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Ducks in a Row: Behavioral Addiction Means Profit

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/4549543273/

Do you believe that Twitter was founded with effects like Arab Spring in mind? Or that Mark Zukerberg started Facebook for altruistic reasons? Or that Instagram, Snapchat and other similar sites actually have your wellbeing in mind?

If so, you probably also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

The primary purpose of every one of these sites is simple: to make as much money as possible.

How?

By using personalization to achieve behavioral addiction.

Infinite personalization comprises the artificial intelligence-driven, big-data based tools that allow algorithms to build a personalized Internet echo chamber customized just for you, designed to make you feel great. Infinite personalization feeds you the real, the fake, and everything in between, with the simple goal of holding your attention and getting you to come back for more. It is the process by which companies can measure, match, and predict consumers’ individual preferences with amazing accuracy and then tailor offerings to maximize revenue.

It’s done with full knowledge and, in my opinion, malice afore thought.

It’s why tech titans, starting with Steve Jobs in 2010, limit their kids, as I said a couple of years ago in The Hypocrites of Tech.

They want their kids to grow to positions of leadership and power and know they can’t if their world shrinks to a self-enhancing echo chamber that only regurgitates information that fits their preconceived ideas.

Personalization is active in the real world, too, and has been for several years, with young adults inventing ways to shrink their world by curating their college roommates and demanding “safe places.”  

All I can say it ‘good luck’ when their carefully curated echo chamber has to function in the work-world.

However, it’s a sad and scary commentary that in the frenzy to make more and more money tech is providing a detailed roadmap, along with the supporting technology, for demagogs to become dictators.

For a more detailed look at behavioral addiction check out Adam Alter’s Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

Image credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Golden Oldies: Pity for a Generation

Monday, March 6th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

In the three years since I wrote this the situation hasn’t improved — in fact it’s gotten much worse. Worse because it encompasses what seems like the majority of people from every country around the globe and all ages.

Something else happened during those three years — mental health practitioners recognized the addictive qualities of social media and formalized several conditions, such as FOMO (fear of missing out).

As with any addiction there are two sides, addicts and suppliers. Join me tomorrow for a look at the supply side.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicubunuphotos/5925119201/

I feel sorry for the current generation and all those who’ve bought into their ethos.

Everywhere I go I see them; eyes locked on a tiny screen desperately seeking the latest indication that they fit in; that they are accepted; that they are liked.

But what they find on that screen is an illusion; one that leads them away from the real connections all humans crave.

Studies show that American college students spend, on average, three hours texting and an hour and 40 minutes on Facebook every day. One of the more recent studies centers on the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale: Norwegian researchers have observed that excessive Facebook use leads to higher rates of anxiety and social insecurity.

The proof is in what happens when they’re in public and you take that screen away.

“I gathered my things and bolted out the door,” one student wrote about her reaction once she finished her meal. “I was glad that I could feel like I belong somewhere again. . . . What I hated most was being alone and feeling like I was being judged for it.” Another student echoed this experience. “By not having my phone or laptop to hide behind, it was amazing how self-conscious I felt.”

How sad is that?

In short, no screen equals no confidence

“I realized something disturbing after doing this. If I don’t feel connected with others, I automatically feel alone, unpopular, less confident.”

The feedback of online connections may provide instant gratification, but that’s cold comfort when what you’re longing for is warmth, intimacy and a hug.

Flickr image credit: nicubunu.photo

Entrepreneurs: Motivational ‘Duh’

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/anchovypizza/4222126794/

Tuesday I commented on the ‘duh’ factor in relation to Amazon finally eliminated forced ranking reviews, AKA, rank and yank, recognizing that they did nothing to foster teamwork or improve retention.

Like I said, “duh.”

Today we have Facebook offering up another duh moment.

Facebook is trying to accommodate millennials and its younger predecessor by talking to each worker and figuring out how their individual skills can be used to make a more personalized career path, not something more traditional and cookie cutter-like.

Definitely duh.

I defy you to think of anyone who works at any job and any level who doesn’t prefer this approach.

