Friday, January 31, 2014

Facebook Turns 10: The Mark Zuckerberg Interview

Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t usually observe sentimental anniversaries. This year he’s confronted by three of them. On Feb. 4, Facebook (FB), the company he co-founded in a Harvard University dorm, turns 10 years old. The prodigy himself turns 30 in May. It’s also been a decade since his first date with Priscilla Chan, now his wife, whom he first met in line for the bathroom at a Harvard fraternity party.
So last fall, Zuckerberg began typing up dozens of pages of musings, often pecking out the words on his phone. He shaped his thoughts into 3-, 5-, and 10-year plans. He also gave himself a specific goal for 2014. He’s fond of annual challenges, and in previous years he’s vowed to learn Mandarin (2010), to eat only animals he slaughtered himself (2011), and to meet someone new each day (2013). For this year he intends to write at least one well-considered thank-you note every day, via e-mail or handwritten letter.
“It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person,” he says at Facebook’s sprawling corporate campus in Menlo Park, Calif. “I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built. But if you look at this objectively, we’re doing so well on so many of these things. I think it’s important to have gratitude for that.” He’s still unnaturally boyish and is wearing his customary uniform: hoodie, gray T-shirt, and jeans. No Adidas shower sandals, though; in what could be construed as a sign of creeping maturity, he’s wearing black Nike sneakers.
Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chairman and chief executive officer, has many reasons to be grateful. His social network is used by 1.23 billion people around the world. The company is worth around $135 billion and will probably become the fastest in history to reach $150 billion. Its recent financial results have impressed Wall Street, in part with the success of its shift to mobile phones. In the fourth-quarter earnings report it filed on Jan. 29, Facebook disclosed that for the first time sales from ads on mobile phones and tablets exceeded revenue from traditional PCs. The shift to mobile was “not as quick as it should have been,” Zuckerberg says, but “one of the things that characterizes our company is that we are pretty strong-willed.”
Zuckerberg and co-founder Dustin Moskovitz in Palo Alto, 2004Photograph by Ryan BradleyZuckerberg and co-founder Dustin Moskovitz in Palo Alto, 2004
Facebook’s challenge is to keep growing. With almost half the world’s Internet-connected population using the service, the company is facing the immutable law of large numbers and simply can’t keep adding users at its previously torrid rate. At the same time, Facebook must defend its highly profitable business against several threatening trends. Internet users—particularly young ones—crave different kinds of online experiences and new ways of connecting with one another. Many lead online lives that begin and end without Facebook. Rivals such as Twitter(TWTR) and Snapchat, with their embrace of pseudonyms and different ways of sharing publicly and privately, have grown up outside the once-inexorable Facebook ecosystem. Silicon Valley’s smartest product developers, who used to make games and other diversions that lived on Facebook, are instead applying their talents to creating apps that compete with it. “No one individually has quite yet displaced Facebook,” says Keith Rabois, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Khosla Ventures. “But as more and more people choose another social platform as their primary hub, it’s a real problem. They could be losing one segment at a time.”
Zuckerberg says companies often lose their way during major transitions. His company hasn’t, he says, so “we’re really at this point where we can take a step back and think about the next big things that we want to do.”
Early in 2012, Zuckerberg called an all-hands meeting and dramatically declared that the company would be “mobile first.” He then reinforced that focus by unceremoniously ending any meeting where employees began their presentations talking about computers rather than smartphones. And his three-year plan remains all about strengthening Facebook’s presence in mobile. “Mark had to learn how to run a mobile-first company in the last two years, which meant thinking differently about how he ran teams, how products were built, and which engineering skills we needed,” says Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. “He made that shift so quickly.”
Stone is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in San Francisco. He is the author ofThe Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Little, Brown; October 2013). Follow him on Twitter @BradStone.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why every leader should care about digitization and disruptive innovation

Digitization, automation, and other advances are transforming industries, labor markets, and the global economy. In this interview, MIT’s Andrew McAfee and McKinsey’s James Manyika discuss how executives and policy makers can respond.

