Toyota Yui: Your Father the Car

The Wall Street Journal: “If you love your car, Toyota Motor Corp. thinks your car should love you back. That’s the reasoning behind the company’s artificial-intelligence project, dubbed Yui: an onboard virtual assistant that gauges your mood, indulges in personal chitchat and offers to drive if it senses you are sleepy or distracted. In one Toyota video, shown at the Tokyo Motor Show, a woman sits on a seaside cliff, talking about her father with her car. ‘He sounds like a great father,’ says Yui, in a baritone male voice. ‘You’re a bit like him,’ the woman says.”

“To be sure, rarely do futuristic vehicles at auto shows make it to the roads. But Toyota plans to start testing a car equipped with Yui on Japanese roads in 2020. In autonomous-driving mode, the seats recline and massage your back in a manner Toyota says will slow your breathing and calm you down … Toyota imagines Yui being treated like a friend or family member, with whom access to social-media accounts is shared.”

“It wants to monitor your social-media posts to know if you are obsessed with a particular band or sports team. It also wants to monitor the news, so it has potential context when you look happy or sad. Did your favorite team drop out of the playoffs? Did your favorite singer come out with a new song? … Not all car makers see people wanting a humanlike relationship with their cars … ‘I’d rather not have this, because I’m a private person,’ said Yasuko Takahashi, a 54-year-old office worker… ‘I’d rather have the cars talk to each other, instead of me,’ she said.”

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Gucci Cracks The Millennial Code

The Wall Street Journal: “Classic brands often blame millennials for sales downturns, but the younger generation is giving Gucci a sensational boost. This could assure the luxury goods maker years of growth, or leave it grumbling like everyone else about that fickle group … Gucci’s success comes from a new look under creative director Alessandro Michele … It draws eclectically on a wide range of colors, patterns and periods, often in the same garment. It could hardly be further removed from the classic, business-friendly vibe favored by previous top designer Frida Giannini.”

“Millennial luxury consumers value experimentation and self-expression more than their seniors … Mr. Michele seems to have hit on a brand identity that reflects this spirit. Gucci has done a good job getting the word out: The brand is very active on the digital media millennials grew up with. Last year Gucci moved to top place in research company L2’s Digital IQ index, replacing longtime leader Burberry.”

“Resonating with the consumers of the future is something many brands aspire to. There is just one snag: As big consumer groups have discovered, experimental consumers make more fickle consumers.”

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Three Traits of Successful Leaders

Adam Bryant: “After almost a decade of writing the Corner Office column, this will be my final one — and from all the interviews, and the five million words of transcripts from those conversations, I have learned valuable leadership lessons and heard some great stories … Are there some qualities — beyond the obvious, like hard work and perseverance — that explain why these people ultimately got the top jobs? I’ve noticed three recurring themes.”

“First, they share a habit of mind that is best described as “applied curiosity.” They tend to question everything. They want to know how things work, and wonder how they can be made to work better. They’re curious about people and their back stories. And rather than wondering if they are on the right career path, they make the most of whatever path they’re on, wringing lessons from all their experiences.”

“Second, C.E.O.s seem to love a challenge. Discomfort is their comfort zone. The third theme is how they managed their own careers on their way to the top. They focus on doing their current job well, and that earns them promotions. That may sound obvious. But many people can seem more concerned about the job they want than the job they’re doing.”

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Threesome Tollbooth: Seclusion as Luxury

The New York Times: Threesome Tollbooth, in Brooklyn, caters “to patrons who prefer to take their cocktails in extreme seclusion. About as wide as the average human arm span, it sits inside the supply closet of a shuttered Italian restaurant. Capacity is limited to three: the bartender, you and your date.”

“’You own the space,’ said the artist N.D. Austin who opened the tiny tavern … After making a reservation, guests are asked by email to meet him — or his partner, Jesse Sheidlower, a lexicographer — outside a graffitied metal door in Bushwick. A brief walk through that door and down an alley leads inside to the supply closet. The closet, one discovers, has been transformed into a small, wood-paneled chamber — the sort of place to which a professor emeritus of English might retire to sip his Scotch and page through Keats.”

“The evening isn’t cheap: The going rate is $100 to $120 a head for about an hour of service. For that you get a menu of five or six 3-ounce mini-cocktails, bearing names like Johann Goes to Mexico; you also get the close-quarter company of your partner and your host. Mr. Sheidlower said the tightness of the Tollbooth has had interesting effects on the clientele … His favorite customers, however, are those who walk in and spontaneously burst into laughter.”

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Lord & Taylor Sinks Its Flagship

The New York Times: “In selling its Italian Renaissance-style building to a WeWork joint venture for $850 million, Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay are acknowledging that even the grand physical shopping spaces of old are now worth more as office space catering to millennials.”

“As Lord & Taylor struggles to find its footing in the e-commerce age, WeWork is capitalizing on the needs of the new economy. The company is offering flexibility and informality to a generation that is increasingly untethered to traditional offices. It allows workers like entrepreneurs or graphic designers to choose the size and style of the space they prefer, and to lease it for as long or short as they want.”

Hudson Bay executive chairman Richard Baker comments: “What we figured out is that, for the retail business, we could make our stores more interesting and younger.” WeWork, he added, “was looking for great locations that were convenient and fun.”

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Balenciagas & The $700 Socks

Quartz: “Typically just a minimal, stretchy knit upper and a sole, sock sneakers originated with big athletic brands. But luxury labels have since eagerly taken up the thread, pushing the form to deliberately emphasize the resemblance to socks. In the normal course of fashion’s trend cycle, mass-market brands have begun copying them and producing their own versions too. They now exist in seemingly endless iterations across a variety of price points, and embody some of the big currents moving fashion today.”

“Right now the style is exemplified by Balenciaga’s Speed Trainers. The shoe is basically an elastic ankle sock, mounted to a sole. They cost $595 to $695, depending on the version, and are currently sold out in popular sizes on a number of sites … They’re popular enough that fast-fashion chain Zara has introduced a pair that looks unmistakably like Balenciaga’s, except they cost just $70.”

“Sock sneakers are basically yoga pants for your feet. Unlike the pieced-together panels of leather and other materials that form other styles of sneaker, they conform to your foot without confining it … Just as importantly, the look is just right for the present moment, when all things athletic continue to have a major influence on the look of clothing.”

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How ‘Stranger Things’ Went Global

Wired: “It’s hard to overstate how important it is to Netflix’s long-term ambitions that shows like Stranger Things ‘travel’ … it has to spend wisely to ensure it’s producing content that plays as well in Canada as it does in Cameroon … Making movies or series that play well overseas depends to a certain extent on quality, of course … But for a show like Stranger Things—which is an Emmy-nominated and critically-praised show in the US—to succeed abroad, Netflix has to translate its genius to as many markets as possible. Literally.”

“That means the creation of a Key Names and Phrases tool, a sprawling spreadsheet in which teams of freelancers and vendors input translations in the name of consistency. Does the show include a fictional location? A catchphrase? A sci-fi item that has no real-world corollary? All those things go in the KNP, allowing Netflix to know how they read in Greek, Spanish, Swedish, Vietnamese, and so on … That focus on consistency goes beyond the words themselves to the voice actors saying them. Netflix says it looks for people who sound like the original cast but also, as Sheehan puts it, ’embody the spirit of the character and tone.'”

“Netflix’s global accommodations go beyond subtitles and dubs, of course. The company has advanced efforts in recent years to make its service more usable in emerging markets, countries where bandwidth may be limited or unreliable … The result? A show that went viral first in Canada, and gradually spread to find enthusiasts around the world. In one month, Netflix users in 190 countries watched Stranger Things, and viewers in 70 of those nations became devoted fans. A handful of people tuned in from Bhutan, and from Chad. In a first for the streaming service, someone watched Season 1 in Antarctica.”

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Slow & Low: How Netflix Raises Prices

Quartz: “When Netflix raised rates this month, it increased the price of its most popular plan in the US by $1 and its premium package by $2. The hike hit new signups first and is still rolling out to existing users—a strategy Netflix uses to give people time to adjust. The company, shrewdly, did not touch the basic plan—its cheapest offering at $7.99 a month—so that folks on tighter budgets could still afford the service … The key, for Netflix’s management, was learning to raise prices without spooking subscribers—by doing so in small and infrequent doses.”

“Netflix has been careful not to raise rates too quickly in markets where it’s still building out its library and launching originals geared toward local audiences. It needs to become a service its customers can’t live without, before they rethink its value … Some analysts expect and welcome another modest price lift in the US next year to cover the rising cost of Netflix’s content. An extra dollar here and there, if Netflix continues to add new ‘must-watch’ series and movies all the time, shouldn’t dent its base too badly.”

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