The Birth of a Sticky Idea

Our latest Fast Company column was sparked by a provocative public health ad:

pouring on the pounds

In the piece, we wonder whether sugary sodas will be the next cigarettes…

The Art of Choosing

If you’ve ever read research about “choice paralysis” you’ve probably been reading about the work of Sheena Iyengar (we talk about her speed dating and 401k studies in Switch).  She has a beautiful new book out about her work and the broader cultural consequences of choosing.  You’ll learn that not every culture venerates choice like Americans, and her insights will be useful to you if you work in a global organization, deal with global consumers, or just want to see the world through keener eyes. Check it out:

Changing the Saints

Great story in SI by Don Banks about how the Saints defense was transformed, thanks to the efforts of new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Forget football for a second (at least until Sunday)–this is one of the clearest organizational change stories I’ve heard in a while:

If you want the short answer of how the Saints went from being a 7-9 and 8-8 team in 2007-08, to this year’s “turnaround” 15-3 NFC champions, it has everything to do with Williams and his relentless emphasis on creating turnovers. …

“He came in and he made us obsessed about takeaways,” Saints strongside linebacker Scott Fujita said. “Obsessed.Every day in practice we’re the crazy team that’s picking up every loose ball, every incomplete pass, and returning it for a touchdown. If opposing teams could watch the way we practiced, they’d probably think we absolutely lost our minds. But now the obsession has become a habit.” …

“It was my No. 1 job when I came in the door; we had to do a better job of taking the ball away,” Williams said … “And remember this: They call them takeaways. They don’t call them giveaways. I don’t want to hear that. It’s not a turnover. It’s a takeaway. If you take that approach, you go try and take the ball all the time. It’s not something you just do half the time.”

Did it work? The Saints had a -4 turnover ratio last year but were +11 in turnovers this year (3rd best in the NFL). And they led the league in defensive touchdowns.

What it’s like to be an alcoholic

After 16 years without a drink, Jim Atkinson confesses that the urge is still strong at holiday times. How can an alcoholic describe to a non-alcoholic what it’s like to crave that drink? Atkinson uses analogies:

There’s something in the alone-in-the-crowdness of the holiday party circuit, the forced pleasantries and laughter, the charge to be friendly and engaging — but only in a trivial and superficial way — that is very much like the existential condition of the alcoholic psyche. So the holidays not only remind me of drink; they remind me of how it felt to be a drunk.

In fact, I have frequently been overheard to explain to the sort of person who still finds it good sport to ask me how I came to be addicted to alcohol and what it’s like now to be stone cold sober, “You know how you feel at Christmas at the umpteenth family gathering or company cocktail party. You really need that drink, right? That’s the way I used to feel all the time.”

Then later in the piece:

If you are among the 80 percent of people who drink “normally,” think of your relationship to booze as a minor friendship that strikes up at certain times of the week, or even the year. Think of the drunk’s as a torrid, reckless and self-destructive affair. Whiskey she is a bad lover, and all that. It is a decidedly adolescent affair, a kind of puppy love that overtakes all good judgment and reason. In that sense, I’ve come to understand that, if compulsive drinking is about different genes, it also about a certain arrested development that can’t be liberated until the addict takes the cure.

The collapse of AIG in 10 min

You can learn what “credit default swaps” are, and how they brought down AIG, in 10 minutes, thanks to Marketplace Senior Editor Paddy Hirsch. What’s particularly clever is the car insurance analogy, which buys us some quick intuition into a complex topic.

In the book, we discuss the simple trade models that teachers use in Econ 101 — e.g., “You grow apples and I grow oranges. Both of us would rather have some of both. How do we trade?” That’s exactly what Hirsch does … he builds up our intuition via a simple, two-party transaction, and then zooms out to show us how that behavior can explain a catastrophe like the fall of AIG. Really well done.

(Thanks to John H for the tip.)