Book Notes: The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen

Note: From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited recently after many years.

These posts are meant to help me remember what I’ve learned from books I’ve found especially useful, and to point out to readers titles I think are worth consulting.

For more, see my Book Notes category

Innovatorsdilemma

The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen

Published: 1997
ISBN: 1633691780
Amazon link

Brief Summary

In this 1997 business classic, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen pioneered the theory of “disruptive innovation,” the phenomenon in which upstart firms displace established ones by taking advantage of emerging technologies.

To really understand what “disruption” means, avoid 95% of the tech commentary you’ll read on the subject, and go right to the source: this book.

My notes:

  • It’s impossible to avoid the word “disruption” these days. Company X is disrupting company Y, a pundit might say. Or someone at a startup you’ve never heard of will proclaim that their company is “disrupting the [fill in the blank] space.” That sort of thing.

    But people often use the term incorrectly, as a trendy way to say “competing with” or “shaking up” a sector. You should read this book to understand what “disruption” really means.

  • Technological “disruption,” as Christensen illustrates through historical examples, is what happens when upstart companies dislodge dominant firms with their often less expensive products that are at first deemed to be insufficient to meet large customers’ needs. But then things shift and the previously inferior offerings displace the mainstream ones.
  • For example, 3.-5-inch disk drives came along that larger manufacturers eschewed because most of their customers needed bigger ones. But then desktop PCs rose to prominence, and they required smaller drives, and it was too late for older manufactures, who hadn’t introduced newer products, to catch up with their faster-moving rivals.

    Another example: Small Honda motorbikes didn’t take off at first in the U.S., but then people realized they were great for dirt biking, and even getting around town, and they eventually disrupted companies making larger motorbikes.

    And so called “mini mills” at first offered lower-quality products than larger steel mills, but then their technology improved rapidly, and they disrupted traditional integrated mills.

  • Crucially, some forget that the “dilemma” in the title refers to the fact that many well-run, highly profitable firms are often disrupted despite that the fact they seem to be doing all the right things.

    That is, they are making money, satisfying their customers, and delivering value to shareholders. The dilemma is that precisely by doing those things, however, they become vulnerable to new, disruptive technologies.

    They are giving customers what they want, so why should managers change course? A major problem: Customers often don’t know what they’re going to want a few years down the line, and when market demand shifts, an upstart firm may have come along and already started offering it.

Amazon India Doormat Flap; Assessing the G.A.N.; You’re Tying Your Shoelaces Wrong — This Week’s Newley’s Notes

2017 01 19mountains

Edition 80 of my email newsletter went out to subscribers yesterday. It’s pasted in below.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox before I post them here, enter your email address here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief, and few people unsubscribe.


Hi friends, thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter in which I share links to my stories and various items I think are worth highlighting.

WHAT I WROTE IN THE WSJ

Amazon Yanks Indian-Flag Doormats as New Delhi Threatens Punishment. The story begins:

Amazon.com Inc. pulled doormats emblazoned with the Indian flag from its Canadian website after the South Asian nation’s foreign minister threatened to oust the Seattle company’s employees.

“This is unacceptable,” Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter Wednesday in response to a posting from a user showing an image of the doormats for sale.

Ms. Swaraj, who has 7 million followers on the platform, called on Amazon to remove the “insulting” products and threatened to rescind visas for Amazon’s foreign staff in India if action wasn’t taken.

India a key market for Amazon’s future growth. The company does not want to anger consumers – or public officials – here.

WHAT I WROTE AT NEWLEY.COM

Book Notes: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

My notes from an excellent book about Jeff Bezos and the rise of his powerful, controversial company.

On Austin Tice, Syria, and Risks Freelancers Take.

Musings on a long story in Texas Monthly about Tice’s mysterious disappearance while reporting in Syria, and how dangerous being a freelancer in a conflict zone can be.

FIVE ITEMS THAT ARE WORTH YOUR TIME THIS WEEK:

1) Cool: weed helps chronic pain. Not cool: it’s totally bad for your lungs. Those are among the conclusions of a lengthy U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report that examined over 10,000 studies, according to Quartz. The full study is here.

2) What is, truly, the G.A.N.? That’s Great American Novel, of course. Literary Hub has a survey of the contenders, from “The Great Gatsby” and “Moby Dick” to works by Toni Morrison and Jonathan Franzen.

3) Sick of those “Best 30 Under 30 Lists”? At NewYorker.com, Bess Kalb gives us “A Selection of the 30 Most Disappointing Under 30.”

Sample: “Joanna Feldman, twenty-two: Misquoted E. E. Cummings in her rib-cage tattoo.”

4) This simple shoelace-tying trick will change your life. Basically, if your shoes ever come undone, you’re doing your granny knots wrong. Take it away, Dr. Shoelace. And don’t miss the video. You will never again resort to double knots.

5) I love this concept: Astronaut.io is a website that provides a stream of YouTube videos that “have almost zero previous views.”

“Today, you are an Astronaut,” the site says. “You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see. You are people watching. These are fleeting moments.

Thanks for reading.

Love,
Newley

Book Notes: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

Note: From time to time I share notes about the books I’ve been reading, or have revisited after many years. For more such posts, see the Book Notes category

everything_store

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, by Brad Stone

Published: 2013
ISBN: 0316219282
Amazon link

Brief Summary

The fascinating story of the rise of Amazon, which is the story of Jeff Bezos himself. He is brilliant, analytical, highly competitive, and driven. Bezos built Amazon not only to create the best contemporary company of its kind, vanquishing all rivals, but engineered systems to innovate and continue to succeed well into the future.

My notes:

  • I read this book as part of the research for my Wall Street Journal story, published in November, about Amazon’s rapid progress here in India. I wanted to learn as much as I could about Amazon. I couldn’t have picked a better book.
  • Author Brad Stone, who covered Amazon for years for the likes of The New York Times and Newsweek, provides the fascinating story of Bezos’s personal background, his early academic success, and his bold decision to leave a high-paying Wall Street job to move out west and found Amazon.
  • The book is not a hagiography, however. Bezos and Amazon are presented warts and all. Anecdotes show the Amazon founder to be at times ruthless in his quest for success, and other times enormously generous. And the high-pressure nature of Amazon’s corporate culture is plain to see.
  • I’m old enough to recall the dotcom bust, but “The Everything Store” serves as a good reminder to younger readers just how bleak things got for Amazon, when its stock fell and many believed one of its e-commerce competitors, eBay, would be the runaway success, not Amazon.
  • From a communications perspective, it’s interesting to note the book highlights several instances when new public announcements have been timed over the years to conincide with competitors’ quarterly results, as a way to steal their thunder. And Bezos himself is a master at messaging, honing “Jeff-isms” to express the company’s point of view in a pithy manner, often deflect various criticisms of the company along the way.
  • If you want to learn more about Bezoz, Amazon, and its culture, Stone has helpfully provided a list of “a dozen books widely read by executives and employees that are integral to understanding the company. Some of the titles include the novel “The Remains of the Day,” books by Sam Walton and Alan Greenberg, and modern-day business classics like “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and “The Black Swan.”

On Austin Tice, Syria, and Risks Freelancers Take

syria

Though it was published back in October, I only yesterday read this in-depth Texas Monthly story by Sonia Smith on Austin Tice.

Tice, a former Marine and budding freelance photojournalist, disappeared in Syria in 2012.

There has been little information available publicly since then about his fate, aside from a haunting video posted online after his apparent capture.

After reading the story, I came across some recent reports from earlier this month in which his parents say the Obama administration has told them they believe their son is alive.

Of course, it is unclear what will happen now with President-Elect Trump taking office.

The Texas Monthly story serves as a reminder of:

  • Just how violent and long-running the Syria conflict has been
  • The difficulty news organizations have had reporting on the situation, since journalists have specifically been targeted
  • In Tice’s case, the risks that reporters have taken to cover the war — particularly freelancers, who may have little training and organizational support, and may be especially motivated to take risks in order to make a name for themselves.

    For example, in the story, several fellow reporters say they cautioned the clearly brave Tice to be more cautious in his reporting, to not venture into especially dangerous areas, and not to post on social media about this whereabouts.

Amazon Pulls Indian-Flag Doormats as New Delhi Threatens Punishment

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That’s the subject of my story yesterday, which begins:

Amazon.com Inc. pulled doormats emblazoned with the Indian flag from its Canadian website after the South Asian nation’s foreign minister threatened to oust the Seattle company’s employees.

“This is unacceptable,” Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter Wednesday in response to a posting from a user showing an image of the doormats for sale.

Ms. Swaraj, who has 7 million followers on the platform, called on Amazon to remove the “insulting” products and threatened to rescind visas for Amazon’s foreign staff in India if action wasn’t taken.

Google CEO in India; My SE Asia Travel Tips; Print Books Will Never Die — This Week’s Newley’s Notes

2017 01 11galaxy

Edition 78 of my email newsletter went out to subscribers yesterday. It’s pasted in below.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox before I post them on Newley.com, enter your email address here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief, and few people unsubscribe.


Hi friends, thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter in which I share links to my stories and various items I think are worth highlighting.

WHAT I WROTE IN THE WSJ

Google Turns Focus to India’s Small Businesses Amid Search for Users – Chief Executive Sundar Pichai was in town and announced some new initiatives for small companies:

NEW DELHI— Alphabet Inc.’s Google is ramping up its efforts to get India’s small businesses online, the latest step in its quest to win new users in the populous nation.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said on Wednesday that the Mountain View, Calif., company will launch this year a tool that allows owners of small businesses that are now offline to create mobile-friendly websites free of charge.

Google’s Sundar Pichai’s Advice to Indian Students: Loosen Up. The Chennai native had this to say:

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has some straightforward life advice for students at his alma mater: loosen up and have some fun.

The India-born Mr. Pichai, speaking Thursday at the elite Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur outside Kolkata, told university students who asked how they could emulate his success to pursue their passions, take risks, and be creative.

That is unconventional advice in a country where parents often pressure their children from a young age to study hard so they can secure steady employment.

H–1B Visas: U.S. Lawmaker Re-Introduces Bill to Tighten Rules. The story begins:

A prominent Republican lawmaker is taking another shot at tightening U.S. rules for high-skilled worker visas ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president later this month.

Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the highest-profile Republicans in Congress and a supporter of Mr. Trump, said Wednesday in a statement on his website that he is reintroducing a bill designed to “stop the outsourcing of American jobs” and ensure laws are not “abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad.”

WHAT I WROTE AT NEWLEY.COM

My Top 10 Southeast Asia Travel Tips. I’d been working on this post for some time, and am happy to finally publish it.

tl;dr:

  1. Don’t rush
  2. For longer trips, use Bangkok as a Base
  3. Next, Look Beyond Thailand to Cambodia, Laos, and Especially Vietnam
  4. More Destinations: Myanmar and Borneo
  5. Eat Liberally
  6. Disconnect
  7. If You Must, SIM Cards are Wi-Fi Widely Available
  8. Don’t Overpack, But Bring the Right Stuff
  9. Ask Friends of Friends for Advice
  10. Do Your Own Research

FIVE ITEMS THAT ARE WORTH YOUR TIME THIS WEEK:

1) Everyday Authoritarianism is Boring and Tolerable. That’s the title of an interesting blog post from Cornell political science professor Tom Pepinsky, who studies Southeast Asia.

“The mental image that most American harbor of what actual authoritarianism looks like is fantastical and cartoonish…The reality is that everyday life under the kinds of authoritarianism that exist today is very familiar to most Americans. You go to work, you eat your lunch, you go home to your family.”

Worth a read.

2) Print books are still going strong. Sales rose in 2016, the third consecutive year of growth, while e-book sales are trending downward.

Thesis: print is a pretty damned good technology; e-books work for some formats, but not all.

(I primarily use my Kindle for downloading samples, and if I want to buy a title, I’ll order the print version. I prefer reading paper books, marking them up with notes, and keeping them on our bookshelves for consulting later. Call me old fashioned)

3) Even a little exercise is better than none. A study shows similar health benefits for those who work out just a few days a week compared to those who do so regularly.

4) “I’ve left Twitter. It is unusable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators.” Seattle writter Lindy West in a Guardian essay says she once found the service useful, but has quit due to vile tweets from trolls. A notable passage:

On 29 December, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted: “What’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017?” One user responded: “Comprehensive plan for getting rid of the Nazis.”

“We’ve been working on our policies and controls,” Dorsey replied. “What’s the next most critical thing?” Oh, what’s our second-highest priority after Nazis? I’d say No 2 is also Nazis. And No 3. In fact, you can just go ahead and slide “Nazis” into the top 100 spots. Get back to me when your website isn’t a roiling rat-king of Nazis. Nazis are bad, you see?

5) Photos of the week: These fascinating images of family’s home in Norway, within the Arctic circle, build under a geodesic dome.

Thanks for reading.

Love,
Newley

My Top 10 Southeast Asia Travel Tips

Temple 1029048 1280

tl;dr:

  1. Don’t rush
  2. For longer trips, use Bangkok as a Base
  3. Next, Look Beyond Thailand to Cambodia, Laos, and Especially Vietnam
  4. More Destinations: Myanmar and Borneo
  5. Eat Liberally
  6. Disconnect
  7. If You Must, SIM Cards are Wi-Fi Widely Available
  8. Don’t Overpack, But Bring the Right Stuff
  9. Ask Friends of Friends for Advice
  10. Do Your Own Research

I spent a decade living and reporting in Southeast Asia: eight years in Bangkok followed by just over two years in Singapore.

Between work trips and vacations, I’ve visited every sizable country in the region, and most on several occasions: Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Friends sometimes ask me for tips on visiting the region, so I decided to compile my advice here, in one place.

But first, a couple of caveats:

  • The Web abounds with detailed suggestions on where to go and what do in the region. You will certainly be able to find specific tips by simply Googling your potential destinations and interests, but what I’ve aimed to do here is provide mostly my big-picture thoughts — the most important principles you should know when planning a trip.

    I’m also throwing in a few specifics, of course, but this post is meant to be a starting point for trip research and planning.

  • Also, a warning that things change quickly: small, once-quiet towns become overrun (I’m looking at you, Pai, Thailand) and cool new bars and restaurants pop up unexpectedly where they once didn’t exist.

1. Don’t Rush

IMG 1611

This is a no-brainer for seasoned travelers, but it bears repeating.

As Rolf Potts says in his excellent 2002 book “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel,” few regions in the world offer such diversity of culture, within such close proximity, that can be visited as easily and cheaply as Southeast Asia.

But don’t hurry to try to do too much all at once, with a rapid-fire itinerary like you would compile for a trip to the U.S. or Europe. Transportation links are pretty good, but things can take a little longer in Southeast Asia, which is part of its charm anyway.

If you’re coming from the U.S., for example, you really need two weeks at a minimum, otherwise you’ll be jet lagged much of the time you’re here, and will simply spend too much time on the airplane compared to your time actually on the ground. Longer than two weeks is even better, if you can swing it.

(This is, of course, generally good travel advice wherever you’re going: It’s better to focus on one or two destinations and explore them well than to visit as many places as possible but only get to know them superficially.)

2. For longer trips, use Bangkok as a Base

2016 04 23 bkk

Again, this may seem obvious, but a good approach, especially if you’re traveling on a limited budget or have a a lot of time — as in, months — and a flexible schedule, is to fly into the Thai capital.

Bangkok is an excellent choice because:

  • it’s right in the middle of the region, with good transport links
  • has food and lodging that are relatively inexpensive
  • is fascinating in its own right

Those who do even a little bit of investigating will a find a much more complex place than the one featured in movies like “The Beach” and “The Hangover Part 2.”

A few of my favorite Bangkok destinations and activities include:

  • The Jim Thomspon House — an excellent first-day-in-Bangkok place to visit, with a lovely shaded restaurant where you can have a cool drink after the tour
  • Chatuchak Market, the famous weekend bazaar, great for shopping — or simply people watching via the handful of bars and restaurants there
  • the restaurant Arun Residence, from which you can take in Wat Arun, across the Chao Phraya
  • the roofop bar at the Banyan Tree hotel
  • Smalls, a new-ish neighborhood bar on Soi Suan Phlu
  • Lumphini Park — great for a walk or jog, especially in the mornings and evenings, when it’s a bit cooler
  • Eat Me restaurant in Silom
  • Soul Food Mahanakorn restaurant in Thonglor
  • river taxi ride on the Chao Phraya
  • a shopping mall food court at a place like MBK, where you can sample just about any Thai dish imaginable

From the Thai capital, you can travel up to the northern city of Chiang Mai or down to some of the beaches, depending on your inclination. (One fun way to get up to Chiang Mai is the overnight train. You can book tickets from a local travel agent or from your hotel concierge in Bangkok.)

Chiang Mai:

  • has excellent food
  • has many picturesque temples
  • has a climate is slightly cooler than Bangkok’s
  • is fairly walkable, for Thailand, at least in the center of the city

Note: It is, however, a city; many people imagine it to be a small town, but it does suffer from big city ills like surprisingly thick traffic at times, and occasionally aggressive touts.