January 2014 disruptive impact of technology is the topic of a McKinsey-hosted discussion among business leaders, policy makers, and researchers at this year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland. In this video, two session participants preview the critical issues that will be discussed, including the impact of digitization and automation on labor markets and how companies can adapt in a world of rapid technological change. What follows is an edited transcript of their remarks.

Interview transcript

Disruption everywhere

James Manyika: The reason disruptive technologies are very important to all leaders—whether they’re CEOs or policy makers—is because, for the first time, we now have technology affecting every single sector of the economy. Every sector, whether it’s retail, financial services, shipping, manufacturing, and even agriculture, now takes inputs and uses technology to drive much of what it does.
Andrew McAfee: By now we’re all familiar with digitized text, digitized audio, and digital video. One of the profoundly interesting and important things going on these days is that lots of other information is being digitized. Our social interactions are being digitized, largely thanks to all the different social networks and social media that we have. The attributes of the physical world are being digitized, thanks to all of these sensors that we have for pressure, temperature, force, stress, strain, you name it. Our whereabouts are being digitized, thanks to GPS systems and smartphones.
James Manyika: We also have other forms of digitization. Physical products and goods continue to be quite physical but are coming wrapped in data. Think about your container on a ship that’s tagged, and it turns out that even the actuarial models for how the tracking of that is valued and insurance contracts are constructed is different whether the thing is tagged and tracked versus not.
Andrew McAfee: If this encroachment really is taking place faster and more broadly than it ever has before, there are a couple of implications. There’s good news and challenging news here. The good news is that the variety and volume and quality of things that we’ll be able to consume will go up, and the prices will go down. The challenge comes from the fact that if this encroachment really is happening quicker, more broadly, and deeper than before, the phenomenon is that technology is going to race ahead, but it could leave a lot of people behind in the capacity of folks who want to offer their labor to the economy. And how we deal with that challenge and what we do about the fact that technology is racing ahead but leaving some people, potentially a lot of them, behind is one of the great challenges for our generation.

The employment challenge

James Manyika: Between the period of 2000 and 2008—2008 because that’s when the recession started, so we have a clean look—the US lost something like 5.8 million jobs in manufacturing. If you look at those jobs that we lost, only at most 20 percent of them were due to what you might call globalization, so offshoring and outsourcing. Whereas the rest of them, which is the majority, 80 percent of them, can be explained by looking at the effects of technology and the other key culprit, which is what happens to demand.
And we know that one of the things that happened in that period between 2000 and 2008 is that the demand growth for the outputs of manufacturing coming out of the US actually fell. So that was one of the big drivers for what then happened to employment. Where you had productivity growth without the demand growth, employment tends to suffer.
Andrew McAfee: There are a couple policy implications that come out pretty quickly. One is that over the longer term, we can’t rely exclusively on economic growth alone to solve all of our employment problems. Now, in the short term, economic growth is absolutely the best way to get the hiring engine kicked in again. The robots, the androids, the artificial intelligence can’t do everyone’s job yet by a long shot. So the right way in the short term to grow employment is to grow the economy. But over the longer term, it honestly feels to me like we might be in a situation where enterprises can grow and thrive and not need nearly as much labor as they’ve needed historically.
James Manyika: Certainly education will help. We know that there’s a big gap between what most economies need and what the educational training systems create to meet those needs.1 But I would argue even that’s not enough. So, while I think it’s comfortable for policy makers—and, in fact, correct—to say, “Let’s focus on innovation and let’s focus on entrepreneurship and let’s solve education,” those are correct, but they may not be complete answers to how we tackle employment.
So think about what Uber and its like and its kin are doing. It’s making it possible for people who have cars to suddenly turn that into a potential income-generating opportunity. Think about what models and businesses like Airbnb are doing where people can then use assets that they have, like their houses or their flats, as ways to generate income. Those are just examples of ways where, if you think about it as an income-generation question as opposed to a full-time employment problem, you expand the possibilities.

