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The Risks of One Belt, One Road for China’s Neighbors

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 08:55 AM PDT

In March 2018, the Center for Global Development, a U.S. think tank based in Washington, published a fascinating report. It claimed that China was posing a severe risk to the finances of a number of countries as a result of its aid activities and excessive lending. The report went on to list seven specific countries whose finances are at serious risk: Mongolia, Laos, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, the Maldives, Djibouti, and Montenegro.

When advanced countries give out loans or other forms of aid, they generally impose a cap. This prevents them from lending excessive amounts. China, however, is not a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Nor is it a member of the Development Assistance Committee, the division of the OECD that regulates aid policy. This can present problems for borrowers. If a country borrows to the point that its fiscal health is at risk, that is a serious problem. How will it repay the loans? It is not unreasonable to expect that it might have to use controlling interests in ports, mines or other infrastructure as collateral to facilitate the repayments.

China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) policy is aimed at investing large sums of money in infrastructure development in the area between the two Silk Roads, in an effort to join them together and create one ordered area. This extends beyond mere economic activity, however, and includes establishing a whole host of rules, from cultural exchange to the movement of people.

Seen from the point of view of countries on the receiving end, Chinese support has a certain appeal over support from other advanced countries. Historically, support from advanced countries has been accompanied by a strong emphasis on areas such as democratization and human rights. It also tends to involve complex procedures, which take time to complete, and crucially doesn’t result in the country receiving much money. The framework of south-south cooperation favored by China is no doubt appealing too. However, China’s OBOR policy should not be considered purely from the Chinese perspective. Its partner countries are ultimately choosing China, which in turn bolsters Beijing’s dominance. This cannot be explained away in terms of a trade-off, as nothing more than a win-win relationship. It also relies on building trust. This is the first challenge posed by China.

In the context of China’s relationship with these countries, you might argue that if the other country has given its consent, what’s the problem? However, to find an example in recent history of a country that has made it its national objective to retrieve domestic interests that had been taken as collateral due to excessive lending, look no further than China itself. Beijing’s current actions are effectively the same as those that the Western powers took against China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Countries on the receiving end of excessive lending from China need to be careful to avoid following the same path to modernization. That is the second challenge.

The third challenge comes down to whether or not China is leveraging economic, cultural and other forms of cooperation under OBOR to guarantee its military security. The infrastructure being built by China, including roads, railways and ports, will not only contribute to economic development in the region, it will also help to improve connectivity throughout Eurasia. At the same time, though, that infrastructure will benefit China’s military, enabling Beijing to secure an effective means for communication and the movement of troops in a contingency.

To be sure, China is not currently directly using this infrastructure for its own defense, and its base in Djibouti and other facilities are being used for anti-piracy measures off the coast of Somalia and peacekeeping operations (PKO) in regions such as South Sudan. In terms of capability, though, China’s base in Djibouti could potentially fulfill a role that goes beyond PKO and the control of piracy, and the port, railway and communication infrastructure could in theory be used not only for economic purposes but also for military purposes. In cases that involve enhancing this capability, doubts will be expressed by those countries if China does not maintain a certain degree of transparency and accountability and explain its intentions. And if Beijing makes loans that are beyond the ability of the recipient country to repay, China’s acquisition of controlling interests in the ports will give its neighbors to understand that it is leveraging this capability and its economic power to acquire those controlling interests. Those on the Chinese side no doubt view things from China’s perspective, but they would be well advised to take the views of its neighbors into account.

These are just three of many challenges on the horizon. For now, China’s neighbors will continue to keep a close eye on what it is doing. To continue down the road of win-win relationships, partnerships, “circles of friends” and shared destiny, China will need to build trust with other countries, underpinned by a situation that truly is win-win for both sides.

Shin Kawashima is a Professor of international relations at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo.

Summers, Dana – Color Editorial Cartoon – 20180423edsuc-a.tif

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 07:40 AM PDT

SUMMERS; CUBA; NEW LEADER; CASTRO; DIAZ-CANEL; RUSSIA

En Cuba, un dinosaurio ungió a un ‘bebesaurio’

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 07:36 AM PDT

El corresponsal extranjero y columnista de The Miami Herald y El Nuevo Herald

La transferencia del dictador militar cubano Raúl Castro de uno de sus muchos cargos -de hecho, el menos importante- a Miguel Díaz-Canel ha sido descrita por varios presidentes y muchos medios internacionales como un “traspaso de poder”, una “transición” y el inicio de “una nueva era” en la isla. Con el debido respeto a todos, ¡eso es ridículo!

