Capitalism = Good?

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Many people are conflicted regarding capitalism. We associate the word with “big business.” And while most agree that capitalism has delivered many benefits, sparking world-changing events such as the industrial and computer revolutions, capitalism’s dark side – a single-minded focus on increasing shareholder value – is increasingly revealed in the media.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read a proposal for a “New Capitalism” by Marc Benioff, Chairman of Salesforce, one of the world’s leading tech companies. Here’s how he began:

Capitalism, I acknowledge, has been good to me.

Over the past 20 years, the company that I co-founded, Salesforce, has generated billions in profits and made me a very wealthy person. I have been fortunate to live a life beyond the wildest imaginations of my great-grandfather, who immigrated to San Francisco from Kiev in the late 1800s.

Yet, as a capitalist, I believe it’s time to say out loud what we all know to be true: Capitalism, as we know it, is dead.

Yes, free markets — and societies that cherish scientific research and innovation — have pioneered new industries, discovered cures that have saved millions from disease and unleashed prosperity that has lifted billions of people out of poverty. On a personal level, the success that I’ve achieved has allowed me to embrace philanthropy and invest in improving local public schools and reducing homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area, advancing children’s health care and protecting our oceans.

But capitalism as it has been practiced in recent decades — with its obsession on maximizing profits for shareholders — has also led to horrifying inequality. Globally, the 26 richest people in the world now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people, and the relentless spewing of carbon emissions is pushing the planet toward catastrophic climate change. In the United States, income inequality has reached its highest level in at least 50 years, with the top 0.1 percent — people like me — owning roughly 20 percent of the wealth while many Americans cannot afford to pay for a $400 emergency. It’s no wonder that support for capitalism has dropped, especially among young people.

To my fellow business leaders and billionaires, I say that we can no longer wash our hands of our responsibility for what people do with our products. Yes, profits are important, but so is society. And if our quest for greater profits leaves our world worse off than before, all we will have taught our children is the power of greed.

It’s time for a new capitalism — a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact.

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Rich…Pity?

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If the college admissions scandal has done anything, it has reminded us that there are two Americas that of the richest of the rich – and the rest of us.

The extent to which the super-rich have gone to get their offspring admitted to the most prestigious universities is, indeed, mind-boggling.

That’s why I was drawn to Richard Reeves op-ed, “Now the Rich Want Your Pity Too.” The author explains how the rich can’t stop at being rich, they need to work hard to be the richest, camp out to be at the front of the line to get their kids into the premier nursery school, and cheat to get them into the best colleges.

And then they complain that they have to work hellish hours to do all this “goodness.” Reeves has some suggestions – for all of us:

I have some better — and cheaper — ideas to improve the lives of the rich. If you are spending thousands of dollars and thousands of hours cultivating your children to get them into the most selective institutions: Just stop. Your kids will be just fine attending a good public university. And everyone’s life will be more relaxed in the meantime.

If you are a professional working yourself sick in order to make a big salary: Just stop. Nobody is forcing you to work such long hours. Maybe you will only be rich, as opposed to superrich. But you’ll be O.K.

If you are a homeowner with a huge mortgage that you took on in order to live in the very best neighborhood: Just stop. There is no law that says you have to live in the most expensive ZIP code you can afford.

Because, you see, nobody is making you do these stressful, expensive things. It is not a trap. It is a choice. If you don’t want to be stressed out, stop making decisions that will stress you out. It is probably true that rich Americans are making decisions about their lives and their children’s lives that are resulting in more stress and more spending — and so more stress. But it is also true that they could be making different choices. They are not powerless.

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Work = Love?

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One of the things that bind most humans together is that they work. It’s in our DNA and part of our survival instincts – and it also pays the rent.

There have been days when work has been less-than-uplifting that I’ve had to remind myself, “That’s why they call it a J.O.B.”

And that is why I was drawn to Tim Herrera’s great piece, “Learning to Love Your Job.” Here’s how he begins:

Do you like what you do?

