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HLG Notebook | December 2015

1. Year’s Best Business Christmas Card

The “Dear Santa” parody letter from Donald Trump we received from Ed Ingle, managing director of Microsoft’s government affairs office, was a runaway winner. An excerpt:

Dear Santa:
You are a fraud. You are lazy. You are out of shape. And worst of all, you have very low energy. By the way, your elves are a bunch of small-minded idiots, and most of them are likely undocumented.

Don’t miss the whole “holiday greeting” here.

2. The Times They Are (Slowly) A-Changing

The Economist takes on the prevailing wisdom that everything is getting faster and “speed” is the defining quality of winning businesses. Pouring through the data, this superb article persuasively demonstrates that change is more glacial than we thought. Here is one of a dozen examples offered:

More creative destruction would seem to imply that firms are being created and destroyed at a greater rate. But the odds of a company dropping out of the S&P 500 index of big firms in any given year are about one in 20—as they have been, on average, for 50 years. About half of these exits are through takeovers. For the economy as a whole the rates at which new firms are born are near their lowest since records began, with about 8% of firms less than a year old, compared with 13% three decades ago. Youngish firms, aged five years or less, are less important measured by their number and share of employment.

3. The Storytelling Epidemic

Lucy Kellaway rightfully bemoans the fad of “storytelling” that is apparently spreading to venues where it should be least welcome:

Even mathematicians and scientists are now urged to present their work as stories. Most preposterous of all, the craze has spread to auditors.

Kellaway puts her finger on the core problem: “The trouble with stories is that to have any effect they have to be good ones — and most people are rubbish at telling them.”

4. What Alzheimer’s Feels Like

A remarkable, stirring, first-person account of the impact of advancing Alzheimer’s by investigative reporter Greg O’Brien:

oday, 60 percent of my short-term memory can be gone in 30 seconds. I often don’t recognize friends, including, on two occasions, my wife. I get lost in familiar places, fly into inexorable rages, put my keys and cellphone in the refrigerator, my laptop in the microwave, and wash business cards in the dishwasher simply because they are dirty.

The website includes a video clip from the upcoming PBS program, Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped, which features the author.

5. The Meaninglessness of “Best of” Lists

Before you start saving those “Best of 2015” lists, read FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of more than 30 different best lists for music, books, film, and TV. It turns out, there is little consensus.

Overall, about 55 percent of the shows, movies, albums and books were on at least five lists, meaning there isn’t as much overlap as it may seem. You can basically flip a coin to determine whether any given item on any of these “best of 2015” lists is one that critics agree on, or if it just suits that particular critic’s taste.

6. Data and Emerging Markets

The spread of mobile devices in emerging markets, we are constantly told, will fuel a huge demand for digital health care, banking, education, and so on. But as Frédéric Filloux points out, consuming data in the developing world still faces huge hurdles:

You and I consume about 3-5 gigabytes of data each month: email, browsing, apps, maps, etc. We are the 10% of users that generate 55% of global data traffic (source: Ericsson.) In many countries, however, very few people can afford to use apps or mapping services. Getting a single gigabyte of data in Indonesia requires 10 hours of work at the minimum wage, 20 hours in India, and 30 hours in Brazil where half of all mobile subscriptions don’t include a data plan.