Category Archives: Huh?

1,2,3

I’m back! I didn’t post anything last week because I went on my annual golf outing with my Board Of Advisors. All is well except my golf game.

I don’t know if you saw anything about a survey that was released last week. I did and I made a note to make it my first post upon my return because it makes a number of points that I think any of us could find useful in business. The survey was run by Civic Science which has been conducting online polling since 2008. It was a very simple question and the responses were astonishing, at least to me.

Should schools in America teach Arabic Numerals as part of their curriculum?

That’s the question. They surveyed over 3,600 people and over 2,000 of the respondents said “no.” That came out to 56% of respondents saying we shouldn’t teach the numerals we all use every day. Yep – those are Arabic numerals. Interesting, right? Kind of scary too because it reveals what happens when you allow yourself to answer a question based on your inherent feelings (or prejudices) without having a full understanding of the question being asked.

It wasn’t just a test of prejudice against the word “Arabic.” They also asked about teaching a Catholic priest’s theory on the origin of the universe. While obviously, it’s a much more obscure fact (the Big Bang theory was his idea), it shows once again that people will answer something without enough (or any) information based on inherent biases (53% said “no” to this, which is taught every day).

How often does that happen in your business setting? Someone starts to say something in response to a question in a meeting and suddenly it’s quite obvious that they have no idea about what they’ve been asked. It’s not just people answering the wrong question either. It’s quite possible to have an understanding of the question but no grasp of the facts required to answer it.

So here are three words (3 in Arabic numerals) to keep in mind: I don’t know. They can be hard to say, especially when you have a knee-jerk response to a question. But ask yourself if that response is based on fact or on your existing bias. You might be surprised what you’ll learn along the way as well as prevent your team from making a bad decision. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Sharing Isn’t Caring

Suppose you are depressed or maybe you want to quit a bad habit – smoking, for example. Well, of course, there are apps to help you fight depression or to quit smoking. Maybe you want a discount on your car insurance so you agree to install what the industry calls a “telematics device.” As one report explained, these things report when the car was used, distance driven, and time spent driving. They also want to know how fast a driver typically drives and any incidents of hard braking, both of which are indicators that the driver takes risks and doesn’t pay attention. Finally, and perhaps most controversially, the devices can track a car’s location.

Since you’re a fairly literate person, digitally speaking, you know the apps collect some data and obviously so does a tracking device. What you don’t know is what happens to the data that the apps collect. If you go through the app’s privacy policies (you know – the thing you clicked through when you signed up), you’ll probably find that the developer might share data with third parties. And, in fact, a study just released shows that of 36 top-ranked apps for depression and smoking cessation available in public app stores, 29 transmitted data to services provided by Facebook or Google, but only 12 accurately disclosed this in a privacy policy.

Does this concern you? It should. It is not difficult at all for someone who has “non-PII” – anonymized personal information – to trace it back to a real person with a name, address, and other information. How many auto insurance companies also offer life insurance? How many share data – even anonymized data – with health insurers. And wouldn’t those health insurers love to know if you think you’re depressed, as would a life insurance company? Am I paranoid? Yes indeed, and you should be too.

As it turns out, while many of us are more wary about what companies are doing with our data, we’re still not DOING much about it. As eMarketer reports, Internet users are clearing cookies and sharing less on social media. Ad blockers continue to gain popularity. But nearly one-third of US internet users are still willing to sacrifice privacy for convenience.

Clearing cookies, using a VPN, making sure that apps don’t get permissions that they don’t need (why does a flashlight app need your contacts?), and other things can help but at the core of this issue is many companies’ philosophy to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. They have a laser-focus on making money and are woefully blind to their users’ concerns. That’s what really concerns me. You?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Reality checks

Masking The Message

Chase Bank did something really dumb the other day while they were actually doing something smart and necessary. It’s a good lesson for any business that how you communicate is every bit as important as what that communication entails.

Chase tweets out something on Mondays hashtagged #MondayMotivation. This week they attempted to inject a little humor into something that really isn’t humorous for the folks who face it: a depleted bank account. Chase tweeted out a fantasy dialogue between a consumer and their bank account. The customer wonders why their bank account is so low and the bank account replies, and I’m paraphrasing, because you spend money on things like buying expensive coffee and dining out and taking taxis when you could walk. The customer replies “I guess we’ll never know”. It came across as snarky and patronizing, especially coming from a bank that makes millions in profits on the fees charged to their customers for ATM use and overdrafts (not to mention a multi-billion dollar bailout from taxpayers).

Politicians jumped in, as did a lot of pundits. Frankly, when I heard about it and the responses to it, I thought it was too bad that a good, important message got lost in a bad presentation. Many younger consumers (and quite a few older ones) don’t realize that making coffee at home can save them hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, as can walking and bringing lunch to the office or learning to cook at night. Those $4 lattes add up and many younger people never learned the financial management skills as they matured that one needs to cope with the money demands that adult life makes. While I don’t discount the effect that stagnating wages and creeping inflation have, having the skills to think through the bigger picture can help.

Any business needs to ask itself “what baggage do I carry” before they message their customer base. Are they angry about anything? Smart businesses constantly have their ears to the ground to listen for any disruption in the force. They monitor social media, their own customer service reps, and the news media generally. Money, or the lack thereof, is one of the most sensitive topics the bank could have addressed. Snark, condescension, and arrogance are rarely the right approach, even when the message is spot on.

Chase was smart enough to delete the tweet and replace it with something humble – “Our #MondayMotivation is to get better at #MondayMotivation tweets. Thanks for the feedback Twitter world”. That’s something every business should constantly try to do – get better – don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

You Want Anonymity With That?

It’s Foodie Friday and today we have yet another example of how privacy is dead, this time from the food world. OK, I might be a little paranoid here but I think I can see the future in how McDonald’s sees the future and it scares me. Let me explain and then you can weigh in on my thinking.

What Mickey D has done is buy an Artifical Intelligence company. They intend to use the AI to adjust the menu in the drive-through as you pull up. The thinking is that these adjustments will cause you to buy more. You know – promoting cold drinks on hot days or suggesting items that are faster to prepare if the kitchen is in the weeds to keep food orders flowing. It gets scary when the menu changes as you order, suggesting sides after you order your burger.

Now you may see nothing wrong with this. After all, Amazon does this all the time. So does Netflix, suggesting things to you that you should find of interest based on your past behavior. That’s not scary until McDonald’s installs license plate readers and begins associating your food order with your vehicle. Of course, it’s also possible that they could obtain a listing of every device that was in their drive-through. By the hour. Cross-reference that to available phone directories and automobile registrations and NOW how do you feel?

It’s yet another step down the road to full surveillance capitalism, at least in my paranoid mind. There are benefits, no doubt, to McDonald’s, and I’m sure they will be followed by others (maybe even others buying their systems from McDonald’s AI company). Do you really think there are benefits to us, however? I think trust and privacy are going to become even bigger issues for consumers and regulators over the next 12 months and if you’re not thinking that way, you just might be making a mistake.

What happens when Mickey D sells their frequency of use data to the insurance company who then raises your rates because you eat fast food all the time? Sure, when you roll into The Golden Arches while you’re 250 miles from home, it might be nice that they already know what you’d like, but I’d rather have anonymity. You?

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I Think We Failed

I’ve been doing “digital” as a business since the mid-1990s. Back then it was a bunch of walled gardens that featured mostly text-only content. Those gardens also suddenly made email widely available and I, like many, was really optimistic about the potential the coming digital world would hold in terms of communication and information. The Information Age was dawning, right?

The walls came down from around those gardens and the open internet bloomed. Soon everyone had email and nearly everyone began spending time catching up with old school chums and distant family via this thing called social media. Every content provider had a website, and many people would read the newspaper or a magazine off of a screen rather than off a sheet of paper in their hands. Video soon entered the mix as the pipes got bigger and the devices faster. Today pretty much everyone carries a powerful computer/communications tool/web device in their pockets and are connected non-stop. Technology has become ubiquitous, just as many folks envisioned.

Except that we failed. Social media is anti-social. Many of my friends and I suspect of yours spend hours arguing about things they have little or no ability to change. Of more concern is that their arguments are often based on sketchy facts that they found in their digital travels. Kids sitting at the same table don’t look at one another and would rather Snapchat one another than talk face to face. We don’t have relationships with people because relationships need to have a face-to-face component in my opinion. If you believe what you see in your news feeds, everyone’s life is fabulous and fun yet we know everyone has the same problems from time to time. Their kids aren’t perfect, their meals aren’t all perfect-looking, almost everyone has worries of some sort (yes, non-political ones!), and not every day is spent traveling to exotic locations.

