Monday, March 31, 2014

Disconnecting to Connect, Connecting Anyway

My article from an old Media & Tech blog (August 26th 2011)

‘Disconnect to connect’ is quite a phrase, isn’t it. It’s from a good friend of mine, who is verse in technology devices but who also appreciates how vital it is to truly connect with others. It’s so easy to get wrapped up on our smartphones when we’re up and about and on our PCs when we’re home. As much as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter tout the rich connections we can make, paradoxically we seem to get more alienated from people around us.

It should come as no surprise, then, that athletes are wrapped up in media and technology as well. So much so that team chemistry, and perhaps team play as well, suffer.

Maurice Edu, USMNT
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Sports Illustrated featured a series of articles on this, and it spoke to how prevalent the problem is, across major American sports:
Teammates in pro sports today are talking more than ever, just not as much to each other. Ask many coaches, general managers and older players and you’ll hear a common gripe: chemistry on teams has been altered because of modern technology, and not for the better. The rise of smartphones, with all their instant-communication and entertainment options, have created insular worlds into which distracted players too often retreat instead of bonding with teammates.
Reference: Team bonding suffers in tech age.

“Insular” is a perfect word. It’s almost as if people around us, and the place where we’re at, disappear, and we’re alone somewhere in the reaches of cyberspace. In the fast-paced heat of the game, players have to communicate with each other instinctively and instantaneously, and this requires perfect team chemistry. Which is about being truly connected to each other, and also knowing each other so well that a fraction-of-a-second eye contact is all they need to communicate what to do in a given moment of play.
Social media - particularly Twitter - has invaded NBA [National Basketball Association] locker rooms … “Guys in the locker room are always on their phones,” [Caron] Butler said. “I don’t know if it’s just an NBA thing, but we’re always texting. With Twitter, it’s easy to hop on and say ‘had a big game’ or ‘had a rough one tonight’ and communicate with other people.” In some ways, Twitter has become the ultimate instant trash-talking tool. After Cleveland took a 55-point beating from the Lakers last January, ex-Cav LeBron James tweeted “Karma is a b—h.”

Trash talking, done in a good-natured way, is cool. It’s very much a part of sports culture, certainly in the US, and it’s on the field or forum of play. Its migration to mobile devices and social media in recent years must seem like a never-before-seen tsunami, however. I know that league officials and team management are grappling with how to handle players who cross the line into provocative, questionable trash talking.

Take the case of this athlete:
It was about two years ago when Visanthe Shiancoe first saw the downside of mixing one’s modern technology with the rather old-school setting that can still prevail in an NFL training camp. That’s when the veteran tight end tweeted from the team’s 2009 camp-opening introductory meeting in Mankato, Minn., letting the rest of the cyberworld know just how riveting he found the proceedings: ‘Zzzzzz zzzzz zzz zzz (in meetings) lol.. Introducing the staff.’ Shiancoe got the predictable blowback from that Twitter misstep, with the Vikings banning their players from tweeting in meetings and Shiancoe’s Twitter stream becoming a must-read for all his new followers.
Reference: NFL teams not worried about technology affecting chemistry.

This is rude, for sure, but hilarious, too!

All hope for genuine connection is not lost, though. More senior players on the team can take initiative to forge it:
[Jason] Giambi said he and fellow old-schooler Todd Helton actually have instituted informal clubhouse rules as to when players cannot be on their smartphones or other devices. “Times like before stretch. Right before stretch, we all try to get together and we’ll stretch a lot together in the clubhouse. You really want that team chemistry, for guys to talk to each other and hang out,” Giambi said. “We’ve made a point to go around and try to include everybody in the clubhouse.”
So let’s step back from all of this a few moments, shall we, and reflect on what’s going on.

I see this as an evolution in human relationships, in the midst of a revolution in media and technology. Yes, there are many experts in this wild-and-crazy revolution, and there are hordes of articles offering us the how-to and what-for of iPad2, BlackBerry and Android. In truth, I believe, we’re just trying to get a grip on what’s really going on, never mind what to actually do about it. We just don’t know for sure. We can observe, we can participate, and we can get lost in it. But as Neal Gabler encourages, simply, in his thought-provoking article, we must reflect and we must think - The Elusive Big Idea.

