What I read this week – 33rd week 2020

This has been a good week for reading and learning, and is the first week that I’m not writing this from a plane or train, so the summary will be a bit longer. I speak about a new report showing CEOs aren’t properly payed, the future of consulting, black creators on TikTok and YouTube, and writing. I’ll finish up with three articles that I’m not going to try and summarize because I think you should have the pleasure of reading them yourself. On that note, lets dive in.

The Siege of Yorktown, October 17, 1781

What I read this week


This week VoxEU published a report on CEO pay which shows that CEOs who are lucky and have stock price rise due to extraneous events are more likely to jump ship to another company than CEOs who increased stock price through strategic or operational factors. The luckier the CEO was at their previous firm, the more they got payed at the new firm, and the less well the new firm did. Why? The results suggest that firms that hire lucky CEOs are more likely to see an increase in operational costs, and a drop in the ability to create revenue from assets. Conclusion? These lucky CEOs want to enjoy the quiet life rather than get involved in empire building.

Future of Consulting

Jeroen Kraaijenbrink, author of Strategy Consulting (available online for free until the 24th of August) writes in Forbes about the various roles that a strategy consultant will need to perform in “the new normal”. He lists nine roles, including principle investigator, progress manager, communication channel, moral guide and critical inspirator. I’m not opposed to the idea that strategy consultants can do more than go in, create a plan, and leave, but the list that Jeroen creates appears to me to be the job of the senior management team, and not something that a consultant should be relied on for.

Also on Forbes, Phil Lewis writes about how the day of reckoning for consultancies might be here. He draws this conclusion out of the way consultancies supposedly treat client employees as “Human capital” and consultancies’ application of “one-size-fits-all” solutions (or “one-size-fits-none” in his opinion). He explains that companies already have enough ingenuity and problem solving capability within themselves to solve any problem that the market can throw at them. I agree with this. But any consultancy worth it’s money will know this and work to understand the problem and existing ideas in the company before recommending a solution.

In How McKinsey Invented Professional Consulting, Seth Stevenson explains how McKinsey sit, listen and interview for longer than some would be comfortable waiting, until a solution is found that works perfectly with the organisation. This appears to solve the problems faced by consulting in their day of reckoning. In my opinion consulting will never face their day of reckoning. Consulting is the business of hiring out brains and selling the security that comes from outside advice. Businesses, whether building shareholder value or stakeholder value, will always want this.

Digital Blackface

I understand that as a white middle class male, my view of my own privileged and of other’s difficulties is limited, but here is an article that helped me understand racial bias in technology and social media. The first article, on Wired, explains the rise of digital blackface on TikTok. TikTok has been in the news a lot recently, and I think this article shows why an app that is used in the west should be subject to western scrutiny. China is a racist country. When the TikTok algorith is owned by Chinese people, it results in a racist algorithm. Black creators have experienced the muting of their videos because of unnamed “community guidelines” being violated, especially on videos about race, but even on something as simple as a video about hair care. But this isn’t the only disturbing thing about TikTok revealed in the article. Flattery becomes mockery, becomes theft, becomes digital blackface. The use of African-American culture for laughs is no more than minstrelsy, Blackness as a target for humiliation. As TikTok creator Brianna Blackmon says “My Blackness is not a show.” As I said two weeks ago, the problem with TikTok isn’t necessarily the data stealing, but whoever controls the algorithm controls bias in the algorithm. As always, I haven’t done as good a job of exploring this idea and providing evidence as the original author, so go read TikTok and the Evolution of Digital Blackface.

On the app, users drape themselves in the trappings of Black culture—and steal the viral spotlight. It’s exploitation at its most refined and disturbing.

TikTok and the Evolution of Digital Blackface – Wired Magazine


I’m a big fan of writing. Journalling, formal memos, letters to friends: writing helps us understand our own thoughts and create new ideas. There is good reason why writing is good and God at Amazon. Julia Clavien explains how to amplify your leadership impact by using writing. In her words, written communication is more precise, accountable, and permanent than oral communication. She recomends writing for operational tasks such as agendas and decision making, tactical tasks like policies and processes, and strategic tasks like mission values, goals and vision. See what I wrote last week for thoughts on creating vision when you aren’t the CEO.


Productivity articles are like crack. 10 ways to be the most productive person in the room. 15 tips to create the life you want. 1,542 methods for getting that thing done better. Easy to read, make you feel like you’ve read them, rarely any actual impact. Normally I write about an article so that you get the gist and can later read it if you are interested. Here I’ll summarize the articles so you don’t need to read them. My Productivity & Life Mega List | 29 Strategies is 29 obvious but not often done tips for feeling good and working well. How to Make Your Day 10-times More Productive suggests using deep work, as per Deep Work. This Meditation Exercise Builds Mental Muscle and Cures Procrastination suggests mindfulness meditation. Use These Ideas to Find More Time in Your Day to Create suggests ignoring more emails, turning off notifications, not scrolling, read only the great, not the good, and don’t go for coffee without an agenda. As always, most productivity gurus just recycle other people’s content and don’t say anything new.

Long Reads

Finally, and I know I’ve summed up a lot, but if you have time on a Sunday afternoon, I would recommend this about friends who quit their jobs to build a cabin in the woods, this about the UX and design of Lego interface panels, and this about someone who’s dad died in an Airbnb.

As always, let me know if you have any suggestions on Linkedin, or at contact@callumacdonald.com, and I hope you have a nice week.

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