Even by the exotic standards of train delay excuses, the reason for my commuter service’s late arrival one day last week was unusual: “Swan on the line.” But it got me thinking, Nassim Nicholas Taleb-style, about the hidden business risks posed by the humble commute to work.
The price of oil keeps on falling; the shale gas boom has reduced the price of natural gas in the US to a third of that in France; Germany has appealed to Sweden for its support in expanding two coal mines; and the EU’s effort to switch to clean energy is troubled. For companies wondering where to locate, the world has turned upside down.
Watson, the IBM supercomputer named after the company’s visionary founder, is probably best known for pummelling formidable human contestants on the US quiz show Jeopardy! Watson’s spectacular performance showed off its ability to master natural language, one of the thorniest challenges in computing.
But that was nearly four years ago and IBM’s showcase cognitive computing system is no longer playing games. The supercomputer, now sleeker and faster, is being put to myriad clever uses, from treating cancer to providing sophisticated advisory services for banks.
One obvious question that arises from this is, will systems like Watson put a lot of people out of work?
This was posed to Brad Becker, chief design officer for IBM, in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, the journal of the business school of the same name. Read more
Twitter's Anthony Noto (Getty)
On Monday, Anthony Noto, the CFO of Twitter got into a shocking muddle and sent what was meant to be a direct message as a tweet to all his followers.
It said “I think we should buy them. He is on your schedule for Dec 15 or 16 — we will need to sell him. i have a plan.” Chaos ensued. The tweet was swiftly removed – but not before everyone got terrifically excited about it. Lots of people are now trying to work out which company it is that Twitter is so keen to buy. Other pieces are saying that the balls-up by the CFO is proof that Twitter’s technology is too clunky, and that explains why it isn’t growing as fast as it might.
Maybe; what interests me about the blunder is something else. Something far more cheering. Read more
If you have ever attended an innovation conference, you will be familiar with consultants’ graphs that show how, say, the second half of the 21st century will belong to African millennials relentlessly networking via wearable mobile devices. But what has struck me recently is not so much the extraordinary potential of the future, but the extent to which innovators draw on ingredients from the present and the past.
© Tim Moore/Alamy
If you thought that where you worked, how much cash you made, or how well qualified you were was the main reason you were content – or otherwise – at work, think again.
A new study has found that the most powerful predictor of a worker’s job satisfaction is their boss’s ability to do their – that is the worker’s – job themselves.
The study, by academics from Warwick University, the University of Wisconsin and Cass Business School, part of City University, looked at three decades of data on job satisfaction among 35,000 employees across the UK and the US. They examined responses to a series of questions such as “Could your supervisor do your job if you were away?”
They found that the perceived competence of bosses was more significant than a host of other factors, including workers’ education levels, the industry they worked in, the money they earned or their gender. Read more
Gary Hamel still talks and writes with the passion of a revolutionary. In a recent blogpost, the management writer played with his own theory of the “core competencies” of companies, conceived with the late CK Prahalad, by pointing out their core incompetencies of inertia, incrementalism and insipidity.
After the spectacular chaos of the last time that regulators and governments scrambled to rescue banks in the US and Europe, they have hammered out a plan for the next time. It is better than the absence of one in 2008 but who knows if it will work?
The next Machine Age will not just augur job losses and the transformation of some professions. The future could be a lot worse. It may also let loose an army of needy robots.
This week, the MIT Technology Review described a new generation of Cobots – collaborative robots – made by a team under Manuela Veloso, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. These are autonomous intelligent mobile robots capable of performing service tasks and interacting with humans.
The robot is as polite as Star Wars’ C-3PO but there the similarities end. It has no arms and no legs. In fact, the article describes it as “a laptop and a cluster of sensors sitting atop a wheeled bar-stool”.
