March 1, 2016

The New York Times - What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team 5-15min

Our data-saturated age enables us to examine our work habits and office quirks with a scrutiny that our cubicle-bound forebears could only dream of. Today, on corporate campuses and within university laboratories, psychologists, sociologists and statisticians are devoting themselves to studying everything from team composition to email patterns in order to figure out how to make employees into faster, better and more productive versions of themselves. ... Five years ago, Google — one of the most public proselytizers of how studying workers can transform productivity — became focused on building the perfect team. In the last decade, the tech giant has spent untold millions of dollars measuring nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives. Google’s People Operations department has scrutinized everything from how frequently particular people eat together (the most productive employees tend to build larger networks by rotating dining companions) to which traits the best managers share (unsurprisingly, good communication and avoiding micromanaging is critical; more shocking, this was news to many Google managers). ... No matter how researchers arranged the data, though, it was almost impossible to find patterns — or any evidence that the composition of a team made any difference. ... kept coming across research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on what are known as ‘‘group norms.’ ... Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team. ... noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ ... Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. ... to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations.

Inc. - How This Company Makes $70 Million Selling Random Stuff on Amazon 5-15min

This is the Amazon Marketplace, where anybody can sell just about anything right alongside Amazon's own wares. Unlike eBay, where each vendor maintains a separate listings page, Amazon tidily groups its Marketplace sellers by item, hiding away the inferior offers, to showcase the best deals up front. (In seller parlance, landing the number-one spot is called "getting the buy box.") What looks so clean on your screen obscures the messy and massive jungle of the Marketplace: There are now more than two million sellers on Amazon. While the Seattle-based giant still sells the most popular items on the site itself, Marketplace sellers now ship nearly half of the products--about two billion items each year, all told--and those sales are growing twice as fast as Amazon's, according to the consultancy ChannelAdvisor. The Marketplace started in 2000 selling used books. In 2016, it's a retail phenomenon as significant as any in the past 50 years--together these sellers ring up what ChannelAdvisor estimates to be $132 billion in sales each year. That's more than Walmart sold in 1997. Yet we know so little about who they are. ... Pharmapacks, notched $31.5 million in revenue in 2014, which made its three-year growth rate 3,035 percent, good enough to earn it the 115th spot on the Inc. 500. By the end of 2015, its annual revenue was $70 million. Vagenas proudly told me the company was on track to do $140 million to $160 million in revenue in 2016, the vast majority coming from those platforms (and around 40 percent from Amazon). ... Inventory often stays in their warehouse only for a few hours before going right back out the door. The business is less like traditional merchandising than it is like a commodities trader from a bygone era, buying and selling well-known goods and turning a profit on each transaction.

Bloomberg - Expedia Thinks It Can Help You Find the Dream Vacation You Didn’t Know You Wanted 5-15min

All of her reactions, and her answers to the questions Motte asked as Megan used the site, went into a growing database. Expedia, the parent company of more than a dozen travel-oriented brands in addition to Expedia.com, is obsessed with figuring out how to make booking travel online more intuitive, more efficient, and more enjoyable. That means, among other things, understanding the psychodrama of trip planning: the shifting desires and paralyzing wealth of choices, the unsettling gyrations in room rates and ticket prices, the competing demands of family members and budgets and schedules, the need to balance the thirst for adventure against the fear of Zika virus in Latin America or Islamic State in Europe. ... The goal of Expedia’s usability researchers is not only to make Expedia’s various sites and mobile apps more efficient but also to make them an extension of the vacation fantasies that are always running in the back of our heads. ... What distinguishes Expedia is its dedication to understanding the psyche of the modern travel planner. That may be most apparent in the Usability Lab, but much of it happens on the sites themselves, as the company relentlessly tests new ideas about look and feel and function. ... each of Expedia’s brands has its own technology and marketing teams, and they’re encouraged to set their own course. They all benefit from the massive inventory of hotel rooms and plane tickets and the financial resources and technological firepower of the parent company. ... Two-thirds of the A/B tests Expedia runs show no effect or a negative effect, and most of the successful ones are only marginally so.

ESPN - The FBI vs. FIFA 5-15min

At 400 pounds, with an unruly white beard and mane, he looked like Santa Claus, talked like a bricklayer and lived like a 1-percenter. ... Blazer's big secret, as he looked down on the Manhattan streets, seems so obvious now: He had embezzled his fortune through kickbacks and bribes. And the people who would uncover the scam were with him today, in his apartment, about to dispatch him to take down FIFA. ... There has never been anything quite like the FBI's investigation into global soccer, which resulted in a series of high-profile arrests starting in May 2015. But so far, only the barest outline of the case has been made public. Wiretaps and classified debriefings remain under seal, as do the identities of confidential informants and the grand jury proceedings that have left 25 FIFA officials facing criminal charges. ... He'd attended its meetings when he was with the USSF, and he knew it was a sleepy FIFA subsidiary laden with aging bureaucrats. He also knew it was just the place to make his name, so he schemed to field his own candidate for the confederation's presidency, Jack Warner, a former Trinidadian schoolteacher who was a rising political star in the Caribbean soccer world. Through Warner, Blazer would secure his own ascent.