Web Heresies

All the heresies the web can handle (all opinions expressed here are my own).
298 Lives Lost Thanks to Sloppy Risk Management" by one Johnny Spangenberg appeared at the top of my LinkedIn feed Thursday. It referred to the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet shot down over Ukraine earlier that day, arguing that poor risk management - not the impact of a few hundred pounds of ground-to-air missile - were ultimately to blame for the crash.

The story struck a nerve among readers. As of 10:40pm Thursday night, there were 158 comments, the majority of which expressed anger at a how “insensitive,” “sick” or just plain “stupid” it was:

"295 dead and you blame sloppy risk management?"

"This is by far the worst article I’ve read on LinkedIn in years."

"This is the type of article that will lead to LinkedIn’s demise or at least the demise of allowing anyone to ‘self publish’."

The last comment is the most telling for me, because it highlights the biggest problem facing LinkedIn’s self-publishing model: the rise of sub-standard content that threatens to turn the platform from a useful business network into an echo chamber for poorly-written self-promotion and vertical marketing.

The problem lies in the mashup of business content marketing and networking platform LinkedIn has evolved into. On Facebook and Twitter, users typically share more stories from mainstream news outlets, browse content, promote their business, and link to funny, odd, useful or idiosyncratic content.

On LinkedIn, the network’s business DNA mixes with its self-publishing model to produce a volatile mix of writers clamoring for attention. This doesn’t necessarily produce insightful, meaningful or well-written content. Often it just demonstrates an ability to cobble together a top-ten list, slap together a contrarian opinion, or spin current events in an attempt to grab readers’ attention and establish the writer’s legitimacy.

This is what appears to have happened with Mr. Spangenberg’s post: a rush to publish combined with a desire for attention and a dose of bad judgment. What compelled him to temporarily ignore the terrible human toll of an airliner blown out of the sky only hours earlier in order to opine on risk management is beyond me. What it shows is the unfortunate trend on LinkedIn towards facile, opportunistic and not very meaningful content.

Another issue is what system is responsible for allowing this content to bubble to the surface. It’s unclear whether algorithms or human intervention are responsible, but either way it doesn’t reflect well on LinkedIn’s ability to curate content.

LinkedIn has the power to fix this problem, but it would mean creating a whole new way to curate content so that vertical marketing and self-promotion are replaced with genuine insight and useful information. That’s not easy when your revenue stream depends in no small part on the number of eyeballs you can collect for advertisers through the volume of content you produce.

However, LinkedIn may not have much choice. In 2014 the long-term viability of social networks depends on the value of content they can produce. Facebook realized that years ago and introduced the EdgeRank algorithm. Twitter took a step in that direction with its recent redesign, which emphasizes the most popular content. It’s not too late for LinkedIn to follow suit.

Poor content is like junk food: it’s cheap, easy to get and satisfies a need. But like junk food it leaves you flabby and unhealthy. LinkedIn needs to get back into shape.

 

 

"What gets measured, gets managed." 
Peter Drucker said that, and with good reason. Far too many business decisions hinge on what’s “good for us,” “core to our mission,” “innovative” or any one of a rainbow of other buzzwords.
This is regrettable, because the only thing that matters in business - the only thing that should matter - is results. And the only worthwhile measure of results is numbers.
If this seems heretical to you, please remember that this site is called “Web Heresies,” not “Web Platitudes.” Our goal is to slaughter sacred cows and serve them up to you. Thus, it’s essential to understand that metrics are really all that matter in business, and that even faulty metrics are better than no metrics at all. That’s how important they are.
Consider what happens in the absence of metrics: politics rushes in to fill the void.
Business requires transparency, predictability and stability to achieve results, which is why politics in business is like cancer: it distorts and weakens everything it touches. It erodes transparency, predictability and stability by rewarding the ability to game systems and manipulate hierarchies. Advancement and reward are decoupled from the ability to meet objective criteria, and are attached to how well you can play the game.
This makes it impossible for most workers to predict whether they will be rewarded for doing a good job, or even whether the ability to do a good job exists.
Where people can’t predict the outcome of their efforts with reasonable certainty (such as whether they’re going to be rewarded or punished) uncertainty blossoms. In uncertain environments, chaos creeps in. Group cohesion crumbles, and employees rely on gamesmanship, favoritism, nepotism and other approaches to achieve some degree of certainty or stability. Everyone starts watching their back. This leads to a decline in morale, productivity and forward momentum.
Enter metrics. They’re objective, impersonal and empirical. They give employees the ability to control their destiny in some way which is understandable, transparent, and at least somewhat predictable. This gives people some sense of control over their destiny, and that empowers them to move forward.
However, metrics can also become a straightjacket. It’s difficult to come up with the right ones, attach realistic numerical goals to them, and modify those metrics and goals when their underlying conditions and assumptions change. This leads to criticism of their validity even before they’ve been defined. How does it serve the business to tie itself to arbitrary measures? Why do this when the business climate changes on a weekly basis? Why not identify our top-level goals and work towards those without dreaming up some superficial numbers management says we have to hit?
The reason is politics. Without those metrics - even flawed metrics - politics creeps into the equation. Metrics are proof against that. Even if they’re only half valid, they will help an organization avoid the kind of decay and lack of direction that politics brings.
To put it simply, let’s use an old slogan from seafaring: when you’re in the middle of an ocean, any wind is better than no wind at all.

