In the new normal of remote work, we are still adapting to the intense amount of screen time that has replaced our in-person interactions. Perhaps you don’t feel like happy hours are as happy when you’re sitting an extra hour at your computer. Or you miss the simple phone calls that have suddenly turned video. For those who empathize, I offer the Zoom serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the Zoom calls I cannot change; courage to cancel the video calls I do not need; and wisdom to know the difference.
Boundaries are harder than ever to set in these crazy times, but also more important than ever for our mental health and productivity. Take CGP Grey’s word for it.
Have your own remote work serenity prayer? Please share on Twitter @mbainthecity!
As a native New Yorker now returned home for good, I feel it’s time to begin making my civic contributions, to start solving the real problems our city faces. Believe it or not, dear reader, I didn’t go to school just to summarize business books that are way longer than they need to be. I aimed to make a real difference in this world. And now that I have this platform of ten regular readers to amplify this message, I feel it’s time to combine my advanced degrees, my Public Policy bachelor’s and my MBA, to solve the real challenges facing the city that I know and love.
Let’s talk about the dangers of unregulated umbrella utilization.
An unchecked weapon
Throngs of people in the most crowded intersections of New York are a norm. But on a rainy day, they become weapon wielding mobs devolved to basic instincts. Survivors duck-and-weave around errant metal supports. The more alpha types deliver full body-checks to fumbling pedestrians who stand in their way. In the worst cases, these incidents can be fatal (I assume).
My last brush with an umbrella in the streets left me changed. The first thing I remember was a wall of black driving towards my face, with only moments to dodge out of the way. I pivoted outward to the right, but too late. A metal prong scraped my chin as I tilted my head sideways to minimize the blow. I turned to see a five-foot-nothing Latina woman striding away with a gulf umbrella big enough for a family. The ratio of umbrella to human was like none I had ever seen. “Assault!” I shouted after her. “That’s assault! Umbrella assault! Assault with a deadly umbrella!” She paid me no heed. Neither did the passers-by. It was, Times Square, after all, where the standards of humanity are at their lowest. And did the police care? No. I was almost temporarily-permanently blinded by a metal spike that could have gouged out both of my eyes simultaneously (I assume). But the police didn’t even create a case file. There are certainly moments in New York where I wish for acute blindness, but this is not how I imagined it happening.
Umbrellas are intended for battling the elements, not each other. There’s only one solution that I can see. I mean that will literally allow me to see past the sea of umbrellas. And that’s umbrella regulation.
It’s a solved problem
Regulation has addressed the same cornerstone issue in the roadways that plague our sidewalks: capacity constraints. As early as 1652, New Amsterdam had speed limits for wagons and carts. Regulating behavior of vehicles makes our city’s pressured capacity more manageable. Providing basic guidance for how to properly use umbrellas, such as up-and-down etiquette and other fundamentals of urban umbrella wielding, could reduce accidents and unlock sidewalk capacity, just as road vehicle regulation has.
As it stands now, with no rules to give order to umbrella traffic, you take your life into your hands when you turn a corner blind on a rainy day.
There is literally nothing more dangerous than turning a corner in the rain in New York, according to recent statistics. Umbrella related eye gouges are up 14% since 2009 (I assume). The positive trend line below can only be umbrella traffic accident reporting, since no New Yorker actually drives.
According to careful research conducted by NYAEG, New Yorkers Against Eye Gouging, umbrella accident incidence rates would be dramatically reduced if we introduced transparency and scale requirements.
Regulation has a bad reputation because often there is a lack of transparency. But transparency is exactly what we need in New York. Specifically, we need transparent umbrellas. On a normal NYC day, you can see up and down city avenues for miles. But on a rainy day, visibility is reduced to legal blindness by a sea of black umbrellas. All because umbrellas are too freely distributed.
Short people usually get the short end of the stick. When it comes to umbrellas, that seems only reasonable. Yet like Napoleon’s land grab across Europe, the vertically challenged demand sidewalk space beyond normal proportions. It’s getting out of control. The other day I saw a four-foot tall woman carrying a circus tent. An actual circus tent. We need to bring reason back to how we allow sidewalks to be used.
