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Mar 30th, 2012
Dec 13th, 2011
STANFORD UNIVERSITY — Like politicians who adopt regional accents to appeal to local audiences, the manufacturers of potato chips vary the wording on their bags to convey their products’ authenticity in different ways to different buyers.
Stanford researchers have analyzed the marketing language on bags of potato chips and found that whether you crunch an ordinary chip or the priciest-exotic-root-vegetable chip, consumers of all social classes value the product that they think is most authentic.
“Authenticity is not solely reserved for expensive taste,” said Josh Freedman, who graduated from Stanford in June with a degree in public policy. “It’s important for all consumers; it’s just manifested in different ways.”
The study, appearing in the Dec. 6 issue of Gastronomica, uses potato chips to analyze class identity in food marketing because “you can’t use caviar, you can’t use pork rinds, you have to use something everybody eats and that’s potato chips,” said Dan Jurafsky, a professor of linguistics.
Freedman began the project by marching into a grocery store and photographing the language on potato chip bags. He attracted the stares of employees who didn’t know he was working on his final project for Jurafsky’s freshman seminar on food linguistics.
According to Freedman, their analysis shows that fans of economical brands can be reached with words indicating the chips are from “the same recipe that your grandmother used to make.”
“Authenticity for consumers of inexpensive chips is rooted in tradition and hominess,” said Freedman. Jurafsky added that the wording on inexpensive chips might tout well-known locations in America, or play upon the traditions of the company and its individual founder.
Text on less expensive potato chip bags might mention “an old family recipe,” a time-honored tradition,” or a tip of the hat to “the chips that built our company.”
For expensive potato chips, on the other hand, authenticity is generated through exotic or handmade processes and ingredients that are described as natural. The ingredients list may include “sea salt” or brag that that every batch was “hand-raked.”
“It’s the difference between identity drawn from family values and America and the kind drawn from naturalness and not being artificial,” said Jurafsky.
Freedman and Jurafsky also found that advertisers attempting to draw consumers to expensive chips use rare words, more text and more complicated grammar, along with more mentions of health. It’s consistent with the tendency for individuals with higher incomes to be well-educated and health-conscious.
Some common words found on inexpensive chip bags: fresh, light, basic and extra. Words for pricier chips: flair, savory and culinary.
Freedman and Jurafsky also found language differences that echoed the ideas introduced by economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen at the turn of the 19th century. Veblen, and later sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu, thought that the wealthy, or those who could only hope to appear affluent, needed some way to be distinctive from everyone else. While Veblen’s outrageous behavior likely curtailed his Stanford career to only three years, his ideas about social class distinction persist, even on potato chip bags.
Freedman and Jurafsky found that expensive chips mention not only what they are, but also what they are not. The bags might call the chips unique or the finest and they are—unlike other chips—not fried, not greasy, not fluorescent orange.
“Why would it be that expensive chips have all these negations? It’s because they’re trying to be different from something else,” said Jurafsky.
Now that Freedman has completed the project, he can no longer look at restaurant menus without thinking about their careful wording. “It made me more aware of how we use language and how pervasive certain linguistic elements are,” he said.
But the project hasn’t changed Freedman’s snacking habits. “I still don’t eat that many potato chips,” he said.
Sarah Jane Keller is a science-writing intern at the Stanford News Service.
STANFORD UNIVERSITY —Across the United States there are more than a dozen major sites where soil and groundwater are contaminated with substantial amounts of uranium — a highly mobile, radioactive element. Most of the contamination is from poor disposal practices at mines or plants that processed uranium-rich ore for power plants or nuclear weapons, or reprocessed spent or decommissioned uranium.
Cleaning up such sites is a problem that has bedeviled remediation efforts for decades. There has been no simple, reliable, cost effective way to do it. Now a team of researchers led by Stanford geochemist Kate Maher is proposing to imitate nature by using amorphous silica — also known as the precious gemstone opal — to sequester the uranium. Once ensconced inside opal, the uranium molecules would be rendered immobile and chemically inert.
