July 2, 2020

The Boss: Ana Dutra of Korn/Ferry, on Helping People Achieve

It was also an insular country. I developed an incredible desire to see the world and often gazed at a globe. At 7 or 8, I asked my parents to send me to language classes. We spoke Portuguese and learned English and Spanish in school, but I wanted to learn other languages, too.

One of my younger sisters had health problems, so my parents enrolled me in preschool early to devote more attention to her. I graduated from high school at 16. Then I attended a university in Rio de Janeiro during the day for a degree in economics while also attending another school at night in a different part of the city for a law degree (which I was allowed to do in Brazil).

I practiced law as part of an apprenticeship for my international law degree. At 22, I was both an economist and a lawyer . Then I taught economics at my undergraduate university while I studied for a master’s in economics.

In 1985, I.B.M. was recruiting in Brazil and was the hot company to work for. I applied and was hired as a sales representative. It was a great training ground for learning about marketing. In 1991, a colleague came into my office and told me he was leaving for the United States to get an M.B.A. After work that day, I went to the United States consulate to find out more about American schools that offered the degree. I applied to Northwestern University and enrolled in its M.B.A. program in 1992.

After graduating, I worked at several consulting firms for the next 14 years. Before I moved to my current position, I was at Accenture, where I was the global managing partner for the organization strategy consulting business.

In 2008, I left and joined Korn/Ferry in its Chicago office. I run the consulting business, which helps companies with their organization strategy and their leadership and talent development. Companies often call us about C.E.O. succession. Or they have their growth strategy in place, but they’re not sure what competencies and capabilities they need to develop — and how to do so. Or they need help in finding the next generation of leaders in the company.

I started my career helping companies with growth strategy, but I felt that they lacked the capabilities to put the recommendations into practice. I moved to the organizational change area and acquired the skills to help them. From there, I moved to leadership effectiveness.

Some projects I’ve worked on have involved mergers where large companies had to make decisions very quickly. It’s complicated to pick the best from two companies’ cultures and decide which executives should stay and which should go. Every decision in the first three months after a merger is crucial to its success.

I have never forgotten something that a boss told me early in my consulting career. He asked me what we did for clients, and I said we helped them achieve their highest performance level. He said, “No, what do you really do?” And I said, “We advise clients on their growth strategies.” He said that I didn’t get it, and that we really gave clients “pixie dust.” He explained that all executives have ambition, but that they don’t believe they can fly. We were there to sprinkle pixie dust, the way Tinker Bell did in “Peter Pan,” and to hold their hand so they could achieve things they never thought possible. It taught me empathy. Sometimes, I bring glitter to meetings to make his point.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=f9d4402506ab54fee2c35473d6ef790b

Unboxed: Computer-Generated Articles Are Gaining Traction

Those words began a news brief written within 60 seconds of the end of the third quarter of the Wisconsin-U.N.L.V. football game earlier this month. They may not seem like much — but they were written by a computer.

The clever code is the handiwork of Narrative Science, a start-up in Evanston, Ill., that offers proof of the progress of artificial intelligence — the ability of computers to mimic human reasoning.

The company’s software takes data, like that from sports statistics, company financial reports and housing starts and sales, and turns it into articles. For years, programmers have experimented with software that wrote such articles, typically for sports events, but these efforts had a formulaic, fill-in-the-blank style. They read as if a machine wrote them.

But Narrative Science is based on more than a decade of research, led by two of the company’s founders, Kris Hammond and Larry Birnbaum, co-directors of the Intelligent Information Laboratory at Northwestern University, which holds a stake in the company. And the articles produced by Narrative Science are different.

“I thought it was magic,” says Roger Lee, a general partner of Battery Ventures, which led a $6 million investment in the company earlier this year. “It’s as if a human wrote it.”

Experts in artificial intelligence and language are also impressed, if less enthralled. Oren Etzioni, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, says, “The quality of the narrative produced was quite good,” as if written by a human, if not an accomplished wordsmith. Narrative Science, Mr. Etzioni says, points to a larger trend in computing of “the increasing sophistication in automatic language understanding and, now, language generation.”

The innovative work at Narrative Science raises the broader issue of whether such applications of artificial intelligence will mainly assist human workers or replace them. Technology is already undermining the economics of traditional journalism. Online advertising, while on the rise, has not offset the decline in print advertising. But will “robot journalists” replace flesh-and-blood journalists in newsrooms?

The leaders of Narrative Science emphasized that their technology would be primarily a low-cost tool for publications to expand and enrich coverage when editorial budgets are under pressure. The company, founded last year, has 20 customers so far. Several are still experimenting with the technology, and Stuart Frankel, the chief executive of Narrative Science, wouldn’t name them. They include newspaper chains seeking to offer automated summary articles for more extensive coverage of local youth sports and to generate articles about the quarterly financial results of local public companies.