Take a look at what turns on/off the so-called silver-tsunami  of Gen X and Boomers.

Millennials may walk faster than Gen X and Boomers when they don’t like the culture, but that, too, will change as they take on more responsibilities, such as kids, mortgages and aging parents

Whenever I hear how different the needs of millennials are compared to previous generations I’m reminded of these words from Socrates.

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

Give it a rest.

You hire individuals and need to manage them as such.

So put away the cookie cutter and provide everyone, no matter their age, with an environment in which to grow and flourish and the tools needed to do it.

That’s your job in a nutshell.

Flickr image credit: David

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: Perks that Work

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/allenthepostman/2223927152/

Free food. Free in-office massages. On-site dry cleaning. Concierge services. The list goes on…

These perks are so easily copied, not to mention prevalent in certain industries, that they hardly qualify as retention policy, AKA, people holders.

Are these really the perks on which to spend your money?

Think about it and consider far more dynamic policies that others are doing.

After every seven years of service, employees become eligible for a six-to-eight week paid sabbatical, which they can use to spend time with their families, travel, and accomplish longstanding personal goals — no strings attached.

Aarstol believes that a shortened workday could motivate employees to work more efficiently. And he is proving to be right through his own company, Tower Paddle Boards, which continues to expand, even after a year of rolling out the five-hour workday. Last year, it was named the fastest-growing private company in San Diego. Aarstol even published a book titled “The Five Hour Workday” this month.

REI, for example, gives its employees two paid days off a year, called “Yay Days,” to enjoy their favorite outside activity. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) takes every other Friday off, coining those “Panda Fridays.” We also give our employees every other Friday off — and we pay them for it. We call it the “18-Day Work Month,” and we truly believe it’s the key to a more productive workforce.

Gusto, a startup with 300 employees in San Francisco and Denver, just became the first midsize company in the US to cover fertility treatments in a way that will help single women and same-sex couples, according to Cigna.

However, some of the best perks cost the company nothing.

SEI made Forbes’ 2016 Best Small Companies list earlier this year, in part because of its unusual employee goal-setting policy. Twice a year managers meet with reports who lay out goals, including compensation, and SEI pledges to support employees’ wishes.

The main point: this is not a high-profile kind of job at Facebook, not a developer building a feature that will be used by millions, nor an engineer working on some of Facebook’s moonshot projects like its solar-powered drone or Internet.org.
“At Facebook we believe that ‘Nothing at Facebook is somebody else’s problem’ — it’s yours,” she writes. “I’m tasked with finding creative, innovative and realistic solutions for my clients, even if it has never been done before.”
In other words, she feels a sense of empowerment.
In fact, academic research shows that there’s a strong correlation between job satisfaction and employee empowerment. People who are given the freedom to solve problems in their own creative ways simply like their jobs and their companies better.

In fact, it’s the willingness of management to help their people function at their highest level, grow and succeed, i.e., a manager who cares, that is worth more than most tangible perks.

Flickr image credit: allen watkin

Mark Benioff’s Solution to Information Overload

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/5310317688/Everyone complains about information overload.

Playwright Richard Forman has a term for it.

“Pancake people – spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button”.

Psychologist and behavioral neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of the upcoming book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, recommends retraining your brain.

“Our brains are equipped to deal with the world the way it was many thousands of years ago when we were hunter-gatherers. Back then the amount of information that was coming at us was much less and it came at us much more slowly.”

But Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff has a much simpler solution.

“I deleted my Facebook account completely. I found it was just overwhelming me. I’m only on Twitter, I’m on SalesforceOne, which is my internal one for work, I’m on email, and that’s it. And I’m limited to that. I’m trying not to take on more stuff. I was with a friend this weekend, he’s got his Twitter, his Facebook, he has his Snapchat, he’s got all these – too much.”

Of course, part of the overload is work-related, but it’s amazing how much is pure trivia driven by FoMO and/or the need to impress by sounding knowledgeable about a twist in Game of Thrones.

