Successful Innovation Depends More on Will than on Intellect

(p. 9) The odysseys of [Lasseter, Catmull, Smith and Jobs], and of Pixar as a whole, bring to mind the observation of the maverick economist Joseph Schumpeter that successful innovation “is a feat not of intellect, but of will.” Writing about the psychology of entrepreneurs in the early twentieth century, a rime when the subject was unfashionable, he believed few individuals are prepared for “the resistances and uncertainties incident to doing what has not been done before.” Those who braved the risks of failure did so out of noneconomic as well as economic motives, among them “the joy of creating, of getting things done, or simply of exercising one’s energy and ingenuity.” In Pixar’s case, at least, the resistances and uncertainties were abundant–as was the will.

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.
(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)

Carnegie and Twain Opposed Roosevelt’s Imperialism


Source of book image:

Marxists and others on the left often claim that big business is the main force behind U.S. imperialism. Is it not ironic that the most imperialistic U.S. President was the anti-big-business “progressive” Teddy Roosevelt who was vehemently opposed by big businessman Andrew Carnegie?
Mark Twain is sometimes accused of insufficient sympathy with the downtrodden. Those who so accuse, misunderstand his message. He too opposed Roosevelt’s war on the Filipinos.
(Carnegie and Twain’s friendship is discussed in David Nasaw’s biography of Carnegie.)

(p. 13) There was within the United States a strong and vocal anti-imperialist movement, which included former President Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain, but it struggled to tamp down the country’s growing expansionist zeal, and to compete with the energy, tenacity and bulldog ambition of one man in particular: Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, who in just six years rose meteorically from New York City police commissioner to president, nurtured a deep and unshakable contempt for what he called the “unintelligent, cowardly chatter for ‘peace at any price.’ ” Not only had the “clamor of the peace faction” left him unmoved, Roosevelt wrote, it had served to strengthen his conviction that “this country needs a war.”
. . .
Although Roosevelt moves in and out of Jones’s narrative, disappearing for long stretches, he still manages to steal the spotlight, just as he does in every book in which he appears. When McKinley dragged his feet before sending troops to Cuba, Roosevelt sneered that the president had “no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.” In the Department of the Navy, Roosevelt gleefully took over while his boss was on summer vacation, anointing himself the “hot weather secretary” and crowing to a friend that he was having “immense fun running the Navy.” In Cuba, after choosing his regiment of Rough Riders from 23,000 applicants, he ordered his famous charge up Kettle Hill wearing a custom-made fawn-colored Brooks Brothers uniform with canary-yellow trim.

For the full review, see:
CANDICE MILLARD. “Looking for a Fight; At the Turn of the 20th Century, Theodore Roosevelt Set Out to Transform the United States into a Major World Power.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., February 19, 2012): 13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 17, 2012 and has the title “Looking for a Fight; A New History of the Philippine-American War.”)

The book under review is:
Jones, Gregg. Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream. New York: New American Library, 2012.

The Nasaw book on Carnegie mentioned in my initial comments is:
Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.
(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw’s book are the same.)

Big Data Opportunity for Economics and Business

(p. 7) Data is not only becoming more available but also more understandable to computers. Most of the Big Data surge is data in the wild — unruly stuff like words, images and video on the Web and those streams of sensor data. It is called unstructured data and is not typically grist for traditional databases.
But the computer tools for gleaning knowledge and insights from the Internet era’s vast trove of unstructured data are fast gaining ground. At the forefront are the rapidly advancing techniques of artificial intelligence like natural-language processing, pattern recognition and machine learning.
Those artificial-intelligence technologies can be applied in many fields. For example, Google’s search and ad business and its experimental robot cars, which have navigated thousands of miles of California roads, both use a bundle of artificial-intelligence tricks. Both are daunting Big Data challenges, parsing vast quantities of data and making decisions instantaneously.
. . .
To grasp the potential impact of Big Data, look to the microscope, says Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. The microscope, invented four centuries ago, allowed people to see and measure things as never before — at the cellular level. It was a revolution in measurement.
Data measurement, Professor Brynjolfsson explains, is the modern equivalent of the microscope. Google searches, Facebook posts and Twitter messages, for example, make it possible to measure behavior and sentiment in fine detail and as it happens.
In business, economics and other fields, Professor Brynjolfsson says, decisions will increasingly be based on data and analysis rather than on experience and intuition. “We can start being a lot more scientific,” he observes.
. . .
Research by Professor Brynjolfsson and two other colleagues, published last year, suggests that data-guided management is spreading across corporate America and starting to pay off. They studied 179 large companies and found that those adopting “data-driven decision making” achieved productivity gains that were 5 percent to 6 percent higher than other factors could explain.
The predictive power of Big Data is being explored — and shows promise — in fields like public health, economic development and economic forecasting. Researchers have found a spike in Google search requests for terms like “flu symptoms” and “flu treatments” a couple of weeks before there is an increase in flu patients coming to hospital emergency rooms in a region (and emergency room reports usually lag behind visits by two weeks or so).
. . .
In economic forecasting, research has shown that trends in increasing or decreasing volumes of housing-related search queries in Google are a more accurate predictor of house sales in the next quarter than the forecasts of real estate economists. The Federal Reserve, among others, has taken notice. In July, the National Bureau of Economic Research is holding a workshop on “Opportunities in Big Data” and its implications for the economics profession.

