Welcome to week 343! The articles below caught my attention this week. What are intended to be relatively objective “briefs” are preceded by dashes (——–), whereas additional material or relatively subjective comments are preceded by asterisks (********). Article titles preceded by [SR] require a subscription. TIF Weekly is available on the web.
(no day November 2018): “When No One Retires” Harvard Business Review
********This is the first of a seven-part series on “The Aging Workforce” to appear in HBR. You can connect to the other articles in the series at the top of the page at the link. In this, the first article of the series, an inside view of the “graying of the workforce” is provided, i.e., what that means for those doing the work and how it is organized, as opposed to an outside view, which is customer oriented. As the article points out, population aging in the U.S. is well under way and will have multiple consequences. “Are companies prepared? The short answer is ‘no.’ Aging will affect every aspect of business operations—whether it’s talent recruitment, the structure of compensation and benefits, the development of products and services, how innovation in unlocked, how offices and factories are designed, and even how work is structured—but for some reason, the message just hasn’t gotten through. In general, corporate leaders have yet to invest the time and resources necessary to fully grasp the unprecedented ways that aging will change the rules of the game.”
********Although this article is written with businesses in mind, surely its lessons are relevant to all organizations, whether profit-oriented or not. This seems like a good opportunity to expand a bit on the speed of adjust of the invisible forces. Surely social and historical forces, like population and values, are the slowest to adjust. The changes in a population pyramid work their way through, sort of like a rodent in a snake, over scores of years. Legal and political forces may manifest over an election cycle, say two or four years. Economic forces often can and do take place extremely rapidly. Not always true, to be sure, but generally speaking, the invisible hand responds most rapidly, the invisible foot a bit less rapidly, and the invisible handshake responds the least rapidly.
(7 November 2018): “Even Lobsters Can’t Escape Trump’s Trade War” Bloomberg Businessweek
——–Since the 1990s, Mark Barlow has built his company, Island Seafood, “into a $50 million-a-year business by shipping live lobsters around the world. He exported one out of every five to China until recently. . . . The first months of 2018 were the best start in Island Seafood’s history, says Barlow, who this year expected to ship a million pounds of lobster to Shanghai, Guangzhou, and other Chinese cities, where he’s built relationships for a decade.” But then Washington put tariffs on China and “the Chinese stopped buying immediately.” As a result of the tariff, Maine lobstermen, like Barlow, are “scrambling to find other markets. . . . His biggest concern: The trade war’s consequences are unlikely to be short-term.”
********The article goes on to discuss how climate change is affecting various elements of the lobster food chain. Short term, in some areas, warmer waters have led to ideal growing conditions for lobsters, resulting in booming yields for lobstermen. But the question is, “How long will that last?” Temperatures that are too warm will bring in lobster predators such as black sea bass and may disrupt the populations of crustaceans on which larval lobsters feed.
********The author of this article was interviewed by Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace—you can hear the four-minute interview here. You may also be interested in reading the article “Consider the Lobster,” by the late David Foster Wallace. It provides some history around the consumption and class orientation of lobster as a food, as well as considering the deeper issue of traditional ways of preparing lobster, i.e., boiling them alive. You can find the article here.
(8 November 2018): “The 16-oz. Beer Can: A Cold One That’s a Hot One” The New York Times
********Here is a piece on beer cans and aluminum by graphic journalist Wendy MacNaughton. It visually explores changing tastes and perceptions of beer in cans, as well as the role of aluminum tariffs on the price of beer. At the end of the piece, you will learn a bit about beer can nomenclature. If you prefer a pure textual approach to the tariff and beer can story, you can find one in “Trump’s tariffs squeezed Canada. Now American beer is feeling the pinch” The Washington Post.
(8 November 2018): [SR] “To Make a Cup of Coffee, It Takes More Than a Village” The Wall Street Journal
********A.J. Jacobs, the author of the forthcoming Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey, set out some time ago to thank “every person who had even the smallest role in making . . . [his] cup of coffee a reality: the barista, the farmer and everyone in between. It turned out to be not so simple a project.” He ended up thanking “a thousand people” but there could have been many more. As Jacobs notes, “Our modern lives depend on radical interconnection.” There are many books that have sought to explore the supply chain of an everyday product—to my mind The Travels of a T-Shirt, by Pietra Rivoli stands out. What is surely different about Thanks A Thousand is the gratitude angle. I’m curious to learn about the stories of the many people thanked for their role in providing a cup of coffee.
(8 November 2018): “The Curse of the Honeycrisp Apple” Bloomberg.com
——–“Unlike the vast majority of modern commercial produce, the Honeycrisp apple wasn’t bred to grow, store or ship well. It was bred for taste: crisp, with balanced sweetness and acidity. Though it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, along the way it became a nightmare for some producers, forcing small Northeastern growers to compete with their massive, climatically advantaged counterparts on the West Coast. . . . The Honeycrisp variety is now so popular, consumers will spend three times the cost of other apples to experience it.” Although the Honeycrisp is now the “fifth most-grown variety . . . not everyone is a fan. Those who produce Honeycrisps often have the most cutting words for it.” Issues of excessive vigor and fruit vulnerability, as well as harvesting and storage challenges mean that growers must “do a lot more work” to bring fruit to retail markets.
********Evidently, for retailers like Whole Foods and FreshDirect, “sourcing from the West Coast to sell in the East is inevitable if they want to carry the organic version of their most popular apple.” On the East Coast orchards and smaller and wet weather “makes organic growing impossible.”
(9 November 2018): “Why conservatives abandoned conservation” Science
********This is a summary of a review of The Republican Reversal: Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump, by James Morton Turner and Andrew C. Isenberg; the book release date is 12 November 2018. The authors point to the irony that “the major environmental laws that today’s Republic Party seeks to weaken were widely championed by Republicans of an earlier era.” Turner and Isenberg point to “three characteristics of the Republican Party that changed over time: (i) a shift from viewing environmental issues as urgent to viewing them as alarmist and exaggerated; (ii) a shift from relying on scientific research and expertise to viewing these entities with suspicion; and (iii) a shift from embracing a central role of government in addressing environmental problems to viewing regulations as a threat to economic growth, individual freedom, and free enterprise.” In the fuller review upon which this summary is based, the reviewer notes that the “most original portion of the book juxtaposes the conservative and environmental movements in the 1960s . . . The remainder traverses ground that has largely been covered elsewhere, most notably in Judith Layzer’s excellent Open for Business.” Open for Business was published by MIT Press in 2012. The Republican Reversal provides a good example, it would seem, of the role of ideas and the invisible handshake in the evolution of the law and the economy.
(12 November 2018): “’Bad Blood’ wins the FT and McKinsey Business Book of 2018” The Financial Times
——–Bad Blood, “John Carreyrou’s riving account of the rise and scandalous fall of Theranos, the blood-testing company, has named Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year. . . . The book recounts the inside story of the collapse of Theranos and the disgrace of its once-feted founder Elizabeth Holmes, after the group’s supposedly revolutionary blood-testing system turned out to be dangerously flawed.” In accepting the award, Carreyrou noted that “readers should learn from the Theranos scandal that the ‘move fast and break things’ approach to technology innovation did not work well in areas such as healthcare or self-driving vehicles.”
********As the award announcement notes, the Business Book of the Year Award began in 2005. Wikipedia has a complete listing of all of the short-listed books and winners from 2005 through 2018 here.
May you have a good week!