Category Archives: Huh?

Truthiness Wins

If you’re not familiar with the term “truthiness,” you should be. Coined way back in 2005 by Stephen Colbert, it’s a term that refers to

"I created this cartoon illustration in c...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions.

It was meant to be a term of satire, generally describing a politician departing from an obvious set of facts to espouse something that seems like the truth but isn’t. A dozen years ago, that was a circumstance that was relatively unusual. Today, it’s the norm, both in business and out. If you’re reading today’s screed thinking that I have an answer, you can stop here: I don’t. There are way too many vested interests that have come to rely on truthiness as a way of doing business, and that’s a shame.

Facebook recently admitted that Russian agents used its network to distribute disinformation to roughly 10 million U.S. users in order to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They and other social platforms are trying to figure out how to readily identify “fake news“, all of which fits the definition of truthiness to a tee. To paraphrase Cassius in Julius Caesar, the fault, dear reader, is not in our stars or our social platforms, but in ourselves. We believe what we want to believe thanks to confirmation bias, and the explosion of content sources has made it possible for us never to hear a point of view to the contrary.

This is bad in real life and could be fatal in business. If we only pay close attention to evidence and arguments that support our own thinking on various business issues, and to toss out or ignore contradictory evidence, the odds are good that we’ll fall for something that’s truthy rather than true.

It’s 2017 and truthiness has won, or at least it’s holding the high ground and doing an excellent job of fighting off reality. Our job as business people is to win the battle and put truthiness back into the hands of the satirist from whence it came, both in business and in real life. Are you with me?

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Filed under Reality checks, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

A Disgusted Capitalist

Let me begin by saying I’m a fan of making money. However, just as with free speech (you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater), I think there are some limits as to what a person can do in order to make that money. I was reminded of what those limits should be this week when I received what is not, unfortunately, an atypical letter in the mail.

I recently registered my business in a new place. I also purchased a car. In both cases, I received letters in the mail that seemed incredibly official but which were, in fact, full of deceptive language and claims. In the former case, I got a “Labor Law Compliance Notice,” that informed me I was required by Federal Law(!!) to hang a poster in my place of business. While that might be true for most businesses, because I have no employees, my business is not required to hang anything other than the 250 pictures of myself I keep around for inspiration. A little research by this company would have saved them the stamp. Still, this notice is extremely official looking, cites Federal Law, and looks like a bill for $84. Had I been required to hang these posters, there are numerous other vendors who will sell you the same thing for a quarter the price.

The same sort of deceptive crap followed the car purchase. Notices about activating my warranty came from a few sources, none of which had anything to do with the car manufacturer, and who were looking to sell me a superfluous warranty (the car will be under the manufacturer’s warranty for quite a while). Obviously, since these folks can see what year the car was made they know that, but they sent the letters anyway.

You’ve probably received phone calls from the “service department” or “IT support” telling you your computer is full of spam. While the aforementioned companies don’t fall into the outright scam category that the computer scammers do, they raise a serious issue for us all:

How far will we go to make a buck?

Charities that give tiny percentages of the money raised to the causes they serve, enriching the folks who run them instead. VW and other manufacturers rigging emission tests. Kellogg‘s claiming Rice Krispies boosted the immune system or Mini-Wheats made you smarter. It’s a long list, one to which I’m sure you could add just by opening your mail.

There are people behind these deceptions, people with minimal ethical principles. Did they at any point ask themselves how they’d feel if their elderly parent bought into a scam they were enabling?

I’m all for making a buck, lot of them in fact. But as with almost everything, there is a right way and a wrong way. You decide.

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A Mustache On The Mona Lisa

It’s Foodie Friday, and I want to relate an experience I had the other night while dining out. It got me thinking about some dumb things folks in the food business do and how any of us in business can be smarter than they seem to have been. I went to get a burger at a local bar that serves excellent food.

The Mona Lisa (or La Joconde, La Gioconda).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They grind the burgers themselves out of a combination of several cuts of beef and they cook it nicely. It’s perfectly seasoned and is served on a bun that absorbs the juices without falling apart. I order mine with bacon and a runny fried egg (why not have breakfast with your burger?) but they offer many other options. It’s a work of art: the Mona Lisa of burgers.

