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The direct link between company culture and customer loyalty

Diane Davis



In recent years, we’ve seen growing emphasis on culture as a driver of business success—with plenty of data to prove it. One study found that engaged employees can drive a 21% increase in profitability, and a 10% bump in customer ratings. But still, when I get into a room with investors today, talking culture feels like speaking another language.

Too often, business success is over rationalized. We forget that rapid growth—exciting growth—doesn’t happen because of a smart business plan. It happens when a company has a entrepreneurial culture. When employees feel empowered to throw the plan out the window and take a risk. 

This kind of culture doesn’t grow magically out of a company’s ethos or values. A winning culture is defined by action. And to grasp its true impact, investors and business leaders must think about culture more holistically. We have to understand how culture can fundamentally shift the way a company makes decisions,in a way that will always result in better outcomes for the business. 

What a Winning Culture Looks Like in Action

To illustrate this, I often tell a story about how we built the logistics department at my company. At first, we considered hiring a leading logistics expert from a competitor. The ask? Bring us a plan that will give us an edge over the competition. But after deep thinking, we realized that an expert couldn’t deliver what we were looking for. An old hand would follow the best practice. To win, we needed the unexpected. 

So we changed track. We got a bright trainee right out of university—a smart kid who knew nothing about logistics, but was capable of learning fast. He spent time with all the big logistics companies in the country, took the best from each, and invented his own way. Today, that same logistics operation helps us deliver to our customers faster than competitors. 

The lesson here is simple: creating an environment where people feel empowered to take risks is fundamental to fostering innovation. By listening to people who are just starting out, we move away from the expected answer. Option A is to continue as you are, with little change and predictable growth. Option B is to take a chance on a major disruption, where the potential is limitless. 

How to Know if Your Culture is Built For Innovation

So, in order to succeed, a company must empower innovation at all levels. But once you’re on the inside, it can be hard to see objectively if this is the culture you’re building. A good way to diagnose this is to look at hiring. How do new employees begin their journey at your company? 

Most of the time, when a new employee walks through the door, they’re given a title and a job description. What that says is: here’s your lane. Rather, we should be telling new hires: this is what we believe you can achieve. 

We’ve seen a lot of success with giving employees what we call “missions.” A mission can be anything from “launch a new phone app” to “improve customer service.” It’s a small shift in how we conceptualize a job, but it has a huge impact. Suddenly, your employees don’t just have a role, they have a purpose and a reason to celebrate. Not only that, the pace of change and innovation is faster, because folks are motivated to complete their mission and move on to the next challenge. 

If Customers Are Leaving, Culture Could Be to Blame 

I learned early in my career that the quickest path to company failure is a lack of customers—whether they’re leaving, or the company can’t find them in the first place. That much is a given. But it might surprise you to learn that customer retention also has a lot to do with company culture and attitude

Culture is about what a company values—and if it isn’t the customer, they’ll go elsewhere. 

To build a company that’s truly customer-centric, every single person in your business needs to have exposure to the client. Whatever their job title, make sure employees at every level are spending time with customers. They need to hear first hand the problems your company is working to solve. 

Building a culture of listening to and caring for customers will help you to gain a competitive edge. If you make sure a real human immediately picks up the phone when people call in with a problem, they’ll trust you above anyone else. If you’re constantly collecting data on the kind of issues your customers are facing, you’ll be the company that’s able to solve those challenges faster than any competitor. 

In a Competitive Job Market, Culture Gives Companies an Edge

Whether investors are listening or not, if companies don’t focus on culture now, it will catch up with them in the long-term. All over the world, we’re witnessing what people are calling the  Great Resignation. Even with high unemployment, people are increasingly picky about where they’ll work—and where they won’t. 

The younger generation especially wants to change the world and to do a job with a real impact. Because of this, culture has never been more important to attracting the right talent, and the pressure will only increase as this new generation dominates the workforce. 

Culture shift starts with being humble and being honest. Look at your company as if it were a person. Why do I want to work for them? How will they help me achieve my goals? 

Don’t be the big boss who assumes youhave all the answers. Be ready to be challenged by the youth, to be asked to do better. Show them how to care about every customer individually. Invest in an entrepreneurial culture, and when it’s time to deliver, you will still have a team behind you. 

Augusto Lins is president of StoneCo, a Brazilian fintech company that works with entrepreneurs to increase sales and productivity.

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Technology & Innovation

Google DeepMind’s new generative model makes Super Mario-like games from scratch

Diane Davis



example of game generated from a crayon sketch

“It’s cool work,” says Matthew Gudzial, an AI researcher at the University of Alberta, who developed a similar game generator a few years ago. 

Genie was trained on 30,000 hours of video of hundreds of 2D platform games taken from the internet. Others have taken that approach before, says Gudzial. His own game generator learned from videos to create abstract platformers. Nivida used video data to train a model called GameGAN, which could produce clones of games like Pac-Man.

