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    Why does immunotherapy achieve dramatic results in some cancer patients but fail in others? 

    Scientists have elucidated the mechanism behind some tumor's ability to escape immunotherapy drugs. Image: iStock

    Why does immunotherapy achieve dramatic results in some cancer patients but doesn’t help others? It is
    an urgent and vexing question for many cancer specialists.

    Now, two research groups from Harvard Medical School based at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have independently discovered a genetic mechanism in cancer cells that influences whether they resist or respond to immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors.

    The findings, the researchers say, reveal potential new drug targets and could aid efforts to extend the benefits of immunotherapy treatment to more patients and target additional types of cancer.

    The two groups converged on a discovery that resistance to immune checkpoint blockade is critically controlled by changes in a group of proteins that regulate how DNA is packaged in cells. The collection of proteins, called a chromatin remodeling complex, is known as SWI/SNF. Its components are encoded by different genes, among them ARID2, PBRM1 and BRD7. SWI/SNF’s job is to open up stretches of tightly wound DNA so that its blueprints can be read by the cell to activate certain genes to make proteins. 

    Researchers led by Van Allen and Choueiri sought an explanation for why some patients with a form of metastatic kidney cancer called clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) gain clinical benefit—sometimes durable—from treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors that block the PD-1 checkpoint, while other patients don’t.

    The scientists’ curiosity was piqued by the fact that ccRCC differs from other types of cancer that respond well to immunotherapy, such as melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer and a specific type of colorectal cancer. Cells of the latter cancer types contain many DNA mutations, which are thought to make distinctive tumor antigens called, neoantigens, which help the patient’s immune system recognize and attack tumors and make the cancer cells’ microenvironment hospitable to tumor-fighting T cells. By contrast, ccRCC kidney cancer cells contain few mutations, yet some patients even with advanced, metastatic disease respond well to immunotherapy.

    To search for other characteristics of ccRCC tumors that influence immunotherapy response or resistance, the researchers used whole exome DNA sequencing to analyze tumor samples from 35 patients treated in a clinical trial with the checkpoint blocker nivolumab (Opdivo). They also analyzed samples from another group of 63 patients with metastatic ccRCC treated with similar drugs.

    When the data were sorted and refined, the scientists discovered that patients who benefited from the immunotherapy treatment with longer survival and progression-free survival were those whose tumors lacked a functioning PRBM1 gene. About 41 percent of patients with ccRCC kidney cancer have a nonfunctioning PBRM1 gene. That gene encodes a protein called BAF180, which is a subunit of the PBAF subtype of the SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complex. 

    Loss of the PBRM1 gene function caused the cancer cells to have increased expression of other genes, including those in the gene pathway known as IL6/JAK-STAT3, which are involved in immune system stimulation.

    The finding does not directly lead to a test for immunotherapy response yet, the scientists caution, but they carry a clear therapeutic promise.

    “We intend to look at these specific genomic alterations in larger, randomized controlled trials, and we hope that one day these findings will be the impetus for prospective clinical trials based on these alterations,” Choueiri said.

    In the second report, the scientists led by Wucherpfennig came at the issue from a different angle. They used the gene-editing CRISPR/Cas9 tool to sift the genomes of melanoma cells for changes that made tumors resistant to being killed by immune T cells, which are the main actors in the immune system response against infections and cancer cells. 

    The search turned up about 100 genes which appeared to govern melanoma cells’ resistance to being killed by T cells. Inactivating those genes rendered the cancer cells sensitive to T-cell killing. Narrowing down their search, the Wucherpfennig team identified the PBAF subtype of the SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complex—the same group of proteins implicated by the Van Allen and Choueiri team in kidney cancer cells—as being involved in resistance to immune T cells.

    When the PBRM1 gene was knocked out in experiments, the melanoma cells became more sensitive to interferon gamma produced by T cells and, in response, produced signaling molecules that recruited more tumor-fighting T cells into the tumor. The two other genes in the PBAF complex—ARID2 and BRD7—are also found mutated in some cancers, according to the researchers, and those cancers, like the melanoma lacking ARID2 function, may also respond better to checkpoint blockade. The protein products of these genes, the authors noted, “represent targets for immunotherapy, because inactivating mutations sensitize tumor cells to T-cell mediated attack.” Finding ways to alter those target molecules, they added, “will be important to extend the benefit of immunotherapy to larger patient populations, including cancers that thus far are refractory to immunotherapy.”

    Research included in the report by Van Allen and Choueiri was supported by Bristol-Myers Squibb, American Association for Cancer Research Kure It Research Grant for Immunotherapy in Kidney Cancer, Kidney SPORE, and Cancer Immunologic Data Commons (National Institutes of Health grant U24CA224316).

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    A divide in attitudes towards the news media has been exacerbated by the growing phenomenon of fake news, particularly its impact on political discourse, current events and innocent individuals. Amid the deafening chorus of concern surrounding the accuracy of modern news coverage, which countries tend to trust their news media most and least? A recent Pew Research survey spanning 38 countries found that a median 62 percent of respondents say their news media does a good job reporting the news accurately.

    The following infographic shows a selection of those 38 countries with the Dutch in particular placing a high degree of faith in the accuracy of their news coverage. 82 percent of people in the Netherlands said their news media are doing very or somewhat well at reporting the news accurately, ahead of India's 80 percent.
    In the United Kingdom which has experienced sharp division both before and after the country's Brexit vote, only 63 percent of those polled felt they could rely on the news media for accurate reporting. In the United States, where the fake news debate is still going strong, only 56 percent of people think their news reports can be relied upon. Greece, where austerity is still raging, recorded the very worst score in the polling with only 22 percent of people trusting their news media.

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    Darwin’s theory wrong, nobody saw ape turning into man......... Minister Satyapal Singh.

    Union minister Satyapal Singh said Darwin’s theory needs to change in school and college curriculum.

    This great statement is coming from a person who is Minister of State in HRD ministry.

    Thank god, he did not say, no one alive has ever seen Darwin, so, even he is a fiction of imagination. Darwin faced a lot of opposition from the Christian church and clergy, and One of them most probably has reincarnated as our #MoSHRD.

    Sometime back we had a statement from the health minister of Assam belonging to the same party telling us that Cancer is caused by the sins of previous birth by the person.

    The medical world found this statement so amusing, it was shared by the leading health association magazines the world over..

    It did not cure cancer anywhere, but certainly did provide some comic relief to the overworked medical professionals.

    This is in line with the statements we had in the past like. Peacocks don't mate, earth is flat and others.

    Yes peacock's don't mate ..

    Most probably, the peacocks and peahens have a spiritual intercourse to reproduce offspring..

    Darwin probably missed out on this important aspect. What Darwin missed out on is being made good by this minister.#FatalisingEducation.

    Probably, this is also part of Modi's "Make In India" programme with the objective of making India a laughing stock in the eyes the people of the world.

    This government is probably planning to export the ignorance of these people Which is available in huge measure, to all the parts of the world..


    I am a very possessive and fanatic student of Genetics and Evolution and hold Darwin and Darwinism in high regard.

    Still wondering, how such people become ministers in education ministry.. As if one Smriti Irani wasn't enough.....One more to create laughs among people.

    Finally Charles Darwin quote...

    "We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities... still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."

    Now the news item....

    Darwin’s theory wrong, nobody saw ape turning into man: Minister Satyapal Singh

    Union minister Satyapal Singh said Darwin’s theory needs to change in school and college curriculum.
    Union minister Satyapal Singh has claimed that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution of man was “scientifically wrong” and it needs to be changed in school and college curriculum.

    Singh, minister of state for human resource development, said our ancestors have nowhere mentioned that they saw an ape turning into a man.

    “Darwin’s theory (of evolution of humans) is scientifically wrong. It needs to change in school and college curriculum. Since the man is seen on Earth he has always been a man,” he said while speaking to reporters on Friday in Aurangabad.

    The IPS officer-turned-politician was in this central Maharashtra city to attend the ‘All India Vaidik Sammelan.’

    “Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, have said they saw an ape turning into a man,” he said.
    “No books we have read or the tales told to us by our grandparents had such a mention,” the minister added.

    Darwinism is a theory of biological evolution that states that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.

    It was developed by Darwin, a 19th century English naturalist, and others.

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    Meaningful work is something we all want. The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl famously described how the innate human quest for meaning is so strong that, even in the direst circumstances, people seek out their purpose in life. More recently, researchers have shown meaningfulness to be more important to employees than any other aspect of work, including pay and rewards, opportunities for promotion, or working conditions. Meaningful work can be highly motivational, leading to improved performance, commitment, and satisfaction. But, so far, surprisingly little research has explored where and how people find their work meaningful and the role that leaders can play in this process.

    We interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations and asked them to tell us stories about incidents or times when they found their work to be meaningful and, conversely, times when they asked themselves, “What’s the point of doing this job?” We expected to find that meaningfulness would be similar to other work-related attitudes, such as engagement or commitment, in that it would arise purely in response to situations within the work environment.

    However, we found that, unlike these other attitudes, meaningfulness tended to be intensely personal and individual; it was often revealed to employees as they reflected on their work and its wider contribution to society in ways that mattered to them as individuals. People tended to speak of their work as meaningful in relation to thoughts or memories of significant family members such as parents or children, bridging the gap between work and the personal realm. We also expected meaningfulness to be a relatively enduring state of mind experienced by individuals toward their work; instead, our interviewees talked of unplanned or unexpected moments during which they found their work deeply meaningful.

    We were anticipating that our data would show that the meaningfulness experienced by employees in relation to their work was clearly associated with actions taken by managers, such that, for example, transformational leaders would have followers who found their work meaningful, whereas transactional leaders would not. Instead, our research showed that quality of leadership received virtually no mention when people described meaningful moments at work, but poor management was the top destroyer of meaningfulness.

    We also expected to find a clear link between the factors that drove up levels of meaningfulness and those that eroded them. Instead, we found that meaningfulness appeared to be driven up and decreased by different factors. Whereas our interviewees tended to find meaningfulness for themselves rather than it being mandated by their managers, we discovered that if employers want to destroy that sense of meaningfulness, that was far more easily achieved. The feeling of “Why am I bothering to do this?” strikes people the instant a meaningless moment arises, and it strikes people hard. If meaningfulness is a delicate flower that requires careful nurturing, think of someone trampling over that flower in a pair of steel-toed boots. Avoiding the destruction of meaning while nurturing an ecosystem generative of feelings of meaningfulness emerged as the key leadership challenge.

    About the Research

    Meaningful work is a topic that is receiving increased attention. However, relatively little empirical research investigates in depth what meaningful work actually means to individuals. To address this, we undertook an extensive review of the literature on meaningful work from various fields, including psychology, management studies, sociology, and ethics. Drawing on these findings, we defined meaningful work as arising “when an individual perceives an authentic connection between work and a broader transcendent life purpose beyond the self.”

    To conduct our research, we wanted to garner insights from people in a wide range of work situations. We interviewed 135 individuals in 10 very different occupations and asked them about times when they found their work meaningful or meaningless. The occupational groups we studied were: retail assistants, priests from various denominations, artists (including musicians, writers, and actors), lawyers, academics from science disciplines, entrepreneurs who had started their own business, nurses in an acute care hospital, soldiers, conservation stonemasons who were working on the preservation of an ancient cathedral, and garbage collectors. All data were collected in the U.K. We transcribed the interviews and coded them by theme to uncover patterns in how people view their work.

    The Five Qualities of Meaningful Work

    Our research aimed to uncover how and why people find their work meaningful. (See “About the Research.”) For our interviewees, meaningfulness, perhaps unsurprisingly, was often associated with a sense of pride and achievement at a job well done, whether they were professionals or manual workers. Those who could see that they had fulfilled their potential, or who found their work creative, absorbing, and interesting, tended to perceive their work as more meaningful than others. Equally, receiving praise, recognition, or acknowledgment from others mattered a great deal. These factors alone were not enough to render work meaningful, however. Our study also revealed five unexpected features of meaningful work; in these, we find clues that might explain the fragile and intangible nature of meaningfulness.

    1. Self-Transcendent

    Individuals tended to experience their work as meaningful when it mattered to others more than just to themselves. In this way, meaningful work is self-transcendent. Although it is not a well-known fact, the famous motivation theorist Abraham Maslow positioned self-transcendence at the apex of his pyramid of human motivation, situating it beyond even self-actualization in importance. People did not just talk about themselves when they talked about meaningful work; they talked about the impact or relevance their work had for other individuals, groups, or the wider environment. For example, a garbage collector explained how he found his work meaningful at the “tipping point” at the end of the day when refuse was sent to recycling. This was the time he could see how his work contributed to creating a clean environment for his grandchildren and for future generations. An academic described how she found her work meaningful when she saw her students graduate at the commencement ceremony, a tangible sign of how her own hard work had helped others succeed. A priest talked about the uplifting and inspiring experience of bringing an entire community together around the common goal of a church restoration project.

    2. Poignant

    The experience of meaningful work can be poignant rather than purely euphoric. People often found their work to be full of meaning at moments associated with mixed, uncomfortable, or even painful thoughts and feelings, not just a sense of unalloyed joy and happiness. People often cried in our interviews when they talked about the times when they found their work meaningful. The current emphasis on positive psychology has led us to focus on trying to make employees happy, engaged, and enthused throughout the working day. Psychologist Barbara Held refers to the current pressure to “accentuate the positive” as the “tyranny of the positive attitude.” Traditionally, meaningfulness has been linked with such positive attributes.

    Our research suggests that, contrary to what we may have thought, meaningfulness is not always a positive experience. In fact, those moments when people found their work meaningful tended to be far richer and more challenging than times when they felt simply motivated, engaged, or happy. The most vivid examples of this came from nurses who described moments of profound meaningfulness when they were able to use their professional skills and knowledge to ease the passing of patients at the end of their lives. Lawyers often talked about working hard for extended periods, sometimes years, for their clients and winning cases that led to life-changing outcomes. Participants in several of the occupational groups found moments of meaningfulness when they had triumphed in difficult circumstances or had solved a complex, intractable problem. The experience of coping with these challenging conditions led to a sense of meaningfulness far greater than they would have experienced dealing with straightforward, everyday situations.

    3. Episodic

    A sense of meaningfulness arose in an episodic rather than a sustained way. It seemed that no one could find their work consistently meaningful, but rather that an awareness that work was meaningful arose at peak times that were generative of strong experiences. For example, a university professor talked of the euphoric experience of feeling “like a rock star” at the end of a successful lecture. One actor we spoke to summed this feeling up well: “My God, I’m actually doing what I dreamt I could do; that’s kind of amazing.” Clearly, sentiments such as these are not sustainable over the course of even one single working day, let alone a longer period, but rather come and go over one’s working life, perhaps rarely arising. Nevertheless, these peak experiences have a profound effect on individuals, are highly memorable, and become part of their life narratives.

    Meaningful moments such as these were not forced or managed. Only in a few instances did people tell us that an awareness of their work as meaningful arose directly through the actions of organizational leaders or managers. Conservation stonemasons talked of the significance of carving their “banker’s mark” or mason’s signature into the stone before it was placed into a cathedral structure, knowing that the stone might be uncovered hundreds of years in the future by another mason who would recognize the work as theirs.

    They felt they were “part of history.” One soldier described how he realized how meaningful his work was when he reflected on his quick thinking in setting off the warning sirens in a combat situation, ensuring that no one at the camp was injured in the ensuing rocket attack. Sales assistants talked about times when they were able to help others, such as an occasion when a customer passed out in one store and the clerk was able to support her until she regained consciousness. Memorable moments such as these contain high levels of emotion and personal relevance, and thus become redolent of the symbolic meaningfulness of work.

    4. Reflective

    In the instances cited above, it was often only when we asked the interviewees to recount a time when they found their work meaningful that they developed a conscious awareness of the significance of these experiences. Meaningfulness was rarely experienced in the moment, but rather in retrospect and on reflection when people were able to see their completed work and make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning.

    One of the entrepreneurs we interviewed talked about the time when he was switching the lights out after his company’s Christmas party and paused to reflect back over the year on what he and his employees had achieved together. Garbage collectors explained how they were able to find their work meaningful when they finished cleaning a street and stopped to look back at their work. In doing this, they reflected on how the tangible work of street sweeping contributed to the cleanliness of the environment as a whole. One academic talked about research he had done for many years that seemed fairly meaningless at the time, but 20 years later provided the technological solution for touch-screen technology.

    The experience of meaningfulness is therefore often a thoughtful, retrospective act rather than just a spontaneous emotional response in the moment, although people may be aware of a rush of good feelings at the time. You are unlikely to witness someone talking about how meaningful they find their job during their working day. For most of the people we spoke to, the discussions we had about meaningful work were the first time they had ever talked about these experiences.

    5. Personal

    Other feelings about work, such as engagement or satisfaction, tend to be just that: feelings about work. Work that is meaningful, on the other hand, is often understood by people not just in the context of their work but also in the wider context of their personal life experiences. We found that managers and even organizations actually mattered relatively little at these times. One musician described his profound sense of meaningfulness when his father attended a performance of his for the first time and finally came to appreciate and understand the musician’s work. A priest was able to find a sense of meaning in her work when she could relate the harrowing personal experiences of a member of her congregation to her own life events, and used that understanding to help and support her congregant at a time of personal tragedy.

    An entrepreneur’s motivation to start his own business included the desire to make his grandfather proud of him. The customary dinner held to mark the end of a soldier’s service became imbued with meaning for one soldier because it was shared with family members who were there to hear her army stories. One lawyer described how she found her work meaningful when her services were recommended by friends and family and she felt trusted and valued in both spheres of her life. A garbage collector described the time when the community’s water supply became contaminated and he was asked to work on distributing water to local residents; that was meaningful, as he could see how he was helping vulnerable neighbors.

    Moments of especially profound meaningfulness arose when these experiences coalesced with the sense of a job well done, one recognized and appreciated by others. One example of many came from a conservation stonemason who described how his work became most meaningful to him when the restoration of a section of the cathedral he had been working on for years was unveiled, the drapes and scaffolding withdrawn, and the work of the craftsmen celebrated. This event involved all the masons and other trades such as carpenters and glaziers, as well as the cathedral’s religious leaders, members of the public, and local dignitaries. “Everyone goes, ‘Doesn’t it look amazing?’” he said. “That’s the moment you realize you’ve saved something and ensured its future; you’ve given part of the cathedral back to the local community.”

    These particular features of meaningful work suggest that the organizational task of helping people find meaning in their work is complex and profound, going far beyond the relative superficialities of satisfaction or engagement — and almost never related to one’s employer or manager.

    Meaninglessness: The Seven Deadly Sins

    What factors serve to destroy the fragile sense of meaningfulness that individuals find in their work? Interestingly, the factors that seem to drive a sense of meaninglessness and futility around work were very different from those associated with meaningfulness. The experiences that actively led people to ask, “Why am I doing this?” were generally a function of how people were treated by managers and leaders. Interviewees noted seven things that leaders did to create a feeling of meaninglessness (listed in order from most to least grievous).

    1. Disconnect people from their values. Although individuals did not talk much about value congruence as a promoter of meaningfulness, they often talked about a disconnect between their own values and those of their employer or work group as the major cause of a sense of futility and meaninglessness. This issue was raised most frequently as a source of meaninglessness in work. A recurring theme was the tension between an organizational focus on the bottom line and the individual’s focus on the quality or professionalism of work. One stonemason commented that he found the organization’s focus on cost “deeply depressing.”

    Academics spoke of their administrations being most interested in profits and the avoidance of litigation, instead of intellectual integrity and the provision of the best possible education. Nurses spoke despairingly of being forced to send patients home before they were ready in order to free up bed space. Lawyers talked of a focus on profits rather than on helping clients.

    2. Take your employees for granted. Lack of recognition for hard work by organizational leaders was frequently cited as invoking a feeling of pointlessness. Academics talked about department heads who didn’t acknowledge their research or teaching successes; sales assistants and priests talked of bosses who did not thank them for taking on additional work. A stonemason described the way managers would not even say “good morning” to him, and lawyers described how, despite putting in extremely long hours, they were still criticized for not moving through their work quickly enough. Feeling unrecognized, unacknowledged, and unappreciated by line or senior managers was often cited in the interviews as a major reason people found their work pointless.

    3. Give people pointless work to do. We found that individuals had a strong sense of what their job should involve and how they should be spending their time, and that a feeling of meaninglessness arose when they were required to perform tasks that did not fit that sense. Nurses, academics, artists, and clergy all cited bureaucratic tasks and form filling not directly related to their core purpose as a source of futility and pointlessness. Stonemasons and retail assistants cited poorly planned projects where they were left to “pick up the pieces” by senior managers. A retail assistant described the pointless task of changing the shop layout one week on instructions from the head office, only to be told to change it back again a week later.

    4. Treat people unfairly. Unfairness and injustice can make work feel meaningless. Forms of unfairness ranged from distributive injustices, such as one stonemason who was told he could not have a pay raise for several years due to a shortage of money but saw his colleague being given a raise, to freelance musicians being asked to write a film score without payment. Procedural injustices included bullying and lack of opportunities for career progression.

    5. Override people’s better judgment. Quite often, a sense of meaninglessness was connected with a feeling of disempowerment or disenfranchisement over how work was done. One nurse, for example, described how a senior colleague required her to perform a medical intervention that was not procedurally correct, and how she felt obliged to complete this even against her better judgment. Lawyers talked of being forced to cut corners to finish cases quickly. Stonemasons described how being forced to “hurry up” using modern tools and techniques went against their sense of historic craft practices. One priest summed up the role of the manager by saying, “People can feel empowered or disempowered by the way you run things.” When people felt they were not being listened to, that their opinions and experience did not count, or that they could not have a voice, then they were more likely to find their work meaningless.

    6. Disconnect people from supportive relationships. Feelings of isolation or marginalization at work were linked with meaninglessness. This could occur through deliberate ostracism on the part of managers, or just through feeling disconnected from coworkers and teams. Most interviewees talked of the importance of camaraderie and relations with coworkers for their sense of meaningfulness. Entrepreneurs talked about their sense of loneliness and meaninglessness during the startup phase of their business, and the growing sense of meaningfulness that arose as the business developed and involved more people with whom they could share the successes. Creative artists spoke of times when they were unable to reach out to an audience through their art as times of profound meaninglessness.

    7. Put people at risk of physical or emotional harm. Many jobs entail physical or emotional risks, and those taking on this kind of work generally appreciate and understand the choices they have made. However, unnecessaryem> exposure to risk was associated with lost meaningfulness. Nurses cited feelings of vulnerability when left alone with aggressive patients; garbage collectors talked of avoidable accidents they had experienced at work; and soldiers described exposure to extreme weather conditions without the appropriate gear.

    These seven destroyers emerged as highly damaging to an individual’s sense of his or her work as meaningful. When several of these factors were present, meaningfulness was considerably lower.

    Cultivating an Ecosystem For Meaningfulness

    In the 1960s, Frederick Herzberg showed that the factors that give rise to a sense of job satisfaction are not the same as those that lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. It seems that something similar is true for meaningfulness. Our research shows that meaningfulness is largely something that individuals find for themselves in their work, but meaninglessness is something that organizations and leaders can actively cause. Clearly, the first challenge to building a satisfied workforce is to avoid the seven deadly sins that drive up levels of meaninglessness.

