Is Alcohol a Creative Juicer?

Pacific Standard: “A new study “reports that, while moderate inebriation doesn’t boost your ability to generate innovative ideas, it can help you avoid one major barrier to creative breakthroughs: getting stuck in a mental rut … The study featured 70 young adults between the ages of 19 and 32. They began the experiment by taking one test measuring executive function, and two measuring creative potential: the Remote Associates Test, and the Alternative Uses Task.”

“For the first, they were presented with three unrelated words (such as cottage, blue, and cake) and asked to come up with a fourth word “that provides an unexpected connection between them” (such as cheese). They tried their hand at 10 such sets of words. For the second test, they were given two and a half minutes to come up with creative uses for specific common objects, such as an umbrella or shoe … The key result: Solution rates on the Remote Associates Test were higher among those who had been drinking. There were no significant differences on the Alternative Uses Task.”

“The researchers offer one likely explanation for the divergent results. They note that, in creative problem solving, ‘initial solution attempts (often) get on the wrong track.’ Unable to see or acknowledge that we’ve gotten off course, we often get stuck at this point, fixated on making our initial idea work rather than searching in more productive places. ‘Alcohol may reduce fixation effects by loosening the focus of attention,’ Benedek and his colleagues write.”

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Surprise #2: Microsoft is Leading PC Innovation

Farhad Manjoo: Microsoft “is making the most visionary computers in the industry, if not the best machines, period. In the last two years, while Apple has focused mainly on mobile devices, Microsoft has put out a series of computers that reimagine the future of PCs in thrilling ways … perhaps because it’s way behind Apple, Microsoft’s hardware division is creating products more daring than much of what has been coming out of its rival lately.”

“Under Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Surface chief, the company has given its designers and engineers license to rethink the future of PCs in grand ways — to sit in an empty room, dream big things, and turn those visions into reality … The mind-set has resulted in several shining ideas. For Surface Studio, Microsoft built a brilliant companion device called Surface Dial — a palm-size knob that sits on your drafting-table screen, creating a tactile interface with which to control your computer.”

You can use Dial for basic things like turning up the volume. But in the hands of a designer, it becomes a lovely tool; you can scrub through edits in a video or change your pen color in Photoshop with a turn of the wheel … Dial is one of those interface breakthroughs that we might have once looked to Apple for. Now, it’s Microsoft that’s pushing new modes of computing … it’s unlikely that Microsoft’s PC hardware business will beat Apple’s anytime soon. But anyone who cares about the future of the PC should be thrilled that Apple now faces a serious and creative competitor.”

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Tea House: How ‘Pure Leaf’ Tells Its Story

The Wall Street Journal: At the Pure Leaf Tea House, fans of the beverage can enjoy it in various ways. The emporium, which opened in New York’s SoHo neighborhood in late June, offers everything from iced chai to a Japanese-style hot ‘popcorn’ tea … the airy, 3,000-square-foot space essentially is a promotional vehicle for Pure Leaf itself, a tea brand created in partnership by PepsiCo and Unilever.”

“Brands say they are going the open-your-own-store route as a way to tell their stories—rather than relying on other retailers to do it for them. ‘You can’t do this in the grocery’ store, said Pure Leaf senior marketing director Laraine Miller, speaking of the tea house’s elaborate setup. The shop incorporates museum-style installations featuring the history and uses of tea. Company-branded stores also afford the opportunity to test-market new products and showcase tried-and-true favorites in unusual ways.”

“Retail experts say the approach can pay off in terms of creating buzz for a brand, especially given New York’s reputation as a taste-making city. And the stores can become profitable, providing a brand with another income stream.” Ms. Miller says: “In terms of return on investment, that’s not how we’re measuring it.”

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The Magic Question: How Might We?

Quartz: “IDEO has developed a brainstorming strategy that relies on three simple words: the phrase ‘How might we’ …. How might we make our teams more engaged? How might we foster deeper relationships between employees? How might we inspire more frequent knowledge-sharing? The same approach is popular at Google and Facebook, according to the Harvard Business Review.”

