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Why We Can’t Swat Flies

By Shlomo Maital

Jeff Goldblum in the cult movie The Fly

   After 66 blogs on COVID-19, it’s time for a break.   Let’s talk about something more pleasant – like, flies. And, how come we are not able to swat them?

   The answer to this crucial troubling question was found by Prof. Shannon Olsson and doctoral student Pavan Kumar Kaushik at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bengaluru, India, with Marian Renz at Universität Bielefeld, Germany. They have just published their results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 “It took five years to design a VR world for the apple fly,” Shannon confides, “because first one has to nail down how the insect views the world. There’s little point in testing its skills if we put it in a virtual movie made for humans. Not only do they have compound eyes: but they also see much faster than we do.   Movies for humans are projected at 24 frames per second. “For insects to see a movie they need 200 to 300 frames per second,” the professor explains. “Under 200 frames per second they would see the individual images flickering, just like we would at 10 frames per second.”

   So basically, the researchers found a way to tether an apple fly, embed it in a virtual reality world (a film), and then they showed the film at 200-300 frames per second, ten times faster than films made for humans.  And observed the fly’s reactions.

     OK, so why do flies evade swatting?   “They see you coming a lot faster than you see them,” the researcher sums up.   What seems to be rapid motion for us is rather slow motion for flies.

     By the way, the tethering does not harm the flies. They are treated humanely.

     So the next time you try to swat a fly, keep this in mind. Evolution has equipped them with remarkable vision. Far faster than ours. It’s no contest. The fly will beat you, nine times out of nine.  

Why You Must Listen to Sales!

By Shlomo Maital  


As a management educator, I recall doing Workshops for senior management, and asking participants what their job function was. More often than not, one key position was missing – Sales. The sales personnel had no time for Workshops. They were out in the field, selling, because much of their income was based on commission…and you get no commissions sitting and listening to a professor.  

     Far from sight, far from mind. When sales does not sit in headquarters, it is often underused or even forgotten. Yet it is sales, not marketing, that has the key market insights.

     Now comes Sony, comes an object lesson in why you must listen to sales. Sony has been struggling for years. Finally, it has a winner – Sony Interactive Entertainment (its video game division) has a winner, PlayStation VR, a virtual reality headset. Since it went on sale in October, it has been scarce in stores, especially in Japan.


       Andrew House, global CEO of the division, among those inside the company advising that Sony make fewer of the headsets, explains, “it’s the classic case in any organization – the guys who are on the front end in sales are getting very excited, very hyped up….you have to temper that with other voices inside the company, myself among them, saying let’s just be a little bit careful.”

       Let’s think about that. Those who make the sales, and who earn their income from them, are hyped up. They know the market. They know what they can sell and how many. But the headquarters gang, up in the corner office, on the 42nd floor, who haven’t talked to a real customer for a decade – they are cautious.

       So whom to you listen to?

       For innovators, and startup entrepreneurs:   At the outset, forget about marketing. Focus on sales.   Find a great salesperson. Get them out into the market. And consult with him or her frequently, often, and really listen, and take their advice seriously.

       Lost sales due to undersupply will usually not be recovered. Sony’s VR has competitors. Four months after it went on sale, Sony’s VR headsets sold 915,0000! This is not that far from iPhone’s 1.4 million unit sales in three months, after launch in 2007. So, did Andrew House learn a lesson?   I wonder.

Source: Global NYT, Int. edition, March 1/ 2017, p. 9.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital