Victim/Victor

The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars

By Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning

Palgrave, $65, 278 pages, ISBN 9783319703282

How did it come to this? When did it become, on the campuses of many upscale US universities, almost impossible to say anything without someone taking offence and initiating legal action through an office set up for the purpose? How is it that professors can be applauded for saying that they want to see a “white genocide”? When did hate-crime hoaxes become acceptable, even desirable?

Campbell (Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University) and Manning (Associate Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University) have collected a vast body of research on the subject – at considerable professional cost, it should be said – and have come up with some answers. They track the spread of the new culture of victimhood through universities and into broader society, and believe it began about ten years ago, when a new generation entered university life.

These teenagers had been continually told by their affluent, left-wing parents that they were “special snowflakes”: unique, beautiful and fragile. Years of helicopter-style parenting had given them the impression that they had the right to never be offended or challenged, and that their country was characterised by an evil history and a fearful present. To be subjected to an idea that you didn’t like was an insult, and that made you a victim. If you were, or saw yourself, as a member of a minority, then your victim status automatically became much higher.

And thus the idea of the micro-aggression was born. The key to it was that the content of any comment from someone outside one’s own circle was less important than the interpretation placed on it, and the interpretation was usually that the comment was racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive. Campbell and Manning note that even the phrase “on the other hand” was condemned (‘ableist’, apparently).

University administrations responded by setting up administrative bodies to hear complaints and pronounce sentences. These tribunals quickly extended their reach, equating what might have been a minor slight or a simple misunderstanding with actual violence. Hard evidence was not required: Campbell and Manning cite several cases where tribunals found a student ‘guilty’ of rape on campus even though police had established the accusations to be untrue.

From a sociological perspective, the culture of victimhood might be compared with the earlier culture of dignity, which was marked by self-restraint, forbearance, and quiet courage – and, when it came to issues such as racial equality, a sense of reciprocity and fairness. But all that was seen as hopelessly, dangerously outdated. The new mentality was about a war between the enlightened few – the ‘woke’ – and the rest. No quarter, no respite. Haters got to hate.

The key enemy of the victimhood movement was, inevitably, the older white male, always depicted as privileged, racist, misogynist and stupid. An army of media commentators agreed. But Campbell and Manning provide a poignant, anonymous quote from one of the snowflakes’ targets:
I am very lower middle class. I’ve never owned a new car, and I do my own home repairs as much as I can to save money. I cut my own grass, wash my own dishes, buy my clothes from Walmart. But oh, brother, to hear the media tell it, I am just drowning in unearned power and privilege, and America will be a much brighter, more loving, more peaceful nation when I finally just keel over and die.

And this is why over 62 million people voted for Donald Trump. Cause, meet effect.

One of the most telling chapters of the book deals with the rise of hate crime hoaxes. In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election there was a dramatic rise in the number of people saying they had been attacked by Trump supporters. However, many of the claims turned out to be simply fabricated. Campbell and Manning examine about a dozen cases, and a journalist called Andy Ngo has compiled a list running into the hundreds.

Presumably, being the target of an attack gives a person in the victimhood culture more status, and fits into a larger anti-Trump narrative. The problem with this is that there simply aren’t enough white racists to go around – if there were, there would be no need to invent them. (In fact, the statistics suggest that the number of real hate crimes is falling. The only growth area is attacks on Jews by members of the ultra-militant Nation Of Islam – something which is largely ignored, as it does not fit into the paradigm of black people as helpless victims of white racism.)

It says much that the celebrity of Jussie Smollett, the mid-level actor who recently staged an attack on himself by Trump supporters, has grown since his claims were revealed to be falsehoods. In victimhood culture, a hate-crime hoax is not a dishonest trick but a sign of true commitment to the cause. Well, fakers got to fake.

Campbell and Manning are not optimistic about the situation getting any better, although they discuss the possibility of victimhood culture burning out – there are already signs of it consuming itself in a “purity spiral”. On the other hand, they see the more likely outcome being that it will continue to grow and mutate, causing an even greater backlash. The result will be a more polarised, antagonistic society.