A new licensing system
The automotive industry has solved the challenges of transparency and scale. Headlight standards ensure visibility for all drivers. Classes of license ensure that a driver can handle the size of the vehicle they are navigating. We can do the same with umbrellas. We must make transparent plastic the standard material. And we must limit umbrella sizes by mastery and height requirements.
Below is a simple system that could be implemented immediately.
Umbrella License Class Descriptions
Eligible to Use
Class D (the most common license)
Stay to the right while walking; stop at lights outside of pedestrian crossing path
Clear bubble umbrellas, wide enough for individual use only
Same requirements as class D; also distinguish a fast vs. slow lane on the right half of the sidewalk (also known as, commuter and tourist lanes)
Clear umbrellas wide enough for two to three people
Same requirements as Class A; also implement up-and-down etiquette; top of umbrella consistently held at 6 feet or higher to ensure clearance of the average New Yorker
Transparent golf umbrellas
Standard issue umbrellas for the average height would have the following dimensions.
Each standard deviation from average height would result in linear size increase or decrease to the umbrella issued, while maintaining the same aspect ratio.
Of course regulation is nothing without enforcement. And so I propose that the NYPD create a special task force, with the Rainy Day Fund, to ensure that people are wielding the appropriate umbrella for their license. Penalties for law breakers should start at 2 -3 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Now I’m sure you’re thinking, what about advanced umbrella wielders? Why deny them the colorful expression of opaque umbrellas? We need to hold a high bar for such luxuries, considering the public risk posed by opaque umbrellas. These pedestrians need to be Formula 1 quality, people who can puddle-jump and pirouette like a Broadway dancer trying out for Singing in the Rain.
You also might think, what about mothers with children who don’t qualify for Class G licenses? There is no limit to the number of times adults can apply for licenses, for a low $20 fee, to cover the test and the cost of a street umbrella. Children can get a learners permit at age 16. We need to think about public safety above individual convenience. It may seem over the top, but that’s the point — to see over the top. I want to see over the top of everyone’s umbrellas. Those who just can’t meet the new city standards, will just need to invest in a good raincoat. For those folks, I can recommend a great one.
A vision for the future
Regulation adds efficiency when you’re at capacity, and New York sidewalks will always be at capacity. With such a longstanding problem, I have to wonder, where is de Blasio’s leadership? He’s too busy running for president. Too busy to imagine a world where rush hour swells at sidewalk intersections looked like lanes flowing smoothly rather than a fan of people taking both the right and left of the sidewalk. (I’m looking at you, New Jersey commuters at Penn Station.) This is the world we could have, with effective umbrella regulation.
From the classroom to the boardroom, how to prepare for the modern office
You’ve done it! Today is your day. You’ve finally graduated and are ready to make your mark on the world, and here at MBA In The City, we’ve got your back. It was not too long ago we too first stepped foot into corporate America, and today we’re going to impart our hard won wisdom to you and your graduating class of [insert year]. Yes just for your class.
After four years of philosophical debate about the deepest problems of society, you may feel some mild existential dread about joining a traditional business. Rest assured, the rumors you’ve heard are wrong; the workforce isn’t a soulless cubical landscape as far as the eye can see. It’s actually a soulless, open plan landscape as far as they eye can see or, more importantly, as far as the voice can travel. Modern offices are very good at optimizing for the bottom line. That means you have to be good at optimizing your own productivity. To do that, you’ll need some important equipment.
With air conditioning as a staple of the modern office, you may have assumed that we have conquered the temperature variations that plagued our ancient ancestors of the 1900s. The modern office instead brings a taste of adventure that appeals to its diverse and outdoorsy millennial talent base. Moving from place to place in today’s office is a journley through all of the climates on earth. One minute you’re in an jam-packed conference room that is slowly approaching the temperature of the sun. The next minute you’re on an arctic adventure, exploring the landscape that is the vast openness of the sea of monitors. To make sure you’re spending your energy working and not shivering or sweating, we recommend layering for the extremes.
Whether joining a meeting or working at your desk, every day you’ll need a few key garments for work.
Nice lightweight blouse or button-down shirt
A sweater or sweatshirt
A smart wool undershirt (250 gram)
A heaver smart wool undershirt (400 gram)
Long johns (especially in the summer)
Bring your own toilet paper
In the competitive global economy we operate in, businesses must maintain their profitability by watching costs down to the cent or, as it were, the sheet. Niceties like two-ply toilet paper are just not in the budget. If companies splashed out on plush TP, how would they ever pay for the carefully engineered executive compensation packages? Work hard, and it may one day merit that coveted two-ply, and a promotion. Yes, just like school, promotion is merit-based, as our corporate leadership demographics point to. And executives have clearly been working harder and harder year on year, as CEO pay has continually increased over the past 30 years as a multiple of median employee salary. We need to support our fearless leaders and their personal sacrifices with multi-million dollar salaries, especially if the company is failing. You can remember with every wipe that your sacrifice is matched by theirs. But, if you like to wipe in style, add toilet paper to your supply list.
And with all the kit you’ll need, it’s time to think about how you’re going to store it.
Have the right bag
With hot desking and the general dearth of personal storage space that characterizes the modern office, you might be wondering where all your personal items will live at work. And at the same time, as the boundary hours of work life and home life blend, you’ll need to adjust the inventory you tote accordingly. Here’s what you’ll need on hand throughout your day:
It’s a lot to carry, but we have good news: finding the right bag will actually require very little adjustment. Since you’re already used to wearing a backpack at school, you just need to upgrade to adult-sized gear.
Always eat before an event
We have observed a mathematical law that corporate events provide an amount of food equivalent to:
where x equals the number of employees who have RSVPed to the event. Thus, the per person allocation is ever decreasing as the size of the company and event increases. You can expect a full burger at a startup, a slider at a mid-cap company, and a meatball at a large company affair.
How to create a private space
Most offices have plenty of conference rooms — that are always double-booked. These days glass walls are in, thanks to execs like Zuck taking the desire for transparency very literally. But if you’re a lactating mother or taking that doctor’s call about your infection status, you may not want to be on display. You could carry a “do not enter” sign to hang on the bathroom, which is now the most private space you will find in your building (It worked for Zack Morris!). That does feel a little budget though. Not to worry, Hushme has a solution for you: a noise canceling mouth-piece. So does BloxVox. You will look like Bane from Batman, but it gets the job done.
On the flip side, your peers may not have cottoned on to new privacy tech, and you may find yourself listening to messy divorces from spouses who don’t understand who their new family is.
This is a starter guide, and doesn’t cover every contingency. So you will need to stay on your toes out there. I once worked at a company that was trying to win an office design award. To enhance their clean aesthetic, they took away all of the trash cans. As localized trash mountains began to collect, I realized it was time to improvise. I purchased a purse hook to hang a small plastic bag from my 3-foot-squared desk space as my new trash. The company was so inspired by this grass roots solution that they bought everyone branded purse hooks to use for their own trash! They did not provide bags though.
Oh, also, open offices can be kinda noisy. You should get a nice pair of headphones.
As a new millennial parent, also known as a “pawent”, I have had to make some lifestyle adjustments. As gym sessions got swapped for dog walks, I realized I didn’t want to gain a friend and also a couch bod. I recognized the need to raise the fitness bar with my furry friend. So to complement my airport yoga routine, which helps me stretch my way through JFK on work trips, I’ve developed a plan for me and my dog to both keep up with the squirrels: dogercise. With this new approach to workouts, you’ll see you lose none of your fitness and gain all the time you need with your fuzzy companion.
Bench press → Puppy press
Use a 10-15 lb dog for toning. To build muscle mass, choose a 20-50 lb dog. On a flat back with bent knees, position one hand on the ribs and one hand mid-belly. Repeat 3 sets of 15 reps. Stretch in between by fully extending arms while scratching your dog’s back in reward for being a good boy.
