Mind Games: The Reality About Fiction

Nautilus: “Feeling a range of real emotions for fictional events is so commonplace we don’t often think to question it. But why should we get emotionally involved with characters and situations that we know are not real? Why should we get scared by something we know is only a movie? This is the paradox of fiction. To resolve this paradox we need to understand a bit about the nature of the human mind and brain.”

“The older parts of the brain evolved to see things, detect predators, manage emotions, and other, older cognitive skills. The newer parts of the brain are capable of reasoning and reflection. What this means is that only the newer parts (specifically the frontal lobes) ‘know’ that what you’re reading is fiction. The older parts of the brain have trouble distinguishing real from fictional faces, and even true from false sentences!”

“Storytelling is the ancestor of modern fiction, and it makes sense to speculate that a primary function of storytelling was to communicate important information about the environment … What probably happened was that we tended to believe what we heard by default, and only consider that it might be false if we have good reasons to suspect deception or misinformation … This is probably why literature can transport us, enrapture us, and create such transcendent experiences … Half of our minds believe these stories to be true.”


How Best Buy Beat Back Amazon

The Wall Street Journal: “Against all odds, Chief Executive Hubert Joly … managed to turn Best Buy around. As Amazon moves more deeply into new areas such as apparel and food, fellow retailers would be well served to note its example. The first step was aimed at preventing showroomers from buying elsewhere. The company committed to matching competitors’ prices and brought its prices in line with Amazon’s. At the same time, Best Buy improved its website and mobile app.”

“Best Buy also began to use its stores to improve its e-commerce operations. Prior to Mr. Joly’s arrival, if a product wasn’t in one of the company’s six warehouses, it would be listed as out of stock, even if the item was in stores. Now Best Buy’s stores do double duty as e-commerce warehouses. Best Buy says half of online orders are now picked up in store or shipped from a store, and 70% of Americans live within 15 minutes of a store. That has helped Best Buy speed up shipping times so that most online purchases arrive in two days, matching Amazon Prime’s speeds without the annual fee.”

In addition: “The retailer knew its suppliers wanted it to thrive, particularly as a showroom for their higher-end products. The company asked vendors … to set up their own branded shops. The suppliers footed the bill for most of this, and many began paying for specially trained staffers to work in them. Best Buy also improved training for its other workers and added high-end kitchen and bath offerings from Pacific Kitchen & Home and high-end home theater equipment from Magnolia. Best Buy got more than 88% of its $36.3 billion in U.S. sales in its stores in the fiscal year ended January.”


Apple: Its People is its Product

The New York Times: “Apple’s rapid growth here in central Texas, where it now employs about 6,000 people, up from 2,100 seven years ago, provides a window into the vast constellation of jobs at the world’s largest technology company and their economic impact … Employees here help run Apple’s iTunes music and app stores, handle the billions of dollars going in and out of the company’s American operations and continuously update the Maps software that is integral to iPhones and iPads. At another Austin location, about 500 engineers work on the chips that will run the next round of Apple’s products.”

“Although contractors at the Austin technical support call center earn as little as $14.50 an hour, equivalent to about $30,000 a year, many of them become permanent staff members, which means better pay, after the typical one-year contract is up. Experienced call center employees earn around $45,000 a year, plus generous benefits and small annual stock grants. Pay is even higher for more senior advisers and managers. Apple says that, excluding benefits and stock compensation, the average salary of its Austin employees, including management, is $77,000 a year.”

“Genny Lopez, who went to college for two years and used to work as a bartender, joined Apple as a contractor handling tech support calls. She is now on staff, troubleshooting difficult customer problems.” She comments: “The product that Apple builds here is us.”


Neiman Marcus Rents a Runway

The Wall Street Journal: “In a strategy that sounds counterintuitive but is a push to bring in younger shoppers, Neiman Marcus has invited the rent-a-dress company Rent the Runway to open locations within its stores … Neiman Marcus hopes that Rent the Runway, which is popular among 20-something shoppers, will serve as bait for a generation that hasn’t taken to department-store shopping the way their moms did … Neiman Marcus executives are also looking forward to collecting shopping data to study how these young dress renters spend in other areas of the stores.”

“The partnership will enable Rent the Runway members to try on clothes in Neiman Marcus stores. Customers will also be able to rent online from Rent the Runway and pick up or return the clothes to a Neiman Marcus … Neiman Marcus executives hope that over time, those 20- and 30-something shoppers will return to buy again and again, becoming the next generation of Neiman Marcus customers.”

“Rent the Runway’s 3,000-foot boutique within the store will have a mix of rentable clothes and Neiman Marcus shoes, bags, jewelry and other items, including underpinnings like bras and Spanx. Stylists employed by Rent the Runway will work with shoppers to assemble outfits, working with sales associates from the department store when needed. There is a cosmetics counter where shoppers can get their makeup done.”


Adidas Biofabric: A Shoe That Melts in Your Sink

Wired: “The Adidas Futurecraft Biofabric, a biodegradable running shoe, debuted at last week’s Biofabricate conference in New York … the Futurecraft Biofabric looks a lot like a modern athletic shoe. The open-knit upper has a golden sheen, and it connects to Adidas’s trademark Boost sole … the shoe is 15 percent lighter than one made from traditional polymers, and credits its weight-savings … a synthetic spider silk it calls Biosteel.”

“AMSilk creates that Biosteel textile by fermenting genetically modified bacteria.That process creates a powder substrate, which AMSilk then spins into its Biosteel yarn. All of this happens in a lab, and … uses a fraction of the electricity and fossil fuels that plastics take to produce … AMSilk also created an enzyme solution that lets shoe owners dissolve their kicks at home, in the sink, after about two years of high-impact wear … the solution comes in little packets … and can safely disintegrate a pair of Futurecraft Biofabric shoes in a matter of hours.”

“Biodegradability both defines the shoe’s appeal and presents its biggest obstacle … High performance sportswear has certainly trended slimmer and lighter … But a shoe that’s designed to disintegrate?” James Carnes of Adidas thinks it’s on trend: “Most people don’t think about buying a product that’s intended to break down. Luxury absolutely used to mean heavy and stiff and solid, and slowly it’s changed into buying other things. Like if you buy a down jacket, it’s expected to be insulated and lightweight.”


Supercars: Captain America on Wheels

The Wall Street Journal: After Marvel’s superhero flick Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out in 2014, designers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV wanted to try putting the movie’s futuristic computer displays in real-world cars. So they hired the special-effects artists behind the superhero gadgetry to make it happen … The cockpit’s animated displays, projecting vehicle speed along with highlights of the route and dangers ahead, would feel familiar to Marvel’s Nick Fury. But the Jeep’s simulated functions are tuned to the real world rather than superhero derring-do.’

“The screen representing the windshield concept, for example, displays a driver’s view of the road overlaid with visual cues that might signal a car stopped ahead, a crosswalk or the route through traffic to a parking spot … BMW AG introduced a new feature last year in the high-end 7 Series sedan that seems straight from the movie screen: gesture control. Users can adjust the volume of music by swirling a finger in the air, or take a phone call with a jab of the hand.”

“Car makers’ increasing attention to user interfaces highlights a conundrum as most of Detroit—and much of Silicon Valley—prepare for a future when cars will have humanlike abilities to sense their surroundings and decide how to respond: Even a self-driving car will need to give passengers ways to interact with many of its functions. Chris Rockwell, president of Columbus, Ohio, design firm Lextant, points to the 2004 movie “I, Robot” as a way to frame a conversation around that idea. Will Smith’s self-driving Audi appears to give him no way to steer. But when he pushes a button to take control, a steering wheel promptly emerges from the dash.”


Motivation: Kind Words vs. Cash Bonuses

Video: Business Insider


Out of Commission: The Future of Sales Incentives

The Wall Street Journal: “While incentives such as commissions spur salespeople to close deals and sell more products, those rewards also can provoke infighting among employees and lead some to find ways around the system for their own gain, executives and researchers say … GlaxoSmithKline PLC, for one, has nixed straight sales commissions in favor of measures of employee knowledge and customer satisfaction, a move that initially prompted complaints from sales reps.”

“Changing sales rewards can turn off employees used to big commissions, and compensation experts and researchers warn that no incentive program is foolproof … Tint, a San Francisco-based marketing-software company, adopted a team-based bonus structure in 2013 after CEO Tim Sae Koo grew worried that commissions might cause salespeople to put too much pressure on customers or nab leads from co-workers. The approach has deterred some prospective salespeople … Yet, the firm’s collaborative work environment has attracted other hires.”

“Other companies use customer feedback or tests of employee knowledge to determine employee rewards … Glaxo in 2011 stopped paying bonuses based on the volume of prescriptions written by doctors in the U.S. The pharmaceutical company instead assesses employees based on their sales skills and customer interactions … Workers can game a customer-service-focused system, too, by pushing their happy customers to fill out surveys.” Daniel Barron of Northwestern University comments: “When you’re given a strong incentive, when a lot of money is on the line, you’re going to move your behavior toward that.”


Dad Shoes: Hot But Not Cool

Business Insider: “The Air Monarch is by all accounts a boring shoe, meant neither to inspire nor offend. This makes it stand out in terms of the other shoes on the usual lists of bestsellers … But the shoe’s mundane design could be precisely what attracts both older customers seeking something comfortable and acceptable, as well as some younger consumers looking to subvert trend-obsessed fashion attitudes.”

“Adidas’ Stan Smiths, similarly, have been flying off the shelves for years now. The shoe is distinctive enough that designers, models, and moguls want to be seen with them on their feet, but they’re not so outlandish and colorful that the average person would be wary of buying and wearing them. And indeed they do buy them, as the shoe has sold an estimated 40 million pairs since 1973.”

“Then take NBA MVP Steph Curry’s partnership with Under Armour. The ‘Che'” Curry Two Low was torn apart on Twitter after its debut because of its ‘boring’ appearance. But the shoes ended up performing very well, selling out in two days even though the shoes are not on limited offer like many of the collaborations that have star power behind them … The flashier shoes are designed to create a halo effect, enshrining the brands in a holy glow that makes it feel trendy and cool … but it’s the consistent and reliable success of dad-approved shoes like the Air Monarch, Stan Smith, and Chef Curry Two Low that are helping to make these brands real money.”