Ikea’s Culture of Trust

Fortune: Ikea, “with $5 billion in U.S. sales (and some $36 billion globally), has become a living laboratory of what happens when you put a Swedish spin on notions like egalitarianism and work-life balance in an American workplace. At the most basic level, the company’s Scandinavian ideals have brought generous policies on wages and benefits compared with the rest of Ikea’s retail cohort.”

“Last year it began basing its pay on the MIT Living Wage Calculator, with hourly employees receiving an average of $15.45 an hour; meanwhile, the lowest starting pay is now set at $11.87—or nearly five bucks above the federal minimum wage. Part-timers are offered health benefits after just 20 hours of work per week.”

“Ikea culture discourages workaholics—much like its home country. After a year on the job, full-time employees receive an essentially unheard-of 24 days of paid time off and five sick days—and the company has an aversion to anybody working long hours.”

Leaving work behind for a monthlong vacation requires a deep faith in your co-workers that they can do the job without you. Ikea U.S. president, Lars Petersson: “We actually work with trust rather than control. That’s rooted in simplicity and our leveling of society in Sweden.”

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Connie: Hilton’s Concierge Robot

“Concierge is getting a robotic makeover at one Hilton Hotels location,” reports The Christian Science Monitor. “The McLean, Va., Hilton is the site of a pilot program featuring a robot concierge. The new hire stands in at two-and-a-half feet tall and has been placed on the desk beside human reception staff. More than just a shiny piece of equipment, the robot’s brain is packed with artificial intelligence.”

“Connie, named after Hilton founder Conrad Hilton, is a partnership between Hilton Worldwide and IBM. The brains behind the robot are IBM’s artificial intelligence program Watson and another partner program called WayBlazer, imbuing the new concierge with enough AI to carry on conversations with guests and answer questions about the local area.”

“Connie’s body, though small, is also designed to help it serve. The body is based on the Nao robot designed by Aldebaran, with fully functional arms and legs and eyes that change to express humanlike emotions … Is the future of Hilton concierge robotic? Definitely not, according to Jim Holthouser, Hilton vice president of global brands.”

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Quitting Email for Health & Success

Fast Company: “How badly would your career crumble if you simply quit email for a week? If the results of one experiment are any indication, the answer is not at all.” In the experiment, by Stephen Voida of the University of Colorado at Boulder, subjects were cut off from reading or sending new emails … several positive changes surfaced. First, the email quitters got out of their chairs a lot more, particularly the managers. When they needed to communicate with colleagues, they preferred face-to-face conversations over phone calls.”

“Second, with email out of the picture, people task-switched less and focused on one thing at a time more. Some studies suggest that so-called deep work, or focusing on hard tasks without interruption, strengthens the skills that ultimately help people get promoted. Third, ‘there was a measurable reduction in stress,’ Voida says … After a week of no email comes the most dreaded part: digging out the inbox … subjects, however, were ‘pleasantly surprised’ that it was faster and more efficient to batch-process emails after the fact than deal with them on an ongoing basis.”

“Not checking email for a day or even a few hours to get the most important tasks done could be better for your career, your productivity, and even your health.”

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Ryanair & The Value of Being Nicer

The Wall Street Journal: Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary “once defended Ryanair’s €70 (about $75) penalty fee for passengers who show up at the airport without a boarding pass, saying they were “being so stupid.” … He has in the past proposed a standing-room only cabin and a charge of one British pound (about $1.41) for using the in-flight toilet … The no-frills model, once novel but now widely mimicked, turned the 32-year-old Ryanair into Europe’s second-biggest airline by passengers flown.”

“In 2013, a price war with full-service carriers and upstart budget airlines alike threatened that success … To win back customers, Mr. O’Leary relaxed onerous hand-luggage restrictions and redesigned Ryanair’s cumbersome website. It cut fees and told staff to be less confrontational. The airline also made headlines by dropping its trademark bugle call, which it blasted through cabins each time a flight arrived on time. The practice, amusing at first, had started to annoy passengers.”

“’Standing room only and charging for toilets was a great PR wheeze when we were young, dumb and growing rapidly,’ Mr. O’Leary said in an interview. But after rivals started painting the moves as cheap and nasty, ‘the laddish noise was displacing the great fares, brilliant punctuality and new aircraft,’ he said. ‘If I had only known that being nicer to our customers was good for business I would have done it years ago,’ Mr. O’Leary says.”

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Is Binge Watching Breaking Bad for You?

“Binge-watching TV shows is trouncing our mental health,” reports Vice. “That’s according to a new University of Toledo study, anyway, which found that, of 408 participants, 35 percent qualified as binge-watchers, and those binge-watchers reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than their non-binge-watching counterparts. The study found 77 percent of participants watched TV for two hours or more without a break on an average day, with anyone doing more than that … classified as binge-watching.”

“‘Binge-watching is a growing public health concern that needs to be addressed,’ said the scientists who headed up the study. But so can just watching TV in general. A long-term American Journal of Epidemiology study in 2011 found that watching TV for more than three hours a day put women at 13 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with depression. So can winter weather, or summer weather, or smoking, or sleeping too much, or not sleeping enough. So can, according to about a billion studies from 2010 onwards, too much Facebook.”

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Coloring Books Color Retailers Surprised

The Washington Post: “Coloring books for adults — a genre once considered little more than a novelty — are suddenly a big business, a bright spot in the financial results of publishers and retailers alike. Nielsen Bookscan estimates that some 12 million were sold in 2015, a dramatic jump from the 1 million sold the previous year. The books have “attracted legions of enthusiasts who are looking to de-stress, who see scrawling away at an image of a tree or an animal as a low-key, low-stakes way to channel imagination or to keep their hands busy while they let their minds wander.”

However: “While many find the act of coloring to be a calming distraction from hours spent tapping, swiping and staring at screens, some early adopters aren’t exactly hooked. ‘Most of the pages are full of pictures that are so small I can hardly see the details to color them, which causes more stress than if I hadn’t tried to color in the first place,’ wrote one reviewer of a popular coloring book on Amazon.”

“It’s not clear whether the rise of adult coloring books has come at the expense of sales in other categories, but the impact of the craze can be seen in various corners of the retail industry: Barnes & Noble has said that strong demand for adult coloring books and artist supplies provided a tail wind to the chain’s total sales in the last three quarters. Walmart, meanwhile, moved in November to add a dedicated four-foot section for adult coloring books in 2,000 of its stores. And Target started carrying adult coloring books in 1,300 stores in August and within months rolled them out to the rest of the chain.”

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Storytelling & The Haagen Dazs Effect

Quartz: Many global brands of the last decade have taken names of false provenance and enjoyed great success thanks to a paradigm hereby dubbed, “The Häagen-Dazs Effect.” … Häagen-Dazs ice cream, meant to sound Danish, was born in the Bronx. But the name tells a tale, from that umlaut to the silent “s” on the end, of premium, European origins. And when consumers reach for a pint, they sense the true value this faux identity adds.

“The Häagen-Dazs Effect makes an impact as well in these four notable brand names with made-up or embellished heritage and powerful identities: Sir Kensington’s makes high-end condiments and tells “the tongue-in-cheek ‘saga’ of an Oxford-educated gent who developed the original spiced ketchup recipe for Catherine the Great of Russia.” St. Germain, an elderflower spirit made in the USA, is named for the Saint-Germain-sur-Rhône region of the French Alps, where the stuff was first made.”

Warby Parker “took its name from Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker, two characters from one of Jack Kerouac’s journals … Brandy Melville was created by merchandising veteran Silvio Marsan and his son Stefan in Italy … Purportedly, the name is based on an imagined American girl (Brandy) who falls in love with an Englishman (Melville) in Rome … Ultimately, we’re talking here about the critical importance of a name that succinctly tells a compelling brand story­–whether that story is imagined or not, it must be told with richness and believability. These brands are a few to do so, making the Häagen-Dazs Effect, when done right­, a tactical tool for naming success.”

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Echo: Amazon’s Next Billion Dollar Baby?

“A bit more than a year after its release, Amazon’s Echo has morphed from a gimmicky experiment into a device that brims with profound possibility,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Here is a small, stationary machine that you set somewhere in your house, which you address as Alexa, which performs a variety of tasks — playing music, reading the news and weather, keeping a shopping list — that you can already do on your phone.”

“But the Echo has a way of sneaking into your routines. When Alexa reorders popcorn for you, or calls an Uber car for you, when your children start asking Alexa to add Popsicles to the grocery list, you start to want pretty much everything else in life to be Alexa-enabled, too. In this way, Amazon has found a surreptitious way to bypass Apple and Google — the reigning monarchs in the smartphone world — with a gadget that has the potential to become a dominant force in the most intimate of environments: our homes.”

“Many in the industry have long looked to the smartphone as the remote control for your world. But the phone has limitations. A lot of times fiddling with a screen is just too much work. By perfecting an interface that is much better suited to home use — the determined yell! — Amazon seems on the verge of building something like Iron Man’s Jarvis, the artificial-intelligence brain at the center of all your household activities.”

“Scot Wingo, the chairman of ChannelAdvisor, an e-commerce consulting firm, said the early signs suggested that the Echo was on a path to become Amazon’s next $1 billion business.”

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Burger King Re-Discovers its Inner Whopper

The Wall Street Journal: “Following unsuccessful efforts to appeal to a broader, more health-conscious customer base with salads, snack wraps, smoothies and low-calorie french fries, Burger King has returned to its roots as a purveyor of inexpensive burgers, fries and, now, hot dogs.”

“The bloated menu complicated kitchen operations and failed to attract customers as hoped. In 2010, Burger King launched more than 30 limited-time offers and 20 permanent menu items. By comparison, it launched 20 limited-time offers last year and no permanent menu items.” Burger King President Alex Macedo: “In a moment when a lot of brands in quick service are trying to become more fast-casual, we’re taking an opposite view.”

“David Harper, a franchisee who operates 72 Burger Kings in several states, said the chain has learned not to repeat its biggest mistake: copying rivals. ‘We know who we are now,’ he said … The changes are showing results. Burger King’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization grew 68% between 2010 and 2015 … Same-store sales at U.S. and Canadian restaurants grew 5.7% last year, better than most big rivals.”

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For Whom The Cash Registers

“High-end stores hide registers to force contact with salespeople, eliminate lines and add fancy sheen,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Stores aim to make the experience of paying more elegant, akin to private shopping, and to eliminate a pain point that keeps some shoppers from completing a purchase—having to wait in a visible line. Hiding the cash register also forces shoppers to interact with the salespeople and might even encourage them to buy more.”

Dexter Peart of luxury label Want Les Essentiels: “We’re downplaying that last transactional part of the experience. … We want the human interaction as one of the last touch points … This time also gives our sales associates an opportunity to get to know the people shopping in our stores a lot better.”

“Stores say customers’ expectations have risen with the success and ease of online shopping, making waiting in line seem unenlightened … But making cash registers discreet and encouraging customers to work through sales associates instead could make some shoppers uncomfortable. The unfamiliar protocol may feel strange at first.” Barneys maintains “a few visible cash registers in the downtown store in case a customer feels more comfortable paying the traditional way.”

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