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Ducks in a Row: Change? Yeah, Right

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/timove/34352989113/

I read a post by Ellen Pao in Medium in which she asks if anything has really changed.

On its face, it all sounds like meaningful change, right? Or at least it sounds a lot better than the very recent public shaming of women who came forward and the sweeping of bad behavior under the rug. (…) Public apologies and one-off actions are superficial ways to react to criticism or put on a happy face, but they often cover up company culture failures that are hard to fix, especially if no one is seriously trying.

While there have been multiple resignations and apologies (complete with crocodile tears), do you really believe that any of these wealthy, well-known, white guys will land anywhere but on their feet? That their actions will have any permanent effect on their future?

If so, you’re living on a planet to which I’d love to emigrate.

Whereas the women who went public will pay a heavy toll.

I [Pao] have heard from several women who spoke up in this newspaper and elsewhere this year that they continue to face harassment. They have been told that discussing their experiences has limited their careers.

After virtual reality startup UploadVR was sued for sexual harassment in May, a male startup CEO publicly commented that lawsuits like this make him “VERY afraid to hire more [women]. It just seems like such a huge risk as CEO.” His comments went viral and he later retracted, apologized and deleted them.

Retracted, apologized, deleted, none of which is likely to have changed his attitude.

Speaking of UploadVR, which had, and probably still has, one of the worst, sex-drenched cultures in Silicon Valley.

The Valley will protect it, because it isn’t just a guy or a company, but a hub for the VR crowd and, collectively, they need it.

While current publicity is heavily focused on tech, the same actions are alive and well in many venues from the University of Rochester’s Department of Brain and Cognitive, one of the top graduate programs in the US, to women in sports broadcasting.

Are things getting better? Maybe.

But as long as there are no long-term ill effects for guys there is little reason for them to do the hard work of educating against bias, both inherent and societal, and changing culture.

Nothing is as simple as it seems. Be sure to read about an experience, shared by an East Coast founder (published September 20), that turns a spotlight on rarely mentioned fall-out from the harassment problem.

Image credit: TimOve

Ducks in a Row: Influencer For Sale

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/8409186334/

Or not…

Although yesterday’s post about influencers focused on founders, influencers are everywhere.

Influencers effect the entire global population, because they populate social media, new media, old media, and your entire offline world.

Some influencers are real people who are paid real money to endorse a brand, movement, or some other effort, lending credence as well as a halo effect.

Others are faux.

The symbols that identify “real” influencers and provide immediate legitimacy are sold in a black market that is an open secret among those who earn their living as influencers — and they are willing to pay.

For example, Instangram’s little blue check sells for anywhere from $1500 to $7000

More importantly, it’s a status symbol. The blue emblem can help people gain legitimacy in the business of influencer marketing and bestows some credibility within Instagram’s community of 700 million monthly active users. It cannot be requested online or purchased, according to Instagram’s policies. It is Instagram’s velvet rope.

In addition to verification, there are black markets for attractiveness, Likes, followers, and anything else that boosts profiles and Klout scores.

We live in a world where everything is for sale, so when it comes to influencers, caveat emptor is the watchword to live by.

Image credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Ducks in a Row: Good Boss Culture

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewwippler/4556732144

There’s no question that tech, just like every other industry, is highly biased. It’s become a major issue not because it’s new, but because tech drives much of the economy, which puts it in the spotlight. Added to that, more women and people of color are and speaking out publically about what they have to deal with.

Tech’s main excuse for its lousy diversity numbers is a lack of talent, so they focus on kids to fill the pipeline — but all that really does is provide 5-20 years of avoidance in dealing with the real problem

Consider the hard data.

Among young computer science and engineering graduates with bachelor’s or advanced degrees, 57 percent are white, 26 percent are Asian, 8 percent are Hispanic and 6 percent are black (…)  technical workers at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter, according to the companies’ diversity reports, are on average 56 percent white, 37 percent Asian, 3 percent Hispanic and 1 percent black.

Those numbers certainly don’t add up.

The real problem is culture (duh!) — why spend eight-or-more (usually more) hours where you’re actively not wanted?

