Unilever gets serious about Honest Company. With the help of its celeb co-founder, Jessica Alba, Honest Company sells green household goods and beauty products. Now it may be about to sell itself. According to The Wall Street Journal, the firm is in “early stage” talks to be acquired by Unilever for more than $1 billion — a big price tag but not as high as Honest’s last investment round, which valued it at $1.7 billion. Last month Unilever paid a similar price for the male-focused Dollar Shave Club; now it’s going after women. Honest has had its woes — including reports that its ostensibly green laundry detergent contained an ingredient it had promised to exclude. However the deal plays out, it’s another sign that BigCos are hunting around for smaller rivals that can fill holes in their product lines and services — and appeal to younger consumers who just don’t feel the love for impersonal conglomerates.
Do idle hands need work or play? In the glorious future that John Maynard Keynes and other economists envisioned nearly a century ago, advances in productivity would make it possible for hard-working strivers to slack off a bit while staying well-off. But it hasn’t turned out that way, writes Derek Thompson (The Atlantic). Instead, well-educated, professionals are working harder than ever, and surplus leisure time is accumulating among degree-less have-nots instead. These unemployed masses turn out to be more contented than you might expect, thanks to the entertainment surplus tech has built for us — chiefly in the form of videogames. There’s a touch of Huxley’s Brave New World in Thompson’s portrait of the hedonistic underside of our employment landscape: Should we be relieved that at least there’s something enjoyable for people to do — or outraged that there’s no alternative? Over in The New York Times, you can read a more narrow-eyed take by Michael Lind: We’re never going to get back “good old jobs” with high pay, stable futures and great benefits, Lind maintains. And the government already does a lot more to help underpaid workers, via tax credits and hidden subsidies, than it admits or we realize. So maybe we should just be honest about the less-employed future, and make it possible for all of us “to have good lives, even if [we] can’t all have good jobs.” (With at least some time for videogames, too.)
Don’t count Detroit out of the self-driving race. With Uber’s recent Pittsburgh launch leading the way, Silicon Valley-style disrupters have led the robot-car race so far. But Uber, Apple, Google, and Tesla have all hit speed bumps, while big old-school companies like GM and Volvo may be a lot closer to putting functional products into everyday users’ hands (Quartz). Volvo promises to put a self-driving fleet of 100 vehicles on the road next year, and GM has just debuted its 238-mile-range Bolt, an affordable electric vehicle whose self-driving version is already being tested in San Francisco. This competition will superheat the pace of development in this field, but inevitable high-profile mishaps will also help choose who wins the public’s trust — the upstarts or the big familiar automakers.
Apple’s secret sexism. It’s never easy to pierce Apple’s cone of silence, but a trove of leaked emails offers evidence that some women inside the company are unhappy with its practices and atmosphere (Mic). The complaints, from about a dozen current and former employees, include being subjected to rape jokes, being told to smile, getting passed over for leadership roles, and being retaliated against for reporting incidents. It’s hard to know whether the “sexist, toxic work environment” described in the Mic headline is particular to Apple or reflective of corporate America’s broader gender problems. Either way, the company would have more credibility if it had a more open culture — one that let the rest of us see for ourselves that it knows and does the right thing.
Warby Parker turns management bottom up. Here’s a novel management technique from online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker: Let employees vote on what projects software teams tackle (Quartz). Under the two-year-old system, known as Warbles, the firm’s two dozen systems developers stopped taking orders from central command and started picking their own tasks. Any employee can nominate an idea for them, and a smaller committee of managers ranks the ideas. The developers are free to work on anything, but when they pick projects from the list, they earn points toward a quarterly prize. Think of it as crowdsourcing, but all inside the company firewall. The hierarchy-hating programmers are happier, Warby Parker says, and the organization is seeing better ideas bubble up from the rank-and-file.
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