Claiming the prize

Andrew McAfee: I foresee a big change coming in the way the very best organizations are making some of their key judgments, forecasts, predictions, decisions. The tough transition is going to be getting the people and the alleged experts out of the way, and teaching them to be a lot more humble and a lot more data driven.
The other very big change that’s coming is the fact that we have access—again via technology, networks, and very powerful devices—to a worldwide body of knowledge and talent and skill. And what we’re learning over and over is the truth of Joy’s Law, named for Bill Joy, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems. He said, “The smartest people work for somebody else.”
What we’re seeing is that when you can articulate the problem you’re working on or the challenge or the thing you want help with, and float it up so that the world’s community of innovators and problem solvers can work on it, you get very good results. You get them quickly and you get them from unexpected quarters. Thinking that all the expertise that you need is in-house or that you know where to go to go get the expertise or the help for the big challenge that you’re working on—that’s a really dangerous assumption.
James Manyika: We know that the Internet has created huge benefits for us as consumers. The amount of things we can now search, find, discover, consume, all of that. But the thing about that is that most of those things are things none of us pay for. And the revenue captured by companies is a fraction of the economic surplus that’s come to us as consumers.
As you look at the list of the technologies that we have in our research, many of those have the same characteristic. So if you look at what’s going to happen to cloud computing and what that’s going to do and what the mobile Internet is going to do, much of that is going to end up in consumer surplus.
Now, I think there’s going to be three interesting claims to the economic potential coming out of these technologies. One is a portion of this is going to go to consumers as things that they pay nothing for or very little for. A portion of this is going to be surplus that will move from one sector to another. And then the third claim is going to be the revenues ultimately captured by any one company. So this creates a very interesting challenge for businesses around business models.
Andrew McAfee: The other advice that I give to people leading enterprises these days is do an experiment, set up a test. It is not terribly expensive these days to engage in open innovation, to use some of these platforms to post a challenge, post a data-science challenge, post an innovation challenge. Watch what happens as a result.
Find a part of your organization that’s led by somebody who’s a little bit more comfortable working with data, who’s got a team of geeks that are part of her team, and do an experiment about becoming more data driven in forecasting, in market analysis, in product design, in human-capital management, in some of these areas. Do an experiment. It’s not going to ruin the company. It’s not going to break the bank. And then learn from it.
About the authors
James Manyika is a director of the McKinsey Global Institute and a director in McKinsey’s San Francisco office. Andrew McAfee is associate director and principal research scientist of the Center for Digital Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

Why Would I Hire You?

Whenever I am interviewing candidates for a position, I have never been afraid to put them on the spot or test them. I don’t believe in embarrassing them but being thorough with my questions will inevitably add a little bit of pressure to the situation.
When I was hiring someone to work in sales, I would sometimes ask them to sell me something right there and then, for example their mobile phone. Whatever feature they tried to pitch, I would say I didn't need it. Whatever angle they took, I would counter. The main reason was to test their resilience and tenacity, which is obviously essential in a sales role.
Sometimes, it is the simplest questions which candidates can struggle with. If I was to interview ten people and ask them the question: Why would I hire you? – I can guarantee that eight of the people won’t give the answer I am looking for. They will give a detailed list of their strengths, but it won’t answer the question I am posing.
What employers want to know is how you can add value to a role. Every single person in an organisation should be able to quantify exactly how they add value. If this is a sales director, it would be how much revenue they bring in. If it’s a PA, how much time can they save the CEO in a day? Everybody’s contribution should be measurable and what you have to do in an interview is tell the interviewer what you will contribute. This is how you use your list of key skills and strengths – simply telling me what they are isn’t good enough, as you’re not matching them up to the needs of the job.
Bear in mind that the cost of an employee is not just their salary. There are running costs such as desks, chairs, phones and computers. There is National Insurance tax. The additional cost of a new hire can often be £15-20,000 on top of their salary. Therefore you need to be able to justify that cost.
Going back to the example of the sales director, if they can demonstrate to me that the income they will generate is three times more than what they are costing, that will definitely increase their chances of landing that job.
Of course there are many other factors that hiring managers take into account –for example is the candidate suited to the culture of the company? Do they have the ambition to want to constantly develop themselves?
But they will only start delving into this once they have established that you can make a difference to your role – and that’s what you have to show them in the interview.

