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One thing that Domino’s has done especially well is making their technology fun. When companies launch new platforms or technologies, there’s often pushback from consumers who are set in their established ways (think about Facebook redesigns in the past, for example), and the drive to get people to engage is often a tricky one.

For those of you who’ve used Domino’s online ordering system before, they try to make it an enjoyable experience. There are animations associated with each step of the process, you know the name of who’s preparing your pizza, and you have the chance to communicate with the staff (albeit with a limited number of fixed sentences). That, along with the fact that it’s a good way to assess when your pizza is ready/will arrive at your door, makes it fun to engage. Other firms could learn from that approach — although being in the pizza business does give you a leg up on having fun.

On November 20, 2016, EBS commented on The evolution of Singapore’s Changi Airport :

Very interesting topic. Beyond the technology that airports deploy directly, a lot of the traffic growth is going to be driven by two extraneous factors:

1. The cost of energy
2. The technology of planes

If energy gets cheaper, more people will travel, as that’s one of the major drivers of cost. And plane technology is changing too — companies like Airbus and Boeing are investing more in cost management. Additionally, firms are focusing on speed [1], which could reduce another barrier to travelling.

As airports like Changi think about expansion, I’d be curious to know how they consider those two factors. If they think the cost of energy will go up because of government regulations meant to curb greenhouse emissions, that would diminish traffic (planes are nowhere near using green technology to operate). But if they are bullish on the above, even aggressive estimates could quickly become reality.

[1] http://money.cnn.com/2016/11/15/technology/supersonic-plane-virgin-boom/

As newer gyms, companies like Flywheel and SoulCycle are clearly in a better position to use technology and data to enhance their product. But my bigger concern is that both feel like fads, which means that adaptability will be the defining characteristic of their long-term success. Technology can be an important part of that.

Obesity is a crisis on the US, but the path to health is a challenging one. The only approach is a long-term, healthy diet and commitment to regular exercise, but most people just aren’t willing to do that. That’s why diets that promise more than they can actually deliver (the Atkins diet, for example) rise and fall so fast. Exercise is the same way, and everything from Eight Minute Abs to the Shake Weight [1] have been promised as a golden ticket.

Without a coprorate commitment to adapability, they could go the same way.

[1] http://www.mensfitness.com/styleandgrooming/fashion/the-25-biggest-fitness-fads-of-all-time

On November 18, 2016, EBS commented on Britannica’s quest to survive :

Thanks for writing, Shantanu. Full disclosure: I’m a big believer in Wikipedia, and in the past have been an active editor on the site, because I think that it’s democratized knowledge unlike anyone ever has. Wikipedia, Google, and Facebook have fundamentally changed the way that we interact with facts and knowledge.

The concern that I have with this approach is that Britannica’s only path to survival has to be the high-brow, academic route. They’re never going to be able to broadly compete with Wikipedia at this point, but I think there’s room for niche development in the academic space. As a result, I think the “shorter articles, online quizzes, [and] listicles” that Britannica is damaging to the brand — it sounds more like Buzzfeed than a reputable source — and moves the encyclopedia maker into a space where they also can’t compete.

Instead, I think there’s an opportunity for growth in the academic world that Britannica could work with. Across multiple disciplines, there are hundreds of different reputable warehouses for academic info (JSTOR, for example) and publications (New England Journal of Medicine, for example). But those aren’t accessible to the hoi polloi, either because of paywalls or because of the density of the content. If Britannica could consolidate that academic info in one space, and make the findings of studies more readily available, that’s a clear value add that doesn’t cheapen the brand name — and that brand name maybe the only thing it has left.

Katherine gets at this a bit, but I do wonder whether churches are missing the broader problem that they have with younger people. You point out that, “Congregations that have attracted more young adults tend to use and offer the most technology,” but I would contend that churches that use technology tend to be more progressive in general, and that’s what is attracting the young adults, not the use of the technology itself.

Ultimately, church attendance is down because they don’t play as vital a social role in many communities as they did 50 years ago, and because people are becoming less religious. Congregations need to figure out how to stay relevant in a world where both of those things are true — and that’s a tricky proposition. Does that mean focusing less on religion and more on broader morality?

