Posts by Jon Pfeffer

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Sep 28, 2017 by

Columbia Study Illuminates Surprising Link Between Air Quality and Economic Output

Columbia air quality study

Air quality and stock profits may not seem like there is an obvious correlation, but a new study may have found one. The Columbia Business School recently discussed the link between “higher levels of air pollution and a reduction in investor trading activity,” drawing a striking connection between air pollution and overall economic output in the developed world.

In the new study entitled “Fresh Air Eases Work,” Columbia Business School professor Michaela Pagel, who co-authored the study along with researchers from Leibniz University in Hanover, Germany, tracked “highly detailed hourly air pollution levels from 600 air, weather and traffic stations” and “online account trading activity and customer demographics from a large German discount broker.”

Piggybacking on previous research that correlated air pollution with everything from “short-term variations in major stock market indexes” to “baseball umpire game calls,” the researchers correlated the two data sets and found that “the negative impact of air pollution on workplace performance and the economy at large is far more widespread than previously believed.”

The study found that when air quality worsens, investors are “less likely to log into and trade in their online brokerage accounts.” According to the study, a “one-standard-deviation increase in fine particulate matter reduces trading activity by 8.5 percent the same magnitude as a one standard deviation increase in sunshine.”

Pagel concludes, “The rather frightening conclusion is that even relatively invisible fine air particular matter damages cognitive ability by moving through the nose to the brain. We hope it serves as motivation for both corporate leaders and elected officials to focus on air quality control and improvement efforts.”

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Sep 21, 2017 by

Stanford Professor on How to Avoid Jerks at Work

stanford professor jerks work

Stanford organizational behavior professor and de facto jerk expert Robert I. Sutton’s latest book The A**hole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt gives you the tools and knowledge to lay with the pigs without getting mud on you.

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Sep 21, 2017 by

Columbia Business Prof Co-Authors Study of How Pop Songs Become Hits

Columbia pop songs hits

Building a quality song doesn’t exactly mean it will become a hit single, but there are ways to predict how it’s possible. Columbia Business School looked further into the hit-making algorithm songwriters can take note of, but it is hardly a guarantee it will work.

In a new American Sociological Review paper entitled “What Makes Popular Culture Popular? Product Features and Optimal Differentiation in Music,” co-authors Michael Mauskapf, a CBS Assistant Professor of Management, and Noah Askin, an INSEAD Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, found that all top-charting anthems share one attribute: they balance familiarity and novelty. In other words: songs have to be bold, but not too bold and predictable, but not too predictable, lest they totally alienate or bore listeners to tears.

The duo used music intelligence platform The Echo Nest to analyze the key, mode, and tempo of over 26,000 songs. According to Askin, “The songs that reach the highest echelons of the charts bear some similarity to other popular songs that are out at the same time, but they must be unique in certain ways in order to differentiate themselves.” Mauskapf adds, “We found that songs with a somewhat below average typicality score tended do better on the Hot 100.”

They also accounted for non-musical factors, such as previous chart success, the cachet of an artist’s team, a particular artist’s “star factor,” and marketing budget. While these elements are certainly important, the researchers seem to agree that “hit song science” is ineffectual at best.

Mauskapf explains, “It’s very difficult to predict what kinds of songs other musicians will release, and when audiences will find them to be “optimally distinct.” Askin adds, “What becomes popular next is likely to be slightly differentiated from the last round of hits, leading to a constant evolution of what is popular. Popularity is a moving target, but the context always remains relevant. This is at least as much art as it is science.”

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Sep 18, 2017 by

HBS Paper Looks At US Political Problems Through Lens of Competition

harvard negative political competition

In the free market sense, competition is one of the world’s greatest drivers of innovation. But more often than not, the effect of political competition may not be readily positive, according to new research from Harvard Business School.

Co-authored by former CEO Katherine Gehl along with HBS professor and U.S. Competitiveness Project Co-Chair Michael E. Porter, the duo identified how the “fundamental structural issues ailing the U.S. political system” have evolved using Porter’s Five Forces analysis.

The report breaks down how the American political “duopoly is protected by huge barriers to entry that have not only blocked major new parties but also independents and moderates” and “will not be self-correcting.” What has transpired from time immemorial, according to Gehl, is that the two dominant competitors in the American politics industry “focus on serving their partisan supporters and special interests, not the average voter.”

One revealing portion of the study digs deeper into the profound effects ideology has on the issue.

“Parties compete to create and reinforce partisan divisions, not deliver the practical solutions that are the most important outcome we need our political system to achieve” … “The duopoly appeals to its partisan supporters based on ideology, not policies that work. Ideology offers simplistic and polarized approaches to addressing issues. The definition of ideology includes words such as ‘beliefs,’ ‘perspectives,’ and ‘doctrine,’ not words like ‘reality,’ ‘objective analysis,’ and ‘facts.’ Ideological stances appeal to partisan believers but rarely, if ever, provide an actual solution.”

Porter, whose organization “identifies the necessary steps policymakers and the business community must take to improve U.S. competitiveness,” explained the roots of his desire to extend his research into the political domain.

“I was drawn to analyze the U.S. political system as an industry when our research found that our political system is the biggest impediment to U.S. competitiveness,” Porter said. “Our dysfunctional political outcomes are a competition problem.”

Gehl and Porter used their research as an opportunity to evaluate “which powerful and achievable political reforms should be pursued” and then lay out an actionable plan for how to reinvigorate “our democracy by shifting the very nature of competition.”

Click here to read full report.

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Sep 14, 2017 by

Berkeley Haas Student App Helps Empower Syrian Asylum-Seekers

Berkeley student app syrian

Students at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley have found a unique and important way to potentially help the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis through a new student-built crowd-source platform.

Founded by Sarrah Nomanbhoy, MBA ’18, who’d previously launched a seed accelerator for new Sri Lankan startups, MarHub came to life with the help of a $5,000 Dean’s Seed Fund grant, a $5,000 Hansoo Lee Fellowship, and a $12,500 Jack Larson Scholarship. Nomanbhoy’s idea emerged from last year’s Hult Prize Challenge on Refugees.

Along with significant contributions from co-founders Jerry Philip, EWMBA ’19; Peter Wasserman, MBA/MPH 18; and Srinivas Vaidyanathan, EWMBA 18, MarHub addresses a common concern among refugees who struggle to navigate confusing and often conflicting sources of information once they reach a border.

Nomanbhoy explained in a recent interview, “Information from humanitarian agencies [was] too general, and social media was filled with unverified rumors. About 70 percent of asylum seekers receive negative decisions after this first set of interviews, and many are now in limbo pending the outcome of the appeal process.”

“The hard part psychologically is not knowing how long the wait is going to be. Time moves very slowly when you’re waiting in a queue, but imagine not knowing whether you’ll be stuck for two months or two years,” Philip added

Based on interviews at the Ritsona and Chios refugee camps in Athens, Greece, the MarHub platform evolved into a Facebook messenger-enabled chatbot that allows refugees to “view, evaluate, and comment on information from humanitarian agencies, volunteers on the ground, and other asylum seekers.” As MarHub accumulates users, “the data collected will enable more accurate, timely responses.”

But Chatbots are merely the beginning of Nomanbhoy’s plans for MarHub. Her long-term goal is to use data to “improve migration management” full stop. The product is expected to begin its initial pilot service with Greece’s RefuComm this fall, followed by more rounds of seed funding.

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Sep 14, 2017 by

Rutgers Professors Talk Digital Era Work-Life Balance in New Book

Rutgers work-life balance

In an era of constant contact, how can workers create a stable work-life balance? In a new book, two Rutgers Business School explore the dilemma.

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