But all of these examples trained the model with input actions, button presses on a games controller, as well as video footage: a video frame showing Mario jumping was paired with the “jump” action, and so on. Tagging video footage with input actions takes a lot of work, however. This has limited the amount of training data available. 

In contrast, Genie was trained on video footage alone. It then learned which of eight possible actions would cause the game character in a video to change its position. This turned countless hours of existing online video into potential training data. 

Genie can generate simple games from hand-drawn sketches


Genie generates each new frame of the game on the fly depending on the action the player takes. Press jump and Genie updates the current image to show the game character jumping; press left and the image changes to show the character moved to the left. The game ticks along action by action, each new frame generated from scratch as the player plays. 

Future versions of Genie could run faster. “There is no fundamental limitation that prevents us from reaching 30 frames per second,” says Tim Rocktäschel, a research scientist at Google DeepMind who leads the team behind the work. “Genie uses many of the same technologies as contemporary large language models, where there has been significant progress in improving inference speed.” 

Genie learned some common visual quirks found in platformers. Many games of this type use parallax, where the foreground moves sideways faster than the background. Genie often adds this effect to the games it generates.  

While Genie is an in-house research project and won’t be released, Gudzial notes that the Google DeepMind team says it could one day be turned into a game-making tool—something he’s working on too. “I’m definitely interested to see what they build,” he says.

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Technology & Innovation

Tackling long-haul diseases | MIT Technology Review

Diane Davis




Tal, who has been obsessed with infectious disease since losing an uncle to HIV/AIDS and a cousin to meningococcal meningitis, wondered what this striking diversity could reveal about our immune response to infection. According to one hypothesis, the wide array of these receptors is the result of an evolutionary arms race between disease-causing microbes and the immune system. Think of the receptor as a lock, and the “Nothing to see here” message as a key. Pathogens might evolve to produce their own chemical mimics of this key, effectively hiding from the immune system in plain sight. In response, the human population has developed a wide range of locks to frustrate any given impostor key. 

Wanting to test this hypothesis, Tal found herself walking the halls of Stanford, asking colleagues, “Who’s got a cool bug?” Someone gave her Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Previous research from Tal’s collaborator Jenifer Coburn, a microbiologist now at the Medical College of Wisconsin, had established that Lyme bacteria sport a special protein crucial for establishing a lasting infection. Knock this protein out, and the immune system swiftly overwhelms the bugs. The big question, however, was what made this protein so essential. So Tal used what’s known as a high-affinity probe as bait—and caught the Borrelia’s mimic of our “Don’t eat me” signal binding to it. In other words, she confirmed that the bacteria’s sneakyprotein was, as predicted, a close match for a healthy cell’s signal.  

Sex differences in Lyme infection

Until then, Tal says, she had never given Lyme disease much thought. But the more she learned, the more disturbed she grew. Even after timely antibiotic treatment, roughly 10% of all Lyme patients go on to develop chronic symptoms that can include crushing pain, debilitating fatigue, and cognitive changes that make basic tasks a struggle.  

This confocal micrograph depicts Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which cause Lyme disease when transmitted to humans by ticks. These Borrelia were genetically engineered to produce a green fluorescent protein.


Perhaps even more alarming than the disease has been the medical community’s response to it. “I realized that there’s this public health debacle around Lyme, and it’s, for lack of a better word, obscene,” Tal says. Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, clinicians have dismissed their symptoms as signs of mental illness. The medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just don’t understand what’s going on.” 

Today, there is no objective way to diagnose chronic Lyme, and no medically accepted therapy. For some patients, lengthy treatments with high doses of antibiotics can ease symptoms, but these come with their own serious risks. (They can, for example, damage the microbiome, leading to significant negative effects on health.) And because the antibiotic used currently only prevents bacteria from replicating, Tal notes, it’s up to the immune system to actually kill off the invaders. If immune cells can’t tell friend from foe, the utility of antibiotics may be limited. 

Chronic Lyme patients skew female, and for decades, the medical establishment has “done nothing but call them crazy,” Tal says, “instead of admitting that they just don’t understand what’s going on.”

For Tal, these revelations were electrifying. She dove into the immunology of Lyme disease, focusing in particular on sex differences. In one mouse experiment, she discovered that Lyme bacteria “completely disfigured” the uterus. Yet after delving through decades of Lyme research, she could find only one other study that even documented uterine infection. 

This shortfall mirrors larger problems in medical research. “We’ve let men dictate the direction of research funding for so long,” Tal says. Traditionally, studies focused on male subjects, and a 1977 FDA policy barred women from participating in most clinical trials in the US in the wake of birth defects caused by thalidomide. It wasn’t until 1993 that federal law required studies to include women and minorities. This, coupled with other sex- and gender-based medical biases, means that many female-dominated diseases remain under-researched. “So much of this research is being done on males, male mice—male, male, male,” Tal says. “And I’m like, no.” 

