Friday

Five Good Reasons Not to Be Selfless (and Five Better Reasons to Be Selfless Anyway)


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In Seth Adam Smith's latest book, he talks about the value of selflessness in a world that is focused on pleasing only the self. There are other books like this but none with the humor and frank confessions found in Seth's writing (not to mention his thoroughly imperfect and anything but holier -than-thou persona).

Being selfless is a pain. Why do it? Seth presents below five good reasons why you shouldn't bother being selfless. Then he goes and ruins his own arguments by saying why there are five better reasons to be selfless:

Tuesday

Five Terrible Names for Products (and What They Could Have Named Them Instead)


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In Alexandra Watkins' latest book, Hello My Name Is Awesome, she talks about the various qualities that good product and business names should have and also what pitfalls to avoid.

Every year, corporations and individuals spend a lot of time and money creating names for themselves and their products, and every year, despite their best efforts, many of them arrive at names that are, well, terrible.

Here is Alexandra's personal list of the five worst names she has encountered (and what they could have used instead):

Friday

Five Fascinating Historical Meetings


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In their latest book, Dick and Emily Axelrod tackle the topic of meetings and how to make them meaningful and productive instead of the time-wasting, soul-sucking chores they can become.

In celebration of meetings that had great impact, here are five such events that stand out in modern history:

1. Pope John Paul II and Mehmet Ali Agca: the meeting that demonstrated the power of forgiveness.
In 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca, a member of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves group shot and wounded Pope John Paul II. On Decenber 27, 1983, the Pope visited Agca in prison and they became friends. The Pope also connected with Agca's family. In 2005, when Pope John Paul II died, Agca begged and pleaded to be given leave to attend the Pope's funeral but was refused. This friendship that resulted from this meeting best demonstrates the healing power of forgiveness and faith. Agca's brother reported that when the Pope died, the entire family remained in mourning.

2. Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito: the meeting that demonstrated how full personal accountability can change the course of a nation.
On December 27, 1945, MacArthur met with Japan's emperor in Tokyo following Japan's surrender. MacArthur thought that the emperor may deny wrongdoing but instead, Hirohito stated that he took full responsibility for all actions and decisions made by Japanese forces during the war and that he would readily accept whatever judgment given to him by the allied forces with no debate. MacArthur, who at that point had been under pressure from the Russians and the British to punish Hirohito severely for war crimes, decided that the emperor was a man of honor and that rebuilding Japan would be much easier if they let him remain as ruler (but not a Shinto deity). Hirohito was a man of science and took this opportunity of clemency to help Japan rebuild by focusing the nation on modernization and technology.

3. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant: the meeting that demonstrated how even opponents  should always be treated with respect.
On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee met with General Grant  at Appotomattox Court House in Virgina to formally surrender and put an end to the bloodiest conflict in US history. During their conversation, they realized that they had met previously -- when fighting for the same side in Mexico. Lee informed Grant that his men owned their horses and asked that they be allowed to keep them, which Grant agreed to. After signing the surrender letter and as Lee began to leave the courthouse, Grant -- the victor -- raised his hat and formally saluted Lee (a salute which Lee dutifully returned). Grant then sent thousands of pounds of rations for Lee's men who had not eaten in several days.

4. Thomas Stafford and Alexei Leonov: the meeting that demonstrated how we can overcome political and idealogical borders.
On July 17, 1975, astronauts Thomas Stafford of the United States Apollo mission and Alexei Leonov of the (then) USSR Space Program met and shook hands through the open hatch of the Soyuz space station and then linked with one another for almost two whole days. During this time, crew members visited each other's ships, ate together, and spoke at length. When they parted, they gifted one another seeds of indigenous plants from their individual countries. This may just seem like a sweet story now, but at that time with the Cold War paranoia that had each nation fearing an immediate nuclear strike from the other at any moment, this was considered outright crazy.

5. Edwin Booth and Abraham Lincoln: the meeting that demonstrated that our lives operate by sheer random chaos or that there is an ominous pattern to everything well beyond our comprehension.
Everyone knows that John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln on April 14, 1865. What is less known but is still a fact is that John's brother, Edwin, saved Lincoln's eldest son's life just one year before. Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was waiting at a train platform to buy passage on sleeping cars. As the train began to move unexpectedly, Lincoln lost his footing and started slipping on to the rails. Edwin Booth immediately reached out and grabbed Lincoln by the collar and pulled him to safety. Edwin Booth was a very well-known Shakespearan actor and so Lincoln recognized him immediately. Booth had no idea of the identity of the man he had just saved,

Tuesday

Five Investing Myths Even the Pros Believe

In their latest book, Michael Edesess, Kwok L. Tsui, Carol Fabbri, and George Peacock focus on what investors need to watch and what myths they should not fall prey to.

