Being a student again

I loved being a student, and I love to go back and be a student again every now and then, even if it’s only for a week.

In 2005, I attendend the gut-wrenchingly good Stanford lifelong learning seminar called Interpersonal Dynamics for High Performance Leaders. Next week, with equally high expectations, I am off to “Customer-Focused Innovation“.  Read about it here, here and here in Prof. Sutton‘s blog.

Plus, it’s always good to be back in California.

Monetizing LinkedIn: this is where it gets creative (Banana Republic promotion)

LinkedIn has long been admired for its thoughtful and apparently highly effective approach to monetization. Yet, today I was a little surprised to be offered a pop-up promotional box (pop-up! yes, a pop-up!) after a minor update to my profile:

I like 25% off coupons as much as the next person, I guess, and may well use this one on my next trip to the mall. But the thing is: I go to Banana Republic exactly once a year, and I always buy the same stuff (say: three pairs of pants, a dress, a sweater or two). So, for them, it’s money that they basically leave on the table.

For LinkedIn, it’s another way to essentially sell their audience to an advertiser. Is there an opt-out? Of course each promo has its own opt-in mechanism, and you can just close it if you don’t care for it, but is there an overall button to opt out that says “I only want to use LinkedIn as a professional tool and online Rolodex, so please do not show me any pop-up sweepstakes or promotions“?

The Numerati and The Broken Window: fiction beats facts

Stephen Baker and Jeffery Deaver have recently taken the very same topic – the explosion of data mining on every trackable aspect of our behavior – and done very different things with it.

Stephen Baker is a veteran BusinessWeek journalist, and The Numerati reads very much like, well, a collection of BusinessWeek stories. In seven chapters titled Worker, Shopper, Voter, Blogger, Terrorist, Patient, and Lover, the author offers a quick tour of what’s going on in domains of our lives ranging from employment to dating. While some factoids hold promise (could Parkinson’s be diagnosed though analysis of imperceptible changes in voice patterns, years before the visible onset of the disease?), the book does not really dive into the matter at hand (it contains not a single mathematical formula or line of code), nor does it offer satisfying profiles of those that Baker points to as the new masters of the universe (having investment bankers rather fallen out of fashion lately), the applied mathematicians and algorithm developers (“Numerati”) who are working to extract and use every single detail of our lives. Being familiar with many of the commercial uses of data, I thought at least I’d learn something from the chapter about global terrorism; I didn’t (even the NSA saw it fit to keep the reporter out of its walls, let alone real terrorist cells). The final chapter, Conclusion, is a coy defense of the hope that liberal arts majors will still count for something in the brave new world ruled by the Numerati: “We should grasp the basics of maths and statistics – certainly better than most of us do today – but still follow what we love… […] Even in the heart of the math economy, at IBM Research, geometers and engineers work on teams with linguists and anthropologists and cognitive psychologists […] The key to finding a place on such world-class teams is not necessarily to become a math whiz but to become a whiz at something.” I’m all for greater numeracy in basic schools, but if I were to counsel a young person choosing a course of studies, I still would caution that the opportunities for world-class epigraphists or papyrologists are, well, limited.

At the center of Jeffery Deaver’s The Broken Window sits an inscrutable data-crunching corporation, Strategic Systems Datacorp. Yes, it is a fictional construct; yet it does not seem materially different from ChoicePoint, Acxiom, and other companies run by pioneeristic Numerati and briefly profiled by Baker (rather too briefly and uncontroversially, if you ask me). The Broken Window, like many of Deaver’s books, is of course a thriller, featuring quadriplegic forensic expert Lincoln Rhyme and prematurely arthritic detective Amelia Sachs. Whether you like the genre or not, Deaver has done his homework before sitting down to write The Broken Window. In fact, I maintain that, once you strip away the layer of fiction, The Broken Window is both more entertaining and more informative than The Numerati. At least it helps you get a much better perspective on the privacy debate; it makes it clear that identity theft is a serious issue, and that paying for everything in cash, holing up in an unwired apartment and cutting RFID tags out of book bindings cannot possibly be a desirable solution. I am a big fan of the European Union for a couple of reasons that in my opinion make it a success (compensating for the folly of farm subsidies and the endless death throes of its surprisingly robust governance model): the Euro (I have been arguing that most of us here would have spent the last several weeks out in the street banging pots and pans, like Argentinians in 2001, had it not been for the common currency) and the EU privacy protection framework. In fact, I would probably be somewhat tolerant of American-style intrusions on my privacy (most bloggers are, I think by definition) if I lived in the United States, but I just have a preference for EU rules. A strong preference, I guess, after reading Deaver’s thriller.

