September 22nd, 2014

Security innovations are a constant business need as evidenced by a three-year-old startup called Pindrop Security.  Based in Atlanta and founded by Vijay Balasubramaniyan, the company has created a real-time telephone-call analysis program that will likely catch on in company call centers.  This should be especially true for financial institutions, security companies, and law enforcement agencies.  The technology does some amazing things (Danielle Muoio “Audio Fingerprints” Bloomberg Businessweek, 9/8/14–9/14/14, p. 33):

The program analyzes 147 aspects of a call, such as the frequency and strength of the signal, to locate where it’s coming from and make sure that jibes with the caller’s story.  . . . Within 15 seconds, the software tabulates the risk of fraud on a 100 point scale and sends its score to the call center worker’s PC.

The potential for reducing or eliminating fraud is high.  Pindrop claims that on a per-call basis, the average call center experiences a 57-cent loss due to fraud.  Pindrop’s software immediately identifies 80% of those nefarious calls.  Pindrop’s fees start at $100,000 for 1- to 3-year subscriptions and the pricing is based on actual call volume.

We have always known not to believe every caller.  Now we have software that will tell us which callers those are.


September 19th, 2014

People do business with companies for many reasons, but on a fundamental level, people do business with companies that make them feel good.  That feel-good experience can manifest in many different places at many different levels.  However, if it is going to show up at all, ultimately it will happen because the company’s employees are concerned about how their customers will feel.  This means that the employees will have empathy, as Geoff Colvin reports (“Employers Are Looking for New Hires With Something Extra: Empathy” Fortune, September 22, 2014, p. 55):

A mushrooming demand for employees with affective, nonlogical abilities spans the economy.  Empathy—sensing at a deep level the feelings and thoughts of others—is the foundation.

On the one hand this seems obvious.  On the other hand it appears too many companies are in short supply of this warm fuzzy commodity:

When author George Anders searched for online job postings that paid over $100,000 a year and specified empathy or empathetic traits, he quickly found 1,000 of them from companies as varied as Barclays Capital, McKinsey, and Mars.

You and I both know that unmistakable impression that a company did not give any thought to our feelings.  It is not a pleasant experience.  This is why empathy is such an important trait for every employee.  As disturbing a concern as this is, here is what is even more disturbing:

[Empathy] is becoming ever more valuable, in part because the supply of candidates who possess it seems to be shrinking—at least in the U.S.  Empathy among American college students has declined significantly over the past 30 years, . . . Other research gives little reason to believe it will increase as they grow older.

So what is happening with empathy?  As I have pondered this question, a few possibilities come to mind:

1—Although society has always had its problems, we do seem to be in a society today that is facing overwhelmingly complex challenges at every level.  Perhaps family, economic, medical, emotional, spiritual, economic, and relational factors have subtly reinforced the selfish, narcissistic theme of the day.  In that mindset, empathy is a strange bedfellow.

2—As a group, American college students are the first generation to have come of age during our social media revolution.  Perhaps all the pitfalls and risks of the virtual world have infected our real world.  If not used thoughtfully, online communication can destabilize the empathetic compass.

3—The complexity of our increasingly high-tech, virtual society might be displacing our formerly high-touch, real society.  Perhaps that dynamic trains people to be less caring and communicative.  The emphasis we have seen on technology may have pushed emotional intelligence and human feelings to the back of the bus.  Sharing with the mind takes priority over sharing from the heart.

4—Everyone sometimes needs someone to point to the path.  Perhaps the empathy dearth speaks of a mentor dearth.  If qualified, noble, mature, professional, caring people do not initiate mentoring relationships, then potential mentees will suffer.  Without leadership, everyone suffers.

To some extent, nature versus nurture applies.  Some of these empathy deficiencies might be irreparable.  Nonetheless, we still have nurture.  As much as possible, I intend to continue integrating the empathetic approach to life and business.  Now that’s good for people and it’s good for business.

How about you?


September 18th, 2014

Money magazine did a reader survey exploring the topic of how important compensation is to workers (“Are You Happy at Work?” September 2014, p. 21).  Not surprisingly, the findings indicate the money is definitely on workers’ radar.  Here are a couple observations:

1—Among full-time workers, 65% do not earn their desired salary.

2—According to the Society for Human Resource Management, salary is the most important element in worker satisfaction.

Each of the above two points is quite significant.  The two in combination is what should concern every employer because the combination exponentially increases their significance.

Losing a valued employee and then replacing that person is an expensive undertaking for a business.  Sometimes valuable institutional knowledge leaves with that employee.  The costs of recruiting, screening, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, and training the replacement are high.

