Friday, May 12th, 2017
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.
Although I rarely get comments, I would really appreciate any insights you can offer on this subject.
KG sent a press release he thought would interest me; it should interest you, too.
The Montreal-based artificial intelligence startup Lyrebird today unveils its voice imitation algorithm.
With this innovation, Lyrebird is going a step further in the development of AI applications by offering to companies and developers new speech synthesis solutions. Users will be able to generate entire dialogs with the voice of their choice or design from scratch completely new and unique voices tailored for their needs.
First, a quick story.
Years ago a friend got in trouble when someone spoofed his email, catfished him and made a bomb threat to a local school. Fortunately, he was able to prove it wasn’t him.
It turned out that it was a kid who was mad at his teacher.
People are catfished all the time. Usually it’s not a big deal, but sometimes, as with my friend, potential repercussions can be very serious.
Nobody likes being catfished, but think of the damage that could be done using Lyrebird’s algorithm.
How could you explain a threatening or obscene phone call in your voice?
Lyrebird talks about benign uses, such as “personal assistants, for reading of audio books with famous voices, for connected devices of any kind, for speech synthesis for people with disabilities, for animation movies or for video game studios“ and shows off audio examples, including Donald Trump.
Now think what the outcome could be from a highly inflammatory call to Kim Jong-un mimicking Trump’s voice.
Tech people talk all the time about how they are “changing the world” and making it better, but they seem far more focused on enhancing their personal brand and making money, while turning a blind eye to any potential negative effects.
Are they truly amoral?
Or do they even owe humanity at least some consideration of the possible negatives?
What am I missing?
Image credit: HikingArtist
Monday, April 24th, 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.
The interest in some subjects is eternal — like avoiding bureaucracy. This post dates to 2006 (before I added pictures) and the subject is still a hot topic.
Too many bosses and founders confuse organizing business segments with becoming bureaucratic and everyone hates bureaucracy.
In reality, not organizing and developing a process to accomplish each function facilitates a wild west mentality, which usually results in a bullet in the foot or worse.
Read other Golden Oldies here.
People sometimes confuse process and bureaucracy. Process is good—it helps to get things done smoothly and efficiently; bureaucracy is bad—it’s process calcified, convoluted, politically corrupted, or just plain unnecessary.
Good process is an easy-to-use and flexible method of accomplishing various business functions. It is informal without being haphazard, and neither ambiguous or confusing.
Occasional surveys (internally asking staff and externally asking vendors and customers how things are working) alert you to when processes start to mutate.
By creating a skeletal process and a corresponding graphic in areas where it is needed (financial controls, hiring, purchasing, etc.), you lay the framework for your growth in the future, no matter how hectic.
Bureaucracy may stem from a manager, whether CEO or first level supervisor, who believes that his staff is so incompetent that it is necessary for him to spell out exactly how every individual action needs to be done. To correct this, the manager responsible must
- reduce his own insecurity,
- increase his belief in his current staff, or
- hire people he thinks are smart!
Bureaucracy is often fed by people’s fear of change, “We’ve always done it like that.” and similar comments are dead giveaways.
Another significant factor that contributes to unnecessary bureaucracy is the failure to align responsibility and authority.
If a person has the responsibility to get something done (design a product, create a Human Resources department, meet a sales quota), she should have enough authority (spend money, hire people, negotiate with outside vendors) to get the job done.
Giving people responsibility without concomitant authority forces them to constantly ask their superiors for permission, thus reducing productivity, and lowering moral.
The final, and most important difference between process and bureaucracy is that people like working for companies with good process in place, and hate working for those mired in bureaucracy, but not for long—they leave—making bureaucracy-eradication a major tool in the retention game.
Friday, March 3rd, 2017
Do you invite strangers into your home and let them to listen to your most personal conversations or view your most intimate moments?
Would you leave them alone with your kids to say what they pleased using unquotable language?
Would you stand by while they rummaged through your files copying what they pleased, leaving chaos behind and demanding payment so you could clean up the mess?
Chances are you already do.
You invite them in with every connected device you buy.
Even vaunted Apple isn’t immune.
Security hasn’t been a high priority for companies around the globe, especially those running startups.
Consider the saga of a doll called Cayla from Genesis Toys; banned in Germany and under investigation in the US.
Cayla and a similar toy, i-Que, made by the same company are Internet-connected and talk and interact with children by recording their conversations.
CloudPets are stuffed animals made by Spiral Toys, which didn’t even bother to secure their database.
In addition to storing the customer databases in a publicly accessible location, Spiral Toys also used an Amazon-hosted service with no authorization required to store the recordings, customer profile pictures, children’s names, and their relationships to parents, relatives, and friends.
Samsung’s smart refrigerator was hacked yielding up G-mail logins, which, in turn, can yield up your whole on-line life.
Besides the fridge, the hackers also found 25 vulnerabilities in 14 allegedly smart devices, including scales, coffee makers, wireless cameras, locks, home automation hubs, and fingerprint readers.
Pretty lame, considering that in January 2014 security was ranked as the top spending priority for CIOs and 75% said it would increase in 2015.
Makes you wonder what it was spent on.
European countries, such as Germany and Denmark, have strong privacy laws and simply ban these products, but I doubt our government will do more than hold hearings and wring their hands.
So it’s up to you.
Your major protection is very simple.
- Don‘t buy connected devices unless you really can’t live without them.
For those you do buy don’t expect anything from the manufacturer.
- Learn how to reset the passwords and choose strong ones.
- Don’t use all-purpose logins, such as those from Facebook or Google — no matter how convenient they are.
It’s called “personal responsibility.”
If you’re not familiar with the idea ask your parents — or, more likely, your grandparents.
Image credit: cea +
Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
As a nation, and perhaps as a species, we reward success above all else.
I am in sales and a mantra I have heard many times is, “exceeding quota covers a multitude of sins”. Did you show up hungover to a team meeting? Did you grope someone at an after-hours event? Did you mouth off to your boss?
These are things I have all personally witnessed at work and the one question always asked was, “are they hitting their quota?”
Why do I bring this all up you ask?
As you may have read Uber is having a tough few months and an even worse week. I won’t jump on the bandwagon to bemoan their culture, but I will say it’s probably not limited to them alone.
Because we have put value in success above all else it is easy to forgive when those companies or people err.
In my professional life I have had an opportunity to work in both large and small organizations. These are all made up of people with strengths and weaknesses, but one common thing I see is those that produce revenue and growth get away with a bit more.
Now this is only anecdotal, but headlines can support this claim to a degree. Uber, Google, Wal-Mart have all had scandals or missteps.
While this may not be indicative of social decay, it points to an opportunity for improvement.
One thing I truly believe is culture begins with self.
The choices we make as individuals are what shape the greater group.
When I see these stories of harassment, abuse or other issues it is not a company that is doing it, it’s an individual. Personal responsibility must be an expected outcome if we want a change.
How can we start?
There is always the Golden Rule or Karma to consider.
If you want to consider science alone we can look to Newton’s third law as reference.
All of these have a common theme — your actions will have equal reactions in measure.
Perhaps that can be a basis for culture moving forward?
Image credit: Dani Mettler
Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
“Corporation, n. an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911
Bierce’s words ring truer today than any time since he first wrote them; as shown most recently by Wells Fargo CEO John G. Stumpf.
But Mr. Stumpf — whom the members of the House committee personally blamed for the persistent and widespread misdeeds — stuck to the same script he has used throughout the crisis. The problem, he explained, was an ethical lapse among the 5,300 employees, most of them low-level bankers and tellers, who had been fired for their actions since 2011.
But he again rejected lawmakers’ attempts to cast the scandal as a consequence of broader failings in Wells Fargo’s leadership and corporate culture.
A rejection that is the purest bull poop I’ve heard recently.
Having been a customer long before Norwest acquired it in 1998 (acquired, although it was called a merger) I can honestly say that Wells attitude towards customers hasn’t changed — they are a necessary evil with no other purpose than to enrich Wells coffers.
At that time, Wells was known for its cutting-edge technology and lousy customer relations, while Norwest was famous for its customer-centric culture. Analysts predicted that as the acquirer Norwest’s culture would be ascendant.
So much for those predictions.
In case you think I’m exaggerating, there are $10 billion in recent fines to prove I’m not.
As Mr. Stumpf testified, a video screen on the hearing room’s wall displayed a scroll of more than a dozen fines Wells Fargo has paid in recent years, totaling more than $10 billion. The list included penalties for subprime loan abuses, discriminating against African-American and Hispanic mortgage borrowers, and foreclosure violations, among others.
Mr. Hensarling asked whether such fines are simply the “cost of doing business.”
Mr. Stumpf answered no, adding, “I don’t want our culture to be defined by these mistakes.”
Then how else should the culture for which Stumpf is responsible be defined?
Obviously, Stumpf doesn’t have the same sign on his desk as President Truman had on his, let alone buy into its meaning.
Wells Fargo — where the buck stops at the bottom.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Thursday, June 2nd, 2016
The entrepreneurial mantra that weaves through every startup vision and recruitment effort focuses on how X product/service will change the world.
This particular passion applies whether it’s a cure for cancer, a big data application, a new messaging app, social network or dating app.
How does one truly change the world?
Or is it a phrase with no real meaning?
Even if one does change it does the change make the world better?
Better by what yardstick and whose standards?
Change isn’t always a positive.
What is your responsibility if you do change it?
In his graduation speech at USC, Larry Ellison said, “You will change the world and the world will change you.”
For better or worse, change is the only true constant.
Flickr image credit: Inspiyr.com
Monday, November 2nd, 2015
What do you do when your stock price has plunged 25% in five months and a substantial number of your executive team leave?
What’s your spin when a number of those leaving were hand-picked by you?
If you are Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer you publicly proclaim that they weren’t good enough to do what needed to be done.
“Recently, there has been external interest and speculation in a few shifts amidst our management team. The design and changes in Yahoo’s leadership team are the result of careful planning to achieve the necessary skills, passion, and the ability to execute growth in our business.’
The people who weren’t good for Mayer were scooped up by the likes of Facebook, Square, Helix and STX Entertainment — not exactly companies known for hiring passionless castoffs.
The exodus isn’t all that surprising, considering Mayer’s management style and need for control and the fact that in the three years she’s been at Yahoo there has not only been no turnaround, but everything is worse.
Of course, these days CEO all provide reasons for whatever is happening, but only rarely admit to being one of them.
As I said last January, this is what happens when people buy into their own wunderkind status.
But the truly sad thing is the ammunition she has provided to the anti-women-leaders crowd who will use her to prove that, in fact, woman don’t belong in the corner office.
Flickr image credit: Tech Crunch
Wednesday, October 21st, 2015
I wrote the following in 2008 and, based on a number of recent questions/conversations I think it’s time to post it again, with some light editing.
The Vision Thing
Whether you head a company, run a department, or lead a team, you are responsible for that ‘vision thing’ as it applies to those subordinate to you.
It’s your responsibility to clearly identify (if you are the CEO/Prez/Owner) or articulate (at all other levels) the goals of the company.
Then it’s up to you to involve your people, working with them to turn those goals into specific actions for which they are responsible.
Most people are vaguely aware that work isn’t done in a vacuum, but often individuals, teams, or even departments, fail to truly understand the domino effect created by allowing their schedule to slip.
You can minimize this problem, and improve the quality of your workforce, by making certain that they understand how their own goals, their colleagues, those of the company and its customers and vendors interact.
The biggest rewards at all levels (using whatever incentives are available) should go to those who understand the company’s goals, and ethically do whatever is necessary to achieve them—especially when they put the company’s goals ahead of their own.
None of this is rocket science.
It’s simple enough.
No matter your level, if you’re the boss communicating the vision to your team and aligning their actions with it is your responsibility.
Otherwise, the vision becomes a dream.
Image credit: Wordle
Monday, September 28th, 2015
There is nothing like the various advice columns to keep you abreast of societies attitudes.
One I enjoy is called Social Qs; I like the insight it gives into people’s attitudes and questions of how to respond to everyday happenings.
Now and then the attitude behind a question will leave me speechless.
Like this one.
I took my sweet little dog for a walk. He got agitated by a cat sitting on a porch, pulled free of me and raced toward the house, knocking over (and breaking) a large ceramic urn. I acknowledge that I am partly responsible for the damage. But don’t the homeowners have some responsibility, too, letting their cat sit out in the open? —ANONYMOUS
Not surprising that it’s anonymous; few people would have the courage to admit to that level of self-absorption.
The Social Q response was perfect (as one would expect).
You break it; you bought it. “And your little dog, too,” growled the Wicked Witch of the West. The cat is free to sit on its porch with regal impunity.
No kidding. It wasn’t even roaming around, just sitting quietly, minding it’s business and watching the world go by.
Yet it’s the owners who are somehow responsible.
And that’s today’s attitude in a nutshell.
Flickr image credit: Stefano Mortellaro
Tuesday, April 7th, 2015
If you’re an outsider, or even an insider prone to objectivity, Silicon Valley’s culture is a mess.
When I said as much to “Rick” his response caught me off guard — although it shouldn’t have.
“I wish they would just give it a rest. I am sick and tired of all the crap about wealth inequality, lack of diversity and privacy rights. That stuff is not my responsibility. I’ve worked hard and deserve my success; nobody went out of their way to help me. I’m sure not privileged and I figure if I can do it so can they.”
I’ve heard this before, but it still leaves me speechless.
Rick is white, nice looking, middle class family, raised around Palo Alto, graduated from UC Berkeley; his dad worked for Intel.
Yet he doesn’t see himself as privileged.
Over the years I’ve known thousands of Ricks.
And therein lies the true problem.
Because it’s hard to change that which doesn’t exist.
Image credit: Dagny Mol
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