In summary, if you know absolutely nothing about data mining, cover your bases and read Baker’s book. But if you know a bit, or you actually work with data, then skip it and snuggle up in your couch with Deaver’s.  You may well learn more, and you’ll definitely have more fun.

Prepare some server capacity next time you anticipate traffic (Updated)

Update #1 (email, 10:42pm):


We are deeply sorry for today’s disruption of the USD 19.28 sale. Demand for this promotion far surpassed our expectations, and due to the exorbitant amount of traffic to, we were unable to accommodate travel requests. Nonetheless, we intend on making every effort to honor the offer on a first come, first serve basis, and have devised a plan to enable you to apply for the USD 19.28 rate. (The Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd. makes no representation or guarantee that it will be able to fulfill your request.)

Please click here to download the form for details. As a reminder, below is a complete list of the hotels participating in this promotion.

Thank You,

The Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd.

Update #2 (email, 2:20am):


Thank you so much for your continued patience with The Leading Hotels of the World. We are extremely sorry for the inconveniences we have caused and regret to advise you that the USD 19.28 email promotion scheduled for tomorrow October 2nd shall be postponed.

Although our original back-up plan provided a viable solution for the 150,000 people who were registered, it was met with some confusion over submission procedures and timing. In addition, we have become increasingly concerned that a large number of non-registered respondents plan to submit forms which would inundate the system and greatly diminish your chances of securing a USD 19.28 rate.

In view of this, please do not email your form tomorrow. You will most likely receive an error message we have put in place as a safety mechanism.

We are sincerely committed to restoring your faith in our brand and do not want to risk disappointing you again. We are working tirelessly to develop a solution that will be fair for you and all registered participants. We will email you next week with further details.


Ted Teng
President & CEO
The Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd.

What Women Want: a global BCG survey

Today I spent some time answering a thoughtful survey by BCG authors Michael Silverstein and Kate Sayre. I say “thoughtful” because, in spite of the odd question or two about your cooking skills, it moves beyond the traditional questions on respondents’ consumption preferences and patterns and tries to link women’s behaviors as consumers to their values, beliefs and priorities in life. If you want to spend some time thinking about your own (and you are, indeed, a woman), find the survey here:

The survey aims at reaching 25,000 women worldwide and its findings will form the basis for a book on the needs of women. Somewhat pompously, the authors “believe this original work will contribute to a better world and enable a new conversation around hope and happiness”. This may be a bit of a lofty goal. Silverstein has co-authored two well-respected books about emerging consumer patterns, Trading Up: The New American Luxury (2003) and Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer (2006).

Somehow I think that a better world does not necessarily have much to do with whether the products we buy are designed for our hope and happiness. For a truly better world, we need a different kind of societal change. More about that in my next post.

Advertising: we like it like that

eBay France 1 eBay France 2 eBay France 3This gentleman, caught on camera while painting in a frenzy reminiscent of Nick Nolte’s abstract painter in Scorsese’s”Life Lessons” segment of the trilogy New York Stories, is a Frenchman who won an eBay auction to star in a commercial together with an item for sale. He painted the item during the filming of the commercial itself, which ends in a surprise finale. The painting was then auctioned off, and ended up selling for Eur 2,090 on Nov. 25.

Watch the full commercial on this page, and find nine others built around a similar concept here.