Castro, de 86 años, mantendrá sus dos puestos más importantes: el de jefe del Partido Comunista, que según la constitución del régimen cubano es la “fuerza dirigente superior de la sociedad y el estado”, y el de comandante supremo de las fuerzas armadas.

Díaz-Canel, quien cumple 58 años el domingo, fue nombrado presidente, el tercer cargo más importante en Cuba. Se trata en buena medida de un cargo ceremonial: sus posibilidades de cambiar algo son prácticamente nulas hasta tanto Castro se muera o se retire de su cargo como jefe del todopoderoso Partido Comunista, lo que podría ocurrir en tres años.

El propio Díaz-Canel dijo en su discurso de inauguración el jueves que su trabajo será preservar la dictadura cubana de casi seis décadas de antigüedad. Díaz-Canel dijo que “el mandato dado por el pueblo a esta legislatura es la continuidad de la revolución cubana”.

¿Mandato dado por el pueblo? ¡Qué disparate! El pueblo cubano no ha tenido una sola elección libre en casi 60 años. Todos los partidos de oposición y periódicos independientes o medios electrónicos están estrictamente prohibidos. Las personas que no están de acuerdo con el credo oficial del régimen militar son calificadas de agentes del imperialismo, enemigos del pueblo y perseguidos.

Y la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular de Cuba, la legislatura mencionada por Díaz-Canel, es una broma: no hay un solo legislador opositor. Un total de 603 de los 604 legisladores votaron por Díaz-Canel.

Sorprendentemente, incluso algunos gobiernos latinoamericanos que han tomado una posición firme por la restauración de la democracia en Venezuela han felicitado a Cuba por el nombramiento de Díaz-Canel.

El presidente mexicano, Enrique Peña Nieto, escribió en su cuenta de Twitter que “México felicita a Miguel Díaz-Canel por su elección como Presidente”. Peña Nieto agregó en otro mensaje de Twitter que “se escribe una nueva página en la historia de Cuba”.

¿Qué hay para felicitar a Díaz-Canel? ¿El hecho de que haya trabajado toda su vida para uno de los regímenes totalitarios más antiguos del mundo? ¿El hecho de que en su discurso inaugural juró preservar un régimen que el año pasado encarceló o detuvo por razones políticas a un récord de 9,940 personas, según la Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional?

Muchos argumentan que la designación de Díaz-Canel es “histórica” porque será el primer presidente cubano en la historia reciente cuyo apellido no será Castro, y porque representa a una generación más joven que podría estar más abierta al cambio.

Según esta línea de pensamiento, el hecho de que Díaz-Canel no haya dado ninguna señal en su discurso inaugural de que podría convertirse en un reformador no significa nada, porque hacer eso equivaldría a su muerte política en la Cuba de Castro.

El ex líder de la Unión Soviética, Mijail Gorbachov, era un apparatchik obediente del Partido Comunista gobernante hasta el día en que se convirtió en líder del partido, y comenzó a abrir el sistema político y económico de Rusia, señalan muchos.

Eso es cierto. Nadie puede descartar que Díaz-Canel se convierta algún día en el Gorbachov de Cuba. Pero lo más probable es que, al menos durante los próximos tres años, mientras Castro siga siendo el máximo líder en su calidad de jefe del Partido Comunista, Díaz-Canel seguirá siendo un opaco obsecuente de Castro.

A lo sumo, Díaz-Canel será un “bebesaurio” que reemplazará a un dinosaurio en uno de sus cargos menores.

En lugar de felicitarlo por su ridícula “elección”, los presidentes extranjeros deberían enviar a Díaz-Canel una fuerte señal de que en el siglo XXI ya no hay lugar para regímenes totalitarios que no permiten partidos de oposición ni la libertad de expresión. Y nosotros en los medios deberíamos llamar al régimen cubano por lo que es bajo la definición de cualquier diccionario: una dictadura.

