If you Google the phrase “My friend is addicted to _______,” you do not get “opiod” (which is good). You get “phone.”
There is no constitutional right to privacy. In the 1970’s, the Federal Trade Commission was charged with protecting and regulating privacy rights, but the FTC has hesitated to move decisively. Unlike the Europeans who’ve been quick to cry foul, we’ve maintained a hands-off approach — so far.
Long ago, I took a job on the frontier of the New Economy when a venture-funded start-up hired me to roll out their opt-in personalization offering, a service that would help large brick-and-mortar retailers boost their online loyalty (and sales) by tailoring web views to shoppers’ traits — gender, geography and shopping habits. It was a great customer service idea, one that has evolved to the point that the Zappos we admire online now haunt us for days.
We took a white-hat approach, jumping into the thick of it. We formed a privacy advisory council, met with Congressional representatives, influencers and media. We joined and participated in the FTC’s Advisory Committee on Online Access and Security. When I saw our CEO recently, he reminded me, “We were so far ahead of our time.”
But if you’re big and want (or need) to feed investors and stakeholders, the temptation to step over the line to get ahead is going to be even greater. It gets hard to even see the line when you’re in the rush of generating and executing great ideas.
Postscript: The Washington Post reports that the FTC has asked Facebook, whose entire business model seems to be built on selling users’ data, to appear and an expanding Congressional probe is including Google and Twitter. Should be interesting.
In late July of 2017, I pushed my way into an airless warehouse-turned performance space to be part of an enthusiastic audience for this year’s “Sixty by 60,” the annual fundraiser for the Fusebox Festival, a not-to-be-missed series of glorious international art, dance, opera and all-round inventiveness that happens every Spring in Austin, Texas. For free.
The piece I remember most vividly featured a young African-American woman wearing a white t-shirt that read in bold, black letters, “Be Nice.” A small woman, standing in the middle of the stage, she invited the 200 of sweating her sweating audience to pick up the white t-shirts she’d placed on their chairs and wave them over head, joining her in shouting “Be Nice!” to loud music.
The reference to the iconic New Orleans R&B queen Irma Thomas’ white handkerchief was there: Put your backfield in motion, even when your audience waves Confederate flags.
But 2017 brought us a new president, Travis Kalanick, Harvey Weinstein, shootings by and of policemen, fake news, children gunned down in churches, and more. There is a lot of material to work with during 2018.
Though if it were up to me, a woman raised with the same words, I would make it BeNice2.0 to make it clear we’re done with the old “nice at a price.” We don’t need enemies. We need collaborators, supporters, friends, critics who are willing to listen.
The other thing I like about BeNice2.0 is that it takes us beyond “be kind,” unquestionably a necessary and admirable life rule. To me, BeNice2.0, suggests a more active, engaging stance. Ask for what you need, point out unfair behavior, propose better approaches. Be active; #BeNice2.0
I fought my way through Friday night traffic to see my friend Shiva’s daughter perform in their Christmas play, “A Play in a Manger.” I expected Mary, Joseph and a few shepherds. What I saw was an hour-long rock-and-roll production built around a plot line of “bigger is not better.” Mary and Joseph were supplanted by a production manager and a worried production crew and cast, some 20 kids in all.
Everybody got a speaking part, reaching up to the standing microphones like little gold fish getting their supper.). Shaylee, whose family is from Iran, added what I learned later was an improvised dance number for her part. The epilogue was this: “Christmas is not about Walmart or Saks. ipads or iphones.” That is, it’s not about stuff, because stuff costs a lot of money.
I thought about this when I stopped into my local Wal-Mart for socks and was astounded to find all of the cashiers were gone, erased. In their place were scanners, waiting for a credit (or debit) card. When I asked the attendant where those workers — mostly women, mostly African-American, mostly over 40 — I got a shrug.
According Fortune, citing a McKinsey Global Institute report released in November, “between 400 million and 800 million workers around the world could be displaced by automation by 2030.” By comparison, the 2016 population of Texas was 27.36 million. Think about that — that’s 15 Texas’.
Most affected will be jobs that involve collecting and processing data – everything from accounting to fast food. The report predicts the pace of displacement will be unprecedented, concluding “There are few precedents in which societies have successfully retrained such large numbers of people.”
In a recent column, David Brooks had some suggestions for lawmakers to consider, a list that targets practical but oftentimes insurmountable barriers like making it easier for people to:
Get to work
Get a license
Enter fast-growing professions like health care
As ex-offenders, navigate the application process
It’s painful to experience the season as one of “haves” and “have nots,” and easy to turn away we dash through the holiday fully armed. But here’s hoping each of us has an opportunity to pause and reflect, not just on how very lucky we are, but how we can help those who are less so, navigate these times.
Each of us is tasked with playing the hand we’re dealt. Some of the cards are stacked in our favor; many are not. Nonetheless, it’s a package deal, and the better we understand those cards, the more we’ll be able to accomplish.
I thought about this after reading David Remnick’s sad portrait of Hillary Clinton, in which she blames her gender — among other things — for her loss. Mrs. Clinton is a super-sized public figure and a role model of tremendous potential. Perhaps it is a necessary catharsis, but I was disappointed to read that she chose to waste her time.
It’s helpful to understand why we fail. But blame is time consuming. This I know: the faster we lay it aside, the less time we waste. Contrasting the Clinton debacle with Al Gore’s loss to George W. Bush in 2000, Remnick notes that Gore was 52 at the time; Clinton, 69. Gore had time to grieve, move on, make a fortune and win a Nobel Peace Prize. Clinton is 69. “She will have a hard time finding a similar peace or place in public affairs.”
Oh, gosh I hope not.
The “genderizing’ conundrum
It’s always worrisome when a noun becomes a verb. So let’s step back. The 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. When I was in high school, girls weren’t allowed to learn small engine repair; we were shuffled off to home economics and white sauce. When I left school and took a temporary job with H.Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems, I was humiliated by a fellow (male) employee’s passing me a handwritten note warning me that my sleeveless dress was inappropriate because it revealed my arms. I left the job.
Mrs. Clinton, like Texas Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson who presided in the 1920’s and 30’s, rose to power on the coattails of her husband. She, like Sherry Lansing in Hollywood, Toni Morrison in literature, and Indra Nooyi and others among the Fortune 50, carved their roles out of a male tradition There was no can-do legacy. Unlike Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who sprang fully formed from Zeus’ head, confidence is earned, not awarded.
Focus on making the world a better place — starting where you are
So why not focus our time and energy on moving forward? The fields of law and medicine are being transformed by women. I look forward to seeing similar trends in education and politics (you go, Mrs. Clinton). But no question, it’s a slippery slope. Every day I see young women reverting to baby talk, tantrums, behavior that may have worked in middle school, but is cringe-making in the workplace.
We have a limited time to do what we want and need to do. Life tosses storm debris in our way. I don’t know how many times I said, “I can’t find the job I want until after my mother dies.” I didn’t want to face the conflict and ultimately wasted precious time blaming absent siblings, geography — and gender — for lost time and opportunity.
It was a waste of time. Ultimately, we’re shaped by the battles we fight, and its our ability to accept our faults and failures that make us role models.
How we engage with one another is an organization’s greatest strategic asset — and one of the most neglected. Searching for inspiration, I was thrilled to hear Ray Dalio, founder of the high-flying Bridgewater Associates talk about their culture of “radical transparency.”
The key is to be good with each other. If you’re radically truthful with the other person and you believe that that other person is going to be truthful with you, while that may be difficult initially in that moment, it builds better relationships and it builds better quality work.
Think about it: what if all of us could build ways to be more direct, empathetic and well, business-like with our colleagues? We might get more done.
To the uninitiated, the methods Dalio uses sound as extreme as the nature of a hedge fund’s work. But the approach is founder-developed and enforced, built on lessons learned in a fiercely competitive industry. Teams rate one other electronically in real-time during meetings, testing the viability of investment strategies. And don’t we all constantly (and silently) rate our colleagues?
I’ve been investigating an approach to meetings called Liberating Structures, an approach to managing meetings and presentations through a series of formatted, creative exercises, debriefing after an exercise by asking a group to jot down their impressions on sticky notes:
What (did you observe),
So What (conclusions did you draw?)
It’s a timed exercise, and notes are grouped in categories. The group formulates an action plan based on the results. It’s a participatory, grassroots approach designed to eliminate the obstructions we all automatically produce when seated (or standing) around a table.
I can’t label my first attempt a success. There were some ruffled feathers, and a couple of people didn’t like the variation in the “way we do things.” But when is it easy to try something new? The trick is to impose enough structure (timed intervals, simply worded assignment, small groups) to cultivate sincere engagement. I’ll keep you posted.
Update: People are the foundation of any discipline, and Liberating Structures is no exception. The discipline was developed by two men, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, with backgrounds in health care and pharmaceuticals. But our work group is almost all women – extraoardinary people, mostly from nonprofits tasked with doing seemingly impossible tasks — “fixing” family violence; turning around troubled teens by putting them to work on the land, farming; providing mental health in a state that doesn’t believe in it. There’s a big initiative at Seton, a major hospital network — if anything needs to be untangled, it’s our health care system.
Rushing to work one morning last week, I listened to Mihir Desai talk about his new book The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Reward. The topic is bankruptcy; the lesson: Life is chaos, and our task is to navigate through the it. He kicked off the interview with an anecdote about American Airline’s 2011 bankruptcy filing (when the stock fell 79%):
The first CEO said for a long time he’ll never go bankrupt, because it was his duty to make sure every obligation gets paid off. Of course, he gets dragged into bankruptcy at the very end, they switch the CEO. The second CEO comes in, restructures all the obligations, guts the pensions. But American Airlines goes on to live another day. So the idea there is, you know, who’s the hero of that story? Is it the guy who said, “I have to stand by all my obligations,” but took the company down? Or the guy who said, “I actually got to manage these conflicting obligations”?
Employees, or many of them, kept their jobs, and shareholders came out way ahead. Maybe the lady wasn’t as advertised, but she was a better option than the tiger. So it goes with the ways we manage not just our working lives, but our personal ones as well.
Conflicting obligations come at you from all directions
Unexpected interruptions — kids, divorce, illness, death — not to mention layoffs, separations and unplanned early retirement intrude. Financial hardship complicates things.
Living longer + Putting yourself last = Poverty
Women are particularly vulnerable to the call of obligations. We tend to put others’ needs before our own, although perhaps this trend will shift as we evolve and more men take on caregiving responsibilities. But as it stands now, Kerry Hanson’s “Money Worries” column is a wake-up call:
Women were 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 or older while women age 75 to 79 were three times more likely to fall below the poverty level than men the same age.
When I turned around after taking time off to care for my parents, I fully expected to step back into a job comparable to the one I’d left. But someone had moved that career ladder. It’s taken years, and a few unplanned twists and turns to accept where I am professionally. I realize now that if I’d been less focused on doing everything perfectly and more on my future, I’d be in a better position financially.
Health care expanses: A ticking time bomb
Changes to health care policy pose a real threat to anyone over the age of 65 who does not have robust retirement savings. Today 60 percent of the elderly in nursing homes are on Medicaid. Many have spent their savings on assisted living and residential care. Getting old is expensive. According to Hanson, a healthy 65-year old woman retiring in 2016 will pay $300,000 on Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs for hearing dental and vision care by the time she reaches 89. That, of course, is in addition to living and personal care expanses.
Stay in touch with your possibilities
Do what you need to do to keep a firm footing on that career ladder. But don’t get rattled if something knocks you off. Expand your thinking and your network.
Desai’s interview closed with a tip of the hat to Martha Nussbaum’s “The Fragility of Goodness” and the example set by the ancient Greeks:
Fundamentally, this is about undercutting the idea that you have to follow duty. Most Greek tragedies are about people who have these conflicting obligations, and it’s a mess, and you have to navigate them. And she says that’s a good life. If you don’t have conflicting obligations, you’re doing something wrong.
So, it is as it’s always been. Keep working. Do your best; take smart risks and most of all, take care of yourself.
* Cartoon is courtesy of Harry Bliss and The New Yorker, March 18, 2016.
I recently went to the IBM Amplify conference, which was built around IBM’s cognitive offering, Watson. It was, of course, all about knowledge and skills. Although technology majored, human skills were also a theme, and I raced around trying to keep up.
Girls who code and more
IBM Chairman Ginni Rometty closed her keynote by recognizing three young women from California who excelled in IBM P-Tech six-year high school schools, offering those lucky students jobs as IBM interns. Skills were visible through partners: CoffeeBean and its Soical-ID, BlueSky CloudCommerce, Bridge Solutions, Lightwell fulfillment. Rocket Fuel, and SapientRazorfish — all driving, extending, the cognitive technology into their respective sectors.
IBM has deep experience in getting the right skill sets from its people, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce was there to represent a new generation of companies that underscore the value-add of ongoing training and education.
Business and jobs policy
Benioff — an innovation evangelist — referenced a meeting he and Rometty (among others) recently attended with President Trump:
“I want to thank all the business leaders that have joined us to discuss a subject that’s very important to me: Training our workforce for the 21st century, especially in respect to manufacturing jobs,” CNN quotes Trump as having said during that meeting. “Here in the United States, companies have created revolutionary high tech and online courses.”
More to come in this area, no doubt.
H-1B visa applications out tomorrow
H-1B visa applications are due out tomorrow. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced quotas will remain the same despite proposed changes, and some 85,000 applications will be available to tech companies. In the past, the visas have primarily been gone to professionals from India for IT jobs, and although data shows there has been a small impact on tech sectors wages, overall the program has demonstrated it enhances innovation, lowers consumer prices and boosts company profits.
It’s good to know there’s a larger discussion on jobs and skills. But in the end, each of us is responsible for keeping our own skills up-to-snuff, and making sure elected officials and our professional communities help in any and all ways they can. Skills are the best renewable strategy we have. None of us should be sitting on our hands (or laurels).