Now, I don’t mean that in the broad sense of wondering whether you’re on the right career path. I mean on a day-to-day basis, if you thought about every single task your job entails, could you name the parts that give you genuine joy? What about the tasks you hate?

It’s an odd question. We don’t often step back to ask whether the small, individual components of our job actually make us happy.

But maybe we should. As many as a third of United States workers say they don’t feel engaged at work. The reasons vary widely, and everyone’s relationship with work is unique. But there are small ways to improve any job, and those incremental improvements can add up to major increases in job satisfaction.

A study from the Mayo Clinic found that physicians who spend about 20 percent of their time doing “work they find most meaningful are at dramatically lower risk for burnout.” But here’s what’s fascinating: Anything beyond that 20 percent has a marginal impact, as “spending 50 percent of your time in the most meaningful area is associated with similar rates of burnout as 20 percent.”

In other words: You don’t need to change everything about your job to see substantial benefits. A few changes here and there can be all you need.

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Ordinary = Exceptional

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It’s fall, the season that, to some, is the most “ordinary” of the four. But for some of us,  it is the most memorable season, because things change in the most visible way.

That’s why I was drawn to Pico Iyer’s piece, “The Beauty of the Ordinary.” He looks at the seasons from the perspective of someone living in Japan. There, the seasons are looked upon with near-reverence – almost as a religion. Here is how he begins:

Falling in love is the easiest thing in the world. But staying in love, we all know, can be one of the hardest. How do we keep the glow, the sense of unending discovery, alive once we’ve pledged ourselves to familiarity? And how to sustain the sense of anticipation that deliciously quickened the honeymoon? Put differently, how might we be enchanted by discovery’s opposite — routine — and find in constancy a stimulation as rich as novelty provides? The story of every marriage, perhaps, is the story of what happens after the endless summer ends.

“To learn something new,” the wise explorer John Burroughs noted, “take the path that you took yesterday.” A knowing friend in New York sent me that line when he heard that I’d spent 26 years in the same anonymous suburb in western Japan, most of that time traveling no farther than my size 8 feet can carry me. I’d arrived in Kyoto, from Midtown Manhattan, just out of my 20s and alight with everything this wildly unfathomable place could teach me. I never dreamed that I’d come to find delight in everything that is everyday and seemingly without interest in my faraway neighborhood, nothing special.

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Forgiveness

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Ask most people if they are willing to forgive others transgressions, their all-but-immediate response is, “yes.”

However, many add a caveat: “but, unless…” You can fill in the rest. That’s why I was drawn to a recent piece, “Taylor Swift, Philosopher of Forgiveness.” Here’s how it begins:

Taylor Swift is on fire. She just dropped her seventh album, “Lover,” and it’s already the top seller of 2019. She also dropped some wisdom that deserves to be as widely appreciated as her music.

In an interview on Aug. 25 on “CBS Sunday Morning,” Ms. Swift spoke up about our culture’s obsession with forgiveness. “People go on and on about you have to forgive and forget to move past something,” she said. “No, you don’t.”

She’s right. You don’t have to forgive and forget to move on. And sometimes, you shouldn’t forgive or forget. You should resent.

To see why, imagine that you’ve been wronged. Let’s say Kanye West just busted up your big moment onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards. So what? Why not be Jay-Z and brush the dirt off your shoulder? The reason — as many philosophers will tell you — is that wrongdoing sends a demeaning message that shouldn’t go unchallenged.

As the philosopher Jeffrie Murphy explains, that message is typically something like “I count, but you don’t.” Or “I am here up high, and you are there down below.” Or “I can use you for my purposes.”

Another philosopher, Pamela Hieronymi, teaches that the message implicit in wrongdoing poses a threat. The threat is that the message is true, that it’s O.K. for Kanye West to ruin your big moment, because you don’t matter as much as he does.

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Do It Now?

