Small Bore: Is Apple Thinking ‘Different’ Enough?

“Apple’s view increasingly feels like an outdated way of thinking about tech. Many of its competitors have been moving beyond devices toward experiences that transcend them,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. These new technologies exist not on distinct pieces of hardware, but above and within them … it’s hard to tell if Apple is thinking big enough.”

“Apple still seems to view online services as add-ons to its devices — not as products or platforms that rise above them.” For example: “Siri, as Apple is positioning it, is becoming a better app launcher for your phone … But it’s not clear that it’s becoming a truly intelligent assistant.”

“One problem is that the new Siri will not integrate with all kinds of apps … It’s hard to shake the suspicion that Apple is using Siri to give its own apps a leg up … Another problem is that Siri is still hopelessly tied to each Apple device … If Siri is an intelligent assistant, why … can’t she call Uber from the cloud, regardless of which device you happen to be using?”

“Google, Amazon and several start-ups seem to be rushing headlong to build such a system. But … I’m not sure Apple is,” Manjoo writes. “It’s taking a more moderate app-based, device-centric path. Many of its voice features will be fine — useful, even. But it sure isn’t pushing for a revolution.”


Big Beer: Off With Their Heads!

Bob Pease, writing in The New York Times: “Today there are more breweries in this country than at any time in history — some 4,300, with scores coming online every year … But state laws usually don’t allow brewers to sell their products themselves; instead they have to use distributors, which hold enormous sway over which beers end up at which bars, restaurants and stores.”

“The problem is that, along with being the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev is also the biggest beer distributor in the United States. And in several states, the law allows the company to distribute its own beer — and most markets have only one or two distributors. The company has also recently increased its control over the beer-distribution industry by purchasing five independent distributors.”

“Since its merger with SABMiller was announced, the company has bought several well-regarded craft brewers around the country … The enlarged Anheuser-Busch InBev … will have even more power to strong-arm independent distributors not to carry rival brands and exert pressure on retailers to cut back on, or even refuse to carry, competitive brands. And it will have more resources to buy up smaller breweries as they start to feel squeezed out of the marketplace.”

“Recent reports say that antitrust authorities are likely to approve the deal by the end of the month. If they do so without adequate protections, the merger could stifle consumer choice and choke off America’s beer renaissance.”


Innovation Lanes: Delta Tackles TSA Bottlenecks

Fast Company: “The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimates that wait times at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York have increased 80% since last year. While everyone points fingers, Delta aims to fix the problem with its ‘Innovation Lanes’ experiment.”

“The airline touts it as a ‘parallel process’ in which people and their baggage are moving separately though security. So instead of waiting in a single line for all the people in front of you to pass through baggage and body screening before your turn, you’re able to go at your own (likely faster) pace. You load your carry-on luggage and shoes into a bin, then push it forward onto a conveyor belt and proceed through body-screening along with your belongings. What’s more, empty bins are routed to the front of the line via a conveyor belt, which means staff don’t have to cart bins around.”

“Security lines are one of the biggest headaches about air travel, and since it’s one of the initial parts of a journey, it can set the tone for a passenger’s entire experience. Fixing this could make an airline more competitive, and, per passenger, it’s likely cheaper—and more meaningful to passengers—than giving out extra snacks or a paltry couple of inches of leg room.”


Polaroid Story: The Camera Does The Rest

The Wall Street Journal: As described in The Camera Does The Rest, by Peter Buse: “There aren’t many 3-year-olds who can take credit for inspiring a revolution in the way millions of people view the world … it was engineer Edwin Land’s daughter, Jennifer, who asked one evening in 1943 why it took so long to view the photographs that the family had shot while on vacation … Land set out on a walk to ponder that question and, so the story goes, returned six hours later with an answer that would transform the hidebound practice of photography: the instant snapshot.”

The first Polaroid camera was introduced in 1948: “People loved watching the image emerge on paper—even in bright sunlight. Users of the early cameras waved the picture in the air believing that it would develop faster (it didn’t). Taking a photograph was suddenly fun in itself. You could view the good times while the good times were still going on … ‘One minute’ pictures owed nothing to the past; they celebrated the present.”