Running → Chasing
In a place where your dog can be off leash, either in a dog park or a living room, chase dog in circles until he or she has been panting for at least 5 minutes. To get your dog highly motivated to maintain the pursuit, bait him or her with a favorite “keep away” object not intended for chewing, such as a shoe or sock. Ensure that the baiting shoe is not one you will miss.
Mason twists → Mason tugs
Sit on the ground with your back angled at 45 degrees. Get your dog engaged with a tug toy by squeaking or shaking in front of his or her nose. Once dog grips the tug toy, raise legs parallel to the ground, with toes pointed, and pull the tug toy under your legs. Pass the tug toy from one hand to the other, until dog has walked a 180 degree arc under your legs. Repeat the passing for 20 reps. Rest in between sets by snuggling your dog.
Yes, you truly can have it all. And as they grow from puppy to adult, yoga may be the next frontier, with tandem downward dog. Namastay. Good boy.
Clearly legislators have been reading my blog and were touched by the story of my healthcare emergency this past 4th of July. My experience embodied the every-man and moved our government to action. The result? Mandated price transparency for hospital services. Yes, hospitals nationwide are now required by federal law to reveal their once-secret master price lists. However, while I know our Senators were trying to help a millennial out with out-of-pocket costs, there’s a real risk of unintended consequences. In fact, prices might just go up.
As a parallel, let’s take the case study of CEO pay in the 1990s. In 1993, the Democratic Congress under Bill Clinton passed a change to tax law that capped companies’ tax deductions for executives’ compensation to $1 million per executive per year. Concurrently, starting in 1992, The SEC began requiring standardized disclosure of compensation in proxy statements in hopes of making it more difficult to disguise pay that didn’t incentivize managers, or was excessive. Yet this move to transparency and incentives alignment backfired; by 2000, the average CEO pay had nearly quintupled to $19 million.
What explains this massive increase? In short, the practice of benchmarking CEO pay. CEO base pay was never cut, because CEO pay became increasingly based on benchmarked lists limited to top-paid CEOs in that field. This selection bias in comparison sets resulted in a rising tide for all CEO packages. At the same time, because the tax amendment did not penalize performance-based pay, compensation committees started offering a growing number of stock options as an incentive to CEOs. Options could only become valuable as the companies performed well. And in the late 90s, as the stock market rose and pushed all options “in the money”, total compensation rose in lockstep.
Will a similar comparison bias happen for medical costs? Or will payors temper rising costs with their buying power? Only time will tell.
Decades ago Christmas tree shopping in New York was simply a story of street corner competitors. Then came the chain stores, like Whole Foods and Home Depot. And now, enter stage left the biggest player of them all: Amazon. Yes, this season e-commerce is in the Christmas tree market.
Amazon is testing a new thesis on tree shopping: delivery to your door trumps walking to the corner. Aesthetic items used to be squarely in the “try before you buy” category, which only brick and mortar can provide. But our consumer behaviors continue to evolve with the proliferation of e-commerce options, and Amazon thinks the time is now to give e-trees a try.
As Christmas tree prices have remained somewhat elevated following last year’s shortage, Amazon’s pricing of $109 + free delivery is actually a steal! Whole Foods is playing an even more competitive pricing game (likely riding the Amazon wholesale cost advantage), with pricing starting at $35 for a 6-foot tree on Black Friday Weekend. Compare this to the guy on the corner selling $120 trees, and it may be worth the extra avenue of carrying making your husband carry your freshly cut pine – and it’s an excuse to walk off the turkey!
But perhaps you want to optimize for distance walked more than price, and are interested in supporting tree farmers directly. In that case, you can also save some money by buying your tree from your corner vendor in mid-to-late December, rather than early December, when tree demand is highest.
