Is Your Company Ready for the Rise of Smart Cities?

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ROGER HARRIS/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

The movement to make cities smarter is transforming municipal governments worldwide. But that’s only one side of the story. For companies, smart cities represent major business opportunities — and not only for tech firms selling systems to government agencies.

Technology is reconfiguring traditional roles and divisions of labor. City governments don’t have to provide every type of application and service themselves. In fact, they can’t — and this realization opens the door for other entities with capital and capabilities to step in, particularly where there may be opportunities to generate revenue. Smart cities have become more intricate ecosystems over time, with the degree and mix of private-sector participation varying from city to city.

Even if they don’t become providers of systems or services, many companies will need to adapt in some way as cities become more digitally connected. Digitization has upended industry after industry —

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Can Impact Investing Avoid the Failures of Microfinance?

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The impact investment industry is growing rapidly, a fact that many of us in the field celebrate. In 2010, J.P Morgan projected up to $1T in investment would be deployed this decade — which would make impact investing twice the size of official development aid to the world’s less develop countries (as defined by the United Nations), presuming historic levels of aid stayed constant since 2010. Many of us are starting to envision a day where we can drop the “impact” moniker and just assume that investments take into account social and environmental factors.

But are we scaling the right model? How do we make sure that the blossoming impact investment movement — especially as it starts to supplant traditional aid — actually leads to improvements in outcomes for the people and communities it is supposed to benefit?

Impact investors over the past decade largely

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What If Amazon’s Next Big Innovation Was to Improve the Jobs of Its Blue-Collar Workers?

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Earlier this spring, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos released his annual letter to shareholders. Like every shareholders letter Bezos has written since his company went public in 1997, this year’s version was brilliant, entertaining, and filled with big strategic insights and gritty management takeaways.

To my eyes, though, it was also missing something — an omission that became even more glaring a week or so later. For the first time, public companies were required to publish not only compensation figures for their CEO but also the median pay package earned by their workers. As the Wall Street Journal noted, median compensation at many high-tech companies was astounding — $240,000 at Facebook, for example, and $253,000 at a biotech firm called Incyte. At Amazon, though, median compensation was only $28,446 — evidence not that Jeff Bezos is cheap, but that Amazon’s workforce is fundamentally different from the coders and engineers

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Automation Will Make Lifelong Learning a Necessary Part of Work

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President Emmanuel Macron together with many Silicon Valley CEOs will kick off the VivaTech conference in Paris this week with the aim of showcasing the “good” side of technology. Our research highlights some of those benefits, especially the productivity growth and performance gains that automation and artificial intelligence can bring to the economy — and to society more broadly, if these technologies are used to tackle major issues such as fighting disease and tackling climate change. But we also note some critical challenges that need to be overcome. Foremost among them: a massive shift in the skills that we will need in the workplace in the future.

To see just how big those shifts could be, our latest research analyzed skill requirements for individual work activities in more than 800 occupations to examine the number of hours that the workforce spends on 25 core skills today. We then

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What Entrepreneurs Should Ask Themselves When an Economic Crisis Hits

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After the stock market’s rocky ride in recent months, some analysts are wondering whether a new economic crisis might be around the corner. Judging by the economy’s overall performance, there is no need for immediate concern. But for entrepreneurs who prefer to be safe than sorry, the question remains: what should you do when the next crisis hits?

The answer is different for entrepreneurs and start-up employees than for investors. For most investors, the options are straightforward: sell shares to limit financial losses, hold shares and hope everything will blow over, or buy shares if there’s a belief the market has bottomed out. Either way, the gains and losses are mostly financial, and while the right choice may be hard to determine, the options are clear.

For entrepreneurs and employees, however, it’s not that simple. Imagine having put not only your money into a project, but also your sweat,

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As Cryptocurrencies Rise, Who Needs Banks?

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Do you value bitcoin in dollars or dollars in bitcoin? Few serious economists imagine that the new cryptocurrencies, for all the hype, will make national currencies redundant. By and large they are right, because conventional money actually does a pretty good job. The U.S. dollar and other reserve currencies have historically performed well as a medium of exchange and as a store of value — the two principal functions of a currency. Bitcoin and its derivatives perform poorly on both accounts and will not disrupt money as we know it.

But that doesn’t mean that new technologies aren’t going to usher in a lot of disruption to the financial system. Traditional economists (and, yes, that label could well describe both of us) often ignore a crucial separation between money (the “what”) and the payment technology (the “how”). This confusion originates in the fact that for older forms of

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Why the Automation Boom Could Be Followed by a Bust

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You may not be sharing your office with a robot yet, but the next wave of automation has begun. Humanoid service robots, machine learning algorithms and autonomous logistics will replace millions of service workers in the coming decade. Experts are rushing to forecast the likely impact on jobs. But most projections overlook two powerful forces that will combine with automation to reshape the global economy by 2030: rapidly aging populations and rising inequality.

