Tag Archives: Business Insider

Why Women are Better CEOs, Presidents, and Prime Ministers

New research shows that women are far better at handling stress than men. I suppose that’s not a newsflash as most people already think that’s true, but consider the way in which this study frames it [Emphasis added]:

We consistently found the same general response pattern: while stressed women showed higher self-other distinction than women in the non-stressful control condition, men showed the converse pattern. More specifically, stressed women showed reduced emotional egocentricity bias, enabling them to judge the emotions of the other person in a way that was less influenced by their own emotional state. Moreover, their response times in the cognitive perspective-taking task decreased under stress, documenting that they were able to regulate the mismatch between their own and the “director’s” perspective faster under stress. Finally, stressed women showed a reduction of automatic imitative tendencies in the imitation-inhibition task, indicating that they were able to overcome low-level social signals interfering with their own movement intentions. Note that the latter finding is crucial. It highlights that women did not simply show an increase in other-related responses under stress – as this would have resulted in increased interference from automatic imitation. Instead, they were able to flexibly increase either self- or other-related representations, depending on the task demands which either required overcoming egocentric biases, or overcoming social interference.

As the stereotype goes, women are more “emotional” than men, so it would be much better for an organization or unit if it were managed by a man. However, this research is telling us that, when under stress, it is men who are less able to distinguish their emotional state from the intentions of those around them. It is men who are more adversely affected by stress. For women, it’s the opposite. In fact, women tend to be more prosocial [behaviour intended to benefit others] when they’re stressed. Meaning, instead of retreating inward, women are actually more helpful when they’re stressed.

This research certainly makes one think about the way that many organizations and countries are run today. Most people would agree that being a CEO, President, or Prime Minister certainly comes with oodles of stress. Unfortunately, the number of women who hold these positions is far outweighed by their male counterparts. Of course, there are a number of reasons for that, which we won’t get into in this post, but consider for a moment if the numbers were flipped. That is, what if there were more women CEOs (or high-powered leaders)? Or, what even if it was 50/50! What if the number of high-powered leaders and CEOs was 50% women and 50% men? At that point, would it be easier for folks to see, understand, and digest that women are actually better leaders and better at handling the stress?

Maybe it’s the language we use.

A quick Google search showed mixed results for “women are better CEOs.” In fact, many of the results near the top indicated that women CEOs are more likely to be fired. However, when I keyed in “women are better leaders,” I got plenty of positive results. Posts on Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, and articles talking about academic research in newspapers like The Globe and Mail.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the world during my time in it, it’s that change (usually) happens gradually. Rarely is there a massive cultural shift overnight. So, here’s hoping that research like this contributes to the realization for some that when it comes to managers and leadership, women just might have an edge over men.

ResearchBlogging.orgTomova L, von Dawans B, Heinrichs M, Silani G, & Lamm C (2014). Is stress affecting our ability to tune into others? Evidence for gender differences in the effects of stress on self-other distinction. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 43, 95-104 PMID: 24703175

An Alternative to Coffee During the Afternoon Lull — Meditation

No doubt you’ve come across articles that explain that we have a tendency to fall into an afternoon lull. There have also been a number of article that offer a solution to beating this afternoon lull. However, I’ve yet to see any of these articles offer what could be the best use of that time, yet — meditation.

The benefits of meditation are endless not the least of which is mitigating the effect of cognitive biases. So, instead of reaching for another cup of coffee, why not try doing a quick 2-, 3-, 5-, or 10-minute meditation when that afternoon lull comes along. In fact, to up the stakes, I’d be interested to see some research on this. My bet is that meditation would be more effective (and sustainable) than coffee in picking you up. Of course, researching this might prove a bit difficult, but I think it’s doable. Let’s break it down.

I’d want to see three groups: meditation, coffee, and control. Of course, we’d need to have a representative sample, controlling for people who already have a proclivity towards meditation and/or coffee. If at all possible, it’d be great to have two meditation groups, actually: one that already regularly meditates and one that doesn’t.

Initially, I hypothesized that meditation would be more effective. We’d need to determine how we were going to measure effectiveness. I suppose one could consider the remaining hours at work, as the pick-me-up during the afternoon lull is likely a way to get one to the end of the day. In that sense, we’d also want to control for the amount of hours that people continued to work after the meditation/coffee break. At a minimum, it’s something we’d need to measure to maintain internal validity.

