??Mirai? ?Botnet?: 3 Men Plead Guilty to Cybercrimes

Three men have pleaded guilty to charges related to the widespread Mirai botnet cyberattack in Oct. 2016 that took down various Internet services and websites.

The Justice Department said Wednesday that the three men—Paras Jha, Josiah White, and Dalton Norman—created what’s known as a botnet, a collection of computers used to covertly carry out commands without the knowledge of their owners.

The men, all in their early 20s, were able to spread the so-called Mirai malware onto Internet-connected devices like routers and wireless cameras so they could take control of them. The men then used those web-connected devices to flood online services like Internet-monitoring firm Dyn with so much traffic that they would slow or go offline.

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One of the men, Jha, plead guilty to also launching a botnet attack on Rutgers University where he was a student, which took down the school’s computer network. Jha’s guilty plea confirmed an earlier report by cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebbs, who wrote an article in Jan. 2017 tracing the Mirai botnet attacks to Jha and White.

A lawyer representing Jha said he is remorseful and “accepts full responsibility for his actions.”

Rakuten eyeing entry into Japan's mobile carrier market: source

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese online retailer Rakuten Inc plans to join a government auction for wireless spectrum to be held in January, potentially becoming the country’s fourth major wireless carrier, a source briefed on the matter said on Thursday.

A woman pushing a pram walks in front of a Rakuten Cafe store at a shopping district in Tokyo August 4, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

The source declined to be identified because the talks are private.

Japan’s mobile carrier market is currently dominated by NTT Docomo Inc, KDDI Corp and SoftBank Group.

The Nikkei business daily, which reported on the plan on Thursday, said Rakuten would raise 600 billion yen ($5.3 billion) by 2025 to invest in base stations and other infrastructure.

Rakuten said in a statement that while it was true it is weighing entry into the mobile carrier market, media reports on the matter were not something announced by the company.

Rakuten shares were down 1.7 percent in early trade. The benchmark Nikkei average was flat.

($1 = 112.6300 yen)

Reporting by Yoshiyasu Shida and Thomas Wilson; Writing by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Stephen Coates

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Ex-Trump aide Carter Page tells court to stop AT&T Time Warner deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page argued in court papers on Tuesday that AT&T Inc (T.N) should not be permitted to buy CNN parent Time Warner Inc (TWX.N) because there was a risk it would lead to “recklessness” in journalism.

FILE PHOTO – One-time advisor of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump Carter Page addresses the audience during a presentation in Moscow, Russia, December 12, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Page, whose contacts with Russia have been under scrutiny by Congress and a special counsel, made his argument in a friend-of-the-court brief that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has yet to accept.

Trump criticized the deal on the campaign trail last year and has repeatedly attacked the reporting of Time Warner’s CNN news network.

Page said in an interview with Reuters that he had not been in contact with the White House about the filing.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued AT&T in November to block its $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner, saying the deal could raise prices for rivals and pay-TV subscribers while hampering the development of online video. A trial is set for March 19.

FILE PHOTO – The AT&T logo is pictured during the Forbes Forum 2017 in Mexico City, Mexico, September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Both AT&T and the Justice Department declined to comment.

“This market power concentrated in the hands of a few dominant mega corporate telecommunications-media conglomerates encourages extreme levels of journalistic recklessness and impropriety since it allocates considerable resources to the media outlets under their control,” Page said in the court papers.

Page, who traveled to Russia twice in 2016, has testified to congressional committees investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In that testimony and elsewhere, he has argued that he has been the subject of unfair and inaccurate media coverage.

As an example of what he said was media abuse, Page criticized Yahoo, which is owned by Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N), for publishing what he called a “highly misleading” story in September 2016 regarding U.S. intelligence officials probing Trump’s ties to Russia.

Page, who described himself as a “junior, unpaid, informal adviser” to the Trump campaign, also argued that it would provide an incentive for the big media outlets to exclude viewpoints it does not like.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Britain urged to prosecute social media firms over online abuse

LONDON (Reuters) – Social media companies should face prosecution for failing to remove racist and extremist material from their websites, according to a report by an influential committee.