I think we failed. I don’t think most of us appreciated the dangers inherent in the overuse of technology until the last couple of years. We’ve become less social, less open to thinking that doesn’t mirror our own, and too connected to the screen world in front of us while we’re disconnecting from the fabulous world beyond our screens. We’ve learned to code and we’ve not learned history. We go to concerts and watch them through a screen while shooting a video instead of losing ourselves in the music. We text our kids to come to dinner and don’t make them put down the phone and talk, mostly because we’re catching up on our own social streams.

I don’t know if I have a point today because I don’t know that this is “fixable.” We live in a world of surveillance capitalism and the companies that profit from it not only aren’t going to go away any time soon but are aggregating into a very few behemoths that know everything about us. What have we done?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Dunning-Kruger And You

One episode that has stayed with me for many years involved a young employee that I managed. Like most of the folks I hired, he had a lot of raw talent in the areas that you really can’t teach – excellent intellectual curiosity, a good work ethic, etc. As I saw it, my job and that of his immediate supervisor was to develop that raw talent over time.

When review time came up, he asked me when he’d get made a VP. He had been with us about 6 months and had been out of school for about 18 months. Now, most of the people who achieved VP rank were 10-15 years older than him and used those years to develop their work skills to a point that was light years past where he was. I asked him why he thought he should be made a VP and he went on about having paid his dues and that he knew as much as many of the VP’s he’d met.

He was a perfect example of something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which people fail to recognize their own incompetence. I see it on the golf course all the time as my playing partners will often try to hit shots that they might be able to pull off 1% of the time or they overestimate how far they actually hit the ball and come up woefully short of their target. The kid was a business example, one with which I’m sure you’re familiar.

Have you ever walked out of a meeting in which someone thought they were being brilliant while it was obvious that they really had no clue about the subject matter? The sad fact, borne out by research, is that the most incompetent individuals are the ones that are most convinced of their competence while the most competent people often underestimate their competence. I’m a believer in knowing what you don’t know and in not assuming that just because you’re smart and very knowledgeable about one subject that you can translate that into expertise in another area without doing the work to understand that area.

It’s not just stupid people who don’t know they’re stupid. Entire organizations can behave this way, believing that they can get beyond their core competency and into another business sector with equal success. Management sees that the business has a good year and deludes itself into thinking the organization is performing at peak efficiency when competitors are actually doing better and are gaining share.

We need to be on the lookout for Dunning-Kruger everywhere. For businesses, use an independent standard of measurement, hopefully, something that’s reflective of your entire industry. As individuals, a little humility and getting outside your own bubble helps to keep your perspective. That kid didn’t make VP and in fact, ended up leaving the organization to a higher level job from which he got fired. He Dunning-Krugered himself to unemployment. I’m sure he was convinced it was due to something other than his own incompetence. You’d never make that mistake, would you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Reality checks

How Dumb Do You Think We Are?

We’ve all been lied to. It always feels bad when we discover the lie and we often get angry at the liar. A co-worker of mine had an expression that comes to mind all the time: “Forgive and remember.” It’s fine to “forget” in that holding a grudge is self-defeating. It’s better to remember (without anger if possible) so that you’re a lot warier the next time you hear something from that person.

It’s in that context that I shook my head when I read about Facebook pivoting to privacy. Now if there is one company that has violated user privacy more than Facebook I’m unaware of it. Frankly, I thought it was something that The Onion had written, but no, it was a blog post from Mark Zuckerberg.

“I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever”

Seriously? This is the same guy who is literally at this minute lobbying against privacy laws everywhere. This is the same company that encouraged you to give them your telephone number to use for two-factor authentication (yay privacy) and then used the phone number to target ads. Oh, and there’s no way to delete or disable that.  Then there was that time that they used an app to steal everything you did on your phone. Suckers…

Fool you once? Um, no. Back in 2010, there was a piece in the NY Times that outlined just how hard it was to make your data private on Facebook. To truly opt out of sharing all your personal information, you had to click through more than 50 privacy buttons, and then choose between more than 170 total options. There were some options that you couldn’t even opt out of at all. How dumb does he think we are?

No business can afford to lie constantly to its customers, especially one that is almost completely reliant on those customers for every bit of content. If and when users wake up, as many under 21 users of the platform have, we won’t need regulatory intervention to “fix” Facebook or any other company that lies constantly. It will just die, buried in its own untruthfulness. We’re not that dumb after all, are we?

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