Read The Norse Message Found on ‘God of War’ Steelcase

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 07:36 AM PDT

God of War‘s” special edition steelcase has a hidden message on its reverse cover, decipherable only by those able to read the oldest of the runic alphabets. Over on Reddit, Wolfstrong1995 appears to have done just that, discovering developer Sony Santa Monica left a message for players about the journey they’ll be taking in “God of War.”

“This is the story of a bear and a wolf, who wandered the realms nine to fulfill a promise of one before; they walk the twilight path, destined to discower (discover) the truth that is to come,” the translation reads.

It’s probably safe to assume the bear and wolf mentioned here are in fact protagonist Kratos and his son Atreus, who spend the game wandering the nine Norse realms. As for “the truth that is to come,” this might be a reference to Atreus not knowing his father is a Greek god, and by extension himself a god.

The original text and Wolfstrong1995’s translation can be found below.

Instagram Photo

 

According to Wolfstrong1995, the alphabet used on the game’s cover is Elder Futhark, the oldest of the runic alphabets, believed to have been created between the first and second century. Since the alphabet is used throughout the game, too, there’s probably a lot more translations fans can do.


Originally announced at E3 2016 during Sony’s press conference, “God of War” was released exclusively for the PlayStation 4 last week on April 20. Though it is a continuation of the series’ story, picking up after the events of “God of War 3,” the game is a stark contrast to older entries, focusing on familial bonds and personal growth over gratuity and fetishized violence.

“God of War” has received near-unanimous critical acclaim, currently sitting at a 95-percent on the review aggregate site Metacritic. To see what we thought, make sure to read our review.

5 sports lessons that translate to running a business

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 07:35 AM PDT

On a podcast, I recently heard serial entrepreneur Jason Wilk refer to how his experience playing golf helped him run the businesses he founded. I have always been a sports fan and have played a lot of soccer and cricket growing up. More recently, I have taken boxing back up, which I try to do most mornings before work. The podcast reminded me that I often use lessons I have learned from playing sports to help me run my company.

1. The extra yard is the most important one. Anyone who has played soccer will remember a moment when someone is a yard ahead of you and about to receive the ball in front of goal. In that split second, you have the choice to push yourself to make up that gap or give it up and hope they miss. No matter how much you run in the full 90 minutes, the outcome of the game could be based on whether you run that extra yard or not. That said, I didn’t always run that extra yard. But the point has stayed with me in business. The day or even entire companies can be made or lost based on whether you push yourself through that extra step your competitors might give up to chance.

2. Even days have a halftime. No matter how rough the first half of any game has been, you still have even the slimmest chance of turning it around until it is officially over. In soccer, you usually have halftime to get yourself reset for the second half. Work is the same. No matter how bad the morning goes, you can still turn it around in the afternoon. And at least you don’t usually have a coach screaming in your face during your lunch break.

3. Take it one ball at a time. This is something I tried to remind myself of when batting at cricket. Very much a confidence game, when it’s going badly, it seems impossible. When it goes well, the ball seems as easy to hit as a beach ball. As long as you are still there, each ball is a new start. Sometimes on tough days, it’s good to remind yourself at work that the results of the last thing you did have no impact on the thing you’re about to do — it’s a new chance to achieve something.

4. The team collective is vital. Maybe less so with individual sports, such as golf and tennis, but in team sports a good team that doesn’t have to always see eye-to-eye but has a strong bond and works closely together will always produce a product greater than the sum of its parts. The perfect example of this is my home team Leicester City. They gave their viewers the biggest shock in 25 years by winning the Premier League in 2016 — as far as I’m concerned, the greatest story in sports history!

5. Putting the work in pays off. Aside from the mercurially gifted, which I’ve never been, if you train harder and work harder than your opponents, you increase your chances of winning. Though I am trying to manage my energy better as I get older, if I return from a work trip at 2 a.m., the thought that few of my competitors will be in first thing pushes me to my desk at 8:30 a.m. that morning. It’s more of a mental and muscle reaction than a conscious thought, knowing that extra push may just give you the chance you are looking for to succeed.

These are lessons I take with me every day. They provide a general framework to help push me through whatever each day throws at me.

(Tom Chalmers is the founder and managing director of seven publishing and publishing-related companies, including the Legend Times Group. BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.)