“The party might have gone on forever had it not been for … the digital revolution … The corpse of Edwin Land’s company was not yet cold when a wave of nostalgia for the Polaroid look swept over the digital-photo community. Today there are several apps that will duplicate the 70-year-old Polaroid appearance—white borders and all—including one app called ShakeIt Photo. The shooter snaps a photo with a smartphone, then shakes the phone to hasten development of the ‘film.’ And in an instant, like magic, the picture appears.”


Crowdsourced Insights: The New Focus Group

“Crowdsourcing is fast, cheap and scruffy, especially when you need to move quickly,” says Lee Mayer in The New York Times. Chris Hickens of UserTesting, which uses crowdsourcing to get at consumer insights comments: “Crowdsourcing has replaced focus groups. It’s faster and a lot cheaper. Innovation is going so fast that we need faster answers.”

“Josh Gustin, co-founder of the online men’s wear store Gustin in San Francisco, put his own twist on crowdsourcing. He was searching for a better way to sell his handmade wares, which include jeans from denim woven on vintage shuttle looms … The company’s new approach is simple, yet deeply cost-effective. A garment is designed and then posted on the site. If 100 people order it, for example, it goes into production. The result: zero inventory and zero waste.”

Gustin comments: “We suffered through the old retail model and the capital requirements. You can never guess right.” The efficiency realized via crowdsourced insights also enables him to “offer jeans once priced at more than $205 for $81, and a $200 Japanese cotton button-down shirt for $69.”


Artists, Incorporated: The New Creative Class

The New Yorker: “‘Creative’ sits right above ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’ in the glossary of terms that have been co-opted by corporate America and retooled to signify an increasingly nebulous set of qualities. Consultants are now creative consultants; advertising agencies are now creative agencies. ‘Creative’ was among the top ten most used words in LinkedIn profiles last year, and, these days, ‘creative’ is a noun that can be used for anyone in the workforce who doesn’t engage in doctoring, lawyering, writing code, or doing hard labor.”

“Affixing the word ‘creative’ to something is the quickest way to make it sound virtuous, and creativity has almost become a moral imperative. And yet today the ‘creative class’ no longer calls to mind a generation of struggling artists, but a group of college graduates with soft skills and Internet-based jobs they have difficulty explaining to their parents.”


The Rolling Stones, Incorporated

“For the past 50-plus years,” The Rolling Stones have “been among the most dynamic, profitable and durable corporations in the world.” Writing in The New York Times, Rich Cohen, author of The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones, says they have used “strategies that any CEO or entrepreneur should keep in mind while playing the long game.” Among them: “Choose the right name. The band was originally called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys … Know what the market wants from you. Rather than trying to become new Beatles, as many other bands did, the Stones became their opposite.”

“Beg, borrow, steal. At a time when the British pop charts were filled with bubble gum, Brian, Keith and Mick Jagger turned to Chicago blues. Cut the anchor before it drags you down. The Stones were the creation of Brian Jones … But by the late 1960s, Jones was in trouble … He didn’t turn up for sessions, vanished on the road … Mick, Keith and Charlie Watts drove to Brian’s country home and fired him.”

“Never stop reinventing. The Stones have gone through at least five stylistic iterations: cover band, ’60s pop, ’60s acid, ’70s groove, ’80s New Wave. At some point, they lost that elasticity and ability to reinvent—they got old—but the fact that they did it so well for so long explains their inexhaustible relevance.”


John Irving: A Study in Grit vs. Ability

The Wall Street Journal: “Most people would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith … But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer? Angela Duckworth (author of Grit) argues that the answer is ‘grit,’ which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal.”

“Though verbal fluency did not come easily to (John Irving) as a young man, what he lacked in aptitude he made up for in effort. In school, if his peers allotted one hour to an assignment, he devoted two or three. As a writer, he works very slowly, constantly revising drafts of his novels. ‘In doing something over and over again,’ he has said, ‘something that was never natural becomes almost second nature’.”

“It’s a similar story among the other groups that Ms. Duckworth writes about … including spelling-bee champions and sales associates: Grit predicts their success more robustly than innate ability. And there is no positive correlation between ability and grit. A study of Ivy League undergraduates even showed that the smarter the students were, as measured by SAT scores, the less gritty they were … To be gritty, an individual doesn’t need to have an obsessive infatuation with a goal. Rather, he needs to show ‘consistency over time. The grittiest people have developed long-term goals and are constantly working toward them. ‘Enthusiasm is common,’ she writes. ‘Endurance is rare’.”