In this light, then, we ought not be so judgmental or harsh when we see others, athletes and non-athletes alike, wrapped up on their smartphones or tablets. The fact that they are connecting with others is a thing to treasure, I believe. We don’t always know with whom or for what purpose, but it’s actually a human connection, nevertheless. Yes, it’s bridged by media and technology, and, no, it’s not at all like face-to-face physical talking. What’s more, it’s downright insular in that physical world, as we acknowledged earlier. But it doesn’t make such a connection any less human. In fact, it cannot be anything but a form of human connection, because we as people are an integral, intimate part of it, aren’t we. I envision a future where a friend isn’t categorized as “online” or “real,” but simply a “friend” wherever and however of a friend he or she is.

So what are officials, management and players to do? Well, for one, don’t see this as an either-or proposition, such as mobile or no-mobile. Teams have to impose rules on the use of media and technology, of course. But they can certainly leverage it for the good of the team and its chemistry. Perhaps as a lighthearted change-of-pace in the locker room, the head coach can talk about what’s trending on Twitter, which his or her players are interested in. Maybe joke about a player’s tweet the night before, and get a laugh together from the whole team. Maybe players can watch videos or listen to music on their smartphones, together.

Maybe do what I did, one time. A friend and I were sitting next to each other at a meeting. We happen to be connected on BlackBerry Messenger, too. So we’re BBMing each other about something stupid and funny in the meeting, and we end up snickering a bit as we hold back our laughter. We don’t look at each other, we keep as straight of a face as we can. We are connecting, and it doesn’t impinge on the people and the goings-on in that meeting.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Speed of Twitter

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My article from an old Media & Tech blog (August 26th 2011)

When Steve Jobs announced this past Wednesday evening that he was resigning as CEO of Apple, news spread like brushfire on the internet. I saw it first on Google News, but my Twitter Newsfeed was rolling about 100 tweets per handful of seconds.

One guy tweeted, in a seemingly blase way, that after a couple of hours, this groundbreaking report was old news. Stop tweeting about it, he said. This short period of time is equivalent to about two weeks in the Twitter universe.

One lady tweeted:
The speed of SM [social media] information is amazing! I like to see how long AFTER twitter a story’s posted on CNN.
Well, I’m sure the major networks have systems and procedures in place to tap social media and get on-the-spot, real-time reports from their viewers, readers, fans et al. Otherwise, their old ways of deploying reporters on the ground to cover big news would probably be too slow.

Then, just a few minutes ago, I find this tweet from TweetSmarter, with a link to a graph created by Eric Fischer. Have a look, and try to make sense of it, before reading further. 

The earthquake Mr. Fischer is referring to is the one that hit the US eastcoast on 23rd August. The graph basically says that just 60 seconds after the earthquake started, people started tweeting about it with location-tagged messages! Within just 120 seconds, hordes of people within 100 miles of the earthquake had tweeted about it. Over 10 minutes, yet more tweeters came forward from within 400 miles.

It’s an amazing set of statistics, and I don’t know if there is any physical mechanism for news reporting that can match the speed of Twitter!

How impressed are you?

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Altruism of the Cause

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My article from an old Media & Tech blog (August 24th 2011)

What matters most: Simply the altruistic act itself or the cause which the act should be for?

Nancy Messieh relates a do-good effort by a programmer, who shared his Starbucks card online so that someone else could buy coffee. He encouraged people to put money into the card, so that still more could enjoy a cup of brew. Another programmer, however, threw a wrench into the effort, by sharing the code with which money on the Starbucks card could be transferred to his own card. There is an intriguing human drama being played out here, and I’ll speak to this shortly. 

For now, suffice it to say that that original card ended up having $11,000 of credit to buy coffee!
There’s a part of me that simply can’t let go of the idea that the cause matters more than anything else.
Messieh is right: I am working on a conceptual framework, with practical applications, which is centered on the purpose, target or vision. What do we want most? What are we trying to accomplish? What is the need we wish to satisfy? So with hordes of families living in heartbreaking poverty, $11,000 could certainly put food on the table for many of them. Instead of buying coffee.