    Given that meaningfulness is such an intensely personal and individual experience that is interpreted by individuals in the context of their wider lives, can organizations create an environment that cultivates high levels of meaningfulness? The key to meaningful work is to create an ecosystem that encourages people to thrive. As other scholars have argued, efforts to control and proscribe the meaningfulness that individuals inherently find in their work can paradoxically lead to its loss.
    Our interviews and a wider reading of the literature on meaningfulness point to four elements that organizations can address that will help foster an integrated sense of holistic meaningfulness for individual employees. (See “The Elements of a Meaningfulness Ecosystem.”)

    The Elements of a Meaningfulness Ecosystem

    Individuals can derive meaning from their job, from particular tasks in their work, from interactions with others, or from the purpose of the organization. Although it is possible for someone to describe meaningfulness at work in terms of just one of the four elements, meaningfulness is enriched when more than one is present in a job, and these four elements can combine to enable a state of holistic meaningfulness.

    1. Organizational Meaningfulness

    At the macro level, meaningfulness is more likely to thrive when employees understand the broad purpose of the organization. This purpose should be formulated in such a way that it focuses on the positive contribution of the organization to the wider society or the environment. This involves articulating the following:

    What does the organization aim to contribute? What is its “core business”?

    How does the organization aspire to go about achieving this? What values underpin its way of doing business?

    This needs to be done in a genuine and thoughtful way. People are highly adept at spotting hypocrisy, like the nurses who were told their hospital put patients first but were also told to discharge people as quickly as possible. The challenge lies not only in articulating and conveying a clear message about organizational purpose, but also in not undermining meaningfulness by generating a sense of artificiality and manipulation.

    Reaching employees in ways that make sense to them can be a challenge. A clue for addressing this comes from the garbage collectors we interviewed. One described to us how the workers used to be told by management that the waste they returned to the depot would be recycled, but this message came across as highly abstract. Then the company started putting pictures of the items that were made from recycled waste on the side of the garbage trucks. This led to a more tangible realization of what the waste was used for.

    2. Job Meaningfulness

    The vast majority of interviewees found their work meaningful, whether they were musicians, sales assistants, lawyers, or garbage collectors. Studies have shown that meaning is so important to people that they actively go about recrafting their jobs to enhance their sense of meaningfulness. Often, this recrafting involves extending the impact or significance of their role for others. One example of this was sales assistants in a large retail store who listened to lonely elderly customers.

    Organizations can encourage people to see their work as meaningful by demonstrating how jobs fit with the organization’s broader purpose or serve a wider, societal benefit. The priests we spoke to often explained how their ministry work in their local parishes contributed to the wider purpose of the church as a whole. In the same way, managers can be encouraged to show employees what their particular jobs contribute to the broader whole and how what they do will help others or create a lasting legacy.

    Alongside this, we need to challenge the notion that meaningfulness can only arise from positive work experiences. Challenging, problematic, sad, or poignant jobs have the potential to be richly generative of new insights and meaningfulness, and overlooking this risks upsetting the delicate balance of the meaningfulness ecosystem. Providing support to people at the end of their lives is a harrowing experience for nurses and clergy, yet they cited these times as among the most meaningful. The task for leaders is to acknowledge the problematic or negative side of some jobs and to provide appropriate support for employees doing them, yet to reveal in an honest way the benefits and broader contribution that such jobs make.

    3. Task Meaningfulness

    Given that jobs typically comprise a wide range of tasks, it stands to reason that some of these tasks will constitute a greater source of meaningfulness than others. To illustrate, a priest will have responsibility for leading acts of worship, supporting sick and vulnerable individuals, developing community relations and activities, and probably a wide range of other tasks such as raising funds, managing assistants and volunteers, ensuring the upkeep of church buildings, and so on. In fact, the priests were the most hard-working group that we spoke to, with the majority working a seven-day week on a bewildering range of activities. Even much simpler jobs will involve several different tasks. One of the challenges facing organizations is to help people understand how the individual tasks they perform contribute to their job and to the organization as a whole.

    When individuals described some of the sources of meaninglessness they faced in their work, they often talked about how to come to terms with the tedious, repetitive, or indeed purposeless work that is part of almost every job. For example, the stonemasons described how the first few months of their training involved learning to “square the stone,” which involves chiseling a large block of stone into a perfectly formed square with just a few millimeters of tolerance on each plane. As soon as they finished one, they had to start another, repeating this over and over until the master mason was satisfied that they had perfected the task. Only then were they allowed to work on more interesting and intricate carvings. Several described their feelings of boredom and futility; one said that he had taken 18 attempts to get the squaring of the stone correct. “It feels like you are never ever going to get better,” he recalled. Many felt like giving up at this point, fearing that stonemasonry was not for them. It was only in later years, as they looked back on this period in their working lives, that they could see the point of this detailed level of training as the first step on their path to more challenging and rewarding work.

    Filling out forms, cited earlier, is another good example of meaningless work. Individuals in a wide range of occupations all reported that what they perceived as “mindless bureaucracy” sapped the meaningfulness from their work. For instance, most of the academics we spoke to were highly negative about the amount of form filling the job entailed. One said, “I was dropping spreadsheets into a huge black hole.”

    Where organizations successfully managed the context within which these necessary but tedious tasks were undertaken, the tasks came to be perceived not exactly as meaningful, but equally as not meaningless. Another academic said, “I’m pretty good with tedious work, as long as it’s got a larger meaning.”

    4. Interactional Meaningfulness

    There is widespread agreement that people find their work meaningful in an interactional context in two ways:26 First, when they are in contact with others who benefit from their work; and, second, in an environment of supportive interpersonal relationships. As we saw earlier, negative interactional experiences — such as bullying by a manager, lack of respect or recognition, or forcing reduced contact with the beneficiaries of work — all drive up a sense of meaninglessness, since the employee receives negative cues from others about the value they place on the employee’s work.

    The challenge here is for leaders to create a supportive, respectful, and inclusive work climate among colleagues, between employees and managers, and between organizational staff and work beneficiaries. It also involves recognizing the importance of creating space in the working day for meaningful interactions where employees are able to give and receive positive feedback, communicate a sense of shared values and belonging, and appreciate how their work has positive impacts on others.

    Not surprisingly, the most striking examples of the impact of interactional meaningfulness on people came from the caring occupations included in our study: nurses and clergy. In these cases, there was very frequent contact between the individual and the direct beneficiaries of his or her work, most often in the context of supporting and healing people at times of great vulnerability in their lives.

    Witnessing firsthand, and hearing directly, about how their work had changed people’s lives created a work environment conducive to meaningfulness. Although prior research has similarly highlighted the importance of such direct contact for enhancing work’s meaningfulness, we also found that past or future generations, or imagined future beneficiaries, could play a role. This was the case for the stonemasons who felt connected to past and future generations of masons through their bankers’ marks on the back of the stones and for the garbage collectors who could envisage how their work contributed to the living environment for future generations.

    Holistic Meaningfulness

    The four elements of the meaningfulness ecosystem combine to enable a state of holistic meaningfulness, where the synergistic benefits of multiple sources of meaningfulness can be realized. Although it is possible for someone to describe meaningful moments in terms of any one of the subsystems, meaningfulness is enriched when more than one or all of these are present. A sales assistant, for example, described how she had been working with a team on the refurbishment of her store: “We’d all been there until 2 a.m., working together moving stuff, everyone had contributed and stayed late and helped, it was a good time. We were exhausted but we still laughed and then the next morning we were all bright in our uniforms, it was a lovely feeling, just like a little family coming together. The day [the store] opened, it did bring tears to my eyes. We had a little gathering and a speech; the managers said ‘thank you’ to everybody because everyone had contributed.”

    Finding work meaningful is an experience that reaches beyond the workplace and into the realm of the individual’s wider personal life. It can be a very profound, moving, and even uncomfortable experience. It arises rarely and often in unexpected ways; it gives people pause for thought — not just concerning work but what life itself is all about. In experiencing work as meaningful, we cease to be workers or employees and relate as human beings, reaching out in a bond of common humanity to others. For organizations seeking to manage meaningfulness, the ethical and moral responsibility is great, since they are bridging the gap between work and personal life.

    Yet the benefits for individuals and organizations that accrue from meaningful workplaces can be immense. Organizations that succeed in this are more likely to attract, retain, and motivate the employees they need to build sustainably for the future, and to create the kind of workplaces where human beings can thrive.

    Reproduced from MITSLOAN Management Review  

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    Connecting with others is at the heart of human nature. Recent research emphasizes that the power of connections can help us be creative, resilient, even live longer. But we can easily overlook the importance of these bonds. As popular writer and researcher Adam Grant has noted, the pressure of tight deadlines and the pace of technology mean that fewer Americans are finding friendship in the workplace. In fact, many of us are further disconnecting from the people we work with: we’re more stressed out than ever, and half of us regularly experience incivility in our jobs.

    How can we create possibilities for connection in what is sometimes a hostile atmosphere? We believe there needs to be more compassion.

    We define compassion as a 4-part experience of noticing someone’s distress or pain, interpreting it as relevant and important, feeling concern for that person or group, and acting to alleviate their pain. As we talk about in our book, Awakening Compassion at Work, acts of compassion can span from grand and coordinated to small and personal.

    Consider Patty, who was worried about returning to work after the death of her husband. The thing she dreaded most was arriving at an empty desk on Monday mornings because for the past 15 years Patty’s husband had ordered flowers to be delivered early on Monday mornings. Every Monday, a beautiful bouquet — and a symbol of their life together — graced Patty’s desk.

    Summoning up her determination, Patty walked into the office. After saying hello to a few people, she moved toward her desk and caught a glimpse of a colorful bouquet of flowers waiting there. She fought back tears as she read a note from her coworkers, who also did not want her to come back to an empty desk. They cared for her so much that they had collected funds across the entire office and made arrangements for a fresh bouquet of flowers to be delivered every Monday for a year.

    Compassion, whether a coordinated gesture or an individual one, increases meaning at work — and not just for Patty, but also for her colleagues and for all the people who see this human response unfold. Being compassionate changes how we see the value of the people who are part of our work world, shifts how we see ourselves, and helps us to see our organizations as more humane.

    Our research highlights four ways that people can bring more compassion to work.  

    Sharpen Your Skills in Noticing Suffering

    Signs of suffering at work are often subtle. Professional norms dictate that it’s not safe to express too much emotion, making it hard to see pain. Attuning ourselves emotionally to patterns in our colleagues, and making ourselves more physically and psychologically available, makes us better at picking up on what’s happening.

    Alex described noticing that his coworker Ming-Jer was not enjoying the holiday party. Despite not knowing Ming-Jer well, Alex was concerned. He began by simply asking, “How are you doing, Ming-Jer?” Alex discovered that Ming-Jer was struggling with a chronic illness that was straining his finances and his relationships. Alex told us how much closer the two have become since that moment, and how meaningful the connection has made other aspects of his workplace.

    Perfect Your Capacity for Inquiry

    Norms about keeping personal and professional life separate can make it awkward to ask personal questions. Organizations such as Accenture and EY are now offering training programs on how to inquire in ways that fosters compassion. Asking “Are you okay?” is one example. This kind of question, asked in a genuine way with comfortable time and space, may increase a sense of safety and open space for compassion. That’s what happened with Alex and Ming-Jer.

    When asking directly is too difficult, you can turn to someone who has a closer relationship to share your concerns. In one organization we studied, an employee had been a victim of domestic violence and several of her colleagues felt it wasn’t appropriate to talk with her directly about it. Instead, they shared their concerns with her friends at work who relayed the messages. These intermediaries also became coordinators, organizing a collection of donations and delivery of meals. Asking intermediaries for updates became an effective way for lots of people to participate in creating compassion at work during a difficult, sensitive situation.

    Tune into Your Feelings of Concern

    Sensing and understanding the distress of another person is often accompanied by a feeling that researchers call empathic concern — a warm desire for the other person to be well. This kind of emotion arises more easily when we know that we have something in common.

    When we studied students who lost everything in a fire and the way their university organized a response, we found that a faculty member who had also lived through a fire became a very effective organizer. Her shared experience helped her advocate for resources such as emergency funds, new clothing, computers, and even housing.

    But having the prior experience wasn’t the only route to common ground. A fellow student, who had never been involved in a fire, was able to tune into his own deep empathy and concern for his classmates. He used the motivation that flowed from this feeling to facilitate the coordination of books and class notes that allowed full replacement of each student’s customized study materials — again increasing the meaningfulness of their school program for everyone who participated in the effort to respond.

    Unleash Your Creativity with Compassionate Actions

    Societal norms often give us a script to follow when we encounter pain or distress: offer condolences, ask whether there is anything we can do to help, and send a card. While these scripts can be helpful, they often fall short of being meaningful to the receiver.

    In one nonprofit organization we studied, an executive’s nephew was killed in a tragic accident just before an important board meeting. Instead of a scripted response, colleagues brainstormed several resourceful ways to take action, including excusing him from attending the board meeting, taking on urgent tasks so that he didn’t have to focus on them, donating their vacation days to him, collectively writing a poem to send to the family, and organizing a tribute to share at the memorial service.

    Too many people think of compassion and connection with others as a nice-to-have in organizations. But if people feel like they belong and genuinely care about one another, they will be more creative, resilient, and eager to contribute at work. It’s tempting to ignore distress, and suffering and pretend like they have no place in our offices. But the human experience of pain is going to show up, whether we invite it or not, and the only way to respond is with compassion.
    View at the original source

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  • 01/23/18--09:21: The Troublemakers 01-23

  • When students act out, why do we seek out flaws in their character? Shouldn't we instead search for the flaws in our schools and our teaching, holding us, the adults, primarily responsible?

    When students act out, why do we seek out flaws in their character? Shouldn't we instead search for the flaws in our schools and our teaching, holding us, the adults, primarily responsible? Shouldn't we find better ways to understand the problem children, the ones we label the troublemakers?

    I dreaded my first-period class. It was big and early — 29 bleary-eyed 11th- and 12th-graders yawning and slurping extra-large iced coffees. My students, recent immigrants and refugees from more than 25 different countries, spoke English with varying degrees of fluency, making my task of connecting with each particularly challenging.
    And then there was Joe. 
    He was funny, opinionated, and unceasing in his running commentary on our U.S. history class.
    Sometimes it was a clarification: “It’s due when?” More often it was an opinion: “Those Nazis, I mean that’s messed up!”
    He had one volume: loud. And he shared ideas as soon as they popped into his mind, unable to contain them a moment longer. His interjections could come at any time — during silent reading, group work, or while I was explaining an assignment. I was forever reminding him, “Please, Joe, try not to call out.” “Remember to raise your hand.” Sometimes I simply looked sternly in his direction.
    He was always polite: “I got ya, Ms.” “Sorry, Ms.” “My bad, Ms.” He really would try. But three minutes later…
    We teachers all have our Joes. Our students who consistently call out, talk back, refuse to participate or sit down or stay on task. They throw our lessons into disarray, make our heads pound. They keep us up at night strategizing, worrying. How can I connect? What strategies might work tomorrow? When, occasionally, these students miss school, class is unusually calm. Guiltily, we sigh with relief.
    How do we reach and teach our troublemakers? Most teachers have binders brimming with ideas: shuffled seat assignments, tracking systems, rewards for on-point behavior. But when these fail, what can you do when it’s you alone in your class balancing 29 personalities, the clock ticking and your 40-minute-long class is almost up?
    Too often schools’ response to misbehavior is exclusion: timeouts, visits to the principal’s office, suspensions, expulsions. It is the easy way out — often a form of triage when too many classes are overcrowded, understaffed, or undersupported. But, whatever the reason, exclusion damages our students’ futures.
    Carla Shalaby, Ed.M.’09, Ed.D.’14, a former elementary school teacher, urges us to see and teach our most challenging students differently in her new book, Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School.
    Shalaby introduces us to four rambunctious first- and second-graders: Zora, Lucas, Sean, and Marcus. These four have already been labeled as problems — by both school staff and peers. 
    Shalaby set out to see school through their eyes. She followed them into classrooms and on school field trips. She accompanied them to the park with siblings, to karate class, and back home with their families. These four children leap off the page. They are daring, charismatic, silly, curious, creative.
    But at school, they are outcasts. Shalaby paints a stark, but painfully recognizable portrait of a typical American classroom. School has “good students” and “bad students.” To be good is to follow teacher directions and rules, sit quietly, listen attentively, do what you’re told, conform. Those who deviate, question, or rebel are often excluded. And their exclusion sends a sharp message to their peers “that belonging to the classroom community is conditional, not absolute, contingent upon their willingness and ability to be a certain kind of person.”
    Why is it, Shalaby asks, that when kids act out, we seek out flaws in their character? Shouldn’t we instead search for flaws in our schools and teaching — holding us, the adults, primarily responsible?
    It is a question all educators should be asking.
    Joe and I came to a head in late April. A guest speaker was finishing a presentation. Just as we were wrapping up, Joe shouted out, “Hey, you’re hot!” I regret to say I snapped. “Joe!” my voice loud and stern. “Come up here right now.” The bell rang, the class streamed out, and Joe shuffled up to my desk.
    Troublemakers is not a book of strategies. Shalaby is clear that we cannot support our most disruptive students with cookie-cutter “behavior management” techniques. Rather than prescribe what to do, she offers up ideas for how to be, urging teachers to act first and foremost from a place of empathy, love, and understanding for all students.
    But how do we as teachers go about putting this into action? In rereading the stories of these four young people, I was struck by six important truths these students teach us.
    1. Keep children in class.
    When we exclude our students, we are telling them: You don’t belong here. Exclusion shuts down opportunities for dialogue and understanding between us and our students. And exclusion triggers a vicious cycle. When we send students out, they miss essential academic content and skills. They return to class behind, confused, and even more likely to act out. These missed lessons add up and have long-lasting consequences. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, students who struggle to read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out or to fail high school. Across the country, approximately 3.5 million children are suspended from school annually. And African American and Latino students are three times more likely to be suspended than their white peers, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
    2. Let children be heard, and really listen when they speak.
    To be heard is to be respected and valued. I see the importance of this simple truth whenever I speak at length with a student. They come during lunch, or linger after school, seeking advice on how to talk with friends, parents. When I see a student upset, unusually surly, or argumentative, I try my best to carve out time to check in and see if they want to talk. Being open to listen, and being aware to ask, reinforces to our students that we see them and we value them. Frustratingly, too often rigid school schedules leave little space to meaningfully connect.
    Joe and I finally sat down to talk, and to listen, on that late April afternoon. He shared with me his frustrations. I shared with him mine. We examined how I might feel when he interrupted the class and we examined the same interruption from his perspective. I shared my hopes for what he could achieve in my class; he shared his hopes, but also what he needed from me to achieve them. It was not a wholly
    comfortable conversation for either of us, but it was a starting point.
    In the following weeks and months, Joe still called out, still offered spontaneous commentary at full volume, but he did so less frequently. More often than before I intentionally asked him to lead a discussion or to share an opinion — creating space for him to be included, and to be heard.
    No one wanted to work with Jenny. In groups, she argued, she was dogmatic, and she sulked when she didn’t get her way.
    Mostly, Jenny was unpredictable. Some days she walked in with a bounce and a smile, eagerly pulling out her binder, taking notes in a flurry, and jabbing her hand into the air to confidently answer questions. Other days she slunk into class, slouching in her back corner seat, glowering.
    In groups, she was the same. She could be full of ideas, ready to work and ready to encourage others to tackle assignments — be it a PowerPoint presentation on labor unions or an op-ed for our local paper. But other days she would stubbornly talk over her peers. When they didn’t comply, she refused to do any work at all.
    I was at a loss about what to do.
    3. Partner with families.
    Teachers’ most powerful partners are our students’ families. They are the experts, our students’ first and most important teachers, and their fiercest advocates. Our families know their children’s strengths, their passions, and their struggles. Resounding research tells us that strong family partnership in schools is essential for student success, school success, and for our own success as teachers. These partnerships are perhaps most important for our troublemakers. We often only see one or two dimensions of our charges. What is more, we only see our students in a collective — as one of maybe 30 personalities vying for
    attention. As Shalaby shows us when we follow Zora, Lucas, Sean, and Marcus outside classroom walls and school halls, we see strikingly different sides, personalities, and strengths of these young people. As teachers, we must try to know more of these dimensions.
    Early in the fall I met with Jenny’s mother. Sitting together one evening I heard about Jenny’s journey to America, the family she left behind, her struggle to fit in. Her mother shared her hopes for Jenny’s future and some of the challenges she faced. We exchanged phone numbers and emails, and for the rest of the long year we checked in regularly.
    And in the classroom, I shaped an approach from what I had learned. Every day I made a point of checking in — often in those few moments as students filtered in. “Today’s a bad day, Ms. Lander,” she would share with me. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Would you like to tell me why?” Often she would. Sometimes it was another class or friend that was proving frustrating; other times it was an argument with her mom. For such days we developed a pact. “What support can I give you?” I would ask. Jenny would think for a moment and then provide an idea. Maybe she needed to work solo, or maybe it would be helpful to write thoughts in her notebook. Sometimes simply sharing her mood seemed sufficient to help Jenny turn things around.
    4. Seek out our students’ strengths.
    All students have strengths. Perhaps they are avid photographers, basketball players, coders, or poets when not in school. But when it comes to our troublemakers, it can be easy for their assets to be overshadowed by behaviors that disrupt the carefully cultivated cultures of our classrooms. We cannot lose sight of these strengths. Yet it is not enough to know that our troublemakers are budding artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs. We must also seek to reframe and better understand the qualities we find most frustrating. Zora shouts out a reaction during read-aloud; her teacher labels her impulsive. But what if, Shalaby counters, we saw Zora’s expression as fearlessness? Sean is forever asking why. His teacher describes his behavior as badgering, but Sean’s mother sees him as questioning and curious.
    In class, Jenny was often stubborn, demanding that other students follow her ideas, growing upset when they didn’t. What if I reframed her behavior? What if I saw Jenny’s obstinacy as confidence, a young woman unafraid to share ideas? Jenny had a powerful skill her peers could learn. What Jenny needed were strategies to help her leverage her confidence and tools to help her become a generous leader.
    At lunch one day, I shared with her some of my observations. To my surprise, her eyes grew wide. Quietly she asked, “You think so, Ms. Lander?” “Yes I do, and I think you have real potential to be a class leader.” She was grinning.
    And so we began, taking time in quiet moments to break down leadership skills, discussing elements she could practice. Jenny attacked each with a determined nod. She still struggled at times, still had bad days. But what I saw more and more was Jenny volunteering to lead and, slowly, succeeding.
    I was worried about Henry. It was only week two, but already I could see him slipping into a pattern. He barely took notes and chattered continuously with the boys next to him. He had yet to turn in a piece of homework. But I noticed too that in discussions he was engaged, offering thoughtful comments about the growth of cities during the Industrial Revolution. I held Henry back one afternoon. I shared my observations. How could I support his learning? He looked around the empty classroom.
    “I should probably move seats,” he mused.
    “That sounds like a strong idea. Where would be best for you to sit?” I asked. We talked through different possibilities and he settled on a spot across the room, among another, more studious, but also silly group of boys.
    The next morning, Henry strode confidently to his new seat, and as the class progressed, it was as if another child had walked in that morning. He took notes, led discussions, and was quick to throw his hand to the sky with an idea about the impact of the growth in business monopolies. The new Henry showed up again the next day, and the day after.
    5. Strategize with students.
    We can only guess as to why a student might call out or fail to do homework. Rather than assume we know the answer, ask. From our students we can better learn what hurdles they face and in what ways we can support their success. And in doing this we demonstrate our commitment to our students.
    As fall chilled to winter, Henry flourished in my class. He still forgot his homework sometimes, still had to be occasionally reminded to stay on task. But he had found a group of friends who could be goofy and yet also grapple with charting the effects of the Spanish American War. I watched excitedly as he grew in confidence, one of the first to raise his hand to answer a question or share an opinion.
    A few weeks later, I learned that this was not the Henry that appeared in his other classes. He confided this to me one afternoon when he came seeking advice. In other classes, he described, he was always the troublemaker, always being sent out, always blamed for something. He didn’t know what to do. Many of his teachers seemed to have such a negative opinion of him. Most importantly, he was upset because he wanted so deeply to make his father proud.
    I saw an opportunity.
    “I see you in my class,” I told him, my voice slow, deliberate. “I see how hard you work and how well you can do.” He nodded a little shyly. Together we could talk through strategies that might help in other classes. But I also had another idea, a challenge.
    6. Create opportunities for students to realize their potential and be publically recognized for their academic achievements.
    All students are capable of achieving remarkable things, they just might need our help to do so. In raising the stakes, but also the support, we can create opportunities for students to explore at the edge of their capabilities. And when they do succeed, celebrate these achievements. Our troublemakers are too often only publicly acknowledged for their disruptions. We can change this pattern by intentionally creating opportunities to publicly recognize their strengths.
    I am a journalist as well as a teacher, and I believe it is critical that my students learn to write clear and powerful prose. Halfway through the year I had my class embark on an op-ed project, writing on issues they cared about, the very best selected for publication in the local newspaper. Sitting with Henry on that fall afternoon I proposed an idea. What if he worked toward being one of those 10 students whose op-eds were published?
    These six ways of being are not enough. Shalaby argues, and rightly so, that our troublemakers are “canaries in the coal mine.” These children, in their defiance, are warning us of something fundamentally destructive — in Shalaby’s words, toxic — about our schools and our expectations for all young people.
    School is a place that prioritizes the group at the cost of the individual. Too many schools require students to conform, to sit silently, to do without questioning. Too few schools allow time for creative student-driven exploration or provide space to form meaningful relationships with peers and adults. Such school structures hurt all our students’ futures, but it is only our troublemakers who rebel forcibly enough to make us take notice.
    I think of my own classes packed with close to 30 teenagers. I see them for barely 40 minutes a day. In that time I try to connect with and support this diverse collection of individuals. But I have never felt that I have succeeded — or can succeed 100 percent. This failure weighs heavy.
    Shalaby urges us to reimagine the classroom. We must also reimagine schools. Top to bottom we desperately need to question the structure, the curriculum, the role of teachers, the role of students. We need a system of education that supports all types of learners, not just some learners. We need a system that will support teachers in reaching every student. And we need schools that nurture our students’ curiosity and individual strengths.
    A week after Henry and I talked, he came into my classroom all fired up. His father, he told me, was very excited about Henry’s determination to write an op-ed. He was hoping to support him at home and might even put a down payment on a computer to help his son write. “If I get my op-ed published,” Henry confided, “I’ll make my father so proud.”
    These six ways of being are not enough. Shalaby argues, and rightly so, that our troublemakers are “canaries in the coal mine.” These children, in their defiance, are warning us of something fundamentally destructive — in Shalaby’s words, toxic — about our schools and our expectations for all young people.
    School is a place that prioritizes the group at the cost of the individual. Too many schools require students to conform, to sit silently, to do without questioning. Too few schools allow time for creative student-driven exploration or provide space to form meaningful relationships with peers and adults. Such school structures hurt all our students’ futures, but it is only our troublemakers who rebel forcibly enough to make us take notice.
    Throughout December and January Henry doggedly worked to research, write, and edit. It was not always easy — he needed many reminders and cajoling — but we kept at it. As we approached the deadline, Henry began showing up early and staying late to edit.
    In February, nine student op-eds were published in the paper. Henry’s was one of them. It was one of the strongest. I couldn’t have been more proud.

