Forget Section 230, We Need To Think Bigger

This take from Benedict Evans on the challenges of Section 230 and regulating social media is, as typical, really thoughtful. The key takeaway is that a fight over Section 230 is sort of aiming low, at this point. Trying to make regulations around social media based on old forms (newspapers, radio, TV, phone companies) works if you assume those old forms and the new things work the same way-ish. And, clearly they dont. The size, the scale the speed, the targeting, the volume of makers and consumers – all those are different than radio or TV or magazines or pamphlets or telegraphs or phones or whatever. We need some new, imaginative thinking to address a future media/comms tools. Keep 230, but get some new laws in place to regulate.

Meanwhile, here’s a useful take from Joan Donovan at Harvard Business Review on the fundamental difference between current social media platforms and the media of the past. Key point: A system that incentivizes and rewards items (content, features, mechanics) that produce high engagement at scale, with no limits on the bad actors in the system, will inevitably produce disinformation.

Deep in her essay, she gets to the heart of the issue, something that’s not being discussed at all (emphasis mine):

In every instance leading up to January 6, the moral duty was to reduce the scale and pay more attention to the quality of viral content. We saw the cost of failing to do so.

So, do corporations have a moral duty to do anything? Is there a moral and ethical dimension to the working models of companies? Do we hold them to a different standard?

Texas Election Lawsuit: Republican Attorneys General Backed a Dangerous Argument | National Review

I don’t think the Republicans have completely thought through their attempts at a Supreme Court case to address perceived election system wrongs. If it were to have gone to the court, there’s a whole lot of stuff in that pandora’s box, a whole bunch of unintended consequences. Andrew McCarthy at the the National Review provides a reasonable take:

“What this argument implies, whether the states making it realize it or not, is that even if Missouri wants to apply its own, stricter voter-identification standards, California should be allowed to file a complaint against Missouri in the Supreme Court. After all, the uber-progressive Golden State’s experts will say a strict-identification requirement disproportionately discourages qualified minority voters, which depresses Democratic Party turnout, effectively inflating the value of Republican votes to the detriment of Californians, who voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate.

You can see where this goes.”

 

Source: Texas Election Lawsuit: Republican Attorneys General Backed a Dangerous Argument | National Review

Groundhog Day, Together On Zoom

Staying Optimistic At Work When Everything is Hard

We’re now seven months into the slog of this pandemic. Those of us who can work — and can work from home — are probably feeling fortunate that, despite the hassle of zoom and video calls, we’re able to keep the train mostly on the tracks.

But, I’m sensing that, for a lot of us, the routine is starting to feel a little bit empty. Like the movie Ground Hog day, but without Bill Murray. Maybe our moods are getting a little jagged, and the humor is getting a little dark. And, maybe that future we’re building towards is getting a little cloudier. We’re trying to do good work, meaningfully, to create something better and, if we’re lucky, more useful. This rock won’t push itself up that hill, you know.

But, it’s getting harder. Trying to do it from the basement or home office is going to get lonely, if it hasn’t already. After a while, it’s all going to feel like most days are our worst days, when work is bullshit and we can’t really see the point of it. (Or, maybe the work really is bullshit, pandemic or not; that’s another post)

It doesn’t help that the virtual world we’re working in is overcooked and populated by a lot of empty wannabes. Those of us who pretty much live and work online are pepper sprayed with positivity and hustle-secrets by bros hawking their classes and private communities. I read too many click-baity headlines and I get worried for those under-employed journalism kids getting crappy hourly wages to crank them out, seeking just a bit of a career toehold so they can get off their parents’ payroll. There’s too much glossy snark and manufactured “I’m living my truth” first person stuff from stay at home moms and dads who dream of becoming the next Tim Ferriss or Glennon Doyle, the edge cases who actually did it, who jumped off the “real job” grind. I’m avoiding Youtube because it seems like every video is over-dosed with ads featuring some guy pitching me their course that will teach me how to sell my course, so I don’t have to work for the man anymore.

The relentless hustle and commercialism of this new workplace is toxic and transactional like the old one, just in a different way. It just reinforces the fear among us working alone, at home, that we’re not only in the wrong job, but that we’re not trying hard enough.

So how do we stay grounded? How do we see the meaning in the work, the satisfaction in the routine?

On my best days, I remind myself, in the words of the philosopher, that I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

Remember how Phil Connors escaped the bleakness of those Feb 2 day-loops? Hint: It wasn’t just waking up next to Andie McDowelI.

On my good days, I can wake up and see pretty clearly what we’re trying to do at Fahren:

• There’s a leader out there, trying to make something important happen at their job.

• It doesn’t matter too much what it is, but they’re probably trying to put some technology to better use.

• They might be trying to bring something new into the world.

• They know there’s a better way to work, some techniques they can use to do something smarter. 

• They want to keep growing and getting better. As workers, as leaders. As humans. They might be using their job to enact some real improvements in how they think, how they act and how they perform.

• They want help. They’re open to getting some ideas and support from a team that has gone through it before.

• Maybe they just want to hire an outside firm so they can work with likeminded people, so they don’t get stuck being a lifer in the old way.

• We can help. We can help that person solve their problem, to learn something new, to get a job done.

• We can help them make their own transformation, while they are changing the work they do.

Our chosen work is to help people develop and grow while they accomplish something important using the best, leading edge techniques and tools. That’s not a mission statement, or a slogan. It’s a reminder, a commitment.

Maybe that’s too optimistic? Perhaps a little naive? Well, that’s the choice I’m making. It’s how I want to view the world we’re working in now and I’ll keep doing it, even after the pandemic is over. I want my business to be successful, but I can’t keep working on it if cash is the only thing that drops to the bottom line.

We’re all swimming in tech. Technology is the water. But, when we click off zoom and look out the window, we have each other, good and bad, on the other side.

We work with people. We’re working for them, and in their own way, they’re working through us. 

I don’t want to be stuck in a loop of emails and Zoom. This choice is my way out.

Where’s Walt When You Need Him?

When I did my graduate work on Walt Whitman, Jack Kerouac and the American, civil religion of democracy, I got eye rolls from my professors for wasting time on a well trodden topic. Whitman was “over” (because who cares about form/structure and authorial intent anymore) and Kerouac was for dilettantes (which i guess I was), kid stuff. They were deep into post-structuralism, Foucalt, semiotics and Gramsci. But, i loved history, politics, religion and reading, so i got to do a little of all of those through my work.

When i watch the shitshow that is America circa 2020, I wish i could get a do-over on my thesis. The one I wrote was boring, poorly argued, not very interesting. What i probably should have focused on is the role of a creative, media celebrity in influencing ideas about politics and culture. I should have turned it into, effectively, a media studies project.

In their times, both Whitman and Kerouac were, in their own ways, media darlings. You could make an argument that Whitman was one of the first self-made influencers. If he lived today, he’d have a couple million followers on Insta and YouTube. Kerouac was one of the first post-WW2, mass media literary stars, pulled to prominence by editors and journalists and PR people who loved what he was saying, but still had to perform in their day jobs. They both had important messages about America, why we should love it, and how we should savor the elements of America that make democracy great. They both wrote beautifully about the role of the individual vs the greater culture.

Importantly, they also represented – and were presented in the media of their times – two different directions the American culture might go if the personal freedom inherent in a liberal democracy were taken to their extremes. Whitman, the communitarian, celebrated the beauty of a gajillion different identities brought together by the ideals of American democracy. Kerouac, the seeker of individual transcendence, was mostly focused on “kicks” and the freedom to follow his own path. If he lived and sobered up, he probably would have turned into a hermit monk or a libertarian.

The media of their times used both of these guys as a way to talk about American democracy. The audiences learned a little bit about democracy via the stories and the subsequent reading of Kerouac and Whitman’s work.

There are probably a lot of dissertations out there on the outsize influence Kerouac had on the hippies and “back to nature” culture dropouts of the sixties. I know there are plenty on Whitman.

When I watch the videos from the All Gas, No Brakes guy, I see the edge cases (i hope) of American freedom, pursuit of “kicks” and happiness run amok. When i watch peaceful protests, I see some hope. But, who is out there sharing a view of what democracy can and should be? Someone who isn’t a politician? Where’s the Oprah of political philosophy, someone making it easy to understand how we’re all supposed to act in a super diverse culture, but still live together in peace.

We need Walt Whitman right now. Or, something like him. A poet of democracy, someone that can teach and model what our American way of life can (and should be). Someone speaking beautifully, deeply about stuff no one wants to think about anymore: How we live together in a democracy, the beauty of the concept of “out of many, one”. Maybe they’re out there on Tik Tok? Maybe they’re streaming on Twitch?

Interim Talent: “Test and Learn” Comes to Your Talent Mix

We’re building Fahren to be a leadership solutions company. We want to become a key partner for organizations that are differentiating themselves by investing in  and – yes – innovating in the ways they deploy their leadership talent.

One of the planks of our business plan is to focus on Interim roles in key leadership positions: Director/VP of Marketing, Product Leadership, Analytics, and User Experience.

We think “Interim Leader of X” is a tool that most organizations haven’t fully embraced yet. We’re advocates for the idea of using interim roles as a way to test & learn with your talent. You’re already using a test & learn approach in your marketing, your technology, and your product development efforts, why not approach your leadership team with the same model?

It Can’t Be Business as Usual

When most organizations are faced with an opening, they move quickly to refill the same seat with a standard leadership profile. It’s the “business as usual” approach, because everyone is busy and there are plans to deliver, right? So, they default to standard roles, generic job descriptions, templated profiles.

But, we believe most organizations are missing an opportunity to evolve either the “seat” (i.e. the role that’s being played in the organization) or the player profile (i.e. the mix of skills/experience/potential that the person brings to the seat). Most organizations would benefit a lot from taking the time to ask themselves: Is this still the right “seat”? And, do we still want to fill it with the same kind of player?

Why the rethink? Without a doubt, the business context will have changed in the months or years since the seat was designed. We believe organizations need to be as responsive, fluid and adaptive as their products these days, so it’s wise to rethink aspects of the role:

  • Responsibilities: What objectives are we pursuing with this role? Are we pointing the role at the right business problems? Are we being aggressive enough?
  • Level: Is it still a Director level role? Should it be a VP role? Could it be a manager?
  • Commitment: Is it really full-time?
  • Span of Control: Do we have the right teams reporting to this role? Could we expand the span of control?

And, at the same time, it’s wise to rethink the player profile:

  • Skill mix – What leadership competencies are they bringing to the role?
  • Developmental Experiences – What kinds of experiences should the player have? Startup experience? Big company? Turnaround? “Good to Great”?
  • Culture Impact – How will you use the role to add to the culture (vs merely being a “fit”)

The Interim Opportunity: Test and Learn for Talent

As the pace of business accelerates, we’re seeing a lot of organizations embrace an agile (and Agile), iterative, test/learn approach to driving better results. We’re seeing it marketing, in product development, in technology teams, etc. But, we’re not yet seeing it on the talent side.

We see “interim” roles as being the way organizations can take a test & learn approach to their organizational efforts. An interim role that last 6-12 months gives organizations a chance to explore how key roles can evolve and how teams can work differently. The cycle looks similar to a market-test:

  • Develop a hypothesis – How either the seat can evolve or the different leadership mix you need from the player
  • Define a test – Redefine the seat or the player and create the test period (usually 6-12 months)
  • Run the test – Put the new player into the role for 6-12 months
  • Analyze the results – Review in-market results and team performance. Talk with the team, the leader, the rest of the leadership team, customers, vendors, partners, etc.
  • Apply – Use the learnings to finalize the new role or the new leadership profile and then fill the role permanently

At Fahren, we expect to see more and more organizations using Interim roles as a way to test and learn their way to a more effective leadership mix. We’re setting up our business to help our partners get there via:

  • Strategy & Advisory services – We’ll help you map out a new strategy and define the roles you need to get there
  • Interim Talent – We’ll help you find and onboard the Interim leadership you need to keep driving results while learning about the talent mix that can take you to the next level
  • Executive Search – When you know what you need and you want to fill the role permanently, we can help you conduct an efficient, effective search

Why I’m Starting My Own Company

Every entrepreneur who starts their own venture better have a clear idea of why they’re doing it. With a clear “why”, it will be easier to navigate when the inevitable obstacles pile up.  If for no other reason than to get my own thoughts straight, here goes:

I’ve got Some Personal Motivation

I’m a small business guy by birth – I grew up the son of a second generation entrepreneur. My grandfather took a huge risk in 1916 and started a car business. He never made it to college, but i benefitted because he had the right combination of courage, vision, perseverance and a super supportive wife. He sent his two boys (my dad and uncle) to college, gave a ton back to his church and community, and sold the boys a successful business. They managed it well and grew it so that their combined 11 kids could go to college and grad school. I can’t count how many of their employees sent their own kids to college, or bought their first homes or a cottage on a lake or were able to retire because they were paid well by dad’s small business. It’s in the hundreds. So, i’m a believer in main street. I think the world needs more successful small businesses. We probably have enough Facebooks, Googles, and Twitters.

I want to build a great culture – I was having coffee with Amol Dixit, the brains behind Hot Indian Foods and he told me that his goal wasn’t to get into the restaurant business. His goal was to build a great company and a great brand, first. The restaurant business was just the fastest way in. When he wakes up in the morning, he’s thinking about how to keep the business growing so the people that work there can get where they’re trying to go, professionally. I hope that, in my small way, the little company i create can be a place where others can get their start on a new career or at least a new phase in their career.

Create More, Consume Less – I try, everyday, to focus on creating. Whether it’s words on a page, music, or even a dumb sketch, it’s critical to me to put something good out into the world to balance out all the consumption i’m doing. Business is the medium where i think i can be the most creative (should have practiced my guitar more) and this is a time where creativity in business will be rewarded. I hope when i’m done working someday, i’ll be able to look back and feel proud of what we all created together at my little company.

Put it into Practice – I’ve been blessed to have worked with some amazing leaders. Whether it was learning how to manage through rapid change at Ameriprise, or learning how to build excellent brands at General Mills, or how to build an amazing professional services business like Ciceron or GoKart, i’ve been around inspirational folks my whole career. I owe it to those leaders to try to do something special. I want to see if i can put it into practice.

It’s time – I started out as a small business guy, but then found my way – through luck and being in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge –  into corporate America. My whole rationale for going corporate was to learn enough to sell some digital marketing into big companies. My longterm plan was to go start my own business; i just needed a little corporate experience first. As i look ahead and make my plan for the next 10 years, this is the best way to get where i want to end up.

Why this Particular Business?

We’re starting a company that will make it easier for companies to find the talent they need to innovate and change. It’s a professional services business, but not an agency. We’re going to have a pool of talented consultants who can provide interim leadership and support for your most strategic digital initiatives. They’ll have experience at the senior levels inside big corporations and agencies and could step into your VP and Director level roles.  I’ll save the particulars for another post, but the general reasons for this business are going to be pretty familiar:

  • The market size is huge
  • There’s a gap in the marketplace
  • There is long term opportunity
  • I’ve got a unique way to help address some market needs

More on that later…

But, beyond the financial and business rationale, there’s a deeper reason. The transformational change that most companies are pursuing will come about through hard work and courageous leadership. That change will be driven by technology, but it will ultimately be a cultural change, where the company vision, mission, values, incentives, ways of work, tools, leadership behaviors, communications and customer experience will all be challenged.

It’s going to come down to great leadership.  It’s going to take vision, courage, resilience and persistence. And – we think –  partners that work like we do.

The Middle is Where the Change Gets Real –  This kind of change will have to be supported at the “top of the house”, the C-Level folks. And, the execution has to happen everywhere, from the entry level folks on up. But, the leaders in the middle – the Directors, the VP’s – are where the real change happens. Or, I should say, where the change gets real. Those people are in the tough spot of trying to influence up (to the C-Level), across (to their peers) and around, to their teams, their vendors, their functional partners. They’ve got to bend and dismantle the old ways of working to create the space for the new ways.

While we will probably be hired by “senior management”, we think we can make the most impact by helping to lead from the middle. So, we are building this organization to to help at the Director and VP level, the ones who have to make the change actually happen. The ones taking the risks to innovate where their peers are playing the game, the ones who are trying to create something new or pioneer new techniques instead of following the path laid out by their boss.

This might be one of the best times in American history to start a new business. It’s also the best time for existing business reinvent themselves. And, it’s an amazingly interesting time to be a business leader. If we work our plan and this business evolves the way we want it to, we’ll be doing our little part to help those great companies – and the leaders inside – reinvest in their futures and reinvent themselves.

 

It’s Time to Make Goofy Apps Again

We’re about to enter another great era of digital creativity. When you look at the tools that are coming at us to make digital things – voice contral, AI, gestural interfaces, presence indicators, smart devices – it’s clear we’re going to have to rethink a lot of things. That means, unlocking creativity and imagination as we explore what the technology can do. My kids (who both are interested in technology) will have the same chance to sandbox with AI, voice interfaces, and other cool stuff like i did with HTML and visual basic.

I LOVE this post for it’s focus on play and creativity and it’s thoughtfulness in articulating how to pull together all the tech.

What an amazing time we’re in.

The BlockChain is the Beauty Inside Bitcoin

I need to come back and write up a clear article on this, but i’ve been digging deep into Bitcoin. Not the cryptocurrency part, but the actual protocol behind it. The think i’m curious about: What else could we apply the blockchain concept to. That is, what kind of decentralization can happen when there is a secure, transparent, open, scriptable, public ledger holding the system together.

Lots more to think about,  but here’s a couple important articles for my own future reference:

 

One Good Writing Lesson from Mad Magazine’s Al Jaffee

I think this is pretty good advice for any writer. It’s easy to be emotional and strident, but the best work channels that energy through a distinct, mostly consistent view of the world. And then, funny is usually better.

“When we’re successful, it’s a funny take on a serious subject,” explained Jaffee. “When we fail is when we preach.”

via Cartoonist Al Jaffee Reveals the One Fold-In ‘MAD Magazine’ Wouldn’t Run | Newsmakers – Yahoo News.

Why Food? — For Positive Change in the Food Industry by Yvon Chouinard – Patagonia Provisions

This is another great example of a purpose-lead organization finding new growth (new products, new categorys, new customers) by starting with their purpose, and using that to inspire invention. In this case, their entry into the food space.

So it only makes sense that we’d want to share some of our favorite food with our customers. But that’s just the beginning; we also believe there is great opportunity—and an urgent need—for positive change in the food industry. With Patagonia Provisions, our goals are the same as with everything we do: We aim to make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and perhaps most important, inspire solutions to the environmental crisis.

via Why Food? — For Positive Change in the Food Industry by Yvon Chouinard – Patagonia Provisions.

Brand purpose is often the best place to start when seeking new revenue growth. By recommitting to your core purpose, you can start envisioning whole new ways to play in your own business landscape. Or, like Patagonia, you can move into whole new categories with completely new products. Operational and business model complexities aside, to consumers, moves like this make sense when there’s a clear purpose behind the brand to tie them together. Invention (identifying new ways to grow like new products and services) comes fastest when there is a clearly articulated brand purpose guiding the explorations.