Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Herb Kelleher’s Rule Breaking

It is unlikely that we will ever again see a business leader as iconoclastic as Herb Kelleher, the Southwest Airlines founder who died earlier this month. A single paragraph from the obituary in
The Economist confirms as much:

When one airline ran an ad claiming that Southwest was a cheap carrier, he had himself filmed with a bag over his head, saying the airline was prepared to offer the same to any mortified passenger. When another started a price war and halved its Dallas-Houston fare to $13, Southwest countered: pay full price and get a bottle of vodka or whisky in return. When a rival airline complained that Southwest pinched its slogan and began advertising itself as “Just Plane Smart”, he suggested the two chairmen settle the matter over three rounds of arm-wrestling instead of using lawyers. 

There’s more. Kelleher was an early client of advertising guru Roy Spence, and Spence’s recollections of Kelleher are priceless. And the 1975 James Fallows profile of the early days of the airline wars shows Kelleher’s role in the battle of “the not-so-friendly skies of Texas.” 

2. Clayton Christensen on Work-Life Balance

Clayton Christensen, the famed author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, has become the rare business analyst who manages to write astutely about both his business and personal life. His latestpost on LinkedIn offers an original take on why successful business people often fail at family:

When people who have a high need for achievement have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they often unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, get paid or promoted. In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your friends and family typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. Kids, for instance, misbehave every day, and it’s not until 20 odd years later that you can say, “I raised a good kid.” You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers.

3. How Michael Ovitz Negotiates

Michael Ovitz, who co-founded Creative Artist Agency, fell from power with a legacy of distrust and a long list of enemies. In reviewing his memoir, Deadline Hollywood concludes that his career was “the most complicated and consequential in modern Hollywood.” But Ovitz’s recent interview with Harvard Business Review is packed with interesting management nuggets. One example:

HBR: You’ve been involved in so many high-stakes negotiations. What’s the key to a successful outcome?

Ovitz: You need to know where you want to end up before you engage. At CAA we spent hours on prep work for the larger negotiations. We did studies, readouts, role-playing—everything we could. But even in the smallest negotiation, we always wanted to know how the meeting would end before we walked in the door. How do you manipulate the scene to get what you want for your client but leave something on the table for the other side so that when they walk away, they feel happy?

4. Just One Word: Plastics

Rebecca Altman’s essay in Aeon, “Time-Bombing the Future,” explores the overwhelming consequences of plastics. It’s part scientific history, part manifesto for the next wave of environmentalism, and part analysis of the core chemicals compounds that have shaped the industry: 

PCBs and PFASs are now an integral part of the human story. They pass from species to species, from mother to child. They are present from conception to death, and consumed with daily meals and holy feasts. The presence of PCBs alone shapes how humankind reproduces itself, how our young develop, and even whether subsequent generations will be susceptible to certain cancers or resilient against disease.

5. Robert Caro Learns Reporting

You may have thought that there was nothing else Robert Caro could write about Lyndon Johnson. (He has already published four volumes of Johnson’s biography.) This month, however, in The New Yorker, Caro writes a series of recollections about how he learned investigative reporting. His discusses his education in politics, including this gem of an anecdote about a Johnson crony, Tommy Corcoran:

When the man he was asking for money wrote a check and handed it across the desk to him, Mr. Corcoran, no matter what the amount—no matter if it was more than he had hoped for—would look at it with an expression of disdain, drop it back on the man’s desk, and, without saying a word, walk toward the door. He had never once, he told me—exaggerating, I’m sure, but how much?—he had never once been allowed to reach the door without the man calling him back, tearing up the check, and writing one for a larger amount.

6. We’re Still Debating the Sopranos?

On the 20th anniversary of the debut of The Sopranos, Vulturepublishes an excerpt from a new book, The Sopranos Sessions, by Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall. Weirdly, the excerpt focuses on a debate between Seitz and Sepinwall – both TV critics and Sopranos fanboys – debating whether Tony Soprano dies at the end of series. Here’s Sepinwall:

There’s still no definitive answer to the dead/alive question. We know what the scene means, but we don’t know what happened.

The debate is weird because the definitive explanation of the final episode was published in 2010, when a semi-anonymous blogger wrote a nine-part, 10,000-word essay in frame-by-frame detail. His certain conclusion: Tony’s dead. And there’s no debate to be had. Here’s the blogger reflecting on the responses to the analysis: 

I cannot tell you how many e-mails I have received from fans relaying how much this piece made them truly appreciate the artistry of the show and how they re-watched the entire series again after reading it. Those final few minutes of the final episode is truly the greatest scene in the history of the medium; a scene constructed as a culmination of 8 years and 86 hours of epic storytelling. [Director David] Chase created the scene for the fans who were willing to dig beneath the surface and see exactly how much thought and creativity went into every tiny detail of this show. The final scene has solidified the show as the greatest in television history.

Websites Worth Reading

Sports Betting in America American Gaming Association's home for (now legal!) sports betting

Best Data Visualizations in 2018 Quartz's roundup of doing data visualization right

Tweet Binder Blog Analysis of Super Bowl twitter.

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