Yolanda Mangolini, Google’s director of global diversity, recognizes this problem.

“We know that it’s not just about recruiting a diverse workforce. It’s about creating an environment where they want to stay.”

True, but, in fact, the greatest company culture possible won’t cut it.

Even more important than company culture is the boss’ individual culture.

For hard proof there is Mekka Okereke, the black engineering manager who runs Google Play and seems to be missing (or controls) both conscious and unconscious bias.

That team is 10% black, 10% Latino, 25% women and 50% female managers, and has become a role model for other managers,

Obviously, Okereke doesn’t just hire strong talent; he provides an environment in which they can learn, grow and excel.

That’s what a good boss is supposed to do.

But it’s the great ones who actually do it.

Image credit: Andrew Wippler  

Ducks in a Row: Handwriting Enhances Creativity

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pazzani/15583603389/

Yesterday’s post focused on the importance of good writing when in a professional setting.

Pure coincidence, but an article today in the International Business Times talks about the negative effect of using smiley faces in business emails. (Emphasis mine.)

According to the study, while smiling during face-to-face communication was perceived as warm and indicated more competence with regards to the first impressions created, a text-based representation of a smile in computer-mediated communication did not have the same effect.

“Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” said Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management.

Definitely something to share with your team.

What else can writing do?

Free up your creativity.

But only if you put down the keyboard and pick up a pen or pencil.

Anyone can benefit from penmanship’s cognitive benefits, whether you’re taking notes at a meeting or just trying to figure out what you think.

Put another way, writing by hand engages your brain, while keyboarding does not.

Brain scans during the two activities also show that forming words by hand as opposed to on a keyboard leads to increased brain activity (pdf). Scientific studies of children and adults show that wielding a pen when taking notes, rather than typing, is associated with improved long-term information retention, better thought organization, and increased ability to generate ideas.

Writing by hand forces you to turn off distractions, whether smartphone, computer, or music.

Writing by hand forces you to focus.

Writing by hand forces you to really listen; it makes you process what is being said and be more selective in what you record as opposed to running on autopilot.

If you never learned to write by hand, or have forgotten how, there are classes.

And if you don’t believe it works, try it.

You may find yourself very much surprised.

Image credit: Mike’s Birds

Ducks in a Row: Education For Tomorrow’s Heroes

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dimsis/17826882135/

The talk of heroes and the need to change their traits and profile started last week when I shared a post from Wally Bock.

Sadly, need doesn’t always drive change, so, if our society really believes there is a need to change our heroes, we must look to how we educate our children.

What about education? Is its primary purpose to prepare humans to earn a living?

Mark Zukerberg and other tech titans would have you believe STEM is critical and that tech is the solution to education’s woes.

But if that’s true, why did Steve Jobs limit his kids’ tech at home and why do so many in the tech world send their kids to schools that allow no tech?

If money, tech, and extracurricular opportunities are what’s critical to kids success, why is the teen suicide rate climbing fastest in high-income, suburban, mostly white schools (along with elite colleges and among entrepreneurs, also mostly white males).

Is there more to education than providing workers to Facebook, Google, and the rest of techdom — who will be needed only until AI is trained to write code?

There definitely is more and it was elegantly summed up by Malcolm Forbes.

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.

In 2009, there was a boycott by conservative parents over a back-to-school speech by then-President Obama that focused on personal responsibility and personal choice.

However, no such blowup surrounded the speech given this year by Chief Justice John Roberts at Cardigan, his son’s private, all male prep school that addressed similar topics and attitudes. (This is an excerpt, read the entire speech at the link.)

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

I think if you’re going to look forward to figure out where you’re going, it’s good to know where you’ve been and to look back as well.

But you are also privileged young men. And if you weren’t privileged when you came here, you are privileged now because you have been here. My advice is: Don’t act like it (emphasis mine).

The only way we will change our hero leaders from the shallow ideologues of today is by changing education.

A new breed of heroes requires different skills, such as deep thinking, critical thinking, empathy and the entire range of so-called soft skills.

Ideology, no matter the flavor or parameters, just won’t cut it.

