Author Archives: aje


I use Overcast to listen to podcasts. The smart speed setting quickens the pace without you even noticing and I usually listen to 1.2x normal speed. If you want to get into podcasts I highly recommend tweaking these settings to get through them faster. An added bonus is that if you’re listening to a proper series or radio play at normal speed, you “feel the benefit” and get more engrossed. 


  • EconTalk – the original economics podcast featuring an array of fascinating guests. Each episode is typically over an hour long which can be daunting, but permits a relaxed and casual conversation. As a former student of Russ Roberts, I thoroughly enjoy recapturing some of the intellectual curiosity and excitement of grad school through EconTalk.
  • Macro Musings – David Beckworth is one of my favourite economists, and by focusing on monetary macro he provides a consistently high quality conversation on a topic I know I will want to listen to. I think it’s pitched at the perfect level to walk listeners through the career trajectory and major insights of an impressive guestlist.

Business and management

  • Planet Money – Short (20 minute) episodes that illuminate imortant economic concepts through interviews. Can’t get enough of them.
  • Stuff You Should Know – Well produced, entertainingly presented, always interesting.
  • The Investors Field Guide – I don’t listen to it (yet) but it’s been highly recommended to me
  • Adam Buxton – on the surface this is a comedy show, where likable comic Adam Buxton (from Adam & Joe semi-fame) chats with his “showbusiness” friends. I enjoy it because it provides an honest and sincere look at the thought process behind public speaking and the art of humour.

True Crime

  • Generation Why – two friends present and dissect famous cases in a causal, engaging manner.
  • Casefile True Crime – the Australian narrator, following a well crafted script, provides an engrossing experience.
  • Criminal – somewhat hit and miss collection of interesting cases, some of which do stay with you.


  • Serial Season 1 – a documentaroy about the death of Hae Min Lee featuring interviews with Adnan Syed, who is in prison for the murder. But did he do it? This helped build the genre of the developing real time podcast, and bingelistening to this with noise cancelling headphones, on a transatlantic red eye, was super sweet. The theme music still gives me shivers.
  • Homecoming – more of a play than a podcast, but one that utilises the medium very nicely.
  • S Town – a fascinating and gripping story, but I was somewhat annoyed by the presenter’s self-serving presence.
  • Missing Richard Simmons – originally presents itself as having the ingredients of a unique and enjoyable mystery, but sadly turns into a slightly disturbing hounding.

Classic interview questions

If you had to kill someone, who would it be?

What’s the biggest coincidence you’ve ever experienced?

Do you sincerely believe in any conspiracy theories?

Tell that story, the time you did the wrong thing because you were scared (link)

When were you at your happiest?

Do you have a favourite joke?

Imagine your funeral, and your family and friends have had a few drinks and are thinking of you. They want to make an idiosyncratic gesture to your memory. What would they do? What should they do?

Writing reviews

Reviewers come in numerous categories. One group, often the most gushing in their praise, show few signs of actually having read the book. A second group absorb enough of the introduction and of passages relating to their own specialty top pass resounding judgments. A third group, in a distinct minority, follow careful reading with balanced comments. And then there’s the Worshipful Company of Whingers, Carpers and Nit-Pickers, whose sole aim in life it to find fault.

Davies, N., (2006) Europe East & West, Jonathan Cape

Brand loyalty

AJE is brought to you by:

Past members

Apple – design brief moved into sleek and fragile rather than tactile and durable, no longer intuitive interface (e.g. access to Podcasts through iTunes)

Joseph Joseph – now skimming from existing customers and diluting the brand with gimmicks instead of novel solutions

Performance Review

The underlying problem is that all performance reviews (especially corporate ones) tend to be costly and arbitrary. Deloitte have a new approach that intends to simplify the process by asking 4 questions:

  1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus (five point scale)
  2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team (five point scale)
  3. This person is at risk for low performance (yes/no)
  4. This person is ready for promotion today (yes/no)

I like the idea but not the questions chosen (they are too hierarchical). Mine would be something along the following lines:

  1. Does this person excel at their job?
    • For example, is there documented evidence of other people attempting to learn from them?
  2. Is this person a pleasure to work with?
    • For example, would you look forward to making a transatlantic trip with them?