See the video below for my interview tips:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Is Bitcoin about to change the world?

If you want to buy drugs or guns anonymously online, virtual currency Bitcoin is better than hard cash. Canny speculators have been hoarding it like digital gold. Now the world's leading bankers are even talking about as a rival for real money. How does it work, where can you get it and is it the future?

A sign above a bar in Germany.
A sign above a bar in Germany. Photograph: Alamy
The past weeks have seen a surprising meeting of minds between chairman of the US Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, the Bank of England, the Olympic-rowing and Zuckerberg-bothering Winklevoss twins, and the US Department of Homeland Security. The connection? All have decided it's time to take Bitcoin seriously.
Until now, what pundits called in a rolling-eye fashion "the new peer-to-peer cryptocurrency" had been seen just as a digital form of gold, with all the associated speculation, stake-claiming and even "mining"; perfect for the digital wild west of the internet, but no use for real transactions.
Bitcoins are mined by computers solving fiendishly hard mathematical problems. The "coin" doesn't exist physically: it is a virtual currency that exists only as a computer file. No one computer controls the currency. A network keeps track of all transactions made using Bitcoins but it doesn't know what they were used for – just the ID of the computer "wallet" they move from and to.
Right now the currency is tricky to use, both in terms of the technological nous required to actually acquire Bitcoins, and finding somewhere to spend them. To get them, you have to first set up a wallet, probably online at a site such as, and then pay someone hard currency to get them to transfer the coins into that wallet.
A Bitcoin payment address is a short string of random characters, and if used carefully, it's possible to make transactions anonymously. That's what made it the currency of choice for sites such as the Silk Road and Black Market Reloaded, which let users buy drugs anonymously over the internet. It also makes it very hard to tax transactions, despite the best efforts of countries such as Germany, which in August declared that Bitcoin was "private money" in which transactions should be taxed as normal.
It doesn't have all the advantages of cash, though the fact you can't forge it is a definite plus: Bitcoin is "peer-to-peer" and every coin "spent" is authenticated with the network. Thus you can't spend the same coin in two different places. (But nor can you spend it without an internet connection.) You don't have to spend whole Bitcoins: each one can be split into 100m pieces (each known as a satoshi), and spent separately.
Although most people have now vaguely heard of Bitcoin, you're unlikely to find someone outside the tech community who really understands it in detail, let alone accepts it as payment. Nobody knows who invented it; its pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, hasn't come forward. He or she may not even be Japanese but certainly knows a lot about cryptography, economics and computing.
It was first presented in November 2008 in an academic paper shared with a cryptography mailing list. It caught the attention of that community but took years to take off as a niche transaction tool. The first Bitcoin boom and bust came in 2011, and signalled that it had caught the attention of enough people for real money to get involved – but also posed the question of whether it could ever be more than a novelty.
The algorithm for mining Bitcoins means the number in circulation will never exceed 21m and this limit will be reached in around 2140. Already 57% of all Bitcoins have been created; by 2017, 75% will have been. If you tried to create a Bitcoin in 2141, every other computer on the network would reject it as fake because it would not have been made according to the rules of currency.
The number of companies taking Bitcoin payments is increasing from a small base, and a few payment processors such as Atlanta-based Bitpay are making real money from the currency. But it's difficult to get accurate numbers on conventional transactions, and it still seems that the most popular uses of Bitcoins are buying drugs in the shadier parts of the internet, as people did on the Silk Road website, and buying the currency in the hope that in a few weeks' time you will be able to sell it at a profit.
This is remarkable because there's no fundamental reason why Bitcoin should have any value at all. The only reason people are willing to pay money for the currency is because other people are willing to as well. (Try not to think about it too hard.) Now, though, sensible economists are saying that Bitcoin might become part of our future economy. That's quite a shift from October last year, when the European Central Bank said that Bitcoin was "characteristic of a Ponzi [pyramid] scheme". This month, the Chicago Federal Reserve commented that the currency was "a remarkable conceptual and technical achievement, which may well be used by existing financial institutions (which could issue their own bitcoins) or even by governments themselves".
The First Bitcoin ATM, in Canada.The First Bitcoin ATM, in Canada. Photograph: REUTERS
It might not sound thrilling. But for a central banker, that's like yelling "BITCOIIINNNN!" from the rooftops. And Bernanke, in a carefully dull letter to the US Senate committee on Homeland Security, said that when it came to virtual currencies (read: Bitcoin), the US Federal Reserve had "ongoing initiatives" to "identify additional areas of … concern that require heightened attention by the banking organisations we supervise".
In other words, Bernanke is ready to make Bitcoin part of US currency regulation – the key step towards legitimacy.
