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Fred PhillipsRSS Feed of this column.

After a dozen years as a market research executive, Fred Phillips was professor, dean, and vice provost at a variety of universities in the US, Europe, and South America. He is now Professor at University... Read More »

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While responsible people work to stave off humanity’s ecological suicide, many young nerds write unimportant apps to do “things their mothers used to do for them.” The Elon Musks of the world – those who prepare for the long game while financing it with innovative products for today’s market – are so rare as to be anomalies. 

Today’s entrepreneurial scene suffers from a sick venture capital industry, a number of imponderable illogics, and, maybe, misplaced adulation from students and the public. Symptoms include: 
No, this is a theoretically based rant about TSA. My students can get credit for reading it!

A research firm has just bestowed the title “world’s most valuable insurance brand” on a mainland Chinese company. Other outfits issue similar announcements in diverse industries, despite that in 2014 The Economist made this remark about brands: “Their importance may be fading… no one agrees on how much they are worth or why.”

The decline of brands: We should have seen it coming, when mass customization first began to overshadow mass production. Scholars point to info tech to explain the growing irrelevance of brands; online customer reviews and social media now substitute for the “shorthand” information packages that brands once provided.

How stupid was he?

He shut down the Center for Groundwater Research. I quote him: “You don’t need to grind water. It’s a liquid.”


He closed our renowned Digital Signal Processing program. He was then unable to process, when faculty flashed him a certain digital signal.


Next to go was the knockout mouse lab. He said, “They have some attractive mice, but none that I’d call a real knockout.”

Whenever there’s a task to be done or governance to be exercised, we tend to organize for it in threes. A single power center is unworkable, as it can easily lead to dictatorship. Two is not so good either, as a disagreement can lead to indefinite and unrefereed deadlock. Three gives us “checks and balances,” as all of us were taught in school.  

It’s not just the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of the US government. Companies developing new products seek balance among the engineering, manufacturing, and marketing departments. Economic development rests on the “triple helix” interaction of the government, academic, and industrial sectors. Corporate governance depends on the triangle of shareholders, boards of directors, and managers.  

A chain saw, sporting all the safety interlocks, might still kill you if you use it carelessly. You’re self-confident and you suffer the usual optimism bias.