To illustrate the dangers of the various investing myths that circulate even at the higher levels these days, the authors list just five such myths below:


Myth #1. You can beat the market.
No, you can’t beat the market because to “beat” something assumes that it has certain, established parameters and, strengths, and weaknesses, but you can’t beat that which is volatile, always shape-shifting, yet far bigger than you. Believing you can beat the market  is like believing you can win big in casinos. Sure, you can win money on one or two instances, but over the long term, the house always wins. To beat the market on a sustained basis you have to be able to predict what no one else can predict, and do it again and again and again. Nobody can do that consistently except by sheer luck.

Myth #2. You get what you pay for in the investment advice and management business.
In some fields, the more you pay the better the product works -- not so with investment advice and management. Just like brand-name products can sell for a higher price and yet be of equal or even inferior quality to non-brand name products, you are often paying a markup for the name or the hype. And in that sense, the more you pay for investment advice and management the less your investments will grow – and they will grow a whole lot less (because a lot of your investment is just going to the people behind the name and hype, not into the marketplace where it has a chance to multiply).

Myth #3. You’ll increase your investment return by running a “sophisticated” asset allocation program.
Almost all financial advisors run “asset allocation” programs for their clients. Most investors think that with such a fancy name, the program must do something equally fancy with math that increases your investment return. The problem is that no amount of fancy math can change the reality of investing and its chaotic nature, because math is about established facts where certain actions or equations have certain predictable outcomes. In short,there’s no real math – the allocation program has to be engineered so that it produces ideal-scenario (instead of realistic-scenario) results. It's essentially wishful thinking with a more legitimate name.

Myth #4. If they don’t get professional advice, most investors tend to buy at market tops and sell at market bottoms.
The financial media have repeated again and again the results of “research” that supposedly shows that individual investors make persistent errors in judgment – about when to get in the market and when to get out. They claim that supposedly “uninformed” investors buy too high and sell too low. People tend to accept this as a fact but no one has actually verified through extensive detailed research whether this is true (nor do people consider that most times this supposed research is presented by those offering professional advice). There is actually a viable counter-argument that states that investors are likely to be a lot more conscious of how and where they invest their money when they are doing it themselves instead of having someone else manage their money for them. Wouldnt you?

Myth #5. Wealthy and sophisticated investors get better investment results than ordinary investors.
This follows that those with more financial resources and expensive advisors make far more money than others, but it is simply not true. Yes, the more money you put in, the more money you can potentially make, but that's just simple logic. By the same logic, the more you put in, the more you can potentially lose, and some of the worst investment results in the past decade have been in hedge funds and complicated derivatives bought by wealthy investors as well as institutional investors like pension funds. Not only were their results worse than those of “unsophisticated” investors, but in the case of hedge fund investments, they paid significantly higher fees (you know  for that professional advice) for even less returns.

Friday

Five Facts About Teachers and Teaching


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The Best Teacher in You shows those in this noble but often challenging profession how best to accomplish what they need to do and reach those students they need to reach. As much passion as there is about igniting the love of learning, this book affirms the fact that such a goal cannot be reached without also affirming the love of teaching.

Here are five things you probably didn't know about teachers and the teaching profession:

1. Teaching is one of the most challenging jobs around. Nationally, about 14 percent of teachers quit in their first year on the job.

2. In a 2013 Pew Research Survey, teaching was second only to serving in the military when asked rank occupations that contributed to society as a whole. Ironically, these two professions are also among the lowest-paid.

3. American poet Walt Whitman was a teacher and a rebellious one at that. During his time, corporal punishment was the norm but he refused to follow that sort of thinking and espoused a Socratic method instead. Many of Whitman's views on education were well ahead of his time.

4. In 2013, public and private schools employed 3.7 million full-time teachers to teach 55.3 million students.

5. The National Education Association tracks teacher salaries across the nation. Teachers' salaries depend a great deal on the state in which they teach. The average highest starting salaries for teachers can be found in Washington DC at $51,539 whereas the lowest is in Montana at $27,274. Nationally, the average starting teacher salary is just $36,141.

Thursday

Five Ideas that Came from Accidents on the Frontlines


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In their latest book, Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder explore how frontline employees in many organizations are the ones that fuel growth and innovation by making the sorts of discoveries that revolutionize an entire industry.

Here are just five examples of amazing innovations that didn't come from management but from happy accidents coupled with the foresight of smart frontline employees:

1. The Microwave
Percy Spencer was an engineer at Raytheon. One day, after he had walked in front of a magnetron (a vacuum tube used to generate microwaves), he noticed that the candy bar he had been saving for a snack had completely melted into a gooey mess in his pocket. Spencer started experimenting further and in 1945 created the first microwave oven.

