11.27.20

Has coronavirus made Big Tech unstoppable?

BY Fast Company Contributor 7 MINUTE READ

People often ask me what stocks I own. My investing advice is simple: I only invest in unregulated monopolies. They aren’t supposed to exist, but our antitrust laws were written in the era of steam engines, and enforcement has been nonexistent. Big tech is the twenty-first century version of John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, and there is no trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt on the horizon to rein them in.

How have they done it? The algorithm is this: innovate, obfuscate, and exploit. Especially in a pandemic.

Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity by Scott Galloway

Put simply, COVID-19 has been an effective weapon of mass distraction from big tech’s bad behavior. No news story survives 12 hours while a pandemic coupled with a national display of incompetence renders everything else what it is, less important. But whether we are paying attention or not, unchecked growth and market dominance lead to a slew of problems. Inevitably, companies without serious competition become less innovative and capture more profits and share from exploiting their position, and less from creating real value. And to protect that position, they perform infanticide on other innovators.

No wonder that Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook have added hundreds of billions in market value since March. By virtue of being the biggest elephants in the herd, the Four are well positioned to survive any crisis, and to thrive when the rains return. And a pandemic that keeps us home in front of our screens and leaves the professional class with plenty of unspent income is hardly a crisis at all for the companies that sell us those screens and dominate what we do on them. The Four were already ascending to dominance, and the pandemic has accelerated that trend, just as it has so many others.

AMAZON

Amazon’s core competence is vision and storytelling. Bezos had the vision of selling everything online when that was unthinkable. An even bigger feat, Bezos and his team accomplished something unprecedented—they convinced investors not to expect short- or medium-term profits. While most firms’ profits are reevaluated every three months on their quarterly earnings call, Bezos has retrained investors’ Pavlovian mechanisms, replacing profits with vision and growth. Key to this decision was CFO Joy Covey, who recognized the best way to predict the future is to make it. And the best way to make the future is to gain access to cheap capital to pull the future forward with extraordinary investments others won’t make, resulting in moats, which give you access to cheaper capital . . . and so on and so on. While most firms look for competitive advantage via lowest cost, Amazon looks for sustainable advantage that requires gargantuan investment.

The obvious beneficiary from the lockdown (the closure of retail and a fear of leaving the house) is—surprise!—the company that’s in the business of bringing retail to your house. And though it gets less general media attention, Amazon is also a huge beneficiary of people spending more time online, thanks to Amazon’s $40 billion Amazon Web Services division. Indeed, the federal government’s $1,200 stimulus check program should have been called the Amazon Shareholder Support Act (ASSa). Not in their wildest dreams could Amazon shareholders devise this scenario: the government closes down the competition, restricts everyone to their homes, and then sends consumers trillions in cash. How do they not come out of this with so much momentum that competitors never catch up? Investors will ask themselves, why shouldn’t I just buy Amazon?

The pandemic in a business nutshell:

Stuck at home

Netflix

Hate my spouse

Starting to hate my children

Jeff Bezos gets his divorce paid for in 30 days

APPLE

By achieving a business paradox—a low-cost product that sells for a premium price—Apple became the most profitable company in history in 2014. Leaping from the tech sector (low margins, zero sex appeal) to the luxury sector (the volumes of Toyota with the irrational margins of Ferrari), Apple owns the most profitable product ever made, the iPhone, and sells it through the highest per-square-foot retail business of all time, the Apple Store.

Yet even just a few years ago, a pandemic would have put Apple’s status as a member of the Four at serious risk. Apple has always been unique in the group, as it manufactures and sells physical objects for profit. A slowdown in employment and worries about economic prospects force greater scrutiny on every purchase. However, firms that ask the consumer to make one decision a year, or until you decide to opt out or cancel, are much more resilient, as it is often a bundle, increasing the exit costs across fewer decisions. In addition, the ability to ask the consumer to enter into a monogamous relationship (a subscription) requires a choice that is more of an IQ test than a decision. The recurring revenue bundles that get attraction are forced to be incredible value propositions from the outset. Recurring revenue bundles are expensive, hard, and enduring.

As Apple ran up against the law of big numbers, the firm invested heavily in recurring revenue offerings—iCloud, Apple Music, Apple TV+, Arcade, etc. In Q4 2019, Apple’s services revenue was up 25% year over year to 23% of revenue. As a result, Apple has been recast as a software firm, and despite a negligible increase in earnings, it doubled its valuation and P/E multiple in just 12 months. Apple’s services business would stand as the 258th company on the Fortune 500, just beating out Bed Bath & Beyond. And on the hardware side, the company is transitioning one-off sales of its flagship iPhone into a monthly service through the iPhone Upgrade Program. Tim Cook said he believed that model would “grow disproportionately.”

This was a strategic move before the pandemic—now it’s gangster. That revenue is substantially immune to short-term pandemic disruptions and can cover for softness in the core hardware businesses.

GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK

Two of the Four are in the advertising business, and traditionally advertising is a lousy business when the economy goes south. This time is different, because even though we are seeing a dip in ad spend, the timing is such that it will rebound to Google and Facebook’s benefit. They can survive the downturn. Many of their traditional media competitors, already on the ropes from two decades of being on the wrong end of a duopoly, won’t. COVID-19 has a mortality rate of around 0.5–1% among people, but the pandemic is going to have a fatality rate of 10–20% in traditional media.

This is a function of weak balance sheets and investors who have lost patience—the same culling we can expect in most industries. Also, being trapped at home increases inventory for Facebook and Google advertisers. Yes, you are “inventory.”

Beyond that, traditional media faces another challenge: the pandemic is highlighting their truth. Facebook and Google are simply more effective platforms for advertisers, and the truth will become increasingly apparent as even the biggest advertisers start cutting spend on traditional media. They won’t miss it. No other platform can offer the combination of scale and granularity that Facebook and Google provide. They are the most effective advertising vehicles in history and, at eight million advertisers, Facebook has the most elastic, self-healing customer base in business history.

Advertisers also won’t miss traditional media, since the thing traditional media advertising does best—build mass brands—is increasingly irrelevant as we graduate from the Brand Age to the Product Age. There is a double bind here, because brand equity erodes slowly, and a few months of reduced spend isn’t going to move any needles. Which will make it that much harder even for marketers still attending the church of brand equity to justify returning their traditional media spend to pre-pandemic levels.

The other benefit for Facebook and Google is the distraction. Pre-pandemic, these two firms were in the news cycle more often, for all the wrong reasons. From ISIS recruitment videos and pedophiles on YouTube to Russian operatives and data thieves on Facebook, the drumbeats for a regulatory response were building.

Then the pandemic happened. And as long as testing, masks, and infection rates continue to dominate the news cycle, they will dominate politics, and Google and Facebook get a reprieve from public scrutiny. However, the business model remains intact, benefiting from conspiracy theory content the pandemic has spurred. Both firms have made an effort to limit misinformation about Covid, but the rage and alienation that powers their endless feeds continues unabated.

Summer 2020 saw a feeble attempt by well-meaning advertisers to push back against Facebook, but it was predictably over before it started. Around one thousand advertisers publicly pulled their ad spending on Facebook in July, joining a campaign organized by civil rights groups in protest of Facebook’s continued promotion of hate speech and misinformation.

The difference in spend was measurable but meaningless—the company still grew its year-over-year ad revenue by 10% in the first three weeks of July. Zuck scoffed at the threat on the firm’s July 30 earnings call, saying that “some seem to wrongly assume that our business is dependent on a few large advertisers.” Indeed, Facebook has over seven million customers, and the top 100 account for only 16% of its revenue.

Meanwhile, the boycott may have backfired on the advertisers. Not only did they lose the business their Facebook ads would have brought in, but their absence created a void for counterfeiters and scammers to fill—because Facebook ads work on an auction model, reduced spend means reduced prices. Analyst Matt Stoller reported on a luxury shoe company that participated in the boycott, only to see ads for counterfeit versions of their shoes pop up where their own ads would normally have run. With eight million advertisers, and a model that creates immediate opportunity for others when one reduces spend, Facebook possesses the most robust (self-healing, even) customer base in the history of business.

STANDING UP AGAINST THE FOUR

Pushing back against this growth is difficult—there is little that individuals or even companies can do when firms become this powerful. This is the role of government. But big tech has public opinion on their side, hundreds of lobbyists, and they move faster than regulators can keep up. Laws written by the light of coal power don’t work against digitized monopolies. Traditional antitrust principles focus on consumer harm through the prism of prices. Low prices are good, high prices are bad. It’s not a framework well suited to companies that don’t charge consumers, like Google or Facebook, or that relentlessly lower prices, like Amazon (and Apple with Apple TV+), but that nonetheless limit competition and cause consumer harm in other ways besides high prices. Nor does the current mainstream antitrust framework account for the ability of these firms to consolidate markets and outcompete competitors through their unique access to billions in low-cost capital.

But we should stop thinking of the breakup of big tech as punishment for doing something wrong, or that it means tech leaders are bad people. Managers do what they can to raise shareholder value, that’s their job. And when you get big enough, stifling competition and exploiting your power is a great way to secure short-term gains for your shareholders, so that’s what managers do. Antitrust is just one tool in the government’s kit for finally pushing back.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com

This new Google mapping tool shows cities where they need to plant more trees

BY Fast Company Contributor 3 MINUTE READ

A new map of Los Angeles highlights one form of inequality: which of the city’s streets and homes get the benefit of shade from the the city’s 10-million-plus trees. The city is the first to pilot a new tool from Google, called Tree Canopy Lab, that was used to create the map.

L.A. plans to plant 90,000 trees by next year as part of its version of the Green New Deal, and to increase the tree canopy in the areas that need it most by 50%. It’s targeting neighborhoods “most impacted by extreme heat related to climate change,” says Rachel Malarich, the city’s first-ever forestry officer. While trees have multiple benefits in cities, from improving air quality to boosting mental health, they’re also particularly helpful in mitigating the urban heat island effect—the fact that large swaths of concrete make some neighborhoods even hotter when temperatures rise. The EPA reports that shaded surfaces can be 20 to 45 degrees cooler. The new tool can help identify the areas to prioritize for tree planting.

Google launched the project as part of Environmental Insights Explorer, a platform it created to help cities deal with climate change and air pollution. It started by partnering with L.A. to understand the city’s needs, then designing a solution that it plans to make available to other cities. “One of the best ways for us to do hundreds or thousands of cities is to first do one or two cities,” says Nithya Sowrirajan, a director at Google Maps.

Los Angeles is also counting trees the traditional way, with workers going block by block and laboriously noting the species, size, and condition of every tree growing on the street. That’s something that’s needed for the city’s forestry department to manage public trees. But the process is slow, and it misses the vast majority of trees in Los Angeles: 90% are on private property. To understand the full picture of which areas most need more trees now, the city needs a broader view. In the past, it has relied on another complex process that involves a plane using LIDAR laser technology and a team performing analysis—complicated and expensive enough that it rarely happens, and slow enough that it’s outdated by the time it publishes.

Previously, the city didn’t “have that ability, especially in this decade of climate action to really be able to check how we are doing and have regular updates without having it be an expensive process,” says Malarich. “Google’s made it so we have this platform not only to explore and think about better decision-making right now, but also not have me already strategizing how I’m going to get a similar canopy assessment in a couple years to track our progress. That would cost resources now in terms of my time, as well as future funding that we would have had to track down to do those kind of analyses.”

Google uses AI to quickly analyze aerial photos of trees. “The tree detection algorithm analyzes it from different angles and calculates the average tree canopy,” says Sowrirajan. The company also helped develop a similar tool, called Global Forest Watch, that can track deforestation in remote areas by analyzing satellite data. In cities, the tree analysis can be combined with other key metrics. “We have public datasets where we bring in heat indexes,” she says. “We’ve brought in population densities. And overlaying those is sort of like your magic calculation of where the populations are the most vulnerable due to low tree canopy cover.”

More than half of the people living in L.A. live in areas with less than 10% tree canopy coverage. Research suggests that the canopy cover has to reach 40% to significantly lower temperatures. Forty-four percent of Angelenos also live in neighborhoods with extreme heat risk. There’s a clear connection between the areas that lack trees and those that see the worst heat.

The new tool will help the city identify the best places to plant, starting at the broad level—which areas have the fewest trees and the highest risk. Then the team can identify more specific places to plant. “We’re able to scale down into that neighborhood and say, Okay, what are the land use types here?” says Malarich. In an area with apartment buildings, there might not be as much room for trees in front or back yards. That might mean bigger changes: In some cases, a street might have to be redesigned to “provide more large-stature trees to provide those health benefits and protections to the public,” she says.

Google plans to work with the city to continue developing Tree Canopy Lab, and will soon make it available to other cities. “The urban forest community is fairly small, and there are several others that are trying to be pretty aggressive with their canopy equity targets,” Malarich says. “And the feedback that they’ll provide will only make this tool stronger.”

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com

11.26.20

How praise from your boss can actually be a bad thing

BY Fast Company Contributor 3 MINUTE READ

“My work should speak for itself.”

I’ve heard this sentiment hundreds of times from talented women going through our career development programs. Often, these women believe—to a fault—that because they are doing a good job in their departments, those efforts will automatically translate to being rewarded with a promotion, raise, or both.

In reality, leaving your work “to speak for itself” undercuts your ability to position yourself for the role of your dreams. Without making it abundantly clear why you want to advance in the organization and how your skills can positively impact the ROI of the business, those making advancement decisions are unlikely to be considering you for a leadership position.

In addition, I see women in our programs (who are already there to be groomed for increased corporate responsibilities) tell me that they regularly receive glowing performance reviews. Their bosses will tell them how wonderful they are doing, which, on the surface seems great, but in reality, it’s often the kiss of death when it comes to career advancement. Here’s why:

WHY “PRAISE” CAN BE PROBLEMATIC

A recent Cornell University study suggests that women receive kinder—and less honest—feedback than their male counterparts, making it harder for them to navigate their jobs and achieve leadership positions. This warm “praise feedback” is problematic because it provides women with a false sense of confidence while simultaneously hindering them from gathering any real meaningful insights about their work.

While the pandemic is also affecting women’s job security more than that of their male counterparts, it makes sense that they would be more apt to relish this positive feedback more than ever. Recently, I worked with a woman who was told to “keep up the good work,” and that she “did a great job during that presentation last week.” It’s not surprising that she was satisfied with this type of feedback and didn’t pose any additional questions to her boss for the rest of the conversation. The result was she did not receive the critical feedback she needed to advance.

HOW TO CHANGE THE NARRATIVE TO ADVANCE

Instead of just accepting praise feedback and moving on, women should use this opportunity to redirect the conversation toward how they can take their jobs to the next level. In advance of any performance-based conversation with your boss, try these strategies:

Reflect before you ask: Take some time to reflect on your areas of interest and identify how those areas will be valued by your organization. How can your skills create impact for your company, your customers? What are your areas of interest to advance? What skills will help you achieve your goals? Whose input or perspective would be helpful?

Create a career roadmap: By answering the questions above, you can get a sense of how you can position yourself for the job you desire most. It’s about being able to showcase that you have done your homework as to how the company operates and how you fit into its long-term success.

Bring your own questions to the table: Now that you’ve mapped out your skill sets and how they translate into the position you’re after, arm yourself with pointed questions to ask your boss. Answers to these questions will shed some light on what it takes to really set yourself up for attaining that new position or raise. For example, if you are interested in a senior position, specific questions such as: “I am interested in the director of Marketing position. As you consider my skills and experience, what are the areas that would be seen as critical for that role, and what are the areas I should have as a focus for my development?”

HOW TO DODGE VAGUE AND UNHELPFUL RESPONSES

Sometimes, explicit questions are met with vague answers. A common example is when a manager will respond to a question about how they can be promoted to X position by saying, “You need to be more strategic in your approach.” Of course, that can mean a million different things and does not actually provide concrete insights or a direct path to pursue. Instead of accepting that sort of response, the best thing to do is follow up with a question like, “Great. What exactly does being more strategic look like and translate to? How can I change my behavior or work to reflect what you are looking for so that I can be considered for this position?”

HOW TO CLOSE THE FEEDBACK LOOP

Finally, as you apply the feedback to your development, go back to those same managers and share how their feedback has been helpful. Show them in detail how you have incorporated their feedback into your work and how you are on the path to advancing in your career. Continuing to check in to make sure that you are understanding and meeting expectations is key.

The major takeaway is to always ask questions that allow you to take real action after your meeting. Don’t settle for reassurances or nebulous feedback that doesn’t serve you. In fact, the phrase I always tell the women in our programs to repeat in the mirror daily is: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” That’s the key to taking control of your career and breaking through the glass ceiling once and for all.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com

11.25.20

5 ways remote work makes us more creative

BY Fast Company Contributor 4 MINUTE READ

Many of the online HR conference sessions I’ve joined recently have been dominated by discussions around finding ways to make our remote workforce more productive and efficient. Yet while productivity matters, creativity often gets left out of that conversation. If creativity is discussed at all, it’s often seen as something that we’ve lost with the move to remote work because of the assumption that creativity is the output of in-person brainstorming sessions, with creativity being measured by the number of Post-its on meeting room walls.

But that’s a wrong assumption. We don’t have to be less creative when working remotely, or even when working from home—we can be more creative. By leveraging what’s unique about remote work—work from home in particular—we can boost our creativity, both individually and collectively. Here are five ways we can be more creative when working remotely and the tools to make it happen.

REMOTE WORK LETS EVERYONE CONTRIBUTE IDEAS

Let’s lose the cachet associated with in-person brainstorming sessions because most don’t work. Most become exercises in groupthink, with the ideas shared first, or by the loudest or most senior person in the room, dominating the discussion. Remote work can let us go beyond the standard approach to brainstorming by using brainwriting, a superior way of ideating.

During a brainwriting session, each team member individually creates their ideas, during or before the brainstorming session, without discussion. Put everyone on a Zoom call on mute for 10 minutes and have them sit heads-down and individually come up with some ideas and type them out on their PCs or drawing on tablets. Then, everyone shares their thoughts at the same time by pasting on a common platform—an online collaborative whiteboard like Mural, Miro, Zoom’s built-in whiteboard, or something as simple as a shared Word or PowerPoint document or Google Doc. The group then reviews all the ideas and discusses them and builds on them. This approach separates the divergent thinking (blue-sky thinking that emphasizes the number of ideas) and convergent thinking (narrowing down) phases of ideation, which often get mixed up in traditional brainstorming. Do the convergent thinking and voting on ideas after.

This brainwriting approach prevents the loudest person, first to speak, or most senior from dominating the discussion and stifling innovation. Sharing written ideas simultaneously lets the introvert shine and is fairer to team members whose first language may not be English. It is a more democratic approach because there is less social pressure to follow one person’s idea, so everyone contributes equally. And it is an approach to ideation that is perfect for remote collaboration.

REMOTE WORK TOOLS GIVE US SUPERPOWERS

Collaborative whiteboard platforms and other digital tools give us new abilities and superpowers that we can’t use during an in-person ideation session.

Want to hash out an idea with that colleague who lives in a different city? Hop on a Zoom call rather than hopping on a plane.

Need to do a SWOT analysis, create a business model canvas, or map a customer journey? Online whiteboard tools often have built-in templates for these. Their output can be easily saved, edited, and shared.

Whatever platform you are working on, the odds are that it has a chat feature, another creativity superpower that remote work grants us. With chat, we have an extra channel to communicate, comment on ideas and build on them, and ask questions in a way that isn’t possible with in-person collaboration.

Chat logs, or even an entire remote collaboration session, can be recorded and reviewed by those who couldn’t join in live. This is a bonus when your remote work involves a global team, and time zone differences prevent members from joining in real-time.

CREATIVITY IS BOOSTED BY GREATER TEAM DIVERSITY

All those tools and technology aren’t much use without the collective brainpower to come up with creative ideas in the first place. With remote work, we are no longer limited to the brainpower and creativity of the people in the room. We can bring in a more diverse range of collaborators from other parts of our organization—in the same city or a different country—or outside the organization. More diverse teams lead to more creativity, so remote work lets us tap into a new pool of expertise and creativity, which we couldn’t access when collaborating in-person.

The more people you collaborate with, the more ideas you will get, which are more likely to lead to a few truly genius insights. As double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling said, “If you want to have good ideas, you must have many ideas.”

ACCESS TO BETTER FACILITATORS

Remote work allows us to not only access a greater range of talent. It lets us bring in the facilitators who can make or break an ideation session. Previously we were limited to having ideation sessions facilitated by our colleagues or by hiring a local outside facilitator. With remote work, we can bring in expert facilitators from across our organization or recruit from a bigger pool of external facilitators.

Looking outside your own team for a facilitator is always a good idea. Facilitators shouldn’t have skin in the game or a vested interest in an ideation session’s output. Plus, remote facilitation is a different skill set. Your colleague who is an ace in-person facilitator may not be able to pull it off remotely.

LET WORKING FROM HOME INSPIRE YOU

No matter how nice our worksites are, they are not ideal locations for inspiration and creativity, for the sudden “aha” moments we get when out for a walk or when taking a shower. When working from home, we have more chances for inspiration, even with noisy pets, kids, or partners. Think about how you are surrounded by the books you love, or your favorite arts, plants, pets, and family members. All of these can energize us and inspire us.

