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Why Fake News Spreads

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Fake news is on everybody’s mind these days.

Where does it come from?

How does it start?

Is it intentional? An accident? Honest error based on erroneous assumption?

A few days after Donald Trump was elected, 35-year-old Eric Tucker saw something suspicious: A cavalcade of large white buses stretched down main street near downtown Austin, Texas.

Tucker snapped a few photos and took to Twitter, posting the following message:

Tucker was wrong — a company called Tableau Software was actually holding a 13,000-person conference that day and had hired the buses.

OK, a wrong assumption by a social guy who had to tell his network.

But why didn’t the actual facts refute it when they were tweeted?

A new study published June 26 in the journal Nature looks into why fake posts like Tucker’s can go so viral.

Economists concluded that it comes down to two factors. First, each of us has limited attention. Second, at any given moment, we have access to a lot of information — arguably more than at any previous time in history. Together, that creates a scenario in which facts compete with falsehoods for finite mental space. Often, falsehoods win out.

Also, people consider the source of information more than the info itself. Trusted source = valid info.

The tweet was shared 350,000 times on Facebook and 16,000 and Trump added his two cents.

The corrected information was shared only 29 times.

Why didn’t Tucker tweet his network a correction when he it turned out to be false?

“I’m … a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there, especially when I don’t think it’s going out there for wide consumption,”

In other words, he couldn’t be bothered.

Research and economists aside, Tucker provided the real key.

People aren’t bothered whether it’s true or not.

They just care that they get their 15 seconds of fame.

Image credit: Business Insider

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

If the Shoe Fits: the Empathy of Jack Dorsey

Friday, October 14th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mA few weeks ago I wrote about three ways to close a company — the right way, the wrong way and the (allegedly) crooked way — and years ago referenced Guy Kawasaki’s guide to laying people off.

The common thread that runs through them, both the to-do and not-to-do, is the need for honesty with employees and the speed with which rumors will spread and kill moral.

A year ago Twitter laid off over 300 people — most by by email, but some by more of a lockout.

We’re hearing that at least a handful of employees who weren’t remote also woke up to seeing that they were laid off via the fact that their emails and Hipchat, a messaging product, had been turned off overnight.

These days, continuing rumors of more layoffs to come, combined with chaotic reports that the company may be sold, has sent morale spiraling downward at an alarming rate.

Rank-and-file staff members are frustrated about being in the dark on the company’s future, and a handful of employees have stopped showing up for work entirely, several insiders said.

Dorsey’s response to the turmoil is garbage.

“I empathize with the feelings that come from the constant critique, the constant negativity, and the constant doubt.”

There is no way a guy worth more than a billion dollars can put himself in the shoes of someone who depends on their paycheck to feed their kids and pay the mortgage/rent.

And that lack of empathy shines clearly through the rest of his comment.

“But hey, that’s life in the arena. All we control is how we choose to react to it.”

I sincerely hope that his global workforce is choosing to update their resumes and react with their feet.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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

If the Shoe Fits: Your Survival is Spelled P-R-O-F-I-T

Friday, May 6th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_m

Users, users, we’ve got users.

Hypergrowth has been all the rage for the last few years, but is it enough?

Twitter’s Q1 revenues  were $595 million, but it’s still not profitable. The stock tanked 14% in after hours trading and is about $35 below its 52 week high and $11 below its IPO price.

The company continued to lose money in the first quarter, posting a net loss of $80 million. That’s less than the $162.4 million that it lost in the year-ago period.

Meanwhile, Etsy turned a surprise profit a year after it went public; the stock jumped 12% in after hours trading, but that’s still down nearly 50% from its IPO price.

The crafty online marketplace posted its quarterly earnings on Tuesday, and reported its first quarterly profit since going public in April 2015.

For years, the attitude, fueled by the likes of Paul Graham, has been who needs profit?

Bill Gurley’s recent post was not only a wakeup call, but scared the hell out of a lot of founders who looked to funding, instead of profits, for their valuations.

In Silicon Valley boardrooms, where “growth at all costs” had been the mantra for many years, people began to imagine a world where the cost of capital could rise dramatically, and profits could come back in vogue. Anxiety slowly crept into everyone’s world.

Harry Edwards, an emeritus sociology professor at Cal, recently made a very apropos comment, although he was talking about race and the NFL.

“Progress is one of those issues that’s like profit: It really comes down to who’s keeping the books.”

“They” keep saying that the problems today are different than those that caused the dot com crash. But I think at heart they are very similar.

In both cases the emperor had no clothes.

Granted, for a long time his clothes were described differently than in 2000.

But the in both cases, the clothes were strictly in the mind of the beholder.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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

If the Shoe Fits: VCs are People, Too

Friday, October 9th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAs you know I don’t follow Twitter, but I don’t really have to, since sooner or later, tweet threads that would interest me become the basis of something I read.

A few weeks ago an article in Business Insider cited a series of tweets from VCs moaning about their stressful existence and that saying they needed a support group.

Support group? Really? I haven’t heard of any VC suicides, which isn’t the case with a number of other demographics.

Ron Conway was quick to shoot the need down.

“I’m embarrassed that a VC would think their job is stressful when starting a company is the most stressful thing ever.”

(And while I agree that starting a company is extremely stressful, I don’t think it qualifies for the “most” slot, since doing so is voluntary.)

However, it did give me an idea as follows.

  1. Recruit two or more star shrinks and/or get Stanford involved.
  2. Create a private online community for VCs (using their company address and fully verified)
  3. The site should be heavy on security and use biometrics instead of passwords for logins.
  4. The community should be either SaaS or membership dues.
  5. Groups should be created for various problems, such as business-related stress, internal politics, family-related stress, etc.
  6. Each group session would be moderated by the appropriate shrink.
  7. Private sessions would be available by appointment.

Here is the most important part.

  1. Incorporate the entity as a non-profit.
  2. Pricing should be similar to an exclusive country club.

Here is my reasoning.

  • It needs to be expensive to prove its value to its market.
  • VCs are competitive and will join for bragging rights.
  • It should be non-profit so the money could go towards paying mental health costs for tech community members who can’t afford it and have no insurance.

So, if someone out there wants to take this and run with it as a non-profit, I’ll be happy to help. My contact information is on the right.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Stop Humblebragging Now!

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/36625206@N05/7728607982/

Humblebragging (a brag veiled in a complaint, so as to sound less blatantly like a brag) has to be near the top of today’s more annoying trends.

It’s not really new; I’ve heard similar phrasing for decades, but it was much more rare.

It’s common now, but if you indulge you’ll do yourself more harm than good.

Humblebragging runs rampant on Twitter, but it turns out to be a lousy self-promotion tactic, especially in business situations such as job interviews… Research shows that when given the choice to brag or to humblebrag, it’s better to straight-out brag.

The research described is interesting, because it’s easy to remember being on the receiving end of similar situations allowing you to compare your own reactions to those in the study.

Humblebragging is a close relative of hints that are usually in the form of a poor-me complaint.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of “I don’t know how I can…” which practically forces an “I will help…” response.

An extended family aunt of mine was a past master of this approach, so I learned early on to recognize the words for what they were — manipulation.

Both humblebrags and hints annoy because they are inauthentic and sneaky.

But there is humor to be found when you realize that the worst practitioners are those most offended when others do it.

Flickr image credit: Area 224

Before You Tweet…

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/topgold/3341034811/in/photolist-66eFft-oeFjnx-estP63-98Spsn-ru5yJv-free6U-7gCYKZ-dUtnoh-87FzcL-6bGRnQ-8UftWG-5ZTi6A-cHM9aY-7HyzfJ-69pMgP-8BmjRj-hqybdq-8vAtRc-62KiZQ-836Ttv-77r3c2-7graYC-6PeUJ5-7Tteqf-pxBYFB-mqJuuw-6nLBhu-57iHze-8WhEXp-6cfUZr-8hLZzr-6eTk17-btdg1c-9kttrt-61gnsk-5HoFdL-eePN4H-5UuWwg-agYDbQ-6rdmKH-cNL2w5-8MX6kS-c5CURy-8hVWKZ-5QqSYP-91471X-9pT4Ni-jLKyc6-5Fgqh1-6PaSaT

You know that old saying, ‘do not run mouth unless brain is engaged’?

These days there should be a rule about not posting to social media unless brain is engaged.

Better yet, some kind of hardware similar to the gadget that prevents a car from starting if the driver can’t pass a breathalyzer test.

Media is full of stories about people who were fired for what they tweeted.

The rationalization I hear from various people is that it won’t happen to them because “I’m different.” They say that “they (those fired) were nobodies, i.e., low-level workers or unemployed, while they are “professionals,” i.e., they have clout.

Once I stop laughing I remind them of all those with clout who sent stupid tweet that cost them their jobs.

Now I just send them a link listing 13 Twitter-savvy somebodys fired for their tweets.

Whether you’re a somebody or a nobody, read the list.

Then be sure your brain is engaged before you post a tweet — every time.

Flickr image credit: Bernard Goldbach

Mindful Social Media

Monday, February 16th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonahowie/7910370882

Today is a day of links, rather than paraphrasing previous posts and a new article from the NY Times that’s garnering a lot of attention.

In 2006 I wrote An Employee Dilemma—What Would You Do?— be sure to read the comments, because they are critical in juxtaposition to the Times article.

The article is How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.

Sacco is actually one of many whose mindless actions on social media provided repercussions beyond anything they could have imagined.

Of course, imagining repercussions requires mindfulness.

As does social media.

Image credit: Jason Howie

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