Can Apple Stay Apple?

, I write about strategy, leadership and red teaming Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

A sad face emoticon is seen on an iPhone in this photo illustration on May 25, 2018. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

</div> </div> <p>On June 1, the <em>Wall Street Journal&nbsp;</em><a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-looks-to-expand-advertising-business-with-new-network-for-apps-1527869990" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-looks-to-expand-advertising-business-with-new-network-for-apps-1527869990" rel="nofollow">reported</a>&nbsp;Apple was looking to expand its advertising business with a new network for app-makers such as Pinterest Inc. and Snap Inc.</p> <p>“The digital ad effort, if it proceeds, would push Apple into territory dominated by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which claims 35% of the mobile ad market, and Facebook Inc., which has 25%,” the <em>Journal </em>reported.</p> <p> </p> <p>It could also take Apple farther away from its original vision, which has in many ways been the secret to the company’s success.</p> <p>Steve Jobs decided long ago that Apple would make its money selling great products and services. He believed people would be willing to pay a premium for such products and services, and if they did, then Apple would not have to make its money off their personal information the way that competitors such as Google (now Alphabet Inc.) and Facebook Inc. increasingly were.</p> <p>In recent months, Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed like he was doubling-down on that original vision, emphatically declaring that Apple’s customers are not its product.</p> <p>“If our customer was our product, we could make a ton of money. We’ve elected not to do that,” he <a href="https://www.recode.net/2018/4/6/17197754/watch-apple-ceo-tim-cook-msnbc" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:https://www.recode.net/2018/4/6/17197754/watch-apple-ceo-tim-cook-msnbc" rel="nofollow">told Recode</a> in March. “We’re not going to traffic in your personal life.”</p>

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I am struggling to understand how Apple Inc.’s purported plan to dramatically expand its digital-advertising business makes sense for a company that has successfully differentiated itself by selling products and services, rather than information about its customers.

A sad face emoticon is seen on an iPhone in this photo illustration on May 25, 2018. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

On June 1, the Wall Street Journal reported Apple was looking to expand its advertising business with a new network for app-makers such as Pinterest Inc. and Snap Inc.

“The digital ad effort, if it proceeds, would push Apple into territory dominated by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which claims 35% of the mobile ad market, and Facebook Inc., which has 25%,” the Journal reported.

It could also take Apple farther away from its original vision, which has in many ways been the secret to the company’s success.

Steve Jobs decided long ago that Apple would make its money selling great products and services. He believed people would be willing to pay a premium for such products and services, and if they did, then Apple would not have to make its money off their personal information the way that competitors such as Google (now Alphabet Inc.) and Facebook Inc. increasingly were.

In recent months, Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed like he was doubling-down on that original vision, emphatically declaring that Apple’s customers are not its product.

“If our customer was our product, we could make a ton of money. We’ve elected not to do that,” he told Recode in March. “We’re not going to traffic in your personal life.”

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How Microsoft, Nabisco, and GM Make Customers Happier by Raising Prices

Business owners often worry that if they raise their prices, they’ll lose customers and understandably so, since customers are likely to feel gouged when told they must pay more money for the exact same product.

This puts business owners in a dilemma. If you can’t raise prices, your profit goes down ever time your costs-of-goods goes up. And even if cost-of-goods is the same, you’re losing profit if you’re not getting the highest price possible for whatever you’re selling.

Most companies are really bad at raising prices. Typically, they attempt to explain the rise in price as that’s regrettably necessary but outside their control. Like this:

“Due to economic conditions, we are forced to raise our prices. We are sorry for any inconvenience that this might cause.”

Such excuses don’t just sound hangdog, they’re also only effective if the customer trusts you when you imply that raising prices is the only possible way for your firm to adapt to “economic conditions” (or whatever excuse you’re using).