Most reporting about Bitcoin until now has been of its extraordinary price ramp – from a low of $1 in 2011 to more than $900 earlier this month. That massive increase has sparked a classic speculative rush, with more and more people hoping to get a piece of the pie by buying and then selling Bitcoins. Others are investing thousands of pounds in custom "mining rigs", computers specially built to solve the mathematical problems necessary to confirm a Bitcoin transaction.
But bubbles can burst: in 2011 it went from $33 to $1. The day after hitting that $900 high, Bitcoin's value halved on MtGox, the biggest exchange. Then it rose again.
Speculative bubbles happen everywhere, though, from stock markets to Beanie Babies. All that's needed is enough people who think that they are the smart money, and that everyone else is sufficiently stupid to buy from them. But the Bitcoin bubbles tell us as much about the usefulness of the currency itself as the tulip mania of 17th century Holland did about flower-arranging.
History does provide some lessons. While the Dutch were selling single tulip bulbs for 10 times a craftsman's annual income, the British were panicking about their own economic crisis. The silver coinage that had been the basis of the national economy for centuries was rapidly becoming unfit for purpose: it was constrained in supply and too easy to forge. The economy was taking on the features of a modern capitalist state, and the currency simply couldn't catch up.
Describing the problem Britain faced then, David Birch, a consultant specialising in electronic transactions, says: "We had a problem in matching the nature of the economy to the nature of the money we used." Birch has been talking about electronic money for over two decades and is convinced that we find ourselves on the edge of the same shift that occurred 400 years ago.
A Bitcoin wallet on a smartphone.A Bitcoin wallet on a smartphone. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images
The cause of that shift is the internet, because even though you might want to, you can't use cash – untraceable, no-fee-charged cash – online. Existing payment systems such as PayPal and credit cards demand a cut. So for individuals looking for a digital equivalent of cash – no middleman, quick, easy – Bitcoin looks pretty good.
In 1613, as people looked for a replacement for silver, Birch says, "we might have been saying 'the idea of tulip bulbs as an asset class looks pretty good, but this central bank nonsense will never catch on.' We knew we needed a change, but we couldn't tell which made sense." Back then, the currency crisis was solved with the introduction first of Isaac Newton's Royal Mint ("official" silver and gold) and later with the creation of the Bank of England ("official" paper money that could in theory be swapped for official silver or gold).
And now? Bitcoin offers unprecedented flexibility compared with what has gone before. "Some people in the mid-90s asked: 'Why do we need the web when we have AOL and CompuServe?'" says Mike Hearn, who works on the programs that underpin Bitcoin. "And so now people ask the same of Bitcoin. The web came to dominate because it was flexible and open, so anyone could take part, innovate and build interesting applications like YouTube, Facebook or Wikipedia, none of which would have ever happened on the AOL platform. I think the same will be true of Bitcoin."
For a small (but vocal) group in the US, Bitcoin represents the next best alternative to the gold standard, the 19th-century conception that money ought to be backed by precious metals rather than government printing presses and promises. This love of "hard money" is baked into Bitcoin itself, and is the reason why the owners who set computers to do the maths required to make the currency work are known as "miners", and is why the total supply of Bitcoin is capped.
And for Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, the twins who sued Mark Zuckerberg (claiming he stole their idea for Facebook; the case was settled out of court), it's a handy vehicle for speculation. The two of them are setting up the "Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust", letting conventional investors gamble on the price of the currency.
Some of the hurdles left between Bitcoin and widespread adoption can be fixed. But until and unless Bitcoin develops a fully fledged banking system, some things that we take for granted with conventional money won't work.
Others are intrinsic to the currency. At some point in the early 22nd century, the last Bitcoin will be generated. Long before that, the creation of new coins will have dropped to near-zero. And through the next 100 or so years, it will follow an economic path laid out by "Nakomoto" in 2009 – a path that rejects the consensus view of modern economics that management by a central bank is beneficial. For some, that means Bitcoin can never achieve ubiquity. "Economies perform better when they have managed monetary policies," the Bank of England's chief cashier, Chris Salmon, said at an event to discuss Bitcoin last week. "As a result, it will never be more than an alternative [to state-backed money]." To macroeconomists, Bitcoin isn't scary because it enables crime, or eases tax dodging. It's scary because a world where it's used for all transactions is one where the ability of a central bank to guide the economy is destroyed, by design.
For Bitcoin developer Hearn, that's not a concern. "Bitcoin's monetary policy would only be relevant if it were to be adopted by an entire economy, which isn't going to happen any time soon."
Already, alternatives based on Bitcoin have sprung up: for instance, Litecoin speeds up transaction processing and Freicoin introduces measures to stop people hoarding their money, but both are essentially the same technology, "forked" from the original. There's even nothing to stop a nation state declaring its own version of Bitcoin as legal tender.
So even if the currency of the future looks like Bitcoin, it might end up being a distant successor of the pioneer. "Is the technology of Bitcoin a window into the future?" asks Birch. "Yes. Is Bitcoin itself? No."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to give up sugar in 11 easy steps