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    What Are Stem Cells?

    They are cells that maintain a state of “open-mindedness” thoughout the life of the individual from fetal life senescence, to enable them to participate in repair, replacement and regeneration of the tissue they happen to be in, in addition to affecting tissues in other parts of the body by migration and by producing growth factors and cytokines. They are regarded as undifferentiated and are found in different tissues of the body, throughout life. The early fetal stem cells are “pluripotent’ with a vast potential; while non-embryonic adult mesenchymal stem cells are “multipotent.” This means they are less versatile than those of the fetus, but non-the-less can turn into several different kinds of cells within any tissue type.

    Where Are Stem Cells Found?

    Undifferentiated, non-embryonic adult mesenchymal stem cells are found everywhere in the body, in all tissues, but especially in fat tissue, bone marrow and blood- in that order.  The stem cells found in blood and bone marrow are hematopoietic stem cells because, under normal circumstances, they are destined to form red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets; and those stem cells that are found in fat (adipose) tissue, among fat cells, are called adipose stem cells.
    GCSC&RMC uses adipose stem cells because they are approximately 2,500 times as abundant as hematopoietic stem cells, per a given mass of tissue. Furthermore, no organs are hurt or disturbed in the process of harvesting adipose tissue, which only requires local anesthesia.

    How Are Stem Cells Used?

    Stem cells have the potential to repair human tissue and certain internal organs by forming new cells and producing substances to regenerate cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons, nerve, fat, muscle, and blood vessels. Stem cells are being investigated and researched as an innovative therapy option for more than 70 major diseases and conditions that affect millions of people worldwide. These include diabetes mellitus, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), spinal cord injuries, various eye conditions, and HIV/AIDS.

    The GCSC&RMC Process

    Gulf Coast Stem Cell & RMC has a specific SVF harvest and injection protocol. First, a couple of ounces of fat are harvested from the love handle areas of the back, under surgically sterile conditions and local anesthesia, by minimally-invasive mini-liposuction. This procedure lasts a mere 20 minutes; and this small amount of fat yields millions of stem cells (at least half a million per ml of fat). In fact, it is possible to obtain well over 50 million cells from a single harvest.
    After the cells are harvested, the stem cells are separated from the fat cells and are ready for deployment within 90 minutes or less from harvest. They can then be injected into a vein to reach wider targets throughout the entire body, and directly into target areas like the spinal space, joints and specific tissues.


    Stem cell therapy is a minimally invasive, low-risk option that may help patients who suffer from the daily discomforts of orthopedic conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, sports-related injuries, spine disease, and general problems with shoulders, elbows, hands/wrists, hips, knees, or ankles. Research indicates that most orthopedic issues are fundamentally caused by inflammatory, autoimmune, or degenerative processes. Stem cells have the potential to reduce discomfort by decreasing inflammation, modulating autoimmunity, and repairing or replacing bone, tendons, and ligaments that have deteriorated due to injury or a degenerative joint disease. This investigational therapy could benefit the near 350 million people worldwide who are afflicted by arthritis, about 50 million of whom live in the United States, including over a quarter million children.


    Over one billion people worldwide suffer from neurological diseases. In universities and medical research centers around the world, stem cells are being explored for their regenerative potential. We at GCSC&RMC have research protocols for many neurological conditions, including multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries, and more. Beyond their ability to become different kinds of cells, stem cells are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, aided by hygroscopic molecules like Mannitol. This potential for transmigration, or crossing the barrier, means that stem cells can reach broader areas of brain tissue that have been affected by injuries or degenerative diseases. This has been shown to be the case in a rat model. Subtle differences in brain function can affect mood, balance, thought processes, and other areas that have significant impacts on a patient’s overall quality of life.

    Cardiac & Pulmonary Diseases

    Cardiac disease is the most common killer in the United States. Every day, 2,200 people die from cardiovascular diseases—that’s 1 in every 3 deaths. Stem cell therapy has the potential to help with cardiac and pulmonary conditions such as a heart attacks, myocardial infarctions, congestive heart failure, ischemic heart disease, COPD, and pulmonary fibrosis. The purpose of our research protocols is to target inflammation, reducing it; regenerating cells lost in cardiac ischemia, replacing damaged or diseased heart-muscle cells, and promoting the development of new coronary artery branches. The latter can be effected through the production of substances like the angiogenesis factor. When an intravenous dose of SVF or stem cells is given, the infused molecules and cells pass through the heart to the vast capillary network of the lungs, where a significant proportion of the cells stay. There they participate in various repair processes, which, according to published results and our own, often improve gaseous exchange and may result clinical improvement.

    Autoimmune Diseases

    Autoimmune diseases happen when the body’s immune system turns against itself and starts mistakenly attacking healthy cells. Many disease processes are considered autoimmune, and many of those conditions have shown response to research protocols using stem cell therapy, including lupus, hepatitis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, myasthenia neuropathy, CIDP, and ulcerative colitis. Deploying stem cells in these diseases may reduce inflammation of affected organs and tissues, regenerate damaged cells and tissue, and help modulate the immune response by possibly block compliment reactions.

    UroGenital & Skin

    Intersticial Cystitis (IC) and Lichen Sclerosis are among the most distressing, chronic conditions that can afflict women and men, although they are much commoner in women. There are an estimated 108 million people suffering from lichen sclerosis around the world. When women are afflicted, the labia may fuse together, adding to the distress. Our research findings, as well as those of others in our group (CSN), indicate that SVF deployment may help both women and men who suffer with those conditions. Furthermore, according to our research findings, patients who had local injections of filtered fat (nanofat) into the labia and surrounding skin, in addition to the SVF  appeared to have better outcomes. Clearly, in those who benefit the stem cells as well as growth factors and cytokines re-direct the atrophic, inflammatory process towards healing and resolution.
    Erectile Dysfunction may be a very distressing entity to those afflicted and the condition afflicts approximately 50% of men over 40, to some degree. Naturally the causes may be multifactorial, but research results indicate that combining pressure wave therapy with SVF may result in significant improvement in over 60-70% of men.  In those who benefit, stem cells may have the potential to stimulate the growth of the smooth muscle lining of vessels and improve endothelial function, repair and rejuvenate damaged and effete cells and boost blood flow to erectile tissues.

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    Imagine going to a staff meeting and being second-guessed by Einstein. Well, that’s what happens at Salesforce—sort of.

    Chief executive Marc Benioff told Davos attendees on Thursday that, at a senior staff meeting every Monday for the last year, one seat has been occupied by the company’s “artificial intelligence” software, which is called Einstein.

    “I ask Einstein, ‘I heard what everybody said but what do you actually think?'” Benioff said, according to a CNBC report.

    Benioff explained that Einstein recently upset a European employee by saying “Well, I don’t think this executive is going to make their number, I’m so sorry,” before identifying the problems at hand.
    While this early AI deployment is unusual, to say the least, it’s probably unsurprising that it’s happening at Salesforce.

    The cloud software company has been very bullish on AI, having last year launched a $50 million fund to invest in startups that are deploying such technology.

    Salesforce revealed Einstein’s existence a year and a half back, bringing together technologies it had recently acquired.

    The company has been pitching the Einstein AI—which it originally wanted to call “Optimus Prime“—as a tool for things like identifying sales leads more quickly and efficiently. It is trying to encourage the functionality’s incorporation into a variety of business applications. 

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    A Veteran Entrepreneur

    If you can lead soldiers into battle, you can cold call 140 investors.

    Neuroflow founder Chris Molaro, WG’17, is a veteran, and he’s seen the effects of PTSD. As he reminds us, “20 veterans a day commit suicide, on average.”
    Neuroflow is his way of fighting back. Neuroflow uses wearables to measure the physical effects of stress, and quantify them in a way that is useful to therapists who are treating people for severe anxiety and stress. For the first time, therapists can use quantifiable measurements to see if their therapies are working—and adjust for maximum effectiveness.
    The Importance of Persistence

    Neuroflow is also a story of persistence. Chris started working with his cofounder, Adam Pardes, who is an engineering PhD candidate at Penn, on a project for the Y-Prize, which asks students to commercialize Penn technologies. In Chris’s words, they “lost miserably.” But the idea was what set them on the path to Neuroflow.

    They won the Innovation Prize in the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge, and got a lot of other support from across the University. Chris says that, “before raising the investment capital we won a total of $140,000 in business plan competitions, thanks in large part to Wharton.”
    But when they set out to raise serious money, it took time, and a lot of persistence. They ultimately raised $1.25 million. Doing so took them months of conversations, and talks with 140 investors. This, as Karl points out, isn’t especially uncommon—so for you entrepreneurs out there who are looking to raise funds, get ready to start calling.
    Our Own Battle

    For Chris, he sees Neuroflow as “our own war zone, our own battle, and we have to figure out a way. And we’ve got great men and women to our left and right in the office, and we’ll figure it out.”

    What is Neuroflow, 

    Originally appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, written by Anna Orso.

    When Clark Griswold tried to blanket his home in Christmas lights, an electrical glitch rendered the facade completely dark. But it was his gruff in-laws who added insult to injury. “Beautiful, Clark,” said one. The other called it a “silly waste of resources.”

    This is a scene from the 1989 classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. But you don’t need to summon Chevy Chase to feel some sort of way at the mere mention of your in-laws.

    Finances, gift-giving and, yes, difficult family members all contribute to higher levels of stress during the holiday season. Now, thanks to a Philadelphia startup, there’s an app for that.

    A Wharton grad and a Penn Ph.D. student last year founded NeuroFlow, a startup that’s developed software to interpret brain waves and heart rate to measure relaxation and help patients and clinicians visualize how external stressors trigger physical reactions.

    The software shows that even the mention of one’s in-laws can set off in some people a physiological response – that gut-level feeling of uneasiness – and can then illustrate exactly how meditation and mindfulness techniques impact the body and brain. But the tool, now in beta and used by a handful of mental health professionals, has applications far beyond the holiday season. Its founders are planning a full launch in February, and believe their platform will ultimately help de-stigmatize mental illness by helping people see it, rather than just feel it.

    A lofty goal for a company with eight full-time employees run by a couple of twentysomethings.

    “We know it’s a stressful time of year, yet what we found is that the conversation around mental health, around anxiety, around stress is such that there’s this negative stigma,” said CEO and co-founder Christopher Molaro, 29, an Iraq war veteran and Wharton MBA who founded the company in large part to address post-traumatic stress disorder. “I think it’s because if you can’t understand something, measure something, see something, you just push it aside as something that doesn’t exist.”

    NeuroFlow is a phone app and cloud-based program that, through bluetooth technology, interprets data to offer digestible information about how relaxed a person is. That data comes from a heart-rate monitor and an EEG (electroencephalogram), in this case a headset, which measures electrical activity in the brain.

    The idea is that clinicians would be able to visualize exactly when a patient becomes more stressed, and can then watch in real-time as relaxation techniques like breath monitoring start to actually work. That visualization helps people see mental illness in the same way they can see a broken arm on an X-ray.
    Sound complicated? I tried it out this week in a conference room at Benjamin’s Desk, the Center City coworking space where NeuroFlow is based.

    Adam Pardes, the company’s 26-year-old co-founder and chief operating officer, helped me put on a headset (similar to the one in the photo above) that retails for about $250. The NeuroFlow program recognized I was wearing the headset, and the line that charted my score on the “relaxation index” was sky high.

    Safe to say this reporter is not very relaxed. NeuroFlow confirmed it.

    But with the help of a breathing guide that acts a bit like a metronome, I watched the line go down. After just about a minute, I’d gotten into the “relaxation zone,” and I was able to see it.

    Other variances in anxiety and stress can be seen with NeuroFlow’s YouTube integration, a tool that allows therapists to show a patient a video – say it’s of a car driving over a bridge for a person who fears that – to see the exact point when a patient’s body goes into anxiety mode.

    Using the technology, a patient would also be able to gauge progress with a therapist over time. The tool isn’t meant to replace a mental health professional, though. Think of NeuroFlow more as a thermometer for mental health.

    “Your body physiologically changes when you’re more stressed and more relaxed,” Molaro said. “The fact that we can measure and better understand means that you don’t have to be ashamed of it and can go seek help, whether using our platform or not.”

    Molaro said NeuroFlow closed its first major funding round in October, raising $1.25 million in venture capital. It’s also supported in part by Penn, where the company is conducting some research through the school’s Neuroscience Initiative.

    Sixteen clinicians across the country are currently using NeuroFlow in beta, and the full software will be available for purchase online for about $100 per month.

    Molaro and Pardes, who has a background in bioengineering, see a host of applications for clinicians and patients down the line, from testing stress levels in soldiers to tracking mental health in professional athletes to managing that Griswold-level holiday stress.

    “Twenty veterans a day killing themselves is unacceptable. Fourteen students at Penn killing themselves is unacceptable,” Molaro said. “My mom crying on Christmas because she’s anxious and stressed out is unacceptable. People deserve better.”

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  • 01/29/18--05:54: Flip the Switch 01-29

  • Changes in fat metabolism may promote prostate cancer metastasis...

    Prostate tumors tend to be what scientists call “indolent”—so slow-growing and self-contained that many affected men die with prostate cancer, not of it. But for the percentage of men whose prostate tumors metastasize, the disease is invariably fatal.

    In a set of papers published in the journals Nature Genetics and Nature Communications, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have shed new light on the genetic mechanisms that promote metastasis in a mouse model and implicated the typical Western high-fat diet as a key environmental factor driving metastasis.

    “Although it is widely postulated that a Western diet can promote prostate cancer progression, direct evidence supporting a strong association between dietary lipids and prostate cancer has been lacking,” said first author Ming Chen, HMS research fellow in medicine in the laboratory of Pier Paolo Pandolfi, the HMS George C. Reisman Professor of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess.

    Epidemiological data links dietary fats (and obesity) to many types of cancer, and rates of cancer deaths from metastatic cancers including prostate cancer are much higher in the United States than in nations where lower fat diets are more common. While prostate cancer affects about 10 percent of men in Asian nations, that rate climbs to about 40 percent when they immigrate to the U.S., mirroring the rates among the native-born U.S. population. That points to an environmental culprit that may work in concert with genetic factors to drive this aggressive, fatal disease.

    “The progression of cancer to the metastatic stage represents a pivotal event that influences patient outcomes and the therapeutic options available to patients,” said senior author Pandolfi, who is also director of the Cancer Center and the Cancer Research Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess. “Our data provide a strong genetic foundation for the mechanisms underlying metastatic progression, and we also demonstrated how environmental factors can boost these mechanisms to promote progression from primary to advanced metastatic cancer.”

    The tumor suppressor gene PTEN is known to play a major role in prostate cancer; its partial loss occurs in up to 70 percent of primary prostate tumors. Its complete loss is linked to metastatic prostate disease, but animal studies suggest the loss of PTEN alone is not enough to trigger progression. Pandolfi and colleagues sought to identify an additional tumor suppressing gene or pathway that may work in concert with PTEN to drive metastasis.

    Looking at recent genomic data, Pandolfi and colleagues noticed that another tumor suppressor gene, PML, tended to be present in localized (nonmetastatic) prostate tumors but was absent in about a third of metastatic prostate tumors. Moreover, about 20 percent of metastatic prostate tumors lack both PML and PTEN.

    When they compared the two types of tumor—the localized ones lacking only the PTEN gene versus the metastatic tumors lacking both genes—the researchers found that the metastatic tumors produced huge amounts of lipids, or fats. In tumors that lacked both PTEN and PML tumor suppressing genes, the cells’ fat-production machinery was running amok.

    “It was as though we’d found the tumors’ lipogenic, or fat production, switch,” said Pandolfi. “The implication is, if there’s a switch, maybe there’s a drug with which we can block this switch and maybe we can prevent metastasis or even cure metastatic prostate cancer,” he added.

    Such a drug already exists. Discovered in 2009, a molecule named “fatostatin” is currently being investigated for the treatment of obesity. Pandolfi and colleagues tested the molecule in lab mice.

    “The obesity drug blocked the lipogenesis fantastically, and the tumors regressed and didn’t metastasize.”

    In addition to opening the door to new treatment for metastatic prostate cancer, these findings also helped solve a long-standing scientific puzzle. For years, researchers had difficulty modeling metastatic prostate cancer in mice, making it hard to study the disease in the lab. Some speculated that mice simply weren’t a good model for this particular disease. But the lipid-production finding raised a question in Pandolfi’s mind.

    “I asked, ‘What do our mice eat?’” Pandolfi recalled.

    It turned out the mice ate a vegetable-based chow, essentially a low-fat vegan diet that bore little resemblance to that of the average American male. When Pandolfi and colleagues increased the levels of saturated fats, the kind found in fast food cheeseburgers and fries, in the animals’ diet, the mice developed aggressive, metastatic tumors.

    The findings could result in more accurate and predictive mouse models for metastatic prostate cancer, which in turn could accelerate discovery of better therapies for the disease. Additionally, physicians could soon be able to screen their early-stage prostate cancer patients for those whose tumors lack both PTEN and PML tumor suppressing genes, putting them at increased risk for progressing to metastatic disease. These patients may be helped by starving these tumors of fat either with the fat-blocking drug or through diet.

    “The data are tremendously actionable, and they surely will convince you to change your lifestyle,” Pandolfi said.

    This work was supported by a U.S. Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program Postdoctoral Training Award and the National Institutes of Health (grants R01 CA142784, R35 CA197529, P01 CA120964 and R35 CA197459.)

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    The marketing landscape is evolving rapidly. Hardly breaking news. There are new companies and products constantly popping up that enable more efficient and effective work across all channels. The teams that achieve the most success are the ones that are constantly up-to-date with these new tools.

    Finding new products is also a lot easier today than it was in the past. Today, there are far more thought leaders, newsletters, and blogs sharing the latest trends and ways in which companies are taking advantage of them.

    Moving forward, the landscape is going to continue to morph and expand, which is truly saying something when you consider the number of martech options that were available in 2017 as per Scott Brinker's infamous chart. And if you can't read it here, and who can blame if you can't, you can see the full version here.

    Here are 5 ways that tech is going to change marketing in 2018 that you should be on the lookout for:

    1. It Will Be Easier To Find Customers

    There are inbound leads, like site visitors, and there are also outbound leads, like a group of Sales VPs that get sent an email. Tech is making it easier to find and sell to both of these groups.
    For inbound, technology has enabled marketing teams to find out more about their website visitors. Companies can run reverse IP lookups to match a visitor with the company they work for. Different services are also making it easier to capture emails. Emails are more valuable than ever because enrichment products can tell you everything about a person once given an email. Plus, that data is becoming more accurate as time goes on.

    Outbound leads have also become easier to find. Marketing teams can take advantage of lead generation services that offer unique targeting of
    audiences. The customization that companies will be able to do to gather leads, and the quality of those leads, will also increase in 2018. This is, consequently, enabling companies to spend more time figuring out who their target audience is, instead of actually gathering their information.

    2. There Is Better Customization

    Once you know the visitor's title, location, company and/or industry, anything about their site experience can be changed. This could be the images they are presented, the customers or testimonials they see for social proof, and even the messages sent by a chatbot. This customization, and the functionality for it, is going to improve dramatically in 2018.

    The early movers are also going to get a huge bump in conversion rates. They will be able to target messaging and pictures to fit the psyche of each company and visitor. Instead of needing a catch-all site, companies can segment their audiences. Mark Rabe, SVP of Art Concrete Solutions told me, “We have 2 very different customers. One group are potential franchisees for our concrete repair business. The other group are consumers who might purchase our DIY concrete repair bucket. We have to segment our visitors and show them relevant info or they’re gone fast. We can display the best option given data we have on the visitor. That, inevitably, will increase conversion rates.”