I recently became aware of the concept of a Personal Boardroom. I think it is a good way to recognise whether you have an effective support network, and to identify why your career may be stalling. The idea is that you should have people in your life (with whom you are in regular contact) that perform each of the following roles:

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 18.37.00 Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 18.36.47 Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 18.36.54

Country Competitiveness Dashboard

I am an Affiliate Faculty Member of the Microeconomics of Competitiveness program at Harvard Business School, and a big fan of Michael Porter – his work consistently reminds me of the importance of bringing clarity to management practice.

I also like his inclination for frameworks rather than models. If your goal is to interpret and assess, as opposed to measure and predict, a framework is a critical analytical tool. One that I especially like is his explanation for what determines competitiveness. For example, consider the following slide (which I believe originates from here).


I’ve given this framework a lot of thought, but I don’t think it fits as neatly into the Diamond model as is often claimed. For example in this NBER paper Porter (and co-authors) present an enlarged version:


This clearly shows that the Diamond model is intended to be a more detailed view of the “Quality of the National Business Environment” segment. But consider something like nutrient rich soil, or a large natural harbour. One might think that constitutes an endowment. But it is also a relevant “Factor input condition”. Indeed what’s the difference between the “Supporting and Related industries” and “State of Cluster Development”? I suspect this is why Figure 3 above has dropped endowments and clusters, and renamed it a “Foundational Competitiveness Index”. I think this is a shame, because the “What Determines Competitiveness” slide is clearer, and more coherent, than the FCI.

I think Porter’s attempt to force fit the Diamond model into the Competitiveness index creates an opportunity to take the “What Determines Competitiveness” slide in a new direction. Indeed I think it complements nicely the “Growth is Like an iPhone” analogy:

In my attempts to merge the three level analogy with a template that my students can use in class, and with all appropriate nods to Prof. Porter, this is the “Country Competitiveness Dashboard“:


Rather than viewing the Diamond model as a subset of the “Business environment”, I see it more as a strategic tool that cuts across the whole Country Competitiveness Dashboard. In other words step 1 is to populate the dashboard, and ensure that you are covering all bases. Step 2 is to conduct a Diamond analysis – which is better suited at the cluster level than the national level anyway.

The endowments above are rooted in economic growth theory, but I am always struck at how important they seem to be when reading geopolitical accounts. The list below shows some of the typical go to areas when trying to understand the starting position of a country.

Management reading list

Here are a few recommendations for managers.

