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Adventures in Ideas: How Music Gets Popular, Q&A with Jennifer Lena

I recently read a terrific book by sociologist Jennifer Lena, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music. She explores the factors that influence the spread of musical taste — why some genres, bands, etc., gain popularity. Jennifer’s research is impressive because of the range of her exploration — according to her publisher’s website, she covers “rap to bluegrass to death metal and South Texas polka.”

Jennifer is helping redefine our understanding of social influence — what and who matters, and how ideas and tastes spread in complex social networks. I had a chance to ask Jennifer a few questions about her work. 

Q. You are interested in factors that determine whether particular musical styles, genres, etc., will gain mass appeal — or remain circumscribed to a small niche. Have you discovered something about the process of “influence” or “contagion” that the social network scholars have ignored or underemphasized? What does your work tell us about the role of networks in shaping popular tastes? 

A. The most common way for music to blow up from a small scene into global pop is for a controversy to erupt. Read More »





What Makes a Rogue Trader Tick? A Q&A with FT Columnist John Gapper

The rogue trader is a recurring character in the story of finance over the last 20 years. This is the guy who makes secret, unauthorized bets with his bank’s money, driven by some seeming combination of inadequacy and a huge appetite for risk, and abetted at times by an amazing lack of internal controls.

The deeper he goes, the harder he has to work to conceal his deception until one day, it inevitably comes crashing down. The bank loses billions, the trader (sometimes) goes to jail. The story is repeated every several years. The latest version broke in September when UBS announced it had lost more than $2 billion as a result of rogue trader Kweku Adoboli.

In his new e-book, How to Be a Rogue Trader, Financial Times columnist John Gapper explains why this story has become so familiar over the years. As he puts it, the rogue trader is a species of sorts within the world of finance, a special breed with certain behaviors and characteristics that are consistent through time. Gapper delves into evolutionary biology and the research of Daniel Kahneman to better understand the nature of men like Nick Leeson, Joe Jett, and Jerome Kerviel. Read More »





The Limits of Human Performance: A Q&A With John Brenkus

Every year, athletes break records and accomplish physical feats previously thought impossible. But is there a way to know the upper bound of such accomplishments? Read More »





How Cities Adapt: A Q&A With Climatopolis Author Matthew Kahn

There are plenty of dire predictions about what will happen to our cities if the worst predictions about global warming were to come true: flooding, droughts, famine, chaos and massive death. But Matthew Kahn, an economist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, sees a different future. He tells that story in his new book Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future. Read More »





Where Do Good Ideas Come From: A Q&A With Steven Johnson

What kinds of environments and societies give rise to good ideas? Author Steven Johnson takes your questions. Read More »





Predicting the Financial Crisis: A Q&A With Fault Lines Author Raghuram Rajan

Rajan on the crisis. Read More »





If You’re Still Not Sick of Geoengineering: A Q&A With Jeff Goodell

A new book offers more insights into geoengineering. Read More »





The Science of Genius: A Q&A With Author David Shenk

Practice makes genius? Read More »