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We all want to get things done, right? The easy answer is, “yes, of course.” We all do what needs doing right away, right? Hmmmm…maybe not such a good answer.

We all procrastinate. I know I do, but until I read an article, “Why You Procrastinate and How to Break the Habit,” I didn’t know WHY I did. Now I do. Here’s how the article begins:

If you’ve ever put off an important task by, say, alphabetizing your spice drawer, you know it wouldn’t be fair to describe yourself as lazy.

After all, alphabetizing requires focus and effort — and hey, maybe you even went the extra mile to wipe down each bottle before putting it back. And it’s not like you’re hanging out with friends or watching Netflix. You’re cleaning — something your parents would be proud of! This isn’t laziness or bad time management. This is procrastination.

If procrastination isn’t about laziness, then what is it about?

Etymologically, “procrastination” is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare — to put off until tomorrow. But it’s more than just voluntarily delaying. Procrastination is also derived from the ancient Greek word akrasia — doing something against our better judgment.

“It’s self-harm,” said Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary and the author of “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done.

That self-awareness is a key part of why procrastinating makes us feel so rotten. When we procrastinate, we’re not only aware that we’re avoiding the task in question, but also that doing so is probably a bad idea. And yet, we do it anyway.

“This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational,” said Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield. “It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences.”

She added: “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.”

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Happiness

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Who doesn’t want to be happy? Even those of us who count ourselves as generally happy seem to always be looking for more.

That’s why I was drawn to a piece by Richard Friedman, “A Swimmer’s Guide to Happiness.” Here is part of what he shares:

Research shows that thinking too much about how to be happy actually backfires and undermines well-being. This is in part because all that thinking consumes a fair amount of time, and is not itself enjoyable.

The researchers behind this study, called “Vanishing Time in the Pursuit of Happiness,” randomly assigned subjects to one of two tasks: One group was asked to write down 10 things that could make them become happier, while the other wrote 10 things that demonstrated that they were already happy.

The subjects were then asked to what extent they felt time was slipping away and how happy they felt at that moment. Those prompted to think about how they could become happier felt more pressed for time and significantly less happy.

This jibes with the argument the journalist Ruth Whippman makes in her 2016 book “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.” Trying too hard to be happy — downloading mindfulness apps, taking yoga classes, reading self-help books — mostly just stresses us out, she writes. So what should we do instead? Maybe simply hang out with some friends, doing something we like to do together: “Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life.”

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Who Brings Us AI?

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When someone mentions artificial intelligence – AI – we typically think of some Silicon Valley tech titan dressed in jeans and an ever-so-sheik sport coat.

But as they say, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Few of us understand how enormous troves of data needed to have AI gets assembled and crunched.

Cade Metz helps us understand the unseen underbelly of the tech industry. It’s a revealing – and troubling – look at the cost of doing business to get that next cool app. Here’s how she begins:

BHUBANESWAR, India — Namita Pradhan sat at a desk in downtown Bhubaneswar, India, about 40 miles from the Bay of Bengal, staring at a video recorded in a hospital on the other side of the world.

The video showed the inside of someone’s colon. Ms. Pradhan was looking for polyps, small growths in the large intestine that could lead to cancer. When she found one — they look a bit like a slimy, angry pimple — she marked it with her computer mouse and keyboard, drawing a digital circle around the tiny bulge.

She was not trained as a doctor, but she was helping to teach an artificial intelligence system that could eventually do the work of a doctor.

Ms. Pradhan was one of dozens of young Indian women and men lined up at desks on the fourth floor of a small office building. They were trained to annotate all kinds of digital images, pinpointing everything from stop signs and pedestrians in street scenes to factories and oil tankers in satellite photos.

A.I., most people in the tech industry would tell you, is the future of their industry, and it is improving fast thanks to something called machine learning. But tech executives rarely discuss the labor-intensive process that goes into its creation. A.I. is learning from humans. Lots and lots of humans.

