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The Shortlist
Our best ideas, quick and curated | December 17, 2021
This week, podcasts from 2021 that demonstrate the power of creativity and resilience. Plus, McKinsey’s annual global banking review, and Bonnie Dowling, an associate partner, on what bedtime stories have taught her about burnout and belonging. Happy holidays to all our readers—we look forward to seeing you in 2022.
Snowman wearing headphones
Resilience boosters. Last week we suggested some great business books for end-of-year reading time. Now here’s a snack of podcasts from among our 2021 offerings—reflecting innovative and resilient approaches to entertainment, telecommunications, and more.
How Hamilton stayed alive. Instead of waiting for brighter days, Jeffrey Seller, producer of the Broadway hit Hamilton, staged a unique comeback on the heels of America’s pandemic-triggered “theater ghost town.” Although the curtains closed on live entertainment, Seller strongly felt the need “to give some hope to the American people.” So he describes how he opened back up—to a digital audience, keeping the Hamilton train moving. Once Broadway officially reopened in September, Hamilton was more than ready for a live audience.
What Gen Z customers want. To expand market share to an underserved market, Telkomsel, Southeast Asia’s largest wireless provider, launched by.U, whose name promises services designed “by you.” To attract Gen Z customers, the start-up designed a digital “zero-touch” mobile service, end to end. The strategy worked, particularly with Gen Z customers in Indonesia, home to the fastest-growing population of smartphone users in the world. Among the lessons we learned from our guest, by.U vice president Trio Lumbantoruan: “What we learned from the youth is that they don’t want to be controlled—they want to choose for themselves.”
Why you should thank an engineer. Hayaatun Sillem is the chief executive officer of the Royal Academy of Engineering in the United Kingdom—the first woman to serve in that role. In this McKinsey Global Institute podcast, Sillem discusses her transition from a career as a biochemist into the world of engineering, and the work she does to promote the industry to girls and women as well as individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds. Her enthusiasm for her chosen profession shined through in the conversation: “Engineers are the hidden enablers of everything that we take for granted in modern life,” she said.
Where next, beauty business? It’s been another challenging year for beauty—both for humans’ beauty routines and the brands that serve them. The good news is that shopping gusto has returned this holiday season, despite worries about supply-chain shortages. In this wide-ranging discussion on the opportunities and challenges ahead for the beauty industry, McKinsey partners Sophie Marchessou and Emma Spagnuolo talk about the crucial transition to digital and e-commerce initiatives and the power of personalized shopping. Plus, the podcast delves into important trends in the industry, including the growth in unisex and men’s products.
— Vanessa Burke
Global banking: The great divergence
Our Global Banking Annual Review focuses on how the valuation gap between leading banking institutions and those trailing behind is once again widening. This divergence is more evident if we separate traditional banks, which are more reliant on balance-sheet business, from the specialists and platform companies, which are more focused on origination and sales. The latter are valued more like tech companies in other industries, with high valuations and wide gaps.
Price-to-book ratios of large companies across industries exhibit
Check out our chart of the day here.
Craving flexibility, parents are quitting to get it | Working parents are among the record number of employees leaving their jobs or thinking about doing so. To keep this crucial group, organizations must address why they’re attracted to other options.
Unlocking digital healthcare in lower- and middle-income countries | Digital technologies have tremendous potential not only to improve countries’ responses to infectious-disease threats but also to strengthen primary healthcare.
Reducing postharvest crop losses in the agricultural supply chain | Large quantities of cereal grain are being lost across the supply chain between harvest and consumption. Low-cost technologies could help address these losses, translating to cost savings for grain-trading companies and potential land gains for countries at high risk of grain loss.
Bonnie Dowling
Bonnie Dowling
Bonnie Dowling, an associate partner based in Denver, focuses on hybrid working models, leadership development, and talent management. She is an author of ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours, a recent McKinsey article about how organizations can attract and retain employees. Here, she writes about what bedtime stories have taught her about burnout and belonging.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I spent a lot of time on the road. Clearly, a lot has changed, including my family routine. While my husband still owns the pickups and drop-offs, I am in charge of our daughter’s bedtime. I read the books, sing the songs, and stay for cuddles. More than a year and a half in, I’ve realized that this precious time has been as important for my well-being as it has for our daughter’s. And the books have taught me a few things as well.
Knowing when to say enough is enough. If you haven’t read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, it’s about a boy who goes to a tree with his problems (over and over and over again) and how the tree selflessly gives everything it has to solve them. Eventually, the tree becomes a stump but is still giving. While I understand there are lessons about unconditional love, I think there’s another lesson about how if we give what we can’t replenish to our friends, our children, or our jobs, we will at some point become stumps ourselves.
What would have become of the boy if the tree had said enough is enough after providing shade or giving apples? I could be wrong here, but I think he would have figured out another way to build his house and travel (perhaps by creating a differentiated apple-based product to sell for money to buy wood or plane tickets) and kept his incredibly loyal tree (or friend/parent/employee) intact.
In fact, I bet that by the end of the story, the boy-turned-old-man would have much preferred leaning against the tree under the shade enjoying the earnings from his previously created apple-based product to sitting on a stump. Lesson? It’s OK to support someone in solving their own problems as opposed to sacrificing yourself to solve things for them. In fact, during a time of unprecedented burnout and sky-high attrition rates, doing so could lead to a better outcome for all.
Don’t let things become bigger than they truly are. I happened upon The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside when I realized that my daughter was getting upset about COVID-19 and other current events. The book tells the story of Jenny, whose worries start affecting everything in her life until a kindly neighbor helps her sort out her fears and gain some needed perspective.
Too often we allow small asks or comments to grow disproportionately large because we don’t address them head on, ask for clarification, or seek help. Find your support network—the people you trust who will help you think through things before they get too big, and go to them early. Don’t wait.
Be yourself. I Love My Purse by Belle DeMont is a favorite in our house. It’s about a boy who doesn’t like anything in his closet except a red purse, so he ditches his backpack and takes the purse to school instead. On the first day, everyone tells him that just because he likes something doesn’t mean it’s OK. Essentially, he should conform. However, the boy is resolute: “I love my purse,” he tells them. By the end of the week, he has inspired the naysayers to follow suit and embrace their passions publicly as well.
Since this pandemic began, the lines between personal and professional have increasingly blurred. Yet for so many of us, especially parents, that means more time spent hiding our personal lives and passions. Taking calls or responding to emails regardless of the dinner we are cooking, lullaby we are singing, soccer game we are coaching, or exercise class we are trying to take prioritizes the professional culture of immediacy over who we are outside of work. Perhaps we could all do with saying, “This is who I am” from time to time. I’m a parent, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a gardener, a skier (or at least I’m aspiring to be) and a consultant, and I love being each of those things, but not at the expense of the others.
The pandemic has brought on countless changes to our personal and professional lives, but we’ve all learned a lot as well. Boundaries are critical, and it’s time we start drawing them. Hiding our true selves is exhausting. Let’s embrace who we are and encourage others to do the same. And if that means taking some time off to read a few bedtime stories, well, I’m all about that.
— Edited by Barbara Tierney
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