For the full story, see:

STEVE LOHR. “NEWS ANALYSIS; The Age of Big Data.” The New York Times, SundayReview (Sun., February 12, 2012): 1 & 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 11, 2012.)

In China the Rich and Creative Prepare to Vote with Their Feet

ShiKangBeijingMillionaire2012-02-22.jpg “Shi Kang, a millionaire writer living in Beijing, started thinking about emigrating after a long road trip last year around the U.S.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) BEIJING–This time last year, Shi Kang considered himself a happy man.

Writing 15 novels had made him a millionaire. He owned a luxury apartment and a new silver Mercedes. He was so content with his carefree life in Beijing that he never even traveled overseas.
Today, a year later, Mr. Shi is considering emigrating to the U.S.–one of a growing number of rich Chinese either contemplating leaving their homeland or already arranging to do it.
. . .
(p. A12) A survey published in November found that 60% of about 960,000 Chinese people with assets over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) were either thinking about emigrating or taking steps to do so. The U.S. was the top destination, followed by Canada, Singapore and Europe, according to the survey by the state-run Bank of China and Hurun Report, which analyzes trends among China’s wealthy.
. . .
Mr. Su was no dissident, though. Like many of his generation, he turned his attention to getting rich. Today, at 46, Mr. Su runs his own aerospace technology company and estimates his own net worth, including the various properties he owns, at around 80 million yuan, or close to $13 million.
His main reason for leaving, he says, is the business environment. “The government has too much power,” he says. “Regulations here mean that businessmen have to do a lot of illegal things. That gives people a real sense of insecurity.” He said four of his distributors have also applied for investment immigration to Canada.
. . .
“The problem is that government power is too great,” Mr. Su says. “When the economy is going up, they think that everything they are doing is right.” If they don’t change, he worries, “another revolution will come soon.”
. . .
The current migrant wave is different in that they are escaping neither poverty nor political unrest–and many say they are leaving for good. The Hurun survey showed that the average respondent had 60 million yuan in assets and was 42, old enough to remember the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, but young enough to have learned how to prosper in a market economy.
Deng Jie fits the profile. Twenty-seven years ago, in the fledgling years of China’s market reforms, he began his career in a state-run ceramics factory in Beijing, sharing a cramped dormitory with colleagues and earning 50 yuan a month (about $13 in those days).
Today, at 48, he runs his own chemical pigments business and lives with his wife and daughter in one of the three luxury apartments he owns. In dollar terms, he is a millionaire several times over. His properties alone have appreciated by 800% in a decade.
Yet the hope he felt for his country in the 1980s, he says, has “been doused with bucket after bucket of cold water.” He cited a host of concerns, including rampant corruption among the officials he deals with, and new labor regulations that he says have made his work force too costly and demanding.
“I’m representing a lot of other people like me,” he says. “We used to want to contribute to the nation. But now we just feel so disappointed. China cannot continue like this. It has to change.”

For the full story, see:

JEREMY PAGE. “Plan B for China’s Wealthy: Moving to the U.S., Europe.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 22, 2012): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

How Pixar Vision Was Made Real

(p. 8) . . . Pixar’s story was anything but preordained. It is a triple helix of artistic, technological, and business struggles, and it is a study in the tremendously uncertain and contingent nature of artistic, technological, and business success. It illustrates how professional prestige and social status flow into each other, and how a small organization can magnify its power by deploying them as an economic force. It shows how small things, done well, can lead to big things. It is the story of a small group of individuals who started with a shared ambition to create a new way of telling stories–within a virtual world of mathematical constructions–and who traveled a long and circuitous road until their vision became a reality.

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.
(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)

Manifesto for a Rising Standard of Living


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Mr. Diamandis is the chairman and chief executive of the X Prize Foundation and the founder of more than a dozen high-tech companies. With his journalist co-author, he has produced a manifesto for the future that is grounded in practical solutions addressing the world’s most pressing concerns: overpopulation, food, water, energy, education, health care and freedom. The authors suggest that “humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation where technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standard of living for every man, woman, and child on the planet.”
. . .
Predictions of a rosy future have a way of sounding as unrealistic as end-is-nigh forecasts. But Messrs. Diamandis and Kotler are not just dreamers. They lay out a plausible road map, discussing, among other things, the benefits of do-it-yourself tinkering–like the work by geneticist J. Craig Venter in beating the U.S. government in the race to sequence the human genome–and the growing willingness of techno-philanthropists like Bill Gates to tackle real-world problems.
The biggest hurdles, however, are not scientific or technological but political. There are still too many corrupt dictators and backward-looking governments keeping millions in penury. But as we have seen lately, the misruled have a way of throwing off despotic governments. With ever more people reaching for freedom, countless millions are tacitly embracing the Diamandis motto: “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”

For the full review, see:
MICHAEL SHERMER. “BOOKSHELF; Defying the Doomsayers; Abundance” argues that growing technologies have the potential not only to spread information but to solve some of humanity’s most vexing problems.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 22, 2012): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book being reviewed is:
Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. New York: Free Press, 2012.