“Mostly, we’re doing things that are not being done otherwise,” Mr. Frankel says.

The Narrative Science customers that are willing to talk do fit that model. The Big Ten Network, a joint venture of the Big Ten Conference and Fox Networks, began using the technology in the spring of 2010 for short recaps of baseball and softball games. They were posted on the network’s Web site within a minute or two of the end of each game; box scores and play-by-play data were used to generate the brief articles. (Previously, the network relied on online summaries provided by university sports offices.)

As the spring sports season progressed, the computer-generated articles improved, helped by suggestions from editors on the network’s staff, says Michael Calderon, vice president for digital and interactive media at the Big Ten Network.

The Narrative Science software can make inferences based on the historical data it collects and the sequence and outcomes of past games. To generate story “angles,” explains Mr. Hammond of Narrative Science, the software learns concepts for articles like “individual effort,” “team effort,” “come from behind,” “back and forth,” “season high,” “player’s streak” and “rankings for team.” Then the software decides what element is most important for that game, and it becomes the lead of the article, he said. The data also determines vocabulary selection. A lopsided score may well be termed a “rout” rather than a “win.”

“Composition is the key concept,” Mr. Hammond says. “This is not just taking data and spilling it over into text.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1e46c5b40c5a281398d48b09327be31e

A Watchdog Professor, Now Defending Himself

Mr. Protess, who taught at the Medill journalism school at Northwestern University, was the founder and driving force behind the Medill Innocence Project, which was instrumental in exonerating at least 12 wrongly convicted defendants and freeing them from prison, including five who were on death row in Illinois, and in prompting then-governor George Ryan to clear the rest of death row in 2003.

But during an investigation into a questionable conviction, the Cook County state’s attorney turned her attention instead on Mr. Protess and his students. Since then, questions have been raised about deceptive tactics used by the Medill students, about allegations that Mr. Protess cooperated with the defense lawyers (which would negate a journalist’s legal privilege to resist subpoenas) and, most damning, whether he altered an e-mail to cover up that cooperation.

Medill, which enjoys an international reputation, in significant part because of his work, removed him from teaching in April, and this week he resigned from Northwestern altogether. It has been a breathtaking reversal for Mr. Protess, who says he believes he is being pilloried for lapses in memory and a desire to defend his students.

“I have spent three decades exposing wrongful conviction only to find myself in the cross hairs of others who are wrongfully accusing me,” he said in an interview.

It is often said that academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low, but in the matter of Mr. Protess and the wrongly convicted men he helped to free, the stakes could not have been higher.

“He is in the hall of fame of investigative journalists in the 20th century,” said Mark Feldstein, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. “Using cheap student labor, he has targeted a very specific issue, and that work has reopened cases, changed laws and saved lives.”

Dennis Culloton, a lawyer who served as press secretary for Governor Ryan, said that Medill’s work led in part to the decision to essentially shut down Illinois’s death row. “I think it would have been an academic discussion if not for David’s work,” he said.

Behind that public success, however, there were gnawing tensions within Medill. Mr. Protess’s tendency to clash with authority did not end with law enforcement. He came into conflict with at least two deans of the Medill school, including the current one, John Lavine, who started in 2006 after a long career in newspapers.

Mr. Lavine is a polarizing figure at Medill: he is widely credited with stabilizing an institution that was suffering financially but he also led a successful effort to rename the school the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, a change he said reflected the school’s broader agenda but one that was widely ridiculed by alumni and journalists.

Mr. Protess said the project initially received support from the dean, but now says that was a charade, “an attempt to seem as if he were fighting for the First Amendment when in fact he was undermining the Innocence Project at every turn.” Mr. Lavine counters that he had no choice but to remove Mr. Protess: “What I saw warranted the decision that I made.”

Mr. Protess (whose son Ben is a reporter for The New York Times) started the Innocence Project at Medill in 1999 after spending much of his career looking into questionable convictions for Chicago Lawyer magazine. Working with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, a sibling project at the Northwestern Law School, Mr. Protess methodically vetted cases, laid out lines of inquiry for his student journalists and guided them through their reporting assignments.

As the list of exonerations grew, the global reputation of Medill — and Mr. Protess — soared and students were drawn to the project to be trained in the real-life crucible of capital cases.

“His class was life-changing,” said Evan S. Benn, a former student of Mr. Protess who is now a reporter at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d55938d7cfe211fc499f9eba81793dc8