Author of "This Is Rage" and "Endless Encores"

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But We’ve Always…

By on Dec 3, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

It’s December. For those of us who make our living in any form of consumer business, that usually means two things: We have made it through Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with our projections now being evaluated against actuals. In less than a month it will be a new year, where we can either make the same mistakes again or invent new ones. That leads to two takeaways I would like you to consider before the year ends: Customer behavior tells us almost everything we need to know to be successful in business, particularly when we study data and benchmark assumptions against metrics. We ignore the realities of customer behavior at our own peril, but darn it all if we don’t come up with really good reasons to flagrantly repeat our mistakes with passion and conviction. How does our eye come off the ball precisely when it is crossing the plate and our bat is in swinging position? It all begins with three wretched words: BUT WE’VE ALWAYS. Perhaps you’ve heard a few of these pronouncements before: I know our customers complain when we send them too many emails, but we’ve always sent them at least four offers on Thanksgiving Day. I know our customers don’t trust our pricing, but we’ve always jacked up our regular prices in the weeks before Christmas so we can mark them “50% off.” I know it’s irrational to cover the cost of free expedited shipping and lose money on every sale, but we’ve always managed to convince our boss that losing money is the only way we can compete with Amazon. I know our brand promise is what matters most to our company, but we’ve always managed to slip in a few low-quality products with our best inventory to even out our margins. I know we believe our customers are loyal and have a lifetime value, but we’ve always cut our customer service costs to force our bottom line into compliance with our budget. Yep, we know what we are doing is wrong, but we’ve always found a way to justify our shortcomings, weak logic, or poor decision-making because we’re out of time, out of patience, or out of energy to argue for...

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More Fallout from the Zuckerberg Files

By on Nov 12, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

Should the unintended consequences that emerge in the course of a company’s evolution be a primary concern of management? Is the exponential creation of shareholder value still the overriding force when a wildly successful company grows even faster than its own outsized vision? Are the naive philosophical aspirations of under-experienced entrepreneurs a get-out-of-jail-free card from the ramifications of otherwise noble intentions? In answering these and similar questions, is Facebook somehow a different animal? These are some of the issues examined by a new Frontline documentary recently aired on PBS that frames a deeply damning critique of Facebook and its leadership team. While purposefully steering past the warm-and-fuzzy aspects of Facebook’s innocent exchanges of family photos and recipes, The Facebook Dilemma dives into Facebook’s structural roots. The critique presented is strident but not unfair: Why didn’t Facebook as an enterprise heed the many early warnings of the pervasiveness of its influence and more strongly consider mitigation strategies, and now that the political chaos has been unleashed, is there any possibility of getting the bad genie back in its bottle? When Facebook launched, founder Mark Zuckerberg braved a bold and curious global community manifesto: “Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.” That sounds good on the surface, and it sounded so good to so many of Facebook’s early employees that they rallied around the life-affirming purpose. They believed they were building a platform toward the betterment of humanity. Simultaneously, the size of the audience embracing the platform created a media opportunity unlike any other in history. No company has ever thought about achieving monetization of a billion (heck, now two billion) individuals. To make sure no money was left on the table, Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg from Google to build that side of the equation. The inherent conflicts soon became apparent. Facebook claimed to be a technology company, not a media company, even though its business model was selling advertising, which is what a media company does. To be the most valuable media company it could be, it needed two things: the world’s most in-depth data warehouse, and a rule set of utilizing that data with the fewest possible restrictions. As a business, this all made sense....

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The Press and the President

By on Nov 3, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a briefing of journalists this past week exclaimed in exasperation: “You guys have a huge responsibility to play in the divisive nature of this country, when ninety percent of the coverage of everything this president does is negative, despite the fact that the country is doing extremely well, despite the fact that the president is delivering on exactly what he said he was going to do if elected.” It would be difficult to disagree with her observation that media coverage of the president is 90% unfavorable. Why is the press overwhelmingly negative toward this president? 1) He lies obviously, shamelessly, and constantly. 2) His ideas and policies are uninformed, constructed from whim, and largely empirically wrong. 3) His behavior is morally repugnant and his driving force is feeding his ego. 4) The circumstances of his election are being investigated for criminal intervention by credible authorities. The press is doing its job. The press is reporting on the dangers it sees threatening our nation. Were the weighting of critique not so uniformly negative, we might wonder if there was some hidden agenda in an institutional bias, some collusion with ulterior motives. The only collective agenda I can glean is the reporting of information allowing us to make critical decisions about our freedom and well-being. Fake news is not the work product of trained journalists under credentialed editorial supervision. Journalism and a free press are the backbone that anchors the ongoing experiment that is our democracy. Fake news is the drivel that emerges from undisciplined commentary and targeted propaganda. Misdirection is a tactic of human divisiveness, subversion of logical process, and chaos that beckons autocratic control. Journalism and misdirection are not the same, unless one purposefully hijacks the other. When a true journalist makes a mistake or misstates a fact, the press runs a retraction. When an ignorant or hateful opinion-maker deliberately attempts to mask a lie as the truth, the lie is left to stand because it was intended to spread falsehood. To confuse journalism with fake news is to misunderstand the fundamental pillar protecting democracy from authoritarian rule. The press is not the enemy of the people. Our president is not...

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Bad Behavior Made OK

By on Oct 15, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

I haven’t written about Donald Trump for quite some time. No, I’m not unwell, not more than anyone else. I brought out my third novel earlier this year and wanted to try to focus on storytelling without being overly divisive, although I will say at some of my book talks the social sparks found a way to fly. Guess I can bring that out in an audience even when I don’t try too hard. I also became creatively exhausted on the topic of politics as it pertains to my blog and let Facebook do a lot of the heavy lifting for my rolling commentary. Apologies if you have been overwhelmed by that. Well, no apology really. It’s stuff I needed to say, just not here. Sadly the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings have roped me back in for the moment. It’s not just Kavanaugh, with whom I sadly share a branded diploma. It’s the voice of Trump that set me off. It always is. The pervasive nature of Trump’s dysfunctional behavior for the almost two years he has been in office oozes without containment far beyond the Capital Beltway. The question of Kavanaugh’s judicial temperament was brought to bear during his highly combustible vetting. Even if he were deemed to fail this test, his shortcomings are but a pittance compared to Trump’s demonstrated abomination in presidential temperament. Trump is not satisfied laying waste to government conventions and respectable demeanor. He has declared a culture war on civil discourse as we know it. His public comportment does not end at being reprehensible. He strives to be offensive in order to fully make the point that he has the bully pulpit, he is in charge, and he is entitled to any style of verbal combat he alone condones. Unfortunately, his influence does not end when the video clips cease to loop. He has changed our neighborhood rules of engagement. His warring rage on opponents is bad behavior made OK. Perhaps The Beatles said it better: I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. If he can be an aggressive jackass without any filters of polite society, then it’s an easy step to thinking so can I....

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What’s Eating Brother Elon?

By on Sep 17, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

Let’s start with what needs to be said before all else: I am an enormous fan of Elon Musk. I think he is quite likely the most important and visionary entrepreneur today leading the way in technology, business, and innovation. He walks in the American continuum of Edison, Disney, Gates, and Jobs.  I wrote as much in a post dating back to 2014. So when a guy as brilliant as Musk goes sideways, I start to ask myself some questions. Like, what’s up with all the weirdness? Clearly I have no ability to understand what’s going on in this amazing individual’s life, other than to observe the monumental toll that stress can take on even the mightiest of titans. To guess at what might be at the root of Musk’s recent unpleasant run in the headlines would seem a fool’s errand. While I am unable to fashion an informed evaluation of why Musk appears in many ways to be undermining his own success of late, I am thinking about the learning that might be had from observing his stress. I am reasonably certain he will have no interest in my reflections of what his behavior could be telling us, but perhaps this will provide a mirror for others on what some of this means and how it possibly could be addressed. Here are five thoughts on that. Focus Is No Small Trick Can one person really be an effective CEO at more than one company? It’s hard enough to be a decent CEO period. Now add longevity to the CEO run and enormous competitive forces, and you start to wonder if running both Tesla (after integrating SolarCity) and SpaceX is remotely possible. Let’s also not forget that Musk is additionally CEO of Neuralink and The Boring Company. If you have ever been CEO of a high-growth company or even know one, you are aware that the job requires super-human energy, and even then the clock is always ticking against the corner office. Musk is beyond super-human, not only as a leader but as a founder who tackles some of the most difficult problems of our day. Will he succeed at all of his goals? I am sure a lot of...

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Three Thousand Ears in Cape Town

By on Aug 20, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments

You’re probably thinking there is a typo in that headline. Nope. It’s correct. Not years. Ears. This is a story about service. This is a story about choices and not enough choices. This is a story about experiential learning and tangible human impact, one small moment at a time. Three thousand is an estimate of how many children’s ears were recently screened in Philippi Township, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. At best count and two ears per young child, a volunteer team screened about 1500 children for otherwise undetected ear infections. If left untreated, this preventable and correctable condition could easily have left many of these children permanently deaf. About ten required immediate surgery. Six had cysts that could have resulted in meningitis or death. A project of this scope had never been attempted. The average number of children screened by public health services in the township for ear care is 150-200 per year, largely based on referrals. The team we assembled, working hand in hand with local clinicians familiar with medical infrastructure in the township, took on more than that each day. Once this model partnership committed to the challenge, there was nothing stopping them from achieving a new record they can’t wait to break or see broken. The ear clinic was only one of many innovative projects our group of volunteers tackled earlier this month near the far-away Cape of Good Hope. One team worked on AIDS prevention and education in a place where HIV remains epidemic, potentially impacting the vitality of an entire emerging generation. A construction team built bookshelves for public schools across the township. Another team focused on robotics learning, with young children lighting up as their minds opened to the basics of computer programming. We also ran a dance program led by a former champion from television’s Dance Fever. We engaged a team of professional journalists to start a school newspaper. We organized a series of open discussions on women’s health and personal well-being. We developed a peer-to-peer math mentoring program for high school students. My own team focused on business consulting with micro-entrepreneurs, working with an NGO called Business Activator to help bolster start-up companies. We were based in a unique...

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