9 social media faux pas

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 07:34 AM PDT

Q: What should a company NOT do when it comes to crafting a social media strategy?

A: Post too much. “You want to make sure you’re posting enough relevant content that your followers are noticing, but not posting too often. It can get spammy and lead followers to hit that ‘unlike’ or ‘unfollow’ button. I know I have unfollowed brands before that simply posted too much.” Jayna Cooke, EVENTup

Forget to listen. “Many businesses make the mistake of using social media purely as a megaphone. Companies should use social media to listen to their followers, fans and customers. Get feedback and engage in conversations or questions that result in constructive dialogue. Make it personal. Seeing larger organizations respond to individuals on social media in a meaningful way is a powerful message.” Shawn Schulze, Names.org

Outsource to a foreign country. “You should never outsource your social media strategy to someone outside your own country. I even like to have it be someone within my own state. This keeps the language, tone and overall vision of the company on the same page, especially when communicating with the outside world.” John Rampton, Calendar

Focus on how awesome you are. “Broadcasting your awesomeness is trite. Ever been on a coffee date when all the other person did was share their awesomeness? Did you want to go to dinner and drinks? Of course not. Instead, use social media to amplify the heart and soul of your organization and celebrate your customers’ victories.” Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

Ignore the importance of visuals. “All of the most popular social channels are visual platforms. Ignoring the importance of high-quality graphics and images will derail your strategy before it even begins. Roll your visual strategy into your overall social media planning discussions, as it’s often more important than any text or words you write on social. Visuals must grab attention, then quickly align with your overall strategy.” Wesley Mathews, High Level Marketing

Focus on vanity metrics. “Follower counts look good, but they’re rarely a useful indication of the success of a social media strategy. Like all marketing efforts, the aim of social media is to ultimately make sales. You can have 100,000 followers, but if none of them convert, you’re wasting money. Social media sharing should leverage marketing personas and targeted content to build a valuable audience, not just any audience.” Vik Patel, Future Hosting

Use linear patterns on all accounts. “Never allow your social media strategy to be linear across all platforms. Different users, demographics and strategies must be used for every social platform separately. Do not allow the same content to be shared on all platforms in the same manner. Hire people who understand how to manage each, rather than one person to run all of them. ” Pejman Ghadimi, Secret Entourage

Set a strict schedule. “Your social media schedule should not be completely predetermined. A few anchor items and an overarching theme are great, but your strategy should be based on producing quality content based on how your brand can add value to what’s going on at the time. The best strategy for social media is to listen and adapt.” Andrew Namminga, Andesign

Focus only on the sell. “When creating a social media strategy, many companies flood their audiences with promotional content that is designed to sell. This can be overwhelming for some users who casually use social media. Always remember to mix in creative and informative content with your hard-sell content for the best results. Businesses that post informative content generally reach a much larger audience.” Patrick Barnhill, Specialist ID, Inc.

(BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.)

5 keys to increasing your content’s lifetime value

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 07:33 AM PDT

As someone who has been in the marketing industry for 20 years and a blogger since 2007, I know the importance of creating content that produces the highest impact on your bottom line. With over a billion sites on the internet today, it’s not about creating as much content as you can. Instead, it’s about creating the best content possible, while promoting and making sure it gets in front of the right audiences.

To help with this process, I’m going to share five tools that keep the life of your content going for several weeks, months and maybe even years to come. Start using them for your content creation and marketing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you started to see increased ROI across the board.

1. “Sticky” posts and sidebars

With nearly every brand and business having a blog of their own, it’s important to make sure your best content is seen by all site visitors. However, with your latest posts always getting first placement and pushing down older ones, this never seems to happen. A great way to make sure your latest and greatest content is getting seen is to use the “Sticky” option within WordPress to keep it right at the top of your page. At the same time, also don’t forget to add a “Top Articles” section in your sidebar. This way it will be easy for your audience (new and old) to locate your best content and resources.

2. Social scheduling

At any given moment there are hundreds of millions of users on social media. With so many people in one location, it would be a huge mistake to not be using social media to your advantage. One way to improve your social media efforts is to set up a schedule of content that is set to go live every 30 to 60 minutes, even when you aren’t online. Using solutions like MeetEdgar and HootSuite, you can add categories, time schedules, and track the progress of your social updates. This is a great way to keep the audiences familiar with both your latest content and great articles you’ve previously published.