You are the only person who can evaluate just how necessary your various information streams are sooner rather than later.

Because even the smallest stream adds to the river in which it is oh, so easy to drown.

Then you need gather your courage, follow Benioff’s lead and shut down the unnecessary streams.

Your sanity will thank you.

Flickr image credit: Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter

Booze, Sex, Drugs and — Google?

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

http://www.amazon.com/The-Show-Filip-Syta/dp/1941758150Is it possible that Google’s vaunted culture has a dark side?

A dark side composed of booze, sex, drugs and lies.

Sound unlikely?

It’s always dangerous to take the word of an ex employee without at least a pinch of salt or, maybe a few pounds — or sometimes none.

Filip Syta worked as an ad sales executive at Google for two years until 2014, when he became disillusioned with his work. So Syta dropped out and wrote a novel, “The Show,” about a fictional search advertising giant. The story describes a San Francisco company called Show that employs a lot of 20-somethings who make a lot of money, have a lot of parties, drink a lot of booze, sleep with one another indiscriminately, and take a lot of cocaine.

Is it possible? Or likely?

Yes and yes.

Just as possible as in any situation where young, immature, mostly male humans suddenly have a lot of cash and are seriously bored.

“You get bored after a while, you get everything there, basically. They do everything that your mother doesn’t do for you anymore. There’s a dry-cleaning service, swimming pool, dentist, doctor, food, massage — you don’t have to think about anything. You just go to work and it’s all taken care of.

“And also I think a lot of talent is being wasted there because we hired smart people. We will hire smart people, but they hire overqualified people because they have such a strong brand. Many people are bored at their job … It’s kind of chill and might get boring. These other people seek out other adventures when they’re together — they don’t have to care about anything. They know Google has their back. It’s like a kindergarten for grown-ups. And obviously there was a higher and more adventurous type who obviously take more risks. Everyone is very relaxed, and they don’t take the safe way.”

But what’s really troubling is what he claims goes on in sales.

Syta told Business Insider the company was “extremely data driven.”

“They measure everything, and you want to look good to your manager and your manager wants to look good to their manager and up the chain it goes, so you want to report great numbers,” (…)   Does nobody check?

“No, no because no one cares.”

But surely there are numbers and metrics that can be easily verified?

“No, no, not always,” Syta said. “Because the upper manager will not go down to the account manager-level and check. Of course they will see real cash flow coming in. But in specific cases of a specific client, they won’t check. As long as it looks good everyone is happy because everyone cares only about their own task to look good to their next upper manager.”

So we [Business Insider] were curious: How much of this is true, or inspired by real events?

“Ninety percent,” Syta told us.

90%? That would definitely worry me if I was advertising with Google.

I haven’t read the book and, to be honest, it doesn’t hold much interest for me.

Obviously, the majority of people in either the fictional or real company aren’t involved in the shenanigans, but still…

Do I think it’s different/better at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other high flyers?

Probably not, but maybe that’s just my own cynicism.

I saw the results of too much money too fast up close and personal decades ago, although I admit it wasn’t even close to what goes on in the Valley today.

So yes, there probably is a dark side at Google.

Image credit: Amazon

Entrepreneurs: Apple Values in Action

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cjscott69/664989150

Have you ever thought about a very basic difference between Apple and Google and Facebook?

All are highly profitable.

All have a laser focus on their customers.

But only Apple honors its customers privacy.

Apple CEO Tim Cook sat down with NPR to talk about privacy, and described it as a “fundamental human right.” The comments come after Apple updated its website to make its stance on privacy clearer, something Cook describes as “a values point” not “a commercial interest.”

Whereas Larry Page’s recent comments when asked about the new name Alphabet indicate a totally different mindset.

The point, according to Larry Page, the Google co-founder who will be Alphabet’s chief executive, is for the separate parts to be independent and develop their own brands. That would never happen with all of them under the Google banner, given that many associate the name solely with a consumer search product. Many of the companies operating under the Alphabet umbrella, artificial intelligence and robotics, for instance, may never be consumer-oriented.