“While the phrase ‘How might we’ seems pretty basic, each word is intended to serve a specific purpose. ‘How’ asks employees to be descriptive, ‘might’ suggests there are good answers, but not a single correct answer, and ‘we’ evokes inclusivity and teamwork, says Duane Bray, IDEO’s global head of talent.” In particular: “The word ‘might’ encourages people to enter into discussions with a sense of optimism, pushing them to see the possibilities in any challenge.”

“The phrase ‘how might we’ signals that risky or outlandish ideas are welcome. And it’s far easier to reign in crazy ideas than to make cautious, mediocre ideas more interesting … Lastly, IDEO has a strategy to ensure that people at all levels of a company are empowered to contribute to the conversation. After an HMW question is asked, the firm asks participants to spend a few minutes jotting down their thoughts on a Post-it note. This empowers the discussion leaders to call on anyone in the room, rather than relying on the boss to speak first and set the course of the conversation for the rest of the session.”

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Hamburger Helpless: Packaged Goods Plight

The Wall Street Journal: “The plight of the packaged-goods companies is a classic business tale. An industry creates winning products, carves out strong market positions and enjoys reliable, sustained revenue—only to be too slow to adapt to changes that threaten those cash cows … Many big brands didn’t move fast enough to remove artificial ingredients and haven’t been able to shed the negative perception of processed food, said several food executives and others close to the industry.”

Meanwhile: “The web and social media gave smaller food companies a direct path to consumers’ hearts, minds and stomachs. They gained traction through blogs and Facebook with little marketing spending, selling food online via Amazon.com Inc. or their own websites long before they would have been able to get it in stores … Big brands can no longer control perceptions about food with television advertisements and shelf placement.”

“Kellogg Co., General Mills and others have directly invested in food startups through venture-capital funds that they say will give them insight as to how to respond better to evolving trends.”

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Deep Thinking: ‘Artificial’ Trumps ‘Intelligence’

LARB: From a review of Deep Thinking, by Garry Kasparov, the chess champion defeated by Deep Blue, a machine, in 1997: “The history of computer chess is the history of artificial intelligence. After their disappointments in trying to reverse-engineer the brain, computer scientists narrowed their sights. Abandoning their pursuit of human-like intelligence, they began to concentrate on accomplishing sophisticated, but limited, analytical tasks by capitalizing on the inhuman speed of the modern computer’s calculations.”

“This less ambitious but more pragmatic approach has paid off in areas ranging from medical diagnosis to self-driving cars. Computers are replicating the results of human thought without replicating thought itself. If in the 1950s and 1960s the emphasis in the phrase ‘artificial intelligence’ fell heavily on the word ‘intelligence,’ today it falls with even greater weight on the word ‘artificial’ … If a machine can search billions of options in a matter of milliseconds, ranking each according to how well it fulfills some specified goal, then it can outperform experts in a lot of problem-solving tasks without having to match their experience or insight.”

Also: “A bit of all-too-human deviousness was also involved in Deep Blue’s win. IBM’s coders, it was later revealed, programmed the computer to display erratic behavior — delaying certain moves, for instance, and rushing others — in an attempt to unsettle Kasparov. Computers may be innocents, but that doesn’t mean their programmers are.”

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Machine Platform Crowd: The Future Today

The Wall Street Journal: Machine Platform Crowd, a new book by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, “is a book for managers whose companies sit well back from the edge and who would like a digestible introduction to technology trends that may not have reached their doorstep—yet … In the authors’ terminology, ‘Machine’ is shorthand for computers running software that, with new AI techniques called ‘deep learning,’ essentially teaches itself how to make judgments superior to those of humans. ‘Machine’ also encompasses the disappearance of employees in the services sector, leaving only the customer, robots and software—what the authors refer to as ‘virtualization.'”

“‘Platform’ refers to digital environments that bring economic actors together, exploiting free, or nearly free, online access, reproduction and distribution. Uber and Airbnb are examples of new platforms. ‘Crowd’ refers to information resources created by the uncredentialed, the nonexpert and, with rare exceptions, the unpaid. Wikipedia and the Linux operating system comprise the two most impressive achievements of the crowd.”