When the burger came the other night, I asked the server for some mayo to dress the bun. They used to serve a lovely house-made truffle aioli but the menu has changed and now it’s just mayo. What I got was a handful of packets of mayo. You know – the shelf-stable, room temperature stuff you’d get tossed in your bag at a deli for your take-out sandwich. I was shocked and felt like whoever made the decision to serve their condiments as if we were in a concession line someplace was disrespecting the customer, not to mention their own product. They had put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

It got me thinking. How could these people compromise the excellence of their product by doing something so silly? Then again, we see plenty of examples of this. Ever notice a water bottle that claims to contain “gluten-free” or “non-GMO” water? It’s another example of a business showing their customers disrespect. You assume we’re too dumb to know that water couldn’t possibly contain those things. I’m sure you’ve seen ads for “hormone-free” chicken. Well, yeah – the law prohibits the use of hormones. It’s fake transparency or worse because it shows a contempt for the customer’s lack of knowledge.

Do I think the bar serving me a packet of mayo is as bad as misleading labeling? No, but both actions come from the same place, one we all need to avoid in business. We need to honor our products and services but first and foremost, we need to honor our customers. I get that this is probably nothing more than a cost-saving measure, but I’m also sure there is mayo in the walk-in and putting a spoonful into a little cup may cost a few cents but is more in line with both the quality of the product and the customer’s expectations. Make sense?

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Living In A Potemkin Village

I’m not sure if the story is true (historians disagree), but back around the time of The American Revolution, Russia had fought a war to annex Crimea (talk about history repeating itself!). The governor of the region, Potemkin, was trying to impress the empress and the ambassadors from other countries as they toured “New Russia.” Although the region was devastated, Potemkin set up “mobile villages” which were populated by his men dressed as peasants. As the barges with the VIP’s passed by, they’d be impressed by how lovely it all seemed. Once they were gone, the villages would be dismantled and moved to the next location. The term “Potemkin Village” has come to mean any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it is.

The term (as well as a key plot element in Blazing Saddles!) came to mind as I read an article about a new app that allows businesses employing it to summon “its ideal crowd and pay the people to stand in place like extras on a movie set. They’ve even been handpicked by a casting agent of sorts, an algorithmic one that selects each person according to age, location, style, and Facebook likes.” Presumably, when you see the line, FOMO kicks in and you are overcome by an insatiable desire to join the crowd.

I’m not naive. I worked in TV for a long time and know how laugh tracks are used and how stage managers will fire up a crowd to applaud as a show goes to and returns from a commercial break. I get enough press releases to recognize hyperbole and the need to surround something very common with an uncommon sense of excitement. The use of this app by a business, however, reeks of opacity when transparency is a critical element in marketing these days. In my mind, it’s as bad as any other kind of “fake news” that is manufactured out of the air to advance an agenda.

How would you feel if you found out that most of the other people attending a party were paid to be there? Deceived, I’ll bet, and that feeling generally leads to anger and a determination never to go back. Is that how you want your customers to feel?

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Thanks For Nothing

I get emails all the time urging me to win something. In a previous life, I used to send those emails as well. Because of that, I became very well acquainted with the rules that govern sweepstakes and contests. I’ve had multiple lawyers explain the three-legged stool of chance/prize/consideration to me on more than one occasion, and I’ve never run afoul of the gaming laws either here in the US or in Canada.

I thought about those rules as I reviewed an email from an electronics company this morning. The email urges me to “Get Rewarded For Sharing Your Opinion.” I had a couple of immediate thoughts that might just be pertinent to your business, whether you’re running a contest or not (BTW, I know the difference between a “contest” and a “sweepstakes” but I’m lumping them together today, OK (damn lawyers…))?

My first thought was to wonder if asking someone to write a review isn’t consideration? We used to wonder if asking for a photo or a video as part of an entry constituted consideration. My take is that even if it’s not deemed to be such by a lawyer, it is still asking someone to take some time and write a review. For some of us, writing is like breathing but for many people, cranking out a couple of hundred coherent words is grueling. Asking them to do so for a CHANCE to win a $500 gift card with nothing else as a consolation (a coupon, you cheap bastards?) seems like an unfair trade-off.

More importantly, the headline on the company‘s landing page is “Your Thoughts, Our Thanks?” Really? Unless you dive deeply into the fine print of the rules, you might not realize that unless your review contains a very specific phrase it won’t be counted as a contest entry. That won’t, of course, stop the company from using it in advertising and by entering, you’ve signed away all rights to it as well as the right to contest the company’s use of it and your name.