I have a dear friend, and he used to talk about owning several mobile phones and a handful of cars. He talked about spending about $3000 a month on phone calls with a girlfriend in another country. Just one less Hummer, one less Nokia, and more calls on Skype (which are free), and imagine how little sacrifice he actually has to make to do a world of good for the disadvantaged. I told him how else he could’ve spent his money.
While I appreciate the theory of how generous people were, and how so many people were clearly willing to pay it forward, but had it been for a more worthy cause, it would have been much more worth the effort.
Let’s step back from this, shall we, and try to look at it more broadly and deeply. 

Psychology is a science of human behavior. While it has offered decades of insight on what drives our actions and words, in truth it is often difficult to discern what makes us tick inside and what in particular we do with our money. So the second programmer may have had a negative intent by cracking the code for the Starbucks card and taking the money in it. But how do we explain the fact that he ended up selling his card on eBay and donating the proceeds to charity? Apparently it polarized people into lauding the do-good effort or criticizing the hack job. 

Moreover, Messieh’s question about altruism versus cause isn’t just a practical one, but it becomes a moral one.

I don’t have clear answers here. Rather, my answers are thrown into an admixture of more questions, thoughts and insights about who we really are as people. One of us does something. Another reacts. Still more others react to his reactions. Then Messieh and I weigh in on this whole affair. We see, don’t we, how easily complex a human drama can become.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be clarified fully or even understood for us to glean precious lessons from this. First, when someone says something or does something, which triggers some reaction inside of us, it’s a good idea to pause and reflect even a moment on what that reaction is about. To pause and consider other possible explanations for that something that someone says or does, other than the singular explanation embedded in our reaction. To pause and at least entertain the possibility that an apparently bad behavior actually has good intentions behind it.

Second, social media has gotten a beating of late, in light of the rioting afflicting the UK and the US. We mustn’t forget that social media can also be engaged for the good, as several people did in the UK in an effort to clean up after the rioters.

Finally, as I tweeted earlier, The cause matters the most. But anytime, anyone does good for anyone else, it always matters. So, in the end, both programmers put a lot of cash into the coffers of selected charities. Messieh reinforces their do-good efforts further by writing about these:
If you go to the site where the card once was, you’ll see a short entry, part of which reads: 
We believe this is the start to a bigger more glowing picture. In the last 5 days or so, we’ve received hundreds of stories of people doing small things to brighten a stranger’s day: Paying for the next car at the drive through. Sharing a pick me up with someone who has had a rough time. Charging up a phone card and sharing it with strangers at the airport. The list goes on, and on, and on…
Do you have stories where you meant to do good, but somehow it didn’t work out or perhaps others misinterpreted it?

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, March 17, 2014

Commentary is on Us

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My article from an old Media & Tech blog (August 21st 2011)

Thankfully there are reasonable viewpoints about the rioting afflicting the UK and US.
The answer is not to limit access to social media or even to sacrifice what little privacy we may have left using them, but rather to educate ourselves and our children about the underlying biases of these technologies: how they influence the way we think and act. [Douglas Rushkoff]
Reference: Cutting social media no answer to flash mobs.

Social media is now very much a part of our reality. So like it or not, we must acknowledge both its uses and misuses. We don’t have to be active on Facebook, Twitter, or BlackBerry Messenger. We don’t even have to be members of any of these. But I believe we have a responsibility to understand how these things work. The recent spate of violence makes this responsibility even more of an imperative, for those of us who are authorities, teachers and parents. Educate ourselves, and we can educate, guide and support others.
"Social networking is not the issue,” Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said last week during a online chat. “It’s how people are misusing it in order to gather and then commit a crime.”

In the heat of anything that heightens emotion, like fear, anger or sadness, we as human beings are prone to think in black-or-white terms and to react or speak in ways we might otherwise regret. Calls by some people to shut down social media is an example of this, and is frankly foolish to try to do. The Constitution protects freedom of speech, so the US is unlikely to devolve into a communications censor-happy country like China. What’s more, we human beings are adaptable and resourceful. Shut our typical means of communicating or connecting, and we will find alternative ways of doing so.

Along these same lines, some comments by readers on are just as reactionary:
The police should just open fire on them. They are stupid, so they will either learn quickly, or exit the gene pool. 
One deterent would be for the store owner or cashier to shoot as many of them as possible. 
Pity the owner didn’t have a weapon with a large clip, and a short look on life because of a fatal illness.
All of this is terrible! 

