Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: industry, investigations, innovators, and more.

The editors

December 26, 2022

Trick of the eye: At fourteen years old, the prodigy Pablo Picasso painted more lifelike portraits than most art students do at twenty. So by the time he hit thirty, he was already a key innovator in the genre which continues to define him today: Cubism. The geometric paintings flatten their often traditional subject matter, such as still life, and place multiple perspectives alongside one another (hence Picasso’s “deformed” women). At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, an exhibition open through January proposes a “radically new” view of Cubism alongside another confounding genre, trompe l’oeil. Meaning “trick of the eye” in French, these works also self-consciously represent flat surfaces, albeit with hyperrealism that might fool you. Desk surfaces, replete with faux wax seals and scrawled memos, and walls with hanging tools are displayed next to Picasso, Georges Braque, and Jean Gris, inviting us to question the purpose of painting itself.

Creative destruction: Twentieth-century political economist Joseph Schumpeter’s perennial gale of creative destruction “is a mere light breeze today,” journalist Nick Easen writes for the business news website Raconteur. Creative destruction is Schumpeter’s term for the demolition of the old and celebration of the new that characterizes market economies. And given that digital solutions are cheaper and more democratized than ever, we might expect plenty of this disruptive innovation—but it isn’t as prevalent today as one might think. “So why aren’t there enough plucky ‘one-person and a PowerPoint’ teams upending markets? It’s because there are other forces at play now,” Easen claims. These include non-technological barriers to entry like digital regulations, incumbents that buy threatening startups, and political lobbying firms that legislatively roadblock industry disruptors on tight budgets. We are entering an era of “disciplined innovation,” he says, in which businesses will need to be far more systematic about digital innovation to succeed in the marketplace.

Uncontrolled substances: The Journal., a podcast coproduced by Gimlet Media and The Wall Street Journal, wrapped up its four-episode series called “Uncontrolled Substances” last week. Reported and narrated by journalist Kate Linebaugh, “Uncontrolled Substances” tells the story of Cerebral, a telehealth company being investigated by the Department of Justice for possible violations of the Controlled Substances Act of 1971. The series details accusations against Cerebral, such as prescribing Schedule II drugs like Adderall to patients after only 30-minute appointments. Listeners also hear from victims of Cerebral, like the mother of Anthony Kroll, a minor and a victim of suicide who was prescribed drugs that put him at greater risk without his parent’s knowledge or consent. The company with the seemingly innocent mission of making mental healthcare more accessible exploded in popularity during the pandemic, but evidently spun out of control.