Many of us are addicted to sugar. Want to break the habit and get those no-good empty calories out of your life? This is how to conquer your cravings in 11 easy steps – even if you really, really fancy a Mars bar
Photograph: Christopher Hope-Fitch/Getty Images/Flickr RF

1 Know thine enemy

It is droll to observe nutritional advice at the public health level; governments and their agencies always approach obesity as though it were a problem of information or – in the popular phrasing – "awareness". If people only knew how much sugar there was in a Twix, they would simply eat something else.
This knowledge deficit doesn't exist: you won't meet anybody on Earth more intricately apprised of calorie content than someone who is obese. The only people who genuinely don't know shit from sherbet are the authorities themselves, who make a mistake we can recognise from other spheres, viz, they conflate the problem behaviour – in this case, excess sugar – with the people they perceive as causing them a problem. People, for instance, who drink fizzy drinks (except prosecco). So they'll preach two behaviours that are near identical, nutritionally speaking, as the opposing pillars of good and evil. "Drink a fruit juice; do not drink a Lilt. Drink a smoothie; do not drink a McDonald's milkshake." Finally, some exasperated nutritionist will pop up and say, to be honest: "This is all sugar that doesn't fill you up and doesn't even slake your thirst particularly well." And everybody pounces on them and calls them a quack, even though they are right.
Woman drinking a McDonald's milkshakePhotograph: Alamy
It is all sugar; it all does the same thing to your bloodstream, and it all begets an appetite for more of itself, as do fags and booze. Leaving aside the thumping idiocies of the Department of Health's Change4Life campaign, the only real fault line is: do you think of it as an addiction or not? If you merely think of it as a matter of self-control, something you like a bit too much and have to master, there is no more a need to excise it from your diet than there is to stop using Twitter just because it drains your time and means you'll never amount to anything. There is only one step necessary for you, the step of "less".
If you do see it as an addiction, then cutting down won't be enough, and I refer you to steps two through 11.

