If I have ever written “C-suite” unironically, let me apologise. The more I come across it, the more I dislike it.
The idea of a “suite” is disturbing enough. Reeking of bathrooms and bad hotels, it appears to have nothing to do with the typical open-plan workplace. It is the C-part that really worries me, however, not because it may give occupants of the suite delusions of seniority, but because it may give them delusions of control.
Ana Botín has wasted little time since becoming chairman of Banco Santander in September, last week appointing a new chief executive. Like Abigail Johnson, installed as chief executive of Fidelity in October, she worked hard for her job, but it is inescapable that both are members of founding families. For women lacking a birthright, the route to the top in financial services is tough.
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.
Harriet Green, ex-chief executive of Thomas Cook, certainly broke through the glass ceiling on her way up to the top of corporate Britain. But was her abrupt departure from the travel group this week further evidence of the existence of a “glass cliff”, off which female CEOs are often said to plummet? Read more
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.
Some years ago, I was feeling anxious and went to talk to a psychiatrist. After I had explained my worries and how I felt like responding, he paused for thought and asked: “Have you considered doing nothing?
Joanna Shields, chair of Tech City UK © Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
When the first dotcom bubble burst, one theory that did the rounds in New York, where I was working, was that such a scarring experience would deter a whole generation of 20-somethings from ever becoming entrepreneurs.
But Joanna Shields, the UK’s ambassador for digital industries, puts a different spin on the aftermath of the dotcom bust. The US – and specifically Silicon Valley – profited from the experience of failure, she says, while innovation and entrepreneurialism in the UK took a hit from which the country is only now recovering. Read more
© 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
Grayson Perry, the transvestite artist, took aim last month at “default man”: the cabal of white, middle-class, heterosexual, middle-aged males who run the British establishment.
Taylor Swift, the singer-songwriter, has removed her entire catalogue from Spotify, the music streaming service founded in Sweden. Ms Swift’s new album 1989 sold nearly 1.3m copies in the US this week, and she has written that: “Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”
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
Bcc: useful, but dangerous © Ian Dagnall/Alamy
To bcc, or not to bcc? Is it OK to send out “blind carbon copies” of emails, so that the person to whom they are addressed has no idea that other people are reading them too?
According to Debrett’s Guide to British Etiquette it is not OK. It is sneaky. Blind copying, says the arbiter of manners for the past two centuries, should be used “discerningly as it is deceptive to the primary recipient”.
Instead, Debretts suggests that if you want A to see the email you’ve just written to B, but don’t want B to know that A is reading it too, you forward the email to A with a short note explaining why it is confidential.
This is a rotten solution. First, it takes longer. Second, to forward a private email strikes me as every bit as sneaky as sending a blind copy. Read more