FILE PHOTO – A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person’s eye, in Zenica, March 13, 2015.REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Prime Minister Theresa May’s ethics watchdog recommends introducing laws to shift the liability for illegal content onto social media firms and calls for them to do more to take down intimidatory content.

Social media companies currently do not have liability for the content on their sites, even when it is illegal, the report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life said.

The recommendations form part of the conclusions of an inquiry into intimidation experienced by parliamentary candidates in an election campaign this year.

“The widespread use of social media has been the most significant factor accelerating and enabling intimidatory behavior in recent years,” the report said.

“The committee is deeply concerned about the limited engagement of the social media companies in tackling these issues.”

While the report said intimidation in public life is an old problem, the scale and intensity of intimidation is now posing a threat to Britain’s democracy.

FILE PHOTO – People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo

The report found that women, ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political candidates are disproportionately likely to be the targets of intimidation.

The committee heard how racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and anti-Semitic abuse is putting off some candidates from standing for public office.

Platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are criticized for failing to remove abusive material posted online even after they were notified.

FILE PHOTO – A 3D-printed YouTube icon is seen in front of a displayed YouTube logo in this illustration taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Ilustration

The committee said it was “surprised and concerned” Google, Facebook and Twitter do not collect data on the material they take down.

“The companies’ failure to collect this data seems extraordinary given that they thrive on data collection,” the report said. “It would appear to demonstrate that they do not prioritize addressing this issue of online intimidation.”

Twitter said in a statement it has announced several updates to its platform aimed at cutting down on abusive content and it is taking action on 10 times the number of abusive accounts every day compared to the same time last year.

YouTube declined to comment, while Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Many politicians have become more vocal about the abuse they face after Labour’s Jo Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two young children, was shot and repeatedly stabbed a week before Britain’s Brexit referendum last year.

Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; editing by Stephen Addison

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Crispr Therapeutics Plans to Launch Its First Clinical Trial in 2018

In late 2012, French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier approached a handful of American scientists about starting a company, a Crispr company. They included UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna, George Church at Harvard University, and his former postdoc Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute—the brightest stars in the then-tiny field of Crispr research. Back then barely 100 papers had been published on the little-known guided DNA-cutting system. It certainly hadn’t attracted any money. But Charpentier thought that was about to change, and to simplify the process of intellectual property, she suggested the scientists team up.

It was a noble idea. But it wasn’t to be. Over the next year, as the science got stronger and VCs came sniffing, any hope of unity withered up and washed away, carried on a billion-dollar tide of investment. In the end, Crispr’s leading luminaries formed three companies—Caribou Biosciences, Editas Medicine, and Crispr Therapeutics—to take what they had done in their labs and use it to cure human disease. For nearly five years the “big three’ Crispr biotechs have been promising precise gene therapy solutions to inherited genetic conditions. And now, one of them says it’s ready to test the idea on people.

Last week, Charpentier’s company, Crispr Therapeutics, announced it has asked regulators in Europe for permission to trial a cure for the disease beta thalassemia. The study, testing a genetic tweak to the stem cells that make red blood cells, could begin as soon as next year. The company also plans to file an investigational new drug application with the Food and Drug Administration to treat sickle cell disease in the US within the first few months of 2018. The company, which is co-located in Zug, Switzerland and Cambridge, Massachusetts, said the timing is just a matter of bandwidth, as they file the same data with regulators on two different continents.

Both diseases stem from mutations in a single gene (HBB) that provides instructions for making a protein called beta-globin, a subunit of hemoglobin that binds oxygen and delivers it to tissues throughout the body via red blood cells. One kind of mutation leads to poor production of hemoglobin; another creates abnormal beta-globin structures, causing red blood cells to distort into a crescent or “sickle” shape. Both can cause anemia, repeated infections, and waves of pain. Crispr Therapeutics has developed a way to hit them both with a single treatment.

It works not by targeting HBB, but by boosting expression of a different gene—one that makes fetal hemoglobin. Everyone is born with fetal hemoglobin; it’s how cells transport oxygen between mother and child in the womb. But by six months your body puts the brakes on making fetal hemoglobin and switches over to the adult form. All Crispr Therapeutics’ treatment does is take the brakes off.

