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Jeopardy!, Cash Mobs, and Happy Employees — This Week in Small Business

For some reason, I still take the Jeopardy! contestant test every year. Sure, my geography knowledge is suspect and my High Art know-how is non-existent, but I keep hoping that one day, all my best guesses will be right and I’ll get to finish in last on an episode while Trebeck just shakes his head at me, vicariously mortified.

Which is why we’re going to start this week with an update on an unlikely Jeopardy! champion’s newest job. After that? A few more of our favorite business stories from the past week.

IBM’s Watson Gets Wall Street Job

Jeopardy! aficionados remember when IBM sent it’s Watson super-duper computer to compete on the show. It won pretty handily, and its ability to parse complicated English syntax and come up with the answers to puns and riddles was impressive, but it also had the ability to ring the buzzer faster than any human possibly could. Also, I remember it answering “Toronto” when the question asked was about an American city. Still, Watson’s an unbelievable machine, capable of parsing unthinkable amounts of data in the blink of an eye. IBM’s sent it to health care clients already. Next stop: Wall Street. Somewhere, Gordon Gecko is getting scared.

Low-Cost Ways to Show Employees They’re Highly Valued

“It’s the perks that will help you retain [employees],” writes Roberta Matuson in Fast Company. We think Roberta Matuson is right. She lays out thirty truly low-cost (in some cases free) ideas you can implement in an company of virtually any size. And take it from someone who’s lucky enough to experience some of these: they make a big difference. Not only will your employees really appreciate the gesture, but they’ll feel more productive and, most of all, more connected with you and their fellow workers. People just work better when they like where they’re at. So take a read and get a few new ideas. It’s a good reminder that $20,000 bonuses aren’t the only way to keep you employees happy. Though, yeah, that never hurts.

A Conversation with Mark Cuban

Though he occasionally comes of as a brash dweeb of a business man and petulant fan of an NBA owner, Mark Cuban is undoubtedly one of the smartest (and most prescient) thinkers in the sports world today. He leveraged the first dot com boom into a Scrooge McDuck-like fortune, purchased and transformed the Dallas Mavericks, and has remained an outspoken prognosticator of tech trends. In this hour-long sit-down with ESPN, Cuban talks about the use of statistics, how live events make social media move, beating the (mostly) hated Miami Heat in last year’s NBA Finals, and what he thinks the next big move in the tech world is. Hint: it’s not what you think.

I’m Being Followed

When I sit back and wonder how the internet actually works, I’m at a loss. Sure, I know a bit more than Ted Stevens, the Alaskan ex-Senator who shrugged off the most important technological advancement of our lives as “a series of tubes,” but I can’t explain the details any more than I can explain how AM radio works. The one thing I did know? Advertising drives the internet. What I didn’t realize was how pervasive and massive the network of advertising actually is. They say if you want to keep eating sausage, you shouldn’t visit a sausage factory, and while this article won’t scare you away from the web forever, you’ll at least have an idea of how you’re targeted and how smart these companies are in keeping track of our data.

Joining the (Cash) Mob to Help Main Street

The idea is simple: you get dozens of shoppers together with social media and invade a local business. Each person pledges to spend at least twenty bucks, the money stays in the community, and the shops get a nice influx of cash for the day. Why local businesses?  “If you have an Applebee’s  in New York, it’s going to be the same as the Applebee’s in San Diego,” says one organizer. “That sort of homogenization of communities across the country isn’t adding anything to those communities or making them special.” March 24th is “National Cash Mob Day” and regardless of which businesses these mobs descend on, we hope the ethos of buying locally, from small independent shop owners, is one adopted by more and more Americans.

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