By Geoff Colvin and Ryan Derousseau
April 20, 2016

Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky yesterday introduced a significant new feature for the company’s app, demonstrating a really valuable inclination in the chief of any dominant company: aggressively using its size and power to become even more dominant.

The feature is called Guidebook and seems simple enough. It lets Airbnb hosts post information about their neighborhood – places to eat and drink, things to see – that renters can use to help them choose where to stay and decide what to do when they get there. But there’s more to Guidebook than may first be apparent. It keeps customers inside the Airbnb app when they might otherwise leave to check Yelp, Tripadvisor, or Google. That will help the company sell other, related services through the app, which it intends to do. Guidebook also lets Airbnb accumulate data on customers’ interests and preferences so it can better match travelers with accommodations they’ll like and thus increase bookings and perhaps gain intelligence on which additional services to offer. “Outside of the explicit filters travelers chose as a part of the matching process, we have sophisticated machine learning algorithms that tailor search to find the perfect place,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Another example of Chesky using Airbnb’s heft to its advantage: swooping into Cuba the moment it opened to U.S. business. As Fortune’s Erin Griffith explains in a fascinating article, Cuba already had a government regulated system of homes open to visitors. About 4,000 of them have signed up with Airbnb. Chesky traveled to Havana recently at the same time President Obama did, and the visit was a PR triumph. Chesky promoted “person-to-person diplomacy” and also introduced Cubans to a new form of entrepreneurship. I don’t know what kind of technologist Chesky may be, but I know he’s a winner obsessed with lengthening his lead.

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I have some important though possibly depressing news about leadership. It isn’t really news; it’s research that has been around for a few years, but most people seem not to know about it, and it’s highly relevant to the moment. The bottom line is that we don’t need to study policy positions or polling numbers to figure out who’s going to win elections. We only have to look at the candidates’ faces.

Princeton neuroscientist Alexander Todorov has shown that we form judgments about others based on their faces without even knowing it, and we do it very quickly – in less than a second. The effect is astonishingly powerful. As he writes in a research article, “For example, we have shown that rapid judgments of competence based solely on facial appearance predict the election outcomes of both senatorial and gubernatorial races in the U.S. This finding has been replicated in a number of countries. In a recent, particularly dramatic demonstration of this effect, judgments of Swiss children predicted the outcomes of French parliamentary elections.”

Todorov hasn’t told us who’s going to win this presidential election, but his central finding is that people’s face-based, near-instantaneous judgment of a candidate’s competence, as distinct from attractiveness, dominance, or any other quality, is the overwhelmingly important factor. You take it from there.

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