Sunday, September 28, 2014

Conquering hunger, revolutionizing agriculture, and profiting... with bugs

Inc. profiles Glen Courtright and his company EnviroFlight:

His first idea: Launch a biodiesel business. He would make fuel out of oil from local restaurants and food-processing plants. But after researching the idea, raising capital, and building a production facility, Courtright pulled the plug in 2008, when availability of the oil proved unreliable.

But Courtright kept turning the idea over in his mind. What else on the planet makes fats and oils for biodiesel? "I looked at enzymes," he recalls. "Nah, too hard. I'm not a bacteriologist. I looked at algae. That was probably a 20-minute no-go decision. Then it hit me: bugs. They're easy to grow. At least, I thought they were." But after toying with the notion of using bugs for fuel, Courtright got a better idea: Use the protein and fat in bugs to feed the planet, not power it.

Making generosity profitable?

Inc has a quick blurb about generosity 'being good for business' riffing off of Adam Grant's Give and Take (Amazon) and for as much as all the warm and fuzzies this generates, I think I'd hypothesize this approach gets the most mileage taking two guidelines into account (above some of the positive publicity it generates):

  1. That generosity is consistent with the core values and more importantly "purpose" of the organization.
  2. The generosity demonstrates loyalty to employees (if you aren't loyal to your employees, why should they be loyal to you?)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Using a 'surprise journal' to make better decisions?

It's an interesting idea - and not sure if the act of recording cognitive dissonance and other surprises will necessarily help in making better decisions but it makes sense (FastCompany):

Galef set out on a personal quest to identify her wrong assumptions. The outcome: the Surprise Journal. She keeps this journal with her at all times, writing down when something surprises her and why. For example, she noticed she was surprised that both older and younger people were attending her workshops, because she assumed people would self-segregate by age. She was surprised that her students would mention a concept from one of her colleague’s classes, because she didn’t expect that idea to be very memorable. “I started thinking about surprise as a cue that my expectations were wrong,” she says.

Many behavioral psychology and cognitive science studies demonstrate that humans find it difficult to change their opinions. In what is known as the “bias blind spot,” it is much easier for us to see other people’s biases than our own. The “confirmation bias” reveals that we seek out feedback from people who are likely to agree with us: We read newspapers and watch TV talk shows that are probably going to tells us things we already agree with. Galef says that there is much more research about how biased humans are than how to change these biases. “I really wanted to get better at changing my mind,” she tells me. “This is not a perfect solution, but it has gone a long way to making me more open and less defensive about when I’m wrong.”

Sometimes the surprises she stumbles upon are major shockers--a friend she thought was loyal betrays her, or a scientific belief is disproven. But the everyday moments of surprise are actually more exciting to Galef. It surprised her, for instance, that her teaching ratings were sometimes lower than the ratings of colleagues. This signaled to her that she had been over-confident about her teaching abilities and had perhaps not been open to feedback that could have improved her skills. Sometimes, it surprises her when audience members seem enthusiastic about one of her talks. Rather than just being flattered by the positive feedback, Galef takes this as an opportunity to assess her own understanding of what makes a topic useful or exciting: Perhaps her pre-suppositions about what other people find interesting is due for a change?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Quote of the Day

I want this to be true... and I suspect it is because companies that have purpose are more likely to energize and rally staff to do great things - Scott Dietzen at TechCrunch:

The missionaries make more money than the mercenaries

Eric Schmidt: Jobs require disruption

Ironic given some of the things Schmidt supports when it comes to regulation - from Wired:

Schmidt blames Europe’s rampant unemployment on the inability to attract investors and innovators. In 2013, Europe’s unemployment rate was climbing above 12 percent, while in the U.S. it was drifting steadily downward below 7.5 percent. “Perhaps Europe’s most pressing problem is its high unemployment rate,” concluded Schmidt.

Uber is a fascinating case study in the types of employment that Americans are willing to accept. It’s easy for Uber to attract tens of thousands of new drivers because they’re all on freelance contract. Uber assumes very little liability and there’s no guarantee of wages.

“Uber stands for a particularly extreme form of wage dumping, which refuses to allow for any minimum wage,” said Dieter Schlenker of Germany’s Taxi Deutschland. “We hope that politicians will steer the taxi clearly into the future and won’t let the U.S. firms put any ideas in their heads.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The best case scenario for the Chinese economy?

A kind of scary if fascinating read by Michael Pettis, mapping out the challenges China faces:

GDP growth must drop every year for the next five or six years by at least 1 percentage point a year. If it drops faster, the period of low growth will be shorter. If it drops more slowly, the period of low growth will be stretched out. On average, GDP growth during President Xi’s administration will not exceed 3-4%.

[...]If investment growth falls sharply, especially investment in the real estate sector, it should cause unemployment to surge, which of course puts downward pressure on household income growth as well as on consumption growth, potentially pushing China into a self-reinforcing downward spiral. This, I think, is one of the biggest risks to an orderly adjustment. The good news is that if large initial wealth transfers to households can kick start a rise in consumption, growth driven by household consumption, especially growth in services, tends to be much more labor intensive than the capital-intensive investment growth that too-low interest rates have forced onto China. A transfer of domestic demand from investment to consumption implies, in other words, that employment growth can be maintained at much lower levels of GDP growth.