3. Infographics

Text is great, but if you really want to bring your content to life, few methods work better than infographics. At the same time, they are also quite affordable and easy to create on your own through the use of tools like Piktochart. When it comes time to promote your infographics, you have many different avenues to choose from, such as posting them on your own site, sharing on social media, and even submitting them to top infographic directories.

4. Podcasting

Speaking of bringing your content to life, podcasting is ushering in a whole new wave of technology and engagement for audiences around the world. With more people using mobile devices and surfing the internet away from their desktop, podcasts have emerged as a rapidly growing industry. An excellent way to extend the life of your content is to create a podcast based around your blog and make the content available in audio form. This would be great for anyone who wants to read your latest content but doesn’t actually have time to sit down at the computer.

5. SEO and long-tail keywords

The only thing better than having a great article go live on your site is having it go live and then rank at the top of Google for relevant keywords. While it’s rare to click the “submit” button and see an article quickly rank on Google, with some work it’s certainly achievable. When trying to accomplish this, always keep long-tail keywords in mind, which are longer, more specific search terms. Not only do these terms help your ranking, but they are also more targeted — which means people are more likely to take action if they are typing in a specific phrase within Google.

What is the lifetime value of your content?

If you are writing content simply to have something to publish, then you are doing it wrong. At the same time, publishing content isn’t a one-time thing. You need to actively promote it after it goes live on the site. If the lifetime value of a new article on your site is only a couple of days, you need to rethink your strategy and start implementing a few of the recommended tips above to extend its overall worth.

(Zac Johnson has 20 years of experience in the online marketing and business space, and he is the founder of Blogging.org. BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.)

8 best practices for hosting a glitch-free webinar

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 07:32 AM PDT

Q: What is one best practice for hosting a glitch-free web conference or webinar virtually?

A: Test before hosting. “Even if you have heard great things about a web conference platform, you don’t want to just assume it will work. Instead, run a test first to make sure everything works, such as whether your presentation will load and how the meeting works with the web conference tools that are included with that platform.” Angela Ruth, Calendar

Find the right platform. “Scout out a platform that’s easy for participants to register and join. Your target audience might not register if they have to create an account or jump through other hoops just to join. Also, make sure your platform works well on a variety of devices because not everyone will be joining from a computer. Find one that includes a mobile app or can be connected to via phone.” Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now

Have a moderator. “You need to test and have a moderator who is actively assisting. The speakers should be concentrating only on their presentations and not having to worry about the technology. This moderator can also handle any emails, IM, social media pings and calls with issues. Think of contingencies in case of computer crashes, internet outages, clients being unable to connect and so forth.” Peter Boyd, PaperStreet Web Design

Ask participants to help. “No matter the webinar software platform or the number of times you practice and run through the presentation, technical difficulties are bound to happen while live. To reduce the technical errors, begin your webinar/conference by checking the audio and slides/screen. Simply ask people to locate the chat box and type ‘yes’ if the sound/screen is working. Bonus: This kick-starts engagement.” Wesley Mathews, High Level Marketing

Use a reliable system. “One of the best ways to deter customers and annoy them is to make them download software to see your presentation or webinar. So one best practice for hosting would be to have an easy to use, reliable system (at EVENTup we use join.me) that does not require the viewer to do anything further than tune in, which makes the whole operation run much smoother.” Jayna Cooke, EVENTup

Invest in a quality microphone. “Invest in a quality microphone. There’s a reason your favorite radio host, podcasters and DJs use them. Copy what the pros do and sound like a pro. You don’t need to go crazy — a $100 to $200 one will have you sounding awesome instantly.” James McDonough, SEE Forge, creators of FAT FINGER

Rent a private office at a co-working space. “When I’m traveling I don’t like to take risks hosting webinars or virtual events, so I will often research a co-working space that will rent me a private, soundproof office with a dedicated Internet line. Many cities have these options now, and I have found these spaces to be more reliable options than hotel Wi-Fi.” Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World

Expect problems. “In five years I don’t think I’ve run or attended a single error-free live event — the technology is just too unpredictable! So we stand ready with a team to engage attendees, answer questions, and send an email if plans change. It can’t be perfect, so consider what could go wrong and know how you’re going to communicate with your audience.” Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems

(BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.)

