FOUR REASONS I LOVE SOCIAL MEDIA

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Social media is a tremendously powerful and fascinating technological marvel. Made possible only by the relatively recent advent of the Internet, fueled by all manner of human motivation, and capitalized upon with incredible variety, social media has rapidly become part of the new normal. Love it or hate it, for good or for bad, we cannot escape it. Social media is here to stay.

I am not a digital native. I did not grow up immersed in social media. When I was growing up, social media did not exist. Nevertheless, as a person that grew into social media as a part of an unfolding culture, I have come to love it.

As with any new technology, I could see the good and the bad. Social media continues to be used for good and for bad. However, it is unwise to throw out an entire technological capability purely because some use it for bad. Shortsighted approaches never turn out well.

Here are four reasons that I love social media:

  • Enlarged Playing Field. Regardless of what your endeavor is, social media grants you an immediately enlarged playing field. Main Street is one physical space. Social media is everywhere. Main Street is limited by physical barriers and distance that will stop untold numbers of people. Social media is enabled by untold numbers of people who can click a mouse or touch a screen.
  • Instant Connection. Most of us have often experienced how important, convenient, and helpful texting and messaging can be. Never before have we enjoyed the ability to connect with someone silently and instantly. In some cases, those connections have even been lifesaving.
  • Hidden Knowledge Revealed. Countless answers to questions have been revealed to you and me purely based on something that we came across in social media. Obviously, I am not saying that you swallow all the garbage and urban legends too. Chew the meat and spit out the bones. Yes, sometimes you encounter many bones, but by the same token, some of that meat is mighty tasty.
  • New And Restored Relationships. I have friends and professional people in my life today that I never would have connected with or reconnected with had it not been for social media. In the physical world, it is so easy unintentionally to block people or to lose track of people. Social media is a tremendous catalyst at creating or restoring relationships.

Social media is not used by everyone the same way. I think that is good because we are all different. Some people are constantly immersed in social media. Some people use social media in a highly selective fashion. And some people for various reasons choose not to engage in any social media. I criticize no one for their personal decision. That is their prerogative.

As for me, personally and professionally, I have only found my life enriched in infinite ways via social media. I intend to keep using social media for all that enrichment.


WHEN THE BOAT MUST FLOAT

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I have been monitoring the Panama Canal expansion project completion with great interest. Finally complete after a decade, costing $5.4 billion, and involving 40,000 workers, the project was not without its difficult days. In fact, this one might turn out to be a classic case destined for the business school textbooks on how not to do project planning. A number of red flags catch our attention:

  • In 2009, the four-nation consortium led by a Spanish company, was awarded the bid at $3.1 billion. This was a billion dollars cheaper than the closest competitive bid. Was it realistic? Obviously not, since the total cost at completion was $5.4 billion.
  • From the beginning, leadership almost seemed in a state of disarray. As the New York Times describes, “Some executives appeared not to fully grasp how little money they had to complete a complex project with a tight deadline and a multicultural team whose members did not always see things the same way.” (Walt Bogdanich, Jacqueline Williams, and Ana Graciela Mendez. “Panama Canal Begins New Era under a Cloud” in The Kansas City Star. June 23, 2016, pp. 7A, 10A).
  • Lock design may have fallen short. Tugboat captains report that they will have difficulties escorting big container ships due to the tight fit. The new lock dimensions are 1,400 by 180 feet. Tugboats are about 100 feet long and the container ships are 1,200 by 160 feet. Do the math. Some experts assert that the new lock dimensions should have been 1,528 by 200 feet. We will have to see how the traffic flows, especially under all weather conditions.
  • Quality concerns about the concrete emerged. Unexpected leaks in the locks required repairs and reinforcements. That does not bode well for a facility that is supposed to control water.

You can only build as well as you can design, and you can only design as well as you can plan, and you can only plan as well as you can research. It always comes back to the research. I have never seen a project team that regretted it did too much research. I have seen many that regretted they did too little research.

In the Panama Canal expansion project, it seems the research was not as thorough as it should have been. Hopefully, business students will learn from it, project teams will learn from it, and every observer will learn from it. Many future “Panama Canals” await us. How well we do the research will make all the difference in the world.


