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Ducks in a Row: Cheating As A Basis Of Culture

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

What do Hampton Creek, Theranos, Zenefits, Lending Club, WrkRiot, ScoreBig, Rothenberg Ventures have in common?

They all channeled the “fake it ‘til you make it” ethos of Silicon Valley.

Only they didn’t make it.

Previous well-known cheats include MiniScribe, WorldCom and Enron and they’re only the tip of the iceberg.

Cheating is the getting of a reward for ability or finding an easy way out of an unpleasant situation by dishonest means. It is generally used for the breaking of rules to gain unfair advantage in a competitive situation. — Wikipedia

Yesterday’s post focused on the prevalence of cheating at all school levels and its acceptance as a laissez-faire, “everyone does it” attitude.

Of course, cheating isn’t new, but the more ubiquitous it’s become the more it’s been shrugged off.

And it’s this cheating mindset that has shaped Silicon Valley over the last decade or so.

Along with faking it is the “do whatever it takes to win” form of cheating as exemplified by Uber’s Travis Kalanick.

Cheating on ideas, such as meritocracy and fairness, has certainly contributed to the rise of the bro culture, also exemplified by Uber and recently documented by Susan Fowler. However, as Uber engineer Aimee Lucido points out, Uber is far from being alone.

It does seem that a large percentage of the egos that drive, and aspire to drive, innovation, along with the egos that fund that drive, have lost touch with the society they claim to serve and, instead, bought into an attitude espoused by Donald Trump.

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

We would be better off if they would channel Sophocles, instead.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/5382067751/

 

Image credit: Sean MacEntee

Ducks In A Row: Pros And Cons Of Omada Health

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

http://vator.tv/news/2014-04-09-omada-health-raises-23m-for-chronic-disease-prevention

Companies are becoming more and more involved in their employees personal lives, especially health-wise.

That’s understandable, considering how fast costs keep rising.

Startup Omada is a good example of what’s new.

The company’s business model is unique, as it doesn’t just charge employers per customer, but it actually depends on the success of each individual to make money. Omada’s revenue is outcome based.

This means that client companies pay only when there are positive results and that’s a good thing.

Accomplishing it, however, can feel invasive.

Its flagship program, Prevent, is modeled around the National Institutes of Health study called the Diabetes Prevention Program and is designed to help participants modify their behavior and reduce their risk of Type 2 diabetes.

The client company contracts with third-party organizations to identify those most at risk for at risk of diabetes or heart disease and enrolls them for intensive personal counseling.

The digital scale that each user gets, which is connected wirelessly to their Omada account, does daily weigh-ins to track their weight loss, as that is a good indicator of blood sugar and the risk of diabetes. Omada then gets paid based on the percentage weight loss that user has seen.

However, weight is not always an accurate indicator. Based on my lifetime weight I should be diabetic, have high blood pressure and likely a heart condition.

But I don’t.

In fact, I am amazingly healthy, always have been, and require no medication, whereas 85% of people my age are taking at least one prescription drug.

While Omada’s process would work for many people it feels invasive to me and if I were an employee I’d want to opt out of it.

So the real question here is not the value of the program offered, but whether the employer forces people to do it and penalizes them if they refuse.

Image credit: Vator TV

Ducks In A Row: Are We Going Backwards?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Whether you were alive in 1984 or not, you’ve probably seen Apple’s Super bowl ad. It’s reshown almost every year and has been consistently voted the top-rated Super Bowl ad ever made, which is saying a lot.

When the ad was made women were on an upward trend and were respected members of the tech community — unlike now.

Watching the ad again last week I got to wondering.

If that ad were made today would the person throwing the hammer be a woman?

Or would it be the proverbial “twenty-something guy in a hoodie?”

Video credit: antisubliminal

Ducks in a Row: The Education of Google Translate

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/demiace/190365145/

If you’re a regular reader you know I’m not a big Google fan. Google isn’t all bad or all good, but, as with any entity, a mix of both.

Their most recent big score on the good side is the effort to reduce, or at least not promote, fake news.

Google engineers and executives are disturbed by how its algorithm promotes offensive and fake content on the web — such as a Holocaust denial site reaching the top result for certain searches about the Holocaust — and they are doing something about it, search expert and editor of Search Engine Land Danny Sullivan reports.

In a different vein is the article KG sent that’s in the pattern of Tracy Kidder’s fascinating looks at the stories behind major technology developments.

It’s the story of the people and effort to radically change Google translate using AI.

Late one Friday night in early November, Jun Rekimoto, a distinguished professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Tokyo, was online preparing for a lecture when he began to notice some peculiar posts rolling in on social media. Apparently Google Translate, the company’s popular machine-translation service, had suddenly and almost immeasurably improved. Rekimoto visited Translate himself and began to experiment with it. He was astonished. He had to go to sleep, but Translate refused to relax its grip on his imagination.

It’s not a book, but it is a long article — long, fascinating and well worth your time to read.

Which is why this post is very short.

I sincerely hope you will take time to read both articles.

Flickr image credit: JC

Ducks in a Row: Anything—As Long As It Pays…

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pimkie_fotos/2673197411/Edward Snowden’s revelations made people hyper-conscious of government snooping, while the proliferation of mobile and connected devices has made snooping easier, not to mention very profitable.

And profit is what’s behind the rise of global cyber-arms dealers that sell human suffering and death as surely as their real-world counterparts sell weapons.

Last summer, Bill Marczak stumbled across a program that could spy on your iPhone’s contact list and messages—and even record your calls. Illuminating shadowy firms that sell spyware to corrupt governments across the globe, Marczak’s story reveals the new arena of cyber-warfare.

Marczak’s stumble revealed three zero-day exploits (“Zero days” refers to the amount of time—i.e., none—a target has to fix an entirely new kind of hack before damage can be done.).

It’s called a jailbreak and the ability to do it remotely is every hacker’s dream.

… the ability to hack remotely into the digital brains of the world’s most popular hardware—the desktops, laptops, tablets, and especially the mobile phones made by Apple. And not just break into Apple devices but actually take control of them. It was a hacker’s dream: the ability to monitor a user’s communications in real time and also to turn on his microphone and record his conversations.

In a superhuman effort, Apple patched all three exploits in just 10 days.

It’s an uplifting story, but the fact is Apple and other computer-makers are fighting a losing battle. As long as there are hackers, they will continue to find ways to hack any device that interfaces with them. These dangers were highlighted this fall when a New England company found itself the target of a mass denial-of-service attack from millions of non-computer “zombie devices” connected to the Internet—most notably baby monitors.

“What these cyber-arms dealers have done is democratize digital surveillance,” says the A.C.L.U.’s Chris Soghoian. “The surveillance tools once only used by big governments are now available to anyone with a couple hundred grand to spend.” In fact, they may be coming to your iPhone sometime soon.

Hat tip to KG for sharing the Vanity Fair article about Marczak.

Flickr image credit: Pimkie

Ducks in a Row: Amazon Finally Kills Its Forced Ranking.

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/44412176@N05/4197328040/

Yesterday’s Golden Oldie referenced Jack Welch’s responsibility for the atrocious forced ranking system followed by so many large, and even not-so-large, companies.

… a review process known as “stack ranking” or “rank and yank” in which employees are rated against each other as opposed to how well they meet their job requirements. (…) Using it long-term tends to create a dog-eat-dog kind of culture.

That changed drastically under Jeff Immelt, GE’s current CEO, as described last year.

According to Raghu Krishnamoorthy, the head of GE’s in-house management school,

“Command and control is what Jack was famous for. Now it’s about connection and inspiration.

But not at Amazon, because Jeff Bezos walked in Welch’s shoes on many levels, including reviews.

… the review process was described like “choosing sacrificial lambs to protect more essential players.” (…) Bezos believed managers needed to raise the performance bar with every new hire so that the only employees that rise through the company would be the ones considered exceptional.

Until last year.

There is nothing like public embarrassment (humiliation?) via the New York Times to encourage rethinking one’s actions.

It took a more than a year, but Amazon is finally changing its review process.

Bezos is slow; Microsoft ditched it in 2015 and Marissa Mayer never managed to implement it, although she did try.

Amazing how it’s only taken 30+ years for management to figure out that setting employee against employee does not foster teamwork.

All I can say is, “Duh.”

Image credit: gorfor

Ducks in a Row: Hard Work and Initiative

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ralpe/3147996201/

I read an interesting article about hard work vs talent by Ed Latimore.

For those of you (like me) who never heard of Ed Latimore, he is a boxer (12-0 w/7 KOs), who also writes books and is a motivational speaker.

Take a minute to read the whole thing, but here is the most important take-away.

If you have nothing particularly special about your mind or body, you always have hard work. The ability to work your ass off is underrated as a talent because we consider talent something special, unique, and largely unteachable. (…) working your ass off is a talent you can learn.

Along with hard work, you need to develop your initiative.

Initiative is a muscle and you have dozens of opportunities to exercise it every day.

It’s simple.

Anything you notice, large or small, that needs to be done, do it.

That’s all.

Do it and initiative becomes a habit, just like hard work.

And I can pretty much guarantee that those two habits will take you almost anywhere you want to go.

Image credit: Ralf Peter Reimann

Ducks in a Row: Are Your Employees Owners or Renters?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gusilu/2888338293/

“Ownership” is the difference between having employees who care and those who are just along for the ride.

Jim Haskett, Harvard business School professor emeritus, hosts lively conversations around current research he and his colleagues have done. The comment period is roughly two weeks and the ideas/comments are as interesting as Haskett’s original post.

Are Employees Becoming Job ‘Renters’ Instead of ‘Owners’? is the most recent and is critical to any manager looking to foster an engaged workforce.

In our work, we found that an “owner”—either a loyal employee or customer who takes responsibility for improving relationships, products, and processes as well as referring new employee candidates or customers—can be worth more than a hundred “renters—”those who are only involved with the organization to complete one or more transactions.

Think about it; why would Uber drivers care about the company — to use Haskett’s terms, they rent the job.

It isn’t just the so-called on-demand jobs that hire renters. There are plenty of them in full-time positions and, surprisingly, even in companies such as Google and Facebook.

In a recent Golden Oldie we considered the truism that “you get what you give” when it comes to respect and that’s true about most things.

Another old saying is also very true — people don’t quit companies, they quit managers.

In companies with “real” jobs, it’s the managers who determine whether employees are owners or renters.

Be sure to click over, read the comments and add your own.

Image credit: chispita_666

Ducks in a Row: Facebook — Racist or Just Dumb?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Considering it’s 2016 the unbelievably racist targeted advertising choices offered by Facebook are hard to swallow.

facebook-screenshotHarder still are their explanations.

First, they claim to prohibit this kind of ugly targeting.

Facebook says its policies prohibit advertisers from using the targeting options for discrimination, harassment, disparagement or predatory advertising practices.

They claim that advertisers won’t misuse these options.

“We take a strong stand against advertisers misusing our platform: Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law,” said Steve Satterfield, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook. “We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies.”

But their worst excuse is the old A/B test.

Satterfield said it’s important for advertisers to have the ability to both include and exclude groups as they test how their marketing performs.

Hence my question.

Is Facebook really so naïve they actually believe that the so-called “affinity choices” won’t be abused or, in the name of profit, do they just not care?

Image credit: Facebook via Pro Publica

Ducks in a Row: Walmart — King of Spin

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/64738468@N00/2212721973/

More proof that what What Walmart really excels at is PR and spin.

After years of angry customer complaints about dirty stores, unstocked shelves, uncaring employees and an exodus of customers to the competition Walmart had an epiphany.

Maybe, just maybe, they had cut worker pay too far.

What if paying workers more, training them better and offering better opportunities for advancement can actually make a company more profitable, rather than less? “Efficiency wages” is the term that economists — who excel at giving complex names to obvious ideas — use for the notion that employers who pay workers more than the going rate will get more loyal, harder-working, more productive employees in return.

Of course, Henry Ford figured that out in 1914 and companies such as Costco have followed suit.

Ford astonished the world in 1914 by offering a $5 per day wage ($110 today), which more than doubled the rate of most of his workers. (…) The move proved extremely profitable; instead of constant turnover of employees, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing their human capital and expertise, raising productivity, and lowering training costs.

However, these days, money isn’t everything. People want more challenges, more ways to grow and better career opportunities.

“We realized quickly that wages are only one part of it, that what also matters are the schedules we give people, the hours that they work, the training we give them, the opportunities you provide them,” said Judith McKenna, who became chief operating officer in late 2014, in a recent interview. “What you’ve got to do is not just fix one part, but get all of these things moving together.”

“Quickly?” Considering the years of complaints, falling sales and stock price I’m not sure “quickly” is particularly accurate.

Just think. People who earn more money have more discretionary money to spend.

Rocket science? No, just logic.

But making your company look like a hero for paying people $18K a year definitely is rocket science.

Flickr image credit: mario

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