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Charisma

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How many times have you heard someone say: “He (or she) has charisma.” Certain people seem to have it, while most of us think we don’t.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but all of us need at least a little bit of charisma. It’s how we influence people and get along in the world.

That’s why I found this article, “Becoming Charismatic, One Step at a Time,” so fascinating. Here’s how it begins:

Ask people to name someone they find charming and the answers are often predictable. There’s James Bond, the fictional spy with a penchant for shaken martinis. Maybe they’ll mention Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton or a historical figure, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. Now ask the same people to describe, in just a few seconds, what makes these charmers so likable.

It’s here, in defining what exactly charisma is, that most hit a wall. Instinctually, we know that we’re drawn to certain people more than others. Quantifying why we like them is an entirely different exercise.

The ancient Greeks described charisma as a “gift of grace,” an apt descriptor if you believe likability is a God-given trait that comes naturally to some but not others. The truth is that charisma is a learned behavior, a skill to be developed in much the same way that we learned to walk or practice vocabulary when studying a new language. Other desirable traits, like wealth or appearance, are undoubtedly linked to likability, but being born without either doesn’t preclude you from being charismatic.

For all the work put into quantifying charisma — and it’s been studied by experts through the ages, including Plato and those we talked to for this piece — there are still a lot of unknowns. There are, however, two undisputed truths.

The first is that we are almost supernaturally drawn to some people, particularly those we like. Though this is not always the case; we can just as easily be drawn in by a charismatic villain.

The second truth is that we are terrible at putting a finger on what it is that makes these people so captivating. Beyond surface-level observations — a nice smile, or the ability to tell a good story — few of us can quantify, in an instant, what makes charismatic people so magnetic.

Want more? You can read them here

Can You Do It All?

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Do you want to do it all? You’re not alone. Most of us have lofty goals – let alone New Year’s resolutions – regarding what we want to accomplish.

That’s tough to do in series – so we do them in parallel. In other words, we multitask. So how is that working for you? It doesn’t for me.

That’s why I was drawn to Daniel Willingham’s op-ed, “The High Price of Multitasking.” He nailed WHY it doesn’t work. Here’s how he began:

Not only do smartphones provide unprecedented access to information, they provide unprecedented opportunities to multitask. Any activity can be accompanied by music, selfies or social media updates. Of course, some people pick poor times to tweet or text, and lawmakers have stepped in. Forty-eight states have banned texting while driving. In Honolulu, it’s illegal to text or even look at your phone while crossing the street, and in the Netherlands they’ve banned texting while biking.

But legislation won’t proscribe all situations in which multitasking is unwise; you need to self-regulate. Understanding how the brain multitasks and why we find multitasking so appealing will help you gauge the hazard of pulling out your phone.

Multitasking feels like doing two things simultaneously, so it seems the danger lies in asking one mental process to do two incompatible things — for texting drivers, watching the screen and the road. A lot of lawmakers must think that way, because 20 states have instituted bans on driving using a hand-held phone while still allowing hands-free calls. Yet hands-free or hand-held makes no difference — they impair driving equivalently as far as external hazards go. Why?

You actually manipulate your phone only briefly for voice calls. The real problem is the toggling of attention between the conversation and the road. Even simple tasks can’t be done simultaneously; you switch between them, and that affects performance.

But people don’t multitask solely because they see no harm in it; they perceive benefits. They say they multitask for efficiency, to fight boredom or to keep up with social media.

Music, likely the most common variety of multitasking, is added to tasks because it heightens arousal (for example, your heart rate increases), making it easier to stick with a long drive or a tedious textbook. Music was once common on factory assembly lines; the British Broadcasting Corporation offered a radio program for this purpose, “Music While You Work,” from 1940 until 1967.

Thus, even if you fully appreciate the cognitive cost, you might tolerate it in exchange for the emotional lift. Parents disapprove when their child studies with deadmau5 blasting because they compare that with studying in silence. But the child calculates that without the music, he wouldn’t study.

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