“The Government Is a Crappy Venture Capitalist”

(p. A13) Like the mythical monster Hydra–who grew two heads every time Hercules cut one off–President Obama, in both his State of the Union address and his new budget, has defiantly doubled down on his brand of industrial policy, the usually ill-advised attempt by governments to promote particular industries, companies and technologies at the expense of broad, evenhanded competition.
Despite his record of picking losers–witness the failed “clean energy” projects Solyndra, Ener1 and Beacon Power–Mr. Obama appears determined to continue pushing his brew of federal spending, regulations, mandates, special waivers, loan guarantees, subsidies and tax breaks for companies he deems worthy.
Favoring key constituencies with taxpayer money appeals to politicians, who can claim to be helping the overall economy, but it usually does far more harm than good. It crowds out valuable competing investment efforts financed by private investors, and it warps decisions by bureaucratic diktats susceptible to political cronyism. Former Obama adviser Larry Summers echoed most economists’ view when he warned the administration against federal loan guarantees to Solyndra, writing in a 2009 email that “the government is a crappy venture capitalist.”

For the full commentary, see:
MICHAEL J. BOSKIN. “OPINION; Washington’s Knack for Picking Losers; Former Obama adviser Larry Summers warned the administration against federal loan guarantees to Solyndra, writing in a 2009 email that ‘the government is a crappy venture capitalist’.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., FEBRUARY 15, 2012): A13.

Adipotide Kills Fat Cells in Obese Mice and Monkeys


Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) A drug that kills a type of fat cell by choking off its blood supply caused significant weight loss in obese monkeys, potentially setting the stage for a new pharmaceutical approach to attacking obesity, according to a study released Wednesday.

After four weeks of treatment, obese monkeys given daily injections of the drug, called adipotide, lost an average of 11% of their body weight. They also had big reductions in waist circumference and body-mass index and, importantly, striking improvement in their ability to process insulin, researchers said. The drug had no effect on weight when given to lean monkeys.
Results of the study, performed at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and published online by the journal Science Translational Medicine, confirmed a 2004 report from the same research team showing marked weight loss in mice treated with the agent.
. . .
The researchers’ 2004 paper showing a 30% weight loss in obese mice drew skepticism. Randy J. Seeley, director of the diabetes and obesity center at the University of Cincinnati, figured destroying white fat cells would make animals–and people–sick. But his own lab eventually replicated the mouse study, using rats instead, and now he is intrigued.
“This is really new stuff,” Dr. Seeley said of the latest results. “There’s no way to know if this will become a therapy or not, but at least it opens up a new way to think about therapies, and we have not had a lot of those.” He isn’t involved with the research.

For the full story, see:
RON WINSLOW. “Drug Offers Hope in Obesity Fight; Treatment Targeting Fat Cells Caused Significant Weight Loss in Monkeys; Human Trials to Begin Soon.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., November 10, 2011): A6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the last two sentences quoted above appeared in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

ObeseMonkeyLostWeight2012-02-06.jpg “One of the monkeys used in the study. Obese monkeys lost an average of 11% of their body weight after four weeks of treatment.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

“The Patience of Jobs”

(p. 7) Steve Jobs was missing from the scene of the meeting, though he would soon be Disney’s largest individual shareholder (the acquisition was a stock-for-stock trade) and the newest member of Disney’s board. Lasseter was right about his money; Jobs had driven a hard bargain in buying Lucas’s Computer Division for five million dollars (not ten million, as is sometimes reported), but as it turned out, he put ten times that amount into the company over the course of a decade to keep it afloat. Few other investors would have had the patience of Jobs.

Price, David A. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.
(Note: my strong impression is that the pagination is the same for the 2008 hardback and the 2009 paperback editions, except for part of the epilogue, which is revised and expanded in the paperback. I believe the passage above has the same page number in both editions.)

Nasar Gives Compelling Portrait of Joseph Schumpeter and His Vienna


Source of book image:

(p. C31) Ms. Nasar gives us Belle Époque Vienna — infatuated with modernity and challenging London in the race to electrify with new telephone service, state-of-the-art factories and power-driven trams — and then a devastating picture of Vienna at the end of World War I: war veterans loitering outside restaurants waiting for scraps, and desperate members of a middle class that saw inflation wipe out all its savings trading a piano for a sack of flour, a gold watch chain for a few sacks of potatoes.
. . .
Among the more compelling portraits in this volume is that of Joseph Alois Schumpeter, the brilliant European economist who argued that the distinctive feature of capitalism was “incessant innovation” — a “perennial gale of creative destruction” — and who identified the entrepreneur as the visionary who could “revolutionize the pattern of production by exploiting an invention” or “an untried technological possibility.”

For the full review, see:
MICHIKO KAKUTANI. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Economist’s Progress: Better Living Through Fiscal Chemistry.” The New York Times (Fri., December 2, 2011): C31.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 1, 2011.)