It takes no great effort to see the patterns described in this book in Australian society, as victimhood culture spreads from universities into the media. At present, Australia seems to be running a few years behind the US trend, but this book is a signpost of what might be coming. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Rise of Victimhood Culture

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Fast growth, CFOs, and a graceful exit

Appearing in In The Black, May 2019

 

Blitzscaling: the Lightning-fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies

By Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh

HarperCollins, $35, 288 pages

BlitzscalingHoffman is the co-founder of LinkedIn as well as the former COO of PayPal, and Yeh has written extensively about start-ups, so between them they bring a great deal of experience to bear on the issue of rapid growth. They see four essential components for exponential transformation: building networks that allow for easy entry of new customers; finding a niche which will allow for an eventual transition into the  mainstream marketplace; picking distribution channels which have an in-built capacity for scaling; and looking for high gross margins to provide funds for re-investment.

Hoffman and Yeh do not pretend that speedy growth is easy, and they provide plenty of examples of failure. They also note that many of the companies that achieved massive size changed their strategy several times, as the marketplace and the company evolved. At the same time, speed is crucial, even if it means sacrificing efficiency. Be willing to experiment, they say, and be equally willing to admit it when you make a mistake and a new course if needed.

All this is presented in a clear, balanced way, thankfully free of tech-hype. Whether you have big plans or are interested in how giants grew, there is fascinating material here.

 

The Traits of Today’s CFO: a Handbook for Excelling in an Evolving Role (2nd edition)

By AICPA and Ron Rael

Wiley, $79, 160 pages

The CFO job has always been a challenging one, straddling strategic management and financial functions. Rael, a leadership consultant who has studied the role from many different angles, believes that in the future it is only going to get harder, with the CFO needing to add technological expertise and coaching acumen to the toolkit. This book lays out how the various new skills can be integrated with the traditional demands, explaining how the role is changing. Rael covers a great deal of ground, punctuating the book with self-diagnostic tests as well as good illustrative examples. He believes there are ten critical skills for the CFO and the book systematically unpacks each one. Most chapters include a ‘best practice’ section which links theory with everyday problem-solving.9781119548232 cover.pdf

If anything, the CFO role is becoming less about finance (although a high level of number-crunching ability is still mandatory) and more about collaboration, communication and soft-skills leadership. One telling suggestion: the CFO should spend at least a quarter of their time out of the office, talking with investors, suppliers, peers and people in non-financial roles.

It adds up to a useful package, as well as an insightful commentary on the evolution of financial management.

 

Business Exit Strategies: Family-owned and Other Businesses

By Frederick Lipman

World Scientific, $90, 164 pages

Knowing how to make a graceful departure is difficult in any circumstances, and particularly tough when a business is involved. Lipman, an adviser and author, has provided an interesting guide to make the process easier, covering circumstances ranging from a small enterprise to a large corporation.

There are many pitfalls – in fact, Lipman devotes the first two chapters to common mistakes – but most can be overcome with careful planning and an eye to market conditions. If the business is being sold then there must be comprehensive, audited financial accounts available, and any outstanding legal disputes should be settled. If the business is to be passed on to family members then the procedures should be clear, and the role of the founder, if any, codified and agreed.

Lipman devotes a long section to the tricky issue of valuation, noting that the right time to sell a business is when it is on a growth path, not when decline has set in. Another exit option is to take the business public, which can work well but is a much larger project than a direct sale.

The book also looks at letters of sale and non-disclosure agreements. Useful advice, when it comes time to leave the stage.

Business Exit Strategies

 

Downloadable research

 

Value add

Even those companies that have already embraced business analytics often have difficulty understanding how they are adding value to the company’s activities. In a collaborative project, the Melbourne Business School and A.T.Kearney have published the ‘Analytics Impact Index: Understanding the value of analytics and how you can improve performance’ to provide benchmarking and guidance. Building on comprehensive survey data, it includes the Value Index, a tool for assessing the contribution of analytics to total profit; and the Maturity Index, which offers a framework for the comprehensive assessment of a company’s analytics practices and processes to help achieve value.

Download from:

https://analyticsimpactindex.mbs.edu/

 

Disruption

‘Navigating a World of Disruption’ is a briefing note prepared by McKinsey for the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, focusing on both the value-creating opportunities and the intense competitive challenges of the digital era. It provides data showing that those organisations that have been quick to utilise AI and analytics technology are doing well, while the performance gap between these organisations and others is growing quickly.

At the global level, China and India continue to dominate growth figures but a number of new players, mainly in the Central Asian and South-east Asian regions, are poised for breakthrough levels of growth.

Download from:

https://www.mckinsey.com/Featured-Insights/Innovation-and-Growth/Navigating-a-world-of-disruption

 

Banking on it

Singapore-based research firm J.D. Power has released a summary of its Australia Retail Banking Satisfaction Study, providing a ranking of financial institutions and pointing towards areas which need to improve. It revealed that 42 per cent of Australian customers of major banks, and 24 per cent of customers with other financial institutions, do not trust their bank.

The study was based on responses from 4,730 customers. Westpac ranked highest among the major banks, performing well in the account information and account activities factors. In the non-major banks category, ING performed best.

The study also identified strong growth in mobile app usage for personal banking.

Download the summary at:

https://www.jdpower.com/business/press-releases/2018-australia-retail-banking-satisfaction-study

 

Visual aids

The Reserve Bank provides a wealth of information, and material from its monthly pack of charts is particularly useful for inclusion in reports and presentations, as well as for general at-a-glance background. The charts include information on the global economy, growth in Australia, housing credit growth and credit growth by sector, interest rates, trends in the business sector, consumer sentiment, the outlook for inflation, and key banking indicators.

The pack is updated monthly and is released on the first business day of each month. Supplementary information can be obtained from other parts of the RBA site.

Download from:

https://www.rba.gov.au/chart-pack/

 

Looking ahead

In a thought-provoking TED Talk Gunjan Bhardwaj, described here as a “complexity specialist”, examines how artificial intelligence and blockchain have been used in the German health system to gather and analyse unprecedented amounts of data. The information ranges from drug test results to patent applications to patient treatment records, with AI being used to integrate disparate information into useful material. Blockchain technology has been utilised to capture the results of lab tests and in-progress research while allowing for the protection of intellectual property. Even for those not in the health sector, the address underlines the variety of applications that these technologies are finding.
Watch at:

https://www.ted.com/talks/gunjan_bhardwaj_how_blockchain_and_ai_can_help_us_decipher_medicine_s_big_data/

 

 

 

 

Good questions, boss management

Appearing in In The Black magazine, April 2019

 

Questions Are the Answer

By Hal Gregersen

Harper Business, $27, 336 pages

Questions are the AnswerAs Director of the MIT Leadership Center, Gregersen has a special interest in why some business leaders are exceptionally successful. After conducting over 200 interviews he reached the conclusion that they ask the right questions. They do not ask many but they are good ones, capable of dissolving barriers to creative thinking and guiding the pursuit of new solutions. Drawing on this research, he explains how questions  can be structured to get to the core of an issue while pointing the way to clear action. A good question is a paradox: completely surprising yet entirely obvious.

While the research dealt with senior people Gregersen emphasises that active questioning is effective at any level of leadership. He examines the idea of the “question burst”, a team meeting centred around asking questions about an emerging challenge. The process usually leads to some innovative thinking and at least a few ideas worth further development.

The best questioners make an effort to find information and views outside their comfort zone. Breaking out of the bubble requires an effort but is needed for a fresh perspective. Good questions also require humility. Finding the right question, after all, is about accepting that you don’t know what you don’t know.

 

Cybersecurity Program Development for Businesses

By Chris Moschovitis

Wiley, $71, 225 pages

This book is written for business owners and executives whose education did not include cybersecurity, and as a result they do not know how to communicate with the company specialists. Moschovitis clearly knows a great deal about the field but he also knows how to explain the issues without undue techno-babble. He emphasises that there is no silver-bullet cybersecurity defence; the point is how to make good business decisions about what can be done to minimise risks and mitigate damage. He guides the reader through basic concepts without talking down to them, steadily progressing to risk evaluation and asset protection. He also explains what should be in an incident response plan and offers advice on cybersecurity training for employees and managers. Cybersecurity Program Development

The later chapters deal with cyber threats affecting machine learning, cloud computing and blockchain. There is also an important section on trends in regulation, essential from both governance and decision-making perspectives.

If read from cover to cover the book provides a comprehensive overview. However, it is structured so that readers can choose what is most relevant to them (although the first third is for everyone). It allows executives to not only know what questions to ask but to understand the answers as well.

 

Manage Your Boss

By Jonathan Vehar

Centre For Creative Leadership, $31 (e-book), 55 pages

This e-book is a short read but a pithy one, explaining how to manage upwards to minimise misunderstandings and friction. Vehar specialises in the design of business education programs and he believes that it is up to the person in the subordinate position to actively manage the relationship. This means finding out the preferred communication methods of the boss, how closely they want to oversee their reports, their methods for resource allocation, and how much information they wish to share. In each case it is up to the subordinate to adjust their working methods accordingly, although Vehar suggests ways to communicate to the boss when more direction or assistance is needed. It is generally more effective to approach the boss with a clear list of suggestions rather than vague open-ended questions.

Manage Your BossThere are numerous checklists that can help define, guide and develop the relationship, as well as interesting anecdotes. Along the way Vehar notes that your boss is usually obliged to look upwards to their own boss. The concluding chapter provides a four-step framework for discussions: pluses, opportunities, issues and new thinking. It is a straightforward, practical system, and a good way to build the trust that the relationship requires.

 

 

 

Downloadable research

A guide from Deloitte, Forecasting in a Digital World, underlines the extent to which advanced maths and machine learning have changed forecasting. The guide explains the basics of algorithmic forecasting and examines cases where the new tools have provided predictions that have been more accurate and timelier than traditional methods of data compilation and spreadsheet analysis.

forecastingThe key figure is the CFO, who is responsible for assembling and leading a team of people who understand both the business environment and the technology. The CFO also has the task of integrating the forecasts with the company’s strategic processes, including at the board level.

Download from:

https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/finance-transformation/articles/crunch-time-6-forecasting-in-digital-world.html

 

 

In a TED Talk that mixes insight with humour, entrepreneur Chieh Huang explains how micromanagement leads to exhausted, dissatisfied employees and kills innovation. In fact, most senior managers are aware, when questioned, that micromanagement is counter-productive. Their attempts to do it usually stem from a desire to re-engage with ‘real’ work rather than managing managers.

He explains how managers have to understand their role, and step away from their instinct to micromanage. This entails an acceptance that employees might occasionally fail. Any short-term costs, however, are certain to be outweighed by increases in productivity and innovation.

View at:

https://www.ted.com/talks/chieh_huang_confessions_of_a_recovering_micromanager

micromanaging

 

A new report by McKinsey, Megadeals: How Data and Analytics Can Dramatically Boost Success, discusses how business analytics can be used in large, complex deals. There is often a reluctance to apply data-based methods to big deals but the report authors believe that by drawing on multiple data sources – customer-relationship management, enterprise resource planning, sales reporting, and external data – it is possible to create rich datasets that can provide important insights.

Analytics can also provide early warning of possible problems and enhance risk management. Although the report focuses on large deals the authors believe that the processes can be used on deals of any type and scale.

Download from:

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/megadeals-how-data-and-analytics-can-dramatically-boost-success

 

 

Hays Specialist Recruitment has released its Jobs Report for the period to June 2019, looking at the trends of skills in demand within the areas of commerce, professional practice and the public sector. While there is considerable diversity across the areas a common theme is an increasing demand for an understanding of analytics and cloud computing.

Graduate job applicants with these skills should provide details of their qualifications, and people who are seeking promotion or to change jobs should emphasise any upskilling they have done in these areas. This is to show that that they are both competent with the new fields and are willing to undertake continuous improvement.

Download from:

https://www.hays.com.au/report/accountancy-finance—commerce-industry-695

https://www.hays.com.au/report/accountancy-finance—professional-practice-931

https://www.hays.com.au/report/accountancy-finance—public-sector-375

 

 

The Australian Cyber Security Centre has released the Australian Government cybersecurityInformation Security Manual to help organisations protect their information, networks and systems from cyber threats. The guidelines within the ISM are based on the experiences of the Centre and the Australian Signals Directorate.

The ISM is aimed at Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Information Officers, cyber security professionals and IT managers. The guidelines discuss both governance and technical concepts, with chapters on equipment management, database management, system hardening, outsourcing and data transfers. The entire document can be downloaded or individual chapters can be selected. A useful Security Assessment Aid is also available.

Download from:

https://acsc.gov.au/infosec/ism/index.htm

Transformation, cyber-threats, and better selling

Appearing in March 2019 issue of In The Black magazine

 

Leading Transformation
By Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy
Harvard Business Review Press, $50, 256 pages, ISBN 9781633696549

Leading TransformationHuman beings, say the authors of this book, are inherently resistant to change. Especially in a corporate setting, getting employees to understand the necessity of change, and then leading them through it, is a massive but essential undertaking. Furr, Nel, and Ramsøy – respectively: an executive who has guided numerous transformation programs, a neuroscientist interested in how thinking develops, and an academic specialising in change theory – have developed a program that has been successful in cases as diverse as Google and Pepsi, and they explain their points through these examples.

The program involves three steps: envisioning the possible, breaking down resistance, and prototyping the future. The same old same-old is not going to work but there has been success through bringing in science-fiction writers and rap artists to help conceptualise new thinking. The aim is to develop a forward-looking strategic narrative: not just thinking outside the box but building a different structure entirely.

Because the cases vary the process is not always easy to follow, but the authors provide many insights along the way. There are also three interesting appendices, about transformation in one’s own life, building an origin story, and – radical but surprisingly enlightening – the key messages of the book presented as a graphic novel.

 

Digital Resilience: Is Your Company Ready for the Next Cyber Threat?
By Ray Rothrock
HarperCollins, $18.50, 256 pages, ISBN 9780814439241

The bad news, according to cyber-security expert Rothrock, is that every company is going to be attacked through its computer systems at some time – if it hasn’t been hit already, whether it knows it or not. He believes that it is impossible to protect against every threat, although he offers good advice on ways to minimise the chances of a successful attack, with software packages and better employee training. The real key is to develop resilience, which means being able to effectively respond to attacks and quickly return to business.Digital Resilience

A digitally resilient company has prevention and detection systems in place, distributes information across networks, trains and tests employees, runs frequent system tests, and has a team dedicated to the task of building resilience. There might even be a ‘resilience scorcecard’ to provide guidance to managers. None of this is cheap but, given some of the scary cases that Rothrock looks at, worth the expenditure. He also includes a useful chapter on how senior executives can get up to speed on digital resilience, getting past the idea that security investment is a cost to be begrudged.

The book focuses on the US environment but that is not a problem. In the world of cyber-threats, there are no borders.

 

How Clients Buy:  A Practical Guide to Business Development for Consulting and Professional Services
By Tom McMakin and Doug Fletcher
Wiley, $42, 272 pages, ISBN 9781119434702

Many accountants, business advisers and financial planners are very good at helping others develop their companies but less effective when it comes to building their own. The problem, says McMakin and Fletcher, consultants who specialise in this field, is often that they are trained to do their job rather than sell it. They offer a wide range of advice, especially in the areas of effective self-promotion and relevant advertising. But they strongly counsel against the hard sell. Sustainable and profitable relationships are built on a foundation of trust and mutual respect.

McMakin and Fletcher see seven elements in a client’s decision to purchase professional services, and they unpack each element in detail. There are tools and tactics to help you through each step, and the book is organised with an admirable clarity.

How Clients BuyA critical issue is to understand exactly what a client is looking for and how it should be delivered. Do not over-promise, say McMakin and Fletcher; it is a sure way to lose a client’s trust. They also provide tips on how to retain existing clients and even expand the services provided to them, and examine the important question of costing. It adds up to a useful, very readable package.

 

An artificial but beating heart

Review of Alita: Battle Angel

Directed by Robert Rodriguez; starring Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz

One cannot but approach Alita: Battle Angel with a certain amount of apprehension. The original anime, made by Yukito Kishiro, was not short of cybernetic action but at its heart was a surprisingly tender love story. The new version is twice as long, incredibly expensive, and directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, El Mariachi), a fellow not known for subtlety. The movie’s trailers hint at a series of spectacularly pointless CGI fight scenes. Even more, Hollywood’s last attempt to make a blockbuster out of an anime, Ghost in the Shell, was an extended exercise in largely missing the point.

Alita #1But as it turns out Rodriguez (overseen by producer James Cameron) does a pretty good job of keeping the essence of the source material while adding the best that modern technology has to offer. Rosa Salazar, who has previously appeared mainly in supporting roles in so-so films, turns in a solid performance, although with CGI-enlarged eyes and a metallic body she does not always have much to work with.