Smart companies never apologize for raising prices. Instead, they reposition the increase as a customer benefit. Their goal isn’t to get the customer to say “I forgive you for raising prices” but instead to say “Wow! Thanks for raising your price!”

Sound impossible? Well, here are five way that the big guys pull off this neat trick:

1. Replace outright purchase with a subscription.

A very old sales trick is to make a large price sound smaller by stating much it costs per day. For example: “Yes, $700 sounds like a lot of money but that’s less $2 a day for a year… about the price of a cup of coffee. And you’ll be using this product for a decade!”

Subscription pricing builds that basic idea.  The customer sees “$9.95 a month” for a product that used to cost $250. The customer thinks: “Wow! That’s a real bargain. Thanks for dropping your price!” In fact, the customer  ends up paying more in the long run.

Take Microsoft Office, for instance. It once cost as much $800 for a single license. Today, you can get a license (for use on multiple machines) for a seemingly measly $10 a month…with free updates. Great deal, eh?

Well, maybe not. Office hasn’t really changed for the past 10 years, except for becoming more confusing through feature-creep. If you pay $10 a month for 10 years, you’ve just paid $1,200 for an $800 product. Few customers do the math, evidently.

2. Lower your base price but raise the price of a common option.

This is the general case of the specific method Burger King uses to get people to pay $.50 for a slice of cheese that costs less than $.15. 

To recap, Burger King charges $.50 extra for a piece of cheese–a price that’s not listed anywhere. The charge is added after the customers says “Yes” to what seems like helpful customer service: “Do you want cheese with that?”

This works for other types of products as well. For example, a software company might lower the price of a user license but increase the price of the service contract. Ideally, they’d make the price increase less visible changing subscription window, like from “$1,000 a year” to “$25 a week.” 

The trick to this strategy is to publicize the drop in price not the increased charge. The airlines bungled this when they added baggage fees. They positioned it as an add-on fee, with an apology about “gas prices going up.” Dumb.

A better approach would have been to announce a discount for people who don’t check baggage. That way, flyers might have felt grateful to the airlines for giving them a better deal if they pack light and haul their own overhead bags.

3. Bundle multiple options into a single price.

The idea here is that you reduce the customer’s burden of decision-making (a good thing) by bundling options into packages, which are priced with a higher profit margin than would be possible if you charged for them separately.

The automobile industry uses this method to increase the margins on car sales. Customers can order a base model but with upgrade packages that have a couple features most customer want along with some “meh” options they end up paying for anyway.

As with all of these methods, the trick is publicizing the lower price and positioning the packaged options as a convenience and benefit (e.g. “the ultra sport package”) rather than a way to sell some high margin options that most people don’t really want.

4. Offer to finance the purchase.

In this case, a large chunk of extra profit comes from the finance fees and loan interest rather than from the sale of the product itself. You position the ability to get on-the-spot financing as a convenience rather than a profitability bump. 

Again, automobile dealerships do this all the time. For example, when I bought a Honda recently, the dealership gave me a very competitive price on the car, but then handed me over to a very senior salesperson when it came to the financing, clearing hoping to sell me the loan as an add-on. (I self-financed, so she was disappointed.)

I’ve also seen this kind of financing offered for large computer hardware purchases or indeed for any big ticket B2B product. Of course, such sales usually involve buyers who are more sophisticated than your average consumer and probably understand that the financing is an “add-on” rather than a service.

But consumers, not so much.

5. Reframe smaller packaging as a larger value.

This is the go-to “please the customer” price increase for the food industry. They decrease both the price and the amount of product so that you get even less product for a lower price. They then advertise the new size as superior to the old packaging, even though the consumer is paying more.

For example, a company might reduce the amount of product in a standard package from 16 oz to 14 oz and change the labeling to claim it’s “healthier” (because it has less calories), “extra-portable” (because the package is smaller), or “more eco-friendly” (because it uses 2% less paper.