“We have looked at opaline silica in deposits across the western U.S. and almost universally we find very high uranium concentrations,” said Maher.
“From dating these deposits, we have found that they have been stable, closed systems for hundreds of thousands — and in some cases millions — of years.”
Whether in soils, hydrothermal deposits, hot spring or cold spring deposits, when enfolded in an opaline embrace, uranium seems about as active as a bug trapped in amber.
According to computer modeling studies that the researchers have done using their data from natural opal deposits, opaline silica may offer a faster, cheaper, more enduring way to sequester uranium than other current or proposed methods.
Maher, an assistant professor of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford, is presenting the team’s research at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco on Dec. 6.
The sequestering process would involve pumping a solution rich in dissolved silica into the subsurface through injection wells, effectively flooding the contaminated areas with it. As the solution moved through the soil or rock, chemically interacting with its surroundings, amorphous silica would precipitate out and latch on to dissolved uranium.
Various methods for remediating uranium-contaminated zones have been tried. Excavating and hauling contaminated soil elsewhere for treatment and permanent disposal is an expensive way to go, so cheaper on-site, or in situ, remediation is preferable. The most common approach has been “pump and treat,” which is exactly what the name implies – clean water is flushed through the system to displace the uranium-contaminated water, which is pumped out for treatment.
Approaches for in situ remediation generally involve reducing the electrical charge of the uranium atoms — and thus their chemical reactivity — by means of various biological or chemical agents. Certain microbes have had some success in reducing uranium to a stable state, and some chemical additives, such as certain forms of iron and sulfur, also have demonstrated some promise. Introducing phosphate into contaminated soil or sediment, where it would chemically bond with uranium to form a new mineral, also has been proposed.
But all of those methods rely on creating and maintaining an environment in which the agents of reduction are always present. If conditions change and those agents diminish in abundance, either through biodegradation or physically washing out of the contaminated area, the uranium could return to a more mobile – and dangerous – state.
Opaline silica, on the other hand, is not only a demonstrably long lasting host, it is also much more welcoming than other potential mineral hosts such as the calcite that is often precipitated along with the opal. Maher said that, on average, the enrichment of the uranium into the opaline silica tends to be “many orders of magnitude greater” than what the researchers found in the calcite.
“We see up to 1,000 parts per million of uranium in some natural opal deposits compared with a few parts per billion levels in calcite that often precipitates along with the opal,” she said.
Opaline silica is also stable over a wider range of pH conditions than calcite and other minerals that often precipitate with opal, further enhancing opal’s relative durability.
On top of its striking capacity and stability, opal also incorporates uranium into its amorphous form at a relatively rapid rate, according to the researchers’ modeling of different sequestration scenarios.
“From our modeling analysis, within 10 years of flooding a contaminated area with sodium silicate, nearly the whole aquifer has been decontaminated,” Maher said.
“The uranium has been sequestered to levels far below the maximum contaminant level allowed by federal law, while with the traditional pump and treat approach, less than half of the aquifer is beneath that level.”
Once uranium has been incorporated into opal, about the only way for it to get back out would be if fluids that contained very low amounts of silica began circulating through the zone in which the uranium was sequestered. If the silica content of the fluid was low enough, the amorphous silica could start dissolving and set the uranium free to roam and contaminate its surroundings.
But silicate minerals are the most abundant class of rock-forming minerals in the crust of the Earth, composing about 90 percent of the crust, and in many geologic environments most of the waters are close to saturation with silica. Maher said that makes the researchers confident that opaline silica will be stable over long time scales.
Silica is also relatively inexpensive, making it an affordable method for storing uranium in situ in the subsurface.
So far the researchers’ work has been focused on sampling and analyzing naturally occurring deposits of opal and using that data to model the reactivity and transport of uranium under different scenarios. They are particularly interested in how iron oxides, which are commonly present in soil and sediment, might affect the incorporation of uranium into opal.
But Maher said they hope to try the method at the experimental scale in the laboratory within the next few months and then run a trial at a contaminated site.
“Our initial feasibility study suggests that this is a potentially more reliable and more effective strategy than trying to create reducing conditions in the subsurface environment,” Maher said.
Michael Massey and Joseph Nelson, graduate students in the departments of Environmental Earth System Science and Geological and Environmental Sciences, respectively, contributed to this research, as did Craig Bethke, a visiting professor from the University of Illinois, and Scott Fendorf, a professor of environmental Earth system science.
— Louis Bergeron
Dec 7th, 2011
STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS — By typical measures of success, Bill George had it all.
There he was, in an executive job at Honeywell and sitting atop a short list of people being considered to become the U.S.-based international conglomerate’s next CEO.
However, during that period back in the late 1980s he was miserable, George admitted to an audience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He was assigned to oversee several corporate turnarounds, and his heart wasn’t in it. “I’ve always loved being engaged with customers and employees,” he explained. “Well, we were chasing numbers.”
Rather than being a “values-centered leader” who contributes to society while keeping a passion for his work, George said he was focused on “trying to impress everyone and say just the right thing at the right time. I was playing the corporate game.”
So, he switched gears and accepted the number two job at medical device maker Medtronic. Within two years, George became CEO of that company, a maker of cardiac pacemakers, spinal implants, insulin pumps, and other products that bolster people’s health.
Joining Medtronic, where he worked for 13 years, “was the best decision of my professional life,” George told MBA students during his View from the Top address on November 14. “I felt like I was coming home (to) people I could work with and learn a lot from — and really make a difference.”
George left Medtronic in 2002 and is now a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School.
During more than four decades in the corporate world, George has learned it’s a myth that the smartest people become the best leaders. In fact, he believes, top-notch leaders don’t need a high IQ, but do need a high EQ — “emotional intelligence,” a different way of being smart. EQ is characterized by the ability to recognize, control, and evaluate emotions, and use that knowledge to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflicts.
George finds that military veterans are often the best leaders in his Harvard management classes, success he attributes to their experience in completing difficult missions at young ages. However, experience alone isn’t enough. He gave the example of GE, a company he said gives managers tons of opportunities to be in charge, but keeps them “moving so fast that they keep repeating their mistakes in every job they move into.”
He urged the new generation of leaders to avoid getting caught in the same trap by taking time to reflect while meditating, jogging, taking a long walk, or talking things over with a trusted sounding board. George said he relies on feedback from a small group of trusted advisors that he’s met with every week for years.
“These people know me inside out,” he said. “They were the ones who could see where I was coming from. You need to have some way of processing in your life what’s going right and what’s going wrong.”
George wasn’t always regarded as someone worth following, even though he tried. While an engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, some classmates took him aside and quietly told him that no one wanted to work with him — much less be led by him — because his super-ambition left him no time to invest in others, a trait that turned people off.
He took their assessment to heart and changed his ways. He went on to be elected to leadership posts at Georgia Tech and at Harvard, where he earned his MBA in 1966.
After holding civilian jobs at the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy, George got his first shot at managing people at Litton Microwave Cooking Products when he was 27. “Somebody bet on me at a very young age,” George explained, adding, “I made a lot of mistakes, but it was a fabulous experience. You don’t learn just by studying other people’s experiences or textbooks. You learn by actually doing.”
He found his professional passion in the health care industry. After joining Medtronic as president and chief operating officer in 1989, George became immersed in the business’ mandate to make a difference in people’s lives. He went into operating rooms to observe doctors using Medtronic products and talked with employees who were fiercely dedicated to producing high-quality medical devices.
In fact, George said his major achievement at Medtronic wasn’t boosting the company’s financial standing. Instead, he’s most proud of the number of people who are restored to health after receiving a Medtronic-developed medical device. “Every minute that goes by, 20 people are being restored by a Medtronic product,” he said. “To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
He urged students to also chose a career for which they have personal passion: “You’re going to spend more time at your work than you will anywhere else in your life, so don’t you have a right to have meaning in your work? People are not cogs in a wheel.”
George’s book, True North, A Powerful Path to Personal and Leadership Development, was published in September. It is coauthored with George Baker, MBA ’62.
— Michele Chandler
Dec 6th, 2011
STANFORD—Rural farmers in sub-Saharan Africa live under risky conditions. Many grow low-value cereal crops that depend on a short rainy season. A lack of rain can trap them in poverty and hunger.
Reliable access to water could change the farmers’ perilous situation. Stanford scientists are calling for investments in small-scale irrigation projects and hydrologic mapping to help buffer the in the face of climate change in the region.
“Irrigation is really appealing in that it lets you do a lot of things to break this cycle of low productivity that leads to low income and malnutrition,”said Jennifer Burney, a fellow at Stanford’sCenter on Food Security and Environment. Her team partnered with the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to measure economic and nutritional impacts of solar-powered drip-irrigated gardens on villages in West Africa’s Sudano-Sahel region. Burney will present the group’s work on small-scale irrigation Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Modern irrigation often means multi-billion-dollar projects like damming rivers and building canals. But Burney says that these projects have not reached sub-Saharan Africa because countries lack the capital and ability to carry out big infrastructure projects. Today, only 4% of cropland in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated.
Irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa involves cooperation. Individuals or groups, called smallholders, organize to farm small plots and ensure their access to irrigation. These projects allow farmers to grow during the dry season and produce profitable, high-nutrition crops like fruits and vegetables in addition to the cereal crops they already grow.
Burney and her colleagues’ work in two northern Benin villages with women’s cooperative agricultural groups to install three solar-powered drip irrigation systems that conserve water and fertilizer runoff.
The team surveyed 30 households in each village and found that solar drip irrigation increased standards of living and increased vegetable consumption to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily allowance. By selling the vegetables, households were able to purchase staples and meat during the dry season and even realize money to send kids to school or buy small business equipment like a sewing machine or market stall.
“That’s when I think it really becomes a ladder out of poverty,” Burney said.
For solar technology projects to be successful, Burney said, just dropping in and giving people irrigation kits doesn’t work. Communities need access to a water source and need to see the benefits of a project. But solar is only one answer. “Solar is great if you have an unreliable fuel,” she said. “But if you’re someplace that’s connected to the grid, an electrical pump would more economical.”
“There are a lot of different solutions that involve many different kinds of water harvesting,” Burney said. “Groundwater, rainwater, surface water, and there are a lot of places in the Sahel, like Niger, for example, where there are artesian wells.” The Sahel is a transition zone between the Sahara Desert and the savannas further south.
Given the diversity of water resources in West Africa, Burney suggests that nongovernmental organizations and governments prioritize detailed hydrologic mapping in the region. Otherwise, the cost of geophysical surveys and finding water sources, especially unseen groundwater, could become an insurmountable barrier for farm communities.
“It needs to be really detailed, comprehensive, usable information that’s out there for everybody to be able to take advantage of,” she said.
Burney says that both of the benefits that farmers get from irrigation systems –growing outside of the rainy season and producing more diverse, profitable crops – are important for adapting to climate change.
“You can produce more value on less land in most cases and not be as beholden to the whims of the rainy season,” she said. Having more disposable income also will reduce vulnerability to hunger and malnutrition. “Economic development can be a form of adaptation,” she said.
Rosamond Naylor, director of Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment, and Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project collaborated on the project.
—Sarah Jane Keller is a science-writing intern at the Stanford News Service.
STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS — The key to happiness lies in the choices you make, or so they say.