THE SOFTWARE OF WHAT

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Well, the Internet of Things (IOT) is upon us. It incrementally crawls our way, counting our computers to calculate the most cunning way to collect everything into one convenient command center. Whether the IOT is a modern hi-tech marvel for which we should all be grateful seems to be a matter of varied opinion. That opinion is somewhat based on your history, predilections, and experiences for good or for bad.

Sometimes the IOT goes well and sometimes . . . it’s just, “well!” It kind of reminds me of another era (late 1980s to early 1990s) when this wonderful thing called software was flooding the market of novice PC users. I call that time the Software Of What (SOW). The reason I say that is because so many PC crashes (and there were so many in those days!) were directly linked to that latest piece of software you installed. Technical support offices eventually would fess up, “yeah, we have a software conflict with [you fill in the blank], but we are working on a fix.” In the modern day we have advanced from the SOW to the IOT. I like the way that David Pogue (anchor columnist for Yahoo Tech and host of several NOVA miniseries) explains the joyful uncertainty surrounding the IOT (“At Your Command” Scientific American, July 2016, p. 25):

The first moments of ownership usually involve downloading an app, creating an account and connecting the thing to your Wi-Fi network. Sometimes that all goes well. Sometimes there goes your Saturday afternoon.

Then you’ve got the Tower of Things Babel to contend with: The apps don’t talk to one another.

Hey, let’s take it all in stride. We all know that our physical bodies encounter growing pains. What makes us think that we are exempt from them in our cyber-world bodies?


WHEN LESS LIMELIGHT IS GOOD

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What do these companies have in common?

  • Uber.
  • Vanguard.
  • Fidelity.
  • Kaiser Permanente.
  • NFL.
  • State Farm.
  • Dell.
  • SpaceX.

According to Fortune, they are among the 25 most important private companies. Publicly traded companies are great. They will always have their place. Nevertheless, a trend is afoot of increasing numbers of companies choosing to remain private or switching to private ownership from being publicly traded as Geoff Colvin describes (“Private Desires”, June 1, 2016, pp. 52–57):

American business is increasingly shunning the traditional marker of making it—being publicly traded—in favor of private ownership. While the total number of U.S. companies continues to grow, the number that are traded on stock exchanges has plunged 45% since peaking 20 years ago.” (p. 53)

Certain advantages arise when a company chooses to remain private or when a publicly traded company chooses to go private. Colvin goes on to emphasize the attractive and strategic benefits of corporate privacy:

You know something big is happening when such high-profile public companies as Dell and Safeway go private. They rave about their newfound ability to invest for the long term and focus on the business rather than on Wall Street, but the truth is that both were motivated in large part by that modern scourge of public companies, the activist investor.

Being able to concentrate resources on the business itself is a great efficiency and effectiveness enhancer. Simultaneously, much energy can be preserved by not having to be constantly addressing the whims and woos of the public or other investors.

Obviously, private companies should still be extremely attentive to the public’s feedback. A private company should have just as much of a commitment as a public company to producing a stellar customer experience, maintaining good public relations, and doing business ethically. I think that the private company can be the leaner, meaner machine to reach those objectives. And there’s a whole lot of private companies that feel the same way.


REMEMBERING COMMERCIALS

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Does anyone remember what commercials are? Oh sure, we are still confronted by them occasionally when we are trapped by time and circumstance. However, as most of us realize, zapping through those commercials on a recorded TV program has become routine. Additionally, increasing numbers of viewers are cutting the cable cord to run with various streaming services.

Companies such as Viacom, CBS, Time Warner, and others are losing billions in market value as investors digest these trends. The world of TV entertainment is looking very different today than a generation ago. Exactly if and how the stakeholders choose to adapt is an interesting trend to watch. Perhaps in some cases, they will succumb to entropy and disappear from the entertainment landscape. Erin Griffith summarizes the current state of affairs (“Fear and Loathing in TV Land” Fortune, July 1, 2016, p. 48):

The digital world has become a hostile place for advertising. . . .

By the time the TV companies catch up to the future, their business may be long gone.

Advertising makes a lot of things possible in the entertainment world even when we do not appreciate its interruptive nature. The key players have to figure out a way to keep consumers happy and still generate a profit. Regardless of what strategy is created, I predict that our love/hate relationship with advertising will need some tough-love therapy.