The term Big Data, admits writer Don Peck, "has quickly grown tiresome." But the power of analytics as a mechanism for making decisions about hiring and firing is still growing, and the "application of predictive analytics to people's careers … is enormously challenging, not to mention ethically fraught." Indeed, the idea that stats may determine whether we'll flourish in careers or be temps forever is both promising and deeply concerning. Peck traces the history of hiring in America, noting that attempts at psychological testing based on "science" in the 1950s were largely abandoned in favor of ad hoc interviews. But we know that favoritism and bias are all too common in these situations. Now that science is making a comeback, Peck explores some of the new ways in which companies will be able to make some of their most important decisions.
First, two sets of stats: Americans are in 10 million car accidents every year, and 9.5 million are their own fault. Second, the Google self-driving car has covered 500,000 miles without causing a single accident, and it can go 50,000 miles on a highway without experiencing a major error. So what's not to love about a car that you can get to work in while playing Candy Crush and not killing anyone? In this lengthy piece on the past, present, and future of the self-driving car, Burkhard Bilger reports on the broad stakeholder issues facing our driving future. One player is the famed Google X lab, where extensive research on two cars — a Prius for regular street use and a Lexus for highways — is aimed at radically changing how we drive.
Fast Company editor Jason Feifer wanted a cheap, waterproof, Bluetooth-enabled, rechargeable speaker so that he could listen to podcasts in the shower (we've all been there). He typed his needs into Amazon, and one product popped up: something called Hipe (but was Hipe the brand or the model?). He bought it, and when he had questions, he sent an email, which produced a reply from a mystery man named "Sam." But what was this "Hipe" and who was behind it? The trail led Feifer to Chaim Pikarski, who essentially built a business around Amazon product reviews. Each of his "buyers," as he calls them — the elusive Sam is one — "scours the web to learn all the features people wish a product had, and hire a manufacturer, often in China, to make the desired version." The buyer gets to name the product — hence the mysterious "Hipe." The company can then compete against speaker companies (or any other type of product manufacturer, for that matter) without needing to become one itself. Pikarski's company, C&A Marketing, is also pretty profitable: sales in nine figures and a 30% annual growth.
China's revision of its one-child policy may be more illusion than reality, but its impact on the Chinese psyche and economy has apparently been significant. Makers of baby formula and diapers saw their shares jump. Same thing for companies that make pianos, because more babies means more little pianists. The Wall Street Journal says 48% of the 79 million Chinese women of childbearing age could be affected by the policy change; if just a quarter of them had second children, there would be 9.5 million additional babies in the next five years. Chinese bloggers have been joking about people's pent-up desire for more children, saying that on the evening when the news broke, young couples went to bed early.
If you've been nursing a few app ideas and wonder what it takes to be a successful independent app developer, listen to self-taught programmer Rob Jonson, who has been releasing apps for a decade. When he looks at big-money app developers who are riding waves of hype and seeking venture capital or big tech buyouts, he wonders "why they didn't just build their app in the evenings, launch it, and see what happens. Most will disappear without a trace, but a good idea that fulfills a need will gradually find a market. And probably has as much chance of hitting it big as any other decent app, with a lot less risk." Jonson has never had employees and spends little on development, design, or launch. He finds that his most popular apps are those that he's developed for himself to satisfy his own needs. And he makes it a point to respond personally to users' emails. "People are surprised and pleased to get an email from the real developer," he says. —Andy O'Connell
HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case Ebook + Tools
HBR Paperback Series
This enhanced eBook version of the HBR Guide to Building Your Business Caseincludes downloadable tools and templates to help you get started on your own case right away. You've got a great idea that will increase profitability or productivity—but how do you get approval for the budget and resources to make it happen? By building a business case that clearly shows your idea's value. Available exclusively through HBR.org.Buy It Now