Happy Holidays!

Xmas Snoopy
Happy Christmas!

Christmas is just a couple of minutes away and I’m here wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year on behalf of all of ERPZ. Give yourself a good treat and take a break by hunting for a good book to read. Borders is going to hold a great sale this weekend after Christmas – so head down there after partying to hunt for a gift for yourself.

Leadership Review

Leadership
Leading the pack...

ERPZ explores quite a lot of stuff; from matters about studying smart to the huge issues surrounding economics and the environment. This are the efforts to cover what students need to learn about and know (true to our objective of ‘Educating students about being students’), but we seem to have missed out something really important in today’s world and that’s “Leadership”.

I started out reading a recent issue of Fortune Magazine, which featured an article on How to build great leaders, uncovering the different MNCs methods of identifying and grooming leaders for their organzation. A second article on leadership discusses the leadership during a crisis or recession. Talent on Tap, an article from The Economist talks about the increasing trend of getting temporary big bosses to sit in the autonomous firms and thus helping to tide the firm over a crisis or avert one.

Finally, an article from Knowledge @ SMU discusses the implication for leadership in individuals with different degree of self-monitoring. They suggested how high self-monitor individuals stand out as informal leaders although the low self-monitors are the ones who ends up in position of authority. I like to think that high self-monitors are suitable for ad-hoc leadership roles or to lead during special circumstances, perhaps why firms need temp bosses. In long run, during ordinary day to day management and leadership, the consistency of low self-monitors probably stand out and will become more important. If you’re interested to find out whether you score high on the self-monitoring scale, you can check out this test.

Progress or regress?

Man to Ape
Getting Smarter...

An article from The Economist‘s Christmas special edition examines the idea of progress of humanity, especially in the past century and this. I had problems reading this initially as it feels rather heavy on philosophy, but in essence I gather that in terms of health and economic growth we have made tremendous progress, but in terms of our humanity our progress is questionable.

It even raises the possibility that the concept of progress could be misguided or abused. Take, as mentioned in the article, how Hitler used ‘progress’ and subsumed it into ‘the shared destiny of a (German) nation’. All the more reason to question what progress is. So what exactly constitutes progress?

It seems like to be able to determine whether we have really ‘progressed’, we need to examine different parameters, such as in terms of science, in terms of material wealth… I never found progress this difficult to define until I encountered this article. I examine and read this from a very layman and not from a philosophical point of view, so pardon me if I appear naive or ill-informed.

Corporate Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility
More ideas to have more trees

While we tinker with the idea that governments and politics are important sources of forces for the good when it comes to climate, corporations are already doing loads in the real world with the advent of Corporate Social Responsibility.

To be frank, CSR can sometimes be make-up for the company’s public face but there are still substantial number of firms who are doing real big good stuff and tackling different aspects of social costs the company might have inflicted on the society. Knowledge @ Wharton introduces the CSR moves of Campbell, which covers not only environmental actions but also social programmes (mostly to do with employees).

The Economist thinks little of CSR but highlights the ordinary good that firms and companies does by just doing their own stuff (manufacturing, marketting, improving, innovating). The newspaper argues that business people should probably trumpet these achievements of fostering innovation, cooperation between groups and individuals across the globe besides being so engrossed with CSR.

Sometimes I guess if you look on the bright side, everyone is probably doing good through being selfish – the central idea of economics.

Tiger Trouble

Tiger Woods
Maintain focus!

Tiger Woods look like he’s really in deep trouble; James Surowiecki traces the reason how Tiger Woods’ image is going down with the scandals and gave a thorough analysis on how the image of these celebrity figures are tied to products and firms they endorse or act as the public face for.

He even did a follow-up on his New Yorker blog to highlight the trouble Woods got into with the different firms and brands linked to him. He decided that Woods’ image is quite wrecked for the professional sponsorships from non-golf related stuff would probably cut back quite substantially.

John Cassidy did another analysis of what went wrong for Tiger Woods in the entire episode and explains why Tiger Woods need to get back into Professional golfing fast – assuming he’s able to maintain his focus and discipline.

Meaningful, I’m not so sure

Clock
The clock is ticking.

Key states have announced what they call a “meaningful” agreement at the Copenhagen Climate Summit to tackle climate change. The agreement between the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa would set a mitigation target to limit warming to no more than 2C and, importantly, to take action to meet this objective.

The five-nation brokered deal promised to deliver $30bn of aid for developing nations over the next three years, and outlined a goal of providing $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change. The agreement also included a method for verifying industrialised nations’ reduction of emissions. The US had insisted that China dropped its resistance to this measure.

However, it seems that only the US and China are supposedly “happy” from a meeting which seemingly had a “positive result”, or rather, what I term as a poor return from the 2 weeks worth of discussion.

In the face of a globalized world and the many challenges that we face, what the US and China put forth together seemingly only benefits them. For instance, nothing is done about limiting carbon emissions and on a legally binding treaty, something which sort of “liberalizes” the major powers in the form of US, China and India. With US out of Kyoto and the lack of a legally binding contract, China and India can be said to be free to do whatever they want, with all three nations insisting that national sovereignty comes first.

Now, I’m not saying national sovereignty should be ignored, but as we attempt to tackle a problem that we should have been engaged in long ago, we realize that the Copenhagen Accord, as Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament’s environment committee described, is a completely “disappointment and below our expectations”.