Yet, new research by long-time collaborators Jennifer Aaker, Cassie Mogilner, and Sep Kamvar suggests that people don’t make choices based on a single or shared notion of happiness. In “How Happiness Impacts Choice,” a paper forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research, by Cassie Mogilner (The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania), Aaker (Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business), and Kamvar (Stanford University Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering), they conclude that people’s relationship with happiness is a complex one, subject to factors both demographic (age) and psychographic (living in the present versus focusing on the future). Still, people’s individual experience of happiness can be influenced in systematic ways, and can lead to predictable choices.
In their 2010 collaboration, Mogilner, Aaker, and Kamvar identified two types of happiness. Some consumers define happiness as an “arousing” or exciting emotion. Others experience it as a calm, peaceful feeling. In their 2011 work, these researchers concluded that people can toggle back and forth between these two distinctly different experiences. Depending on which view of happiness they favor at a given moment, people will make different choices.
Based on earlier studies, the researchers believed that attitudes toward happiness — as either exciting or calm — depended largely on the individual’s age. “The Shifting Meaning of Happiness,” published in early 2011 in Social Psychological and Personality Science, summarized those findings. For that paper, the researchers analyzed 70,000 independent instances in which online bloggers wrote about feelings of happiness. Younger bloggers were much more likely to describe situations that reflected the happiness-equals-excitement mindset. Older ones tended to subscribe to the happiness-equals-peacefulness point of view. “We knew that as we grow older, our priorities change. But what we haven’t known is that our definition of happiness also changes — in systematic and predictable ways — over the course of life,” said Aaker.
Yet, why would these effects hold? Why is it that people’s definition of happiness changes as they age? The results of six new studies answer this question. As people age, their temporal focus changes —whether they are likely to be focused on the here and now or on the future. And it is this temporal focus that drives the basic effects. “We now think that individuals’ views of happiness depend far more upon their sense of time than their age per se,” said Aaker.
In one of the six studies, the researchers recruited young adult volunteers — individuals who they expected would perceive happiness as an exciting experience. They told half of the volunteers to focus on the present, and to relinquish thoughts of anything but the current moment. That group of volunteers was later far more likely to define happiness as “peaceful” than the volunteers who were not led to focus on the present moment.
As a result, “we now believe that attitudes toward happiness are highly malleable, and, in fact, easily influenced, simply by shifting the timeframe people consider,” said Aaker.
Businesses promoting the idea that their brand will make consumers happy should first consider which type of happiness (calm or exciting?) their products are most likely to evoke. They then need to place marketing images, slogans, or activities in a context that encourages consumers to think of happiness in the appropriate timeframe.
For example, BMW’s global “Stories of Joy” campaign includes a website where consumers can upload homemade videos that demonstrate the joy of driving. Whiskas created the “Happy Together” online community as a place people could share happy moments with their cats. Based on Mogilner, Aaker, and Kamvar’s most recent research, these brands could be more effective by “preparing” consumers to experience happiness in a way that puts the campaign in the best light.
BMW’s campaign clearly hopes that consumers will view happiness as an exciting state. To maximize its effectiveness, BMW should push consumers to take a long-term, future view of happiness. Alternatively, Whiskas’ website portrays happiness as an exceedingly peaceful emotion. It should provide contextual cues that encourage consumers to savor the present moment.
Since happiness doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, marketers should consider what types of consumer they want to reach. They also need to consider how to convey happiness. As a benefit of using the product? As an aspect of brand personality? Even the colors they deploy in advertisements and collateral matters.
In one of the other studies detailed in their most recent paper, the researchers presented 50 consumers between the ages of 19 and 68 with a list of colors, objects, people, activities, and brands. The consumers indicated which items on the list excited them, and which ones calmed them down. Hot colors like red tended to excite participants. Cool colors like blue promoted a sense of peacefulness. Nike, Target, and Apple brands were deemed exciting, but Johnson & Johnson, Lululemon, and Borders evoked calm feelings. Even certain types of people (kids, friends) and activities (dancing, running) were considered exciting, whereas other types of people and activities (spouses, parents, reading, yoga) induced calm.