I also hypothesized that meditation would be a more sustainable solution to the afternoon lull. Again, how are we going to measure this. My thinking would be including some sort of fatigue/health factor in the study. I suspect that those inclined to have a cup of coffee as an afternoon pick-me-up are probably already drinking coffee to start their day and as a result, might just be taxing their system by having that extra hit of caffeine in the afternoon. Conversely, plenty of research has been conducted on the health benefits of meditation. So, not only would some folks be eliminating the overtaxing nature of a second dose of caffeine, they’d also be reaping the benefits of meditation.

The Pentagon Spends More on War Than All 50 States Combined Spend on Health, Education, Welfare, and Safety

I realize that the US is a big country and it has a lot of land that it needs to defend, but that seems like an unbelievable figure, doesn’t it? More on war than all 50 states spend on health, education, welfare, and safety — combined!

That’s just one of the many alarming statistics that I found in this post from Business Insider from 3 years ago. As it’s 3 years old, I don’t know if the the title of this post remains true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s far off. I first went digging on this issue because one of the things I’ve been meaning to write about is how much the US spends on defense.

 

As the above graphic shows, the US spends a lot on its military and not just a lot in terms of the amount of money it spends, bit it spends so much more than the country that spends the second most, China. In fact, the US spends more on its military than the next ten countries — combined!

Do you think that the US spends too much on defense spending? If I were answering honestly, I’d have to say probably. According to a Gallup poll from February of this year, a plurality of American seem to agree. And it’s not just average Americans who think the US spends too much on defense, but scholars of international relations.

That’s almost 75% of scholars of international relations who believe that the US spends too much on defense. The post where it comes from even parsed out some of the different types of international relations scholars. For instance, over half of “realists” believe that the US spends too much on defense and “realists” view international relations through the lens that the primary aim of a country (but they would call them states) is survival.

There are probably a whole host of reasons why the US defense budget has inflated to the size that it is. There was one answer I found on Reddit that seemed particularly enlightening:

Because the US military doesn’t just exist to defend the invasion of the physical United States.

As the country with the biggest economy in the world, the US has a vested interest in maintaining a global environment that favorable to its interests.

This means having the power to impose its will (for better or worse) on other countries that act against the US’s interests. To do this the US has to spend an incredible amount of money on research and development to make sure that it has the best military technology while also projecting force abroad to make sure its interests are maintained.

Nonetheless, in a parallel universe, it would be interesting to see how the citizens of the US would survive/thrive in a world where defense budget for the the US is cut in half and that money is redirected to other important areas like health and education.

How Does “the Economy” Work, Anyway?

This past winter, I wrote a post: “What is ‘the Economy,’ Anyway?” I was growing tired of hearing people talking about “the economy” being bad. Don’t get me wrong, people can talk about whatever they like, but in the context of the economy, I felt that the idea that folks saying it’s bad is a bit of a misnomer. And not because the economy is bad, but because it’s not always clear what someone means when they say that the economy is bad.

A couple of days ago, Ray Dalio, who “lords over the world’s richest hedge fund firm,” came out with a video that explains, ‘how the economy works.’ It’s 30 minutes long, but it’s animated, so hopefully it can keep your attention for the whole thing. Also, given what appears to be its intent (inform average citizens about how the economy works), it certainly seems easy to understand. Even if you don’t have a basic understanding of some economic terminology (assets, liabilities, productivity, cycles, recession, etc.), you’ll probably still be able to understand what Dalio’s saying.

Usually, I’d say, ‘if you have the time, you’ll want to see this.’ In this case, I’d advise you make time to watch this video. Even if you think that there’s some ulterior motive from Dalio, the basic information he’s offering about how the economy works is quite compelling. His reputation precedes him. As Steven Perlberg from Business Insider wrote, “when the man talks about markets, people usually listen.”

Dalio in his own words:

The economy works like a simple machine.

But many people don’t understand it— or they don’t agree on how it works — and this has led to a lot of needless economic suffering.

I feel a deep sense of responsibility to share my simple but practical economic template. Though it’s unconventional, it has helped me to anticipate and sidestep the global financial crisis, and has worked well for me for over 30 years.

There is No Spoon: The Future of TV

I don’t watch much TV and part of this is precipitated by the fact that I don’t currently own a TV. The TV that I do watch, however, is, for the most part, online. [Except in cases where I’m visiting someone who has TV and we’re watching something together.] Shows that I started watching years ago (when I had a TV) like Grey’s Anatomy or The Big Bang Theory often post the full episode online the next day. This is very convenient as I’m not required to be in front of my TV on a Thursday night to watch these shows.