Mr. Page, in a blog post announcing the move, took the opportunity to note some wordplay in the name. “We also like that it means alpha‑bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark),” he wrote, “which we strive for!”

At least Google finally dropped the words Don’t be Evil from its values, which is good, because it abandoned the attitude in the name of profit long ago.

The article claims that the difference can be explained by the fact that Apple sells things, while Google and Facebook depend on ads, but Amazon (which is not mentioned) generates its revenues selling stuff and still tracks (stalks) its visitors.

Flickr image credit: Chris Scott

Your Data — Your Soul

Monday, July 6th, 2015

How freely do you discuss the details about how you think, what you like, what you believe and the challenges you face with strangers?

Sites, apps, data brokers and marketing analytics firms are gathering more and more details about people’s personal lives — from their social connections and health concerns to the ways they toggle between their devices. The intelligence is often used to help tailor online experiences or marketing pitches. Such data can also potentially be used to make inferences about people’s financial status, addictions, medical conditions, fitness, politics or religion in ways they may not want or like.

How willing would you be to sell that information to benefit a total stranger?

What if it would benefit a pet company, such as Apple, Facebook or Hulu?

You already give up your personal information in return for better access to their products and services, but you do so with the idea that you won’t be packaged and sold.

In fact, most sites tell you upfront that they won’t “share your personal data with third parties.”

But, as they say, the devil is in the details and buried deep in the privacy statements is a giant ‘but…’

Of the 99 sites with English-language terms of service or privacy policies, 85 said they might transfer users’ information if a merger, acquisition, bankruptcy, asset sale or other transaction occurred, The Times’s analysis found. The sites with these provisions include prominent consumer technology companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, in addition to Hulu.

It’s a safe bet that if these sites have that caveat, so do thousands of others — both large and small.

The expansion of the Internet of Things provides companies a far more intimate look at your life than ever dreamed possible.

It’s a trend that is likely to widen as companies introduce new Internet-enabled products, like connected cars and video cameras, which can collect and transmit a constant stream of data to the cloud.

Your best hope (if you care) is to assume that caveat emptor reigns.

Generally, caveat emptor is the contract law principle that controls the sale of real property after the date of closing, but may also apply to sales of other goods.

Your data is ‘other goods’.

Stuff happens; economies go up and down and businesses wax and wane.

Any company, no matter how large or seemingly stable can find itself in the position of having to sell or transfer its assets.

Your data is an asset. Period.

Flickr image credit: safwat sayed

Ducks in a Row: Pinterest’s Creative Harmony

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/katdaned/3543936498/

Scott Goodson has worked at Apple, Instagram and Facebook; all hot companies known for their creativity, innovation and cultures.

Goodson recently joined Pinterest and found an enormous difference.

“I found Pinterest to be a very different sort of culture than I’m used to. One of the most unique things is that the company really values interdisciplinary work across the different functional areas of the team. The notion of empathy is deeply understood here. At other companies there’s a bit more of a competitive or even ruthless perspective, so it was really refreshing to see the level of cooperation here.”

He goes on to say,

“There’s definitely a stereotype of a successful startup that it’s often this aggressive, type A place and that’s just not necessarily true. You can have geniuses that are nice or geniuses that are really egotistical. But they’re both geniuses. So, we really want to work with the geniuses that are nice to each other and have a common level of respect.”

What neither Goodson nor the article mention is that Pinterest has a strong team of female designers and engineers.

While the founders are male, the culture they developed is one where women thrive.

It was a revelation to join the team at Pinterest and feel like I was treated like an engineer first, not as a female engineer. In most other places, I felt like people always treated me as a “female engineer,” like I was a novelty. People even called me a unicorn to my face. It was really nice to come here and not have that gender modifier in front of who I am.” –Tracy Chou, Pinterest engineer

Pinterest’s culture fosters creative collaboration and mutual respect because it is the absolute opposite of the typical frat-boy startup culture so common in the Valley.

Flickr image credit: katdaned

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