billion. By 2012, that figure had fallen to less than 900 million, or about 13% of the global population of 7 billion. The World Bank projected last year that for the first time the number of people living in extreme poverty around the globe was expected to have fallen below 10%. More here

  • How a centuries-old tradition gave rise to China's most valuable company!

    Like many other payment app, WeChat allows its users to send Packets of predetermined amounts to each other, either individually or in groups. But it also encourages users to send money to groups in randomized amounts. Say you have a chat group with five pals. You can put $5 in a red envelope and set it to disburse equally, so each friend gets $1. Alternatively, you could stipulate that the first two people to tap will get all the money in equal portions- $2.50 each - or that the first two people get a random cut, maybe $1 for one person and $4 for the other. The result is that any time a red envelope appears, people scramble to tap on it as fast as possible. (The packets expire in a day, adding to the time pressure.) Only afterwards do they see how much money they've won, giving it an addictive element of surprise. So addictive, in fact, that third-party apps now exist that let users grab red envelopes without unlocking their phones. More in this story about how a centuries-old tradition gave rise to China's most valuable company and captured the attention of everyone from teens to Silicon Valley

  • Meet the James Bond of philanthropy!

    Meet Charles Feeney, the James Bond of philanthropy. Last month, with a $7 million grant to Cornell university, he officially emptied his pockets and met his aspiration of 'giving while living'. Altogether, he has contributed $8 billion to his philanthropies, which support higher education, public health, human rights and scientific research. His remaining personal net worth is slightly more than $2 million. That's not quite broke, by any standard, but it is a modest amount for a man who controlled thousands of times as much wealth. He and his wife, Helga, now live in a rented apartment in San Francisco. Full story here

  • How to negotiate with VCs

    When negotiating with venture capitalists, most startup founders worry about only 1 thing - the valuation! However, as this HBR piece demonstrates, not focusing on other terms might lead to undesirable outcomes for founders more often than not. For example, liquidation preference, which is designed to protect a VC's up-front investment, tends to have a big impact on how much wealth is transferred to the VC if the company enjoys moderate success but has much less impact if the company performs spectacularly. If you think about these issues carefully during a negotiation, you will discover that a VC's preferences about such terms can reveal his interests and his assessment of a company's prospects. A VC who insists on enhancing the liquidation preference may believe that the valuation proposed by the founders is too high. The liquidation preference serves as an insurance policy that protects the VC's downside risk from founder overconfidence. More in this article

  • How Amazon is killing it!

    Two articles about Amazon caught my attention yesterday - both strengthen my will to invest my non-existent savings in Amazon shares. Vox makes the case that Amazon is innovating in ways very different from Google and Apple. I agree - While Google and Apple have struggled beyond their core areas, Amazon has made business successes out of completely unrelated products - the main Amazon.com ecommerce service, Amazon Web Services (Cloud Computing), Kindle (Devices), Amazon Echo (Home Automation). An explanation in this article. The second article is from Stratechery and has a nice primer on how the 'operating system' is the layer that dominates and makes money in a business ecosystem. It makes the case that Alexa is really Amazon's operating system for the home. Fascinating stuff! Full article here

  • Don't romanticize entrepreneurs; Understand how hard their lives can be!

    It is fashionable to romanticise entrepreneurs. Business professors celebrate the geniuses who break the rules and change the world. Politicians praise them as wealth creators. Glossy magazines drool over Richard Branson's villa on Lake Como. But the reality can be as romantic as chewing glass: first-time founders have the job security of zero-hour contract workers, the money worries of chronic gamblers and the social life of hermits. Shout out to Srikanth Aithala for the story recommendation. Full story here

  • Demonetization is more about public perception now!

    In today's post truth world (debate framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from details of policy or truth), the real battle is the battle to control public perception. The belief amongst the poor (the majority) that the corrupt rich (a minority) have been greatly affected by demonetization may lead to electoral benefits that may be a bigger victory for Modi than any real economic benefits. We may never know the true costs and benefits of demonetization, but we do know that patriotism (standing in bank lines is a worthy sacrifice for a better India) is a potent emotional weapon that few can argue against. We can expect a continued PR battle between pro-Modi and anti-Modi forces, although I suspect the government has an upper hand, considering the power they wield, their better communication skills and the weak opposition environment.

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