From a blood draw, scientists separate out a patient’s hematopoietic stem cells—the ones that make red blood cells. Then, in a petri dish, they zap ‘em with a bit of electricity, allowing the Crispr components to go into the cells and turn on the fetal hemoglobin gene. To make room for the new, edited stem cells, doctors destroy the patient’s existing bone marrow cells with radiation or high doses of chemo drugs. Within a week after infusion, the new cells find their way to their home in the bone marrow and start making red blood cells carrying fetal hemoglobin.

According to company data from human cell and animal studies presented at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting in Atlanta on Sunday, the treatment results in high editing efficiency, with more than 80 percent of the stem cells carrying at least one edited copy of the gene that turns on fetal hemoglobin production; enough to boost expression levels to 40 percent. Newly minted Crispr Therapeutics CEO Sam Kulkarni says that’s more than enough to ameliorate symptoms and reduce or even eliminate the need for transfusions for beta-thalassemia and sickle cell patients. Previous research has shown that even a small change in the percentage of stem cells that produce healthy red blood cells can have a positive effect on a person with sickle cell diseases.

“I think it’s a momentous occasion for us, but also for the field in general,” says Kulkarni. “Just three years ago we were talking about Crispr-based treatments as sci-fi fantasy, but here we are.”

It was around this time last year that Chinese scientists first used Crispr in humans—to treat an aggressive lung cancer as part of a clinical trial in Chengdu, in Sichuan province. Since then, immunologists at the University of Pennsylvania have begun enrolling terminal cancer patients in the first US Crispr trial—an attempt to turbo-charge T cells so they can better target tumors. But no one has yet used Crispr to fix a genetic disease.

Crispr Therapeutics rival Editas was once the frontrunner for correcting heritable mutations. The company had previously announced it would do gene editing in patients with a rare eye disorder called Leber congenital amaurosis as soon as this year. But executives decided in May to push back the study to mid-2018, after running into production problems for one of the elements it needs to deliver its gene-editing payload. Intellia Therapeutics—the company Caribou co-founded and provided an exclusive Crispr license to commercialize human gene and cell therapies—is still testing its lead therapy in primates and isn’t expecting its first foray into the clinic until at least 2019. All the jockeying to the clinic line isn’t just about bragging rights; being first could be a big boon to building out a business, and a proper pipeline.

Clinical Crispr applications have matured much faster than some of the other, older gene editing technologies. Sangamo Therapeutics has been working on DNA-cutting tool called zinc fingers since its founding in 1995. In November, more than two decades later, doctors finally injected the tool along with billions of copies of a corrective gene into a 44-year-old man named Brian Madeux, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Hunter syndrome. He was the first patient to receive the treatment in the first-ever in vivo human gene editing study. Despite the arrival of newer, more efficient tools like Crispr, Sangamo has stayed focused on zinc fingers because the company says they’re safer, with less likelihood of unwanted genetic consequences.

It’s true that Crispr has a bit of an “off-target” problem, though the extent of that problem is still up for debate. Just on Monday, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that genetic variation between patients may affect the efficacy and safety of Crispr-based treatments enough to warrant custom treatments. All of that means Crispr companies will have to work that much harder to prove to regulators that their treatments are safe enough to put in real people—and to prove to patients that participating in trials is worth the risk. Kulkarni says they looked at 6,000 sites in the genome and saw zero off-target effects. But it’ll be up to the FDA and the European Medicines Agency to say whether that’s good enough to send Crispr to the clinic.

As the Southern California Fires Rage, a Boeing 747 Joins the Fight

The largest and most destructive fire burning in California continues to grow, consuming dry brush as it races not just through but across the canyons north of Los Angeles. Strong winds and dry conditions mean flames can leap large distances, prompting thousands to evacuate their homes. The Thomas Fire has now spread from Ventura County into Santa Barbara County, burning up 230,000 acres—an area larger than New York City and Boston combined. The out of control blaze is on track to become one of the largest in California history.

So firefighters are using the largest tools they have to tackle it, including one that’s more than 200 feet long, and does its work from just 200 feet above the ground.

