And now, for the final What we’ve been reading for this year. It’s been emotional, people.
There’s nothing much to say around this time of year other than: merry Christmas, from everyone at AccountingWEB to you and yours. If you have a few moments of peace this Christmas, then check out this diverse collection of stories, ideas, podcasts and books.
Until next year!
Francois – The sucker, the sucker!
Our relationships with animals are often defined by us humanising them. Chickens – killed in their droves so we can eat their flesh – are ranked far lower on the human scale than, say, dogs.
We look at our dogs and we see positive human qualities: loyalty, love. We also see cheekiness, a yearning for attention, a social instinct. But the dog is ultimately, usually, an obedient creature.
But octopuses challenge this way way of viewing animals. Hyper-intelligent it turns out, but intelligent in a fierce and idiosyncratic way. The “closest we can come, on earth, to knowing what it might be like to encounter intelligent aliens”.
They are so different from us, these icky invertebrates, but as this wonderful and affecting essay by Amia Srinivasan shows, they are more soulful than we dare to think. “Octopuses can recognise individual humans,” writes Srinivasan, “and will respond differently to different people, greeting some with a caress of the arms, spraying others with their siphons.”
The essay culminates in a melancholy visit to a San Francisco aquarium. The writer considers two octopuses, captive in their tanks, and how they’re different. After reading about how these animals actively attempt to escape and resist captivity, it’s a sad image.
“Yet ethical questions remain, raised by creatures, like the octopus, which so clearly yearn for freedom. Perhaps from our perspective the life of a wild octopus is already a tragic thing: sociality without society, speaking without being heard, a life-world without longevity. An alien. If only the octopus were more like us, we might be better at leaving it alone.”
After China emerged from its communist cocoon and tentatively opened its doors to the western world in the late 1970s big western corporations, dazzled by the sheer number of new potential customers, came flooding in to try and, ahem, capitalise.
As someone who lived in the middle kingdom for five years, I’m endlessly fascinated by attempts to understand and ‘crack’ the Chinese market. While a minority of western firms have achieved success through a mixture of market research, government partnerships and blind luck, the vast majority end up heading home with empty pockets.
Coca Cola was a particularly tough sell. Taking a product that is the ultimate symbol of Western consumerism and trying to sell it to a country that was vehemently opposed to capitalist culture for the best part of 30 years was always going to be tricky. Over the years, the company was barred from selling for a year, forced to teach managers who grew up during the Cultural Revolution the basics of business and partnered with local governments who didn’t want it to succeed.
This article hears from many of the major players about the challenges of Coke’s re-entry into the Chinese market, and how eventually the firm turned China into its third biggest market.
Ross Pope, Sift’s UX designer – Seeking Wisdom: Hiring, Firing, And People (Patty McCord)
I've been listening to the podcast 'Seeking Wisdom' for just over a year. It's hosted by the CEO and Marketing manager from a relatively young company called Drift (chatbot based lead gen tool).
The podcast has the particular USP of cutting through a lot of the waffle that you hear in anything product, marketing or company management related. Their discussion points focus largely around customer, but there was one particular episode that really punched me in the gut and I've told pretty much everyone in the office to listen to it.
The guest, Patty, ran HR at Netflix for 14 years and her knowledge bombs reframe all of the seemingly monotonous processes and functions of HR into something really interesting (for those of us that normally might not find it so).
Go and listen to it, thank me later. If you didn't want to use that last one: This is an article I've probably read through about 8 times in the past year, and is completely industry agnostic. Very good for personal growth.
If I had to write about what I’ve really been reading this week, that would have been Ernest Cline’s science fiction novel Ready Player One. However, to spare my colleague Francois Badenhorst the suffering, I will refrain from talking about it this time.
Inevitably, however, as I read the book I started recalling other revisions of the 80s decade that I had seen when San Junipero came to mind. So if, like Francois, you are allergic to the 80s nostalgia, you might want to stay away from this one.
The story of San Junipero differs slightly from the general technological trend of the other episodes of Black Mirror. It’s about technology, yes, but it’s also much more than that. As the episodes of Black Mirror are completely independent from each other you don’t need to have seen the previous ones to watch this one.
Try not to read too much about it (in fact, it’s better to wait until you’ve seen it before you read the article above). Don’t make any assumptions. Don’t expect anything. Just let yourself be immersed in the new world you’ll see on screen and see what happens. As with all works of art, you won’t feel the same after you’ve seen it.
Kat Haylock – The Wandering Earth (Cixin Liu)
I know What We’ve Been Reading tends to cover our favourite non-fiction picks, but we couldn’t end the year without a mention of Cixin Liu. Liu is known for his acclaimed science fiction trilogy, The Three Body Problem, but these short stories are a great place to start with his work.
Don’t let the idea of short stories deceive you – this isn’t your lightweight collection of stray ideas. Starting with a dark imagining of a future where humanity tries to escape the sun’s orbit and moving onto virus-corrupted AI and a new race of micro-humans, Liu’s imagination is pretty incredible.
If you’re looking for a way to escape family arguments and Strictly re-runs this Christmas, you’ll be hard-pushed to find anything more transportative.
“What inspired a group of prank-loving kids to create a masterpiece?” asks the Guardian’s Dave Simpson. It’s a question many have asked when speaking about Slint and their landmark record ‘Spiderland’.
In 1991, a quartet of teenage goofballs from Kentucky invented post-rock. And the story is made more remarkable by just how unremarkable the members of Slint are. All of them came from well-to-do, loving homes. No drugs or booze or life on the road.
Just somehow, at that time, with these young men, it clicked and they made this...thing. Spiderland is a beguiling, complex collection of songs, but it creeps up on you. And once it has you, you’ll be thinking about it for days.
About Francois Badenhorst
I'm AccountingWEB's business editor. Feel free to get in touch with comments, tips, scoops or irreverent banter.