  1. Sowell, T., 1987, A Conflict of Visions, William Morrow
    • Sowell makes a distinction between a constrained (i.e. human nature is stable and based on self-interest) or unconstrained (human nature is good or has the potential to be good) “vision”. He argues that most political beliefs fit into one of these categories, and that people’s judgements are often determined by their existing vision.
  2. Schwartz, Peter. (1997) The Art of the Long View: Planning for Future in an Uncertain World, John Wiley & Sons
    • The pioneer of scenario planning provides a user guide to their construction and use, and demonstrates theur relevance for any decision making under uncertainty.
  3. Postrel, V., 1999, The Future and Its Enemies, Free Press
    • Postrel challenges the conventional wisdom that modern society isn’t delivering, and that we need to take coordinated action to change this trend. Instead, she articulates the case for competition and decentralised decision making, and identifies a “dynamism” world view that permits amazing innovation.
  4. Koch, Charles, G., 2007, The Science of Success, Wiley – especially SoS excerpts
    • This book outlines the concept of “Market-Based Management”, the framework that Koch credits as driving the incredible success of the American conglomerate Koch Industries. It attempts to apply the institutions of a free society and market economy within a firm, and provides an excellent case study on alternatives to hierarchical command structures.
  5. Burlingham, Bo, 2005, Small Giants, Penguin
    • A fascinating collection of case studies of companies that chose to be great rather that big. Most of them may be unfamiliar, but they are all inspirational for their pursuit of excellence as they define it.
  6. Cowen, T., 2009, Create Your Own Economy, Dutton
    • This is an eclectic look at how the internet has affected the way we engage with information. We have more choice, and more ability to cultivate our own consumption that ever before. This caters to people with autistic tendencies, and Cowen not only allows us to understand this condition, but also encourage our inner neural diversity.
  7. Deutsch, D., 2011, The Beginning of Infinity, Penguin – in particular “Optimism” (Chapter 9)
    • In a deep, mind bending work Deutsch argues that the enlightenment was built on the search for good explanations (which is different to attempts to test theories), and claims that a rediscovery of this effort will create the beginning of infinity. He touches upon his expertise as a Physicist to explain famous paradoxes and make a convincing argument in favour of the multiverse.
  8. Ridley, M., 2011, The Rational Optimist, Harper
    • Trade and specialisation have meant that things have never been better, and things will continue to be better provided we remain rational and optimistic.
  9. Poundstone, W., 2011, Priceless, Oneworld – especially the chapters on Prospect Theory and Ultimatum Games
    • Entertaining and accessible overview of behavioural economics and its impact on decision making.
  10. Ries, Eric, 2011, The Lean Startup, Penguin – especially the chapter on batches
    • The classic guide to creating a new organisation under conditions of uncertainty, including practical advice on strategy.
  11. Gleick, J., 2012, The Information, Fourth Estate
    • A somewhat daunting but wholly engrossing history of information, explaining critical innovations such as drum banging, Enigma, through to the internet.
  12. Fisman, R. and Sullivan, T., 2013, The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, Twelve – in particular “What Management is Good For” (Chapter 5)
    • A highly readable explanation for why organisations exist, and a defense of the important role they play in coordinating economic activity.
  13. Leighton, W.A., and Lopez, E.J., 2014, Madmen, Intellectuals and Academic Scribblers, Stanford – especially the chapter on Public Choice theory
    • A scholarly level and yet enjoyable look at how ideas shape the world around us, with excellent examples of times when they can overcome vested interests. The authors identify policy entrepreneurs as key change agents and show how social change occurs.
  14. Skarbek, D., 2014, The Social Order of the Underworld, Oxford University Press
    • One of the very best attempts to study how governance emerges without government. Skarbek presents his academic work on how prisons are organised, cutting across all of the social sciences. He draws upon fascinating fieldwork to explain the role of gangs and destroys many myths about why they form and the functions they serve. This is one of the best contemporary examples of the applicability of economic theory to broad social issues and will change how you think about how people associate.
  15. Weiner, E., 2016, The Geography of Genius, Simon and Schuster – in particular his advice to his daughter
    • A tender travel book that combines affectionate tales of interesting journeys, with a sharp identification of what causes certain locations, at certain points in history, to give rise to outrageous spells of creativity.

Business One Pagers

Sometimes I read a book and it leaves a big impression on me, but I worry that it will be transient. I already utilise “One Pagers” for recording brief thoughts on interesting books or articles, but thought I could create a template that focuses on business implications.

Although teachers like myself often think that providing a list of excellent resources is sufficient to aid someone’s learning, genuine learning needs to be reflective. Therefore my advice is to read the book and then write a Business One Pager.

The basic format is as follows:

  • Key information: (i.e. title of the book, name of the company, industry, era, etc)
  • Situation analysis/context
  • Key challenges faced
  • Legal and regulatory context
  • Sources of value creation
  • Successes
  • Failures
  • Lessons I can implement

Of course, this is incomplete and should be treated as a work in progress. But I hope you find it helpful.