How to successfully network while on the road

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 07:31 AM PDT

Any entrepreneur can share countless travel stories of lonely hotel dining and tasteless room service dinners. Combine that with red-eye flights, missed connections and rental car lines, and business trips become more work than fun. That’s how I, too, felt about work trips until I realized how to incorporate business networking dinners as part of my travels.

I am a strong believer in the power of business dinners and enjoy organizing them in my own city. However, rather than limit them to my hometown, I realized I could extend them to every city I visited. With a little advance planning, I now organize dinners wherever my travels take me. These dinners are not only a wonderful way to reconnect with contacts, but also a fun opportunity for the local guests to meet each other. Here are my steps to creating the perfect networking dinner:

1. Create the ultimate guest list.

My contacts move all the time. It’s impossible to know who is living where. To determine who lives in the destination city, I run a LinkedIn search by clicking “Advanced” next to the search bar, and filtering for “1st Connections” and “Location.” This identifies all my contacts in that city. From there, I can easily grab their email addresses or send them an invite message directly through LinkedIn.

2. Expand your network.

When visiting a smaller town where my network does not run as deep, I ask my friends to each invite a like-minded friend or someone else in the industry. This helps expand the dinner circle. I’ll also reach out to fellow members in entrepreneurial networks, such as Dreamers and Doers. Finally, if there is someone relevant in the industry who I’ve been meaning to meet, I will email that person directly and extend a dinner invitation.

3. Send the invite.

Aim to send the invitation three weeks before the dinner date. Doing this any earlier means people might be unsure of their schedule; if left too late, they may have already made commitments. Not all invitees will be able to attend. If you are aiming for a four-person group, invite six people. If you are going for six people, invite nine or 10. If your goal is to maintain one group conversation, then plan for six guests: Six is the maximum number before one group will split into multiple side conversations.

4. Select the perfect venue.

Finding the right venue is critical to a successful dinner. First, the location should be central and convenient. Second, it should have a fun atmosphere, but be quiet enough that people can hear across the table. The menu should vary and feature food options for those with dietary restrictions. Try to pick a restaurant with $15-to-$25 entrees, so price points will not deter anyone from attending.

Finally, make a reservation. In the U.S., it’s easiest to use a combination of OpenTable and Yelp to find a restaurant that fits the bill. In other countries, Google Places, Facebook Places, a hotel concierge or a local friend might be better resources. Search for OpenTable reservations in the desired neighborhoods and price range. Look at the photos, descriptions and menus of the top results, and then double check the user reviews on Yelp. OpenTable reviews tend to skew positive, so it’s essential to do a second check on another source before booking.

5. Send a calendar invite.

After the date, time, and venue are confirmed, send a calendar invite. Many people live off their calendars. If the event is not on their schedule, it does not exist. Save everyone time by sending a properly formatted calendar invite with the restaurant address, your phone numbers, and any other pertinent information.

6. Confirm two days before.

Two days before the dinner, send a confirmation email reminding the guests of the upcoming dinner. Reiterate the address and your contact information, and remind them to inform you if they are no longer able to attend. At this point, 10 percent to 20 percent of people will typically tell you that their plans have changed. Knowing this allows you to update your restaurant reservations accordingly.

7. Introduce everyone and enjoy.

As the host of the dinner, start off the dinner with introductions. Feel free to mix the personal with the professional and dig below the surface of common banalities. You can do this by inviting each guest to share one personal and one professional experience happening in their lives. This will help kick off the discussion and bring everyone closer together.

Nothing can compare to the deep and powerful connections made breaking bread together, and these connections can even happen even outside of your hometown. Now, whenever you have a business trip, consider hosting a networking dinner to bring together like-minded people.

(Marlene Jia is COO of TOPBOTS, a research and strategy firm focused on applied AI and enterprise automation for Fortune 500 companies. BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.)

‘The Middle’ Is a Hit for Maren Morris, After Demi, Camila, Bebe Don’t Make the Cut

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 07:30 AM PDT

The hit single “The Middle,” by Zedd and featuring Maren Morris, is currently on its third week at No. 1 on pop radio – a giant feat for any song but especially so for one that was written well over a year prior and had been recorded by no fewer than 12 top female singers. Among those to take a crack at the vocal: Demi Lovato, Camila Cabello, Anne-Marie, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, Bishop Briggs, Bebe Rexha, Lauren Jauregui from Fifth Harmony, Daya and Elle King.