“We avoid flying through smoke at all costs, but you can smell the fire 200 miles out, even at 20,000 feet,” says Marcos Valdez, one of the pilots of the Global Supertanker, a Boeing 747 modified to fight the fiercest of fires. The jumbo jet can drop 19,200 gallons of fire retardant liquid per trip, nearly double the capacity of the next largest air tanker, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Fully stocked, the plane weighs in at 660,000 pounds, comfortably under its 870,000-pound max takeoff weight.

Step inside (which you can do in the interactive 3-D model below) and you’ll see that the upper floor looks pretty normal, with the cockpit and a few seats. Head down the stairs to the main floor, though, and you’ll see the key changes its owner, Global Supertanker LLC, made when it converted the Japan Airlines passenger plane to a firefighter in 2016: In what looks like the interior of a submarine, you’ll find eight cylindrical white tanks in two rows.

Holding the fire suppressant liquid in separate tanks means the 747, aka The Spirit of John Muir, can make up to eight segmented drops on multiple small fires, or put down a solid two miles of fire line, to try to protect property or contain a fire. The liquid drops through a big hose, through a series of manhole-cover-sized circular nozzles under the plane, near the back. (If you use the “Dollhouse” view on the 3-D model, you can see some of that detail on the very lower deck.)

The plane is based in Colorado Springs, but its owner contracts it out to fire agencies in need. This week it’s flying out of Sacramento, in the northern part of the state. That’s because it can carry so much flame retardant that picking it up in Southern California wouldn’t leave enough for the smaller aerial firefighters. Plus, with a 600-mph cruise speed, it can reach the perimeter of the Thomas fire in just 38 minutes.

The 747 and other fixed wing aircraft sat out the early days of the fight against these fires, because high wind speeds would have blown their liquid retardant unpredictably off course. Though the pink stuff won’t damage people or property (good news for this guy), pilots make an effort to avoid dumping it on firefighters on the ground. The 747 can actually lay such a long line of retardant that it can be used to draw a line to safety for people trapped in a “burn-over” situation, where flames threaten to engulf them.

When the Supertanker reaches a fire, it doesn’t just drop down and fire away. The whole operation is a carefully orchestrated affair. Valdez, the pilot, starts by flying at 1,000 feet up, watching a “show me” flight by a lead plane, usually a Rockwell OV-10 Bronco or Beechcraft King Air. That has likely been in the air for hours, and directs each tanker aircraft exactly where to make its drops, pointing out hazards like power lines or tall rocks over the radio. “They’re using signals like ‘Start at this tree that’s split,’ ‘Fly on the right flank of the fire,’ and ‘I want to you stop at this rock that looks like a bear,’” Valdez says.

Then Valdez pushes the yoke forward until he and his crew are flying 200 to 300 feet above the ground—in a jet whose wingspan is just over 200 feet. Valdez plays down the terror, comparing it to driving next to a concrete barrier down the center of a highway. You know it’s there, and that one wrong move could kill you, but you just keep your heading and your cool.

The whole drop is over in 10 minutes, and then it’s time to head back to Sacramento, making for a two-hour roundtrip. On Friday, the Supertanker performed three drops on the Thomas fire—each gratefully received by the firefighters trying to stop the flames reaching more property, and people.


Fire Storm

Early Thanksgiving/Black Friday Data Reports Suggest Strong Retail Sales

Thanksgiving has passed and the holiday shopping season has officially begun. Though many consumers started shopping earlier in the month, Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales are some of the first indications of how retailers will fare this holiday season. The reports and analyses are still being produced, but initial figures on Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales are encouraging.

According to the annual International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) Thanksgiving Weekend Shopping Report, more than 145 million adults spent time at malls and shopping centers and estimated spending, on average, $377.50. In addition to all the gift buying, venues for dining and entertainment also benefited from an added $78.70 in sales per adult.

The vast majority of consumers (87 percent) shoppers took advantage of in-store and online purchasing on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Not only were there a lot of people shopping, nearly three out of four (74 percent) Thanksgiving/Black Friday shoppers spent the same or more than in 2016.

The news was especially good for brick and mortar retailers. ICSC estimates that 75 percent of all spending was captured by retailers with a physical presence. This doesn’t mean that people weren’t shopping online. However, retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and other physical stores with online components fared better their online-only competitors.