The collision of these three forces sets the stage for a 10- to 15-year economic boom followed by a bust. An aging workforce, advances in automation, and growing income inequality point to an era of rapid and volatile change—and greater economic disruption than we have seen over the past 60 years. In the coming decade extremes are likely to become more extreme.

How would this boom-bust cycle likely play out? As populations

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What We Do and Don’t Know After Trump’s Tariff Announcement

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The New York Public Library

In a White House signing ceremony on Thursday, March 8, President Donald Trump announced he was imposing import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. After invoking a rarely-used Cold War-era law last year, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had spent nine months investigating whether imports of steel and aluminum posed a threat to American national security. Ross concluded imports were a threat, and he recommended Trump impose new restrictions covering an estimated $46.1 billion of imports, or about 2% of total U.S. goods imports in 2017.

Just a week earlier, Trump had issued the surprise announcement that he was going to impose these tariffs on all trading partners. The tariffs would have eliminated an estimated $14.2 billion of foreign steel and aluminum from the American market. Tariffs would increase metal prices, thereby raising costs for downstream industries like auto and

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The Supply Chain Economy and the Future of Good Jobs in America

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The U.S. supply chain is generally recognized as an integral part of the American economy. From Intel’s semiconductors to Microsoft’s enterprise software, the supply chain builds the goods and services that businesses need. But for all of its importance, no one has identified what industries comprise the U.S. supply chain economy, quantified the number and quality of jobs it contains, or assessed how much it matters for innovation. We attempted to answer these questions by creating a novel categorization of the U.S. economy that reveals new ways to drive American growth and innovation.

The U.S. supply chain economy is large and distinct. It represents the industries that sell to businesses and the government, as opposed to business-to-consumer (B2C) industries that sell for personal consumption. The U.S. supply chain contains 37% of all jobs, employing 44 million people. These jobs have significantly

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Can African Tech Startups Succeed in a World Dominated by Facebook and Google?

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Last year Facebook became the second largest e-commerce company in Africa after Jumia, the industry leader. The American social media giant did not celebrate that feat, though, because it never promoted itself as an e-commerce firm. But as global technology brands penetrate African economies, it is becoming evident that most local startups are experiencing new levels of competition, which could potentially disrupt their operations.

Across African markets, information and communication technology (ICT) is facilitating the process of socioeconomic developments. ICT has offered new ways of exchanging information and transacting business efficiently and cheaply. It has also changed the dynamic architectures of the financial, entertainment, and communication industries and provided better means of using the human and institutional capabilities of countries in both the public and private sectors.

The impact has been consequential: ICT is rapidly moving Africa toward knowledge-based economic structures and information societies, comprising

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2018 VC investment into crypto startups set to surpass 2017 tally

 For months now, much of the media attention on the crypto space has been directed at ebbs and flows in the price of bitcoin on one side, and whiz-bang ICOs on the other. The price of the most valuable cryptocurrency, Bitcoin (specifically the BTC chain), has backpedaled significantly from highs set in December 2017. The chart below shows pricing data from the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index… Read More

40 Years of Data Suggests 3 Myths About Globalization

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Three beliefs about globalization have propagated since the early 1980s. First, that globalization leads to a reduction in global inequality. Second, that high income growth among the richest will lift the incomes of the poorest. Third, that there is no alternative to rising inequality without turning our backs on trade and technology. The recently released World Inequality Report, the first research study to comprehensively examine wealth and income inequality trends across rich and emerging countries over approximately 40 years, dispels these notions.

Globalization has led to a rise in global income inequality, not a reduction

Inequality between individuals across the world is the result of two competing forces: inequality between countries and inequality within countries. For example, strong growth in China and India contributed to significant global income growth, and therefore, decreased inequality between countries. However, inequality within these countries rose sharply. The top 1% income

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Oil’s Boom-and-Bust Cycle May Be Over. Here’s Why

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In November, United States’ crude oil production exceeded 10 million barrels per day for the first time since 1970, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Analysts have predicted that U.S. could become the world’s largest oil producer in 2018, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Russia. How did we get here, and what does it mean for the industry?

U.S. shale oil and gas producers have been ramping up production to take advantage of rising crude oil prices — prices that had been rising in the wake of a deal between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia, and other non-OPEC producers to reduce oil output. That deal sent the price of Brent crude oil to above $70 a barrel in January, after the industry that had suffered through $54 per barrel oil on average in 2017.