“It was a super long process,” says Stefan Johnson, one-fifth of production team Monsters & Strangerz, who, along with his brother Jordan Johnson and Marcus “Marc Lo” Lomax, shaped the track which was written by Australian newcomer Sarah Aarons. “We never lost the feeling for that song,” adds Jordan Johnson. “Even a year later, I, as a creator hadn’t gotten tired of it. It was special.”

Sure enough, almost as soon as the final version made its debut – on Grammy night during a Target commercial – spins, streams and syncs for “The Middle” shot up and have barely slowed since. The song’s ridiculously hooky chorus, with a spurned lover pleading to her significant other, “Why don’t you just meet me in the middle,” is about as close to a sure thing as pop bangers get.

“It’s infectious,” says Amanda Berman Hill, SVP and Head of West Coast Writer Relations for Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Aarons’ publisher (Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG, and Kobalt also have a share of the song through contributions by DJ-producers Zedd and the duo Grey, Jordan Johnson and Lomax, and Stefan Johnson, respectively). “From the moment it was released you’d see and hear people walking around singing the song.”

So why the many roadblocks just getting out the door?

For starters, the competition for hit songs is fierce these days. Where during the vinyl, tape and CD eras, songwriters angled to get just one “album cut” placed – and pocket royalties for their contributions commensurate with the full album’s sales (back when physical product was moving hundreds of thousands of units) — the streaming age means songs have to stand on their own.

In simple math, a million streams on Spotify averages out to around $6,800 in revenue, the lion’s share of which ($6,000) goes to the master rights holder (the label). The remaining (around $800) is allotted to the publishers, which then divide the earnings between their writers based on percentages of ownership (rates vary between paid and free streams). “The Middle,” as of this writing, had 236 million streams on the streaming service, which could net out $184,000 to the publishers — and that’s just for Spotify. Factor in other DSPs like Apple Music, and it’s already at $250,000. By comparison, Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You,” the biggest song of 2017, has 1.7 billion streams on Spotify. A songwriter’s share of that track easily tops a seven-figure payout.

With some 20,000 new songs added to streaming services like Spotify every day, that means creators, who receive a cut from any public broadcast, be it radio, satellite or streams, are increasingly fighting to lock down a “single” – the song that will get the biggest push from the record company and stand the best chance of gaining smash status. And that single limbo, as it were — waiting for a major artist to say “yes” or using one artist’s interest in the song to entice another act to commit to making it a single — is where “The Middle” found itself back in early 2017.

“You’re confident at the start, but the longer the song [sits around], the more you start feeling like it’s slipping,” says Stefan Johnson, who, along with his production partners, ran down the hit’s long and winding road for Variety.

January 2017: Songwriter Sarah Aaron and Monsters & Strangerz, who met during a writing camp the previous year, riff on a synth progression and, in 45 minutes, come up with the chorus for “The Middle” off of a Wurlitzer riff that Lomax was tinkering with.

February to March: The guys finish production on a demo version of “The Middle” with Lomax adding a Vocoder to the hook. The sound would become a key component in future versions of the song.

April: A finished demo version is sent to Demi Lovato via her manager Phil McIntyre. “Demi really liked it but Sarah was not happy with the verse,” says Stefan Johnson. Worried that additional changes would “mess it up,” Johnson recalls: “Sarah was, like, ‘No, I need to re-write [some verses],’ and she did and they ended up being the best ones.”

May: The producers fly to Miami to cut a vocal by Lovato. “She sounded awesome and we were really hyped on it,” says Stefan Johnson. “But then we didn’t hear anything after a couple weeks and other people were hitting us up about the song, so we asked: ‘Is this gonna be a single for Demi?'” Lovato was conflicted between “The Middle” and “Sorry Not Sorry,” eventually opting for the latter (written by Oak Felder), he explains. “We got the call. Demi thought it was too pop, she’s trying to go more soulful and urban. We were super bummed.”

June: “We really wanted the Demi single, but we also weren’t discouraged because so many other people wanted the song,” recalls Jordan Johnson. Publisher Andrew Gould of BMG intervenes, sending the song to Dave Rene, who manages hit DJ-producer Zedd and newcomer act Grey. Word filtered down that Grey was going to play “The Middle” for Zedd. “That got everyone excited,” says Lomax.

July: “When we got the Zedd version, it was like a home run,” says Johnson. “It sounded like it was supposed to. It was our demo production taken to the finish line. We went in for a day of edits with Sarah, Grey and Zedd and put together a wish list of artists: Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels…”

August to September: Cabello is into the song and goes to cut her vocal with Zedd. “He sends us a version that’s incredible,” says Stefan Johnson. “I sent Camila a text about it, and she’s usually very responsive, and there was no reply. So I’m, like, what’s going on?” By this point Cabello’s “Havana” is climbing the charts and Johnson watches it take off “from 25 to 20 to 15…” And eventually to No. 1.

October: It’s “Defcon 4” at Monsters & Strangerz. With an Oct. 18 release date for the Cabello version two weeks away, the call arrives. “Camila’s out. She doesn’t want any song to overshadow ‘Havana,'” Stefan Johnson recounts. That’s when the song goes out to all comers and a slew of versions come back, including vocals by Bebe Rexha, Tove Lo, Bishop Briggs, and Carly Rae Jepsen, among others. Listening to the vocals, some takes are nearly indiscernible from the final versions. Yes, each is missing a certain something. Says Jordan Johnson: “Some of them are good but none feel like Sarah [Aarons]. Or Demi or Camila.”

November: Anne-Marie is a vocal powerhouse who’s popular in her native England, but still a relative unknown in the U.S. Monsters & Strangerz had worked with her before, and Zedd was down to giver her a shot. Says Stefan Johnson: “She cut a version by herself and Zedd really liked it. So he flew her out [to L.A.] and they cut a version together. Boom. Anne-Marie, Zedd and Grey. The release date is Jan. 6 and they even sent us the artwork.” A year’s worth of work and “the most phone calls I’ve ever had about any song,” he laughs. “You hope it’s worth it after all that.”

December: According to Stefan Johnson, a call to Monsters & Strangerz from their manager on the 30th goes something like this: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Target is going to premiere the song on Jan. 28 during the Grammys as part of a huge campaign. The bad news? We don’t have a singer. Anne-Marie’s out.” With DJ and publisher politics at play, DJ-producer Marshmello is releasing a song featuring Anne-Marie called “Friends” (No. 14 on pop radio as of April 19), and there’s a reticence by Zedd to have a track out with the same singer at the same time. Plus, Warner/Chappell has the master for “Friends” and Anne-Marie is signed to Warner Music, so that “takes priority,” says Johnson. “I was, like, this is just the worst. We’re done. We have no more ideas. There’s nothing left.”

January 2018: Country singer Maren Morris is “the angel that saved us all,” says Jordan Johnson. Unbeknownst to the production trio, Morris had cut a version on her own that no one had heard. Zedd listened, liked it, and flew down to Nashville at the top of the year to record her vocal. “She sounded incredible,” says Lomax. “It was the best one yet, no question.” Adds Stefan Johnson: “The lyrics took on a whole new meaning when Maren sang. All of a sudden, you believe it. The taps are running. Dishes are broken. It sounded a little Nashville and felt right. We were pumped. They sent new art with a new name again. And there was a new release date: Jan 26. Still, we were, like, we won’t believe it until we see it on the Grammys.”

Morris’ vocals (extra raspy due to a strained vocal cord that was being treated) coupled with a new bridge and added embellishments (like the tick-tock rhythm during the breakdown) turned out to be just what “The Middle” needed. And perhaps as importantly, the single, released by Interscope and Columbia and promoted by Interscope Geffen A&M president of promotion Brenda Romano, positioned Morris for crossover success. Says Sony/ATV’s Berman-Hill: “Maren is already an enormously accomplished artist [and] I hope it opens the door to the pop and international audience who may not be as familiar with country music or what a great talent she is.”

Monsters & Strangerz have yet to meet Morris, who was on her honeymoon when “The Middle” first reached No. 1, but Johnson senses from her vocal takes that she had a goal in mind. “This song was her ‘I can do this and watch me do it’ moment,” he says. “Now she has no ceiling.”