Dynamist Blog

More on the Chain Beat

The LAT's Jerry Hirsch reports on El Pollo Loco's plans to expand into New England, in part by selling its wares more as chicken than as Mexican food. The story made me think of an interesting cross-cultural moment. We were in a busy part of Tokyo with my parents and needed to find a quick bite to eat before catching a train. The answer: El Pollo Loco, a new experience for my parents. The main difference I remember is that in Japan they take the corn off the cob.


What American accent do you have?

Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Northeast
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

[Via Jane Galt.]

I would have had different results 30 years ago--and wildly different if the quiz captured just how different Southern vowels are.

In Praise of Chain Stores

My latest Atlantic column (link good for three days) defends the virtues of chain stores and restaurants against critics who complain that "every place looks the same."

Like NFL Coaches, Without the Glory

In Saturday's NYT business section, Claudia Deutsch had an even-toned, solidly reported article on why new CEOs demand, and get, so much money and such generous "prenups" in case they're fired.

"Two years ago, people might have accepted the C.E.O. job with a one-page term sheet," said Thomas J. Neff, chairman of United States operations at the recruiter Spencer Stuart & Associates. "Today, depending on the lawyer, the contracts can be 30 pages long."

In the end, lawyers and management experts say, executives are still getting what they want. "The process has become grueling, with everyone fretting over every provision and every clause, but the result is pretty much the same," said Robert J. Stucker, chairman of the Chicago law firm of Vedder Price.

The reason the directors are still granting sweet deals rests, quite simply, with the law of supply and demand. The corporate seat of power is not only getting hotter, but is increasingly equipped with an ejector button that directors are ever quicker to press. In fact, turnover in the corner office is heading toward a record high this year....

That means the supply of untainted superstar executives--or "gold medal winners," as Mr. Stucker calls them--is dwindling.

And private equity firms often get first crack at those who are left....

"Private equity is sucking up a huge amount of top management talent, because they offer the opportunity to make a bundle without reporting to a board," said Gerard R. Roche, senior chairman of Heidrick & Struggles.

Now if only Gretchen Morgenstern would stop crusading against CEO pay long enough to do similar reporting--or at least read her colleague's work.

Continuity or Change?

From Texas A&M to the CIA (or vice versa), that seems to be the question surrounding Robert Gates. Michael Barone has read Gates's memoir, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War, and posts an interesting report. Barone's conclusion: "The picture I get of Robert Gates from his book is that of a careful analyst, one who sees American foreign policy as generally and rightly characterized by continuity but one who sees the need for bold changes in response to rapid changes in the world--and doesn't look for answers from the government bureaucracies. He is very much aware that we have dangerous enemies in the world, and he was willing over many years to confront them and try to check their advance." (A new edition of the book is due in January.)

They Call It "A Creativity Tool for Innovators." We Call It a Really Fun Toy.

One day two samples of something called Roger von Oech's Ball of Whacks showed up in my mail. There was no press release in the package, and no explanatory letter--just two samples. Each ball contains 30 magnetic prisms--a review on the ball's Amazon page says they're rhombic triacontahedrons (I wouldn't know)--which you can reconfigure into all sorts of fun shapes, many resembly Manga spaceships or strange alien creatures. Whether playing with these stimulates productive innovation, I can't say for sure. But the Ball of Whacks does seem to illustrate the power of play, as I explored in TFAIE and related work. And it would make a great present for anyone old enough not to swallow the pieces. Here are some sample creations from Professor Postrel.




What Makes a Book Big?

Last week, David Brooks used the occasion of Milton Friedman's death to lament the disappearance of important books like Capitalism and Freedom: "Then in the 1990s, those big books stopped coming. Now instead of books, we have blogs." That's nonsense, as Dan Drezner conclusively demonstrated without so much as a glance at his bookshelf. "Oh, please, spare me the crap about how today's deep thoughts fail to rival those of the past," said Dan.

Now Nick Schulz at TCS Daily has composed an even longer list than Dan's, concentrated almost entirely on big-picture economics. (Both Nick and Dan kindly include The Future and Its Enemies on their lists.) Nick's list inadvertently demonstrates what's really going on: There isn't a middle-brow consensus what books are important. As best I can tell from the NYTBR's semi-reliable archives, none of the first seven books (including mine) on Nick's list rated a review in the New York Times Book Review, and I'm not too sure about the eighth. (My search failed to turn up William Easterly's subsequent book, The White Man's Burden. which was reviewed--by me--in the NYTBR.) A book is not "big" because it addresses important ideas in a serious and significant way. A book is "big" because the right people talk about it. If there's less agreement on who the right people are--or if the right people, traditionally defined, ignore important books until they're old important books--you get laments like Brooks's.

The Plano Debate, Cont'd in Print

On the new issue of Texas Monthly, I revisit a debate from July, looking once again at The Truth About Plano, with real reporting this time. (Access password for the issue is, yes, PLANO.)

Earlier posts: here, here, and here.

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