The cyborg Alita, or at least a small part of her, is rescued from the scrap heap by compassionate Doctor Ido (Christoph Waltz), and while her memory is gone she soon reveals the talents of a super soldier. This allows Rodriguez to stage a succession of truly remarkable fights and races, and there are plenty of villains – uber-sleeze Mahershala Ali, smooth-talking Ed Skrein, and snarling Jackie Earle Haley – to contend with. There is also Jennifer Connelly, who was grown out of her pretty-girl looks into an interesting character actress – although here she comes to a very unpleasant end. Salazar manages to balance Alita’s cybernetic strength and human frailty as she struggles to define herself. There is even some fun along the way, such as her first encounter with an orange, and later with chocolate.Alita #6

And the visual look of the movie is undeniably stunning, whether it is the background details of Iron City or the hi-tech savagery of the Motorball stadium. In a tiny but beautiful scene, Alita slices a tear in half as it falls. There is a note at the end of the credits that the movie required hundreds of thousands of hours of work, and that sounds credible.

The weakest point of the movie is Keean Johnson, as Alita’s crush interest Hugo. He is hunky but rather bland; the character in the anime version had more depth, and his obsession with reaching the sky city of Zalem made sense. With Johnson it feels more like a plot device, a sudden change of mind to provide a conclusion. In fact, the whole movie begins to struggle in its final stages, perhaps because of the need to provide a pathway to the inevitable sequel.

Alita might not be the triumph that its makers wanted but it is still a success, and it is good to see another movie (after, for example, Bumblebee) in which it is a complex young woman who does the rescuing and the sacrificing, the fighting and the thinking. Hollywood does not always get the emotional tone right but in Alita Rodriguez and Cameron did not get it wrong, either.

Alita

Alibaba Opens the Datafication Door

Appearing on site In the Black Digital, February 2019

 

In the Digital Age all successful companies use high-level technology but the Chinese giant Alibaba might be the one which has taken the underlying principles of e-commerce the furthest, with a model based on machine learning and the comprehensive datafication of customer interaction.

Ming ZengAlibaba, founded in 1999 by tech-entrepreneur Jack Ma, recorded a net income of 61.41 billion yuan, approximately US$9.6 billion, in the year ending 31 March 2018, and its market cap puts it firmly in the global top ten. A new book by its Chief Strategy Officer Dr Ming Zeng explains how Alibaba’s model was developed and how it keeps the company on a growth path.

In Smart Business: What Alibaba’s Success Says About the Future of Strategy*, Dr Zeng notes that Alibaba is sometimes compared to Amazon but he believes that the comparisons are incorrect. Whereas Amazon is a retailer, Alibaba is a portal to link customers to sellers (although it is now highly diversified, involved in everything from banking to film finance). Its strategy has been to apply technology to every part of the purchase chain, from advertising to delivery.

“Alibaba today is what you get if you take all functions associated with retail and coordinate them online into a sprawling, data-driven network of sellers, marketers, service providers, logistics companies, and manufacturers,” says Dr Zeng. “Alibaba does what Amazon, eBay, PayPal, Google, FedEx, wholesalers, and a good portion of manufacturers do in the United States, with a healthy helping of financial services for garnish.”

Ecosystem

Despite his key role Dr Zeng was not a part of the company at its inception. At that time he was working as an academic at Europe’s top business school, INSEAD, after completing his PhD in the US. He was teaching a course on Asian business when Alibaba caught his attention.

“It had no Western counterpart so it was a perfect case for MBAs,” he says. “I contacted the company and management agreed to let me study the firm and conduct some interviews. I met Jack Ma for the first time in 2000 and I later worked as a strategy adviser for Alibaba Group. In 2006 I was finishing my first book in English, Dragons at Your Door: How Chinese Cost Innovation Is Disrupting Global Competition**, about emerging multinationals from China. I got a phone call from Ma asking me to join the company, which I accepted.”

Dr Zeng and Jack Ma realised that they had to think of the company as an ecosystem if they were to realise its potential. The strategic imperative was to make sure that the platform provided all the resources, or access to the resources, that an online business would need. The emerging technology of algorithms and machine learning, together with the decreasing cost of computing power, made it possible.

Dr Zeng says: “The formula for smart businesses can be summarized in a simple equation:  Network Coordination + Data Intelligence = Smart Business. That equation represents what is behind Alibaba’s success and captures everything you need to know about business in the future.”