Products cited in the New York Times as executing this strategy include Chicken of the Sea, Doritos, Tostitos, Fritos, Nabisco Premium saltines, and Honey Maid graham crackers. 

As with the other price-increase strategies, the emphasis is always upon creating the perception of a better value so that the customer embraces the price increase, usually without even realizing that they’re paying more.

It need hardly be said that ALL of these strategies are excellent illustrations (as if we needed them, given the state of the country) that “nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

General Electric: Strong Buy

The drop in General Electric‘s (GE) share price is yet another buying opportunity in my opinion. The industrial company has seen a considerable rebound in investor sentiment after the release of better-than-expected first quarter results, and the recent sale of General Electric’s rail business to Wabtec puts the company on the right track. GE will likely continue to shred more assets in the next several years and apply a laser-sharp focus on the restructuring of its power business. I see General Electric as an appealing contrarian rebound play with up to 40 percent upside potential over the next twelve months.

Rebounding Investor Sentiment…Until The Last Week Of May

General Electric’s shares started to rebound in April and May, after falling rather consistently throughout the first three months of 2018. Concerns over weak cash flow, a struggling power unit, and uncertainty after the dividend cut in Q4-2017 have weighed on investor sentiment at the beginning of the year.

That being said, though, investor sentiment is improving after the industrial company reported better-than-expected results for Q1-2018. Most recently, however, GE’s share price has dipped again on concerns that the power restructuring will take longer than expected.

Year-to-date, General Electric’s share price has dropped ~19 percent.

Source: StockCharts

The recovery in General Electric’s share price looked fine, until May 23, 2018 when John Flannery, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of General Electric, said that he expects GE’s power division to continue to struggle in the near future. Further, the CEO cast some doubt on its dividend, which made investors ditch the stock yet again. GE’s stock, meanwhile, tumbled more than seven percent.

Investors were quickly rattled by the CEO’s remarks about the restructuring of its power division, but there were few things that were actually new. The power division, as all investors know, has been a drag on GE’s earnings and margins, including the first quarter of 2018.

Source: General Electric Q1-18 Earnings Release

General Electric is running a hard restructuring, laying off people and reducing overhead costs. The company has guided for $1 billion in segment cost reductions in 2018, and has put a set of measures in place aimed at boosting performance, including driving better execution, taking margin actions, and selling non-core assets.

Source: General Electric Investor Presentation

I think General Electric is doing the right things as far as the power restructuring is concerned, and investors should give the industrial company some time to turn the ship around.

Are There Risks To The Dividend?

General Electric slashed its quarterly dividend payout 50 percent from $0.24/share to $0.12/share in November 2017, which was the second time since the financial crisis that the company slashed its dividend.

Is the dividend sustainable?

Frankly, that depends to a large degree on whether General Electric can engineer a cash flow turnaround.

Here’s GE’s industrial cash flow from 2012-2017.

Source: Achilles Research

Asset sales, however, could play a major role in boosting GE’s cash flow, at least over the short haul. General Electric recently sold its 111-year old rail transportation unit to Wabtec in an $11.1 billion deal. The industrial company will receive a $2.9 billion cash payment associated with the deal.

What To Expect Over The Next 12 Months

Obviously, General Electric will be tempted to sell more assets and raise its cash levels. I don’t think that management will want to cut the dividend again unless cash flow unexpectedly and significantly deteriorates.

Further, General Electric is strongly focused on driving the power restructuring home, but it may take a couple of quarters for investors to see meaningful results. That being said, GE’s laser focus on improving margins in the power business through cost controls and asset sales will likely lead to an incremental improvement in cash flow throughout the year. GE certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Valuation

General Electric’s shares are cheap, selling for less than 14x next year’s estimated profits while investor sentiment is probably still near multi-year lows.

I am still positive on General Electric’s ability to turn things around in the power business in 2018/9. Hence, I reaffirm my $20 price target on GE, implying ~40 percent upside.

