Saturday, August 18, 2007

Envy as a genetic trait?

UC Davis economist Gregory Clark bills his new book A Farewell to Alms (Princeton) as "a brief economic history of the world." Its Darwinian thesis holds that the Industrial Revolution was sparked and caught on in England because its people descended from the upper classes, which over hundreds of years had survived at higher rates than the lower classes. As a result, upper class values also survived and became the basis for a culture that was conducive to an industrialized society. (See the NYT for more on this.)

Clark also cites evidence that shows that happiness is strongly correlated to wealth within a society. (There is little correlation between wealth and happiness between societies. In other words, rich societies are no more happy than poor societies.) Thus, he writes:

The key problem here is the ample evidence that our happiness depends not on our absolute level of well-being, but instead on how we are doing relative to our reference group. Each individual -- by acquiring more income, by buying a larger house in a nicer neighborhood, by driving a more elegant car -- can make him- or herself happier. But happier only at the expense of those with less income, meaner housing, and junkier cars. Money can buy happiness, but that happiness is transferred from someone else, not added to the common pool.

His startling conclusion:
Since we are for the most part the descendants of the strivers of the preindustrial world, those driven to achieve greater economic success than their peers, perhaps these findings reflect another cultural or biological heritage from the Malthusian era. The contented may well have lost out in the Darwinian struggle that defined the world before 1800. Those who were successful in the economy of the Malthusian era could well have been driven by a need to have more than their peers in order to be happy. Modern man might not be designed for contentment. The envious have inherited the earth.

Monday, August 13, 2007

On ethics and Howard Gardner

s+b published a great article on Howard Gardner, the Harvard prof and MacArthur genius grant winner, in its latest issue. The author, Lawrence Fisher, deftly weaves a profile of Gardner and his work into an article that is primarily focused on ethics. The "ethical mind" is one of the five sets of cognitive capabilities people need to succeed in the future that Gardner described in his most recent book. (My post on the book is here.) Unfortunately, according to the article, it's also the one mind that businesspeople seem least interested in developing.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Making sense of marketing chaos

I used to think that marketers, with their big budgets, lack of accountability, and scads of vendor goodies, had it made. But in recent years, three challenges -- the fragmentation of media, the rise of the customer, and the difficulties of figuring out whether the trillion or so dollars that companies spend on marketing actually produces a decent ROI, have made the job a lot harder. I've also been getting a growing stack of books from would-be gurus and other pros that attempt, with varying degrees of success, to address the challenges marketers are facing.

Watch This, Listen Up, Click Here (Wiley) is a story-driven survey of the state of marketing vehicles. Written by David Verklin, CEO of Carat Americas, the world's largest independent media buyer, and the late Bernice Kanner, a noted marketing journalist, it covers the meltdown in traditional media vehicles, such as TV and newspapers, and the emergence of a host of others, such as search, buzz, mobile, product placement, etc., etc. The book is a readable intro to the complexities that today's marketers face when trying to reach customers, but there isn't much prescriptive advice for how to handle them.

Jean-Marc Lehu's Branded Entertainment (Kogan Page) focuses more tightly on product and brand placement in films, music videos, novels, video games, etc. Packed with examples, the book contains both an overview of the development of this fast-expanding vehicle and a practical education for marketers who want to use it. One interesting conclusion: there is no proven and comprehensive way to measure the ROI of these marketing investments.

Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons, the authors of Punk Marketing: Get Off Your Ass and Join the Revolution (Collins), hone in the growing power of the customer in the "brandscape." They say that customers are running the show these days and that traditional marketing bores the hell out of them. The book is full of attitude and fun to read, and there's even an idea or two you might be able to put to work. (See the manifesto here.) But unless you're still marketing like it's 1969, I don't know that it's as earth-shaking as the authors seem to think.

In Your Gut Is Still Not Smarter Than Your Head (Wiley), Kevin Clancy and Peter Kreig, the leaders of Copernicus Marketing Consulting, take on the third challenge marketers face -- how to make marketing profitable. Toward that end, the authors offer a functional makeover that uses analysis and facts to make investment decisions, a basic business concept that marketers have been able to avoid by focusing on the creative side of the discipline. It's good book that imposes some systematic managerial order on the most critical and mysterious business function.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

History of Kennedy Space Center

I've been to Kennedy Space Center a couple of times as a tourist and most recently, on a press pass for a shuttle launch that got scrubbed because of a hurricane. It's the most amazing travel depot on earth -- a spaceport, whose scale and mechanics are hard to grasp even when you are standing in the middle of it.

Happily, Kenneth Lipartito and Orville Butler help render what goes on there much more comprehensible with their new book, A History of the Kennedy Space Center, written under the auspices of NASA and published by University Press of Florida. It's a history, but the book is more about the business of KSC, the role it plays in the U.S. space program, and how it has been preparing, testing, and launching spacecraft over the past 45 years. It's a good read in it's own right, but a must if you're among the 1.5 million people that visit KSC each year.