The bigger point is that the company is positioning this as a “win-win“:

Write an honest review and you’ll automatically be entered for a chance to win $500*. How’s that for a win-win?

It’s not, actually, You win. You get the content you can use to sell your products. A consumer might win but the vast majority of them will send off the review and get bupkis, maybe not even an entry if they haven’t read the rules carefully. You’re awarding cards every two months (and by the way, your entry doesn’t count after the two month period in which it was received). $3,000 over the course of a year for an important type of social proof – consumer reviews seems awfully cheap on your part, particularly when most of what you’re selling costs hundreds of dollars.

We can’t ask our customers for something beyond buying our products without offering something in return. Don’t hype a relatively low-level reward that’s not universally available to everyone supporting your brand when all you’re really offering is a fuzzy “thank you.” Your thanks? Thanks for nothing in this case. Do you agree?

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Intellectual Laziness

I’m sure your Twitter and/or Facebook feeds are filled with articles and discussions from and among your friends. Mine certainly are, and what strikes me about many of them is how intellectually lazy they’ve become. That’s odd, since most of my friends are anything but. They tend to be smart and able to see nuance, yet my feeds are filled with blanket generalizations and narrow perspectives, not to mention the unchallenged fake news.

I think that laziness is becoming more pervasive in business too. Maybe it’s that our brains have been taken over by the manner in which we think in the social media space or maybe it’s just easier to paint with broad strokes since there is so much information coming at us every single day. I think that’s a rationalization. More importantly, it’s dangerous.

When we make use of generalizations and blanket statements we negate things that don’t fit into the underlying assumptions, schemas, and stereotypes of our business. This intellectual laziness is also used to maintain the status quo.

Think about how often a good idea has been crushed by someone using the words “always” or “never.” Those terms are overly broad and prevent new thinking about old problems. instead, we’d all be better served by maintaining a beginner’s mind and listening more than we speak.  It’s pretty much truism that you’ll learn more from listening than you will from talking. Taking what we hear and synthesizing new ideas in the context of the business environment is how we move forward. More importantly, it’s the antithesis of being intellectually lazy.

I think people who are intellectually lazy are toxic both in business and in the world at large. I’m making more use of lists in my social feeds to weed out those toxic folks so I can enjoy the critical thinking of others and make myself a little smarter each day. You?

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Staying Alinged

One thing that bad golfers do (and I’m speaking from personal experience here) is to misalign themselves. They might point the clubface at their target but they fail to get their hips, shoulders, and knees properly aligned. When they go to hit the shot, inevitably the ball goes someplace other than where the golfer desires.
I thought of that this morning as I read the results of a study on marketing compensation. Conducted by MediaPost, the study found that:

Agencies and their clients are far apart in terms of what they deem to be the most fair method of compensation, according to findings of a survey of advertiser and agency execs conducted recently by Advertiser Perceptions for MediaPost. While labor-based fees are the No. 1 method preferred by agencies (45%), incentive methods were the top choice among marketers (40%).

You might not be a marketing agency or a marketer, but there is something to be taken from that for whatever business you’re in. Think of a car’s four wheels. When they’re properly aligned, the car is easy to hold on the course you set. If one wheel is out of alignment, the car pulls left or right and you’re constantly having to fight to keep it heading where you want.

Your business is no different. Your goals and your customers’ goals have to be in alignment. So too do yours and your team’s. Being paid fairly is a critical part of the employer/employee relationship, and no one is going to do their best work if they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly. I’ve known agencies who’ve resigned clients because they felt that they were losing money servicing the account. I actually had a client who hired me to complete a project over a few weeks. When I presented the completed work in a little over a week, they asked to reduce what I was being paid since “it didn’t take as long as we thought.” In that case, it was my fault for not being sure that their expectations (how long it would take and the value of that time) were in alignment with how I did the work and the value of the project regardless of the time spent. Sure, I could have sat on the completed work until it was due, but that has no benefit to my client and only helps me justify what they’re paying.

All the wheels need to be aligned. The club face and your body need to be aligned. The goals and expectations of everyone in your organization need to be aligned, and that alignment must extend to your customers as well. Hard to do sometimes, but always worth it, right?

 

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