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Hi again from Toronto, where the annual Fortune Global Forum kicked off Monday with conversations about China, global investments, drug pricing, and a speech by and interview with Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau. He speaks beautifully and cogently in two languages but doesn’t always answer the questions he’s asked. In other words, Canada has politicians too. They’re just more polite than their U.S. counterparts.
I moderated a first-thing-in-the-morning panel on the future of the Chinese economy. Jonathan Woetzel of McKinsey Global Institute made an interesting point echoed later in the day by Wei Sun Christianson, Morgan Stanley’s top executive in China. They both argued that the macroeconomic slowdown in China, caused by a host of reasons, is happening literally coincidentally with the U.S.-China trade spat. To suggest a causal relationship, in other words, is highly dubious. I hadn’t thought of that before, and I found their argument persuasive.
Alex Gorsky, CEO of healthcare conglomerate Johnson & Johnson, dodged a question about a Trump proposal to force drug makers to post prices in consumer drug ads. He said he’s all for transparency but doubts there’s a consensus on what actual prices are. This was a less persuasive argument.
Donna Strickland, the Canadian Nobel laureate in physics, says her graduate-student daughter is a physicist, too. She said every friend in her life is coming out of the woodworks to congratulate her.
Regular readers know I’m a big fan of The Daily, the outstanding podcast from The New York Times. I’ve recently also begun listening to the third season of Serial, a monumental journalistic achievement and devastating takedown of the U.S. criminal-justice system, shown through the prism of the courts in Cleveland. Host Sarah Koenig is funny, conversational and a wonderful observer of telling details. I highly recommend it.
One more recommendation. Researcher Alex Rosenblat is about to publish Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work. If this outstanding essay in Sunday’s New York Times is any indication, it’s going to be a profoundly important book. And Rosenblat is Canadian!
Another path, one that we all must take. After repeated struggles, PC tech pioneer and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen succumbed to cancer on Monday at age 65. Allen famously dropped out of college and convinced his high school friend Bill Gates to do the same to start a software company. Among many worthy obituaries, the New York Times puts Allen in historical context, the Wall Street Journal has a slide show of Allen through the years, and Fortune focused on Allen’s influence in Seattle.
Relatively speaking. Sometimes a leader has to clear the decks. Google had been hemming and hawing about its possible return to the (heavily censored) Chinese search market, but CEO Sundar Pichai came right out and defended the company’s efforts on Monday. “There are many, many areas where we would provide information better than what’s available,” Pichai said, speaking at the WIRED 25 conference. “Today people either get fake cancer treatments or they actually get useful information.”
Dreaming of the future. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology said it will open a college dedicated to the study of artificial intelligence next year to be named after lead donor and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman. The idea is to study not just AI code, but how AI can be used in fields as diverse as biology and history.
Dreaming of the future, part 2. Big investors will have another choice for stashing and trading their digital currency assets. Mutual fund giant Fidelity says it’s opening a brokerage called Fidelity Digital Assets for institutional investors-not ordinary folk-to custody and execute trades in cryptocurrencies. The effort “is the first step in a long-term vision to create a full-service enterprise-grade platform for digital assets,” Tom Jessop, who heads the new unit, says.
A piece of the pie. Speaking of big investors, one of the most ornery doesn’t like Dell Technologies‘ plan to go public via the tracking stock it issued for VMware. Carl Icahn says he owns 8% of the tracking stock and will lobby against approving the deal. “I still enjoy a good fight for the right reasons, and in the current situation, I do not see peace arriving quickly,” he wrote. Elsewhere on Wall Street, messaging platform Twilio said it would acquire email services provider SendGrid for $2 billion in an all-stock deal that takes advantage of Twilio’s skyrocketing share price, up 223% this year. And bankers are telling Uber it could go public next year at a valuation of $120 billion, twice the level it reached in a private fundraising round this year, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Shocking but not surprising. One in five female founders who passed through influential Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator have been sexually harassed or assaulted by an investor, according to a survey by Y Combinator. Of 88 YC female founders surveyed, 19 reported experiencing inappropriate “incidents” from angel investors or venture capitalists, which included sexual overtures or badgering, coercion or quid pro quo, or unwanted sexual contact.
Undo. A joke at artist and former hedge fund manager Nelson Saiers’ expense in Monday’s Data Sheet wasn’t meant to imply anything about Saiers’ skills as a hedge fund manager. Saiers says his funds did just fine, than you very much, before he quit the industry.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Smartphones and their constant stream of alerts and notifications are a huge distraction in the modern world. Apple, Google, and others are lately thinking up ways to make the devices less of a time suck via software tweaks, but it could also be that people can train themselves to avoid disruptions better. Harriet Griffey in The Guardian explores the field of research to improve concentration. Among a bunch of useful suggestions, here are a few:
It takes about three weeks for a repeating behaviour to form a habit, says Jeremy Dean, a psychologist and the author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits. Getting into a new habit will not happen overnight and adaptation can be incremental. Start by switching off smartphone alerts, or taking social media apps off your phone, then switching off the device for increasingly long periods.
Practise concentration by finding things to do that specifically engage you for a period of time to the exclusion of everything else. What is noticeable is that you cannot just go from a state of distraction to one of concentration, in the same way that most of us cannot fall asleep the minute our head hits the pillow. It takes a bit of time and, with practice, becomes easier to accomplish.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Now Elon Musk Wants to Build a Giant Fighting Robot By Chris Morris
Lyft Tries the Netflix Route and Unveils a New Subscription Plan By Lisa Marie Segarra
Siemens USA CEO: Corporate Leaders Need a ‘Digital Quotient’ By Andrew Nusca
BEFORE YOU GO
They are the scourge of shoppers everywhere, the butt of late night talk show jokes, and even the inspiration for the occasional Halloween costume. I’m talking, of course, about those insanely long receipts that CVS hands out to customers enrolled in its ExtraCare loyalty program. Vox’s Rachel Sugar tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, and while she proves that CVS has longer receipts than anyone else, she finds there’s no end in sight to the paper sprawl.