    3. There Will Be A Greater Push For Immediate Sales

    People have many distractions today, and that will only increase in 2018. They are constantly flooded with emails and content, as well as spend a significant amount of time on social media. Therefore, in 2018, marketing is going to move further towards quick sales. E-commerce sites are trying to capture the sale upon a user’s first visit. They are already offering discounts for immediate buys and will likely continue to do so. Email follow-ups about open online orders will also continue to emerge as the norm.

    Implementations of blockchain technologies, like PureGold’s new gold-backed payment gateway, will enhance consumer access to e-commerce using cryptocurrency. Being a brick and mortar company with gold ATMs, gold minting factories and storefronts, PureGold also offers many offline ways to provide instant transactions for consumers. Whether mobile, desktop, or in person, maximum flexibility is offered.

    The recent emergence of chat-bots like Drift and Intercom enable a site visitor to schedule a demo with a sales rep in seconds. Being able to do so prevents the need for back and forth email exchange. It also takes advantage of the currently attentive visitor before they become distracted or overwhelmed with other things.

    4. No Excuse For Poor Web Design

    Engineers have become better and there are new tools enabling novices to design quality-looking sites. In just a few clicks, developers and designers can now easily build content-ready, production sites for their products. Landing pages are critical components of a brand’s image and will largely determine the effectiveness of a company’s funnel. This trend is putting a greater emphasis on people that can design, build front-end sites, or even navigate a CMS like WordPress.

    5. There Will Be A Greater Emphasis On Data (if that's even possible)

    Marketers can look at more metrics than ever. These include open rates, time spent on pages, and how people interact with a page. This data can drive better decisions and keep marketing people from guessing. There has even been an emergence of machine learning in marketing. Machine learning can qualify leads and determine customer projected value.

    Companies like Repux are using data and artificial intelligence to help businesses maximize their potential. On the Repux platform, businesses can sell anonymized data to developers for use with machine learning algorithms. Once optimized as intelligent applications, the applications can be sold back to businesses for better business decision making.

    Larger brands will likely put more resources towards their branding, images and messaging because they can. Smaller brands do not have the budget or time for that. In the past, this meant that they were less effective. Now, though, smaller brands can test a handful of approaches quickly.
    Then, they can use that data to inform their decisions.

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    The development of ultra-intense lasers delivering the same power as the entire U.S. power grid has enabled the study of cosmic phenomena such as supernovae and black holes in earthbound laboratories. Now, a new method developed by computational astrophysicists at the University of Chicago allows scientists to analyze a key characteristic of these events: their powerful and complex magnetic fields.

    In the field of high-energy density physics, or HEDP, scientists study a wide range of astrophysical objects—stars, supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies and galaxy clusters—with laboratory experiments as small as a penny and lasting only a few billionths of a second. By focusing powerful lasers on a carefully designed target, researchers can produce plasmas that reproduce conditions observed by astronomers in our sun and distant galaxies.

    Planning these complex and expensive experiments requires large-scale, high-fidelity computer simulation beforehand. Since 2012, the Flash Center for Computational Science of the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at UChicago has provided the leading open computer code, called FLASH, for these HEDP simulations, enabling researchers to fine-tune experiments and develop analysis methods before execution at sites such as the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory or the OMEGA Laser Facility in Rochester, N.Y.

    "As soon as FLASH became available, there was kind of a stampede to use it to design experiments," said Petros Tzeferacos, research assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics and associate director of the Flash Center.

    During these experiments, laser probe beams can provide researchers with information about the density and temperature of the plasma. But a key measurement, the magnetic field, has remained elusive. To try and tease out magnetic field measurements from extreme plasma conditions, scientists at MIT developed an experimental diagnostic technique that uses charged particles instead, called proton radiography.

    In a new paper for the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, Flash Center scientists Carlo Graziani, Donald Lamb and Tzeferacos, with MIT's Chikang Li, describe a new method for acquiring quantitative, high-resolution information about these magnetic fields. Their discovery, refined using FLASH simulations and real experimental results, opens new doors for understanding cosmic phenomena.
    "We chose to go after experiments motivated by astrophysics where magnetic fields were important," said Lamb, the Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Astronomy & Astrophysics and director of the Flash Center. "The creation of the code plus the need to try to figure out how to understand what magnetic fields are created caused us to build this software, that can for the first time quantitatively reconstruct the shape and strength of the magnetic field."
    Skyrocketing experiments
    In proton radiography, energetic protons are shot through the magnetized plasma towards a detector on the other side. As the protons pass through the magnetic field, they are deflected from their path, forming a complex pattern on the detector. These patterns were difficult to interpret, and previous methods could only make general statements about the field's properties.
    "Magnetic fields play important roles in essentially almost every astrophysical phenomena. If you aren't able to actually look at what's happening, or study them, you're missing a key part of almost every astrophysical object or process that you're interested in," said Tzeferacos.
    By conducting simulated experiments with known magnetic fields, the Flash Center team constructed an algorithm that can reconstruct the field from the proton radiograph pattern. Once calibrated computationally, the method was applied to experimental data collected at laser facilities, revealing new insights about astrophysical events.
    The combination of the FLASH code, the development of the proton radiography diagnostic, and the ability to reconstruct magnetic fields from the experimental data, are revolutionizing laboratory plasma astrophysics and HEDP. "The availability of these tools has caused the number of HEDP experiments that study magnetic fields to skyrocket," said Lamb.
    The new software for magnetic field reconstruction, called PRaLine, will be shared with the community both as part of the next FLASH code release and as a separate component available on GitHub. Lamb and Tzeferacos said they expect it to be used for studying many astrophysics topics, such as the annihilation of magnetic fields in the solar corona; astrophysical jets produced by young stellar objects, the Crab Nebula pulsar, and the supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies; and the amplification of magnetic fields and acceleration of cosmic rays by shocks in supernova remnants.
    "The types of experiments HEDP scientists perform now are very diverse," said Tzeferacos. "FLASH contributed to this diversity, because it enables you to think outside the box, try different simulations of different configurations, and see what plasma conditions you are able to achieve."

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    Ford is developing a robot police car to catch speeding drivers and slap them with fines. 

    The car giant has been issued with a patent for the artificial intelligence tech that will catch motorists breaking road laws.

    The sketches filed with the US Patent & Trademark Office even show the sneaky Robocop hiding behind a tree.
    Cameras and wireless sensors will allow it to track cars and connect over wifi to let them know they've broken the law.
    The regular car would then message back revealing if it was in driverless mode - or with the driving licence photo of the person in control.
    Robocop could then issue a warning or fine remotely.

    The robotic cop car will be fitted with cameras and wifi allowing it to be used as a remote surveillance device - or to call in back up.
    And the patent reveals it can even drive itself to hunt down rogue motorists - or be used with an officer inside.
    The Ford patent said: "While autonomous vehicles can and will be programmed to obey traffic laws, a human driver can override that programming to control and operate the vehicle at any time.
    "When a vehicle is under control of a human driver there is a possibility of violation of traffic laws. Thus, there will still be a need to police traffic.
    "An autonomous police vehicle may enforce traffic laws by identifying violators, pulling over the offending vehicle, capturing an image of the licence plate of the offending vehicle, and determining whether to issue a warning or a ticket.
    “Autonomous police vehicle may be trained or otherwise programmed using machine learning tools – deep neural networks – to find good hiding spots to catch violators of traffic laws.”
    The futuristic tech is still some way off but the very fact Ford has filed a patent means it's on their radar.
    It mimics the sci-fi cop cars seen in Sylvester Stallone's 1993 cult classic Demolition Man - plus the iconic 80s action star Robocop.

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    The Science of Making Good Decisions


    The world is full of disagreements. However, one thing that everyone can agree upon is that at some point in our lives we’ve all made a decision we regret. If someone tells you that they’ve never made a bad decision, most likely they’re either lying or have convinced themselves that their bad decision was good.
    Life would be easier if we intrinsically knew how to make good decisions. We would find more success in our careers and personal lives. However, history is filled with bad decision-making. When doctors said they were “completely certain” about a patient’s diagnosis, 40% of the time they were wrong, a study found.
    In 1975, the Eastman Kodak company held the majority share of the US film market. Kodak decided to hold off on sharing its development of the world’s first digital camera because they feared that it would destroy their film business. Then, in the 1980s, Kodak decided not to be the 1984 Olympics official film. Fuji received the honor, and from there became a major player in the US marketplace. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.
    It’s not that people aren’t capable of making good decisions, but that they don’t use the correct decision-making methodology. Having sound gut instincts is great, but that’s only a start. Taking the time to define the problem, recognize how emotions affect decisions, learn how to utilize emotions for better decision making, and know when enough is enough are all parts of making good decisions.

    Define the Problem


    The Science of Making Good Decisions


    The world is full of disagreements. However, one thing that everyone can agree upon is that at some point in our lives we’ve all made a decision we regret. If someone tells you that they’ve never made a bad decision, most likely they’re either lying or have convinced themselves that their bad decision was good.
    Life would be easier if we intrinsically knew how to make good decisions. We would find more success in our careers and personal lives. However, history is filled with bad decision-making. When doctors said they were “completely certain” about a patient’s diagnosis, 40% of the time they were wrong, a study found.
    In 1975, the Eastman Kodak company held the majority share of the US film market. Kodak decided to hold off on sharing its development of the world’s first digital camera because they feared that it would destroy their film business. Then, in the 1980s, Kodak decided not to be the 1984 Olympics official film. Fuji received the honor, and from there became a major player in the US marketplace. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.
    It’s not that people aren’t capable of making good decisions, but that they don’t use the correct decision-making methodology. Having sound gut instincts is great, but that’s only a start. Taking the time to define the problem, recognize how emotions affect decisions, learn how to utilize emotions for better decision making, and know when enough is enough are all parts of making good decisions.

    Define the Problem

    The Science of Making Good Decisions

    Digital Marketing

    The world is full of disagreements. However, one thing that everyone can agree upon is that at some point in our lives we’ve all made a decision we regret. If someone tells you that they’ve never made a bad decision, most likely they’re either lying or have convinced themselves that their bad decision was good.

    Life would be easier if we intrinsically knew how to make good decisions. We would find more success in our careers and personal lives. However, history is filled with bad decision-making. When doctors said they were “completely certain” about a patient’s diagnosis, 40% of the time they were wrong, a study found.

    In 1975, the Eastman Kodak company held the majority share of the US film market. Kodak decided to hold off on sharing its development of the world’s first digital camera because they feared that it would destroy their film business. Then, in the 1980s, Kodak decided not to be the 1984 Olympics official film. Fuji received the honor, and from there became a major player in the US marketplace. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

    It’s not that people aren’t capable of making good decisions, but that they don’t use the correct decision-making methodology. Having sound gut instincts is great, but that’s only a start. Taking the time to define the problem, recognize how emotions affect decisions, learn how to utilize emotions for better decision making, and know when enough is enough are all parts of making good decisions.

    Define the Problem

    It used to be difficult to find information. There wasn’t the Internet, a 24/7 news media cycle, cellphones, or social media. You couldn’t just go online to research databases from your couch to find what you needed.

    In today’s world, there’s a glut of information. It’s easy to become lost in that information. It’s easy to make mistakes, because all that extra information gets in the way of you seeing the real issue.
    The book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, shows how too much information can harm people. It makes the case that when doctors are attempting to diagnose patients, “extra information is more than useless. It’s harmful.” Doctors need to know the pertinent information for that patient, not every piece of data that exists on a particular diagnosis. Knowing too much information overcomplicates and confuses an issue.

    When making good decisions, it’s not about knowing as much information as you can; it’s about knowing the right information. Knowing the correct information helps you to identify the root problem, and solve it.

    A quality of a good CEO is the ability to weed through the massive amount of information in the world and identify the pertinent information in a timely manner. This ability takes objectivity. A CEO cannot be so swayed by his emotions, his opinions, and his beliefs that he ignores the facts. However, all CEOs are human, and since all humans experience emotions, all decisions humans make are to some extent affected by emotions.

    Recognize Emotions

    Emotions are an intrinsic part of being human. This means that no matter how hard we try to keep subjectivity out of decision-making, we will not succeed. What we can do is learn how to recognize emotions and use them to our advantage.

    One of the major pitfalls of emotions is that we aren’t all that great at controlling our gut reactions. We’ve all regretted doing something in the heat of the moment. Our rational self vanished and we did or said something that was detrimental. This immediate and overpowering emotional response to some stimulus is known as an amygdala hijack.

    In the professional world, an amygdala hijack could destroy a person’s career.

    Take a look at Eliot Spitzer. He was the governor of New York, until he resigned because of involvement in a prostitution ring. Spitzer had graduated from Princeton and Harvard law school. Before becoming mayor, he’d been an aggressive and successful corporate fraud and organized crime prosecutor. But his emotions—his need for pleasure—overwhelmed his rational thinking. He was hijacked by his amygdala—the emotional center of the brain—made poor decisions, and lost everything.

    An amygdala hijack doesn’t just affect the person experiencing the uncontrolled gut reaction. Emotions are contagious. They spread from person to person. If the CEO of a company is hijacked, his emotional outburst may influence his co-workers and subordinates. The company’s ability to make good decisions may decrease, as collaboration among employees deteriorates.
    A person’s ability to control his emotions is principal to making good decisions. However, focusing solely on logic—only paying attention to flow charts, market movement, risk versus reward, and statistical trends—can lead to horrendous flaws in logic and poor decision making.
    The Great Depression resulted from a variety of factors, including the 1929 stock market crash, over 9,000 banks failing in the 1930s, a vast reduction in product purchasing, high import taxes for foreign countries, and the 1930 Mississippi Valley drought that left the area with the nickname, “The Dust Bowl.”

    Similarly, the rapid decline of household consumption and housing construction contributed to the Great Recession. In the 1980s, a massive, unsustainable boom in consumer spending occurred, while income growth largely decreased. People borrowed more and more money, indebting themselves through novel mortgage lending plans, until in 2006, when interest rates rose, refinancing opportunities fell, lender credit dried up, and homeowners defaulted on their mortgages. Consumption seeking stalled and the American society greatly cut back spending. The result was a sharp decline in demand, and the Great Recession.

    With both the Great Depression and Great Recession, the aftermaths led to realizations about widespread denial, greed, and lack of awareness. People, whether a bank or consumer, were busy wanting more, and therefore were blinded to the long-term implications of their theoretically logical solutions and to unrealized underlying emotions for making and having more. By understanding and embracing emotion, you can make better decisions.

    Utilize Emotions

    Remaining calm is essential for good decision making. Once you realize what emotions are wrapped up in the problem you’re facing, you cannot let them overpower a well thought-out decision.
    In 2009, over 61,000 tattoos were removed in the United States. Many of those tattoos had been the result of an emotional reaction. People didn’t think about whether or not they should get a tattoo. They let their short-term emotions take the reigns and lost the ability to think clearly, instead of using their emotions to bolster their logical reasoning.

    Some of the most successful decision makers are samurais and Special Forces. Why? Because they know how to stay calm and in control.

    Samurais train as much mentally as they do physically because they believe that people should exhibit calmness both in battle and everyday life. Situations should be approached with awareness and alertness, as well as an unbiased attitude.

    Special Forces are extremely selective. They look for individuals who are not only skilled and determined, but who are also emotionally stable. Navy Seals use four techniques to increase recruits’ chances of passing their program and of making good decisions in the field:

    Self-awareness is “having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions.” Without self-awareness, you cannot empathize and without empathy, you cannot understand other people. Without understanding other people, you can’t identify what motivates them, how they’ll respond, and what opportunities exist. Without these things, you cannot make good decisions.

    One very important emotion is empathy. Empathy is “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” To empathize, you must know yourself. You must possess self-awareness.

    As the Harvard Business Review stated, “Executives who fail to develop self-awareness risk falling into an emotionally deadening routine that threatens their true selves. Indeed a reluctance to explore your inner landscape not only weakens your own motivation but can also corrode your ability to inspire others.”

    Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman developed a theory explaining why people don’t make 100% rational economic decisions. Kahneman stated that there are two overarching thought processes:
    “System 1” is the “automatic, intuitive mind.” It carries out the majority of people’s everyday activities. It’s the “going with your gut,” and what you perceive to be correct. System 1 is efficient, but not always accurate.

    “System 2” is the “controlled, deliberative, analytical mind.” It performs the functions that System 1 cannot. System 2 requires a great deal of focus, but can sometimes make up for System 1’s inaccuracy.

    While System 1 doesn’t involve actively thinking about what you’re doing—you already know how to walk and make toast, so you don’t have to deliberately focus on those activities—System 2 requires you to produce certain thoughts that enable you to perform a particular function.

    However, System 1 causes people to form snap judgments about others, because System 1 contains emotions and biases. When you meet someone, you form an opinion of them within the first few seconds. Say you shake someone’s hand and the handshake is strong, so you believe that the person you’re meeting is confident. This opinion may be correct, but oftentimes it isn’t. You need more information before forming an accurate opinion. This is where System 2 comes in. System 2 forces you to step back, slow down, and analyze the situation, so that you’re less likely to make a rash decision.

    Follow this link to take a quiz from Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, to see if you’re immune to logical inaccuracies: Thinking, fast or slow: can you do it?

    Know When Enough Is Enough

    After identifying the problem, recognizing emotions, and utilizing emotions, you have to know when to make a decision. In life, instances where decisions don’t need to be made are few and far between, and when a decision must be determined, there’s usually a timeline attached.

    Striving to make the perfect decision will lead to stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed, and if you’re overwhelmed, your ability to make good decisions decreases drastically.

    As James Waters, once The White House’s Deputy Director of Scheduling, stated: “Being able to make decisions when you know you have imperfect data is so critical.”

    Waters was instructed that “A good decision now is better than a perfect decision in two days.” It’s a lesson he’s carried with him, and one that many analysts can’t believe.

    In the business world, analysts play a huge role. Their job is to collect and analyze as much data as possible to produce the best result for a particular company. However, Waters encourages “people to make a decision with imperfect information.” He believes that the ability to make decisions with incomplete data is “really important for leaders to incorporate. It’s something that the White House has to do all the time. It’s great to analyze things but at some stage you’re just spinning your wheels.”90% of all information transmitted to our brains is visual.

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    The key findings of the present study are as follows:

    No significant improvement in employability in the last four years We did the previous large scale study of employability of engineers in 2014. We had found that only 18.43% of engineers were employable for the software services sector, 3.21% for software products and 39.84% for a non-functional role such as Business Process Outsourcing.

    Unfortunately, we see no massive progress in these numbers. These numbers as of today stand at: 17.91%, 3.67% and 40.57% respectively for IT Services, IT Products and Business Process Outsourcing. This is despite the fact that the number of engineering seats have not increased in the past year. We are not inferring that all initiatives for employability improvement have failed and there may be pockets of excellence present. However, the need of the hour is to find these pockets and scale them up to make an exponential impact on employability. This is crucial for India to continue its growth story and achieve the PM's vision of India becoming the human resource provider for the whole world.

    Only 3.84% folks employable for startup software engineering jobs Investments and growth of technology startups is the new business story in India. Ratan Tata recently said that India is becoming the Silicon Valley of the 1990s. To sustain this growth, we need candidates with higher technology caliber, understanding of new products and requirements and the attitude to work in a startup. With this in mind, we specifically captured employability for startup technology roles this time. Unfortunately, we find that only 3.84% of engineers qualify for a startup technology role. This is a big concern and would surely hamper the growth of startups in India. It may also cause the market to be diluted with a lot of low quality products floating around.

    More aspiration to work for startups Last year, we had found 6% students were interested to work for a startup. This year it is up by 33% to 8%. Students from tier 1 colleges are most motivated to work in startups as compared to others. It is also observed that inclination of males is strikingly high to work with startups than that of females. Among all of these, more students as compared to last year are interested to work for startups. While this is good news, there is a still a long way to go as only a handful of candidates (8%) are interested to work for startups.

    Higher salary aspiration and higher salary for same skill This year on, we find that students have higher salary aspirations. Last year the median salary aspiration was INR 310 thousand, which is now INR 340 thousand implying that the market is also paying higher salaries. The median salary for the same skill was INR 282 thousand last year, which is INR 313 thousand this year. This means that talent is getting expensive and we believe this is due to the huge demand of manpower in technology sector and lack of supply. However, it is important to note that this supply is artificially low: more than 25% of employable candidates are beyond the top 750 engineering colleges. This pool of candidates is missed out by companies and to make sure that the war for talent doesn't lead to salaries going out of control, we need to find ways of better meritocratic matching of students with jobs.

    View the entire report here

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    A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn. All information in this post is publicly accessible and does not use any private or confidential data. Opinions and views expressed are Ms. Urbanski's and do not necessarily represent LinkedIn Corporation. 

    Recently, Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau surpassed 2 million followers on LinkedIn — a year after becoming an official Influencer and two months after being named as one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in 2017. The engagement he’s garnered with LinkedIn’s members proves that content related to the economy, government news/info, and politics all has a place on our platform, in our newsfeed and with our members.

    But as savvy as Trudeau’s social team was, they were new to using LinkedIn and experienced the same learning curve that any of us do when we first start using a new platform. This post shares what I have learned working with Trudeau’s team over the past year and how you can make the most out of using LinkedIn’s platform.

    Post often

    We saw the most success during times that Trudeau was posting every few days. Having a couple weeks pass in between each update limits momentum and your ability to stay top-of-mind with your network. Social media channels have algorithms that reward high engagement so you always want your voice to be circulating throughout your network through a mix of posts, comments, questions, likes, and shares.

    Tag people or companies that you mention

    We saw the biggest spike in followers and engagement when Trudeau promoted his meeting with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in May 2017 where he tagged both him and Brad Smith in the post. We saw the same affect on his most recent post about meeting with Satya at the World Economic Forum. This tagging helps members discover who other people are and notifies the member that you mentioned them, thus increasing the chance that they will engage with it and be seen by their network (as was the case when both LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Satya Nadella liked and commented on Trudeau's posts and thus being exposed to their 7 million and 3 million followers, respectively).

    Use hashtags

    Trudeau’s team loves to use relevant hashtags to promote their work on important issues or associate themselves with world events. Using hashtags makes your content discoverable and helps you to join popular conversations. Some great examples are #WEF18, #GEW2017, #GoNorth17 and #CPTPP.

    Take the time to find strong images

    Posting rich media and photographs perform better than generic images. In the early days of posting on LinkedIn, Trudeau would shares links from his official press releases which pull in a generic image of Canada’s coat of arms. You can see a significant difference in engagement with these posts versus the high quality images of him meeting with world leaders, speaking at an event or showcasing the cities he visits across Canada.

    Use LinkedIn’s native video feature

    People love video. They love to see who you truly are, what you’re doing and how you sound. It makes them feel like they are part of the moment or getting a sneak peak behind-the-scenes. Prime Minister Trudeau was officially the first world leader to use LinkedIn’s native video feature which was released in May 2017 and the engagement was off the charts. In his video he spoke directly to his LinkedIn followers — thanking them for their engagement and asking what they want to hear more of. The team then used the feedback they received to guide some of the content they posted moving forward — related to the comments left by members and the topics they are most interested in.

    Be authentic

    Posting content on a professional platform like LinkedIn doesn't mean you have to be a robot. We see a huge difference in interest and engagement when Trudeau posts with an authentic voice — using our native video feature or showcasing his meetings across Canada and the world — versus scripted long-form posts like his official PMO Press Releases. For most members, you don't have the same intense public pressure weighing on your shoulders like our PM, so you have an even greater opportunity to showcase yourself as an individual. I know this part can sometimes be scary but don't worry, your network will do a great job of supporting you and making you feel good. Just try and see!

    Customize your URL

    Ever noticed the weird mix of numbers and letters following your name in your LinkedIn URL? You can easily edit this on the right-hand rail of your LinkedIn profile under the "Contact and Personal Info" section. Creating a custom URL allows your content to easily be found in online search tools and can be included in your email signature, on business cards or other resources to increase traffic to your LinkedIn page.

    But, let's take things to the next level!

    The success Trudeau and his team has seen in using LinkedIn has been amazing! The climb to more than 2 million followers has been fun to watch. But there are a few things that Prime Minister Trudeau could be doing more of (and maybe you can too!)

    Engagement with other people’s content

    Engaging with other people's content by liking, sharing or commenting helps to expand the conversation and the relationships you have with your network. It also helps to grow your professional brand and increase your followers. Engagement actions help to bring an idea or topic to life and that's when the real energy of networking happens. You'd be amazed at how many new contacts I’ve made on LinkedIn by commenting on their posts or sharing their content.

    Add all your business contacts

    As you can tell through his updates, our Prime Minister has a very busy travel schedule where he meets with tons of world and business leaders. After these meetings, he should use LinkedIn to connect with these contacts and easily maintain their working relationship. Adding these connections to your network allows you to communicate news and updates at scale – which is a great efficiency tip for those who are as busy as the PM! (and even those who aren’t).

    Follow other thought leaders

    While Trudeau is one of the most followed world leaders on LinkedIn, there are many others who are posting great content related to some of today’s most important issues. Trudeau has a great opportunity to learn from what other thoughts leaders are doing, the type of content they’re posting, and the engagement results they see on various topics. Some of my favourite government thought-leaders include Australian Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull; President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron; CIO for the Government of Canada, Alex Benay; Canada's Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains; India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi; Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne; and Mississauga's Mayor, Bonnie Crombie.

    As a Canadian, I am grateful to have a Prime Minister who uses modern techniques to connect with people across our country and openly share news and information. I believe that we can all benefit in using a similar strategy to be better professionals, more effective leaders, advance our careers, achieve our goals, and collaborate with our peers.

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    If you've watched the Iron Man film franchise, you'll know that a powered suit gives inventor Tony Stark superhuman strength to fight the bad guys.
    But away from the the fictional world of blockbusting movies, robotic exoskeletons offer more prosaic and useful help for humans.
    The military has been in on the act for years, using them to help soldiers carry more weight for longer periods of time. Meanwhile manufacturers have been busy creating robotic suits to give mobility to people with disabilities.
    But now exoskeletons are becoming an important part of the scene in more conventional workplaces, mainly because of their unique offering.
    "Exoskeletons act as a bridge between fully-manual labour and robotic systems. You get the brains of people in the body of a robot," says Dan Kara, research director at ABI Research.
    "But there's more to it than that. You can tie the use of exoskeletons to business benefits that are very easy to quantify. The main one is a reduction in work-related injuries, and we know that outside the common cold, back injury is the main reason people are off work."

    The motor industry has used robots for many years. But robots can't do everything, points out technical expert Marty Smets, of Ford's human systems and virtual manufacturing unit.
    "In our plants, we see a need for both people and robots," he says.
    Some Ford assembly line workers lift their arms up to 4,600 times a day - that's about a million times a year. That sort of repetition leaves many suffering from back-ache and neck pain.
    Now, though, the company has equipped staff at two US assembly plants with a device called the EksoVest, from California-based Ekso Bionics. It helps take the strain by giving workers an extra 5-15lb (2.2-6.8kg) of lift per arm.
    "Incredible is the only word to describe the vest," said Paul Collins, an assembly line worker at Ford Michigan assembly plant. "It has made my job significantly easier and has given me more energy throughout the day."
    The company says it's already seeing a dramatic decline in work-related injuries and is now planning to introduce the exoskeletons at facilities in Europe and South America.

    Currently, the industrial use of exoskeletons is relatively small - this year only a few thousand have been sold, says ABI's Kara. But, he says, the potential market could be in the millions.
    The types of exoskeleton used for rehabilitation can cost more than $100,000 (£75,000), needing, as they usually do, to replace a user's muscles altogether. However, industrial versions can be far cheaper, at around $5,000.
    They generally augment human strength rather than replace it and tend to enhance one part of the body only. They also often don't need any external power. Instead, they can deliver a 10-20% boost to the user's lifting power by transferring weight to the ground.
    In Japan, exoskeletons are being used for heavy lifting in the shipbuilding industry as well as in large commercial construction projects.
    Meanwhile, US retailer Home Depot is testing exoskeletons to help workers unload trucks and bring materials onto the floor.
    Another early adopter is Lockheed Martin, which is using its own Fortis exoskeleton to allow workers to operate tools for much longer periods. It has a support structure that transfers the weight of heavy loads from the operator's body directly to the ground through a series of joints at the hips, knees and ankles.
    It can also be used with an arm that supports the weight of a tool helps isolate vibration and torque kick - rotational force - from the user. Workers using the devices, says Lockheed Martin, report two-thirds less fatigue, with higher quality work, greater productivity and fewer musculoskeletal injuries.

    Other companies are producing powered industrial exoskeletons that are rather more like the suits from the movies. Sarcos, for example, offers three models, with the biggest - the Guardian GT (pictured) - handling more than 450kg with its 2m (7ft) arms.
    "I think powered exoskeletons will become ubiquitous for industrial applications around the world. These devices will materially reduce occupational injuries while also dramatically improving productivity," says chief executive officer Ben Wolff.
    "Additionally, these devices can extend the useful life of an aging work force, and can make jobs open for more people that previously could have only been handled by people of larger physical stature." 
    Other augmentation technologies are even stranger. Researchers at Cornell's Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, for example, have developed a robotic "third arm" that attaches to the user's elbow. The group says it sees applications in package handling, warehouses, and even restaurants.
    "A third arm device would enhance a worker's reach, and allow them to access objects without having to reach or bend. This would be useful in pick-and-place tasks where the worker is moving, such as retrieving packages from warehouse shelves," says researcher Vighnesh Vatsal.
    "It would also provide support in assembly tasks in challenging environments such as construction sites, for instance by holding a work piece steady while a worker operates on it with power tools using their own hands."
    In the longer term, industry experts say the price of exoskeletons will fall further, meaning they could move into many more areas of work. They could even find a place in private life, with applications in DIY, gardening and sports such as hiking.
    So while we'll never be likely to be able to emulate the exploits of comic book heroes, exoskeletons could help with mundane household chores such as ironing. So not so much Iron Man - more "ironing man", perhaps? 

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    Reshmaan Hussam and colleagues used experimental interventions to determine if people could be persuaded to develop a healthy habit. Potentially at stake: the lives of more than a million children.
    A few years ago, Reshmaan Hussam and colleagues decided to find out why many people in the developing world fail to wash their hands with soap, despite lifesaving benefits.

    Every year more than a million children under the age of five die from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia. Washing hands with soap before meals can dramatically reduce rates of both diarrhea and acute respiratory infections.

    To that end, major health organizations have poured a lot of money into handwashing education campaigns in the developing world, but to little avail. Even when made aware of the importance of a simple activity, and even when provided with free supplies, people continue to wash their hands without soap—if they wash their hands at all.

    “If you look at these public health initiatives, you see that they are often a complicated combination of interventions: songs and dances and plays and free soap and water dispensers,” says Hussam, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School whose research lies at the intersection of development, behavioral, and health economics. “Which means that when these initiatives don’t work, nobody can say why.”

    When Hussam and her fellow researchers conducted their initial survey of several thousand rural households in West Bengal, India, they discovered that people don’t wash their hands with soap for the same reason most of us don’t run three miles every morning or drink eight glasses of water every day, despite our doctors lecturing us on the benefits of cardiovascular exercise and hydration. It’s not that we are uninformed, unable, or lazy. It’s that we’re just not in the habit.

    “The idea is that habits are equivalent to addictions”

    With that in mind, the researchers designed a field study to understand whether handwashing with soap was indeed a habit-forming behavior, whether people recognized it as such, whether it was possible to induce the habit with experimental interventions, and whether the habit would continue after the interventions ceased.

    The field experiment was based on the theory of “rational addiction.” Developed by economists Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy, the theory posits that addictions are not necessarily irrational. Rather, people often willingly engage in a particular behavior, despite knowing that it will increase their desire to engage in that behavior in the future (i.e. become “addicted”). As “rational addicts,” people can weigh the costs and benefits of their current behavior taking into consideration its implications for the future, and still choose to engage.

    One way to test whether people are in fact “rational” about their addictions, Hussam says,is by looking at how changes in the future cost of the behavior affect them today. For example, if a rational addict learns that taxes on cigarettes are going to double in six months, she may be less likely to take up smoking today.

    Hussam remains agnostic on whether the behavior of addicts (to cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol, for example) can be fully understood by the theory of rational addiction—“a theory that fails to explain why addicts often regret their behavior or regard it as a mistake,” she says. But she found the framework, which has historically been applied only to harmful behaviors, was useful to shift into the language of positive habits.

    “Habits, after all, are like a lesser form of addiction: The more you engage in the past, the more likely you are to engage today,” she says. “And if that’s the case, do people recognize—are they ’rational’ about—the habitual nature of good behaviors? If they aren’t, it could explain the underinvestment in behaviors like handwashing with soap that we see. If they are rational, it can affect the design of interventions and incentives that policymakers can offer to encourage positive habit formation.”

    The team’s experiment and findings are detailed in the paper Habit Formation and Rational Addiction: A Field Experiment in Handwashing (pdf), authored by Hussam; Atonu Rabbani, an associate professor at the University of Dhaka; Giovanni Reggiani, then a doctoral student at MIT and now a consultant at The Boston Consulting Group; and Natalia Rigol, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

    The hand washing experiment

    In partnership with engineers at the MIT Media Lab, the researchers designed a simple wall-mounted soap dispenser with a time-stamped sensor hidden inside. The sensor allowed the team to determine not only how often people were washing their hands, but also whether they were doing so before dinnertime, critical to an effective intervention. (The idea for the hidden sensors came from a scene in Jurassic World in which one of the characters smuggles dinosaur embryos in a jury-rigged can of Barbasol shaving cream.) The data gave the researchers the ability to tease apart behavioral mechanisms in a way that earlier work (which often used self-reports or surveyor observations of hand hygiene) could not do.

    The researchers were also mindful about which type of soap to use in the dispensers. Through pilot tests, they found that people preferred foam, for example. “They didn’t feel as clean when the soap wasn’t foamy,” Hussam says.

    And because all people in the experiment ate meals with their hands, they were turned off by heavily perfumed soap, which interfered with the taste of their food. So the experiment avoided strongly scented soap. That said, “we preserved some scent, as the olfactory system is a powerful sensory source of both memory and pleasure and thus easily embedded into the habit loop,” the researchers explain in the paper.

    The experiment included 3,763 young children and their parents in 2,943 households across 105 villages in the Birbhum District of West Bengal, where women traditionally manage both cooking and childcare. A survey showed that 79 percent of mothers in the sample could articulate, without being prompted, that the purpose of soap is to kill germs.

    But while more than 96 percent reported rinsing their hands with water before cooking and eating, only 8 percent said they used soap before cooking and only 14 percent before eating. (Hussam contends that these low numbers are almost certainly overestimates, as they were self-reported.) Some 57 percent of the respondents reported that they didn’t wash their hands with soap simply because “Obhyash nai,” which means “I do not have the habit,” Hussam says.

    Monitoring vs. offering incentives

    The researchers randomly divided the villages into “monitoring” and “incentive” villages, taking two approaches to inducing the hand washing habit. In each experiment, there was a randomly selected control group of households that did not receive a soap dispenser; altogether, 1,400 of the 2,943 households received dispensers.

    “The monitoring experiment tried to understand the beginnings of social norm formation: whether third-party observation through active tracking by surveyors of hand washing behavior could increase hand washing rates, and whether the behavior could become a habit even after the monitoring stopped,” Hussam explains.

    Among the 1,400 households that received a soap dispenser, one group was told their hand washing would be tracked from the get-go, and that they would receive feedback reports on their soap usage patterns. Another group was told their behavior would be tracked in a few months, enabling a precise test of rational habit formation—whether people would start washing their hands now if they knew that the “value” of hand washing would increase in the future. And another group was not told that soap use would be tracked.

    The incentive experiment “tried to price a household’s value of hand washing and forward-looking behavior,” Hussam says—in other words, whether financial incentives could increase hand washing rates, and whether those households would keep using soap even after the incentives stopped. In one incentive group, people learned that they would receive one ticket for each day they washed their hands; the tickets could be accumulated and cashed in for various goods and gifts in a prize catalog.

    In another group, people learned that they initially would receive one ticket each day for washing their hands with soap, but that in two months they would begin receiving triple the number of tickets for every day they used the dispenser. The final group received the same incentive boost two months into the experiment, but it was a happy surprise: The group had no prior knowledge of the triple-ticket future.

    “The difference … is a measure of rational habit formation,” Hussam explains. “While one household is anticipating a change in future value of the behavior, the other household is not; if the first household behaves differently than their counterpart in the present, they must recognize that handwashing today increases their own likelihood of handwashing in the future.”

    A clean victory

    The results showed that both monitoring and monetary incentives led to substantial increases in hand washing with soap.

    Households were 23 percent more likely to use soap if they knew they were being monitored. And some 70 percent of ticket-receiving households used their soap dispensers regularly throughout the experiment, compared with 30 percent of households that received the dispensers without incentives.
    Importantly, the effects continued even after the households stopped receiving tickets and monitoring reports, suggesting that handwashing with soap was indeed a developable habit.

    More importantly, the experiment resulted in healthier children in households that received a soap dispenser, with a 20 percent decrease in acute respiratory infections and a 30 to 40 percent decrease in loose stools on any given day, compared with children whose households did not have soap dispensers. Moreover, the children with soap dispensers ended up weighing more and even growing taller. “For an intervention of only eight months, that really surprised us,” Hussam says.

    But while it appeared that handwashing was indeed a habitual behavior, were people “rational” about it? Indeed they were, based on the results of the monitoring experiment.

    “Our results are consistent with the key predictions of the rational addiction model, expanding its relevance to settings beyond what are usually considered ‘addictive’ behaviors,” the researchers write.

    In the incentives group, the promise of triple tickets didn’t affect behavior much, but, as Hussam notes, that may have been because the single tickets were already enough to get the children their most coveted prize: a school backpack. “Basically, we found that getting one ticket versus getting no tickets had huge effects, while going from one to three did little,” she says.

    “Wherever we go, habits define much of what we do”

    But in the monitoring group, handwashing rates increased significantly and immediately, not only for those who were monitored but also for those who were simply told to anticipate that their behavior would be tracked at a later date. “Simply knowing that handwashing will be more valuable in the future (because your behavior will be tracked so there’s a higher cost to shirking) makes people wash more today,” Hussam says.

    This, Hussam hopes, is the primary takeaway of the study. While the experiment focused on a specific behavior in/among a specific area of India, the findings may prove valuable to anyone who is trying to develop a healthy addiction—whether it be an addiction to treating contaminated drinking water and using mosquito nets in the developing world, or an addiction to exercising every day and flossing every night in the developed world.

    “Wherever we go, habits define much of what we do,” Hussam says. “This work can help us understand how to design interventions that help us cultivate the good ones.” 

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  • 02/15/18--19:55: Developing Novel Drugs 02-16

  • We analyze firms’ decisions to invest in incremental and radical innovation, focusing specifically on pharmaceutical research. We develop a new measure of drug novelty that is based on the chemical similarity between new drug candidates and existing drugs. We show that drug candidates that we identify as ex-ante novel are riskier investments, in the sense that they are subsequently less likely to be approved by the FDA.

    However, conditional on approval, novel candidates are, on average, more valuable—they are more clinically effective; have higher patent citations; lead to more revenue and to higher stock market value. Using variation in the expansion of Medicare prescription drug coverage, we show that firms respond to a plausibly exogenous cash flow shock by developing more molecularly novel drug compounds, as opposed to more so-called “me-too” drugs. This pattern suggests that, on the margin, firms perceive novel drugs to be more valuable ex-ante investments, but that financial frictions may hinder their willingness to invest in these riskier candidates. Over the past 40 years, the greatest gains in life expectancy in developed countries have come from the development of new therapies to treat conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and vascular disease.

    At the same time, the development of new–and often incremental–drug therapies has played a large role in driving up health care costs, with critics frequently questioning the true innovativeness of expensive new treatments (Naci, Carter, and Mossialos, 2015). This paper contributes to our understanding of drug investment decisions by developing a measure of drug novelty and subsequently exploring the economic tradeoffs involved in the decision to develop novel drugs.

    Measuring the amount of innovation in the pharmaceutical industry is challenging. Indeed, critics argue that “pharmaceutical research and development turns out mostly minor variations on existing drugs, and most new drugs are not superior on clinical measures,” making it difficult to use simple drug counts as a measure of innovation (Light and Lexchin, 2012). To overcome this challenge, we construct a new measure of drug novelty for small molecule drugs, which is based on the molecular similarity of the drug with prior drug candidates.3 Thus, our first contribution is to develop a new measure of pharmaceutical innovation.

    We define a novel drug candidate as one that is molecularly distinct from previously tested candidates. Specifically, we build upon research in modern pharmaceutical chemistry to compute a pair-wise chemical distance (similarity) between a given drug candidate and any prior candidates in our data. This similarity metric is known as a “Tanimoto score” or “Jaccard coefficient,” and captures the extent to which two molecules share common chemical substructures. We aggregate these pairwise distance scores to identify the maximum similarity of a new drug candidate to all prior candidates. Drugs that are sufficiently different to their closest counterparts are novel according to our measure. Since our metric is based on molecular properties observed at the time of a drug candidate’s initial development, it improves upon existing novelty measures by not conflating ex-ante measures of novelty with ex-post measures of success such as receiving priority FDA review.

    In the United States, the sharpest decline in death rates from the period 1981 to 2001 come from the reduction in the incidence of heart disease. See Life Tables for the United States Social Security Area 1900-2100. See also Lichtenberg (2013), which estimates explicit mortality improvements associated with pharmaceuticals. One of the more vocal critics is Marcia Angell, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. She argues that pharmaceutical firms increasingly concentrate their research on variations of top-selling drugs already on the market, sometimes called “me-too” drugs.

    She concludes: “There is very little innovative research in the modern pharmaceutical industry, despite its claims to the contrary.” http://bostonreview. net/angell-big-pharma-bad-medicine. Indeed, empirical evidence appears to be consistent with this view; Naci et al. (2015) survey a variety of studies that show a declining clinical benefit of new drugs. Small molecule drugs, synthesized using chemical methods, constitute over 80% of modern drug candidates (Ralf Otto, Alberto Santagostino, and Ulf Schrader, 2014). We will discuss larger drugs based on biological products in Section 3.6.

    Our novelty measure based on molecular similarity has sensible properties. Pairs of drug candidates classified as more similar are more likely to perform the same function—that is, they share the same indication (disease) or target-action (mechanism). Further, drugs we classify as more novel are more likely to be the first therapy of its kind. In terms of secular trends, our novelty measure indicates a decline in the innovativeness of small molecule drugs: both the number, as well as the proportion, of novel drug candidates has declined over the 1999 to 2014 period. Across our sample of drug candidates, over 15% of newly developed candidates have a similarity score of over 0.8, meaning that they share more than 80% of their chemical substructures with a previously developed drug.

    We next examine the economic characteristics of novel drugs, in order to better understand the tradeoffs that firms face when deciding how to allocate their R&D resources. We begin by exploring how the novelty of a drug candidate relates to its (private and social) return from an investment standpoint. Since measuring a drug’s value is challenging, we rely on several metrics. First, we examine drug effectiveness as measured by the French healthcare system’s assessments of clinical value-added, following Kyle and Williams (2017).

    Since this measure is only available for a subset of approved drugs, we also examine the relationship between molecular novelty and the number of citations to a drug’s underlying patents, which the innovation literature has long argued is related to estimates of economic and scientific value (see, e.g. Hall, Jaffe, and Trajtenberg, 2005). We also use drug revenues as a more direct proxy for economic value. However, since mark-ups may vary systematically between novel and “me-too” drugs—that is, drugs that are extremely similar to existing drugs—we also rely on estimates of their contribution to firm stock market values. Specifically, we follow Kogan, Papanikolaou, Seru, and Stoffman (2017) and examine the relationship between a drug’s molecular novelty and the change its firm’s market valuation following either FDA approval or the granting of its key underlying patents.

    Conditional on being approved by the FDA, novel drugs are on average more valuable. Specifically, relative to drugs entering development in the same quarter that treat the same disease (indication), a one-standard deviation increase in our measure of novelty is associated with a 33 percent increase in the likelihood that a drug is classified as “highly important” by the French healthcare system; a 10 to 33 percent increase in the number of citations for associated patents; a 15 to 35 percent increase in drug revenues; and a 2 to 8 percent increase in firm valuations. 4To benchmark what this means, we note that the chemical structures for Mevacor and Zocor, depicted in Figure 1, share an 82% overlap.

    However, novel drugs are also riskier investments, in that they are less likely to receive regulatory approval. Relative to comparable drugs, a one-standard deviation increase in novelty is associated with a 29 percent decrease in the likelihood that it is approved by the FDA. Thus, novel drugs are less likely to be approved by the FDA, but conditional on approval, they are on average more valuable.
    To assess how firms view this tradeoff between risk and reward at the margin, we next examine how they respond to a positive shock to their (current or expected future) cashflows. Specifically, if firms that experience a cashflow shock develop more novel—rather than molecularly derivative—drugs, then this pattern would suggest that firms value novelty more on the margin.

    Here, we note that we are implicitly assuming that treated firms have a similar set of drug development opportunities as control firms, and, moreover, that financial frictions limit firms’ ability to develop new drug candidates. Indeed, if firms face no financing frictions, then, holding investment opportunities constant, cashflow shocks should not impact their development decisions. However, both theory and existing empirical evidence suggest that a firm’s cost of internal capital can be lower than its cost of external funds.5 In this case, an increase in cashflows may lead firms to develop more or different drugs by increasing the amount of internal funds that can be used towards drug development decisions. Even if this increase in cashflows occurs with some delay, firms might choose to respond today, either because it increases the firm’s net worth, and hence its effective risk aversion (see, e.g. Froot, Scharfstein, and Stein, 1993), or because this anticipated increase in profitability relaxes constraints today.

    We construct shocks to expected firm cashflows using the introduction of Medicare Part D, which expanded US prescription drug coverage for the elderly. This policy change differentially increased profits for firms with more drugs that target conditions common among the elderly (Friedman, 2009). However, variation in the share of elderly customers alone does not necessarily enable us to identify the impact of increased cashflows. This is because the expansion of Medicare impacts not only the profitability of the firm’s existing assets.

    For a theoretical argument, see Myers and Majluf (1984). Consistent with theory, several studies have documented that financing frictions play a role in firm investment and hiring decisions. Recent work on this topic examines the response of physical investment (for instance, Lin and Paravisini, 2013; Almeida, Campello, Laranjeira, and Weisbenner, 2011; Frydman, Hilt, and Zhou, 2015); employment decisions (Benmelech, Bergman, and Seru, 2011; Chodorow-Reich, 2014; Duygan-Bump, Levkov, and Montoriol-Garriga, 2015; Benmelech, Frydman, and Papanikolaou, 2017); and investments in R&D (see e.g. Bond, Harhoff, and van Reenen, 2005; Brown, Fazzari, and Petersen, 2009; Hall and Lerner, 2010; Nanda and Nicholas, 2014; Kerr and Nanda, 2015). These frictions may be particularly severe in the case of R&D: Howell (2017) shows that even relatively modest subsidies to R&D can have a dramatic impact on ex-post outcomes.