When not working in the office, we can easily head out for a walk, and nothing beats a sudden flash of creativity than a walk, surrounded by nature. Or go for a run, or yoga, or some other physical activity that is proven to boost creativity.

Quiet time to recharge is also easier when working from home. Suddenly sitting down for a 20-minute mindfulness session is much easier to pull off at home than in the middle of an open-concept office.

So, go ahead and find ways to be more productive when working remotely, but don’t leave creativity out of the conversation. While remote work cannot fully replicate the experience of in-person ideation, it doesn’t need to. Remote work can boost our creativity in ways that in-person collaboration can’t.

But more importantly, as remote work will be the new normal for many of us, the discussion cannot be about which is the better place to do creative work. We have to get better at being creative remotely. It’s no longer a nice-to-have.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com.

11.20.20

Here’s why women shouldn’t turn off their cameras during Zoom calls

BY Fast Company Contributor 4 MINUTE READ

When it comes to personal appearance in the professional world, it would be hard to argue that women have it easier.

Take that pressure (whether culturally sanctioned, self-imposed, or both) and compound it with the nightmare of seeing yourself on camera in a video meeting, and it may become tempting to just turn off the camera.

That would be a big mistake.

Communication skills are more important now than ever before, so it’s crucial that you be present and visible.

It’s also important to remember that so much of our communication is non-verbal. For example, we’ve all heard, “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” It’s quite possible your words said one thing, but your body language said another. This is your opportunity to have visibility (as well as transparency) in front of your team, your board, your clients.

Women are already stretched thin at home—don’t let the pressure to look red-carpet ready cause you to disappear at work. Most people are more comfortable without the camera, but you can use this to your advantage. If your appearance is preventing you from taking your meetings on camera, follow these simple guidelines to turn your focus back to your message and the meeting at hand. Side note to men—you can use these pointers, too.

STOP FEELING LIKE YOU NEED TO BE ALL MADE UP

Women, I am with you. I have two children, a full-time job, and am in virtual meetings all day while teaching my son virtual kindergarten. Do I feel the need to be “done up” in meetings? Absolutely. Do I have time to blow out my hair and do a full face of makeup? Absolutely not.

KEEP IT “CORPORATE CLEAN”

I am not suggesting you wear makeup or give yourself an entire blowout—just look clean. If you don’t have time to shower because you’re rushing to feed your family or help with homework, keep it simple. I always have a brush, lip gloss, several hair ties and clips, and hairspray right by my desk, knowing I can make myself look presentable in about two minutes. Present yourself in a way that will make you feel good, and also in a way that is not distracting to others.

HAVE A UNIFORM

Another great place to start is to have a uniform. Steve Jobs did this for a reason (sorry to use a man as an example in an article about women, but he was on to something here)! It really is a great time-saver, not having to put thought into wondering if something looks good. Just find yourself a top that makes you feel good and get several of them. Another advantage? People will know what to expect when they see you and it’s one less thing you have to worry about. And yet another advantage? If you have five tops and do laundry once a week, one will always be clean.

GOOD LIGHTING

Make yourself look great and feel confident on camera with great lighting. Selfie-lights or ring lights are fantastic. I have found that that battery-operated selfie lights burn out very fast, so I suggest getting one that plugs into a power source. Focus the light right next to your webcam, and you will soon find it to be indispensable; doing this is sure to make anyone look good—makeup or not, sleep or not.

STOP APOLOGIZING FOR DISTRACTIONS—OR ANYTHING

Background distractions are often unavoidable, and there are oh-so-many opportunities for them to pop up. When they do, it’s okay to excuse yourself, turn off your mic and video, and deal with the children, pet, spouse, or partner who has entered your background. Stop apologizing and own it. Simply say, “Excuse me for one minute” and deal with the issue at hand. Then get back on camera. Pretending like the obvious isn’t happening or continuing to apologize can actually become a distraction in and of itself. Keep your cool, remain in control. These are difficult waters to navigate and everyone has a distraction now and then. I would say 90% of my clients, regardless of gender, have at least one or two distractions during meetings. It is not your fault, so stop apologizing.

FOCUS ON YOUR COMMUNICATION, NOT YOUR AESTHETICS

Pre-COVID, we would wake up in the morning, make ourselves look presentable for the day, and maybe check in the mirror once or twice. Now that we’re in so many web meetings, we are constantly aware of how we look—and it’s even worse if you’re not used to being on camera.

When I coach my clients, often a challenge of the first session is getting them to focus less on their looks and more on their communication. It is very easy to spend the meeting focusing on what you look like, wondering if your perceived imperfections will appear outsized on the screens of others.

Turn the focus back to what you are saying and how you are saying it. Your message and how you are delivering it will take the pressure off your appearance and allow you to be present on camera. If you find yourself unable to get your eyes off your own image (depending on the video platform), shut that self-view window or cover it with another window so you can get back to work.

The new norms of communication pose additional pressures for everyone. However, by being mindful of your communication and eschewing the idea of being flawless on-screen, you can make both yourself and your audiences more comfortable.

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About the author: Vanessa Wasche is the owner and founder of On Point Speaking.

20 jobs that will be most at risk in 2021

BY Fast Company Contributor < 1 MINUTE READ

Tired of hearing that the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and its impact has thrown the global economy into crisis mode?