Image credit: Dimitris Siskopoulos

Ducks in a Row: Yonatan Zunger’s Response To Google Manifesto

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yodelanecdotal/1449868160/in/photolist-3d7XhU-nD4FUb-nphNJ2-nTjSvi-bTwp2k-mXGMEk-pd9LmU-nBPnBS-boeAFR-7LJWi7-avRQjp-7LEZtK-7LJWjJ-ejatXA-21e3h-Li3kk-3fFvBG-bN4EGz-6i8NJe-8fwJhJ-eUAptg-9YDyyr-68eU85-cTB2rG-9B518N-rCyjHM-7fMvid-6pRHL-rp9wWp-CRih1o-A37C92-68aHjz-eKEMv4-A1ToUq-j29oe8-nVy9YM-dpQ5bL-dPoxSV-9PkXo-z8uXHK-6Qm34u-6QgWRc-zLFDXs-zKwsyt-eUMKcb-A3YDeV-DUDt1-A16hdb-7LEZrD-qMWFVH

I’m assuming you’ve read the anti-diversity manifesto, or articles about it, from the Google engineer decrying his company’s diversity efforts and harking back to the ancient reasoning that women are biologically incapable of being good coders, cops and firemen, among other incapables.

(It’s always sad to see this level of scientific ignorance in a technical person. Of course, it’s not easier in a (supposedly) educated politician.)

There are dozens of responses, but Yonatan Zunger’s is the best I’ve seen (hat tip to KG for sending it).

Zunger is a 14 year Google veteran, who left last week to join a startup. He not only refutes it, but analyzes why the damage goes well beyond the obvious. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth the few minutes it will take to read.

Ayori Selassie’s is shorter and I’ve reproduced it in full below.

The penis doesn’t write code, the brain does.

Women also have a brain therefore they write code too.

There, I fixed your #GoogleManifesto.

The one thing in the manifesto I do agree with is that freedom of speech should mean that anyone can speak their mind without fear of shaming or harassment.

However, the tactics he describes that are commonly used in liberal bastions on those espousing right and alt-right attitudes are exactly the same tactics used on progressives and liberals in conservative strongholds.

It boils down to the age-old us / them attitude.

Join me tomorrow for a look at the skills that will power your career now and in the future — and have nothing to do with STEM.

Image credit: Yahoo

Ducks In A Row: Changing Our Heroes 1

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/deano_exposed/2085899170/

Wally Bock’s post yesterday ended with this comment.

Our heroes have always been cowboys, but maybe it’s time for something different.

Assuming you agree with him, the question, of course, is how do you change?

One problem with the current version of hero is that they aren’t good at driving innovation — unless they thought of it themselves.

If not, they often respond in one of two ways.

  1. Negatively, by immediately stating all the possible reasons it won’t work; or
  2. duplicitously, by putting it down and then presenting it later as their own idea.

Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde, known for creating social designs that explore the relation between people, technology and space, has a simple idea that provides an elegant solution.

The Yes But chair.

This chair has voice recognition and will give you a little shock when you say the words ‘yes but’. He developed this chair because he was frustrated that so many people start with these words when they hear a new idea.

One useful modification that comes to mind is some kind of control that is capable of adjusting the voltage, since a minor shock might not be enough to jolt a hero out of their rut.

Please join me over the next 10 days for more on changing what what makes a hero.

Image credit: CyrielKortleven.com and DeanO Exposed

Ducks in a Row: It’s NOT The Pipeline

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/billjacobus1/467939137/

There’s a standard response to why there aren’t more women CEOs: a lack of talent in the pipeline.

This is the same excuse used to explain the lack of women/minorities in tech or any profession, for that matter.

Typically, the response comes from white guys — mostly those from middle, upper-middle, and privileged backgrounds.

It’s the pipeline.

For years I thought it was a pipeline question,” said Julie Daum, who has led efforts to recruit women for corporate boards at Spencer Stuart. “But it’s not — I’ve been watching the pipeline for 25 years. There is real bias, and without the ability to shine a light on it and really measure it, I don’t think anything’s going to change.