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    To isolate the causal impact of cash flows on development decisions, we exploit a second source of variation: remaining drug exclusivity (patent life plus additional exclusivity granted by the FDA). Even among firms with the same focus on the elderly, those with more time to enjoy monopoly rights on their products are likely to generate greater profits.

    With these two dimensions of variation—elderly share and remaining exclusivity–we can better control for confounders arising from both individual dimensions. For example, firms with more existing drugs for the elderly may differentially see a greater increase in investment opportunities as a result of Part D, even absent any changes to cash flow.

    Meanwhile, firms with longer remaining exclusivity periods on their products may have different development strategies than firms whose drugs face imminent competition, again, even absent changes to cash flows. Our strategy thus compares firms with the same share of drugs sold to the elderly and the same remaining exclusivity periods across their overall drug portfolio, but that differ in how their remaining patent exclusivity is distributed across drugs of varying elder shares. This strategy allows us to identify differences in expected cash flow among firms with similar investment opportunities, and at similar points in their overall product lifecycle.

    We find that treated firms develop more new drug candidates. Importantly, this effect is driven by an increase in the number of chemically novel candidates, as opposed to “me-too” candidates. Further, these new candidates are aimed at a variety of conditions, not simply ones with a high share of elderly patients, implying that our identification strategy is at least partially successful in isolating a shock to cash flows, and not simply picking up an increase in investment opportunities for high elderly share drugs.

    In addition, we find some evidence that firm managers have a preference for diversification. The marginal drug candidates that treated firms pursue often include drugs that focus on different diseases, or operate using a different mechanism (target), relative to the drugs that the firm has previously developed. These findings suggest that firms use marginal increases in cash to diversify their portfolios and undertake more exploratory development strategies, a fact consistent with models of investment with financial frictions (Froot et al., 1993), or poorly diversified managers (Smith and Stulz, 1985).

    Finally, our point estimates imply sensible returns to R&D. A one standard deviation increase in Part D exposure leads to an 11 percent increase in subsequent drug development, relative to less exposed firms. For the subset of firms for which we are able to identify cash flow, this translates into an elasticity of the number of drug candidate with respect of R& expenditure of about 0.75.

    We obtain a higher elasticity for the most novel drugs (1.01 to 1.59) and a lower elasticity for the most similar drugs (0.02 to 0.31). For comparison, estimates of the elasticity of output with respect to demand (or cash flow) shocks in the innovation literature range from 0.3 to 4 (Henderson and Cockburn, 1996; Acemoglu and Linn, 2004; Azoulay, Graff-Zivin, Li, and Sampat, 2016; Blume-Kohout and Sood, 2013; Dranove, Garthwaite, and Hermosilla, 2014).

    Our results suggest that financial frictions likely play a role in limiting the development of novel drug candidates. The ability to observe the returns associated with individual projects is an important advantage of our setting that allows us to make a distinct contribution to the literature studying the impact of financial frictions on firm investment decisions. Existing studies typically observe the response of investment (or hiring) aggregated at the level of individual firms or geographic locations.

    By contrast, our setting allows us to observe the risk and return of the marginal project being undertaken as a result of relaxing financial constraints, and hence allows us to infer the type of investments that may be more susceptible to financing frictions. We find that, relaxing financing constraints leads to more innovation, both at the extensive margin (i.e., more drug candidates) but also at the intensive margin (i.e., more novel drugs). Given that novel drugs are less likely to be approved by the FDA, the findings in our paper echo those in Metrick and Nicholson (2009), who document that firms that score higher in terms of a Kaplan-Zingles index of financial constraints are more likely to develop drugs that pass FDA approval.

    By providing a new measure of novelty, our work contributes to the literature focusing on the measurement and determinants of innovation. Our novelty measure is based on the notion of chemical similarity (Johnson and Maggiora, 1990), which is widely used in the process of pharmaceutical discovery.

    Chemists use molecular similarity calculations to help them search chemical space, build libraries for drug screening (Wawer, Li, Gustafsdottir, Ljosa, Bodycombe, Marton, Sokolnicki, Bray, Kemp, Winchester, Taylor, Grant, Hon, Duvall, Wilson, Bittker, Danˇc´ık, Narayan, Subramanian, Winckler, Golub, Carpenter, Shamji, Schreiber, and Clemons, 2014), quantify the “drug-like” properties of a compound (Bickerton, Paolini, Besnard, Muresan, and Hopkins, 2012), and expand medicinal chemistry techniques (Maggiora, Vogt, Stumpfe, and Bajorath, 2014). In parallel work, Pye, Bertin, Lokey, Gerwick, and Linington (2017) use chemical similarity measures to measure novelty and productivity in the discovery of natural products.

    Our measure of innovation is based on ex-ante information—the similarity of a drug’s molecular structure to prior drugs—and therefore avoids some of the truncation issues associated with patent citations (Hall et al., 2005). Further, since our measure is based only on ex-ante data, it does not conflate the ex-ante novelty of an idea with measures of ex-post success or of market size. By contrast, existing work typically measures “major” innovations using metrics based on ex-post successful outcomes, which may also be related to market size.

    Examples include whether a drug candidate gets FDA Priority Review status (Dranove et al., 2014), or whether a drug has highly-cited patents (Henderson and Cockburn, 1996). A potential concern with these types of measures is that a firm will be credited with pursing novel drug candidates only if these candidates succeed and not when—as is true in the vast majority of cases—they fail. Similarly, outcomes such as whether a drug is first in class or is an FDA orphan drug (Dranove et al., 2014; DiMasi and Faden, 2011; Lanthier, Miller, Nardinelli, and Woodcock, 2013; DiMasi and Paquette, 2004) may conflate market size with novelty and may fail to measure novelty of candidates within a particular class.

    For example, it is easier to be the first candidate to treat a rare condition than a common condition because fewer firms have incentives to develop treatments for the former. Further, measuring novelty as first in class will label all subsequent treatments in an area as incremental, even if they are indeed novel.

    Our paper also relates to work that examines how regulatory policies and market conditions distort the direction of drug development efforts (Budish, Roin, and Williams, 2015); and how changes in market demand affect innovation in the pharmaceutical sector (Acemoglu and Linn, 2004; Blume-Kohout and Sood, 2013; Dranove et al., 2014). Similar to us, Blume-Kohout and Sood (2013) and Dranove et al. (2014) exploit the passage of Medicare Part D, and find more innovation in markets that receive a greater demand shock (drugs targeted to the elderly).

    Even though we use the same policy shock, our work additionally exploits differences in drug exclusivity for specific drugs to identify the effect of cash flow shocks separately from changes in product demand that may increase firm investment opportunities. Indeed, we find that treated firms invest in new drugs across different categories—as opposed to those that only target the elderly—strongly suggesting that our identification strategy effectively isolates cash flow shocks from improvements in investment opportunities.

    Last, our measure of novelty can help shed light on several debates in the innovation literature. For instance, Jones (2010); Bloom, Jones, Reenen, and Webb (2017) argue for the presence of decreasing returns to innovation. Consistent with this view, we find that drug novelty has decreased over time. An important caveat is that our novelty measure cannot be computed for biologics, which represent a vibrant research area.

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    The concept of artificial intelligence (AI), or the ability of machines to perform tasks that typically require human-like understanding, has been around for more than 60 years. But the buzz around AI now is louder and shriller than ever. With the computing power of machines increasing exponentially and staggering amounts of data available, AI seems to be on the brink of revolutionizing various industries and, indeed, the way we lead our lives.

    Vishal Sikka until last summer was the CEO of Infosys, an Indian information technology services firm, and before that a member of the executive board at SAP, a German software firm, where he led all products and drove innovation for the firm. India Today magazine named him among the top 50 most powerful Indians in 2017. Sikka is now working on his next venture exploring the breakthroughs that AI can bring and ways in which AI can help elevate humanity.

    Sikka says he is passionate about building technology that amplifies human potential. He expects that the current wave of AI will “produce a tremendous number of applications and have a huge impact.” He also believes that this “hype cycle will die” and “make way for a more thoughtful, broader approach.”

    In a conversation with Knowledge@Wharton, Sikka, who describes himself as a “lifelong student of AI,” discusses the current hype around AI, the bottlenecks it faces, and other nuances.

    Knowledge@Wharton: Artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for more than 60 years. Why has interest in the field picked up in the last few years?

     Vishal Sikka: I have been a lifelong student of AI. I met [AI pioneer and cognitive scientist] Marvin Minsky when I was about 20 years old. I’ve been studying this field ever since. I did my Ph.D. in AI. John McCarthy, the father of AI, was the head of my qualifying exam committee.

    The field of AI goes back to 1956 when John, Marvin, Allen Newell, Herbert Simon and a few others organized a summer workshop at Dartmouth. John came up with the name “AI” and Marvin gave its first definition. Over the first 50 years, there were hills and valleys in the AI journey. The progress was multifaceted. It was multidimensional. Marvin wrote a wonderful book in 1986 called The Society of Mind. What has happened in the last 10 years, especially since 2012, is that there has been a tremendous interest in one particular set of techniques. These are based on what are called “deep neural networks.”

    Neural networks themselves have been around for a long time. In fact, Marvin’s thesis was on a part of neural networks in the early 1950s. But in the last 20 years or so, these neural network-based techniques have become extraordinarily popular and powerful for a couple of reasons.
    First, if I can step back for a second, the idea of neural networks is that you create a network that resembles the human or the biological neural networks.

    This idea has been around for more than 70 years. However, in 1986 a breakthrough happened thanks to a professor in Canada, Geoff Hinton. His technique of backpropagation (a supervised learning method used to train neural networks by adjusting the weights and the biases of each neuron) created a lot of excitement, and a great book, Parallel Distributed Processing, by David Rumelhart and James McClelland, together with Hinton, moved the field of neural net-related “connectionist” AI forward. But still, back then, AI was quite multifaceted.

    Second, in the last five years, one of Hinton’s groups invented a technique called “deep learning” or “deep neural networks.” There isn’t anything particularly deep about it other than the fact that the networks have many layers, and they are massive. This has happened because of two things. One, computers have become extraordinarily powerful. With Moore’s law, every two years, more or less, we have seen doubling of price performance in computing. Those effects are becoming dramatic and much more visible now. Computers today are tens of thousands of times more powerful than they were when I first worked on neural networks in the early 1990s.

    “The hype we see around AI today will pass and make way for a more thoughtful and realistic approach.”

    The second thing is that big cloud companies like Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Baidu and others have massive amounts of data, absolutely staggering amounts of data, that they can use to train neural networks. The combination of deep learning, together with these two phenomena, has created this new hype cycle, this new interest in AI.

    But AI has seen many hype cycles over the last six decades. This time around, there is a lot of excitement, but the progress is still very narrow and asymmetric. It’s not multifaceted. My feeling is that this hype cycle will produce great applications and have a big impact and wonderful things will be done. But this hype cycle will die and a few years later another hype cycle will come along, and then we’ll have more breakthroughs around broader kinds of AI and more general approaches. The hype we see around AI today will pass and make way for a more thoughtful and realistic approach.

    Knowledge@Wharton: What do you see as the most significant breakthroughs in AI? How far along are we in AI development?

    Sikka: If you look at the success of deep neural networks or of reinforcement learning, we have produced some amazing applications. My friend [and computer science professor] Stuart Russell characterizes these as “one-second tasks.” These are tasks that people can perform in one second. For instance, identifying a cat in an image, checking if there’s an obstacle on the road, confirming if the information in a credit or loan application is correct, and so on.

    With the advances in techniques — the neural network-based techniques, the reinforcement learning techniques — as well as the advances in computing and the availability of large amounts of data, computers can already do many one-second tasks better than people. We get alarmed by this because AI systems are superseding human behavior even in sophisticated jobs like radiology or legal — jobs that we typically associate with large amounts of human training. But I don’t see it as alarming at all. It will have an impact in different ways on the workforce, but I see that as a kind of great awakening.

    But, to answer your question, we already have the ability to apply these techniques and build applications where a system can learn to conduct tasks in a well-defined domain. When you think about the enterprise in the business world, these applications will have tremendous impact and value.

    Knowledge@Wharton: In one of your talks, you referred to new ways that fraud could be detected by using AI. Could you explain that?

    Sikka: You find fraud by connecting the dots across many dimensions. Already we can build systems that can identify fraud far better than people by themselves can. Depending on the risk tolerance of the enterprise, these systems can either assist senior people whose judgment ultimately prevails, or, the systems just take over the task. Either way, fraud detection is a great example of the kinds of things that we can do with reinforcement learning, with deep neural networks, and so on.

    Another example is anything that requires visual identification. For instance, looking at pictures and identifying damages, or identifying intrusions. In the medical domain, it could be looking at radiology, looking at skin cancer identifications, things like that. There are some amazing examples of systems that have done way better than people at many of these tasks. Other examples include security surveillance, or analyzing damage for insurance companies, or conducting specific tasks like processing loans, job applications or account openings. All these are areas where we can apply these techniques. Of course, these applications still have to be built. We are in the early stages of building these kinds of applications, but the technology is already there, in these narrow domains, to have a great impact.

    Knowledge@Wharton: What do you expect will be the most significant trends in AI technology and fundamental research in the next 10 years? What will drive these developments?

    Sikka: It is human nature to continue what has worked, so lots of money is flowing into ongoing aspects of AI. From chips, in addition to NVidia, Intel, Qualcomm etc., Google, Huawei and others are building their own AI processors and many startups are as well, and all this is becoming available in cloud platforms.  There is tons of work happening in incrementally advancing the core software technologies that sit on top of this infrastructure, like TensorFlow, Caffe, etc., which are still in the early stages of maturity. And this will of course continue.

    But beyond this, my sense is that there are going to be three different fronts of development. One will be in building applications of these technologies. There is going to be a massive set of opportunities around bringing different applications in different domains to the businesses and to consumers, to help improve things. We are still woefully early on this front. That is going to be one big thing that will happen in the next five to 10 years. We will see applications in all kinds of areas, and there will be application-oriented breakthroughs.

    “The development of AI is asymmetric.”

    Two, from a technology perspective, there will be a realization that while the technology that we have currently is exciting, there is still a long way to go in building more sophisticated behavior, building more general behavior. We are nowhere close to building what Marvin [Minsky] called the “society of mind.” In 1991, he said in a paper that these symbolic techniques will come together with the connectionist techniques, and we would see the benefits of both. That has not happened yet.
    John [McCarthy] used to say that machine learning systems should understand the reality behind the appearance, not just the appearance.

    I expect that more general kinds of techniques will be developed and we will see progress towards more ensemble approaches, broader, more resilient, more general-purpose approaches. My own Ph.D. thesis was along these lines, on integrating many specialists/narrow experts into a symbolic general-purpose reasoning system. I am thinking about and working on these ideas and am very excited about it.

    The third area — and I wish that there is more progress on this front — is a broader awareness, broader education around AI. I see that as a tremendous challenge facing us. The development of AI is asymmetric. A few companies have disproportionate access to data and to the AI experts. There is just a massive amount of hype, myth and noise around AI. We need to broaden the base, to bring the awareness of AI and the awareness of technology to large numbers of people. This is a problem of scaling the educational infrastructure.

    Knowledge@Wharton: Picking up on what you said about AI development being asymmetric, which industries do you think are best positioned for AI adoption over the next decade?

    Sikka: Manufacturing is an obvious example because of the great advances in robotics, in advancing how robots perceive their environments, reason about these, and affect increasingly finer control over it. There is going to be a great amount of progress in anything that involves transportation, though I don’t think we are still close to autonomy in driving because there are some structural problems that have to be solved.

    Health care is going to be transformed because of AI, both the practice of health care as well as the quality of health care, the way we build medicines, protein-binding is a great case for deep learning, personalize medicines, personalization of care, and so on. There will be tremendous improvement in financial services, where in addition to AI, decentralized/p2p technologies like blockchain will have a huge impact. Education, as an industry, will go through another round of significant change.

    There are many industries that will go through a massive transformation because of AI. In any business there will be areas where AI will help to renew the existing business, improve efficiency, improve productivity, dramatically improve agility and the speed at which we can conduct our business, connect the dots, and so forth. But there will also be opportunities around completely new breakthrough technologies that are possible because of these applications — things that we currently can’t foresee.

    The point about asymmetry is a broader issue; the fact that a relatively small number of companies have access to the relatively small talent of people and to massive amounts of data and computing, and therefore, development of AI is very disproportionate. I think that is something that needs to be addressed seriously.

    Knowledge@Wharton: How do you address that? Education is one way, of course. Beyond that, is there anything else that can be done?

    Sikka: I find it extraordinary that in the traditional industries, for example in construction, you can walk into any building and see the plans of that building, see how the building is constructed and what the structure is like. If there is a problem, if something goes wrong in a building, we know exactly how to diagnose it, how to identify what went wrong. It’s the same with airplanes, with cars, with most complex systems.

    “The compartmentalization of data and broader access to it has to be fixed.”

    But when it comes to AI, when it comes to software systems, we are woefully behind. I find it astounding that we have extremely critical and extremely important services in our lives where we seem to be okay with not being able to tell what happened when the service fails or betrays our trust in some way. This is something that has to be fixed. The compartmentalization of data and broader access to it has to be fixed. This is something that the government will have to step in and address. The European governments are further ahead on this than other countries. I was surprised to see that the EU’s decision on demanding explainability of AI systems has seen some resistance, including here in the valley.

    I think it behooves us to improve the state of the art, develop better technologies, more articulate technologies, and even look back on history to see work that has already been done, to see how we can build explainable and articulate AI, make technology work together with people, to share contexts and information between machines and people, to enable a great synthesis, and not impenetrable black boxes.

    But the point on accessibility goes beyond this. There simply aren’t enough people who know these techniques. China’s Tencent sponsored some research recently which showed that there are basically some 300,000 machine learning engineers worldwide, whereas millions are needed. And how are we addressing this? Of course there is good work going on in online education and classes on Udacity, Coursera, and others.  My friend [Udacity co-founder] Sebastian Thrun started a wonderful class on autonomous driving that has thousands of students. But it is not nearly enough.

    And so the big tech companies are building “AutoML” tools, or machine learning for machine learning, to make the underlying techniques more accessible. But we have to see that in doing so, we don’t make them even more opaque to people. Simplifying the use of systems should lead to more tinkering, more making and experimentation. Marvin [Minsky] used to say that we don’t really learn something until we’ve learnt it in more than one way. I think we need to do much more on both making the technology easier to access, so more people have access to it, and we demystify it, but also in making the systems built with these technologies more articulate and more transparent.

    Knowledge@Wharton: What do you believe are some of the biggest bottlenecks hampering the growth of AI, and in what fields do you expect there will be breakthroughs?

    Sikka: As I mentioned earlier, research and availability of talent is still quite lopsided. But there is another way in which the current state of AI is lopsided or bottlenecked. If you look at the way our brains are constructed, they are highly resilient. We are not only fraud identification machines. We are not only obstacle detection and avoidance machines. We are much broader machines. I can have this conversation with you while also driving a car and thinking about what I have to do next and whether I’m feeling thirsty or not, and so forth.

    This requires certain fundamental breakthroughs that still have not been happened. The state of AI today is such that there is a gold rush around a particular set of techniques. We need to develop some of the more broad-based, more general techniques as well, more ensemble techniques, which bring in reasoning, articulation, etc.

    For example, if you go to Google or [Amazon’s virtual assistant] Alexa or any one of these services out there and ask them, “How tall was the President of the United States when Barack Obama was born?” None of these services can answer this, even though they all know the answers to the three underlying questions. But a 5-year-old can. The basic ability to explicitly reason about things is an area where tremendous work has been done for the last many decades, but it seems largely lost on the AI research today. There are some signs that this area is developing, but it is still very early. There is a lot more work that needs to be done. I, myself, am working on some of these fundamental problems.

    Knowledge@Wharton: You talked about the disproportionate and lopsided nature of resource allocation. Which sectors of AI are getting the most investment today? How do you expect that to evolve over the next decade? What do traditional industries need to do to exploit these trends and adapt to transformation?

    Sikka: There’s a lot of interest in autonomous driving. There is also a lot of interest in health care. Enterprise AI should start to pick up. So there are several areas of interest but they are quite lumpy and clustered in a few areas. It reminds me of the parable of the guy who lost his keys in the dark and looks for them underneath a lamp because that’s where the light was.

    But I don’t want to make light of what is happening. There are a large number of very serious people also working in these areas, but generally it is quite lopsided. From an investment point of view, it is all around automating and simplifying and improving existing processes. There are a few developments around bringing AI to completely new things, or doing things in new ways, breakthrough ways, but there is a disproportionate usage of AI for efficiency improvements and automation of existing businesses and we need to do more on the human-AI experience, of AI amplifying people’s work.

    “There simply aren’t enough people who know these techniques.”

    If you look at companies like Uber or Didi [China’s ride-sharing service] or Apple and Google, they are aware of what is going on with their consumers more or less in real time. For instance, Didi knows every meter of every car ride done by every consumer in real time. It’s the same with Uber and in China, even in physical retail as I mentioned earlier, Alibaba is showing that real-time connection to customers and integration of physical and digital experiences can be done very well.
    But in the traditional world, in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry or in banking, telecom or retail, where customer contact is necessary, businesses are quite disconnected from what the true end-user is doing. It is not real time. It is not large-scale. Typically, CPG companies still analyze data that is several months old. Some CPG companies still get DVDs from behavioral aggregators three months later.

    I think an awareness of that [lag] is building in businesses. Many of my friends who are CEOs of large companies in the CPG world, in banking, pharmaceuticals and telecom, are trying to now embrace new technology platforms that bring these next generation technologies to life.  But beyond embracing technology, and deploying a few next-generation applications, my sense is, the traditional companies really need to think of themselves as technology companies.

    My wife Vandana started and built up the Infosys Foundation in the U.S., and her main passion is computer science education. [She left the foundation in 2017.] She found this amazing statistic that in the dark ages some 6% of the world’s population could read and write, but if you think about computing as the new literacy, today some half a percent of the world’s population can program a computer.

    We are finally approaching 90% literacy in the world, and of course we are not all writers or poets or journalists, but we all know how to write and to read, and it has to be the same way with computing and digital technologies, and especially now with AI, which is as big a shift for us as computing itself.

    So businesses need to reorient themselves from “I am an X company,” to “I am a technology company that happens to be in X.” Because if we don’t, we may be vulnerable to a tech company that better sees and executes and scales on that X, as we have already seen in many industries. The iPhone wasn’t so much as a phone, as it is a computer in the shape of a phone. The Apple Watch isn’t a watch, but a computer, a smart computing service, in the shape of a watch. The Tesla is not so much an electric car, but rather a computer, an intelligent, connected, computing service, in the shape of a car. So if you are simply making your car an electric one, this is not enough.

    “The iPhone isn’t so much a phone as it is a computer in the shape of a phone.”

    Too often companies don’t transform, and they become irrelevant. They may not die immediately. Indeed large, successful, complex structures often outlive us humans, and die long slow deaths, but they lose their relevance to the new very quickly. Transformations are difficult. One has to let go of the past, of what we have known, and embrace something completely new, alien to us. As my friend and teacher [renowned computer scientist] Alan Kay said, “We only make progress by going differently than we believe.” And of course we have to do this as individuals as well. We have to continually learn and renew our skills, our perspectives on the world.

    Knowledge@Wharton: How should companies measure the return on investment (ROI) in AI? Should they think about these investments in the same way as other IT investments or is there a difference?

    Sikka: First of all, it is good that we are applying AI to things where we already know the ROI. I was talking to a friend recently, and he said, “In this particular part of my business, I have 50,000 people. I could do this work with one-fourth the people, at even better efficiency.” In such a situation, the ROI is clear. In financial services, one area that has become exciting is active trading of asset management. People have started applying AI here. One hedge fund wrote about the remarkable results it got by applying AI.

    A start-up in China does the entire management of investments through AI. There are no people involved and the company delivers breakthrough results.

    So, that’s one way. Applying AI to areas where the ROI is clear, where we know how much better the process can become, how much cheaper, how much faster, how much better throughput, how much more accurate, and so on. But again this is all based on the known, the past. We have to think beyond that, more broadly than that. We have to think about AI as becoming an augmentation for every one of our decisions, every one of the questions that we ask, and have that fed by data and analyzed in real time. Instead of doing generalizations or approximations, we must insist on AI amplifying all of our decisions. We must bring AI to areas where we don’t yet have ROIs clearly identified or clearly understood. We must build ROIs on the fly.

    Knowledge@Wharton: How does investment in AI in the U.S. compare with China and other parts of the world? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. and Chinese approaches to AI development?

    Sikka: I’m very impressed by how China is approaching this. It is a national priority for the country. The government is very serious about broad-based AI development, skill development and building AI applications. They have defined clear goals in terms of the size of the economy, the number of people, and the leadership position. They actively recruit [AI experts]. The big Chinese technology companies are [attracting] U.S.-based, Chinese-origin scientists, researchers and experts who are moving back there.

    In many ways, they are the leaders already in building applications of AI technology, and are doing leading work in technology as well. When you think about AI technology or research, the U.S. and many European universities and countries are still ahead. But in terms of large-scale applications of AI, I would argue that China is already ahead of everybody else in the world. The sophistication of their applications, the scale, the complex conditions in which they apply these, is simply extraordinary. Another dimension of that is the adoption. The adoption of AI technology and modern technology in China, especially in rural areas, is staggering.

    Knowledge@Wharton: Could you give a couple of examples of what impressed you most?

    Sikka: Look at the payments space — at Alipay, WeChat Pay or other forms of payments from companies like Ping An Insurance, as well as Alibaba and Tencent. It’s amazing. Shops in rural China don’t take cash. They don’t take credit cards. They only do payments on WeChat Pay or on Alipay or others like that. You don’t see this anywhere else in the world at nearly the same scale.
    Bike rentals are another example. In the past year, there has been an extraordinary development in China around bicycles.

    When you walk into a Chinese city, you see tens of thousands of bicycles across the landscape — yellow ones, orange ones, blue ones. When you look at these bicycles, you think, “This is a smart bicycle.” It is another example of an intelligent, connected computing service in the shape of a bicycle. You just have to wave your phone at it with your Baidu account or your Alibaba account or something like that and you can ride the bike. It has GPS. It is fully connected. It has all kinds of sensors inside it. When you get to your destination, you can leave the bike there and carry on with whatever you need to do. Already in the last nine months, this has had a huge impact on traffic.

    “The adoption of AI technology and modern technology in China, especially in rural areas, is staggering.”

    If you walk into any of Alibaba’s Hema supermarkets in Beijing and Shanghai, I think they have around 20 of these already, teeming with people, they are far ahead of any retail experiences we see today in the US, including at Whole Foods. The entire store is integrated into mobile experiences, so you can wave your phone at any product on the shelf and get a complete online experience. There is no checkout, the whole experience is on mobile and automated, although there are lots of folks there to help customers. The store is also a warehouse, in fact it serves some 70% of demand from local online customers, and fulfills that demand in less than an hour.

    My friend ordered a live fish from the store for dinner and it, that particular fish that he had picked on his phone, was delivered 39 minutes later. Tencent has now invested in a supermarket company. And JD has its own stores. So this is rapidly evolving.  It would be wonderful to see convenience like this in every supermarket around the world in the next few years.

    A more recent example is battery chargers. All across China, there are little kiosks with chargers inside. You can open the kiosk by waving your phone at it, pick up a charger, charge your phone for a couple of hours, and then drop it off at another kiosk wherever you are. What I find impressive is not that somebody came up with the idea of sharing based on connected phone chargers, but how rapidly the idea has been adopted in the country and how quickly the landscape has adapted itself to assimilate this new idea. The rate at which the generation [of ideas] happens, gets diffused into the society, matures and becomes a part of the fabric is astounding. I don’t think people outside of China appreciate the magnitude of what is going on.

    When you walk around Shenzhen, you can see the incredible advances in manufacturing, electronic device manufacturing, drones and things like that. I was there a few weeks ago. I saw a drone that is smaller than the tip of your finger. At the same time, I saw a demo of a swarm of a thousand or so drones which can carry massive loads collectively. So it is quite impressive how broadly the advance of AI is being embraced in China.

    “The act of innovating is the act of seeing something that is not there.”

    At the other end of the spectrum, I would say that in Europe, especially in Germany, the government is much more rigorous and thoughtful about the implications of these technologies. From a broader, regulatory and governmental perspective, they seem to be doing a wonderful job. Henning Kagermann, who used to be my boss at SAP for many years, recently shared with me a report from the ethics commission on automated and connected driving. The thoughtfulness and the rigor with which they are thinking about this is worth emulating. Many countries, especially the U.S., will be well served to embrace those ideas.

    Knowledge@Wharton: How does the approach of companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon towards AI differ from that of Chinese companies like Alibaba, Baidu, or Tencent?

    Sikka: I think there is a lot of similarity, and the similarities outweigh the differences. And of course, they’re all connected with each other. Tencent and Baidu both have advanced labs in Silicon Valley. And so does Alibaba. JD, which is a large e-commerce company in China, recently announced a partnership around AI with Stanford. There’s a lot of sharing and also competitive aspects within these companies.

    There are some differences. The U.S. companies are interested in certain U.S.-specific or more international aspects of things. The Chinese companies focus a lot on the domestic market within China. In many ways, the Chinese market offers challenges and circumstances that are even more sophisticated than the ones in the U.S. But I wouldn’t say that there is anything particularly different between these companies.

    If you look at Amazon and Microsoft and Google, their advances, when it comes to bringing their platforms to the enterprise, are further ahead than the Chinese companies. Alibaba and Tencent have both announced ambitions to bring their platform to the enterprise. I would say that in this regard, the U.S. companies are further ahead. But otherwise, they are all doing extraordinary work. The bigger issue in my mind is the gap between all of them and the rest of the companies.

    Knowledge@Wharton: Where does India stand in all of this? India has quite a lot of strengths in the IT area, and because of demonetization there has been a strong push towards digitization. Do you see India playing any significant role here?

    Sikka: India is at a critical juncture, a unique juncture. If you look at it from the perspective of the big U.S. companies or the big Chinese companies, India is by far their largest market. We have a massive population and a relatively large amount of wealth. So, there is a lot of interest in all these companies, and consequently their countries, towards India and developing the market there. If that happens, then of course the companies will benefit. But it’s also a loss of opportunity for India to do its own development through educating its workforce on these areas.

    One of the largest populations that could be affected by the impact of AI in the near-term is going to be in India. The impact of automation in the IT services world, or broadly in the services world, will be huge from an employment perspective. If you look at the growth that is happening everywhere, especially in India, some people call it “jobless growth.” It’s not jobless. It’s that companies grow their revenues disproportionately compared to the growth in the number of employees.

    “Finding the problem, identifying the innovation — that will be the human frontier.”

    There is a gap that is emerging in the employment world. Unless we fix the education problem it’s going to have a huge impact on the workforce. Some of this is already happening. One of the things I used to find astounding in Bangalore was that a lot of people with engineering degrees do freelance jobs like driving Uber and Ola cabs. And yet we have tremendous potential.

    The value of education is central to us in India, and we have a large, young, generation of highly inspired youngsters ready to embrace and shape the future, who are increasingly entrepreneurial in their outlook. So we have to build on foundations like the “India stack,” we have to build our own technological strengths, from research and core technology to applications and services. And a redoubling of the focus on education, on training massive numbers of people on technologies of the future, is absolutely critical.

    So, in India, we are at this critical juncture, where on one hand there is a massive opportunity to show a great way forward, and help AI be a great amplifier for our creativity, imagination, productivity, indeed for our humanity. On the other hand, if we don’t do these things, we could be victims of these disruptions.

    Knowledge@Wharton: How should countries reform their education programs to prepare young people for a future shift by AI?

    Sikka: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has talked about this a lot. He is passionate about this idea of job creators, not just job seekers, and about a broad culture of entrepreneurship.

    I’m an optimist. I’m an entrepreneur. I like to see the opportunity in what we have, even though there are some serious issues when it comes to the future of the workforce. My own sense is that in the time of AI, the right way forward for us is to become more evolved, more enlightened, more aware, more educated, and to unleash our imagination, to unleash our creativity.

    John McCarthy was a great teacher in my life. He used to say that articulating a problem is half its solution. I believe that in our lifetime, certainly in our children’s lifetime, we will see AI technology advance to the point where any task, any activity, any job, any work that can be precisely formulated and precisely articulated, will be done automatically, far better than we can do with our senses and our muscles. However, articulating the problem, finding the problem, identifying the innovation — that will be the human frontier. It is the act of seeing something that is not there. The act of exercising our creativity. And then, using AI to become a great amplifier, to help us achieve our imagination, our vision. I think that is the great calling of our time. That is my great calling.

    Five or six hundred million years ago, there was this unusual event that happened geologically. It was called the Cambrian explosion. It was the greatest creation of life in the history of our planet. Before that, the Earth was basically covered by water. Land had started to emerge, and oxygen had started to emerge. Life, as it existed at that point, was very primitive. People wondered, “How did the Cambrian explosion happen? How did all these different life forms show up in a relatively small period of time?”

    What happened was that the availability of oxygen, the availability of land, and the availability of light as a provider of life, as a provider of living, created a situation which formed all these species that had the ability to see. They all came out of the dark, out of the water, onto the land, into the air, where opportunities were much more plentiful, where they could all grow, they could all thrive. People wonder, “What were they looking for?” It turns out they were looking for light. The Cambrian explosion was about all these species looking for light.

    When I think about the future, about the time in front of us, I see another Cambrian explosion. The act of innovating is the act of seeing something that is not there. Our eyes are programmed by nature to see what is there. We are not programmed to see what is not there. But when you think about innovation, when you think about making something new, everything that has ever been innovated was somebody seeing something that was not there.

    I think the act of seeing something that is not there is in all of us. We can all be trained to see what is not there. It is not only a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg or a Thomas Edison or an Albert Einstein who can see something that is not there. I think we can all see some things that are not there. To Vandana’s statistic, we should strive to see a billion entrepreneurs out there. A billion-plus computer literate people who can work with, even build, systems that use AI techniques, and who can switch their perspective from making a living to making a life.

    When I was at Infosys, we trained 150,000 people on design thinking for this reason: To get people to become innovators. In our lifetime, all the mechanical, mechanizable, repeatable things are going to be done way better by machines. Therefore, the great frontier for us will be to innovate, to find things that are not there. I think that will be a new kind of Cambrian explosion. If we don’t do that, humanity will probably end.

    Paul MacCready, one of my heroes and a pioneer in aerospace engineering, once said that if we don’t become creative, a silicon life form will likely succeed us. I believe that it is in us to refer back to our spirituality, to refer back to our creativity, our imagination, and to have AI amplify that. I think this is what Marvin [Minsky] and John [McCarthy] were after and it behooves us to transcend the technology. And we can do that. It is going to be tough. It is going to require a lot of work. But it can be done. As I look at the future, I am personally extremely excited about doing something in that area, something that fundamentally improves the world.

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    Behavioral science has become a hot topic in companies and organizations trying to address the biases that drive day-to-day decisions and actions.

    Image credit : Shyam's Imagination Library

    Although humans are known to be irrational, they are at least irrational in predictable ways. In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast, partner Julia Sperling, consultant Magdalena Smith, and consultant Anna Güntner speak with McKinsey Publishing’s Tim Dickson about how companies can use behavioral science to address unconscious bias and instincts and manage the irrational mind. Employing techniques such as “nudging” and different debiasing methods, executives can change people’s behavior—and have a positive effect on business—without restricting what people are able to do. 

    Podcast transcript

    Hello and welcome to this edition of the McKinsey Podcast with me, Simon London. It’s not new news that a lot of what drives human behavior is often unconscious and often irrational. We go back to the end of the 19th century and find Sigmund Freud trying to describe our unconscious and intervene on at least what he thought was more or less a scientific basis.
    The good news is that our understanding of the unconscious mind has come a long way, grounded in decades of basic research into what drives ordinary, everyday human behavior. These are the biases, the heuristics, the rules of thumb that determine the great majority of our day-to-day decisions without us even being aware. So, yes, we can agree with Freud that we are often irrational, but as today’s behavioral scientists like to say, we are predictably irrational. What can be predicted can be managed, at least to some degree.
    Today’s conversation is hosted by my McKinsey Publishing colleague Tim Dickson. You’ll be hearing Tim in conversation with Julia Sperling, who is a neuroscientist by training and a McKinsey partner based in Frankfurt. Tim will also be speaking with Magdalena Smith, an organization and people-analytics expert based in London, and Anna Güntner, who is a consultant based in Berlin. Without further ado, over to Tim.
    Tim Dickson: Julia, Magdalena, and Anna, thanks so much for being here today.
    Julia Sperling: Great pleasure.
    Anna Güntner: Happy to be here.
    Magdalena Smith: Thank you for having us.
    Tim Dickson: The study of human behavior isn’t really new, and it’s been widely accepted since at least Sigmund Freud that a lot of what drives human behavior is in fact unconscious. So, Julia, what’s new about behavioral science, and why should executives take note?
    Julia Sperling: Of course, you’re right. Human psychology has been explored and used for management purposes for the past, I’d say, over 100 years already. You’re also right that Freud gave us a very deep insight into the human mind and how it works. The issue had always been, though, that while Freud’s insights have been very useful, they have been very hard to implement because they were so deep and hard to grasp and hard to alter.
    Now we have the insights that people are predictably irrational, but we also have the tools coming out of it to help alter behavior and to help guide behavior. What we use is the insight not only from behavioral sciences but also from neurosciences, most recently.
    I can tell you the human brain is spectacular. At any point in time, over 11 million bits of information hit our brain, and it’s able to filter them down to about 50 only. Then seven to ten of them can be kept in short-term memory. Of course, with this enormous filtering exercise that it does, we cannot consciously make choices all the time. A lot has to happen very unconsciously. And, by the way, that’s a very different unconscious from the unconscious that Freud has been talking about.
    Tim Dickson: So, Julia, what are the main applications of behavioral science for companies?
    Julia Sperling: Well, number one, performance management. You can identify factors that actually hinder performance as well as those that foster it. Money, as we should already know, is not always the best motivator. The second piece is recruiting and succession planting. Here, machine learning has a much stronger ability to predict future success than those that have been, for example, choosing or selecting CVs in the past. And then last, cultures, be it for merger management, a general cultural change that you could see with bringing agility or more diversity to an institution, or something as targeted as introducing a safety culture, for example.
    “With nudges—subtle interventions based on insights from psychology and economics—we can influence people’s behavior without restricting it.”
    Tim Dickson: Anna, I know you’re an expert on nudging. Can you tell us exactly what nudging is and a little bit of the context for a company thinking about this?
    Anna Güntner: The general idea behind nudging as well as debiasing is that people are predictably irrational. Now, with nudges—subtle interventions based on insights from psychology and economics—we can influence people’s behavior without restricting it.
    With a nudge, we could get people to do whatever is best for them, without prohibiting anything or imposing fines or restricting their behaviors in any other hard way. In terms of nudging, there are different applications for companies. One certainly is marketing, and marketers have been using similar approaches for a long, long period of time.
    Tim Dickson: What do you say if executives are squeamish about this and worry about nudging behaviors—changing behaviors—that may potentially be used for malignant purposes and worry that they might find sensitivities among their employees?
    Julia Sperling: It highly depends on what type of nudge is used and the intent with which you use it. It is much more a function of, is the behavior that you’d like to see in your company something that is in line with your company values, that is in line with what your company stands for? That’s the decision executives have to make. Nudging is then merely a technique to make this behavior more likely, but it’s a choice of the behavior that makes the difference.
    Anna Güntner: Another area of application, in particular, is safety culture. In terms of irrational thinking, this of course is absolutely something irrational—to risk your life by not sticking to the procedures.
    With behavioral science, companies are able to go away from the backward-looking approach, where after something happens, you try to understand what the reasons were and take them out, to something forward looking, where you try to not attack people’s mind-sets but to change the environment in a way that becomes simpler and more intuitive for people to follow safety procedures.
    One of the problems that construction companies have is that managers, once they become promoted, stop wearing the helmet, as a sign of superiority to the workers. A nudge that’s implemented by some companies is that the managers get a helmet of a different color. They use the same status bias but in a different way to help people to stick to safety procedures.
    Tim Dickson: Understood. So that’s about unleashing particular behaviors. But sometimes you have to fight behaviors and biases. Magdalena, I know that’s something that you know about, and you’ve seen this in action in the workplace. Can you talk about that aspect of the situation?
    Magdalena Smith: As Anna mentioned, we’re not always rational, and sometimes that rationality—or lack of rationality, rather—has a real impact on the decisions that we make. That can be extremely costly for organizations.
    We have recently worked on an incredibly interesting project, where we worked with a global asset manager trying to identify the decision-making biases that their fund managers have and thereby also see what impact they have on the underlying performance of the funds.
    We did that by using the data available in trading and looking at their behavior, looking at individual trades. In combination with this and analyzing the underlying decision-making process in more detail, we could identify which trades were less optimal than others.
    Looking at those and looking at the potential improvement of those, if you reduced the effect, it really could show you the direct dollar impact that overcoming these biases had. They were significant. You’re talking about 100 to 200 basis points per year for a fund manager and an extra alpha on an equity fund. That is billions for a company like this over the next three to four years.
    “If you want to have a diverse set of leaders in the future, you have to be aware of those little biases and fight them.”
    Julia Sperling: I have a lot of clients asking—in particular with regard to their diversity efforts—how they can minimize unconscious bias. It starts with the recruiting processes, behavioral design of how to make them function in a way that doesn’t favor those—we call it a “mini me” bias—who have always been recruited to the company before and would be recruited all the time again. Because again, our human brain is biased, and we enjoy having those that remind ourselves of us around us.
    If you want to replicate a homogenous leadership group again and again and again, don’t intervene. But if you want to have a diverse set of leaders in the future, you have to be aware of those little biases and fight them, as we said, right at the start of your recruiting process.
    In Germany, together with about 20 other companies, we work in an initiative called Chefsache that wants to bring more women into leadership positions and create gender balance. As one of the focus topics, we looked into unconscious bias within talent processes. When you look into recruiting, for example, even with the best intentions, there was what we talked about—this mini-me bias. People make choices, make biased choices, and might miss out on talent because of those.
    One of the debiasing techniques that we use, for example, is that after we’ve seen a case and we have a team speak about what they’ve seen, we now never let the most senior person in the room speak first, because there’s something called the “sunflower” bias, which is once the sun speaks, the flower follows. That means that in this group, people would more likely adopt [the senior person’s position], maybe even a different position from the one that they had before.
    Another intervention is to combat the bias that occurs—in recruiting, for example—called groupthink. You make people fill out a statement on the candidate themselves before they enter the group discussions, because science has also shown that once a group starts adopting a certain opinion, it’s very hard for the individuals that haven’t spoken yet to bring in another thought or have another opinion. There we’d say, never let the most senior person in the room speak first. Make sure that everyone notes the opinion right after having seen the recruitment candidate and before sharing their opinion.
    Magdalena Smith: One of the areas that is growing very fast within debiasing and within nudging is the concept of advanced analytics and machine learning. That has particularly been used, for example, when it comes to identifying talents, behaviors, and future potentials and very much used in trying to identify who the great performers are going to be in the future and where they can be found.
    To follow on in your example regarding recruitment, we’ve seen a global service company that wanted to make the recruitment process more efficient. The way they did this was by acknowledging which type of candidate would automatically go through to a round of interviews.
    This automatically put forward the top 5 percent of candidates. One of the very positive side effects of this, which wasn’t actually planned, but it was fantastic, was that the number of women that were put through to the first interviews increased massively.
    Tim Dickson: But technology has its own biases as well. What would you say to that?
    Magdalena Smith: If we look at what machine learning is, machine learning is trying to find objective insights using data through algorithms, advanced statistical algorithms. Unfortunately, somehow those algorithms have to be programmed, and they’re programmed by humans.
    What you very quickly see is that assumptions come into the algorithms. You also see areas where assumptions are made in the sense that you have missing data. You have to impute numbers where you either put a value on it or an assumption that then gets amplified throughout.
    Julia Sperling: That’s why you can—and have to—check very carefully whether your algorithms are working. By the way, when we use them in succession planning, for example, or when we use them in recruiting even, we always advise our clients to do a look back in the past and see whether those algorithms, if they have been used already in recruiting, would have predicted the success of those in their positions right now.
    Magdalena Smith: Absolutely.
    Julia Sperling: Right? So, one has to reality check very carefully every algorithm one puts in place. That’s one very practical example of how to do it.
    Tim Dickson: Let’s talk about a different area of application, for example, merger management. I think you’ve seen biases at work and how to counteract them in that situation, Anna.
    Anna Güntner: In merger management, the challenge that a lot of mergers—we could even say every merger—faces is that you try to bring together two different cultures and two different corporate cultures and get them to function as one. In that case, there are many biases, especially the in-group out-group bias, that are at play.
    But there are also tools—debiasing techniques but also nudging techniques—that can help us prime or create a new common identity. These can be very simple interventions like, for example, if you think about how to bring together new teams. What can you do to force the exchange between people who barely know each other?
    Tim Dickson: Julia, you mentioned the context of performance management. Anna, I know you have an example of a counterintuitive insight from that area.
    Anna Güntner: In traditional management approaches, we tend to assume that money is the biggest motivator—that if you pay your employees more, then they will work more. Now we know that money is actually the hygienic factor. You have to pay them enough, but there are different things that motivate them, like, for example, meaningful acknowledgment of the social factor and extrinsic motivation. If it’s given for something that in the beginning was not for sale or if it’s too low, it can even reduce intrinsic motivation, like enjoyment or self-fulfillment of work. Also, we know that so-called performance-based teams, where you are paid depending on the result of your work, are actually detrimental for creative work because it makes people think narrowly in a particular direction, whereas for creativity you need to think broadly.
    “One of the insights from behavioral economics that a lot of companies are now exploring is to separate developmental feedback from evaluative feedback.”
    Another assumption that you would typically have is that you need to give people honest feedback. You need to tell them what they’re doing well, what they’re doing not so well, and how to improve it. But there is a lot of research that shows that people shut off and even try to avoid those from whom they have received such constructive feedback. One of the insights from behavioral economics that a lot of companies are now exploring is to separate developmental feedback from evaluative feedback.
    Tim Dickson: Taking a step back and thinking about some of the broader challenges for CEOs and senior executives coming to this for the first time, what would you list as the key challenges?
    Anna Güntner: One of the challenges is that you need to adopt the so-called evidence-management mind-set. You need to be ready to test the things that you promote, debiasing algorithms or nudging or anything else, based on large samples of data rather than doing it the way it is usually done—in the past or even today—when a lot of intelligent people get in the room, discuss, and then come out with a decision, which is then rolled out all across the organization.
    If we take the example of nudging, it’s rather like running an A/B test. You have one group of people who don’t get exposed to a nudge and the other group of people who get exposed to the nudge. Then you can measure the difference in behavior that hopefully occurs between these two groups and also assess the profit impact.
    So that’s one. Number two is that it’s still not very intuitive for many companies to think in terms of behaviors. Very often, we think in terms of KPIs [key performance indicators]—for example, customer satisfaction or sales—so it takes some conscious effort to bring it down to the kind of behavior you’re trying to change.
    Julia Sperling: Very often, behaviors are being put into one box together with mind-sets, and core businesses are going to be put into a very different box. Putting those boxes together into one and showing how behaviors—and it’s nothing but behaviors that ultimately drive an outcome in an organization—can be assessed, can be influenced, can be elicited, can be fostered, etcetera, in the same stringent way as some business processes can be new for many executives.
    Magdalena Smith: I’d like to add that debiasing is hard. It’s difficult. Just knowing that you have certain biases isn’t sufficient. A lot of people acknowledge that biases have a massive effect on decision making but don’t acknowledge first that they have biases themselves, which is a bias in its own way. That’s overconfidence. Even once you’ve identified a certain bias, you often need some form of external help. For example, in hospitals, they use checklists in order to make sure they don’t miss anything, they don’t make certain assumptions about things. These are props that can help them overcome some of these biases that they may have, or assumptions they make about patients, that are helpful.
    There was some very interesting research coming out of the United States last year that showed the number of mistakes that were made in hospitals between the eight years of 2000 to 2009 in taking people in for accidents and emergencies. There were hundreds and thousands of mistakes being done that they specifically put down to biases, the main one being “anchoring” and assuming that they’ve seen the first kind of information that comes, and they stick to that rather than explore any other problems they could have. They estimated that this had an impact of 100,000 lives a year. Being able to save another 100,000 people a year— I think that should be motivation enough to try to use these kinds of methodologies.
    Julia Sperling: This is becoming a hot topic more and more. When you look at international institutions, they’re not only starting to deploy those approaches on larger scales. They’re even building their own behavioral-insights unit. They are actively recruiting behavioral psychologists, behavioral economists to work with them. Those units are being built as we speak.
    “You need to have a deep understanding of your business and the opportunity to truly understand the precise behavior that leads to the unwanted outcomes.”
    Tim Dickson: Is it a question of hiring behavioral economists, or can companies generate an understanding themselves and do this themselves without the very deep academic understanding of this field?
    Julia Sperling: It takes a couple of different skills. Number one, it takes a deep understanding of analytics and the ability to use data at scale; as Anna mentioned, do you compare A to B when you do nudging? You need to be able to set up these types of trials and to be able to process them properly. There is an analytical capability that you need to have and you need to build.
    Number two, and this might be the even more challenging one, is you need to have a deep understanding of your business and the opportunity to truly understand the precise behavior that leads to the unwanted outcomes or the precise behavior that gives you exactly the outcome that you want. So, you need a deep understanding of your business, the way that your people are currently behaving, and the way you would need them to behave in order to fulfill the strategic and organizational goals that you have.
    And then, of course number three, you need these professions that I’ve been talking about before. You need those that come up with a whole library—and McKinsey has one with over 150 different interventions that are linked to certain nudges that have proved to work in companies in the past. You deploy this database, then, to the precise behavior that you’ve identified that yields the business outcome. And you use the analytics to track the impact over time. Those are the three main capabilities that you need to build.
    Tim Dickson: I’m afraid that’s all we have time for. But thanks very much to Julia Sperling, Magdalena Smith, and Anna Güntner for a fascinating discussion. Thanks to you, our listeners, for joining us. 

