It's a Dirty Job...
I almost didn't read your article on Mike Rowe and Dirty Jobs (February) since a) I'm not a blue-collar worker, b) I have never seen the show, and c) I despise the reality-TV concept. But now I feel a connection with Rowe and his labors. The idea of working hard — but not too long — is something everyone should embrace. I plan on watching my first episode of Dirty Jobs this weekend.
As a loyal viewer of Dirty Jobs and as someone who told anyone who would listen early on what a great show it was, I was very, very happy to hear that Rowe has a deep loyalty to the show's true value: the real people who are doing hard work. Nowadays, too much reality TV is nothing but a semi-scripted mess. The show is what it is — the people who do these jobs and their real personalities.
I didn't know the QVC story about Sister Mary Margaret. I snorted at my desk reading it. Great setup and delivery. The picture of Mike in a suit with work boots on is brilliant.
Past the Tipping Point
I just read "Is the Tipping Point Toast?" (February). While Duncan Watts has done some great research and analysis, I think that Malcolm Gladwell's work was not given its due. In Watts's analysis and in your article, only one aspect of The Tipping Point has been taken into account: the Law of the Few. The other points, such as the Mavens, Salesmen, and the stickiness factor (which the Heath brothers have analyzed well), are merely glossed over. What I understand of Gladwell's work is that all of these factors play a role in the "tipping" of a product or idea, not just one. Watts has done an excellent job of proving that Connectors alone cannot create an epidemic, but I do not think that his work deflates the premise of The Tipping Point.
Harbor Springs, Michigan
The social research by Duncan Watts on how trends are and aren't disseminated reminds me of one salient truth: Marketers are no longer in control. People can't be manipulated as easily as they once were. Consumers are in charge. There is a more fundamental change, though, that redefines the very notion of a trend. The fact is that there is no one market but an infinite number. The economics of online commerce allow more companies to reach fewer people and still be successful. Increasingly, we are seeing homegrown businesses reinvent the market by selling to smaller groups. If along the way, a product takes off, that's not something marketers can engineer, even though they'll be first to take the credit.
Marketers and advertisers were very quick to take sound bites from Gladwell's The Tipping Point and chase Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen. The most important point in this article is that the development of trends is a complex phenomenon we don't yet understand well. Many factors contribute to the success or failure of any new initiative, including finding the right relays to spread the word. But equally important are timing, market conditions, competitive initiatives, and, yes, to every CEO's dismay, a little luck.
Editor's note: The article on Watts has sparked a wave of controversy, including comments by 600 bloggers, according to Technorati.
Interesting column by Robert Scoble about office 2.0 ("Office in a Cloud," February). Working with MS Project 2000, I've found I have to drill down through several layers of menus and make settings changes to get it to record and display data the way I need it done. True, the developers can't satisfy everyone, but I've also seen a number of people change how they manage projects to match the defaults. My question is, Is
But Is It Good for You?
I appreciate Elizabeth Spiers's sentiments in "Devil's Food" (February). As a society, we seem incapable of allowing ourselves to be engaged with any single activity. Now we're trying to get as much out of every bite as possible. I wonder if eventually we'll get some scientific research on multifunctional foods that matches what we're learning about multitasking: The more we pack into a single moment, or morsel, the less value we derive from it.
New York, New York
Fill 'er Up With Bacteria
I have been pleased with Fast Company's coverage of environmental issues, so I was dismayed that Elizabeth Svoboda's article on LS9's efforts to create petroleum using bacteria ("Fueling the Future," February) failed to address its implications for climate change. Researchers, venture capitalists, and consumers are not looking for alternative fuels solely as a way to address our dependence on a finite oil supply. They are also concerned about how the burning of oil contributes to concentrating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Alternative fuels from plant-based feedstocks address this problem because they are carbon-neutral — releasing only carbon that has been captured from the environment and stored in the plant during its life cycle. It's not clear whether LS9's fuel would be carbon-neutral, but it seems like a lapse to fail even to pose the question.
Brooklyn, New York
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A version of this article appeared in the April 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.