The data clearly shows the benefits of having an online store for small business owners with a physical location. While it may be too late for a business to setup a full ecommerce website from scratch between now and Christmas, there are some things current website owners can do to make their site more appealing to holiday shoppers. For example, having a way to buy online and pick up in-store has extra benefits. The ICSC survey found that 69 percent of those purchasing online and picking up in-store (click & collect) made an additional in store purchase

“Thanksgiving Weekend is a great indicator for what will be a holiday season full of spending, as we are seeing a very positive consumer sentiment and willingness to spend,” said Tom McGee, President and CEO of ICSC. “Shopping centers across the country should feel very optimistic about the season ahead. While the shopping season is longer this year, it’s not coming at the expense of the most popular shopping day of the year.”

Now that Black Friday has passed and Cyber Monday is here, businesses need to finalize their plans for December. It’s important that promotions in December meet the expectations of consumers. The ICSC data suggests that retailers will need to be as generous or more so than they were for Black Friday.

Three out of five (60 percent) consumers anticipate similar deals/promotions to the ones they saw this weekend. And more than one in four (28 percent) consumers said they think the deals/promotions in December will be better than what was found over the past weekend. Only 12 percent of consumers assume that December deals/promotions won’t be as good as the ones they saw on Black Friday.

Since deals and sales are some of the greatest motivators for consumers during the holiday season, business owners need to make sure their site prominently features their best deals and that these are also advertised heavily in search and social media campaigns.

For more recent data about creating a better holiday marketing campaign, read this article on last minute shoppers.

Miramax, Weinstein, Hollywood and Sexual Harassment The number one way to gut-check your company's culture.

The flood of women coming forward in recent weeks to tell their stories of “Me Too” has shed a light on the fact that it’s not only Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, and Hollywood but our country at large that has created a culture of mindlessness when it comes to sexual harassment.

These revelations are raising awareness across the business sector as companies try to make sure they and their employees do not fall prey to a mindless culture.

Brenda’s story.

Brenda was a newly minted VP on her first business trip with Miramax. She had turned in early after dinner as to make a good impression on her boss and fellow employees leaving them in the bar downstairs.

When she woke up to a knock on her hotel room door, the voice on the other side was a familiar one, so she opened it.  

Before she knew what was happening, her boss pushed the door open and threw her on the bed. He pinned her down but was drunk and she managed to wriggle away, locking herself in the adjoining room.

Weeks later her boss had not spoken a word to her about that night. No conversations, no “I’m sorry,” it was business as usual.

When she mustered up the courage to confide in her boss’ boss, he apologized for the unfortunate incident, but he let her know that if she went public, he would deny their conversation ever happened.

I asked Brenda if the fear of it happening again stayed with her while she was at Miramax. She said, “Oh yeah, it wasn’t if, in my mind, it was when. I learned that’s how it was there.”

In business, we talk about culture. It’s a buzzword. How do you create a good, a healthy, a positive, a winning–the adjectives abound followed by the 4, 5 or 6 steps you need to create that culture.

But the culture of your business doesn’t live in your mission statement or in your HR manuals, it’s a living breathing thing. It lives in the decisions you make and in the way you handle people, especially those who have less power.

A culture is a set of set of norms, values, and behaviors of a group. One definition says it’s the way we do things around here. However, if those ideals are left to collect dust in the pages of your mission statement, your mission will get lost.

The biggest reason the culture of a business will fail is mindlessness. When a group or a company of people go mindless, they begin to accept things they would not normally accept under the banner of this is the way it’s done around here, regardless of what it says in the manuals.

In a mindless culture, all manner of bad, unsafe and repugnant behavior can become part of a company’s tacit traditions, including sexual harassment. These behaviors infect and redefine a group’s stated core values.

Mindlessness can become systemic, as employees old and new become acceptant of the prevailing culture that is practiced, not preached.

Brenda experienced the real values held at Miramax. At minimum, her bosses were supporting a culture of mindlessness with respect to women and they expected Brenda to drink the Kool-aid.

The systemic mindlessness of Hollywood is being exposed as scores of actresses are coming forward with remarkably similar stories of sexual abuse.

Many of these women, like Rachel Mcadams, were sent to hotel meetings with predators by their own agents, some of whom were also women, aware of the danger but gave no warning.

In order to weed out systemic mindlessness and any accepted norms that go against their core values, companies need to gut-check their culture.

Introducing mindfulness, the practice of being present and attuning to the people around us can help employers better monitor the direction their company’s culture has taken.

Employees trained in mindfulness are not as susceptible to the priming of a culture, especially if it is wrought with questionable values. Mindfulness practitioners are proving to be more compassionate toward others and are prone to make moral choices.

One surprising study showed that mindful people are less likely to fall prey to the “bystander-effect” and are more likely to speak up when confronted with the suffering of others or injustice.

Some of the old guard in Hollywood has admitted to knowing about the sexual misconduct of Weinstein and others but did nothing. The “bystander-effect” was a key reason so many in Hollywood stayed quiet for so long.

Creating a space that is safe and supportive for employees to speak openly and honestly about their experiences goes a long way toward maintaining a company’s integrity.

While sensitivity training is important, it falls short of creating a culture that is aware, compassionate and attuned to others.

We have an opportunity in this moment to become mindful of how power is wielded and lorded over others. It’s time for a gut-check, not only of our business culture but the culture of our country at large.

Celebrating a Win? Boost Customer Engagement With These 6 Tips

After a big company win, you’re ready to kick back and celebrate. And you should — but not before you spread the word and catapult your news into even more engagement for your brand.

These six entrepreneurs share the creative ways in which they announce company wins. The good news? Your customers are ready to celebrate with you as long as you keep it authentic.

Post a screenshot.

Nothing beats that feeling of genuine excitement when you first receive good news. And you can spread the joy to your audience by making them feel as if they were there, too. Kris Ruby, president of PR firm Ruby Media Group, broadcasts exciting news just as she receives it by sharing screenshots.

“If your company recently won an award or was inducted into an association, post a screenshot on Instagram and Facebook of the email you received with the news,” she says. “This is an authentic way of sharing and makes your audience feel like they are reading the news right alongside you. We have used this tactic with clients and the posts garnered extremely high engagement.”

Tie it to what’s trending.

Brandon Harris, founder of marketing agency NuMedia, knows that a simple way to get your news to trend is to piggyback off of topics that are already trending. In particular, relevant influencers who have a large following are a great resource for spreading the word.

“If you can be creative and tie your news to popular trends, you can win points with your base and trend with the news. If there’s a popular influencer who’s a great fit, have them announce it to their followers,” he says. “Use your news to offer something appealing to your base in celebration to see if you can get a surge in business without devaluing your brand.”

Host a press tour.

“An ‘if you build it, they will come’ strategy can work wonders,” says Aaron Schwartz, co-founder and COO of international shipping company Passport. Whether you travel to another city or stay local, creating a sense of urgency will draw in more press contacts.

“Plan a trip to New York or L.A., or even stay in your hometown. Send a personal email to all of the relevant press you want to target about the news you have to share and let them know that you’re free for one-to-one discussions over a two-day span,” he says. “They’ll be likely to engage given that your story sounds urgent and interesting.”

Create custom celebratory swag.

Your whole office deserves to celebrate after a big company win, and decking them out in commemorative swag is a fun reward. Dan Golden, president of digital marketing agency Be Found Online, finds that offering unique, branded gifts is win-win because it is also an opportunity for employees and followers to engage on social media.

“This year, to celebrate our sixth year in a row on the Inc. 5000 list, we created custom six packs of beer. Everyone in the office got a six pack, and we shared pictures on our social pages and blog,” he says. “It was a funny, engaging and useful way to casually spread the word, and one that reflected our fun culture.”

Have your customers announce it.

John Rampton, founder of scheduling tool Calendar, doesn’t save all the glory for himself — he asks customers to share news on behalf of the company. By empowering your customers as spokespeople, you can create authentic brand ambassadors.

“We’ve made different customers our spokespeople and had them announce it on their social media sites and online platforms,” he says. “We have found that our audience likes to hear what our customers have to say more than the company since that is what companies do all the time. This gets their attention.”