Brands that want to promise happiness should consider that these associations already exist in consumers’ minds. Although such associations will vary based on demographics (such as age) and psychographics (whether they are focused on the present or future), companies do have the power to shift them. To fully leverage investments in “happiness” campaigns, companies need to forgo generalized or generic ideas of happiness and focus on the real experiences their customers seek.
— Alice LaPlante
Nov 30th, 2011
STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS — For a CEO who speaks often about leadership, DaVita Inc.’s Kent J. Thiry says it’s not something that can easily be taught in business school. Management, yes, but leadership is a human skill.
“If you want to learn more about leadership, learn more about human beings, starting with yourself,” Thiry said in a Nov. 17 speech at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Leadership isn’t a function of position, either, he said. “Leadership is a function of behavior, so don’t fall into the trap of ‘well, I can’t really be a leader until they promote me to vice president.’” Leaders lead, regardless of the time or place, he said: “Leadership is a way of life. It’s not a temporary tactic. It’s not a tool. It’s not a practice. It’s a function of how you behave.”
Those were two bits of advice from the chairman and CEO of one of the largest U.S. providers of dialysis services for patients with kidney failure. DaVita has 1,400 dialysis centers in 43 states. The $6 billion Denver-based company has 34,000 employees.
The DaVita story is told to GSB students as a business case in organizational behavior classes. The company underwent a remarkable turnaround between 2000 and 2005, in part based on building a strong values-driven culture and an emphasis on community. The story of how the company went from one that was barely making payroll 11 years ago, was being sued and investigated by the SEC, and was losing more than 40% of its employees each year, is one that Thiry relishes telling.
When he took over in late 1999, all eyes were on DaVita, a company in crisis. As Thiry tells it, his talk of core values and mission statements and creating a culture of interdependency, democracy, and development of its employees was scoffed at by many. “About a third said, ‘OK, that’s the fad of the month.’ A third of the room was literally insulted that I would be demeaning them by thinking that they’d fall for that sort of rhetorical flourish, and maybe a third were interested,” he said.
But he persisted, saying a company culture that believes employees should “feel an emotional level of trust and mutual commitment” was a company that didn’t sacrifice performance.
DaVita operates like a village, meaning employees are citizens and neighbors who watch out for each other and work toward the good of the community. Its business objectives support the village rather than the other way around. “We say we are a community first and a company second,” Thiry said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t care about profit, but that’s a means, not the end.”
Describing leadership, Thiry said: “It doesn’t matter one bit what kind of leader you think you are.” What matters is that “you are the type of leader other people experience you to be.”
DaVita’s leaders walk the talk, opening themselves up to a 360-degree review by subordinates, peers, and supervisors. Thiry said early in his career he kept a spreadsheet of his behaviors, “to recognize when I was going down the bad path.” In response to a question, he said he’s worked hard on eliminating ”getting angry with people when they underperform” and micromanaging.In conjunction with that openness, Thiry advises leaders that they should “speak the dream” and encourage others to buy into the vision by letting them help design a special place to work. That entails, “letting the people speak about their degree of ownership or lack thereof.” If you don’t, “you are never going to get the point where you have it.”
DaVita has a rigorous recruitment process, and Thiry advised students not to impress strictly with their knowledge gained from an MBA. “Most of the people know very quickly that you have the arsenal,” the business skills. “They’re wondering if you care about them, if you respect them, and if you are a team player.”
He also said students can learn from a Buddhist saying: “One cannot pour from an empty cup.” He urged them to “refill your cup physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually” in addition to going on to successful careers. His objective at DaVita, he said, is not to create better business leaders: “It’s about creating life leaders for whom business competence is a subset.”
Thiry earned his BA degree, with distinction and Phi Beta Kappa, in political science from Stanford, and his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1983. Previous to joining DaVita he was chairman and CEO of Vivra Inc., and a partner at Bain & Co.
His appearance was part of the student-run View from the Top speaker series.
— Joyce Routson