Chart

GE data by YCharts

Your Takeaway

General Electric’s share price slumped after Flannery’s comments at an industry conference last month, and the drop is a promising opportunity to consider a speculative long position in my opinion. General Electric will likely sell more non-core assets in 2018 and drive a hard, cost-centered restructuring in the power business. GE’s shares are relatively cheap on a forward P/E-basis, and there is room for improvement in investor sentiment, especially if the restructuring yields cash flow gains. Strong speculative Buy.

If you like to read more of my articles, and like to be kept up to date with the companies I cover, I kindly ask you that you scroll to the top of this page and click ‘follow‘. I am largely investing in dividend paying stocks, but also venture out occasionally and cover special situations that offer appealing reward-to-risk ratios and have potential for significant capital appreciation. Above all, my immediate investment goal is to achieve financial independence.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GE.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Hulu Exec Joel Stillerman Departs in Management Shakeup

A year ago, Hulu announced that it had hired Joel Stillerman away from AMC to expand the streaming platform’s slate of original programming.

On Friday, Hulu announced that the chief content officer was leaving the company.

The departure of Stillerman, who worked on The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul while at AMC, was part of a broader reorganization at the Santa Monica company. There has been some tumult in the upper ranks at Hulu, which saw its chief executive, Mike Hopkins, depart in October to become the head of Sony’s television division. Randy Freer, the former COO of Fox Networks Group, replaced Hopkins—who had hired Stillerman—and recent reports suggest that Freer and Stillerman didn’t get along.

Following Stillerman’s departure from Hulu, the company’s chief content officer role will disappear. Craig Erwich, Hulu’s senior vice president of content, will oversee original programming. Tim Connolly, Hulu’s SVP of partnerships and distribution, and Ben Smith, SVP of experience, will also depart the company. Additionally, CMO Kelly Campbell will assume more responsibility, Jaya Kolhatkar will become Chief Data Officer, and Dan Phillips will become CTO.

Hulu is co-owned by Comcast, Time Warner, Disney, and 21st Century Fox, which itself agreed to be acquired by Disney earlier this year. (If Disney prevails, it would become Hulu’s majority owner.) That complicated ownership structure, rather unlike rival Netflix, has been characterized as a drag on the company’s ability to make decisions.

Hulu now reaches more than 20 million subscribers, and its service has expanded to include live television, more original programming (e.g. The Handmaid’s Tale), and deeper reserves of popular TV shows including 30 Rock and E.R. But Hulu remains unprofitable—almost $1 billion in the red last year—as it battles Netflix, Amazon, Google, and Time Warner-owned HBO for market share.

“Hulu has an enormous opportunity to lead the media and advertising industries into the future,” Freer said in a statement.

Metastable Helium Is Changing The Way Scientists Look At Exoplanets [Infographic]

, Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Knader10 Designs

Metastable Helium formation

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<p><strong>To learn more please visit the WASP planets <a href="https://wasp-planets.net/" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:https://wasp-planets.net/" rel="nofollow">website.</a></strong></p> <p><strong>Go <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinanderton/2018/05/29/exoplanets-helium-has-been-detected-for-the-first-time-infographic/#63b79b379ca0" target="_self">here</a> to learn more about WASP-107b and helium detection.</strong></p>” readability=”35.8242473556″>

Recently, a team of scientists was able to detect metastable helium in the upper atmosphere of an exoplanet. This was quite an accomplishment considering it had never been done before. The formation of metastable helium in large amounts on exoplanets was theorized a long time ago but up until now, it had never actually been detected. This discovery marks a milestone in the study of exoplanet atmospheres as it will enable scientists to study planets that are much further away than the ones we are currently looking at.

Metastable helium was detected on a planet called WASP-107b. This planet has a large amount of helium in its atmosphere. So much in fact that it has been estimated that it stretches out tens of thousands of miles into space. The helium in the upper atmosphere is being bombarded with high-energy radiation from the host star’s chromosphere. That radiation ionizes the helium by knocking out one of the two electrons in each atom. These helium ions then combine with free electrons in the planet’s atmosphere and often the new electron gets stuck in a high energy state. Having an electron stuck in this state is what makes a helium atom a metastable helium atom.

Getting an electron stuck in this state is related to a property that electrons have that is known as spin. If two electrons have their spin aligned then they cannot be at the same energy level. So when these helium ions pick up new electrons from the atmosphere they get stuck at a high energy level because the old electron is at a low level and the atoms will often pick up electrons with the same spin.

This creates the longest-lived excited state of any atom as the electron stays excited for about 2.2 hours on average. That is a long time considering that normally electrons de-excite in nanoseconds.

While in this excited state the electron can absorb a photon of infrared light and when it does it jumps to a slightly higher energy level. Afterward, it falls back down to the metastable state after a few nanoseconds. Once it does it can absorb another photon. This process goes on and on for the 2.2 hours that the atom is in the metastable state and then the atom falls back down to the regular ground helium state. Scientists are able to study this phenomenon by observing infrared light absorption.

Knader10 Designs

Metastable Helium formation

To learn more please visit the WASP planets website.

Go here to learn more about WASP-107b and helium detection.

Google launches second app in China, woos top smartphone market

BEIJING (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google has launched a file managing tool in several Chinese app stores as it looks for fresh inroads into the world’s biggest smartphone market, where most of the internet giant’s top products remain banned.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Google is pictured during the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The U.S. firm on Thursday released a China-specific version of ‘Files Go’, a storage management tool for smartphones, the second China-specific app it has released since its flagship services were banned.

The app, which has a small number of users compared to Google’s flagship search and app store products, is also the first it has launched on third-party Chinese app stores including those hosted by Baidu Inc (BIDU.O), Xiaomi Technologies Co Ltd and Huawei Culture Co Ltd 002502.

China has represented a black hole on Google’s global map since regulators began banning the company’s products in 2010 when it refused to censor results in line with local laws.

Its search engine is banned in the Chinese market along with its app store, email and cloud storage services.

China’s cyber regulators say restrictions on foreign media and internet platforms are designed to block influences that contravene stability and socialist ideas.

Google has been trying to expand its operations in China and has launched a dedicated artificial intelligence research hub in Beijing, but its return to providing consumer products has been slow amid tightening censorship regulations.

Google has, however, ramped up its China efforts recently. CEO Sundar Pichai has made several visits to the country and has spoken at two Chinese government forums since December.

Last year, Google released its ‘Google Translate’ app in China. It is maintained by Google’s local joint venture.

The ‘Files Go’ app, which helps users free up storage space, has been developed by Google’s Next Billion program that targets developing markets, including India and Indonesia, where there are a large number of people using low-end smartphones.

While Google’s consumer services are largely blocked in China, its Android operating system is used widely by top smartphone vendors, including Xiaomi and Huawei phones.

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Himani Sarkar

China's SenseTime raises $620 million in latest funding round

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese facial recognition technology developer SenseTime Group Ltd has raised $620 million in its latest round of funding, valuing the company at more than $4.5 billion.

FILE PHOTO: SenseTime surveillance software identifying customers’ movement patterns at a department store runs as a demonstration at the company’s office in Beijing, China, October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

The financing was led by Fidelity International, Hopu Capital, Silver Lake and Tiger Global, it said in a statement.

Reporting By Sijia Jiang; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Edwina Gibbs

What's Being Done To Help America Sleep?

Why is it so hard for us to get a good night’s sleep? And is there anything new being done about a health issue that the American Sleep Association (ASA) contends affects up to 70 million American adults?

Shutterstock

Everyone agrees there’s a problem. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says insomnia is the most common sleep problem in adults age 60 and older. The ASA says deep sleep is important for memory consolidation, yet as human beings enter into middle age, the quantity of deep (or slow wave) sleep they achieve is known to decrease significantly.

If you suffer from them, you know. Sleep troubles can be brutal. They can last for days, months and even years; and they can mean a lot more than just having trouble falling asleep. They can mean you: take a long time to fall asleep, wake up many times in the night, wake up early and are unable to get back to sleep, wake up tired, and feel sleepy during the day. The NIH just confirms what the sleep-deprived already know: Often, “being unable to sleep becomes a habit. Some people worry about not sleeping even before they get into bed.” This too may exacerbate an already exhausting situation and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

So sleep seekers try reading, meditation and prayer, darkening their rooms, and even weighted blankets. Before they know it they’re wondering bleary-eyed along the sleep aid aisle in their local pharmacy or department store for over-the-counter medications. Some finally resort to calling the doctor and stepping up their medication game to a prescription sleep aid or better yet: scheduling a sleep study.

Many people desperate for better sleep think that the method and the outcome of a sleep study are pretty straightforward—and limited. Either they have sleep apnea, and are thus prescribed a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) system—the leading therapy for sleep apnea—to keep them breathing during sleep, or they don’t have sleep apnea, and, well, it’s start over with the list above.

But while there are still tens of thousands of people seeking better sleep in the United States, there are also many physicians and scientists trying to help them. And they’re getting better at it all the time.

There’s information on yoga and music and meditation. There are over-the-counter pills, therapeutic oils and gadgets you stick to your nose. There are studies on causes and effects and drugs. The National Sleep Foundation even offers information on mouth exercises to help you breath better and thus sleep better at night:

  • Push the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and slide the tongue backward. Repeat 20 times.
  • Suck your tongue upward so that the entire tongue lies against the roof of your mouth. Repeat 20 times.
  • Force the back of your tongue downward against the floor of your mouth while keeping the tip of your tongue in contact with your bottom front teeth.

In scientific circles, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recently compiled a list of the 10 most-viewed sleep research papers published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (JCSM) in the last year. That is, articles that captured the attention of the scientific and medical communities, as well as the media and the general public. These are the papers on the JCSM website—published by AASM—that received the most pageviews. They include information on what is being done and who is doing it.

They included:

  • Guidelines for physicians for evidence-based analyses of sleep aids.
  • Guidelines and recommendations for diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea in adults.
  • Study results on the actual melatonin content of natural health products and supplements versus what is often listed on labels.
  • A new position statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) on beginning the school day at 8:30 a.m. or later for middle school and high school students.
  • The first study to link binge-watching in young adults with poorer sleep quality, more fatigue and increased insomnia.
  • Updates to the AASM Scoring Manual for Scoring of Sleep and Associated Events.
  • The AASM’s position statement on the use of Home Sleep Apnea Tests (HSAT). These devices are diagnostic medical tools that help physicians provide high quality, sleep tests at home for select adult patients.
  • Information on the possibility of stronger levels of recommendations by the AASM regarding sedative-hypnotic drug use in the management of chronic insomnia.
  • Advice for the field of sleep medicine, including challenges and necessary changes and advances in sleep medicine.
  • The AASM’s Sleep and Transportation Safety Awareness Task Force response to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Federal Railroad Administration Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and request for public comments regarding the evaluation of safety-sensitive personnel for moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

The Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, Maryland recently posted what the organization sees for the future of sleep clinical care and research, even calling this future “revolutionary.”

Andrew Lincoln Is Out: Can 'The Walking Dead' Survive Without Rick Grimes?

Credit: AMC

Andrew Lincoln is leaving The Walking Dead according to a new report.

Andrew Lincoln is leaving The Walking Dead sometime during Season 9.

According to Collider, Lincoln—who plays the lead protagonist, Rick Grimes, on the zombie drama—is on his way out and Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) will take over as leading man.

