Welcome back to a new edition of the Weekender – we hope you’re having a great week. In a stark contrast to the abrupt halt last year when the pandemic started (see When the Madness Stopped), the NCAA tournament is now underway and taking over Indy. There is a renewed sense of optimism, yet still a massive amount of protocols and logistical challenges with a feeling that we’re on the cusp of a somewhat normal life. While on a larger scale in Indy, this same scenario is happening in many places across the economy. Strap in as we cover this topic and more.
THE BIG FIVE
The digital bots are coming for office jobs. With expected booms this year in enterprise software and intelligent automation, the new industry of “robotic process automation” (RPA) is changing the way companies get things done. Robotic assistants – via the software – are now performing digital tasks like scheduling meetings, approving expense requests, and submitting reports, making digital work more efficient. In fact, Deloitte found last year that 73% of global executives reported that their company was investing in intelligent automation, up 15% from the previous year. On one hand, such bots free up time in a human’s schedule to focus on the creative or productive aspects of their jobs. On the other, many worry they’ll soon pose a threat to white collar office jobs. It’s going to be hard for us to compete with sleepless bots when it comes to efficiency, but can bots really compete with the interpersonal skills of humans? The definition of automation is taking on a new meaning beyond actual robots. Read more in Axios
How the U.S. economy could soar once the pandemic fades. One year ago, the economy came to a screeching halt, leaving more than 20 million Americans unemployed. Now, thanks to swift action by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government coupled with the record development of vaccines, the U.S. economy has the potential to come out on top almost as quick as it came crashing down. The combination of stimulus checks, ultralow interest rates, and a more hopeful outlook has experts predicting the economy will be unlike any we have experienced in decades. Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, said “the only regret that the Fed and fiscal policymakers have is that they didn’t do this in 2008.” After many Americans receive their stimulus checks, U.S. consumer net worth is set to hit a record $130.2 trillion. Among the many factors at play, it is possible that the consumer may emerge stronger than before after the recession has ended. Hold on, better times await. Read more in Barron’s
How the NCAA built its bubble around Indy for March Madness. Condensing 14 sites into one where 68 teams will play 67 games in three weeks is a logistical challenge, but one the NCAA has embraced as the March Madness tournament kicks off this weekend around Indy. After last year’s tournament was abruptly cancelled, this year’s tournament is back, albeit in a bubble. The NCAA is pulling out all the stops to make this work – they’ve pulled in Populous, the firm that has helped coordinate the Olympics, Super Bowls, and more than a dozen Final Fours to help create a “controlled environment” to keep spectators safe and players on the court. On top of the usual social distancing, PPE, testing measures, transportation, housing, and scheduling has all been delicately laid out. While major professional sports have done this before, the scale here is important and one to watch. Let us hope they make the shot count. Read more in Washington Post
How retailers are opening more stores than they are closing for the first time in years. With a post-pandemic America finally in sight, retailers are bucking the trend of closing brick and mortar stores by opening up more. In what is one of the more ironic reversals of today, once vaccinated Americans are now feeling the need to branch out from the convenience of online shopping to visit storefronts and shopping centers. This development is providing retailers with a new world of opportunities. What can consumers expect? Brands that remained strong throughout the pandemic will likely start to pop up in more retail locations, and some companies are shifting from online-exclusive to in-person shopping experiences. These new opportunities are also made possible in part by retail rent costs hitting a record low. How long this trend continues remains to be seen, but it’s a consumer driven world, after all. Read more in CNBC
Why the best leaders love being wrong. In this incredible era of digital information sharing, knowledge is key, right? That may be true, but it’s not that simple, according to psychologists. New research is exploring the proposition that your ability to rethink and unlearn is more important than the raw intelligence you gather. The overconfidence we might gain prevents us from doubting what we know, and being curious about what we don’t know. We are told to follow our intuition, but by testing it out and seeking feedback, we can learn better. What is hardest, and hardest for all humans, is finding peace with being wrong. “Think more like a scientist performing an experiment and less like a preacher or politician defending your ideas.” This mindset means we can discover things that help make us less wrong than before – picking up a mindset we could all become a little better at. Read more in Inc.
$23.3 billion. The amount Nike collected in footwear sales last year. Remaining the top sneaker brand in the world, some of Nike’s models released in the 70s are still among the company’s most popular shoes today.
$2.85. The average weekly price of gasoline in the U.S. as of this week, a stark difference from the early days of the pandemic where prices were as low as $1.77/gallon.
36.7%. The amount of U.S. adults living in households with a working landline telephone.
35. The number of Academy Award nominations earned by Netflix productions in the 2021 award season. During a year in which we relied on streaming channels for entertainment, Netflix and similar platforms delivered.
8. The total number of positive Covid-19 tests out of 9,100 conducted ahead of the NCAA March Madness tournament, beginning a confined and controlled environment in Indianapolis.
4 million. The number of Covid-19 vaccine doses that the Biden Administration plans to send to Mexico and Canada.
3 feet. The social distancing guideline, down from 6 feet, that the CDC is updating to get more students in the classroom while keeping them safe.
500. The number of illuminated drones that flew above Dublin, Ireland for a St. Patrick’s Day light show on Wednesday. The recorded spectacle celebrated Irish culture and was shared around the world.
13%. The percentage that credit card debt has fallen from a pre-pandemic high.