Well, here’s a bit more evidence that the effects will reverberate long into the coming year. Glassdoor has analysed information on millions of job postings and found 20 jobs that are most at risk post-COVID-19. The fact that even some healthcare positions made the list proves that nothing is certain in these uncertain times.

Among them, the top five look like the hardest hit based on the number of postings and the percentage decline since the pandemic.

Audiologist -70%

Event Coordinator -69%

Product Demonstrator -63%

Optician -61%

Chef -56%

“As the global pandemic shifts, consumer behaviour and workplace habits, certain jobs like audiologists, executive assistants, and coaches may not return en masse for years, if ever,” according to Glassdoor’s chief economist, Dr. Andew Chamberlain.

Although he cautioned that this prediction was based on no other major unforeseeable event taking place in the coming year, Chamberlain said in a statement that he expects to see “big shifts in employee attitudes as the economy recovers in 2021 and beyond, with a greater emphasis on stability and predictability.”

You can view the entire list here.

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11.19.20

How the Obama and Oprah interview was produced by Apple

BY Fast Company Contributor 2 MINUTE READ

In their candid conversation, Oprah and President Obama explore the transformative years leading up to his historic presidency, and reflect on the aspirations, perseverance and accomplishments that brought him to the White House, and the monumental expectations placed upon him during his pivotal time in office.

Courtesy of Apple

Oprah and former President Barack Obama appear to be sitting in the same living room, speaking about his new memoir, A Promised Land, in front of a crackling fireplace.

Except, they’re not really in the same space at all. The pair conducted this “in-person” interview from opposite coasts: Obama from a studio in Washington, D.C., and Oprah from her home in Santa Barbara. Due to social distancing measures, the interview was arranged remotely—but thanks to modern innovation, you might not even notice that they are sitting in different locations.

To allow for natural conversation, monitors were carefully placed at the other’s eye-line, to make it appear as though they were making eye contact.

To ensure a sense of total seamlessness, the two rooms’ identical furniture was arranged with “extremely precise” measurements. The production teams in D.C. and Santa Barbara used the same cameras, lenses, lighting, and audio equipment, to avoid discrepancies.

Courtesy of Apple

The green screen technology played a major role to make this socially distanced interview possible. To incorporate the green screen technology, the 44th president was instructed not to wear any green or white garments, and steer clear of shiny shoes, according to the production team. Further, he couldn’t drink water from a clear glass, as it would “disappear” before the green screen, making it look like he was sipping water out of nothing. Oprah and Obama sipped from matching tea mugs.

Oprah said. “Interviewing President Obama, it was really like he was right in front of me,”

Insightful and deeply personal, the memoir reveals President Obama’s introspective and genuine humanity, which propelled and sustained his journey to the presidency and beyond.

The global community can enjoy President Obama’s memoir, “A Promised Land,” on Apple Books. The memoir is available as an ebook or audiobook narrated by President Obama himself.

PS5 launches in South Africa today

BY Fast Company Contributor 3 MINUTE READ

The moment that South African gamers have been waiting for has finally arrived.

It’s a day of celebration for gaming fans as Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) launches its next-generation and much-anticipated console, PlayStation 5 (PS5).

“Today marks a historic moment for the PlayStation brand, and all of us at SIE are pleased to celebrate the release of PlayStation 5 together with our community of fans, game developers, and industry partners,” said Jim Ryan, President and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment.

“PS5 is a truly next-generation console representing the beginning of a new era for gaming. I’m thrilled for the new worlds that players will begin to experience today, and I’m equally excited for the lineup of games still to come for PS5 that will continue to propel the gameplay experience forward. We are humbled to work with a talented community of world class game developers. Their creativity will bring limitless possibilities to what the future of gaming can look like on PS5.”

This new generation of gaming will be celebrated as iconic buildings and popular sites in 25 territories around the world will be lit up with projecting images of the PlayStation shapes, the PS5 console, the DualSense wireless controller and other PlayStation brand imagery.

The PS5 Digital Edition will be available for a recommended retail price (RRP) of R9 999.99 and PS5 with an Ultra HD Blu-ray™ disc drive will be available for an RRP of R11 999.99.

Both PS5 models offer the same specifications, so players will enjoy the same transformative gameplay experiences regardless of which PS5 they choose.

Gamers can enjoy favourites such as Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Demon’s Souls, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Astro’s Playroom. PS5 owners can enjoy more than three dozen new games this festive season, including games from SIE’s publishing partners such as Call of Duty®: Black Ops Cold War (Activision), Fortnite (Epic Games), FIFA 21 (EA), NBA 2K21 (2K), Godfall (Gearbox Publishing), Watch Dogs®: Legion and Assassin’s Creed® Valhalla (Ubisoft), and many more.

The fun won’t end when the holiday does.

PS5 gamers can look forward to even more incredible games after the festive season with upcoming Worldwide Studios exclusives include Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal, Destruction AllStars, Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo™ 7, and a new God of War game. Additional games launching first on PS5 include DEATHLOOP™ from Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks, Ghostwire™: Tokyo from Tango Gameworks/Bethesda Softworks, Project Athia (Working Title) from Luminous Productions/Square Enix, and Final Fantasy® XVI from Square Enix. Resident Evil™ Village from Capcom and Hogwarts Legacy from Warner Bros. Games round out the lineup of highly anticipated PS5 titles.

PlayStation Plus members won’t miss out on the fun as they can enjoy a curated lineup of 20 PlayStation®4 games that defined the generation with the PlayStation Plus Collection, available to download and play on PlayStation 5. The PlayStation Plus Collection features critically acclaimed games, including Batman™: Arkham Knight, Bloodborne, Call of Duty®: Black Ops III – Zombies Chronicle Edition, Fallout® 4, God of War, Monster Hunter: World™, Final Fantasy®XV, Resident Evil®7 Biohazard, Persona 5, The Last of Us Remastered, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and more.

PS5 promises to bring players into game worlds with unprecedented speed, visual fidelity and sensory immersion.

Gamers will enjoy near-instant load times thanks to PS5’s ultra-high speed solid state drive (SSD), as well as breathtaking 4K graphics and silky-smooth gameplay up to 120 frames per second.

With the enhanced haptic feedback and adaptive triggers of the DualSense wireless controller and the immersive soundscapes made possible by Tempest 3D AudioTech, PlayStation 5 will virtually transport you into the game world.

PlayStation 5 also offers plenty of entertainment experiences, with a curated lineup of some of the most popular streaming services available at launch, including Netflix, Spotify, Twitch, and YouTube.

There will be a dedicated space exclusively for media entertainment on PlayStation 5, making it fast and easy to switch between games and movie/TV.

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Your team is probably gossiping about you behind your back. But here’s why it’s a good thing

BY Fast Company Contributor 4 MINUTE READ

It’s never fun to find out people are bad-mouthing you in secret. But when you learn it’s your team privately attacking you, there are severe risks to your ability to lead them effectively. Also, confronting team members on hearsay can create further damage to your relationships with them.

It’s not a crime to gossip about one’s boss or criticise them behind their back. In truth, most conversations can be defined in some way as gossip. So punishing them for merely expressing themselves is neither a constructive nor fair reaction. And any defensiveness will push them further away. When this happens, you start to become a leader without a following.

Despite these challenges, it is possible to navigate this dilemma in a way that not only contains the fractures between you and your team but beings to improve mutual trust. Consider adopting these strategies to regain your effectiveness in leading those members of your team who are not outwardly voicing their thoughts on you.

GET TO A NEUTRAL MINDSET, AND OBJECTIVELY ANALYSE YOURSELF

Initially, you may want to confront your team, not just on their grievances but also on their unwillingness to come to you directly. Instead, take a step back and, and instead engage in some deep introspection on how well you encourage your team to speak up.

Why do you think they chose not to come to you directly? Perhaps it’s because you get resentful when receiving feedback. Or they may have a general discomfort with speaking with authority. And maybe your company culture doesn’t encourage upward feedback.

Since you may never hear the truth from them directly, you can start by looking at your style and whether you’ve made it hard for them to be honest with you.

Ask yourself a few introspective questions; for instance, “What have I done that might keep them from being upfront with me?” Two other questions to ask: “What nonverbal messages do I send when hearing disagreement or criticism? and “When given negative feedback, do I defend myself or make empty apologies simply to placate them?”

Also, consider whether you have enabled two-way dialogue through consistent coaching and feedback. In a 2018 study conducted by human resources company Reflektive, 94% of employees reported they want managers to address performance issues and development opportunities in real time. And as much as 75% of them would be more comfortable raising issues with their bosses if they were given frequent feedback.

To encourage your team to be honest with you, you can’t just tell them to do so. You must lead by example and set the tone for frequent mutual feedback sharing.

OWN YOUR MISTAKES BEFORE CALLING OUT COMPLAINERS

After an honest self-assessment, you can address the situation directly with team members. But to avoid coming across as accusatory and make it safer for them to express their feelings, share your reflections before expecting them to open up.

I teach my executive coaching clients that to influence others, you must practice “relentless self-ownership.” Even if you disagree with your team’s feedback, you can own the mere possibility of truth in their message and your part in shaping their perceptions. And when you accept this publicly, you create a shift in others to own their behavior in the relationship.

One of my clients was a vice president at a Fortune 100 company who successfully used this method after hearing his team complained to his boss about his micromanagement. He believed his team wasn’t carrying their full weight but, upon reflection, realised he needed to back up a bit and empower them more.

When he met them, he didn’t just broach the subject of their complaints. He went “all in” on self-ownership. The VP said with conviction, “Today, I need to say that I’ve been a real jerk to you these past few months.”

“I don’t know if you noticed,” he continued, “but I’ve been disrespecting you by second-guessing your judgment, and I’m sorry. Can we talk about how I can do better?”

At this point, his team was shocked that the topic came up, but they didn’t feel “outed” or accused. After all, the VP took more personal ownership of the issue than they could have asked him to do. And because he didn’t force them to explain their private complaints but instead ask for help to improve, they felt safe and more willing to offer suggestions.

GO BACK TO LEADERSHIP FUNDAMENTALS

As a leader, your job is to drive business results through your team in a way that empowers and inspires them toward their highest potential. But when you learn they are disparaging you, you may doubt your ability to motivate the very people you’re supposed to lead.

The best way to shift a team member’s commitment to their job is to double down on yours. So, go back to the basics of leadership and continuously develop yourself regardless of their opinions. A simple way to start is to assess yourself on four key leadership competencies:

– Decision-making through strategic thinking

– Execution on plans

– Team development

– Continued personal growth (stay self-aware)

Write down your strengths and weaknesses in each area. Then ask your peers, team, and boss whether you should “stop, start or continue” doing anything to be more effective in each competency. Gather their suggestions, implement a few at a time, and check in periodically to share your progress.