But with oil producers in North America expanding output, prices are likely to remain

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Study: When CEOs’ Equity Is About to Vest, They Cut Investment to Boost the Stock Price

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Are today’s businesses plagued by short-termism? The narrative is compelling. Executives cut investment to hit short-term earnings targets and trigger bonus payouts, the argument goes. They are egged on by short-term shareholders, who care only about making a quick buck, rather than growing the company for the long term. Moreover, long-term investments — such as reducing carbon emissions, developing blockbuster drugs, or training workers — benefit more than just shareholders. So, the charge that businesses are deprioritizing them leads to concerns that business no longer serves society.

But despite how common the charge of short-termism has become, rigorous evidence of short-termism is surprisingly difficult to find. Eighty percent of CFOs say that they’d cut investment to meet earnings targets — but what they say isn’t necessarily what they do. A recent McKinsey study found that a “long-termism” index (including how much a firm invests) is correlated with future long-term stock

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The U.S. Economy Is Suffering from Low Demand. Higher Wages Would Help

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vincent tsui for hbr

A little over a century ago, Henry Ford doubled the minimum pay of his workers to $5 a day. When other employers followed suit, it became clear that Ford had sparked a chain reaction. Higher pay throughout the industry helped lead to more sales, creating a virtuous cycle of growth and prosperity. Could we be at another Henry Ford moment?

Some major companies have announced plans to boost employee pay. Target raised its minimum wage to $11 this past fall and committed to $15 by 2020. More recently, Walmart announced plans to match that increase to $11. In banking, Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bancorp also announced pay increases for minimum wage employees.

These pay increases have occurred against a backdrop of weak economic growth and rising income inequality. Economic growth has been stuck in low gear for almost a decade now, averaging around 2% a year

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A peek inside Alphabet’s investing universe

 Chances are you’ve heard of Google. You’re likely a contributor to one of the 3.5 billion search queries the website processes daily. But unless you’re a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur or a slightly obsessive tech journalist, you may not know that Google, or, more properly, Alphabet, is also invests in startups. And, like most of what Google does, Alphabet invests… Read More

Raise softly and deliver a big exit

 In the world of venture capital, the prospect of a successful “exit” looms large in the minds of investors. A VC’s business model is less about the money that goes into a startup than it is about what comes out. It’s true that most companies fail to exit gracefully, and of those that do, surprisingly few exit by going public. Read More

Are the Most Innovative Companies Just the Ones With the Most Data?

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Do you still use Yahoo? Do you still remember MySpace? Compaq? Kodak? The cases of startups with superior ideas dethroning well-established incumbents are legion. This is the beauty of “creative destruction” – the term coined by innovation prophet Joseph Schumpeter almost a century ago. Incumbents have to keep innovating, lest they be overtaken by a new, more creative competitor. Arguably, at least in sectors shaped by technical change, entrepreneurial innovation has kept markets competitive far better than antitrust legislation ever could. For decades, creative destruction ensured competitive markets and a constant stream of new innovation. But what if that is no longer the case?

The trouble is that the source of innovation is shifting – from human ingenuity to data-driven machine-learning. Google’s self-driving cars are getting better through the analysis of billions of data points collected as Google’s self-driving cars roam the street. IBM Watson detects skin cancer

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The False Choice Between Automation and Jobs

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We live in a world where productivity, a key pillar of long-term economic growth, has crumbled. In the United States, Europe, and other advanced economies, productivity growth has slowed so drastically in the past decade that economists debate whether we have entered a new era of stagnation—and this at a time when we need productivity growth more than ever to sustain growth, as working populations in countries from Germany to Japan age and shrink.

Now comes potential help, in the form of advanced robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, which can already outperform humans in a range of activities, from lip-reading to analyzing X-rays. The performance benefits for companies are compelling and not just (or even mainly) in terms of reducing labor costs: automation can also bring whole new business models, and improvements that go beyond human capabilities, such as increasing throughput and quality and raising the speed

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What U.S. CEOs Should Do with the Money from Corporate Tax Cuts

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The new U.S. tax law is likely to increase after-tax cash flows for U.S.-based companies by anywhere from 10% to 20%, depending on their current tax position. As we approach earnings season, investors should listen carefully to what CEOs plan to do with the money. There’s a strong argument that they should invest in growth, and the newly available cash offers them a unique chance to do so. Unfortunately, too many are likely to squander the opportunity.

The size of this windfall is remarkable, and it comes from several sources. The new law reduces the statutory corporate rate from 35% to 21%. It permits immediate expensing of many capital investments. It treats pass-through entities more favorably than in the past, and it increases the incentive to repatriate off-shore cash. In a world already awash in investable capital, these changes should

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