Unfailingly civil; it also turns out to be demanding of its human co-workers’ attention. Prof Veloso maintains that it is hard to program a robot to decode conversation but it can understand simple instructions. Therefore, when it has run out of tasks it will nag the nearest human. If that does not work, it will send out an office-wide email asking for assistance. Read more
Karl Lagerfeld (Getty Images)
I have spent more than a third of my professional career living and working abroad, so you would expect me to lap up research that suggests foreign experience increases creativity. But as companies find it ever more expensive to send managers on expatriate assignments – and rightly choose to hire and train skilled executives locally – they will have to look to other methods to encourage innovative thinking. Read more
Traditionally, one thing upon which the British could rely was that they never heard anything about, or from, the security services, apart from in James Bond films. That has changed. First, Sir John Sawers, the new head of MI6, has Lunch with the FT and now Robert Hannigan, left, the new head of GCHQ, has written an op-ed for the paper.
Apart from indicating that the FT has become the communications channel of choice for British spies, it shows that the security services have decided that it is no longer enough to fight in the shadows. They have to get their message across loudly, in parliament and in public. Read more
The worst-kept secret is out: Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, is gay.
“For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation,” he wrote in an article for Bloomberg Businessweek. “Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky. Read more
There is something peculiarly impressive about the video below of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, talking in Mandarin to students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. If nothing else, it shows a dedication to the country’s customs that very few foreign business leaders can match.
The implications, opportunities and challenges of increased longevity are beginning to dawn on many companies, as our Silver Economy series is revealing. But here is one that I don’t believe chief executives have yet focused on: the increased risk that your predecessor, and possibly his predecessor’s predecessor, will still be around to snipe at your strategy. Read more
No matter how good Total’s preparations, the death of its chief executive Christophe de Margerie in a plane crash late on Monday will have plunged the senior ranks of the French oil group into an emotional, logistical and governance nightmare.
When boards discuss succession planning, they often talk about it in jocular-morbid terms, typically debating “what happens if the CEO is run over by a bus?”. But when such sudden deaths occur, it often exposes just how poorly they have prepared for this type of emergency.
The US-based Conference Board, in a useful note for directors issued last year, pointed out that while three-quarters of S&P 500 companies surveyed in 2011 had succession plans in place, only 83 per cent of those had put in place an emergency succession component. Given that between 7 and 15 US public companies are hit by the sudden death of their chief executive in any given year, the group suggested the fact that a third of large companies had not considered emergency succession was simply not good enough. Read more
If you are wondering where your transformational merger is going wrong, you may want to look in the toilets. After Lenovo bought IBM’s personal computer business in 2005, the Chinese company replaced traditional squat toilets in its Beijing headquarters with western-style sit-down bowls to put non-Chinese colleagues and customers at ease.
Drones are a useful tool for delivering flags to football pitches, as Albania’s supporters demonstrated on Tuesday night during their national team’s match against Serbia, but they remain an extreme option for same-day parcel delivery. Click-and-collect is the mundane but potentially disruptive approach favoured in the UK – an approach that Amazon, predictably, is about to take to the next level.
Corporate perks are tricky. One employee’s free healthy meal at Google’s canteen is another’s misery – yet another reason never to leave the office.
And so what to make of Facebook’s and Apple’s offer to employees that they will cover the cost of freezing their eggs? Read more
Mark Carney © Photo by Chris Watt – WPA Pool /Getty Images
Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, would not win a popularity contest among directors of banks at the moment. Yet he and the Bank are taking a stance on individual responsibility that most people think is long overdue. Read more
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella © Getty Images
What was Satya Nadella thinking? On Thursday, the Microsoft chief executive made a monumental gaffe on the topic of women’s pay. Not asking for a pay increase, he said, was “good karma” and might be “one of the additional superpowers” for women. In the long term, “it’ll come back because someone’s going to know that that’s the kind of person I can trust,” he said. As the Twitter storm pointed out: karma does not pay the bills. Women have traditionally suffered under the illusion that being conscientious, likeable and patient is the key to getting a salary hike, only to see their mal e peers swagger into the corner office and demand to be paid their worth (and sometimes more than they are worth). His advice is contrary to that of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. In her book Lean In, she wroteof her idiocy of being patient. Read more