Tal suspects that the sex disparities seen in chronic Lyme and other pathogen-­triggered chronic diseases might come down to the fact that men mount a more robust response to acute infection. This no-holds-barred approach is risky—“Your immune system has the power to kill you,” she notes—but it may mean that men, on average, can kill off more viruses or bacteria in the critical first week of infection. After that window closes, the immune system largely settles back down, Tal says. Pathogens that escaped the initial blitz could take up long-term residence in the body, potentially causing persistent symptoms. And women have a higher chance of chronic illness.

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Technology & Innovation

We are beavers all | MIT Technology Review

Diane Davis



old black and white photo of William Miller in a canoe

As efficient creators and stewards of wetlands, beavers provide a hospitable ecosystem for dozens of other creatures, from insects, frogs, and turtles to owls, otters, great blue herons, and even moose and deer. What’s more, by harvesting undergrowth for their dams and creating ponds and bogs that raise the moisture content of the soil, beavers lessen the likelihood that forest fires will spread. As forest fires devastated Oregon in 2021, beaver wetlands remained green and lush, acting as natural firebreaks. On aerial images of the charred landscape, the beaver’s habitat stands out, a wide and verdant ribbon running through the blackened trees.

While not all property owners who live near beaver habitats appreciate the animals’ tree removal services, the pro-­beaver movement seems to be getting more organized. In November 2023, some 300 beaver restoration advocates from North America and Europe gathered in the Beaver State (Oregon) for the annual State of the Beaver conference. “Seventy-five percent of the artificial wetland restoration projects done in America over the past 30 years have failed,” conference cofounder Stanley Petrowski told the Daily Yonder. “But when beavers do it, they do it perfectly.” 

BeaverCon, held near Baltimore in June of 2022, and the Midwest Beaver Summit, held in Chicago and online in September 2023, attracted similar crowds of humans interested in promoting beaver welfare.

It is, in fact, possible to find ways to allow beavers to continue creating their watery habitats in ways that minimize damage to human infrastructure. For example, devices such as the Beaver Deceiver can be installed to prevent beavers from damming culverts, which often leads to flooding of roads. Skip Lisle, founder of Beaver Deceivers International of Grafton, Vermont, first developed the device in the 1990s to beaver-proof the Penobscot Nation’s 130 miles of roads in Maine. “In all likelihood, they are the first large landowner to completely beaver-proof their property nonlethally,” he says.

Living organic chemical factory

At the base of their tail, all beavers have two castor sacs that store castoreum, a complex, granular substance with a strong and long-lasting musky smell. It is made up of at least 24 different compounds, primarily derived from the barks of the various trees in the beaver’s diet. Beavers deposit castoreum atop foot-high mounds of mud, sticks, and grass to mark the edges of their territory. 

Humans have long valued castoreum. About 400 BCE, Hippocrates, a chronicler of natural cures, wrote of its wonderful medical properties. Around 77 CE, the Roman naturalist Pliny listed castoreum as a cure for headaches, constipation, and epilepsy. In the Middle Ages the list of maladies castoreum was said to cure expanded to include dysentery, worms, fleas, pleurisy, gout, rheumatism, insomnia, hysteria, memory loss, and liver problems. 

Author William Miller ’51, SM ’52, reports that his foot once crashed through a beaver dam while he was dragging his canoe over it to get to the next lake in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. About 100 feet away, a watching beaver immediately began to slap its tail on the pond surface. Having just unleashed a string of curses directed at the beavers, Bill assumed that the beaver was cursing at him. But he now suspects it was sending a warning signal to the other beavers—or possibly urging them to come quickly to repair the damage caused by the trespassing human oaf.


As it turns out, quite a few of the tree barks that beavers prefer contain compounds with known medicinal benefits. Phenols, for example, are often anti-­inflammatory and antiseptic and can have antiviral properties. They include salicylic acid (a precursor to aspirin), which can be found in the bark of willow, poplar, and alder trees—all beaver favorites. The beaver’s system functions as a natural pharmacy, extracting these compounds (among others) and secreting them in the form of castoreum. 

Humans have also used castoreum for several nonmedical applications, such as in high-end “leather note” perfumes including Shalimar, Givenchy III, and Chanel’s Antaeus. It is an ingredient in some bourbons and vodkas and has been used in Sweden to flavor “Bäverhojt” (literally, beaver shout) schnapps.

Today, most castoreum is harvested in a sterile environment by anesthetizing beavers and expressing the castor sacs near their tails. As a food additive, castoreum extract is “generally recognized as safe,” according to the FDA. But at close to $100 per pound, it’s used sparingly. The total annual US consumption of dried castoreum is around 300 pounds.

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