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

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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Filed under food, Huh?

Inauthentic Behavior

I generally rip Facebook pretty hard in this space so, in the interest of fairness, I rise to give them a pat on the back. A number of outlets reported today that Facebook pulled down 2,632 bogus accounts and pages from their platform. They mostly came from Russian and Iran. The reason was that they were conducting “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” In other words, they were troll farms spreading lies and hatred. Lest you think that no one reads and/or believes that sort of vitriol, about 1.7 million people joined one or more of the Russia-linked groups, while roughly 1.4 million accounts followed one or more of the Iranian pages.

Back in January, Facebook took down more than 400 pages linked to operations in Russia. Obviously, this is not a problem that began and ended with the 2016 election and it’s going to get worse as 2020 approaches. Good on ya, Facebook. There is, however, a lesson in this for any business.

The internet has been weaponized and not always in a way that would constitute benign marketing by several companies. Destroying a brand’s reputation is just as easy as foreign governments found it to be in disrupting our elections. I suspect that many of the resources Facebook and others are deploying are focused on election interference and not on businesses. How hard would it be to start up a group or page that’s negative toward a brand? How difficult might it be to promote that page? In the January wave of takedowns, 364 pages and accounts spent approximately $135,000 on advertising and garnered 790,000 followers. $135,000 in marketing is a pittance to destroy a competitor’s brand, right?

If you don’t have a system in place to monitor brand reputation everywhere, you’re likely to be ambushed. Negative reviews on product and review sites, whisper campaigns on social media, and other weapons might be pointed at you right now. Do you know if that’s true? How?

I don’t mean to alarm anyone today. OK, maybe I do. The era of digital being used to connect people has passed. Now it’s being used to divide us, so negativity doesn’t stick out and falsehoods are more readily seen as truths. Pay attention!

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

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

Make Your Environment Cheezy

A little science this Foodie Friday. I swear this doesn’t come from some satire site either. A group of Swiss scientists conducted a little experiment with music and cheese. The idea was to find out if exposing cheese to round-the-clock music could give it more flavor. They took 9 wheels of Emmenthal cheese and put them in individual wooden crates. Then, for the next six months, each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels. You with me so far?

As one report had it:

The tracks include A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got it From Here, Mozart’s The Magic Flute opera, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, Vril’s UV, and Yello’s Monolith. Three of the other wheels were exposed to either low-, medium-, or high-frequency sound waves. One control wheel was left in silence.

Any guesses on the results? Well, amazingly, there was a noticeable difference in flavor according to the food experts who tasted them. They reported that the cheese exposed to music had a milder flavor compared to the non-musical cheese. They also found that the hip-hop cheese had a stronger aroma and stronger flavor than other samples. If you ask anyone who’s been around me whilst I’m preparing a meal, they will tell you that I often play a type of music appropriate to the cuisine being prepared: Zydeco when cooking Cajun, Salsa when cooking Mexican, etc. They think I’m crazy but now I have science to back up my thinking, right?

The business point here is that we often don’t pay enough attention to the environment we set up in our business places. While it’s become more common for people to listen to headphones while they work, there are many other factors in the environment that affect performance. Creating an environment where people are happy and motivated pays huge dividends, especially when you look at places where people are generally miserable. It’s not just good lighting and clean spaces. It’s also having an open-door policy as a manager and allowing the staff to personalize their spaces. It means bending the rules from time to time to accommodate special situations and doing a lot more listening than talking when conversing with your team.

If cheese can pick vibrations and react, you can be very sure that the people with whom you work can as well. Why not make them the kind of vibes that create the best flavor?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Music

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 Reality checks, Helpful Hints, Huh?

It’s Corned Beef Time!

I’m reposting last year’s Foodie Friday post from St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re not following the calendar, Sunday marks the annual celebration of all things Irish and Corned Beef and Cabbage is certainly one of them. As you’ll read below, that’s weird because it’s about as Irish as I am. In any event, I’ve had a busy day preceded by a busy week so I’m off to do something very appropriate to the holiday: hit my local watering hole. Enjoy the weekend, enjoy the holiday, and be safe and make good choices.

It’s Foodie Friday as well as St. Patrick’s Day! Most people in the U.S. associate the holiday with food (as well as with drink). Corned beef and cabbage is generally the food we think of here, and frankly, that’s a little weird since it isn’t really Irish. As the father of two lovely Irish-Jewish daughters, however, I can feel good about it since in many ways it represents the commingling of the Irish and Jewish immigrant communities.

English: Closeup view of A lady shoving a cabb...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, corned beef, and beef generally, wasn’t something widely available in Ireland, and you can’t go into a Jewish deli without seeing corned beef on the menu. One explanation is this:

Many maintain that the dish is simply not Irish at all. The close proximity of the Irish and Jewish communities at the time is said to be largely responsible for the popularity of corned beef among the Irish immigrants. According to thekitchenproject.com, when the Irish arrived in America, they couldn’t find a bacon joint like they had in Ireland so they gravitated toward the Jewish corned beef, which was very similar in texture.

I was shopping for my brisket to corn as well as a cabbage yesterday. Despite a huge swath of produce department space having been allocated to cabbages, there wasn’t single cabbage in stock due to a great sale price (I ended up paying 3x the price in the organic department!). The briskets were plentiful although they were packed in those cryovac bags that make it difficult to see through the printed graphics in order to assess the quality of the product.

What’s the business point for you today? First, if you’re running a sale or know that demand will be high due to a holiday, it’s imperative that you have product on hand. Nothing gets a consumer angrier than the lack of product availability. In this case, the store hadn’t procured enough stock to replenish the shelves, even though the item is evergreen, meaning it will still have its regular level of sale after the holiday. Next, make it easy for customers to examine the product. How often do you see an open box in a store where someone has tried to investigate the actual product as opposed to what’s displayed on the box? Frankly, I think one reason online shopping hasn’t completely obliterated the in-store experience is exactly that. People want to see, feel, and smell the product before taking it home. We need to help them! Finally, ask yourself how you can create an experience around the brand or product. It’s easy on a holiday such as this, but marketing needs a push the other 364 days too!

To my Irish friends and relatives, enjoy the day. I’m going to get my brisket going shortly, and I’m going to put bacon in the cabbage to make it a bit more Irish. After all, isn’t authenticity a key marketing asset as well?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud