Crisis Management for Lion Killers

The story of the Dr. “Lion Slayer” Palmer is all over the internet and people are outraged, for good reason. His dental practice is in limbo and he is in hiding after receiving death threats. Well done Internet… you have already surpassed the attention span of a #hashtag with this one.

I am conflicted on this story for many reasons. Big game hunting is deplorable, and there is no justification for it with licenses sold to the ultra-wealthy who are partaking in the experience for the sport of it. If the goal is herd management, have trained naturalists do the killing in a clinical manner and take advantage of the carcasses for research instead of skinning it and mounting the head as a trophy.

Here’s where my conflict hits a high pitch, the outrage that is being expressed by this story is disproportionate to the actual harm. In no small measure, this is due to the victim is an animal, a majestic animal rather than a deer or furry ground squirrel. African lions are threatened, not endangered, and the bulk of them live in a cluster of habitats like the one the one that was killed. Habitat destruction is a bigger threat to lions than hunting.

syrian atrocitiesHow do we square the universal outrage expressed about the killing of a lion with the antipathy to 200,000 people killed in Syria, including women and children gassed to death by the Assad regime? What about the near 8 million Syrians who have been forced to abandon their homes because of this civil war? Where can I post a satirical comment on Bashar al-Assad’s Yelp page?

The Internet is a marvelous creation that engages and connects people throughout the world. However, the unintended consequence of social media activism is that it is often a substitute for actual activism but with far less impressive results. We live in a world of #hashtags that create a false sense of engagement and deludes people into believing they made a difference. The half-life of a hashtag is hours; it is nothing more than an expression of vanity to attach your online personality to a cause… and then move on.

Where is the outrage about African countries selling the rights to kill these animals to the highest bidder? That, to me, is missing in focus here.

Here’s what I recommend that the Lion Slayer do to rehabilitate his image:

  1. Ride it out: We hit the crescendo of public outrage yesterday and by the end of the week the majority of people will have moved on. Making statements now does nothing to quell the firestorm and based on what he has already released, more damage is being done.
  2. Ignore the Zimbabwe authorities: This is a country run by a notorious thug, Robert Mugabe, who has ruined the economy and perpetuated many human rights abuses over his 33 year dictatorship. The U.S. ignores him, so should Palmer.
  3. Rebrand the clinic: River Bluff Dental is cooked, time to start over. He will have to actively manage the social media and review sites for NewCo. so plan on hiring a firm to do that over a protracted period of time.
  4. Focus on the local community: A dental practice is inherently local, it doesn’t matter what “Kim T. from San Gabriel, CA” thinks. Palmer needs to reach out to his local community and focus on the collective values of the practice, the people who rely on it for jobs, and the many people who have been served (apparently he is an accomplished dentist).
  5. Give up big game hunting: As already stated, it’s just immoral so give it up. Hunting is a big part of life in Minnesota so his local community will not object to hunting for local game. If he wants to go to Africa, take a camera instead of a bow.
  6. Take up animal conservation: His crime was in killing a majestic animal, the penance for that is supporting the preservation of majestic animals. I would recommend a strategy of donating a fixed percentage of revenue from the clinic to vetted causes, and being transparent about it.

If Michael Vick can rehabilitate his image after going to prison for dog fighting, I think Palmer has a good shot, no pun intended.

Tough Doesn’t Quit, Except at Breakfast

I was at a dinner on Sunday night and seated next to me was retired Admiral Eric Olson, who had a long and distinguished military career. He retired from the Navy in 2011 as the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. Interesting man, to say the least, but also incredibly gracious and unassuming.

I asked him what qualities he could identify that would be indicators of success as s Navy SEAL. His response was predictable in some ways, unexpected in others. Above all, he said, the SEALs look for problem-solving, intelligence and mental toughness in candidates. I expected to hear this, and he added that chess and water polo players seem particularly well suited for special operations, which certainly fits the profile.

seals-toughnessWhat he added, which was unexpected, is that they study the well-documented attrition rate during training. Within each cohort, they looked at the time of day that candidates would quit and found that the majority of drop-outs quit at breakfast and lunch. In other words, they didn’t quit during the grueling training exercises but in anticipation of them.

It makes a lot of sense in retrospect because this training program is designed to instill the commitment of team and capacity of the human body to go far beyond believed physical limits. Giving up occurs not in the moment of exertion where your team is counting on you but in the comfort of being alone and anticipating the grueling assignment.

Draw your own analogies to everyday life.

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Corporate Activism: The Uber Edition

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio really stepped in it by picking a fight with Uber. Acting as the puppet for the powerful taxi medallion owners in NYC, who despise Uber, the mayor proposed capping the addition of new Uber cars to 1%. Given the customer growth that Uber has been experiencing in NYC, a 1% increase in drivers would kneecap the company.

Uber fought back, which seemed to catch both City Hall and the yellow cab cartel off guard. Anyone who has watched Uber grow will tell you the company redefines the term being aggressive.

Making critical arguments that they were creating jobs, customers are being served that are neglected by taxi cabs, and the congestion claims didn’t match the numbers. Indeed, the congestion argument that De Blasio relied on was particularly curious because it is now clear that is based on anecdote.

In addition to a wave of advertising and protests by the very people who rely on Uber to earn income, Uber enlisted allies across the political spectrum. However, it was the use of the application as a tool for activating customers that is particularly brilliant. The de Blasio mode that rolled out provided every Uber customer in NYC with a picture of what service would look like if de Blasio successfully capped growth.


What is different about Uber fighting City Hall versus WalMart or an energy company, is that Uber has user experience on their side. This is where De Blasio fatally erred in taking on Uber. He attempted to use worn our arguments about safety and employee rights to define Uber as a threat to the public welfare when anyone who has ridden in a yellow cab – anywhere – will tell you it is quite the opposite. The data didn’t back up De Blasio’s claim, on the surface or at that level that we just intuitively know.

de Blasio backed down and his allies are attempting to spin a victory out of this defeat. Highlighting the fact that Uber agreed to “restrain” growth to their current level (it’s hard to imagine Uber juicing growth in NYC at this point) and sharing data for the traffic study. Make no mistake about this, it was a defeat for De Blasio and only further weakens him in the eyes of New Yorkers who are already fed up with him.

This loss comes on the heels of a humiliating showing in Albany. Mayor de Blasio sought permanent control of the city school system; instead he got a 1-year extension on the current oversight agreement. He bitterly opposes charter schools, doing the bidding for the teacher’s union, which bitterly opposes charter schools, and instead of reducing their numbers he was handed 50 more. He wanted pro-tenant changes to the rent control laws, he got nothing but a 4-year extension on the status quo. He wanted changes to the 421 real estate law, for which he got bupkis. His showing within NYC politics shows much of the same. He opposed hiring more police officers, and Bratton got 1,300 new officers pushed through.

And now he just lost to Uber.

In the end, it is customers that win. For years, the taxi industry has one constituent, regulators. The regulators derived their power from the fact that there was an organized industry to regulate and did little to improve customer experience and affordability. The money generated by taxes was spread around to mass transit projects and used to enrichen organized labor, who like the taxi industry had little incentive to improve customer experience. Just ride on San Francisco’s MUNI system, a textbook example for why a municipality should not be entrusted with public transportation.

Uber and Lyft came along and demonstrated that superior customer experience wins every time. It’s not just the taxi industry that sees this threat, cities with crowded and inefficient transit systems are watching their ridership shift to ride services and as companies introduce car-pooling services the trend will accelerate. Preparing for a long battle ahead, it is obvious that Uber and their counterparts are prepared to wage a direct and aggressive battle on behalf of their interests, and because their interests align with consumers I am okay with that.

The Coming Robot Invasion in Fast Food

102277923-IMG_3958.530x298I was driving up Woodside Road last week and the KFC store had a huge “Hiring!” banner hanging on the front of the outlet. This caught my attention for two reasons.

It’s well established that cost of living on the Peninsula is not amenable to the income generated by low skilled, fast food work. It just isn’t and raising the minimum wage or whatever you want to call it isn’t going to make a difference. As a result, few people want to work these jobs. How can you blame them if flipping burgers and banging on a cash register all day isn’t providing an income that makes it possible to cover the basics?

It used to be that fast food was a job that kids filled in their off hours or during summer, it is not a career. Today’s young people have many competing demands on their time, from school to sports to activities that they are expected to participate in order to make them competitive for college admissions. There is also a youth entitlement factor that comes into play in wealthy communities. However, in my conversations with small business owners the number one problem with hiring teens is that they cannot commit to the time that is required to hold down a job.

Today I read an interesting piece on McDonald’s:

“For example, labor needed to run stores during lunch hour,” one franchisee wrote. “Our competitors have 6-8 people to run close to the same volume that we need 20-25 people.

It’s a perfect storm of changing consumer tastes, poor brand management, and food quality hitting McDonald’s at the moment. If we throw in labor efficiency, we may have hit the tipping point that results in an unsalvagable business. It is this last issue that is most interesting to me.

robot-fast-food.0.0There is no reason at all why fast food restaurants could not be staffed primarily by robots. I’m not talking about cute humanoids delivering food to tables but rather the heavy lifting part of fast food… the kitchen.

Fast food is designed to be repeatable in preparation and presentation, a perfect scenario for robotics. Fast, efficient, and consistent preparation of food can be accomplished with sensor heavy automation that manages food quality, consistency, and safety far better than humans can at the pace that is required in a fast food process. The novelty factor of automation would soon give way to a preference in much the same way that other businesses have used automation for competitive advantage.

robot-restaurant-3.0If you carry this forward, the interesting thing to consider is how automation informs the fast/casual dining user experience from a design standpoint. Automation completely changes how a kitchen would be laid out, how logistics are managed and even how we use technology to interface with the front end processes as a customer. A maps interface on your phone could now include order entry while driving and beacons could interact with me while en route and in the restaurant itself. It’s pretty exciting to think how everything changes as a result of robotics in the fast food process.

I will close by saying that for McDonald’s these issues cannot be tinkered with. Re-establishing leadership will require bold strategies that remake the entire fast food experience, not just the McDonald’s brand experience. Automation won’t address the menu issues they have, but it will address the labor issues that are plaguing the franchise model. They could start incrementally and insert automation in the kitchen but they also need to lay out a vision for the total experience they are designing to.

Hillary Clinton Attacks Uber, Airbnb

On the wrong side of history yet again, Hillary Clinton has decided that her road to the White House is tearing down one of the great economic movements of the last decade, the sharing economy. 

In an economic speech she is planned to give, Clinton will highlight the stagnating wages of the middle class and points to causes that include Uber and Airbnb. This is mind blowing for two reasons, one is that the bloc of voters that she absolutely has to appeal to is not only benefiting from these services but sees them as a part of their economic portfolio. Secondly, the marketplace for services is fundamentally shifting from one of hardened connections between companies and employees to one of loose connections that increase and decrease based on personal preferences.

Clinton’s aide said she will discuss some of the structural forces conspiring against sustainable wage growth, such as globalization, automation, and even consumer-friendly “sharing economy” firms like Uber and Airbnb that are creating new relationships between management and labor (and which now employ many Obama administration alumni). But she will argue that policy choices have contributed to the problem, and that she can fix it.

Hillary Clinton wants to return Americans to an era where earning income happened exclusively in the context of an employee-employer relationship. In addition to that, she wants to restrict individuals access to a market where utilizing assets like home, apartments, and vehicles for income is an option and is effectively excluded from the worst aspects of government, rent-seeking, which conspires to depress the stagnated incomes that Clinton is right to call out!

UPDATE: I finished the above paragraph after my friend, Paul Greenberg, alerted me to the incomplete sentence in my original post. He also made a comment about this not being a “sharing economy” but rather a new dimension on renting and I largely agree. More than anything else, Uber and Airbnb are just two examples of a bigger movement that enables income to be extracted from 2 of the biggest capital expenses of the middle class, homes and cars. 

Mary Meeker’s recently published 2015 Internet Trends Report highlighted some of the generational changes that are occurring and the impact on the future of work. See Slide 111. Flexible hours and freelancing are integral beliefs underpinning economic freedom for this generation and Clinton’s position is directly at odds with that.

Far from being a cause of middle-class stagnation, the sharing economy offers a rare moment of optimism. Roy Bahat recently published an outstanding essay titled Your Career is a Mess that highlights one of the seismic shifts affecting employment in the 21st century, which is that we are no longer single threaded in the employee-employer relationship.

Hillary Clinton’s entire campaign is emerging as a grab bag of tired progressive policies that have actually attacked the middle class rather than empowered it. Wage growth has stalled because growth itself has stalled, this is not shocking to any economist and yet the candidate continues to parrot talking points about childcare and paid time off, infrastructure investment, and clean energy. Rather than embracing and expanding the economics successes of the last decade, Clinton would take us back to the last century, proving that she is on the wrong side of history yet again.

PS- Comments were not enabled in the original post, I corrected that with this update.

Forced Encryption Rendering Nexus Devices Useless

UPDATE: I unlocked the devices and installed a modified bootloader that disabled encryption. It was a bit of a hassle I had to reformat the device storage but Google has a nice recovery feature for apps in Lollipop. The results were beyond expectation, the phone feels 3x as fast and the Nexus 9 no longer has any of the lag issues that were causing problems with Chrome.

I have a Nexus 9 and a Nexus 6, both running Android Lollipop 5.01. Almost immediately I noticed that there was a lot of lag in the UI and performance was generally slow. After doing a lot of research it appears that forced encryption in 5.0x is a huge performance drag on hardware that would otherwise be quite snappy.

Lollipop 5.1 is rumored to be available but despite being on Nexus devices I have not received OTA updates (Verizon for the 6, T-Mobile for the 9). I can sideload 5.1 on the 6 but there is not image available as of yet for the Nexus 9.

While this feature is well intentioned, the fact remains that it should never have gone into production with the enormous performance penalty it imposes. Furthermore, Google knows of the issue and has removed the forced requirement but has not yet made a fix available to those devices that already have it.

As much as I like the Nexus hardware, I would not recommend buying any Nexus device until Google disables encryption.

The Challenge of Being a Russian Security Software Company

Passwork. Password manager for teams. Collaboration and password sharingI came across Passwork today and was really impressed with the presentation as well as focus of the product. This is the kind of product that I would instinctively sign up for and test drive… but for an unrelated reason I started poking around on their site to find out more about the company.

It became clear that the company is Russian and this fact alone represents a major impediment for any company in the security software space. In all fairness I am making this assumption off factors like domains and language… the company itself provided no contact information on their website, which is itself kind of weird.

There is obviously a lot of good tech that comes out of Russia but there is an intractable problem when going global and that is the ambiguity about the extent to which Russian government activities encroach on the activities of commercial companies. The same can be said of China and in the interest of being fully objective about this topic, the same can be said of the U.S.A. as more attention and disclosure was put on NSA, FBI, and other government agencies. Selling globally I know this is the case, companies not based in the U.S. have significant objections about domiciling data in U.S. datacenters.

The problem for companies in Russia (and China) is that of the perception of egregious bad actors, including overt criminal activity. It’s one thing to have the government accessing your data, it’s another altogether to believe you would be exposed to criminal industrial espionage. I simply would not try to build a security software company in Russia if I have an aspiration of selling to a global enterprise market. Kaspersky Lab is a notable exception here when it comes to endpoint security but it’s clear that the company is aware of this and also the rising tensions between the U.S. and Russian governments.

Passwork is also, apparently, aware of the obstacles and goes to lengths on their website to highlight open algorithms, data security and privacy. In addition to addressing these issues up front, they also offer a version of the software that is on-premise. I’m not sure any of these measures really overcome the perception of risk, which in many ways is a binary condition.

As much as I liked the marketing for Passwork, I didn’t sign up.


Flipboard Becomes an Enterprise Collaboration Tool, They Just Don’t Know it.

Flipboard launched a private magazine capability this week.

With today’s release, there’s an exciting new way for people with shared interests to unite on Flipboard: private group magazines. Now you can collect stories together, and comment on them, in a closed setting.

At Ping I used a Flipboard magazine to collect industry news along with competitive information. The intended audience for this magazine was everyone in the company, with a focus on the sales teams, and I was successful with that goal with close to 100% of the staff getting the magazine on their mobile devices (everyone at Ping has an iOS or Android smartphone, it’s essential for 2 factor authentication).

View my Flipboard Magazine.

However, I have been limited in the commentary I could attach and I was reluctant to post competitors-sponsored content that was directed at the company. Why would I promote competitive content that was not educational in nature?

The Flipboard format is really compelling for internal corporate communications. Visual and mobile centric, it is also easy to manage with the tools that Flipboard provides. The lack of commenting is not an issue because the sharing tools allow for dropping of content into full blown collaboration systems.

Private magazines resolve the biggest limitation for enterprise usage, good move on their part. I can see many consumer applications for this but the ability to use Flipboard as a communication tool for businesses is the bigger opportunity for the company.

Let’s Stop Badgering Companies for Trying…

NikeLabI gotta give Nike credit for this, it’s edgy and pushing a boundary of what athletic apparel for women should be.

Predictably, the outrage factory spun up and without a hint of irony this BI piece (well it is BI) has decided to represent all women in the headline. I have no doubt that Nike has access to women athletes, so I would put strong odds on the idea that not ALL women are outraged.

“The Sacai collection is undoubtedly a vanity project for Nike, but its premise — that female athletes prize style and appearance over functionality and performance — is completely tone-deaf,” writes Megan Wiegand for Slate.

Yeah, I’m sure all that LuLuLemon stuff is being bought on the basis of performance alone…

Let’s imagine a world where companies play it safe and design to the lowest common denominator of what every segment of a demographic wants; in that scenario are women consumers better served than one that caters to individual preferences? No. Fashion is personal and women – outraged or not – will simply vote with their dollars.


Starbucks As Race Uniter: Piss Everyone Off Equally

Starbucks found itself in hot water this week after encouraging baristas to write “racetogether” on coffee cups and discuss race relations with customers. And of course their is a #racetogether hashtag campaign. Sigh.

I give you Starbucks leadership team… you can’t blame them for being so white, there aren’t many sunny days in Seattle. I can’t explain why they are predominantly men.

It didn’t help when head PR honcho at the coffee purveyor, Corey DuBrowa, deleted his Twitter account after the deluge of negative reaction. This only reinforced the perception that this was little more than a marketing gimmick and the company really wasn’t interested in a “conversation”. Euphemistically or not.

No matter how you spin it, this is not a good day for Starbucks, which to it’s credit does have real diversity programs that throw business to minority and women owned businesses. These are the kinds of programs that companies like Starbucks should be investing in, because most people don’t want and won’t accept being talked to about serious issues through patronizing slogans written on coffee cups and 140 character missives anchored with a hashtag.

Outrage in America has itself been elevated to a cause, and there may be an element of that here but the critics seem to have a valid point by highlighting the hypocrisy of talking about diversity in a company led by old white guys. Fair or not, Starbucks can’t ignore that fact. This leads to an important threshold that companies wading into social commentary have to meet, which is your moral authority. It would be hard to argue that Starbucks has any moral authority to lead this debate given their leadership and customer demographic (break down the stats on store locations for further evidence of this). Of course you could also argue that no one is uniquely qualified to talk about race just because of their skin color… I could make the case either way but what I won’t defend is the idea that corporate sloganeering will lead to positive change.

Another element at work here is that most cause marketing that isn’t linked to explicit act is in itself a sham. Hashtag campaigns have jumped the shark and I believe that people are actually a lot smarter than advertisers give them credit for. People pick up on the cues and can call BS on these activities even if they don’t do it explicitly. Advertisers should do themselves a service and ditch the hashtags and calls for “conversation”… it’s the kabuki theatre of going through the motions without doing the work.

Look no further than the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria. #BringBackOurGirls may have made people feel good but a year later the girls are still missing and their fate a mystery… Boko Haram was, apparently, not impressed by a hashtag campaign.

Companies can be a force for social good when their good intentions are coupled with policies and hard work. Marketing slogans and diversity officers that are little more than paper tigers won’t qualify nor improve the standing of companies when called to stand up for diversity as a cause.

PS- If Starbucks is serious about race relations in America, put a Starbucks in Ferguson Missouri and contribute generously to the rebuilding of that city where white and black residents are paying the price for shameful yellow journalism built on a hands-up-don’t-shoot lie. There is no Starbucks in Ferguson, I’m sure the residents would appreciate the jobs.