​”Messrs. McAfee and Brynjolfsson argue that, in the latest phase of the second machine age, incumbent businesses will be pushed aside if they fail to understand how new machines and software, platforms, and the crowd enlarge the scope of digital technologies—just as manufacturers that had appeared and thrived in the first phase of the first machine age were displaced when electricity supplanted steam power in the early 20th century.”

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Instagram Oreos: The New Flavorites

The New York Times: “Oreo makes a lot of cookies — 40 billion of them in 18 countries each year — enough to make it the world’s best-selling cookie. Most of them are the familiar sandwich that’s over 100 years old: white cream nestled between two chocolate wafers. But the company has increasingly been experimenting with limited-edition flavors that seemed designed as much for an Instagram feed as they are to be eaten.”

“This year, the company released limited-edition flavors like Jelly Donut, Mississippi Mud Pie and Firework. They joined a packed shelf that has recently included flavors like Cookie Dough, Birthday Cake, Mint, S’Mores and Red Velvet, which proved so popular as a limited edition that the company upgraded it to everyday flavor status.”

“The company is using the hashtag #MyOreoCreation to collect suggested flavors. The top flavors, as determined by Oreo, will be produced and available nationwide next year for the public to vote on. And here’s where things get, comparatively, weird. Some contenders so far have included English Breakfast Tea (it tastes like tea), Peach Melba (has the flavor of a gummi peach), Mermaid (a sort of lime cream), and at least three doughnut-adjacent flavors to complement the Jelly Donut already in mass production … (The winning flavor may return for a limited-edition run or even as a permanent flavor, but that will be up to Oreo to decide.)”

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Function of Beauty: Algorithmic Shampoo

Business Insider: Function of Beauty “lets you create custom shampoos and conditioners based on your hair type and goals.” Zahir Dossa came up with the idea while developing his dissertation at MIT. He explains: “I saw that was the most bloated [industry] was beauty, and more interestingly, the value chain for beauty hadn’t really changed over the last 100 years. There were all these middlemen in the way.”

“Dossa decided to build a direct-to-consumer company that focused specifically on hair care. Shampoos and conditioners were the most varied because of different hair types and hair goals… Function of Beauty can create 12 billion different combinations of ingredients … You start by taking a quiz on Function of Beauty’s website about your hair … You’ll answer questions about your hair type, hair structure, and scalp moisture. Next, you’ll select five ‘hair goals’ … Then, you’ll pick which color and scent you’d like the shampoo and conditioner to be, along with the fragrance strength. After that, Function of Beauty will build your custom formula using its algorithm.”

“Once the set is delivered to a customer, they can test it out. If it doesn’t work for their hair, they can send it back and a new formula will be created, free of charge. Function of Beauty also has a subscription service, so you can have new products delivered without having to manually reorder or shop in a store.”

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Open & Closed: The Key to Apple’s Success

The Wall Street Journal: “There are intriguing parallels with the development of the iPod music player in 2001 and the Macintosh personal computer in the early 1980s. None of Apple’s three signature products (Mac, iPod, iPhone) was exactly original, but each represented a quantum jump over existing products. And each flirted with failure at first, mainly thanks to (Steve) Jobs’s penchant for closed systems.”

“When Jobs introduced the Mac in 1984, it was incompatible with other computers and ran hardly any software; after his dismissal in 1985, Apple veered in the other direction, licensing it to clone-makers in a move that proved disastrous. The iPod struggled for years before Jobs’s executives persuaded him to make it compatible with Windows computers. The iPhone didn’t take off until he finally agreed to open its app store to outside developers—to people like Dong Nguyen, whose Flappy Bird game proved so addictive that he succumbed to guilt pangs and pulled it.”

“Each of Apple’s three inventions became successful only after the company struck a balance between open and closed—between accommodating a wide range of people and keeping them in a carefully controlled environment.”

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