"What gets measured, gets managed."

Peter Drucker said that, and with good reason. Far too many business decisions hinge on what’s “good for us,” “core to our mission,” “innovative” or any one of a rainbow of other buzzwords.

This is regrettable, because the only thing that matters in business - the only thing that should matter - is results. And the only worthwhile measure of results is numbers.

If this seems heretical to you, please remember that this site is called “Web Heresies,” not “Web Platitudes.” Our goal is to slaughter sacred cows and serve them up to you. Thus, it’s essential to understand that metrics are really all that matter in business, and that even faulty metrics are better than no metrics at all. That’s how important they are.

Consider what happens in the absence of metrics: politics rushes in to fill the void.

Business requires transparency, predictability and stability to achieve results, which is why politics in business is like cancer: it distorts and weakens everything it touches. It erodes transparency, predictability and stability by rewarding the ability to game systems and manipulate hierarchies. Advancement and reward are decoupled from the ability to meet objective criteria, and are attached to how well you can play the game.

This makes it impossible for most workers to predict whether they will be rewarded for doing a good job, or even whether the ability to do a good job exists.

Where people can’t predict the outcome of their efforts with reasonable certainty (such as whether they’re going to be rewarded or punished) uncertainty blossoms. In uncertain environments, chaos creeps in. Group cohesion crumbles, and employees rely on gamesmanship, favoritism, nepotism and other approaches to achieve some degree of certainty or stability. Everyone starts watching their back. This leads to a decline in morale, productivity and forward momentum.

Enter metrics. They’re objective, impersonal and empirical. They give employees the ability to control their destiny in some way which is understandable, transparent, and at least somewhat predictable. This gives people some sense of control over their destiny, and that empowers them to move forward.

However, metrics can also become a straightjacket. It’s difficult to come up with the right ones, attach realistic numerical goals to them, and modify those metrics and goals when their underlying conditions and assumptions change. This leads to criticism of their validity even before they’ve been defined. How does it serve the business to tie itself to arbitrary measures? Why do this when the business climate changes on a weekly basis? Why not identify our top-level goals and work towards those without dreaming up some superficial numbers management says we have to hit?

The reason is politics. Without those metrics - even flawed metrics - politics creeps into the equation. Metrics are proof against that. Even if they’re only half valid, they will help an organization avoid the kind of decay and lack of direction that politics brings.

To put it simply, let’s use an old slogan from seafaring: when you’re in the middle of an ocean, any wind is better than no wind at all.

 

 

Risk vs. Strategy
Organizations say they want strategies. I create strategies for the digital side of their businesses, whatever that business may be. Unfortunately, when you scratch the surface you find that a lot of organizations don’t actually want a strategy. Executing a strategy means doing things differently, embracing change and taking risks. Businesses aren’t very good at any of those things. Businesses are conservative. Businesses are risk-averse. They avoid risk because it’s unknown, and could lead to failure, however modest that failure might be. Most businesses and the component pieces that make them run (employees and managers) are rewarded for success and punished for failure, just like in any other system. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they avoid failure at all costs. Not only are they incentivized to avoid failure, failure is personal. In practically every business culture, failure is seen as a reflection of the shortcomings of the individual(s) responsible, and it becomes a blow to the ego. Small wonder it’s avoided so strongly.
Unfortunately, failure is necessary, especially if an organization wants to do things differently. There is no such thing as a safe strategy. If there were, everyone would be using safe strategies, there would be no competitive advantage to having one vs. another, and the strategic playing field would be completely level.
Safe strategies don’t exist; there’s risk in every one of them. Every strategy is a playbook for doing things differently and changing an organization, even if that’s in infinitesimal ways.
That doesn’t stop organizations from wanting a strategy that essentially entails doing things the same way they currently do. It’s not a particularly realistic expectation, but it maps to what we know about how individuals handle change, which is similar to how they handle grief: denial - bargaining - rejection - acceptance. Organizations will try to deny that change is necessary, or that it has to be part of their strategic approach. Often they will try to commodify or water down the necessary change (bargaining). At some point they may reject the idea of doing things differently altogether as an unnecessary risk.
But the bright ones - that ones that survive - understand what’s at stake, eventually embrace change, and the corresponding change-based strategy. The strategy they embrace probably doesn’t look like the one they started the process with, but it will be a strategy that relies on doing things differently.
Where does your organization lie on the change spectrum?

Risk vs. Strategy

Organizations say they want strategies. I create strategies for the digital side of their businesses, whatever that business may be. Unfortunately, when you scratch the surface you find that a lot of organizations don’t actually want a strategy. Executing a strategy means doing things differently, embracing change and taking risks. Businesses aren’t very good at any of those things. Businesses are conservative. Businesses are risk-averse. They avoid risk because it’s unknown, and could lead to failure, however modest that failure might be. Most businesses and the component pieces that make them run (employees and managers) are rewarded for success and punished for failure, just like in any other system. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they avoid failure at all costs. Not only are they incentivized to avoid failure, failure is personal. In practically every business culture, failure is seen as a reflection of the shortcomings of the individual(s) responsible, and it becomes a blow to the ego. Small wonder it’s avoided so strongly.

Unfortunately, failure is necessary, especially if an organization wants to do things differently. There is no such thing as a safe strategy. If there were, everyone would be using safe strategies, there would be no competitive advantage to having one vs. another, and the strategic playing field would be completely level.

Safe strategies don’t exist; there’s risk in every one of them. Every strategy is a playbook for doing things differently and changing an organization, even if that’s in infinitesimal ways.

That doesn’t stop organizations from wanting a strategy that essentially entails doing things the same way they currently do. It’s not a particularly realistic expectation, but it maps to what we know about how individuals handle change, which is similar to how they handle grief: denial - bargaining - rejection - acceptance. Organizations will try to deny that change is necessary, or that it has to be part of their strategic approach. Often they will try to commodify or water down the necessary change (bargaining). At some point they may reject the idea of doing things differently altogether as an unnecessary risk.

But the bright ones - that ones that survive - understand what’s at stake, eventually embrace change, and the corresponding change-based strategy. The strategy they embrace probably doesn’t look like the one they started the process with, but it will be a strategy that relies on doing things differently.

Where does your organization lie on the change spectrum?

 

 

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From a presentation I gave to York University in May: http://www.slideshare.net/Markus6464/digital-strategy-101-35901605

 

 

Get off my lawn, you damn kids! And take your chief officers with you!
No, you can’t have my bandana….

Time was, having “chief” in your name denoted something important, that you had risen through the ranks of your peers and achieved noteworthiness in their eyes, getting placed in charge of a goodly number of them, and receiving a corner office as a reward. Chief executive officer. Chief operating officer. Chief financial officer. Chief information officer.

No more.

Now (apparently) anyone can get “chief” in the name. We have chief engagement officer, chief visionary officer, chief people officer, chief observance officer, and more. Somewhere - I am reasonably certain - there is a chief officer officer. Maybe the officer officer can get together with Major Major and Mr. Mister and have a party.

I used to work for a company where everyone was a director. I mean it: literally everyone had “director” in their title, whether they were manning a booth or running the company. On the surface, it sounds terribly democratic and huggy, until you realize it means you have no way of establishing whether the person you’re talking to has any authority or decision-making power. That’s bad. It’s useful and important to know whether the person you’re talking to has any pull or authority in the company, and it’s essential for navigating the corporate hierarchy. When you phone up the client “director,” you kind of want to know whether they’re an 18-year-old with a summer job or the executive in charge of - duh - clients.

However, it appears “chief” can now be applied to anyone with a set of responsibilities and a pulse. If this sound charming and delicious, pause to consider that when a title is applied to anyone and everyone, it applies to no one, because the word loses all currency.

Thus, as of this moment I’m reclaiming the “chief” title for senior staff only, in all their hierarchical bourgeois entitlement. I shall brook no disagreement.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Farmer
Chief Snarky-Pants Officer