The problem is that this isn’t just a hobby for people. For the pious, it’s a question of heaven and hell, salvation for damnation. And if you believe there’s only one way there, there can’t be compromise. If you’re interested in growing your base and staying true to your mission and faith, there are almost necessarily some important philosophical trade-offs.

On November 6, 2016, EBS commented on United’s Climate Change Challenge (642 Words) :

The problem, really, is that airlines like United don’t have a lot of incentive to change. Options like carbon offsets increase the price of a ticket, which means that fewer people will want to fly; the same is true of incremental taxes, which would be another way to change behavior.

Likewise, the average consumer isn’t likely to change. Yes, there are a few (predominantly wealthy) consumers who might care and spend accordingly, but not enough to move the needle. Cars and trains just aren’t viable alternatives, especially for most of the US.

The difference maker isn’t United so much as it is Boeing and Airbus. The manufacturers themselves own the technology, not the airlines, and they’re the ones that will invest in the engineering that makes using alternative energy viable as a power source for planes. They’ve already started moving down that path, partially to go green but partially because it’s a lot cheaper. Boeing’s newest plane, the 787, is much more fuel efficient than its predecessors.

Consumers are going to have more luck pressuring the manufacturers, who don’t immediately see that consumers don’t pay a premium for green items, and Boeing and Airbus have incentive to look for whatever option they can find to reduce costs for airlines.

On November 5, 2016, EBS commented on Chipotle’s Guacapocolypse :

A world without guacamole is not a world in which I want to live.

I do worry to what extent Chipotle has shot itself in the food with the recent E. coli scandals. Its stock price is way, way down from its all-time high [1], so they probably don’t have the clout that they used to. Three years ago, I think they could’ve forced changes with a lot of their suppliers because their growth was so substantial, and because they were the gold-standard in the industry. But that’s not the case anymore.

The reality is that it’s going to be tough for them to focus on so many different initiatives — being green, not having GMOs, etc. — if growth is a concern. I honestly think they should’ve taken the opportunity that came from their recent stock price dip to move away from some of that and instead focus on “quality” as an open-ended idea without specific tactics.

But if they do want to focus on tactics, it needs to be just one or two. Maybe water usage in avocado production is one of those two things. But they need to act quickly, because they’re influence is falling rapidly.

P.S. I eat at Chipotle a solid three times a week, so this comes from a place of love.


[1] http://finance.yahoo.com/chart/CMG#eyJtdWx0aUNvbG9yTGluZSI6ZmFsc2UsImJvbGxpbmdlclVwcGVyQ29sb3IiOiIjZTIwMDgxIiwiYm9sbGluZ2VyTG93ZXJDb2xvciI6IiM5NTUyZmYiLCJtZmlMaW5lQ29sb3IiOiIjNDVlM2ZmIiwibWFjZERpdmVyZ2VuY2VDb2xvciI6IiNmZjdiMTIiLCJtYWNkTWFjZENvbG9yIjoiIzc4N2Q4MiIsIm1hY2RTaWduYWxDb2xvciI6IiMwMDAwMDAiLCJyc2lMaW5lQ29sb3IiOiIjZmZiNzAwIiwic3RvY2hLTGluZUNvbG9yIjoiI2ZmYjcwMCIsInN0b2NoRExpbmVDb2xvciI6IiM0NWUzZmYiLCJyYW5nZSI6IjV5In0%3D

On November 5, 2016, EBS commented on Reduced Snowpack in Washington State :

You’ve discussed a number of possible solutions to Washington’s water problem, and they’re all important ones. But in addition to focusing on the supply side, I also think there are steps that can be taken on the demand side as well by changing the water consumption of its citizens.

California is in the middle of a drought, and while things have gotten better in the last year or so, reservoir levels are nowhere near where they need to be. The state government put in place programs to limit water use, and the public attitudes around the drought were such that there was social pressure not use over-use water for luxuries like a greener lawn.

It worked: water usage was down in 2015 was down some 13.5 percent as of last year [1]. But I think that was only possible because the situation got so dire.

Being in a drought is not a good situation. But when that does happen, given the trajectory of Washington’s climate, it needs to take advantage of the situation and change the way that its citizens use water and think about water usage.