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    Hotels enjoy their highest profits when rooms are most in demand, like during holidays and big events. Unfortunately for them, Airbnb is taking away some of that pricing power, according to new research by Chiara Farronato and Andrey Fradkin. 

    Image credit : Shyam's Imagination Library

    Airbnb is revolutionizing the lodging market by keeping hotel rates in check and making
    additional rooms available in the country's hottest travel spots during peak periods when hotel rooms often sell out and rates skyrocket, a new study shows.

    That's bad news for hotels, which have traditionally earned their biggest margins when rooms were scarce and customers were forced to pay higher rates—such as in Midtown Manhattan on New Year's Eve. And it's good news for travelers who don't have to pay through the roof to get a roof over their heads during holidays or for big events.

    "The benefits to travelers and the reduction in pricing power of hotels is really concentrated in particular cities during certain times," says Chiara Farronato, a co-author of the study. "When hotels are fully booked, Airbnb expands the capacity for rooms."

    Released today, the research shows that in the 10 cities with the largest Airbnb market share in the US, the entry of Airbnb resulted in 1.3 percent fewer hotel nights booked and a 1.5 percent loss in hotel revenue.

    The paper, The Welfare Effects of Peer Entry in the Accommodation Market: The Case of Airbnb, was written by Farronato, a Harvard Business School assistant professor, and Andrey Fradkin, postdoctoral fellow at the Initiative on the Digital Economy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    "You might find a Fifth Avenue apartment or a place by the beach at a more reasonable price than you would if Airbnb wasn't an option"

    Competition between traditional hotels and Airbnb is intensifying. Last Friday, Airbnb announced it is expanding its "experiences" offerings to an additional 1,000 cities. Meanwhile, the lodging industry is not only adding its own offerings, but stepping up lobbying efforts in local and federal circles for stricter regulations governing Airbnb.

    The study focused on data from 2014, and the impact on hotels could be even greater today given Airbnb's strong growth since then.

    In addition to access to more rooms, travelers reaped other rewards in places where Airbnb competed with hotels, the study shows. During busy travel times, guests enjoyed an average "consumer surplus" of $57 per night. This surplus didn't necessarily amount to more money in a visitor's pocket, but it did mean better accommodations at more reasonable prices, Farronato explains.

    "Consumers don't always pay a lower price," Farronato says. "What changes is the quality of the listings. You might find a Fifth Avenue apartment or a place by the beach at a more reasonable price than you would if Airbnb wasn't an option. Or a listing might have additional amenities, like a kitchen. And if you still prefer a hotel room, competition from Airbnb means you'll pay a lower price for it."

    Airbnb's rapid growth

    Airbnb, an online community marketplace where people can list and book short-term lodging accommodations around the world, was founded in 2008 and has grown rapidly at a time when plenty of other industry-disrupting platforms have flourished, including Uber, Craigslist, and Spotify.

    Airbnb offers listings in 191 countries, and its total number of listings—4 million-—is higher than the top five major hotel brands combined.

    To compare the performance of hotels versus Airbnb, the researchers used hotel data from STR, which tracks more than 161,000 hotels, as well as proprietary data provided by Airbnb, creating "the perfect setup to study market competition between new online platforms and traditional service providers," Farronato says. They studied prices and occupancy rates in 50 major US cities between 2011 and 2014, targeting markets with the largest number of hotels.

    During the study period, Airbnb made a relatively small dent in the overall short-term accommodations market. Its rooms represented 4 percent of all guests and less than 1 percent of total housing units across all cities. And Airbnb didn't have much effect on hotel occupancy rates overall. Since Airbnb bookings occurred especially when hotels were already near full capacity, a large share of these bookings—between 40 and 60 percent—would not have been made at hotels if Airbnb wasn't an option.

    The San Francisco-based home-sharing platform still made its mark on the hotel industry, however. The researchers found that Airbnb's growth through 2014 reduced hotel variable profits by up to 3.7 percent in the 10 US cities with the largest Airbnb presence.

    This effect was particularly strong in cities with limited hotel capacity during peak demand days. On those days, hotel room prices were affected relatively more than occupancy rates, meaning that a hotel in one of these cities might still be fully booked during a peak period, but the competition from Airbnb may have forced the hotel to lower its rates for those rooms.

    Airbnb rooms were more plentiful in cities with a big demand for accommodations, as well as areas with higher-priced hotels, like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. In other places such as Oklahoma City and Memphis, however, listings were sparse by comparison.

    "It's important to note that not all cities are affected by Airbnb," Farronato says. "In Atlanta or Houston, there are enough hotel rooms to satisfy the demand, so peer hosts don't find it attractive to enter the market as much there."

    Within each city, more Airbnb rooms cropped up during popular travel periods, such as Christmas and the summer. Sports games, festivals, and other events also led to a spike in listings. In Cambridge, Mass., the biggest listing period came during college graduation time.

    And that's the beauty of Airbnb for hosts: They can respond quickly to market conditions, keeping their homes for private use when prices are low and hosting travelers only when the demand for rooms—and the payoff from renting them—is highest.

    "As a host, you might not want to risk renting out your place for just $80 a night," Farronato says. "But when the pope comes to Philly, and hotel prices are $200, it becomes worth your while to put your spare room out for rent. Airbnb hosts are in this sweet spot where they can take advantage of only the high-demand periods and stay out of the market at other times."

    Hotels fight back

    Lodging groups have not taken Airbnb's incursions lightly. Starting in 2016, the American Hotel and Lodging Association backed efforts by the Federal Trade Commission and the state of New York to investigate Airbnb's impact on local housing prices, according to The New York Times. The AHLA also launched a campaign to portray Airbnb hosts as being, in reality, commercial operators looking to compete illegally with hotels.

    As margin pressure increases from Airbnb properties over time, hotels will be forced to step up the competition even more. The problem: fixed investment costs. The demand for rooms is always fluctuating, but it's not efficient for hotels to build enough capacity to satisfy the peaks, so they are challenged with finding the right middle ground.

    "When the pope comes to Philly, and hotel prices are $200, it becomes worth your while to put your spare room out for rent"

    "If you have too much capacity, you will have a lot of empty rooms most of the time," Farronato says. "And if you have too little capacity, you won't be able to satisfy the demand, and Airbnb hosts will come in and drive prices down when demand is high."

    Farronato said home-sharing platforms are likely to gain even more ground over time as consumers become increasingly aware of their benefits, so it's important for hotels to find creative ways to compete. At the same time, as cities add home-sharing regulations, both the benefits of Airbnb to consumers and hosts, as well as the effects on hotels, will likely become less pronounced.

    Just as Airbnb is adding experience packages to its home-rental offerings, so too are hotels such as Marriott International. And maybe hotels could even find ways to alter their building spaces on the fly to accommodate the peaks and valleys of consumer demand.

    "You could have rooms that quickly and dynamically change from hotel rooms into conference rooms. So you can have this flexible capacity of rooms that are available on New Year's Eve, but become conference spaces at other times," Farronato says. "It requires a whole new way of designing things. It's all worth thinking about."
    Reproduced from Harvard Business Working Knowledge

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    India's former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has donated 3,500 books from his personal collection to his alma mater Panjab University (PU).

    According to university authorities, the arrangements would soon be made to transport books and memorabilia, photographs and paintings from New Delhi to the university campus.
    As per the IANS report, the books and other objects will be kept in the Guru Teg Bahadur Bhawan on the university campus.

    Here's what the professor of Department of History told IANS:

    "The 3,500 books and memorabilia, which include photographs and paintings, will be housed in Guru Teg Bahadur Bhawan. Until the place is ready for the installation, books and memorabilia will be kept in the main library," she said.
    "It will be developed as a library where there would be a reading area where anybody can come and have a look at the material," she added.

    India's former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has donated 3,500 books from his personal collection to his alma mater Panjab University (PU).
    According to university authorities, the arrangements would soon be made to transport books and memorabilia, photographs and paintings from New Delhi to the university campus.
    As per the IANS report, the books and other objects will be kept in the Guru Teg Bahadur Bhawan on the university campus.

    Here's what the professor of Department of History told IANS:

    "The 3,500 books and memorabilia, which include photographs and paintings, will be housed in Guru Teg Bahadur Bhawan. Until the place is ready for the installation, books and memorabilia will be kept in the main library," she said.
    "It will be developed as a library where there would be a reading area where anybody can come and have a look at the material," she added. 

    View at the original source

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    Traditional universities — including Ivy League schools — fail to deliver the kind of learning that ensures employability. That perspective inspired Ben Nelson, founder and CEO of the six-year-old Minerva Schools in San Francisco. His goal is to reinvent higher education and to provide students with high-quality learning opportunities at a fraction of the cost of an undergraduate degree at an elite school. While tuition at top-tier universities in the U.S. can run more than $40,000 a year, Minerva charges $12,950 a year, according to its website. In a recent test, its students showed superior results compared to traditional universities while also attracting a large number of applicants.

    Minerva is a disruptor and the traditional university establishment needs to adapt to its model and perhaps improve on it, according to Jerry (Yoram) Wind, emeritus marketing professor at Wharton. Nelson, who was previously president of Snapfish, an online photo hosting and printing service, and Wind spoke to Knowledge@Wharton about why the higher education model needs to change, and how the Minerva model could help.

    An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

    Knowledge@Wharton: Jerry, where is the future of education headed?

    Jerry Wind: The future is now. It has been here for a while, and with Minerva, Ben has recreated the university of the future. Ben, describe briefly the Minerva concept, and then go into the recent findings of the CLA report (Minerva’s Collegiate Learning Assessment test).

    Ben Nelson: We refer to Minerva as having been built as an “intentional university.” Everything about the design of the institution, what we teach, how we teach and where we teach it is based on what we know, and through empirical evidence, is effective.

    In what we teach, we are classical in our approach, even though we’re [also] modern and progressive in the way we teach. For example, if you think about the purpose of a liberal arts education, or what the great American universities purport to teach, they will say ‘We teach you how to think critically, how to problem-solve, how to think about the way the world works and to be global, and how to communicate effectively.

    “Universities … basically teach you academic subject matter and they hope you pick up all of the other stuff by accident.”
    –Ben Nelson

    When you actually look at how universities attempt to do it, they basically teach you academic subject matter and they hope you pick up all of the other stuff by accident.

    We decided to have a curriculum that teaches these things, that breaks down critical thinking, creative thinking, effective interactions, and effective communications into component parts. [We wanted to make] sure that we don’t just teach them conceptually, and don’t just teach them in a context, but actually explain the concept and then have our students apply them actively from context to context to context.

    Knowledge@Wharton: Could you share an example of how you do that?

    Nelson: One aspect of critical thinking, for example, is evaluating claims. There are various ways of evaluating claims. Sometimes you use logic, sometimes you use reasoning, which is different than logic, sometimes you do statistical analysis which is different than the other two, and sometimes you just think of a counter example.

    Now there are different [types] of critical thinking. One example: making a decision tradeoff. Should we go down Path A or Path B? The technique for making a decision tradeoff is perhaps thinking through the cost-benefit analysis, which is a type of critical thinking.

    If you say ‘I’m going to teach you critical thinking’ and you just try to teach it as a thing you will never succeed. [It is important to] go through it systemically and do the component parts – that’s the first aspect.

    The second aspect is if you teach a person an idea, say evaluation of claims, the mind gets trained in a particular context. When somebody makes a claim, let’s say on an investment opportunity, or a political claim, the mind doesn’t really transfer those skills from one field to another. This is one of the fundamental problems of transferrable education. The way that you teach that is to provide exercise and applications in multiple fields.

    How we teach is also radically different. The science of learning shows that the dissemination of information [through] lectures and test-based methodology simply doesn’t work. Six months after the end of a traditional lecture and test-based class, 90% of the material you were supposed to have learned is gone from your mind. In an active learning environment you struggle through information, and two years after the end of the class you retain 70%.

    All of our classes, despite [being] small seminars with 15 to 19 students at a time, are done via live video online where there’s a camera pointed at every student’s face. The students are actively engaged with the materials, [and it is] not the professor lecturing — professors are not allowed to talk for more than four minutes at a time. The students get feedback on how they apply what they [learn].
    “Six months after the end of a traditional lecture and test-based class, 90% of the material you were supposed to have learned is gone from your mind.”
    –Ben Nelson

    Lastly [it is about] where we teach. We have created a university that takes advantage of the best the world has to offer. Being a Penn graduate, I always gravitated towards the idea of the urban campus. Our students live in the heart of cities in residence halls together, and have a very strong community. They spend their first year in the heart of San Francisco, but over the next three years across six semesters, as a cohort, as a group, they will travel and live in six different countries. So in their second year they go to Seoul and Hyderabad, and then to Berlin and Buenos Aires, then London and Taipei, and come back to San Francisco for a month to manifest their education and graduate.
    Wind: While the concept is appealing, does it work? Describe the CLA test, and then talk about the implications of [your approach].

    Nelson: The Collegiate Learning Assessment is provided by a third party nonprofit that has been testing and assessing students’ progress on critical thinking, problem-solving, scientific reasoning and effective communication skills for many years. It’s been administered to hundreds of thousands of students across hundreds of universities. It is administered to students at the beginning of their first year and at the end of their fourth year, and so you can measure [the] progress of students.

    We provided [our students] the first-year test just before they started the first class at the beginning of the year. But rather than waiting four years, we gave our students the fourth-year test at the end of their first year, Eight months later, the results shocked us. Not only did our students after eight months have the highest composite score in the country compared to any other university that was assessing their students, the delta improvement they accomplished was higher than what the CLA has seen any university accomplish over four years.

    Knowledge@Wharton: What drove those results?

    Nelson: The silly answer would be to say, ‘Oh we’re brilliant and we’re great, and look at how amazing what we do is.’ The fact of the matter is we’ve got a lot of room to grow and improve. These results in many ways are much more damning of the existing system than they are generating praise for our brilliance.

    We have taken publicly available scientifically published data on how the mind works. We’ve broken down the things that every university says that they teach or that they want to teach, and merely spent time putting together a curriculum that does that, and we’ve offered it to students. We’ve just done what anybody who would rationally approach trying to create a solution to a problem do.

    I would bet you that if you had 100 institutions or 100 groups of people that were to do the same thing we would have done from scratch, we would have probably been better than some of them, maybe most of them, but not all of them. There would be some that on their first try would be even better than [us].

    Wind: This is the value of idealized design. As opposed to trying to fix the current educational system by adding another course or trying to create a cross-disciplinary course, [Minerva] reexamines the whole purpose of education.

    They didn’t go far enough, which is they are still within an academic context, and probably they will relax the academic context that is [with] semesters and the like, and get even better results. But even within this academic context and constraints, what they have done is amazing  –  the curriculum, the concept, and the way it’s developed for the benefit of the learner, and not the benefit of the faculty.

    The [first] implication is, if you had a choice and you wanted to go to a university now, where would you go? If you want really great education, go to Minerva; [but if] you want to network, go to one of the top five schools — Penn, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and MIT. Minerva offers probably a different network than the traditional ones because it is a network of people who are willing to do it.

    Nelson: Last year, for our third class ever, we received 20,400 applications. That is more applicants than MIT or Dartmouth got. The network you get in a Wharton or Harvard or Yale or what-have-you is [of] a certain kind. It is overwhelmingly American, [with] 80% or 90% from the U.S., and usually from particular socioeconomic backgrounds. Even though there is some diversity, it’s heavily weighted [in favor of that profile].

    The Minerva network is radically different because 80% of our students are not from the U.S. — they come from 61 countries. We received these 20,000 applications from 179 countries. The experience and the network you build as you travel and live as a resident in these seven countries is unparalleled. If you want a global footprint, that’s what we provide.

    Wind: The current educational system does not work. Implication two is that [universities] have to realize that they are being disrupted. At this stage [it is on a] small scale, but if other universities start adopting it, it can [become] large scale. [Minerva is] the disruptor here, and the signal to the legacy universities is, our model does not work. Stop trying to fix it by adding another Band-Aid, but try to rethink the educational system. And here you have a wonderful blueprint that works.

    Nelson: We just wrote a book called Building the Intentional University, which is a blueprint for how other universities can create their own Minervas or reform in that sense. We are a residential university that grants undergraduate degrees with 120 credit hours, with majors and minors and electives and a general education curriculum. We are plug-and-play for universities. We offer potential salvation from disruption.

    “The future is now. It has been here for a while, and with Minerva, Ben has recreated the university of the future.”
    –Jerry (Yoram) Wind

    What I have worried about is the other kind of disruptive force that can attack universities [and be] destructive, in the sense that in six months you get a high school degree, go to a boot camp and then get a six-figure job being a software programmer. We have put together an educational experience that enables university graduates to be better prepared than [with that] six-month boot camp. Because they are able to do higher level problem solving, they are going to be [software] architects as opposed to the programmers. They’re going to the ones that in a world of Watson and artificial intelligence and outsourcing are going to be much more future-proof.

    Wind: An increasing number of people view employability as being critical, and a traditional university degree does not guarantee employability, [but] the new non-degree programs guarantee you a [job] position.

    Knowledge@Wharton: Three or four years ago, a big potential disruptor was the so-called MOOC, or the Massive Open Online Course. A number of platforms came up [such as] Coursera, Udacity and EdX. It seemed like they were going to be disruptive, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. What happened with that so-called disruption and why did it fail?

    Nelson: The jury is still somewhat out on that, and let me give you an example of what I think is happening on the surface. MIT had a master’s program in supply chain logistics, and it cost $60,000 for a two-semester program. As an experiment, [they put the] first semester on MOOCs, and rather than charging $30,000 for it, [gave] it away for free. If you want to get credit for it pay $250, [write] an exam, and then if you score well you [go] to campus, do a one-semester supplement, pay $30,000 and get a master’s degree.

    This [halves] the cost of higher education for a master’s degree. Imagine if the Ivy League – or any university – [extended that to] all the courses they give academic credit for. Of the $250,000 that they are used to collecting and are reliant on [for each degree course, they] can only collect $100,000 because $150,000 is effectively given away for free. So far no university has an incentive to rock the boat too much on this. [However,] just because the disruption does not happen immediately doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

    Wind: The concern is that especially for the leading universities, it’s an excuse not to innovate. They are saying, ‘Look how innovative we are; we have MOOCs, or we offer classes on Coursera,’ and basically the rest of the education stays exactly the same way as it was before. Some of the findings suggest that less than 5% of the people who start ever finish the courses on Coursera or EdX. But there are some encouraging signs that if you add to the traditional Coursera course or EdX interaction, and if you provide some more gamification principles in terms of getting involved, you can increase the numbers significantly.

    The advantage of this — with MIT, Stanford, Penn and other universities putting all of these courses online — is that the role of the faculty becomes easier as a curator. This is the fundamental change that we have to see in education.

    Knowledge@Wharton: [In addition to] a network, one other factor that the Ivy League universities offer is the brand. When you have this innovative model like Minerva, how do you establish a brand that is acceptable to students as well as employers?

    Nelson: Minerva was built as a positive brand. When you meet somebody at Minerva you know that they have … been given systematic frameworks of analysis that they can apply effectively to the rest of the world. Our challenge is to propagate that brand, to get people aware of it. The good news is that the internet is a very good way of disseminating information. Brand building in today’s world doesn’t take centuries; it doesn’t even take decades.

    Wind: The final word on branding is always [from] the consumer. One, the best carrier of the brand, and especially on the positive side, would be the alumni. So the value of the degree, the value of the Minerva experience is a function of how good the alumni are. Two, a lot [depends] of the employability and demand for the Minerva students.

    Nelson: It’s too early to tell.