2 Cold turkey

"But what if," I said to Frankie from Pure Package, a company that sends perfectly balanced meals, daily, to people with money, "you just really, really fancy a Mars bar?" I have been calling diet people (for work!) since Atkins was fashionable. There will be those among you who don't even remember the outbreak of war against wheat, who weren't even alive in a time before bread was the enemy. Think on that.
Anyway, what always charms me is their presentation of preposterous alternatives. So you might say: "What I really love is a buttered crumpet," and they'll go: "That's easy! You can grind some cashew nuts into a sort of makeshift butter and spread it on some kale." That was my motivation in putting the Mars bar question to Frankie, but she wasn't biting. "The only way to stop sugar cravings is to treat it like an addiction and go cold turkey. There's nothing to soften that blow. If you really need to get sugar out of your life, you're going to have to go cold turkey."

3 Beware of fruit

OrangesPhotograph: Michael Rosenfeld/Getty Images
Frankie again: "Fruit has been given a halo so we end up eating too much of it." In fact, there's nothing inherently great about fructose; I mean, you can get too far into these weeds and start sounding like a hippy. Sure, fructose is better than glucose because it comes accompanied by fibre and vitamins. But in and of itself, it is not better, and "should" (still Frankie), "be accompanied by seeds or nuts. The effect of that would be to slow down the insulin spike that the fruit brought to the bloodstream. Overall, it should be, not limited, but not seen as something you can eat all the time in any quantity." Generally, the higher the water content, the less the sugar hit, so oranges are better than bananas. Oranges are also better than mangoes. Oranges, it turns out, actually are the only fruit.

4 Also beware of (some) naturopaths

Carole CaplinCarole Caplin. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian
Some definitions: "dietitian" is the only term that is subject to professional requirements. Anyone can be a nutritionist. "Naturopath" is what nutritionists call themselves when they want to sound a bit more new-age than they already do. The middle term attracts the most scepticism, based on the presumption that just because your field isn't professionally accredited, you do not know anything and you can't process information. People make it about journalists quite a lot as well; this presumption is mistaken.
That said, I interviewed lifestyle guru Carole Caplin once, and she asked me to do something the next day, and I said: "Unfortunately, tonight I'm going to get completely drunk, so I most probably won't want to do Pilates/circuit training/zumba tomorrow." She fixed me with a beady eye and said: "I try not to eat too much chocolate, but sometimes I go mad. The other day, I ate something like eight squares of Green & Black's. And afterwards I felt terrible, I had a headache, the shivers, I couldn't get out of bed. Whereas if I'd only had two squares, I'm sure my body would have coped with it."
Here's the thing: I'm not convinced that really happened. I think she was using chocolate as a metaphor for booze, in an attempt to find some joint language that we would both understand.

5 Give up alcohol

A man holding a pint of ciderPhotograph: Jim Wileman/Alamy
Many drinkers think they don't have a sweet tooth; indeed, they are faintly derisive of people who do. In fact, they get all their sugar from alcohol and if they ever gave it a rest for even two days, they would realise they have an incredibly sweet tooth.

6 Gary Barlow

Gary BarlowGary Barlow. Photograph: David M Benett/WireImage
You know that joke, "how do you know when someone has an iPad? Because they tell you"? This adapts very well to the Take That tax avoider. How do you know how Gary Barlow lost five stone? Because he tells you. In precis, he realised, after years of trial and error, "that he doesn't have the kind of body that allows him to eat whatever he likes" and thereafter, cut out sugar, alcohol, any solids at all after 2pm, and refined carbohydrates. I know! As if he couldn't get any more charismatic.
The point is that Barlow is now at the dead centre of the sugar-free, wheat-free eating crowd, and if you ever want to know how to make a cake out of hemp, Google "Gary Barlow" + "cake out of hemp".