Personally, even at ~20% off, I’m not convinced that buying a Christmas tree blind is a better experience than bundling one up that I’ve examined, checked the moisture levels of, and chatted with a farmer about. I want to know the sustainability policy of his or her farm, and that my tree is locally sourced, 100% organic, free range, cruelty free, and fair trade. I want to be reassured that it had a loving upbringing with a good family. And even if Amazon got all that right, if they are really serious about the e-tree game, I’d want a generous return policy, so that I can order three trees in different sizes, compare them, and return the extras.
As I was bleeding out on the pavement, I reached for my iPhone to check my insurance app. Maybe someone was having a sale on stitches this week, ideally someone close by. However, because it was the 4th of July (a typically injury fraught holiday), it seemed like surge pricing was in full effect. $75 just to have a look. Thus began the mental calculus many Americans are all too familiar with. Do I really need stitches anyway? I mean maybe I could get by with a bandaid… a really big bandaid.
At this point, I’m usually tempted to open Tinder and start swiping until I match with a doctor (or at least a medical student). I’m in no position to fight temptation. Even at $16 for a cocktail, it’s cheaper than urgent care.
Now I’m not going to say I was biking while intoxicated, but I just started this new starvation diet where you don’t eat anything for the first 36 hours, then you’re allowed 6 almonds for the next 72. Perhaps I was a little light headed, but definitely still in control. I can handle my almonds!
Just my luck, I matched with Dr. McDreamy, sitting right in the closest urgent care center.
Me: Hey, you busy? Doctor: I am at work right now, but this guy isn’t getting any better no matter what I do. Sup with you? Me: I’m having the most American of 4th of Julys. You really a doctor? Doctor: Yep Me: Pop quiz! How would you treat minor abrasions and multiple epidermal lacerations on the left leg? Doctor: Umm…I usually start with drinks Me: Great! What kind of alcohol ya got? Rubbing? 😉 Doctor: Wow, it’s like you know me. Me: Well, I’d love to get to know you more. In fact, I am heading over to you right now.
I hobbled my way over, credit card in hand. In the end I wound up with a rather large bandage. I’m sure it will be fine. Happy 4th!
In chatting with folks from engineers to analysts, I’ve realized not all business terms are widely known, and so I’ve made an Urban Dictionary for a few common concepts below.
An internet ad that has made first contact, but did not penetrate the attention bubble. For example, when I buy a television on Amazon, suddenly the internet gets the impression that that it’s the start of a collection of 55″ flat screen TVs.
Not to be confused with a kegger. During my MBA, I was very confused when I showed up for the Delta Sigma Pi party.
CAGR stands for compound annual growth rate, i.e. the smoothed, average rate of growth over several years (like a bikini line after waxing).
CAC(Sponsored by Blue Apron)
Customer acquisition cost. This is how much you’re willing to bribe someone to try your product. Think all those Blue Apron coupons you get in the mail, basically paying you to try it.
Did the bribes work? How much is each sucker customer spending? That amount is your average revenue per user.
The VC Discount is the amount of venture capital money a consumer burns through by happily accepting all the CAC offers without becoming a loyal customer. This is calculated as follows:
For example, you may buy a $10 per month MoviePass to buy one $15 movie ticket per month. With no theater subsidy, that’s a 33% savings (1 – 10÷15)!
No, it’s not a pizza. A deliverable is a thing that your client or manager swears to you, in a contract signed in blood, is precisely what they want and is *very important*. You then work on the project for weeks or months, countering with your own blood, sweat, and tears. Maybe you even miss a couple of your kid’s baseball games. And as soon as you deliver it, they smile and nod, and when you leave, they put it in a drawer, never to be spoken of again.
Had it really only been five days? It had felt like aaages (and by ages, I mean at least a week), as I wondered where my special edition collectable bobble head set was. And then it dawned on me, this company must be part of the Slow Shipping Movement! After all, why do I need those bobble heads in two days? Slow Shippers know customers will appreciate items more once they arrive because of the delayed gratification.
Like the Slow Food Movement, Slow Shipping gets you to appreciate where your products are coming from, the “ingredients” of what are being shipped to you.
I wrote in my gratitude journal that evening, still awaiting my package, that I am grateful for all the hands that have touched this unique product, to deliver it to my shelf.