To Test or De-Bug. That is the Question.

The Wall Street Journal: “It is much more efficient—and far less painful—to test each small part before stringing many pieces together. That way, the failures are less frequent, more informative and a lot easier to fix.”

“Throughout most of human history, people’s interactions with the physical world … were based on various rules of thumb. Those were learned (and, often, unlearned) over generations and ‘debugged’ by chance observations. Science in the modern sense begins with the insight that it is better to test your understanding thoroughly in simple situations, where debugging is more manageable. This allows you to make cumulative progress. That may come in smaller steps, but it is more likely to endure.”

“While the grand philosophers of Galileo’s day constructed vague systems of the world, often inspired by sacred texts and Aristotle’s metaphysics, he minutely studied the way that balls roll down inclined planes. Galileo nailed it, and his was the more lasting contribution. As Sir Isaac Newton put it, ‘Tis much better to do a little with certainty, & leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of any thing’.”


Defining Management: The Rise of The Consultant

The Wall Street Journal: “A $250 billion industry in the U.S. alone, management consulting was born from two distinct fields, engineering and accounting. At the turn of the last century, mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor popularized the notion of restructuring factory operations to strip out wasted movements and prioritize efficiency above all. His ideas about optimizing work processes—dubbed Taylorism—were soon adapted from the shop floor to offices and government activities.”

“Around that same time, accountants were getting more involved in business operations, especially as they helped big companies through bankruptcies during the Great Depression. The American model of management consulting—which involved privatizing, packaging and selling advice—gained traction after World War II … U.S. firms had been hired for military and government projects during the war, and the American victory helped legitimize the role of these outside advisers, particularly the U.S. consultants.”

This history is recounted in a new book, Defining Management, by “Matthias Kipping, a business historian at York University in Canada and a co-author of the book with Lars Engwall of Sweden’s Uppsala University and Behlül Üsdikenof Sabanci University in Turkey.” The authors “float the possibility that consulting and b-schools will return to the kind of social mission that business schools once had, which was to create more enlightened managers and ‘better’ people, who would then make socially responsible business decisions.”


Trader Joe’s: A Toxic Culture of Coercion?

The New York Times: “A number of workers, known at Trader Joe’s as ‘crew members,’ complain of harsh and arbitrary treatment at the hands of managers, of chronic safety lapses and of an atmosphere of surveillance. Above all, some employees say they are pressured to appear happy with customers and co-workers, even when that appearance is starkly at odds with what is happening at the store.”

“Tensions have been heightened, according to several employees, by the pressure to remain upbeat and create a ‘Wow customer experience,’ which is defined in the company handbook as ‘the feelings a customer gets about our delight that they are shopping with us’… with more than 400 stores generating over $10 billion in sales, according to estimates, the company culture appears to have evolved from an aspiration that could be nurtured organically to a tool that can be used to enforce discipline and stifle criticism.”

Gammy Alvarez, an employee at a Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan, comments: “The environment in this job is toxic, but they’re trying to create this whole false idea that everything is cheery and bubbly. I think they want us to be not real people.”


Marriott Installs ‘Like’ Buttons in Hotel

Quartz: “Marriott International has turned its 446-room hotel in the city center of Charlotte, North Carolina, into a lodging laboratory where the company will test new amenities, designs and procedures out on guests. Around the hotel, Marriott installed 19 black and red ‘like’ buttons about the size of hockey pucks, so that guests can press one when they are pleased with facilities such as the fitness center, restaurant, and rooms.”

“Instead of poring over spreadsheets and conducting focus groups, the guest feedback from Marriott’s new technique is a shortcut for Marriott executives to get a sense of what delights fickle guests, particularly lucrative business travelers, these days.”

“There isn’t a lower room rate for providing feedback, the hotel said. Rooms at the hotel go for about $300 a night. The guinea pig guests might have one early suggestion: a lower rate for testers.”


Women, Men & Creativity: Adaptive vs. Disruptive

Pacific Standard: “Several studies have been published in recent years suggesting creativity levels vary far more dramatically among men than among women. That would imply creative geniuses are more likely to be men — but so are people with no creativity at all.”

“A new study from Poland … finds that, while men are more likely to be on the high or low extreme when it comes to innovation, the same is true for women when it comes to a different — and undervalued — component of creativity: adaptiveness.”