7 Grain differentiation

SpeltSpelt, an ancient wheat. Photograph: Alamy
The whole issue of carbohydrates and sugars has been maybe irredeemably muddied by people such as Sarah Ferguson eating spelt, and then going: "I went wheat-free and the weight fell off me," and everybody going: "Wow. That's some strange ju-jitsu, considering spelt is just a variety of wheat."
Almost all carbohydrate converts to glucose, except fibre; the less fibre there is, the more will be converted, until you get, like, a Greggs bap that's basically just a glucose tablet without the mysterious wet-dryness.
If you are unsure whether a carbohydrate is refined or unrefined, ask yourself – have I ever thought: "I could murder an X"? Sausage roll, yes. Pearl barley risotto, no. Buttered crumpet, yes. Kale spread with cashew butter, no. The intensity of your desire is an index of the glucose it will deliver. This means a) all refined carbohydrates should be treated as sugars, in your sugar detox, and b) to avoid sugars, you simply avoid all the things you really want.

8 A life without sugar

Coconut oilCoconut oil can be used in cakes. Photograph: Alamy
What sugar brings is not, as you might think, sweetness, but texture. So if you have a cake that is wheat-free and sugar-free (there's no real point in being one without the other), it is possible to find alternatives, replacing the wheat with nuts and the sugar with fruit, coconut oil, agave, combinations thereof. The nuts bring clagginess and the fruit is too wet, so the result is soggy and mushy with a mouth-coating trace of clay, a sort of repulsive pabulum whose problem is not its flavour but its mouthfeel. It is better not to replicate your old life, in other words, but to find new hobbies, such as reading.

9 Paleo eating

Paleo dietAcceptable food in the Paleo diet. Photograph: Pal Hansen for the Guardian
The best catch-all diet to remove sugar without contravening the copyright of the Atkins diet, this involves eating like our ancestors – very little fruit, almost no grains, a lot of meat and a lot of exercise as you pound away at your treadmill, imagining yourself the predator of the steak you will later eat. Adherents point to the fact that our stone-age ancestors were much healthier than us, having no problems with obesity, cancer or any other diseases that beset our modern age. Pedants point out that the posthumous diagnosis of cancer was pretty patchy until the discovery of the disease in circa 1600BC (some time after the Paleolithic era); and, furthermore, that many ancestors were cut off in their prime by other factors (dinosaurs!), and it is impossible to tell how fat they would have become had they lived to our great age.
I mistook this for Palio eating, and thought it meant eating like a jockey, which would be a mixture of chips, power bars and Viagra.

10 Sugar-free alternatives

Sugar-free chewing gum containing xylitolSugar-free chewing gum. Photograph: Alamy
Basically, the trajectory of a sugar alternative goes like this: is discovered; is lauded by all; becomes available in Holland & Barrett; there are suggestions that it is not as wonderful as it was cracked up to be; is abandoned in favour of something else, which has conveniently come along in the meantime. Take stevia – nutritionist Amanda Ashy-Boyd describes this once-wonder ingredient: "It's supposed to be a natural substitute for sugar, but it's not so natural in the sense that it probably goes through multiple chemical processes to be able to add it to the food."

11 Just stop eating it. What are you, a baby?

HummusAny food, as long as it's hummus. Photograph: Fotografiabasica/Getty Images
Or, more diplomatically put by Ashy-Boyd: "It's all about making sure you're eating a balanced diet, so you never get into a place where your blood sugar has dropped." This involves ceaseless snacking of foodstuff with a low glycaemic load, foods that are mainly hummus or things that remind you of hummus or things that are called "hummus" but aren't, in an attempt to appeal to people who only eat hummus (butterbean hummus. Seriously. How is that hummus?). You combine this with an oatcake, or something containing pumpernickel (note: not a German Christmas tree biscuit; these also contain sugar), and you ignore all the people who are looking at you and definitely thinking: "I wish she would just eat properly and not like some kind of idiot koala."
"That's one way of protecting yourself," Ashy-Boyd continues. "The other thing is, if you are a big sugar eater, you have to be conscientious about it. Maybe allow yourself a couple of days to go without it. And then once it's out of your bloodstream, it's so much easier to combat that desire."
Cold turkey, see? It's all about the cold turkey.