Tag Archives: Reality checks

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

You Can’t Handle The Truth

There has never been a time when it’s been easier to get information. If you don’t believe me, pick up that computer you keep by your side most of the time (that would be your smartphone), push whichever button activates either Siri, Google Assistant, or whatever flavor of virtual assistant you have installed, and ask what the weather will be tomorrow. Ask who the Prime Minister of Denmark is or a few ways you can cook a turnip. We have the world at our fingertips.

That can be true with business information too. Traffic to your media properties, interactions with your content, results of your ad and social media campaigns, and feedback on how your company or brand is interacting with the world at large are all readily available for analysis and action. So is customer data, market predictions, and just about anything else you’d need to know. Pretty awesome, right?

The problem is that not everyone wants to know the truth about these things. Take the manager whose staff is leaving in droves. They “hear” it’s because of a better offer but they don’t take the time to sit down and dig into if there is an underlying problem in their operation. They couldn’t handle it if the problem was really them and their management style so they avoid the question.

Then there is the web person who is under pressure to keep growing traffic and doesn’t bother to exclude the kinds of traffic that inflate the numbers. You know: your own internal use of your website, traffic from places where you don’t do business, referrer spam or other obviously fake traffic. They know the truth but their bosses can’t handle it.

The problem with having information is that it compels you to act. We can always deny there is a problem if we don’t know about it or if we think the information we have is inaccurate. As with the law, ignorance is no excuse in my mind. I’ve been in meetings where some excellent forecasting predicts a downturn in a company’s business but several members of the management team want to expand their spending. The forecasts are subordinated to the feeling that more spending will yield more revenue despite the fact that the company’s share of the market has been steady for years and probably won’t increase in a downturn (which is basically what the managers are predicting). They couldn’t handle the truth: they need to tighten their belts and ride out the next few quarters. They’re no longer in business, by the way.

We hear an awful lot about fake news and there certainly is some out there to be ignored. Your business analytics don’t fall into that category and you ignore them at your own peril. If you can’t handle the truth, you can assume that reality will handle you one way or another. OK?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

Decluttering

As I mentioned in this space a while back, we sold Rancho Deluxe. The process of getting it ready for sale forced us to look at every single thing in the place. We made piles. One for stuff we’d keep and, therefore, have to pack and move. One for stuff we’d donate. One for stuff that was worthless and was trash. My old college papers fell into that pile, although I’m not sure my folks would agree with the categorization since they paid for the education. The last pile was for stuff we’d sell.

It was an interesting process since it forced us to really think about each item. What struck me was how little we actually kept and how much of what was in that house was just clutter. Of course, each of us has a ton of clutter in our lives, as do our businesses. I’m pretty sure that each of us could do with a decluttering as well.

Is your business media of some sort? My guess is that revenue pressures have forced a tremendous amount of clutter into your content. The commercial and promotional load (non-program material) in TV is damn near double what it was years ago. Websites are unusable due to pop-ups, pop-unders, autoplay videos, and other crap that generate minimal revues and maximum anger. The clutter of on-screen graphics has grown to obscure important parts of news, sports, or entertainment programming. The sports business is adding more logos and signage everywhere, ala NASCAR. While I know NASCAR fans are incredibly brand-loyal, I also wonder if there is a certain amount of brand blindness that occurs, much as ad banner blindness is something researchers have found to occur on cluttered web pages. No one watches anything (maybe other than the Super Bowl) for the ads.

Look at your inbox. How much email is newsletters you don’t read or email from companies from which you bought something five years ago? How much of your social news feeds is clutter? How about unsubscribing from the former and using mute on the latter?

How many companies or people with whom you do business are jerks? How about decluttering and finding alternatives? How many things on your calendar are obligations that aren’t of interest? Maybe decluttering them from your calendar will give you the time to pursue what you really love?

I’m still working on this. My fridge is often full of random bits of food that have seen better days and there are clothes in my closet with holes and stains that I keep because of an emotional tie of some sort. Still, I tossed an awful lot of junk and am selling off even more. I’m using the money to buy things I really want (and I know I really don’t NEED much of anything). Worth a try?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

The Pivot

Way back when in 1995, I was working at ABC Sports as their VP of Marketing. My job entailed meeting with advertisers and constructing packages of media and on-site benefits. We’d collaboratively design in-program elements, popularly known then as “enhancements”, to capitalize on the marketers’ involvement with a sport or an event. These things all took place on-air or on-site. The other big “on” – online – didn’t exist.

One day the president of ABC Sports walked into my office and asked me if I knew anything about computers. As a user of AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve and other early services, I replied that I did. He informed me that I was in charge and was to attend a meeting. ABC corporate had made a deal with this little start-up of under a million users called America OnLine and I was now to provide sports programming on behalf of ABC.

That was my pivot into digital. I didn’t realize it at the time, but saying “yes” to my boss’ question and being willing to take on some new, different responsibility had changed my life forever. None of us knew at the time that digital was going to disrupt the television business. We certainly didn’t think of it as anything other than an interesting sideline. But we began to see a little money coming in based on what we were doing, and once in a while, I could add some online stuff to the broad package of rights and benefits I was offering in my “real” job. Less than 5 years later, my job had become fully centered on digital, as I was now running a division of the NHL that didn’t even exist when I entered the digital world.

Being willing to pivot is a critical thing. Many businesses would be long gone if they were unwilling to do so. Foursquare, for example, pivoted their business from a consumer product to a B2B product, providing “location intelligence” to marketers. 90% of their revenue comes from that change. YouTube started as a video dating site. Nokia was a paper company. Twitter was a podcasting network. None of those businesses would be as successful, or maybe even exist, if they hadn’t been willing to shift their business paradigm and pivot.

I’d love to tell you that I saw the digital tsunami coming and got out in front of it on purpose but that would be a lie. I was lucky enough to ride the wave once it did show up because in my mind we were just doing what we’d always done – making great content and deriving value from the attention users gave it – albeit through a very different channel. The pivot was allowing my mind to be open enough to make that connection and to take the risk that it would be a rewarding road. Is your mind open to things like that?

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Filed under digital media, Growing up, Reality checks, sports business

School’s In!

Today is the first day of school around here. If these kids are like many of the ones I’ve met over the years (and maybe even the two we raised), at some point the inevitable question pops up:

Why do I need to go to school?

As they get older, the question changes a bit (probably because they enjoy seeing their friends at school every day):

Why do I need to learn this stuff? 

That’s our topic today, and I think it’s something that applies to the business world as well. The answer to the first question is pretty obvious, and it’s not just because your parents are exhausted after driving you around all summer and need you gone for a bit. I’m a lot more interested in the second question because I think that most students, parents, and teachers get the answer wrong. You don’t need to learn “this stuff.” I can’t think of a single instance in my adult life where understanding differential equations or the structure of the carbon atom has been required.

So as a public service, I’m going to give you the answer to the second question which hopefully also answers the first. I’ve given it out before but hey, it’s the first day of school and the questions might come up again so you’re welcome.

You go to school to learn two things.

  1. How to locate and verify pieces of information (let’s call them facts) in order to formulate your thoughts.
  2. How to express the thoughts you formulate both orally and in writing to communicate your thinking.

That’s it. Learn those two things and you can pretty much do anything you choose to do in this world. Ask yourself how many business people you know who can do those two things successfully and I’ll bet you also have a list of the best business people you know. In an era when “fake news” is a term thrown around like beads at a Mardi Gras parade, understanding how to determine what news is really fake and what’s just being labeled as such to distract you from facts is critical. Not everything you read in your school books is accurate, but if you don’t have a well-developed BS detector as well as the skills to track down the truth, how will you create accurate thoughts from inaccurate information either in school or beyond?

Please feel free to print this off and hand it to your kids, large or small, who are wondering about school. Feel free to ask yourself if you managed to learn those things along the way as well. If not, maybe it’s back to school for you too?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, What's Going On, Thinking Aloud

Hot Dog! It’s Friday!

It’s Foodie Friday! I spent many years working in the sports business and because of that, I was privileged to attend hundreds of sporting events around the world. One of the best parts of those experiences was the food. Inevitably, there was some down time which allowed me to wander about the arena or stadium and sample the food. I am a big believer in what I consider the truism (as the late great Frank Deford wrote) that a hot dog tastes better at the ball park. I’m such a devotee of having a dog (or 3) at the game that I usually have one before I even get to my seat. But why is that, and, more importantly for our purposes here, what does that tell us about our business?

A cooked hot dog garnished with mustard.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might suppose that it’s the particular brand of dog served. I’ve purchased the identical brands served at various places and they never taste the same when I prepare them at home. I’ve boiled them, steamed them, grilled them, or some combination of methods and yet while the taste is similar, it’s not the same. It’s not the condiments or the bun (steamed, grilled, toasted, or right out of the bag – doesn’t matter!). No, dear readers, it’s the environment.

Many studies have demonstrated the effect that environmental elements have on our perception of food. Obvious things such as lighting and less obvious things such as the music playing have been proven to change how we perceive food tastes. One obvious example is food eaten on an airplane, where the pressure is lower and the noise is higher. Our taste buds don’t function as well at 35,000 feet so airline chefs overseason their dishes (the combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods by around 30%, according to a 2010 study conducted by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics). What does this have to do with your business?

A lot. The environment we create in our offices or stores or even our digital presences can affect how workers and customers “taste” what we’re offering. If we demonstrate a commitment to openness and trust, we create an environment where everyone perceives that things are better than elsewhere even when they’re common events. We can yell and scream while we eat at the ballpark. The food tastes better because we’re having fun. Are you encouraging that kind of fun in your place of business? Most concession stands offer condiments so you can have your food the way you like it. Do you offer the same kind of personalization to your workers or customers? Do you take their personal lives into account and offer some flexibility in hours or remote work?

Think about why the same dog you prepare at home tastes way better at the stadium as you think about how you approach your customers and your business. You’ll be on the way to standing out from your competitors, even if they’re offering a similar product or service.

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Filed under food, Consulting, Thinking Aloud

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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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, Reality checks