December 24, 2014

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This year's best interviews covered tech, education, media, and the future of work. Credit: samsung_viet / Flickr Creative Commons

It’s been a big year here at Innovation Hub – and an even bigger year for thought-provoking, breakthrough ideas. Here's what you need to listen to before we head into 2015:
 
#10 Talent Turned Away at the Border
 
From the midterm elections to Obama’s recent executive order, immigration has been in the headlines a lot this year. But there’s a side of the issue that didn’t get as much coverage:
 
In November, we looked at what mountains of red tape mean for highly-skilled immigrants trying to get jobs in the U.S. – preferably of the Google and Apple variety. 

#9 Clay Shirky Sees Trouble Ahead
 
People love innovation – until it disrupts their industry. Today – as online classes become more prevalent – paying big bucks for a traditional college education has become less justifiable. Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU, challenges the assumption that people will choose a higher quality product over a smaller price tag:

When the Internet comes along, it typically opens up experiences to a much larger group of people, and even if those experiences are inferior to the best product on offer – YouTube vs. a trip to the movies – people find things to like about the more open, more distributed experience.

 

#8 Nerds: An Overlooked Resource
 
In 2014 alone, the Big Bang Theory was nominated for 33 Emmys and won 7. But despite the show's success, the "nerd" in popular culture today isn't much different from that of decades ago. Psychologist David Anderegg argues that continuing to make nerds – and their love of science and technology – unattractive will keep kids from getting into the very fields that could make them competitive in this globally-connected century.

 

#7 Weird Al's Chart-Topping Parody
 
Weird Al Yankovic has been on the scene for over 30 years and has always been willing to take chances. At the beginning of his career, Yankovic embraced music videos and got picked up by MTV. “They were desperate for material in the 1980s – they didn't have a whole lot of music videos to fill their pipeline," says Yankovic.

August brought a first for the performer: leveraging the Internet and social media, Yankovic hit #1 on the Billboard charts. 

6. Insiders' Predictions on Silicon Valley
 
Don’t expect a stream of hot new gadgets in the coming years. Instead, tech investor Roger McNamee believes that innovators will focus on using technology to solve people's everyday problems. “[It’s] all about fewer technology products and more existing products made better by technology.”
 
New York Times writer Farhad Manjoo sees more companies following Google’s “do everything” lead in the future – from shopping and search to phones and social networks – because “now technology is embedded into the structure of business and society, and everything we do is dependent on technology." 

 

#5 Taking on American Education
 
What happens when you pay teachers $125,000 a year? For one thing, the students do better – according to an analysis released this year.
 
That wouldn’t surprise Amanda Ripley, a Time reporter who studied the smartest kids in the world and how their educational systems function. But it takes more than just a great salary; teacher quality is vital.

#4 Why Cities are so Expensive
 
There's something happening in cities – and it's more than a real estate boom. Author Richard Florida looks at the creative types who are snapping up pricey real estate from Seattle to New York City. Florida says that it makes sense there's a bigger push towards cities by creative workers, who are drawn to urban centers where they have have "constant stimulation...Techies often like to be around artists and musicians – or people who work in other woks of life.” No wonder the last few years have seen a renaissance of the urban ecosystem.

#3 Inside the World of Julia Child
 
Julia Child wasn’t always an icon, and she never expected to transform American cooking – or television. So what was it about this self-described awkward woman that made people flock to her and her show? Relatability played a significant role, as did Julia's entertaining personality. “She would use silly props like giant rolling pins and knives and blow torches” says Alex Prud'homme, her great-nephew and biographer. “If she was showing you where a particular cut of beef came from, she would show – on her own shoulder – where that came from."

#2 Gambling's an Engineered Bet
 
More than $100 million was spent on gambling ballot initiatives in seven states this fall, but that’s pocket change compared to the $119 billion that U.S. gamblers lost in 2013. The once-humble slot machine is now a big moneymaker for casinos, bringing in 75 to 85 percent of their revenue. This year, MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schull explained the behavioral science – and complicated algorithms – behind the increasingly addictive pastime. 

#1: Redefining Work
 
Employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from working from home, getting Fridays off, or having a 32 hour work-week. Basecamp CEO Jason Fried argues that upending traditional office customs can benefit companies too. “When people have less time to work, they typically spend it better.”
 
You may want to start working on your pitch. 2015 could be the year you convince your boss to let you work from home – at least once a week.

Don’t see your favorite on the list? Tell us what we missed.

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