Authorities and citizens alike must do whatever proper thing they can to stop criminal activity. No question about this. At the same time, we need to pause and step back, and check our emotions, perceptions and reactions. It is more critical at times like these to think reasonably, speak thoughtfully, and act responsibly. In truth, stopping this rioting is a difficult, complicated effort. But with greater calm and reason, we are not only in a better position to stop it but also to grasp its root causes.
The less access we have to these tools, however, the less about them we understand. And the less about them we understand, the more easily our behavior can be programmed by them, instead of the other way around. [Douglas Rushkoff]
Most folks (white, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.) are just looking for level-headed folks that will be fair and report the facts and do what they can do to better society. [CNN reader]
Without resorting to the extreme, what do you think is the best way to grasp and deal with this rioting?

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ben Huh on Risks and Memes

The founder and CEO of Cheezburger speaks to us about how he moved past failure and lessons he learned.
Any business, new or otherwise, must work within its available and-or accessible resources.  In this respect, Ben Huh has key lessons learned to share, for example, on the notion of risk.  Entrepreneurs are not so much risk takers, as they are risk managers: We love opportunity, but we hate risk.  In this regard, making smaller bets and making good mistakes are crucial.  What constitutes a good mistake?  One that is not so hefty as to collapse a business, and one that we can learn effectively from.

Even though memes have been around for quite some time, not everyone knows exactly what these viral sensations entail. As they continue to rage on, the king of the meme, Cheezburger founder Ben Huh, gives us the lowdown on this phenomenon.
Rage Comics, Advice Dog, planking, Fail, and LOLCats are all examples of the new collaboration (rf. Clay Shirky on Collaboration, Abundance and Aims).

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Eric Schmidt on Tech Titans and American Security

Some of the biggest names in tech [were] in Santa Monica, California [last] week, at Oasis: The Montgomery Summit. On that list [was] Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Here, he [discussed] the most powerful forces in tech with Bloomberg West anchor Emily Chang and Google Idea's Jared Cohen.
Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google.  Different customer philosophy, business models.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas Director Jared Cohen discuss the company's relationship with the NSA and privacy concerns Oasis: The Montgomery Summit in Santa Monica, California.
I imagine Google has classified relationships with US government, perhaps the NSA included, which Schmidt will not reveal in a million years.  I imagine, moreover, that Google is among tech titans advising the NSA how to better protect Americans via Big Data and analytics.  Finally, I imagine that Google work assiduously to keep control over the gargantuan data it has already collected on all of us via wide-ranging product offering.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, March 10, 2014

Some Low Down on High Tech Billionaires

Technology isn't the only royal road to riches.  It's quite diversified, as far as that goes.  But technology is certainly well-represented.  So keep working at The Next Big Thing.

Reference: Forbes Billionaires: Full List Of The Richest Americans.

From pee and mayonnaise, to U2 and Frasier, Forbes has what you need on the world's richest to take to your next geek shindig.  

There's something about islands and yachting for the wealthy oracle.

I loved to read books, and I bought them regularly through mail-in book clubs and at the bookstores.  Now I very much still love to read, but I hardly buy any books.  My reading fare is virtually all online.  Which makes Amazon all the more amazing, as it's morphed from books to a wide array of stuff it sells online.

Baseball cards, garbage bags, stamps and coins.  The positively reserved, demure (NOT) Mavericks owner has sold it all.  His net worth is a paltry $2.6 billion.  

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Question of Judgment and Learning at Yahoo!

Kathy Savitt and Marissa Mayer
As Ms. Savitt works to rebuild Yahoo's image, she also hopes to turn around her own career following the failure of her social commerce startup, Lockerz Inc. The Seattle company, which rewarded visitors with iPads and other freebies in exchange for watching ads, burned through more than $50 million in venture capital funding over three years as it struggled to attract users and advertisers. Ms. Savitt left for Yahoo in September 2012, and last month Lockerz was sold to Chinese e-commerce player Light In The Box Ltd. for a fraction of the money investors put in, rendering the shares held by most employees and early backers worthless. 
Through Yahoo and her recent friendship with Ms. Mayer, Ms. Savitt has a second chance to accomplish what she failed to do with Lockerz: Build a cool online brand with youth appeal.