Perhaps a compensation review to sweeten workers’ pay packages will mitigate these situations.  Just one employee retained could pay for the salary increases.  Obviously, the budget must balance.  However, it is the smart companies that see the long-term value of paying their employees the best possible wage.  Those are the conditions that lead to long-term employee satisfaction and corporate success.


September 17th, 2014

Money magazine did a reader survey exploring the question how many employees are disengaged from their jobs?  The results indicate only a 30% employee engagement rate (“Are You Happy at Work?” September 2014, p. 21).

Certainly, 30% is much better than 0%.  Not that this finding is surprising, but I remain aghast at the lost potential within the workplace and within people’s lives.

We are living in an age and an economy in which we clamor for workplace efficiency and effectiveness along with personal and professional fulfillment.  Wellness is the watchword of the day and every business leader wants to get the most out of his or her employees.  Employee engagement is both a direct indicator and a driver of the organization’s health.  Therefore, employee engagement should be a nonnegotiable high priority.  It should be a determining factor in every business decision.

The problem as I see it today is that too many companies and too many individuals are willing to settle for second best.  Employee engagement will not happen unless both companies and individuals intentionally strive to be the best that they can be.  However, when they both move forward with that shared commitment to being the best that they can be, then the employee engagement rate will rise above 30% . . . and keep on going!


September 16th, 2014

Money magazine did a reader survey exploring the question what are the happiest professions?  Here are the top three professions most likely to be comprised of happy workers (“Are You Happy at Work?” September 2014, p. 21):

1—Software Publishing.  Most people involved in software work are analytically minded and deeply aware of how software operates.  It seems to me that anyone who is able to appreciate those technical details will tend to find much happiness in being involved in software projects that work well.  Is software publishing a happy profession because of that or do happy people gravitate to that industry?  That is a good question and I do not have the answer.  It might be a little bit of both.

2—Radio And TV Broadcasting.  Much of the traditional broadcasting industry involves creativity and entertainment.  Most people involved in creativity and entertainment have a personality that feeds on being in the limelight.  It brings them much pleasure.  It makes sense therefore that this industry would earn second place for a happy profession.

3—Educational Services.  Educational services is a very broad category.  Nevertheless, at its core is the idea of actively helping other people to learn and grow.  Generally, I have never seen any industry that involves helping others to learn and grow in which its workers are not happy people.

Quite likely, many additional reasons exist for the happiness connection to the above three professions.  What I have identified are the correlations that make the most sense to me.


September 15th, 2014

Kathy Giusti is a former pharmaceutical executive who now heads up the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (which she founded).  She had a rather personal impetus to make that change.  In 1996, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.  In remission since 2006, Giusti offers a reflection on how cancer has changed her perspective on life (Geoff Colvin “Kathy Giusti: Cancer Warrior” Fortune 9/1/14, p. 20):

If I’ve learned anything, it’s to live in the moment, and the gift that cancer gives you is, you just assume I’m only here today, and I am going to seize that moment and cherish it.

Giusti brings us wisdom.  I hope you did not have to endure anything like what she did to learn that lesson.  Nevertheless, the lesson is one well worth embracing.

Let us make the most of today and every day.  Not only will that enrich our own lives, but also it will enrich the lives of everyone around us.


September 12th, 2014

Money magazine did a reader survey asking the question, does your job better the world?  Here are the top five occupations most likely to make that claim (“Are You Happy at Work?” September 2014, p. 21):

1—Clergy.  As a clergy member myself, I totally understand how and why we believe our role betters the world.  I have been privileged to work with people from all walks of life under the most diverse circumstances anyone can imagine.  In every case I have witnessed people making decisions, changing direction, and embracing new opportunities in ways that radically altered the course of their lives as well as the lives of untold numbers of people around them.

2—Managers Of Religious Programs.  Very similar to the clergy, the fact that managers of religious programs comes in at second place is no surprise.

3—Surgeons.  Surgeons are charged with the grave responsibility of taking scalpel and suture to any area of a person’s body.  Obviously, this is a very personal type of work with varying levels of risk.  Nevertheless, we all know people for whom a surgical procedure resulted in radical positive change.

4—School Administrators.  School administrators have the privilege of providing leadership to a team of frontline teachers who are working with students at the most intellectually and personally formative times of their lives.  The mentoring opportunities of that team are enormous.  Knowing that you are giving direction to those kinds of efforts is extremely fulfilling.

5—Chiropractors.  Finally, I am not surprised that Chiropractors are on this list.  They make a lot of sense to me.  For example, how sensible is it to expect a car or a computer to operate at peak efficiency if half of its electrical connections and mechanical linkages were impaired?  You could try to treat the “symptoms” of all that damage, but without repairing all the electrical and mechanical connections, your efforts would be in vain.  In an analogous fashion, the chiropractor rejuvenates your body’s electrical and mechanical connections.  These treatments thereby allow your body to function at peak efficiency.  That peak efficiency condition then predisposes your body to avoid or eliminate more intense, long-term damage that ultimately results in chronic disease, surgeries, and overall more expensive healthcare costs.  Especially in this new age of preventive care and wellness, chiropractors are well positioned to meet the needs of anyone concerned with achieving prime health.  Chiropractors and their
patients see the tremendous results.

Whether you are a member of one of the above professions or not, never forget that you too can improve the world just in how you approach your role.  Bring your best self every day to what you do, and you will better our world.


September 11th, 2014

Money magazine did a reader survey, asking the question, how do you feel about your job?  The results fell into four categories (“Are You Happy at Work?” September 2014, p. 21):

42%—My job is okay.

22%—Retired or unemployed.

20%—I can’t stand it.

16%—It’s my dream gig.

Here are my reflections:

The Most Painful Point.  One fifth of the responders absolutely cannot stand their jobs.  Ouch!  My hope is that those persons are actively seeking and working toward a career change that takes them to a better place.  You spend about a third of your life on the job.  Let’s make it something that is reasonably pleasant.

The Most Positive Point.  I am heartened to see that 16% of the responders are in their dream job.  When your talent, passion, and income converge so perfectly, it cannot get any better than that.  That kind of success often allows you to become a model and a mentor for others to move in a similar direction.

The Most Potential Point.  Almost half of the responders claim that their job is okay.  This speaks to me of high potential.  It means that with a little bit of job enrichment work or perhaps a career change, that 42% group could jump to the dream-job group.  You won’t know until you try.

I don’t know where you are at on this grid.  However, I encourage you to do some serious reflection so that you can take your job situation to a higher, better level.


September 10th, 2014

Sherry Turkle is a professor and psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Her specialty is the study of the relationship between people and machines.  Turkle’s latest book carries somewhat of an indictment beginning with its very title, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.

In a recent interview, Turkle explores many aspects of how technology and social media have affected our relationships, our businesses, and our families.  Near the end of the interview Turkle reflects on the opportunities that we have with key relationships in our lives, especially with our young children (Mark Fischetti “The Networked Primate” Scientific American, September 2014, pp. 83–85):

When I go to the city park, I see kids go to the top of the jungle gym and call out, ‘Mommy, Mommy!’ and they’re being ignored.  They object to being ignored when they’re five, eight or nine.  But when I interview these kids when they’re 13, 14 or 15, they become reflective.  They say, ‘I’m not going to bring up my children the way I’m being brought up.’  They’re going to have rules, like no phones at dinner.” (p. 85)

Turkle’s poignant recounting presents a challenge.  How well or how poorly will we choose to manage and balance all this constantly evolving and invasive technology?  How will we allow it to affect our time, our families, our businesses, and our relationships?  No doubt, we have learned much, and yet we have much to learn.

In this convergence of technology, social media, and relationships, Turkle brings a glimmer of hope emanating from the generation that came of age with it all:

The most optimistic thing I see is the young people who’ve grown up with this technology but aren’t smitten by it.  . . . They see the ways in which it’s undermined life at school and life with their parents.

We must always teach our children well.  Perhaps our children will teach us well.


September 9th, 2014

Sherry Turkle is a professor and psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Her specialty is the study of the relationship between people and machines.  Turkle’s latest book carries somewhat of an indictment beginning with its very title, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.

In a recent interview, Turkle observes that our willingness to let robots replace people and our willingness to let robot relationships replace people relationships is not so much an affirmation of our whiz-bang technology as it is a revelation of our human-connection inadequacies (Mark Fischetti “The Networked Primate” Scientific American, September 2014, pp. 83–85):

As for the robots, I’m hoping that people will realize that what we’re really disappointed in is ourselves.  . . . We’re basically saying that we’re not offering one another the conversation and the companionship.  That, really, is the justification for talking to a robot that you know doesn’t understand a word you’re saying.  We are letting each other down.  It’s not about the robots.  It’s about us.” (p. 85)

This is why Turkle so stresses the point that we need to maintain our human conversations.  The more that I get to know you and you get to know me, the more effectively and authentically we can work together.  When we work together effectively and authentically then we can tap all technology’s benefits while preserving and refining our human relationships.  As Turkle summarizes:

My message is not antitechnology.  It’s pro conversation and pro the human spirit.

Turkle’s stance resonates with my own.  Let’s do as much as we can with technology.  However, let’s preserve and refine our humanity as we do so.