C2B model

The technology allows the company to put customers at the centre of business, constantly collecting data on them and their purchase choices in real time. Dr Zeng calls this the customer-to-business (C2B) model, using feedback loops to drive machine learning. Now, when customers log on they see a customised webpage with a selection of products curated from the billions offered by millions of sellers.

The model requires several connected elements: a network that can dynamically adjust the supply and quality of service offerings, an interface where customers can easily articulate their needs and responses, a modular structure that can grow from an initial beachhead, and purchasing platforms than can provide agility and innovation. Every customer exchange supplies more data, which goes into the feedback loops required for machine learning.

This system requires that a large number of actions and decisions are taken out of human hands. Algorithms automatically make incremental adjustments that increase systemwide efficiency. Alibaba even uses AI-based chat-bots to handle a wide range of customer inquiries and complaints without any human interaction at all.

Facilitating the loop

Dr Zeng puts forward four steps as the basis for creating a smart business: creating datafication processes to enrich the pool of data the business uses to become smarter; using software to put workflows and essential actors online; developing standards and APIs to enable real-time data flow and coordination; and applying machine-learning algorithms to generate business decisions.

In this new environment, leaders no longer manage. Instead, they enable workers to facilitate the feedback loop of user responses to help the company along its evolutionary path.

Dr Zeng is adamant that the C2B model represents the future for all business.

“We live in a time of exponential change,” he says. “Everything I have described in Smart Business will soon be conventional knowledge. Change will be disruptive. But it will also bring massive opportunity.”

 

* Smart Business: What Alibaba’s Success Says About the Future of Strategy by Ming Zeng, Harvard Business School Press.

** Dragons at Your Door: How Chinese Cost Innovation Is Disrupting Global Competition by Ming Zeng, Harvard Business School Press.

Christmas Quiz: Accountants in the movies

Appearing in In The Black magazine, December 2018

 

  1. Which Australian-born actress explains financial terms while in a bath, drinking champagne? What is the movie?

2.  In what movie does Cher play an accountant? What is the opera that she and Nicholas Cage see?Cher and NC

 

  1. In the movie Midnight Run, why is Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas, an accountant played by Charles Grodin, on the run?

 

  1. The movie Other People’s Money features Danny de Vito as corporate raider Lawrence Garfield. What is his nickname? To what does he compare the products of the company he is trying to take over?

 

  1. In the television series Ozark, how much money does the crooked financial planner have to launder in order to avoid a grim fate?

 

  1. In a galaxy far, far away, why has turmoil engulfed the Republic? To what movie is this the background?

 

  1. In which movie does an accountant say: “The funny thing is, on the outside I was an honest man. I had to come to prison to be a crook.” What is the name of the accountant?

 

  1. In the 1967 movie The Producers, accountant Leopold Bloom comes up with a scheme to make money by producing a stage show that will fail and then become a tax dodge. Who plays the accountant? What is the name of the stage show?

 

  1. breaking bad   In the television series Breaking Bad, what business do the perpetrators buy to launder drug money?

 

  1. What is the English title of the 1987 Japanese movie in which a tax auditor investigates a chain of love hotels?

 

11. In the movie The Untouchables, for what crime is gangster Al Capone sent to jail?Untouchables

  1. In what movie does a forensic auditor, played by Will Ferrell, hear a voice narrating his life and approaching death?

 

  1. In the movie The Accountant, what is the affliction of the character Christian Wolff CPA, played by Ben Affleck?

 

  1. What is the name of the central character in the 2008 movie – described as a story about “love, lust, blackmail and revenge” – The Dueling Accountant?

 

  1. In the Monty Python sketch ‘Chartered Accountant’, to what profession does the accountant hope to transition to?MP accountant

 

 

 

 

ANSWERS

 

  1. Margot Robbie. The Big Short.
  2. Moonstruck. La bohème.
  3. He embezzled $15 million from his gangster bosses.
  4. Larry the Liquidator. Buggy whips.
  5. $500 million
  6. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.
    Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  7. The Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne.
  8. Gene Wilder. Springtime for Hitler.
  9. A car wash.
  10. A Taxing Woman. The Japanese title is Marusa no onna.
  11. Tax evasion.
  12. Stranger Than Fiction.
  13. He suffers from high-functioning autism.
  14. Mungo MacDiamond.
  15. Lion tamer.

Margot Robbie