We all knew this day would come, but it’s still a little surprising to hear that it’s finally happening. Apparently AMC has offered Reedus “substantial compensation” to take over the leading role.

This raises some big questions, not the least of which is the headline to this post. Can this show survive without Lincoln? Will a Rick Grimes-free Walking Dead even make sense? And, just as importantly, can Reedus really carry the show?

Daryl is a great wing-man. He’s the strong, silent type. Indefatigably stoic. He looks cool when he rides his motor cycle, and he grunts ominously at bad guys before shooting them with his crossbow.

But is he a leading man?

I’m having a hard time picturing what a Daryl-led Walking Dead would actually look like. Daryl almost never speaks. When he does, it’s in short bursts. He’s driven by emotional responses to every situation. I’m not sure he’s ever had a plan (not that Rick’s plans are very good.) I like Daryl as far as characters on this show go, but he’s not really a leader. He’s a loner.

Credit: AMC

Daryl is a lone wolf, not a team leader.

Maybe in a show about a small group of survivors on the road, Reedus could be the star. Sadly, that is no longer what this show is about. It’s about communities in the zombie apocalypse, just trying to make a go of it in this crazy world.

On the other hand, Rick hasn’t been a very good character in a very long time. He’s been written into a few too many corners over the years, and ultimately the show has only ever managed to have him run in circles. He’s never really grown as a character. He hasn’t become a better leader or a better father or really ever learned from his mistakes. While they’ve flirted with making him Evil Rick, the writers can never quite commit to him fully breaking bad.

So Rick Grimes has been in a state of character development purgatory, never really changing in meaningful ways that actually stick. Both his rivalries and his romances lack any depth. His obsession with Jesse was discarded as quickly as it began and the next moment he was in a relationship with Michonne. The whole Negan sequence has been a disaster.

Credit: AMC

Speaking of Negan, will Rick’s departure also open the door for a more Negan-led show? Will Daryl and Negan be our new leading men together? Can Jeffrey Dean Morgan woo audiences? And what about the final of the Season 1 veterans, Carol? Melissa McBride is a good actress. Why not make her the lead?

Honestly, the whole thing is kind of a mess. I can’t blame Lincoln for wanting off the show, and I personally have lost my interest in Rick Grimes as a character. But without Rick, without Carl, what’s the point of this show exactly? Isn’t this supposed to be the story of Rick and Carl, a man and his son, navigating the zombie apocalypse? Without those two, it’s another story entirely. Audiences will have to decide whether it’s a story worth watching or not.

Something similar is happening on Fear The Walking Dead. Spoilers follow.

In that show, we’ve seen arguably the most central figure outside of Madison killed off. Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) was an incredibly important character and fan favorite, but he wanted off the show and now, slowly but surely, it feels more and more like a different story. Less about Madison and her children and more about the new characters and Morgan. That’s fine, I suppose, but it’s a big change and not everyone will like it. As much as I like the new characters, I’m not sure how to feel about it myself.

In  any case, if this report is true and Andrew Lincoln really is leaving The Walking Dead, it’s going to become something very different. It already went through a pretty major transformation when Negan and the Saviors showed up. In many ways, it’s already an unrecognizable show. It’s nothing like the earlier seasons. And it will only drift further from that with Lincoln out, and probably other major cast members to follow—Laura Cohen (Maggie) has a new show, for instance.

So we’ll see. After Season 8 I’m not sure that The Walking Dead can actually get any worse, so maybe this won’t be so terrible.

How Blockchain is Disrupting Supply Chain Management

Managing a supply chain isn’t easy, and that’s the case even when you’re running a small business. By the time that you start to look at larger national and international companies, the supply chain starts to look less like a chain and more like a web, full of interconnectivity and riddled with inefficiency.

Supply chain management is such big business now that all sorts of specialists are starting to crop up who make it their mission to iron out these inefficiencies and to save companies money. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and other new technologies are already being applied to the challenge of optimizing the supply chain, but there’s another new technology on the block that’s ready to change the game.