2. Teflon
Roy Plunkett was a researcher at DuPont in the refrigeration section tasked with replacing the coolant that was being used at the time (which was made of ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and propane) with something more home-friendly. He was experimenting with various samples, including a very early form of polytetraflouroethylene, but when he opened the container that it had been stored in, he saw that the experimental gas was gone and all that was left was a weird resin that was completely resistant to both heat and chemicals. Teflon was born.

3. Post-It Notes
In 1974, Arthur Fry learned of an adhesive that was accidentally developed by fellow 3M employee Spencer Silver that was too weak to really hold anything. Spencer thought he had failed but Fry found the adhesive to be perfect for holding bookmarks in his hymnal when singing in the church choir -- and it didn't leave a residue and was easy to remove. Seeing the potential for other applications, they approached their employer about manufacturing note cards with the adhesive. In 1980, 3M introduced Post-It notes, and the rest is history.

4. Superglue
Harry Coover was working at a Tennessee chemical plant. The chemical plant was looking for a chemical compound that required neither heat nor pressure to form a bond. Harry remembered that he once tried to make precision gun sights for handheld weaponry using a clear plastic. The problem was that the chemical instantly polymerized when it came in contact with moisture and caused all materials to bond together. However, this quality made it ideal as a strong sealant that could deliver just what the company was looking for. Superglue was born.

5. Minoxidil (Rogaine)
Researchers at Upjohn were testing a blood pressure drug named Loniten. The medication itself had only limited success, but the test subjects would comment during interviews about how their hair was growing in thicker or their hair loss had stopped. Researchers then took the active ingredient from the medication and made it a foam to apply on the scalp. The results were encouraging enough to petition for an entirely new product. Today, Rogaine sales account for approximately $60 million a year in income.

Monday

Five Reasons Why "Sustainable" and "Environmentally Safe" Products Failed


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Nadya Zhexembayeva's latest book encourages leaders to look for resources in unconventional and unexpected ways to manufacture and market their products and still be sustainable. Good thing, too, because traditional sustainability initiatives have proven quite useless for most businesses.

Here are five reasons why traditional sustainability efforts have failed:

1. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon -- and most of them without any integrity. Have you seen all the "gluten-free" labels on products these days? It has been slapped on products that never had gluten anyway (like beef jerky). In that same way, consumers have gotten smart to labels such as "organic" and "all-natural" as not exactly honest. And with so many manufacturers all using the same buzz-phrases and emphasizing how kind they're being to the planet and yet so few actually having any real impact, the public now suffers from "green fatigue." They've been bombarded with green marketing so much that they frankly don't care any more.

2. Not Everyone Wants to Pay More Just to Be Green.
American economist Theodore Levitt was the first to exclaim that marketers should not overlook the importance of a product's value at the expense of market needs. The market gets first priority. This is not what happened with green marketing, though. The most successful green products have to offer a consumer value equal to that of non-green products. Consumers may care about the planet, but they care even more -- on the whole -- about the quality of their products, so playing the green card doesn't ensure profits.

3. Manufacturers and Environmentalists Have Used the Wrong Narrative.
By using the doom-and-gloom scenario, environmentalists and others have created a bigger problem. Consumers will act on initiatives where they feel they have some impact and also feel good about doing it. However, the narratives we have been using emphasize two big negatives: (a) Guilt over not doing anything (and guilt is never a motivator), and (b) The idea that the future is so dark and doomed that an individual's choice of what detergent is purchased won't make any difference anyway.

4. Major Brands Are Not Getting Behind Sustainability in a Big Way.
As Joel Makower has argued, the large companies are not really getting behind any real sustainability initiatives other than just dipping their smallest toe in the water. In 2010, of the ten largest advertisers  (Procter & Gamble, AT&T, General Motors, Verizon, News Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Time Warner, General Electric and Walt Disney), only two -- GM and GE -- have tried in earnest to market products as "green." One of those -- GE -- is largely B-to-B.

5. No One Bothered to See What the General Public Was Thinking About Sustainability.
Sustainability has by and large been a one-way talk to the public without anyone doing much research to see what the public thought. Had research been done, we would have learned how to present sustainability in a way that would appeal to everyone. OgilvyEarth released a report that outlined the usual problems with green products (overpriced, too niche-y) but also presented new information that no one thought to act on. For one, 82% of the people they surveyed said that going green was "more feminine than masculine." No one thought that gender played a role in this, and that's the problem. Another finding was that 82% of Americans have no idea what "carbon footprint" is or how to calculate theirs. This explains why 70% of Americans would rather cure cancer than fix the environment.