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/01/us/water-use-in-california.html

On November 5, 2016, EBS commented on Submerged Subways: How Will the MTA Adapt to Rising Seas? :

I agree that this is a scary concept. There are conflicting reports that suggest that flooding after Hurricane Sandy killed a significant number of rats [1][2], so at least there’s some silver lining?

Drastic action has to be taken. But the point that I would make isn’t so much about the policy as it is about who’s going to take care of it. You’d mentioned “massive urban planning involving the MTA, city, state, and federal agencies,” but I’d argue that given where New York City sits on the American political landscape, that sort of collaboration isn’t feasible.

New York holds a unique place in political discourse, and that’s evident just from this year’s political campaign. Both Clinton and Trump espouse strong anti-Wall Street rhetoric despite their own ties to the Big Apple. Ted Cruz took a lot of his for this “New York values” comment, but he said it for a reason and it clearly resonated with a lot of voters.

Those comments may be unfair or unjustified, but they don’t come from nowhere. With the exception of instances of true national tragedy — 9/11 being the obvious example — helping NYC doesn’t score you many political points. And it doesn’t help that it’s in a reliably blue state that shows no signs of becoming a swing state anytime soon. And as a result, I would expect help from the federal government.

I bring this up not to call out a technicality, but to recognize the pragmatic reality that NYC may not get the federal aid that it might need or want. So the city needs to consider options that it’s able to accomplish on its own, and that means finding cheaper and/or less aggressive but effective alternative.

I don’t know what that means. Does that entail building a Manhattan-wide version of Minneapolis’ Skyway [3]? Going with an elevated public transit system like you see in parts of Brooklyn or in Chicago? Returning to Robert Moses’ conception of the city, when he proposed fewer subways and more roads? I don’t know.

But unfortunately, it may have to be piecemeal, and it there may need to be some tough compromises.


[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2225935/Hurricane-Sandy-probably-wiped-New-Yorks-rats-despite-warnings-rodent-apocalypse-say-experts.html
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/07/nyregion/after-storm-rats-creep-inland.html
[3] http://www.skywaymyway.com/

I agree with Elizabeth, and I might even take the argument a step further: Harvard actively should continue to invest in fossil fuels. There are pragmatic reasons for this, and there are ethical reasons for this.

Pragmatically, and she points out, it’s hard to figure out how to divest. What exactly is fossil fuel investment? Maybe it’s easy to say that Harvard shouldn’t invest in companies like ExxonMobil, but what about car companies that are developing, but haven’t fully developed, green technologies? What about commercial builders that only target LEED Silver certification as opposed to LEED Gold? What about Uber? The definition of divestment is dubious as best.

You may recall the childhood adage: “if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk.” If you’re going to divest from fossil fuels, disgruntled alumni could and would certainly ask for more. What about tobacco? Alcohol? Companies whose executes support policies or politicians you disagree with? The Harvard Corporation and Harvard Management Company have an obligation to remain apolitical and above the fray, as their job is to maximize returns for the benefit of the University, not to assuage the alumni. The Harvard Alumni Association is tasked to do that.

Futhermore, the Harvard endowment isn’t just a Schwab account with $35 billion in assets lying around. Harvard owns land, invests money through hedge fund managers, and operates 1000s of different subsidiary companies and LLCs [1]. Even if you could determine what divestment means — and again, you can’t — that information isn’t readily accessible, and sometimes isn’t accessible at all.

But even beyond that, there is an ethical argument to be made for not divesting. During apartheid in South Africa, universities and non-profit endowments globally divested from the country. Those actions were well-intended stance in the fight against an injustice far worse than fossil fuels. The problem, however, is that money talks. As long as people had money in the country, South Africa’s government was ultimately accountable to outside investors, and while their actions were reprehensible, they were still accountable to those outside parties who had the ability to put their foot down every now and again.

As more and more parties divested from South Africa, there was less oversight, and the government and specific companies started behaving more erratically becuase they weren’t accountable to these outside third parties.

Fossil fuels aren’t great. But if Harvard is a shareholder, they’re in a better position to effect change, because it’s easier to change the world from the inside than from the out.


[1] http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2015/042/103/2015-042103580-0cc53892-9.pdf