I do not begrudge Savitt her second chance, and no one ought to, either.  But there are a few things from this Wall Street Journal report that is concerning about her rise at Yahoo! 

How well is Mayer actually able to spot talent and to make the right decision vis-à-vis the talent Yahoo! needs?  

The fiasco with Henrique de Castro may not quite be resolved, if she didn't tease out crucial lessons learned and honed-in on skills gaps in her leadership repertoire.  The fact that she elevated a friend, however, suggests that her judgment may still be compromised.        

How much does Savitt understand the crucial factors for her previous successes and failures?  

It's a parallel learning and development effort to that of Mayer.  She clearly succeeded at forging relationships and climbing the corporate ladder. But she may, or may not, have the stuff required to help turn around Yahoo!  Also, I hope that there is a saving grace to her departure from Lockerz, but from the sounds of the Wall Street Journal report, she was the captain who jumped her sinking ship first.  So besides competency, there is a question of character squarely on her.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Importance of Culture for Facebook and WhatsApp

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Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg posted, “WhatsApp will continue to operate independently within Facebook. The product roadmap will remain unchanged and the team is going to stay in Mountain View. Over the next few years, we're going to work hard to help WhatsApp grow and connect the whole world.”

And in a post to its users, WhatsApp wrote: “Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.”
Reference: With $19 Billion, Does WhatsApp Really Care About Culture?

I offered a lengthy comment:

This Facebook-WhatsApp deal may be an M&A, without the M. If in fact we can go by Mark Zuckerberg's public reassurances, then that culture clash - and that high M&A failure rate, in particular - may not be much of an issue. At least for the time being. As some comments here point out, Facebook is mainly interested in growing the user base for WhatsApp. Zuckerberg sees this platform as having one of the best potential for reaching the one-billion user mark. With loads of cash on hand, plus Facebook's India-like population size, WhatsApp should have every confidence about reaching that target.

That said, I'd argue that culture will be an issue in one form or other. (a) As much as Zuckerberg says that WhatsApp will continue to operate independently, there is also talk about including voice in the messaging system. (b) As much as he says that monetizing the platform is not a major concern over the next five years, we can all imagine that the senior leadership teams on both sides will be heavily engaged on this issue. It took Google a few years to figure out how to monetize YouTube, and they're well on their way on this effort, as we all know. So how well will leadership and staff on either side work with one another, in view of such change and collaboration? The answer is inviolably cultural in nature. (c) What's more, we cannot ignore the broader culture of WhatsApp users. There are all sorts of sentiments regarding Facebook, to begin with, that we can expect this deal to have some impact on that culture. How exactly, that remains to be seen.

So I'd very much agree with you, Gary, Zuckerberg & Co. must've cared immensely about the WhatsApp culture. So did the leadership team of the latter, I'm sure.

Finally, my takeaway from these Korn/Ferry findings is this: I consulted for PDI years ago, and have found, and still find, these four leadership areas to be the most enduring and applicable across companies, industries and regions. But there may be too much variability in successful leadership profiles to pin down specific competencies as predictors of post-M&A success. At the same time, I'd be curious if you did a regression analysis of the data and which competencies accounted for the most variance in post-M&A success. I'm also curious about why Personal Leadership doesn't seem to be a significant predictor.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

Monday, March 3, 2014

Capturing Data on the World

We're all familiar with satellite imagery, but what we might now know is that much of it is out of date. That's because satellites are big and expensive, so there aren't that many of them up in space. As he explains in this fascinating talk, Dan Berkenstock and his team came up with a different solution, designing a cheap, lightweight satellite with a radically new approach to photographing what's going on on Earth.
In 10 minutes, we get an informative walk-through of a very innovative process. But I wonder...

Dan Berkenstock
Dan Berkenstock
I wonder why we even have to put anything in outer space to capture data on the world... 

What if we found a better compromise solution, say, something between (a) the clunky, laborious imaging technology of Google Street View and (b) the lightweight satellites, devised by Berkenstock and his team? 

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... using drones, with the best-resolution cameras?

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To me, the issue is less the hardware, and more the systems and algorithms to cobble all the imaging data we collect on the world.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD