3 Lessons on How to Beat the Competition from World-Cup Winning Joachim Low

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Joachim Low, coach of the winning German men’s soccer team, knows a few things about leading a team for a high-stakes performance. 

Joachim Low was a mediocre professional soccer player. As a coach he had only middling success. When he was promoted from assistant to head coach of the German National Team in 2006 he followed in the footsteps of the much-revered coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Low was a tactical mastermind. As Klinsmann’s chief game strategist and as head coach himself, Low had ditched the static and defensive style of the German team and replaced it with a relentless fluid style of attacking football. The German team’s success raised the collective hopes of the nation, but they always lost the critical games. After a disappointing loss to Spain in the semi-finals in the 2010 World Cup, Low was reviled in the German press. It became a national sport to question Low’s ability to bring home the cup.

In a pre-tournament poll, Germans had so little faith in Low’s leadership that only 6% of the country expected the team to win the 2014 World Cup. But apparently Low knew a thing or two about beating the competition because in front of a billion viewers of the final game, Low proved 94% of his countrymen wrong.

So what can we learn about competing from this footballing philosopher? Continue reading

Five Startup Lessons from America’s First Cofounders

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In the late 18th century, a motley crew of lawyers, farmers, merchants, and disruptive freethinkers had an idea for a startup. Few of them figured the fledgling startup had much chance of success. They came up with many names–including Columbia, the United Colonies, British America, and United Statesian–until they finally settled on the United States of America.

But how exactly do you go about starting up a government, especially if it is unlike any other that has existed before? It wasn’t as if they could go online and read up on how to do it.

The Founding Fathers were an exceptionally innovative collection of men. Not only has the government they conceived of lasted for more than 200 years, but it’s a model of democracy around the world.

It’s fascinating to realize that the political strategies the founders argued passionately about are still being argued today in business schools, boardrooms, and in the garages and basements of those aspiring to become the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. Continue reading

What Happened to Child’s Play?

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Sports legends Yogi Berra and Martina Navratilova offer lessons against specializing kids in youth sports

Just as your little soccer star is about to kick off a summer of U6 soccer drill camp or your ten-year-old tennis player is back on the courts for eight straight weeks, comes the message that specialization in youth sports in America is harming kids.

“Children are playing sports in too structured a manner too early in life on adult-size fields — i.e., too large for optimal skill development — and spending too much time in one sport,” writes David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, in a recent article in The New York Times.

This, Epstein argues, can lead to serious injuries and, a growing body of sports science shows, a lesser ultimate level of athletic success.

“We should urge kids to avoid hyperspecialization and instead sample a variety of sports through at least age 12,” says Epstein.

Baseball legend, Yogi Berra and tennis champ Martina Navratilova would agree. Continue reading

Maya Angelou RIP

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Born in Missouri, Maya Angelou was a fry cook, prostitute, streetcar conductor, single mother, nightclub dancer and performer, cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and a magazine editor in Egypt and Ghana during the days of decolonization. She was an actor, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. From 1982, she taught American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights movement, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She was the first poet to make an inauguration recitation (at President Bill Clinton’s 1993) since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s in 1961. Her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings about growing up in the Jim Crow South, was the first book by a black woman in the 20th century to reach a wide audience.

About her, New York Times journalist Margalit Fox wrote: ’Throughout her writing, Ms. Angelou explored the concepts of personal identity and resilience through the multifaceted lens of race, sex, family, community and the collective past. As a whole, her work offered a cleareyed examination of the ways in which the socially marginalizing forces of racism and sexism played out at the level of the individual.

There has been a lot to say about Maya Angelou since her death last week. And more will be said at her memorial service at Wake Forest this Saturday, (which will be live streamed). But about what life has taught her, perhaps Angelou says it best. Continue reading

Why Making Something Simple Is So Complicated

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“A Subtlety” Or “The Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined
our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World
on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” -Kara Walker, May thru July 2014, Domino Sugar Factory

Kara Walker was asked to create a public work of art in the sprawling industrial ruin of the soon-to-be demolished Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, New York that dominates the waterfront across the East River from Manhattan.

Walker’s 35-foot tall, 75-foot long bright white Sphinx layered in powdered sugar, lording over the factory like a deity from an alternative universe, seems like an inevitability. After seeing it, it’s hard to imagine that she could have made anything else.

We’re always surprised (and a bit envious) when someone comes up with an idea so basic, so elemental and stripped down that it seems to have been plucked readymade from the collective unconsciousness—Warhol’s Soup Cans, the phony-hating Holden Caufield, the Empire State building, the iPhone, Twitter­. We sometimes imagine that the creators of these concepts must have conjured them out of thin air.

Think again. Continue reading

How Can You Learn to Think Like a Freak?

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For more on Stephen Dubner, read our chapter on him “How to Write a Runaway Bestseller,” in our book.

