Category Archives: Reality checks

Something Could Be Gaining

I was watching TV last night and on came a commercial break. There were 5 commercials in this pod along with a couple of promo spots for the network I was watching. When the pod was over, something dawned on me and that has prompted today’s thought.

Not one of the five companies that were advertising was in business a decade ago. Every single one of them was digitally-based and every single one of them was disrupting an existing business sector.

There was an online realtor who would buy or sell you a house without using a local agent. There was the online employment site that would find you a job and serve as your headhunter. There was a site that would pack your pills into individual doses and mail them to you, no trip to the pharmacists needed. The next company would book your next vacation and notify you if now was not the optimal time to book.

I wonder, a decade ago, if the pharmacists thought that they would be threatened by a company that could fill prescriptions in a way no drug store could and at prices that are reflective of their no physical outlet cost structure? Why bother going on interviews with headhunters when you can post your resume and let the algorithm find you interested employers? Why spend on a recruiter when you can have candidates screened electronically and only see the best?

Satchel Paige is quoted as reminding us “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” I think that’s optimistic. If you are in any business these days, something IS gaining on you and they may be the advertisers whose commercials you watch as they go by. Disruption is a fact of business life and unless you’re thinking about how your business could be replaced, you’re missing the boat.

Make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Every Day Is April Fools

How many head-scratching headlines have you seen today? Google’s Files app now cleans your phone screen from the inside? Guy Fieri has been brought in to cater the Champions’ Dinner at the Masters? Roku announced a remote designed to be dog-friendly?

None of those things are true, of course. They’re just three of this year’s batch of April Fool’s jokes that seem to run rampant across the interwebs. Actually, HelloFresh’s announcement of a Unicorn Box, which they say is a “brand new, first-of-its-kind experience will let you eat like a mythical creature. Brush away the confetti to find a box full of farm-fresh rainbows, smiles, and joy right at your doorstep” sounds kind of yummy. It’s so obviously silly that you can ignore it safely. Others, like the Google video of the screen cleaner, are close enough to plausible to have you wondering if they’re a joke or a scientific breakthrough.

So you’re probably dialing up your BS detector as you surf around the digital world today. You probably have seen odd announcements from your friends on social media saying they’re leaving their jobs or investing in gold mines. You know they’re kidding but there is an excellent reminder in all of this.

Every day is April Fool’s Day. There is an awful lot of made-up garbage floating around out there and if we’re not skeptics we’re going to have the proverbial wool pulled over our eyes. Unfortunately, it’s rarely as obvious when something is fake the other 364 days of the year. Check facts using reputable fact-checking sites. Ask yourself who has an interest in what I’m reading being the truth and how does it affect them if it’s not? Read and listen carefully. What’s not being said? Does it seem as if a fine line is being walked with how the words are chosen and phrased?

If you can’t dazzle them with the facts, baffle them with your BS is my paraphrasing of the old W.C. Fields quote (he used brilliance instead of facts).  You need to remember that more people and businesses think that way than you’d expect. Make every day April Fool’s when it comes to picking up what they’re putting down. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

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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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

The Root Of The Problem

I bought tickets to see Bob Seger last week. The concert is still a few months away but I’m a fan of his music and this might be the last time he tours. One of my favorite Bob Seger songs is “Feel Like A Number.” It was written in 1978 and yet it is incredibly prescient about how things are today.

What prompted that thought is this statement from a piece of research issued by the CMO Council:

One issue plaguing many organizations is a sense that in the race to master data and harness the power of the marketing technology stack, the customer, and perhaps an understanding of human relationships, has been lost. In fact, 41 percent of respondents admit that focusing on the relationship being built instead of the campaign being deployed, has been a key challenge. Nearly one-third admit that they sometimes forget that their “targets” are human beings.

It’s part of a study called Bringing a Human Voice to Customer Choice. It really should be called “The Root Of The Problem” since it strikes me that forgetting we’re dealing with humans is really the primary cause of so many issues businesses have. They’re customers, not accounts. They’re not phone calls to be cleared as quickly as possible but consumers with a problem that needs to be solved. They’re not employees, they’re co-workers and humans who go home to their families each night just as you do.

Business is all about data today but when was the last time you had a relationship with a database? It’s easy to be seduced by data but it’s also easy to miss the nuances that focusing on individuals can yield. Do you really understand what problem people are trying to solve by using your product or service or are you relying on “the numbers” to show you something that number can’t really show?

Sing Seger’s couplet to yourself every once in a while:

I’m not a number
Dammit I’m a man

It’s an important reminder and gets to the root of the problem, don’t you think?

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Lucky Or Good

I have a rant for you today and I’m going to say upfront that it is not political in nature although as you read it you might think that it’s my intention to make it so.

One of the things I’ve noticed in business is that we tend to put people who are rich or successful (and usually both) on a pedestal. We assume that they know a heck of a lot more than we do because they are rich or successful. We listen to them give speeches and prognosticate on business and the world. The reality is that more often than not they’re more the beneficiaries of “right place, right time” than they are smart.

You think I’m exaggerating? Let’s take a few examples in tech. The founders of Google at one time said they’d never take ads because it might throw in to question the purity of their search results. It took a non-founder, a person you probably have never heard of, to convince them that great computer science is one thing but running a business that has investors is quite another. Advertising is what makes Google profitable. Are the founders smart or lucky?

Think of all of Google’s products or Facebook’s for that matter. Besides the “core” product, what have they invented that demonstrate that they’re not just a one-trick pony? YouTube? Instagram? What’s App? Sorry, all acquisitions. Most of the features or products they have were created elsewhere and either bought or copied. Think about how many failed products or features those companies have produced. I’d suggest that they, like many in tech, we much luckier than they were good and yet we venerate many of them as if they were Einstein.

Then there are those in business who were born on third base. These are the ones who came from money and often are working in a family business. The positions they’re in can command respect but unlike those people who advance into those positions via hard work and demonstrating talent, these folks are often unsuited for jobs several levels below where they are. I’ve encountered several of them in my career and did my best to avoid them in business dealings.

Would I rather be lucky than good? I often say exactly that, mostly after a wayward golf shot hits something and ricochets back into a good spot. Studies have shown that we can create luck by being extroverted, observant, and positive It also helps to have perfect timing as many of those who got rich in the early internet days did. The really smart ones got out, recognizing that when a rogue wave throws you out of the ocean rather than drowning you, use the dry land to run away.

This isn’t prompted by anything other than a two-hour car drive which afforded me some time to think. I’ve been both lucky and, I think, pretty good. Life isn’t a zero sum game and I don’t begrudge these charlatans their success. I do, however, wish some of them would stop confusing their success or the jobs they hold with who they are as people and what skills they possess. Hopefully, none of us are doing that, right?

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