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G100 Notebook | February 2013

What Can the Khan Academy Teach Employers?

Salman Khan has become the most important figure in American education and learning. His online site, Khan Academy, hosts nearly 4,000 short videos on everything from basic algebra to the economics of health care. In this recent interview, he stressed why videos have become so important:

I would say that the classroom is not for lecture. We have this policy in our company, and in our organization. If you’re talking for more than three minutes, it should be a video. I think that’s a good policy. That works out well. I think that same policy should be true in the classroom. What immediately happens then is that the teachers and students are faced with 60 minutes where they’re forced to interact.

How Military Leaders Use Contrarian Thinking to Solve Problems

This Foreign Affairs interview with McChrystal is worth reading. Here he explains how dismantling al-Qaeda in Afghanistan required a different approach to military problem solving:

So the first thing we did when I took over in late 2003 was realize that we needed to understand the problem much better. To do that, we had to become a network ourselves — to be connected across all parts of the battlefield, so that every time something occurred and we gathered intelligence or experience from it, information flowed very, very quickly[.]

On a related note, anyone interested in the evolution of American military strategy from Vietnam to Afghanistan should read Thomas Power’s fascinating (but long!) review essay of books about General David Petraeus. Powers calls The Insurgents, Fred Kaplan’s recent book, “one of the very best books ever written about the American military in the era of small wars.”

A Silicon Valley of Drones

Today’s debate about the military use of drones misses the point: as this interview on National Public Radio makes clear, we are on the cusp of a breakthrough in drone technology that has implications for business, manufacturing, and communications. We will soon see “a Silicon Valley of drones,” according to Brookings expert Peter Singer:

Current drone technology is where the computer was in 1980. …The airspace, under the current schedule, opens up [in] 2015. And so we will see one of the most fundamental shifts in who and how you can use the airspace above us. The FAA estimates there could be as many as 10,000 drones flying over the U.S. by the end of the decade — doing everything from cargo delivery to law enforcement to news gathering.

Not to be missed on this subject: Kevin Kelly’s superb examination of how breakthroughs in robotics will also fuel a new technology boom in December’s Wired.

The Debate Over Sheryl Sandberg

The launch next month of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In could prove to be the most high-profile business and cultural event of the year. According to an article this week in The New York Times, Sandberg argues that:

Women face invisible, even subconscious, barriers in the workplace, and not just from bosses. In her view, women are also sabotaging themselves. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” she writes, and the result is that “men still run the world.”

More fascinating is the early assault on the book’s thesis from other women. Here, for example, is a blog post from Harvard Business Review:

Sandberg does not serve other women well by pretending that companies are a meritocracy that just requires individual effort. She herself was sponsored and propelled, like almost every successful woman I have ever met, by a powerful man, in her case Larry Summers. It’s tough to lead externally on this subject if you can’t make progress internally in your own company. Sandberg is the only woman on Facebook’s Executive Team, and the only woman on the company’s board (where she was added months after the board’s formation), despite the fact that women represent the majority of Facebook users (57%).

Watch this space: yesterday the Huffington Post published a backlash against the backlash. This consequential debate will carry on throughout the year.

What to Make of the Italian Elections

“The Italian election result is a triumph for fantasy and irresponsibility. It is quite bad news and no one knows what will happen next,” writes Brookings’ Douglas Elliott, in this in-depth discussion of what all this means for the future of Europe.

The Shale Revolution, at Home and Abroad

What are the domestic and geopolitics of shale? Earlier this month, Daniel Yergin, one of the world’s foremost experts on the energy industry, testified before Congress on the long reach of the shale revolution:

The United States is in the midst of the ‘unconventional revolution in oil and gas’ that, it becomes increasingly apparent, goes beyond energy itself. …Owing to the long supply chains, the job impacts are being felt across the United States, including in states with no shale gas or tight oil activity. For instance, New York State, with a ban presently in effect on shale gas development, nevertheless has benefited with 44,000 jobs. Illinois, debating how to go forward, already registers 39,000 jobs.

IBM’s Watson Applies Big Data to Health Care

Today, IBM’s computer “Watson,” which tore things up on Jeopardy in 2011, has been reduced from a room-sized supercomputer to a small box that is 240% more powerful, according to this article in Forbes. More impressive, its analytic power is being used to drive one of the most data-rich and technologically thin businesses – health care:

Health care pros make accurate treatment decisions in lung cancer cases only 50% of the time. Watson has shown the capability (on the utilization management side) of being accurate in its decisions 90% of the time.

The practical uses of data and analytics will be a recurring theme at our meetings in the coming years.

Learning the Right Lessons From Japan

Japan’s housing bubble burst in 1990. Its economy has never recovered. Over the past few weeks, two excellent assessments of what the US can learn from the Japanese experience have been published. Columnist Robert Samuelson explains why so many efforts of the country’s government have failed: “It’s caught in a trap,” he writes. “On the one hand, it needs stimulus to grow. On the other, the debt from past stimulus measures threatens future growth.”

A more in-depth study has been published by American Enterprise Institute’s John Makin. He believes that the US debt and deficit experience of recent years pales compared to what Japan has been through – and undermines the case for “drastic” austerity:

Japan’s experience with debt, deficits, and deflation can teach the United States important lessons: use monetary policy to avoid deflation, aim for gradual deficit reduction, close tax loopholes to lower the marginal tax rate, and reduce the budget deficit.