Go live.

“Social is everything these days,” says Suneera Madhani, co-founder and CEO of financial services company Fattmerchant. Take advantage of social media’s ever-growing presence in the lives of your audience by meeting them on a popular platform.

“Creating a live Facebook video or Instagram story allows you to reach your audience in new, innovative ways. Consumers are already spending a lot of time on these platforms,” she says. “Consumers respond to authenticity, so speak from the heart and you’re sure to make an impact. All you need is your iPhone and some genuine excitement.”

5 Things The World's Most Exceptional Thinkers Have in Common

Originals drive creativity, innovation and ultimately change the world. History’s best minds have a lot of things in common. Every great achievement you have heard about or probably used came from exceptional thinking. From Einstein to Jobs, and Musk, here are five things the world’s greatest minds have in common.

1. Exceptional thinkers start their day on purpose

Success can only be achieved by design. Without a plan, you can’t make progress. In as much as original and exceptional thinkers embrace the opportunity to defy convention, they maintain schedules that make it easy for them to get things done.

They do their best work on purpose. Their deliberate actions make the biggest difference in how they achieve their goals, visions, and purpose in life. They value improvement, hence the need to keep schedules that allow them to live in the reality of making progress. Exceptional innovators are constantly fixing and iterating. 

2. Great thinkers look for patterns and connect ideas

The ability to make meaning from unrelated ideas and information is unique. Most innovators are great at it. It’s called Apophenia, the tendency to attribute meaning to perceived connections or patterns between seemingly unrelated things. 

Original thinkers and creative people intentionally look for patterns within their industries and other unrelated industries to be able to spot relationships that others cannot.

After dropping out of school, Steve Jobs wandered into a calligraphy course. It seemed irrelevant at the time, but the design skills he learned were later useful when he built the first Mac Computer. You never know what will be useful ahead of time.

Steve once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

The best minds in the world are great bridging the gap between unrelated concepts and ideas.

3. They value learning 

Curiosity is a big driver of creativity and novelty. Creativity happens when you make the effort to learn or try something new every day. Original thinkers know and understand the importance of connecting ideas, even the most remote ones to create something truly unique. They learn new skills that complement what they do. 

At the age of 14, Leonardo da Vinci began a lengthy apprenticeship with Andrea del Verrocchio, a well-known artist in Florence. He was exposed to a vast range of technical skills including, metalworking, leather arts, carpentry, drawing, painting, and sculpting. He learned a wide breadth of skills. 

If you’re a writer, you could take up photography. Start enhancing your career with the skills that complement it. The connection between ideas doesn’t happen unless you explore it a little.

4. They are insanely curious

Nothing beats a curious mind! Great minds make room for different mental models. They don’t disregard other ideas. They look for meaning in every pursuit. The most innovative and exceptional thinkers in the world are also the most inquisitive among us.The best way to connect dots is to be intellectually curious about the world around you.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, a great American novelist once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” 

Einstein made a profound statement about questioning and staying curious. He once said:

“Don’t think about why you question, simply don’t stop questioning. Don’t worry about what you can’t answer, and don’t try to explain what you can’t know. Curiosity is its own reason. Aren’t you in awe when you contemplate the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure behind reality? And this is the miracle of the human mind — to use its constructions, concepts, and formulas as tools to explain what man sees, feels and touches. Try to comprehend a little more each day. Have holy curiosity.”

Maintain to curious mind to explore and discover amazing ideas, innovations, and products that could spark new concepts for your next big idea. To improve your sense of curiosity, all you have to do is to embrace new ideas and try new things to stimulate your mind and senses.

5. Exceptional minds take productive breaks

According to research, your brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant for too long. You lose your focus and your performance on the task declines.

Great thinkers make time on their calendars to think, wander and refresh the brain. You can’t benefit from focused attention for too long. Sustaining attention on a task for an extended period of time can deplete your ability to think and create.

 Successful innovators and original thinkers know the importance of stepping away from projects briefly to re-conceptualize the problem with new perspectives.

Take intentional breaks by going for long walks, meditating, exercise or indulge in daydreaming. It pays to connect with your subconscious.