“The results suggest men are more likely to produce radical breakthroughs, but women are more likely to be highly creative in a different but equally important realm.” In short: “Women are better at creatively building upon an existing structure, while men are better at striking out in bold, original ways.”


The Internet: Marketplace or Echo Chamber?

The New York Times: “The root of the problem with online news is something that initially sounds great: We have a lot more media to choose from … A wider variety of news sources was supposed to be the bulwark of a rational age — ‘the marketplace of ideas,’ the boosters called it. But that’s not how any of this works. Psychologists and other social scientists have repeatedly shown that when confronted with diverse information choices, people rarely act like rational, civic-minded automatons. Instead, we are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest — we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.”

“This dynamic becomes especially problematic in a news landscape of near-infinite choice. Whether navigating Facebook, Google or The New York Times’s smartphone app, you are given ultimate control — if you see something you don’t like, you can easily tap away to something more pleasing. Then we all share what we found with our like-minded social networks, creating closed-off, shoulder-patting circles online.”

“Digital technology has blessed us with better ways to capture and disseminate news. There are cameras and audio recorders everywhere, and as soon as something happens, you can find primary proof of it online. You would think that greater primary documentation would lead to a better cultural agreement about the ‘truth.’ In fact, the opposite has happened.”


Clothing Care: Iconic Confusion

The Wall Street Journal: “The trickiest reading comprehension test may be inside our clothing. Basic items of clothing contain labels that are anything but basic … The symbols on clothing care tags are designed to be a handy shortcut, understandable to consumers world-wide, says ASTM International, an organization which designed them and sets voluntary standards for a range of industries from aviation to buildings to toys.”


“There are more than 35 symbols in the ASTM guide. The system is based on five basic care symbols representing five operations: washing, bleaching, drying, ironing and professional textile care, such as dry cleaning … The symbols have become so iconic that fashion label Moschino put some on blouses, T-shirts, dresses and sweaters in a collection last year. Some tags, loaded with symbols and words, are so long or thick that consumers cut them off.”


Myth on the Rocks: The Seelbach Story

The New York Times: The Seelbach cocktail, a specialty of the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, has an “elaborate origin story involving a couple from New Orleans … The man ordered a manhattan, the woman a Champagne cocktail. The clumsy bartender, spilling the bubbly into the manhattan, set the mess aside and made the drinks anew. But the accidental mélange got the barman thinking. Soon, the Seelbach cocktail was born.”

In 1995, Adam Seger, then a rookie bartender at the Seelbach Hotel, announced he had re-discovered this long-forgotten, pre-Prohibition recipe, and put it on the menu. “The news media soon picked up on the tale, and within a few years, the Seelbach cocktail was regarded as a rescued classic. It’s a tantalizing back story, one that has charmed cocktail writers and aficionados for years, and there’s only one thing wrong with it: None of it is true.”

Mr. Seger, who recently admitted his fabrication, explains: “I was nobody. I had no previous accolades in the bar world. I knew I could make a great drink. I wanted it to be this promotion for the hotel, and I felt the hotel needed a signature cocktail.” A hotel spokesperson says the Seelbach cocktail “has certainly been a tradition of the hotel and will remain part of its future.”


CEO Rides The Tide at Procter & Gamble

The Wall Street Journal: Procter & Gamble CEO David Taylor “eschews talk of reinvention. He aims to keep P&G on top by playing to its historic strengths … Mr. Taylor said he is confident that P&G’s best prospects remain rooted in fundamentals. That means selling to the masses by way of big retailers on the strength of meticulously collected consumer research, a massive research-and-development operation and the world’s biggest advertising budget. P&G, he says, needs to learn to do these things faster and more effectively.”

“Executives say they are seeing results. Take the company’s new environmentally friendly laundry soap, Tide Purclean. It was conceived and brought to market in nine months … A big time saver was a new process in which leaders from different areas work concurrently. So instead of completing the chemistry of the product and handing off to the team that makes the bottles, those parts of the business work side by side.”

“At one point Mr. Taylor intervened to head off what could have turned into a long deliberation: determining the color of the bottle cap. The team worried a cap the color of Tide’s signature orange would distract from the environmental message. But they wanted to be sure the detergent was still recognizable to customers. Mr. Taylor told the team to go with orange.”