Merely collecting ideas from team members and practicing behaviors that take you past your comfort zone sends a powerful message to them. It shows you are leading yourself before expecting others to follow you. When they see you working on yourself, your team will not only have less unfounded criticism of you but will be more eager to talk through issues directly because they know you welcome their input for continuous improvement.

CONSIDER THE BENEFITS OF EMPLOYEE CHATTER

Despite all your efforts at improving yourself, you may still learn that your team continues to talk about you behind your back. But don’t despair; a study showed most everyone gossips at work about their management team. And fortunately, there are some unlikely advantages that their private chatter brings.

One benefit is that workplace gossip provides valuable information sharing that you can’t always communicate. Many employees report that gossip is the primary way they learn about matters within the company. And when you must be discreet or are too busy to communicate at scale, your team’s watercooler discussions may keep everyone up to speed. Not to mention, their gossip can keep you apprised of potential problems that lie under the radar.

Another benefit of workplace gossip is that it may reinforce company values in a high performing culture because it keeps lagging coworkers in check. And learning about others’ situations through gossip can trigger the self-comparison that drives team members to improve themselves.

Lastly, the team that gossips about you may find themselves less stressed as research shows spreading information about troubling events alleviates the anxiety from it. In the era of COVID-19, consider that gossip may enhance your team culture through stress and social distance because it helps them cope and stay connected.

Ultimately you may never like that your team is privately disparaging you, but following these strategies can help you capitalise on the opportunity to develop yourself as a leader and foster deeper trust with your team.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com

11.18.20

This AI-powered parking garage encourages the use of public transport

BY Fast Company Contributor 3 MINUTE READ

The smart city of the future is materialising in the parking garage of an office building in Munich. With a new test program powered by artificial intelligence, or AI, the parking garage can communicate with the drivers who use it. It can tell them when the garage is getting crowded and increase its pricing based on demand, suggest drivers use another garage, and even reward them for not driving in to work at all.

The trial project is being led by UK.-based Fetch.ai and Munich-based blockchain company Datarella and was just launched at one of the central Munich offices owned by Connex Buildings. The goal is to control the pricing and use of the building’s parking spaces dynamically, and to disincentivise people from driving to work by rewarding them with public transit passes for all the time they aren’t using the parking garage.

“It could say okay if you park closer, you’re going to be charged more; if you park farther away, you’ll be charged less,” says Humayun Sheikh, CEO of Fetch.ai. “We reward you for doing certain actions and we discourage you from doing certain actions.”

Sheikh says that if the trial program is expanded to parking garages citywide, it could cut car usage by 10% annually, resulting in a reduction of more than 37,000 tons of CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to the emissions from the annual energy use of nearly 4,000 homes.

Putting a price on parking based on demand has been shown to reduce vehicle distance traveled and greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco, where a demand-responsive pricing system has been in place since 2017. When the price of parking reflects its relative scarcity, it can signal to people that if they do decide to drive, it’s going to cost them. When fewer people have the option for free parking, fewer choose to drive, reducing congestion and shifting traffic flows to less busy areas. “It should make traffic and congestion management much more efficient,” Sheikh says.

Free parking has been shown by researchers like Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, to have high costs for cities in terms of congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, and time spent driving around looking for parking. One meta-study of traffic behaviours found that drivers cruising for parking accounted for an average of 34% of the traffic in downtown areas.

Fetch.ai’s approach aims to streamline the process of finding a parking spot using an app that drivers can set to automatically book parking spaces when available, based on predetermined price and location settings. The AI technology is based on a computer science concept known as a multi-agent system, with distributed and specialised computer programs, or agents, that perform certain tasks autonomously. In communication with each other, they can quickly sort out complex scenarios collectively, without the need for some mega, all-knowing database.

In the Fetch.ai parking trial, the agent in the parking garage would be able to tap into a camera system that analyzes the available spaces and sets pricing accordingly. The agent in a person’s app would be able to know that, for instance, the person will need to drive into the office this morning and will negotiate directly with the parking garage’s agent to determine the price to park based on demand.

“The agents tell each other when it’s busy and when it’s not. So if you want to park in a place, it will be able to tell you the next five hours are open,” Sheikh says. “And then there are 10 other agents in other places [throughout the city], and all of them can collectively learn if there is congestion in the area or not.” With the system’s pricing and rewards, use of this single garage can be more tightly controlled than if it were either free or charging one rate that was agnostic to demand. But one parking garage can have only so much impact.

The goal, Sheikh says, is to scale it up. For a complicated system like a city, the distributed functions of a multi-agent system could be a simpler way of injecting the kind of “smartness” that might otherwise require an intense and centralised database and millions of sensors. This approach, Sheikh argues, could make smart city infrastructure much easier to implement.

“Why we still haven’t [built smart infrastructure] is [because] the cost of deploying [it] is quite a lot,” he says. “What we’re proposing is a retrofit solution. You don’t actually need to have sensors everywhere.”

Sheikh aims to expand the trial to other parking garages throughout Munich in 2021. With a few cameras in parking garages and apps installed in drivers’ phones, he says this multi-agent system can begin to autonomously price parking in a way that dramatically reduces city congestion. One parking garage won’t be enough to make a huge difference, but it could be the start of a much smarter way to park.

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Article originally published on fastcompany.com