Conscious, intentional bias is bad enough, but girls also have to contend with an unconsciously biased society and a dearth of powerful role models.

Women rarely consider themselves experts, unlike men, who will claim expertise on any subject, no matter how ridiculous.

A presenter asked a group of men and women whether anyone had expertise in breast-feeding. A man raised his hand. He had watched his wife for three months. The women in the crowd, mothers among them, didn’t come forward as experts.

Ellen Kullman, the former chief executive of DuPont sums up a large piece of the problem.

“We are never taught to fight for ourselves.”

Back in 2015, the brand Always showed an ad during Super Bowl that focused on what a putdown the phrase “like a girl” actually is.

A young boy’s response when asked if “like a girl” insulted his sister is telling.

“No, I mean yeah… insulted girls, but not my sister.”

What does the phrase sound like to a young girl?

It sounds like you’re trying to humiliate someone.

Britain, for one, is fighting back.

The UK’s advertising industry regulator has announced that portrayals of little girls aspiring to be, say, a ballerina while boys hope to be, for instance, a scientist or doctor will be banned from the country’s ads. Many of these air during kids’ programs and target teens through social media.

And if you think this example is extreme it is actually drawn from this Aptamil baby formula ad.

Can bias actually be addressed beyond training and conversation?

Join me tomorrow for a look at how a corporate sexist poster child became a lodestar for gender equity.

Image credit: Bill Jacobus

Ducks in a Row: Personal Brand / Personal Culture

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/phploveme/4684039656/Everywhere you turn these days you’re told to use social media to create an easily recognized persona that becomes your “personal brand.”

It’s supposed to be the “real” you, i.e., authentic.

It’s also supposed to be the best you, which usually means inauthentic.

Inauthentic, because people typically share all their upside, but rarely the downside.

They post all the fabulous pictures (even helping them along via photoshop-type editing).

Non-fabulous pics are a rarity, unless they are meant to be funny, e.g., morning bedhead before coffee, and those are screened carefully.

We’re not talking spontaneous, rather faux spontaneous.

In fact, everything is carefully curated to enhance and extend one’s personal brand.

But what about personal culture?

As with company culture, your personal culture is based on your personal values.

Values are much harder to curate, since they underlie all actions.

Fred Destin is the latest VC to apologize for his actions, along with Binary Capital’s Justin Caldbeck, 500 Startups founder Dave McLure, and Lowercase Capital’s Chris Sacca.

Apparently it didn’t occur to any of them that their actions towards women were unacceptable, which makes you wonder about their values.

There is no wondering about Donald Trump’s values, since he stated publicly that he could do as he pleased, because he is rich.

The take away here is that no matter how carefully you curate your brand your personal culture will eventually trip you up if your curation doesn’t accurately reflect your values.

Image credit: Jinho Jung

Ducks in a Row: Jerks and “Culture Fit”

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/forsterfoto/168970168/Although both articles I refer to are aimed at startup founders, I believe they are applicable to bosses at any level and in any company.

First, no boss ever accomplished their goals by being a jerk.

As Bob Sutton explains in The Asshole Survival Guide, treating people like dirt hurts their focus and saps their motivation. (…)  In the podcast, Reid [Hoffman] describes his test of a great culture: Does every employee feel that they personally own the culture?

Most jerks point to Steve Jobs to justify their actions, but consider how much more he could have done if he had been a better leader/manager.

It’s hard to find any boss who doesn’t recognize that culture is the most critical element in a company’s success.

However, what “culture” is has been twisted and warped out of all recognition.

These days “cultural fit” is the excuse of choice to indulge whatever biases, prejudices, and bigotry moves the hiring boss.

So, what does cultural fit really mean?

To answer that you have to understand what culture really is.

Culture is a reflection of the values of the boss.

Values have nothing to do with perks, food, or office buildings and everything to do with attitudes such as fairness, merit, transparency, trust, etc.

The point of cultural fit is to hire people whose personal values are, at the least, synergistic with the cultural values of the company.

Period.

That means that if the boss is biased, bigoted or a jerk, they will hire people who have similar values.

Image credit: Matthias Forster

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