I always find it disappointing when a show that I might be interested in does not have an online version. This got me thinking about what the future of TV might be. I remember seeing a PPT from Business Insider at the turn of the new year (to 2013) that analyzed the way people use technology. That is, it took into account mobile devices, TV, computers, etc. The trend, as you might guess, is to mobile. More and more people are using their phones for things. As a result, there’s certainly money to be made in advertising in the mobile arena.

Then I thought, why haven’t TV shows made the leap to mobile? Or, why is this leap taking so long? If more and more people are using their phone to interact with the world, then wouldn’t it behoove TV networks to start making their content more accessible on a mobile device?

As I’m moving back to Canada in the next few weeks, I’ve been looking at cell phone plans. [Note: it is outrageously more expensive for mobile plans in Canada than in the US!] One thing I noticed was that Bell (one of the telecommunications companies in Canada) has an option just like I was thinking. You can watch live TV on your cell phone. After seeing this, I thought I’d look at some of the US companies to see if they had it and sure enough, they have this, too.

As it turns out, companies have already made the leap to mobile and it’s moved faster than I thought (I guess that’s what you get when you don’t have a cell phone for 4+ years).

My next thoughts move to the internet. There must be lots of people like me who like to watch the shows online the next, otherwise they wouldn’t be available like they are. So, I wonder if there’s rumblings of moving to live TV internet. That is, instead of posting the video the next day, why not broadcast the show online at the same time you do on network TV?

I’m sure there’s probably lots of red tape with this kind of an option as advertisers have paid to target certain demographics at certain time and so on and so forth. But wouldn’t this open up a whole new market for TV networks — people who’d prefer to watch online?

I came across a Kevin Spacey speech a few days ago that talks about this very fact.

[Note: The first half of the title is a famous line from the movie, The Matrix.]

If You Want a Successful and Sustainable Company, Focus on the Workforce

Several months ago in one of those posts where I write about a bunch of ideas, but don’t flesh any of them out, I wrote the following:

Focus on Labor — I’ve never been the CEO or a highly placed Vice President of a company, but from an outsider’s perspective, I always have a hard time understanding the lack of focus on the labor force. At times, it really looks like labor is the key to success. If the labor force is well taken care of, production and profits tend to do well. It reminds me of that post I did about sustainability and pitchers. The relation here is that when management takes care of the labor force, it is with an eye towards long-term sustainability.

I still believe that this is an important idea. Without the workforce, where would a company’s profits be? Without the workforce, where would the economy be? Even after the rise of the robots, I still think it’ll be really important for companies to take care of their workforce. It turns out, I’m not the only one with this opinion.

From Henry Blodget, CEO and and Editor of Business Insider:

If you watch TV, you’ll be led to believe that the problem with the U.S. economy is that one political team or the other is ruining the country.

A sharp drop in government spending this year is, in fact, temporarily hurting economic growth, but that’s not the real problem.

The real problem is that American corporations, which are richer and more profitable than they have ever been in history (see chart below), have become so obsessed with “maximizing short-term profits” that they are no longer investing in their future, their people, and the country.

This short-term greed can be seen in many aspects of corporate behavior, from scrimping on investment to obsessing about quarterly earnings to fretting about daily fluctuations in stock prices. But it is most visible in the general cultural attitude toward average employees.

Employees are human beings. They devote their lives to creating value for customers, shareholders, and colleagues. And, in return, at least in theory, they share in the rewards of the value created by their team.

In theory.

In practice, American business culture has become so obsessed with maximizing short-term profits that employees aren’t regarded as people who are members of a team.

Rather, they are regarded as “costs.”

And “costs,” as we all know, are supposed to be reduced as much as is humanly possible (except the “costs” of the salaries of senior management and investors–those are supposed to be increased).

Bingo! Mr. Blodget hits the nail on the head. Regarding employees as costs is a fundamental mistake in thinking. As we know, our words are important. Not only for ourselves, but for those around us. He continues:

Whenever you suggest to folks that it doesn’t have to be this way, that some companies can and do balance the interests of shareholders with the interests of customers and employees–and, in so doing, create a symbiotic relationship that supports all of these constituencies–folks call you a “socialist.”

This is a strange insult, because the government has nothing to do with this. But, nevertheless, “socialist” is the label you get branded with if you suggest that the senior managers and owners of America’s corporations should share more of their vast wealth with the employees who create it.

This view of capitalism is that it is a sort of Lord-Of-The-Flies economic system in which the only consideration should be “every man for himself.” In this style of capitalism, leaders do not manage teams and organizations in a way that creates value for everyone–customers, shareholders, and employees. Rather, in this style of capitalism, a handful of winners extract as much value as they can from hapless losers who don’t have the skills, knowledge, or time necessary to “demand a raise” or “go get a better job.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is no capitalist law that says companies have to view employees as “costs” and pay them as little as possible.

Senior managers and owners can choose to share more of a company’s wealth with the people who generate it. They can choose to make only reasonable profits, while still generating compelling financial returns. And they can choose to pay their team-mates living wages instead of viewing them as “costs” and extracting every penny of possible value from them.

If American corporations were struggling to earn money these days, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

But they aren’t.

American corporations have the highest profits and profit margins in history.

American corporations can afford to pay their employees better, hire more employees, and invest more in their future and the country’s future.

But American corporations aren’t doing that.

Instead, American corporations are choosing to divert as much of their value as possible to their owners and senior managers.

Doing this is not a law of capitalism.

It’s a choice.

And it is a choice, unfortunately, that is destroying America’s middle class, robbing American consumers (a.k.a., “employees”) of spending power, and, ironically, hurting the growth of the same corporations that are making this choice.

If your customers are strapped, your company can’t grow.

And, right now, American companies are choosing to impoverish their customers (employees), while skimming off as much wealth as possible for themselves.

The idea of viewing employees as costs is perfectly in keeping with the idea that the US doesn’t require any paid vacation daysWhat kind of a company do you want to work for: one that treats its employees as assets or one that treats its employees as liabilities?

Is It Time to Pay Politicians More?

A few months ago, I saw this very argument made in Slate. At first, I’m sure you’re doing a double-take? Why would we pay them more? They are hardly doing the job that we elected them to do in the first place. Why would we reward failure, stagnation, and an inability to get stuff done? That’s absurd!

All natural reactions, yes, but when you take a second to think about it, the idea isn’t that bat-crap crazy. For instance, consider the Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell. Josh Barro over at Business Insider makes the case that the Governor is underpaid. Why? Well, look to the incentives! The Governor of Virginia has a salary of $175,000, which is in the 90th percentile for Governors in the USA. That’s certainly a lot of money — almost triple the median income in Virginia. So, again, you may be thinking, why would we pay them more?

Well, consider the kinds of people that the Governor interacts with on a daily basis. Plutocrats. Governor McDonnell, on a daily basis, interacts with people who have income/wealth that far exceed the Governor’s “measly” $175,000 salary. You may be thinking, why is this a problem if the Governor got into politics for purely altruistic reasons?

Even if the Governor did do such a thing, research tells us that unethical behavior has to do with the kind of person you are and more to do with the situations you find yourself in. For instance, you may be the most ethical person in the world, but if you happen to find yourself in a bind financially and a whole host of other variables are weighing on you, there’s probably a situation that you may find yourself in where overlooking a conflict of interest may seem like an okay thing to do.

That’s the argument for increasing the salaries of politicians — to remove the incentive to be unethical. Of course, there’s still likely to be unethical behavior conducted regardless of what the salaries are raised to, but it may eliminate some of it. How much, I don’t know. What would be a fair salary?

The article in Slate discussed Sinagpore, which is known for being one of the most efficient governments in the world. He explained that in Singapore, the Prime Minister earns more than four times the salary of President Barack Obama and the President gets $400,000 a year! Government Ministers (akin to cabinet Secretaries), earn over $1 million a year. The highest paid cabinet Secretary (Secretary of the Treasury) gets approximately $190,000. So, government Ministers earn more than 5 times as much as their American counterparts.

I’m not advocating this particular raise, but I think it’s a conversation worth having.

I suppose the other option would be to remove the influential plutocrats from the equation. Although, I don’t know that with the American political system arranged in the way that it is, if that’d be constitutional. Larry Lessig, someone who’s been working tirelessly on the option of getting money out of politics was asked what a question about salaries for Congress. I’ll leave you with the question and his answer:

Question: You advocate in your book that congressmen should be paid much more than what they are right now (about $175,000/year). How much do you think they should be paid to make them lose the incentive to become a lobbyist? Does 250-300k sound better?

Lessig: Oh please don’t out me on this. Ok, but DON’T TELL ANYONE I SAID THIS: They are lawmakers. Why aren’t they paid as much as a first year partner at a DC firm? In Singapore, gov’t ministers get paid $1 million a year. Where is corruption in Singapore. NO-where.