I’m talking, of course, about blockchain, the technology which underlies bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and acts as an unhackable, decentralized ledger. It’s been described as “a record-keeping mechanism that makes it easier and safer for businesses to work together over the internet.” You can probably already see why it has a lot of potential when it comes to supply chain management.

Boosting compliance

It’s true that blockchain was initially designed purely for financial transactions, but it’s also true that it’s a highly versatile technology with all sorts of potential use cases. When it comes to supply chain management, for example, it could make it easier for big businesses to track the whats, the whens and the whys for every single order on the supply chain. It could lead to the development of interoperable systems that allow you to get a much more accurate view of what’s going on beneath the bonnet of your company.

Because blockchain is effectively an incorruptible ledger, it makes it much easier to track your compliance efforts by recording every single step of the way. At the same time, blockchain data can be made readily available to auditors and other third-parties such as compliance officers. It’s a more open system, but the fact that it’s a more open system will help to force people to work within the laws and regulations that are in place to protect consumers. The only people who’d suffer would be the ones who were breaking the rules.

The shift towards blockchain is already starting to happen. For example, Maersk and IBM have announced a partnership in which they’re set to create a blockchain-based electronic shipping system which will allow companies to track their cargo in real-time. It’s expected to save the global shipping industry billions of dollars every year.

How blockchain would work for the supply chain

As an incorruptible digital ledger, blockchain could effectively store records for every product. It would add to its record every time a product changed hands, storing data such as who purchased it and for how much. Imagine a permanent history for every single product that would follow it from when it was made to when it was packed, shipped, displayed and sold.

The advantages to this are pretty obvious. Analysts could identify new ways to reduce delays and remove human error, saving both time and resources. The data could also be shared throughout the company, enabling different departments to work more closely together towards a common goal. It could fundamentally change the way you work.

Blockchain can help supply chain management in a variety of ways, from recording the transfer of assets to tracking receipts, purchase orders and other associated paperwork. It could also store other identifying data such as whether packages need to be handled with care or whether fresh produce is organic or not.

The benefits of blockchain for the supply chain

One of the big benefits of blockchain is that it makes data much more interoperable. Companies could more easily share information with manufacturers, couriers and other suppliers and vendors. This increased transparency can help to reduce delays and disputes, and it can also prevent shipments from getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. You can’t really lose them if they’re tracked in real-time.

Blockchain is also much more scalable, offering an almost unlimited database that can be accessed from multiple touchpoints from around the world. It provides a higher standard of security and the ability to be customised to feed more specialized applications. Businesses can even create private blockchains to keep data internal and to share it only with those who they explicitly give permission to.

Still, private blockchains can only achieve so much, and most of the value from blockchain technology comes from the fact that it can tie together different ledgers and data points to provide one centralized bank of information. This can also help to fight fraud and other issues. According to Michael White, the former president of Maersk Line in North America, “One of the advantages of blockchain is the immutable record and trust people can have in it. If anything changes in a document, it’s immediately apparent to all.”

Conclusion

Blockchain technology is coming to change all sorts of industries, and supply chain management is only one of them. Nevertheless, it’s also one of the more obvious applications of the technology, and so you shouldn’t be surprised if you see it coming to a company near you sometime soon.

In many ways, it’s inevitable. Eventually, the industry will be forced to make a choice, and we’ll reach a point at which the short-term hassle of changing to newer systems will be outweighed by the long-term benefits. It’ll be the supply chain teams who are the fastest to react who will be able to reap the rewards, enjoying a boost in performance that’s comparable to the change from hand-written paperwork to electronic databases.

In the meantime, the best thing for supply chain teams to do is to keep an eye on new technologies and software as they’re released. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the underlying concepts of blockchain including how it works and why it’s so versatile. That way, you’ll be ready for the blockchain revolution when it comes. Good luck.