For budget hotels in Chiang Mai, I have had some nice stays at 3 Sis.

And for khao soi noodle soup, a northern Thailand specialty, my favorite restaurant is the nearby Huen Phen. (For Huen Phen, note that khao soi is served at the restaurant during lunchtime; the more upscale restaurant inside doesn’t serve it for dinner.)

Outside Chiang Mai, I really love the far northern town of Mae Hong Son. We had a fun trip there several years ago and stayed at Fern Resort.

Another option, from Bangkok, is go to the beach.

Popular destinations in the Gulf of Thailand, just several hours drive (taxis are bookable through hotels) are:

  • Koh Samet
  • the resort city of Hua Hin

Some of the best beach trips we took from Bangkok involved simply renting a car and driving the three or so hours down to a resort or hotel in Hua Hin.

Koh Samet and Hua Hin aren’t as exotic as some of Thailand’ more far-flung seaside spots, but they’re easier to get to.

Farther afield are beaches you’d need to fly to, but where you’ll find more options:

  • the island of Phuket
  • Krabi

Parts of Phuket are over-developed and seedy, while others a quiet and contain gorgeous, serene beaches. The thing to remember about Phuket is that it’s so big that it offers all kinds of accommodations, even though many people are only familiar with its less attractive parts.

Meanwhile, a longtime favorite location of ours in Krabi is Railei Beach Club, though I haven’t been in several years and I hear the area has gotten quite crowded.

Further afield: One of the most memorable trips I did in Thailand was in 2008, when, for a Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia story I rented a car and drove along the Mekong river, from the city of Udon Thani in the north to the city of Ubon Ratchathani in the east.

Few tourists venture to this part of Thailand, the rural Isaan region, and I very much recommend visiting to see how a huge portion of Thai people live.

So, to sum up: Bangkok is an fascinating and fun city, and gives you access to Chiang Mai in the north and the beaches in the south.

3. Next, Look Beyond Thailand to Cambodia, Laos, and Especially Vietnam

2016 02 14 southeast asia

If you have more than ten days or two weeks, you also visit somewhere nearby like Angkor Wat, next door in Cambodia. (It’s possible to travel overland from Bangkok, to Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located, but flights are cheap, plentiful, and safer.)

A few additional destinations nearby are Laos, where you could visit the sleepy capital of Vientiane, or the even sleepier riverside city of Luang Prabang.

That said, Vietnam deserves special mention – it’s where I’ve had many of my most exciting and interesting travel experiences in Asia, particularly on motorbiking trips.

I’ve done two on World War II-era Minsk motorbikes with Hanoi-based tour group Explore Indochina.

I did another one independently, taking the bike on a train overnight from Hanoi to Sapa, a city in the north, and riding back to Hanoi over several days. There’s no better way to see the countryside and interact with people than on two wheels.

Hanoi, the cultural capital, is especially atmospheric, with a dense downtown area full of cafes and shops. Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial hub formerly known as Saigon, is buzzing and has incredible food.

4. More Destinations: Myanmar and Borneo

Myanmar

If you’re interested, now seems to be a good time to visit Myanmar. The country is largely undeveloped, and can be difficult to travel in, but began several years ago the process of political and economic reforms. That means tourism will likely pick up in the future. I haven’t been to the temples of Bagan, but I hear they are worth visiting.

Yangon, the former capital, is home to the remarkable Shwedagon Pagoda. Meanwhile the new capital, the largely deserted Naypyidaw, is increasingly drawing curious onlookers.

Consider Borneo. Travelers often forget about the gargantuan island, shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, but it’s not too far a flight from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

I highly recommend Gunung Mulu National Park, where you can take in a curious sight known as the bat exodus.

5. Eat Liberally

Khao soi

Street food, in most Southeast Asia locations – and certainly in Thailand – is generally safe to eat. Though you should follow the well-known rule of avoiding food that’s been sitting around for a while and aim to eat freshly cooked items. And when in doubt, don’t eat fresh vegetables that haven’t been cooked.

For Thailand eats, I suggest checking out my pal Austin Bush’s blog. He’s a longtime Bangkok-based food writer and photographer and knows a tremendous amount about the region’s cuisines, especially Thai food.

You can search his site for specific dishes or cities, and he also has an annotated food map of Bangkok on Google Maps.