Selfish interests of the global powers dominated the discussion table in Copenhagen, while the rest of the world are let down by their inability to co-operate and come up with a more radical approach to the problem. Yes, this is progress from what has come before, a necessity, but whether it will truly solve the problem, no. The roots of the problem ultimately lie in the countries’ inability to break out of their shell – their inability to come to a solid-enough compromise, and their covert belief that the economy should come first. This inability to commit to this cause from the US, China and India seemingly portrays them in a green limelight.

Progress has been made, yes, but it’s no longer about the ability to make progress, that almost didn’t happen, but rather, how fast we can reach humanity’s goal.

The clock is ticking.

Copenhagen, Hopenhagen, Nopenhagen

Climate Change
Save a few trees

It saddens me to read in The Straits Times that at the end of the whole Copenhagen COP15 summit, the only statement issued was just a whimper, a short simple declaration that does not commit anything very much promising. The US$30b fund is an improvement that I found encouraging, but otherwise all the wrangling and politicking was disgusting and disappointing.

As an environmentalist, I guess I always had greater expectations about COP15 and what governments should be doing. But even as my expectations were lowered by the day as I tracked the summit through the newspapers, I am still disappointed that there will not be real leadership and guts to tackle climate change. Reading The Economist, in particular, seems to increase that pessimism. Local politics ultimately rules the day, and sadly local politics are heavily influenced by lobby groups like the oil industry, as well as naysayers who do not believe in the concept of climate change.

It does not help matters that recently there were <a href="leaked emails of data collected on climate science being ‘massaged’. It only proves the skeptics and naysayers that climate change is an agenda usurped by those against capitalism and the Western world, against development and industrialisation. It was already difficult to convince people, or to convince even ourselves, that the economy would not be affected by measures to fight climate change. This ‘Climategate’ might only sour perceptions about environmentalists, environmental scientists and those who support the climate change notion as rogues who are trying to stop the world from getting wealthier.

Very hard to feel very optimistic. I visited the Hopenhagen website, and on its index page it asks for input from visitors to its website for what hopes the visitors have for the environment / climate and what is it that keeps them optimistic. I could not think of anything positive to write about, knowing that the legal, political and economic hurdles were so huge. I closed the website window without typing anything.

So tell me, what keeps you optimistic about resolving climate change?

Sites & Wares

Macheist
Macheist rocks!

It’s been a while since ERPZ featured any Lifehack Tools and lately, I’ve found quite a lot of useful stuff so it would be great to share with readers and GTD enthusiasts.

Dropbox – File sharing/synchronization, online storage tool. Extremely useful for people with multiple computers and files to be shared between them.

Macheist – Mac Community that raise funds for charity and give you lots of great Mac Ware at amazing prices (sometimes free too).

Ninite.com – Multi-Apps installer; allows you to choose from a list of important “must-install” applications to be installed all at once on your computer. Especially useful when you just get a new computer or formatted your PC and want to have your favourite softwares installed fast.

Growl – Mac Notification tool, it’s basically an alert programme that seamlessly integrate with your mac and several other popular programmes.

Picnik – In case you haven’t realised, there’s are web-based image-editing tools and Picnik just happens to stand out particularly because it is speedy and extremely user friendly.

Quicksilver – It’s not easy to describe what Quicksilver does exactly but it’s basically a graphical shell that allows you to perform stuff on your Mac more quickly.

Weekend Reads

More medallions!
More medallions!

We begin this week’s reads with an interview with Paul Samuelson by John Cassidy from The New Yorker. John Cassidy recently published a new book, How Markets Fail, which I’ll read some time soon. It won’t be that soon though – I’m still reading Thinking Strategically and moving on to Art of Strategy after that.

Eric Morris shared something about the cab industry in New York, which eventually concluded with urging for less regulation (ie. raising the supply of cab licenses or “medallions” as they’re called). One of the comments revealed a really humourous story of how the cabbie’s industry in Ireland got deregulated overnight; I shall reproduce it here:

A similar sitution existed in Ireland up to a few years ago. Change was brought about when the government went to issue more wheel chair accessable taxi licenses. The Taxi driver / owners group foolishly sued the government. They claimed that the government didn’t have the right to issue new licenses. They won but the court ruled that the government didn’t have the power to issue any licenses. The taxi ma[r]ket was deregulated overnight.

The current complaint from taxi drivers is that there are too many taxis etc etc. There were clear winners, the consumer and those new taxi drivers who are now free to ply their trade in a vastly increased taxi market.

The fact that GPS navigation on-board cars/cabs are widely available means that the tacit barrier to entry for the cab business have been significantly lowered. Anyone who can drive and have a car with on-board GPS navigation (and perhaps a meter) can technically offer good taxi services. Knowledge of the city and the different landmarks have become less of an advantage or requirement.

As for talks that you might want to listen to, Magnus Larsson speaks about structuring sand in deserts to prevent further desertification. His proposal won the Holcim Awards.

Tech Highlights

Its colored!
It's colored!

Tech Quarterly is here again and here are some highlights.

There’s an interesting study about the contagious effects of loneliness. It sounds kind of paradoxical since the fact that it can be spread at all shows that the victims are already interacting with people and thus not ‘lonely’ technically speaking. In the area of medical research, there’s a glue designed for aiding bones to heal.

As for gadgets and machines, readers might be interested in an article on E-readers and potential future developments that these devices will move towards – especially having coloured displays. The discussion on ways of typing different language text on mobile phones helps you understand more about non-latin languages.

Finally, there’s something on mechanization of agriculture; the article reveals surprising labour shortage in this field of work. I thought the solution might be to move the unemployed people from the urban areas to these agricultural regions but well, they designed all sorts of machine to do the job so that means the unemployed will have to find something more complex to earn a living.