The Freakonomics Authors’ New Approach to Creative, Productive Thinking

The phenomenally successful Freakonomics platform–two bestselling books, a blog, a number one podcast, a radio show, and a consulting business–was built on the principle of looking at the world through the filter of economic theory.

Authors Steven Levitt, a behavioral economist, and Stephen Dubner, a journalist, believe that an “economic approach” to thinking shouldn’t just apply to economics, but to problem solving in general.

In their new book, Think Like a Freak, the authors show us that by applying these theories, we can all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally.

Here are three ways Dubner and Levitt encourage us to “think like a freak:” Continue reading

What’s a Festival For?

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Lightin’ Hopkins, photo Micheal Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival lineup is presented as a musical genealogy from roots to branches

Decades ago, a group of music lovers including Allison Miner, a transplant to New Orleans, put on the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival at a few open stages and a gospel tent in New Orleans’ Congo Square. The festival’s mission was to present the music and culture of New Orleans and surrounding areas, and to fulfill a quest that Miner, and she suspected others, were on, “for authenticity in a world that seemed increasingly manufactured.”

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Mahalia Jackson, AP

Gospel great Mahalia Jackson wasn’t even booked for the event but showed up to perform because she heard about it.

Forty-four years later, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival has grown from a day-long event in the heart of the city to a sprawling 8-hour-a-day, 7-day, 12-stage, music, food, and cultural extravaganza at the Fair Grounds Race Course every early spring that attracts over half a million people.

Continue reading

Confessions of an Angel Investor

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Yun-Fang Juan, Silicon Valley insider, angel investor and a former FaceBook lead engineer, has seen some questionable ideas turn into gold. You might have heard of them: Google, Facebook and WhatsApp.

The WhatsApp Lesson

Back in 2010, Yun-Fang Juan, a Silicon Valley insider and co-founder of Stealth Startup, was at a Mountain View taqueria with her husband Keith Chiem. The high-powered couple was sharing a meal with Brian Acton, a long-time friend, former Yahoo! colleague and best man at the couple’s wedding. Acton was working on a new messaging app on iOS that he said he could turn into a billion dollar business. The new app had a couple thousand users, a steadily growing user base, and the company wanted to hire more engineers. Acton was trying to recruit Chiem, and Chiem was interested. But with a background in statistics, Juan ran the numbers—doing a back-of-the-envelope analysis. Maybe Acton would be able to build a $100 million company, but she gave his chance of turning it into a billion company a multiple of 0.1%. After taxes, she estimated, her husband’s equity in the company might be one or two million dollars.

Now that might sound like a lot of money to most of us, but Juan who had worked at Yahoo! and Facebook and her husband had already cleaned up with Yahoo! stock and would do so with FaceBook holdings. So Juan told her husband: “If you want to work with Brian because he is a brilliant guy, do it. But it makes no sense to do it for the financial rewards.”

Juan’s husband passed on the offer.

Two months ago, Acton’s little messaging app, WhatsApp, sold to Facebook for $19 billion.

Juan called it an “expensive and humbling lesson.” It reminded her of times in the past when she had seen other business models with what at the time seemed to be limited potential—that is until they went on to become multi-billion dollar companies. Continue reading

How to Use the Science Behind Habits to Sell (Anything!) Better

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We often think of our habits as quirky things we do over and over again without really thinking about them–twirling a lock of hair, checking a cell phone on the way out of the subway, leaving the toilet seat up or down. But when we are selling a product or service, those repetitive actions are exactly what we want people to indulge in.

Be sure that when someone plows land in Farmville or clears jelly off the board in Candy Crush–over and over again, because they can’t stop playing–there is the sound of joyous ka-chinging in the Farmville and Candy Crush boardrooms.

So is there a secret to triggering habits in people so that they’ll engage and keep engaging with whatever it is you create? Pete Trainor, Associate Director UX at SapientNitro, believes that there is. And in his recent fascinating SXSW Interactive talk, “The Neuroscience of Success,” Trainor shared some of the principles that he has distilled over the years from psychology, behavioral, and experimental economics and observations of the human animal: himself. Continue reading

The Circle and the Dot: A Metaphor for Life

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What if a school principal told the truth about a test?

Because of the No Child Left Behind Law passed in 2002 our daughter and all of her classmates have spent the last couple of months preparing for tests that may (or may not) measure their intelligence and their ability to think critically.

Our daughter’s teachers have little idea what will be on the test. The test makers have given the schools very few details about what the questions will be or how they will be phrased. It’s something like training for a mystery Olympic event—on opening day you may be asked to pole vault, synchronize swim or run the 440.

The kids will sit their tables, taking these tests for 70 minutes a day for a total of six days.

By the way these kids are in third grade.

Continue reading