I also suggest my friend Chawadee Nualkhair’s Bangkok Glutton blog.

Chaw also has a book I recommend called “Thailand’s Best Street Food,” which tackles Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and more.

6. Disconnect

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You will likely be excited and want to show images from your travels, as soon as you capture them, via Facebook and Instagram. You may want to Tweet things.

You should not.

Wait until the trip is over to delve into your social media feeds. That way you can focus on the present and enjoy the moment. Read books or listen to music instead.

Definitely document things by taking photos and writing down your experiences, but sharing them in real-time will only divert your attention unnecessarily.

On several occasions after getting through especially frenzied periods of work in Bangkok, I decamped to Chiang Mai, where I spent a few days decompressing, enjoying novels while sitting next to the river drinking coffee (or beer).

These periods of offline reflection were always rewarding.

7. If You Must, SIM Cards and Wi-Fi are Widely Available

Smartphone

Although I advocate disconnecting while traveling for pleasure, I often like to have a local number while I’m in a different country to make calls and get mobile internet access for mapping and other uses.

SIM cards for (unlocked) smartphones are widely available in Southeast Asia. You can buy them when you arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, for example, and at most other airports in the region these days. In Thailand they are often available in 7-Elevens, as well.

Wi-Fi is also available at not just at hotels, as you’d expect, but in places like cafes and restaurants.

8. Don’t Overpack, But Bring the Right Stuff

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Yes, Southeast Asia’s climate is tropical, so you’ll want warm weather clothing like shorts and short-sleeved shirts. But keep in mind that people in cities, especially, tend to dress conservatively despite the heat, eschewing shorts for trousers and often wearing long-sleeved shirts.

My opinion: You should aim to blend in, not stick out. So save your swim suits and battered T-shirts for the beach or pool.

And a word on sandals: These generally shouldn’t be worn in cities. Some nicer bars and restaurants in many Southeast Asian cities require patrons to wear closed-toe shoes. So bring some along, and when in doubt, dress in a more respectable manner than you might assume is necessary. It’s always better to be slightly over-dressed than under-dressed.

9. Ask Friends of Friends for Advice

Earth

Traveling years ago with my pal Matt Gross, a fantastic food and travel writer, taught me the importance of hitting up friends — and friends of friends — for travel tips.

When researching his New York Times travel stories, Matt was a master at using his vast network of contacts to suss out where to go and what to do in particular destinations.

So, before you embark on your trip:

  • Email all your friends to ask if anyone has recently been to the countries you’re considering visiting
  • Put out a call on Facebook and Twitter for advice
  • Ask everyone you know to put you in touch with people they might know who live in the places you’re targeting

The tips you get this way — from people to whom you may only be loosely connected — are often highly valuable. Of course, you’ll want to do your online research, but advice from people on the ground is always important.

10. Do Your Own Research

Flying

Reading the Lonely Planet tour guide history section for the destination you’re exploring is better than nothing, but if you’re not delving more deeply into the region’s history, you’re doing it wrong.

Some books I recommend:

Happy traveling!

On Streaming Music in Low-Connectivity Environments

Living in India has given me an entirely new perspective on user experience challenges to streaming music services in emerging markets, where connectivity is often weak.

Never mind on mobile: Even at home, on Wi-Fi, services from the big players — Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music — are often difficult to use.

This actually has me considering using…mp3s (!) again.

Google CEO’s Advice to Ambitious Students: Loosen Up

2017 01 06google

That’s the gist of my story yesterday, which began:

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has some straightforward life advice for students at his alma mater: loosen up and have some fun.

The India-born Mr. Pichai, speaking Thursday at the elite Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur outside Kolkata, told university students who asked how they could emulate his success to pursue their passions, take risks, and be creative.

That is unconventional advice in a country where parents often pressure their children from a young age to study hard so they can secure steady employment.

“Academics is important but it is not as important as it’s made out to be,” Mr. Pichai said, adding that during his time studying metallurgical engineering at the school more than two decades ago he stayed up late, slept through the occasional class — and may even have earned a C in one course.

“I worked hard but we did have our share of fun as well,” he said.

And:

Near the end of his hour-long town hall, an earnest student asked Mr. Pichai for advice on how he could make the most of his four years on campus. Mr. Pichai’s response was simple: “I wouldn’t overthink it.”

Previously: Google’s Newest India Focus: Connecting Small Businesses.