Tag » interesting

The corporate culture at Netflix

This presentation about the corporate culture at Netflix is full of interesting ideas:

Speaking of Netflix, my friend Noah points us at an article that explains how Netflix delivers DVDs.

Healthcare costs

Atul Gawande has a fascinating article in the New Yorker about healthcare costs:

This is a disturbing and perhaps surprising diagnosis. Americans like to believe that, with most things, more is better. But research suggests that where medicine is concerned it may actually be worse. For example, Rochester, Minnesota, where the Mayo Clinic dominates the scene, has fantastically high levels of technological capability and quality, but its Medicare spending is in the lowest fifteen per cent of the country—$6,688 per enrollee in 2006, which is eight thousand dollars less than the figure for McAllen.

Turns out Obama read it too, so there’s hope yet for healthcare reform in this country.  The article gets bonus points for lots of mentions of my alma mater, Dartmouth College.

Have you heard of the Dabbawalas?

Mumbai Dabbawala or Tiffin Wallahs: 200,000 Ti...
Image by babasteve via Flickr

I’ve been meaning to post this fascinating article from the Economist about Dabbawalas:

Using an elaborate system of colour-coded boxes to convey over 170,000 meals to their destinations each day, the 5,000-strong dabbawala collective has built up an extraordinary reputation for the speed and accuracy of its deliveries.

According to the Wikipedia article, Dabbawala literally means “box person”, and they combine smart technology with a super flat hierarchy:

Although the service remains essentially low-tech, with the barefoot delivery men as the prime movers, the dabbawalas have started to embrace modern information technology, and now allow booking for delivery through SMS. A web site, mydabbawala.com, has also been added to allow for on-line booking, in order to keep up with the times. An on-line poll on the web site ensures that customer feedback is given pride of place. The success of the system depends on teamwork and time management that would be the envy of a modern manager. Such is the dedication and commitment of the barely literate and barefoot delivery men (there are only a few delivery women) who form links in the extensive delivery chain, that there is no system of documentation at all. A simple colour coding system doubles as an ID system for the destination and recipient. There are no multiple elaborate layers of management either — just three layers. Each dabbawala is also required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of two bicycles, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and the white trademark Gandhi topi (cap). The return on capital is ensured by monthly division of the earnings of each unit.

Feedback loops

Feedback loops

Wired magazine has an interesting article about using Ambient Orbs to help people conserve energy:

Martinez realized he could use Orbs to signal changes in electrical rates, programming them to glow green when the grid was underused — and, thus, electricity cheaper — and red during peak hours when customers were paying more for power.

The result? Peak period use was reduced by 40%. It’s amazing how much easier it is for people to change their behavior if you make them aware of it.

We implemented some simple feedback loops in Google Reader in the form of the trends feature, which lets users track their data consumption and see which feeds they should unsubscribe from.

Cluttered by design

Cluttered by design

An interesting WSJ article on retail in India:

Mr. Biyani doesn’t allow haggling, but having damaged as well as good quality produce in the same box gives customers a chance to choose and think they are getting a better deal.

A matter of context

A matter of context

A few months ago, the Washington Post organized a little experiment in the subway: they had violin prodigy Joshua Bell play incognito for 45 minutes. Along with a detailed account of the event, the article offers some great analysis of why we like art and the importance of context.

This article provoked a real storm of posts on the blogosphere, so I expect many of you will already have read it. However, I wanted to highlight a few posts that I found particularly interesting:

  • An actual subway musician explains that, while Bell is a great musician, he’s not very good at being a subway musician.
    when you play on the street you can’t approach it as if you are playing on a stage. Busking is an art form of its own.

  • Frog Design makes the broader point from a design perspective that Context is King:

    No matter how good your idea is and no matter how well you execute on it, if you get the context wrong you will miss your audience entirely.

  • and Diego Rodriguez offers some refreshing thoughts on the virtues of thinking like a child.
  • This sense of “beginner’s mind” or “mind of the child” is a pillar of design thinking. It’s the ability to see things afresh. To see deeply and to sense the truth and the beauty.

  • The author Gene Weingarten also published some responses to emails he received — don’t bother reading them all, but definitely check out the first few.

A little meta-comment here: some of you may have noticed these longer “link summary” posts. It’s a new format I’m experimenting with: rather than try to post everything as soon as possible (which I’ve clearly given up on), I’ll occasionally accumulate a few articles on a given topic and tie them together in one post. This not only fits my posting habits better, but hopefully makes for more interesting content than just links. Let me know what you think!

Danny Meyer

Danny Meyer

Continuing our recap of the GEL conference:

Danny Meyer, the entrepreneur behind the Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern among others, gave a talk about hospitality in the restaurant business. He talked about how quality and service were no longer enough, but that employees needed to have high HQ, or hospitality quotient (yeah it’s gimmicky, but it’s memorable). Danny claims that you can’t learn this, but you can learn to hire the right people. I’m not sure I agree with this, but I like his broader point about making the customer trust that you are on their side.

After a recommendation by Kottke, I got a burger at the Shake Shack, another Danny Meyer project. Interestingly, the excessively long line actually contributes to the experience: standing around for more than an hour heightens your hunger to the breaking point, but when the food lives up to expectations, the wait endured only makes it taste better — it was worth it! (Of course, I ran into some newfound GEL friends in line, so I didn’t have to wait quite so long, but let’s ignore that…)

[photo by Bonimo]

Erin McKean

Erin McKean

Erin McKean, a lexicographer for the OED, ran a workshop on the first day about how to create new words. I attended this and learnt about how English shamelessly borrows words from other cultures, how new words are created through various Frankensteinian operations, and how new words are added to the OED. Erin is exactly the kind of person you’d like to be in charge of your language: not a literature scholar, but a true word geek, gladly embracing new words and repeatedly quoting the Simpsons (cromulent anyone?).

More importantly, I won third place in the word creation contest. “Mispronoonce” is a variation of mispronounce to be used after a particularly embarassing mispronunciation. It can only be used in the first person, as in “oh god, I mispronoonced that…”. You can read more about the contest on Erin’s blog, and here is a video of a talk she gave at Pop!Tech.

[picture by Neil Hunt]

Frog’s Leap Winery

Frog’s Leap Winery

John Williams is the founder of Frog’s Leap Winery, in Napa Valley. John told us the amazing tale of his winery, from his arrival in California with $40 in his pocket to his early embrace of organic winemaking. Among other things, he grows his grapes without chemicals and gets all his electricity from solar panels on his house.

John’s talk was full of great anecdotes (“all decisions made sober have to be revisited over a bottle of wine”), but was also an interesting account of how to build a unique business. Authenticity is an overused term, but John’s was the most genuine, honest talk I’ve seen in a while. I’ll most definitely be stopping by Frog’s Leap this summer and buying a case.

Kodak to disrupt printer industry?

Here’s a bold move from Kodak: they’re launching a printer with cheap ink cartridges. Just like the razor industry, the printer industry is based on the lucrative scheme of selling cheap machines at a loss and recouping the cost on outrageously expensive supplies. This has obviously been a pain point for consumers, but no one has had the incentive to change this model. Kodak needs to do something disruptive to gain share in a crowded market — sometimes all it takes is one dissident to bring down the system.