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Are liberal arts majors about to dominate the next wave of tech entrepreneurship? Absolutely

(OPINION EDITORIAL) What do Liberal Arts majors and tech innovators have in common? Everything.

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legality of monitoring employees online

*This is a guest story from Austin author, Will Ruff*

Crossing lines

This is a purely speculative article coming from a liberal arts major, and I do have a dog in this fight. That is: I have a liberal arts background, and I want to tell you how we’re about to drive the next wave of tech entrepreneurship based on my own experience.

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Engineers have driven us forward at an incredible pace in the past few years, now it’s time for liberal arts majors to pick up the slack and tell everyone how incredible their work is. And that’s exactly what you can expect us to do: tell an incredible story.

Life comes at you fast

Let’s take a look at the past few years. Tech has moved fast. Unbelievably fast. Look at the smartphone’s evolution over the last ten years. Can you remember what kind of phone you had when an iPhone came out? I had a blackberry, and was doing door-to-door sales in college. I pine for that phone now, but they’re not really practical given how much screen I need.

In many cases, tech has moved so fast that the general population who buys a smartphone doesn’t really know what they’re getting out of a new upgrade and while they might adopt whatever new features are out there, their purchase is not driven by need.

Does a fingerprint scanner, or force touch really advance my productivity, or my security? No.

Whatever feature they’re selling you on this year will be equally underwhelming. And I would argue at best, because phones are all 99% the same, whether or not you want to admit this, that the companies behind them are struggling to differentiate themselves to their customer base, and they use features to do it. Features tell the story. The tech hasn’t really been revolutionary for years.

The big why

Think about the last time you had to buy a phone. We’ll assume that now you use one so much, you actually couldn’t imagine living without one. That’s me anyway. And we’ve all been there—the phone is locked up, or the screen’s cracked, the software upgrade shut it down, permanently, and now you have to get something new. But they should just replace it for free, I’ve been a customer for so long. Nice try. Maybe this time I’ll try an iPhone, or an Android. I’ve heard cool things about Pixel.

For whatever reason, we’ve decided to choose an operating system based on features we haven’t used yet, and this is driving up the cost of cell phones to be as expensive as a nice laptop. Well maybe they’re willing to spring an extra $200 for this new feature finally. Why wouldn’t I want this beautiful curved screen that has no edge?

For the record I’m an android user, but I could use any phone and be happy.

Now, I have nothing against advancing technology, despite my snarky tone, but the above illustrates a point of mine that is going to become more evident in the future.

Technology is only successful when you can tell its story to the audience who’s meant to use it.

It has to be clear, and it has to be on their terms. Engineers, and STEM workers absolutely drive all of the innovation, and it’s not a battle between the two, but we live in a world where billions of people have access to the Internet, and that means you have a lot more opportunity to build a business from anywhere. Not everyone is going to speak the language of engineers who build these incredible tools, and not every engineer is going to know their product can solve problems they didn’t even think of, because they can’t and shouldn’t spend most of their time talking to potential customers.

This is another area where liberal arts majors can excel.

They can look at these two groups: the engineers they work with, and the prospective customers who might use it, and they can figure out how the two are best introduced. What context they should meet under. This should always be how it works. Now, there is the rare breed of people who can be an engineer and a great sales rep, but the vast majority of people have to focus on one thing to do it well.

So, how do liberal arts majors climb into the driver’s seat in the future? I see two fundamental pieces that have to be in place.

Two steps

First, the ability to learn about technology and code is relatively cheap, and you can do it after school, and on the weekends. I did this myself after starting my career as a content strategist for a literary PR company who built sites in WordPress, and it led to designing/building/selling a website to a local business. I decided that wasn’t for me, but there’s probably some liberal arts majors out there who can do it much more efficiently than I did.

The more you know about how these things work, the more opportunity you’ll have to work for these growing companies.

The next piece is helping the next great tech company pitch their product to customers. It’s knowing how to find a potential market for something, and not being afraid to go up to anyone anywhere just to say hi, and to find out what they do. You can’t always be selling, but you can always ask questions, and maybe down the road you can help someone solve a problem because you connected with someone else who does that exact thing they need. Guess what, you’re their hero now.

Symbiosis

The shift between tech and humanities is cyclical and we absolutely will always need each other. That’s the point of this article. We’re not constantly aware of how to work with the other, but we’re getting to a point where it’s absolutely true that non-tech people have a role in spreading the reach of useful technology to people who didn’t have access a decade ago.

Things like WordPress, social media, and smartphones have made it easy to tell people how you’re about to change the world. And the next phase of this cycle is mass adoption, education, and communication among the crowds who haven’t quite figured out how to use all these cool tools yet. Strap yourself in, and hug a tech person, or a liberal arts major.

#LiberalArts

Will Ruff is the author of “The Tomb of the Primal Dragon: A Novel” which is available for Preorder on Amazon now. You can follow him on @twitter for crass and meaningless commentary, or sign up for his email newsletter and he might spam you with free books occasionally.

The American Genius (AG) is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

Opinion Editorials

Who’s missing next to Zuckerberg as he testifies at the political circus?

(EDITORIAL) Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t testifying because of web privacy violations, this is all a political opportunity with a dash of regulatory salivation thrown in.

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Cambridge Analytica. The name of this company has become synonymous with a breach of your privacy. Several years ago, the company took advantage of a loophole that gave them access to 50 million Facebook users’ information. The story is convoluted, but the entire timeline is laid out here so you can see this is about more than just your privacy.

Today, Facebook has begun alerting users if their info was used by Cambridge Analytica to politically target them without their direct consent. But there is no recourse other than the sheer knowledge that your info was used. How novel.

Facebook Founder, Mark Zuckerberg has headed to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress about this situation, which we all know will turn into a dog and pony show filled with political bluster from both sides as they use their time to lecture and stump, and maybe ask a semi-informed question or two.

Why is Zuckerberg on the hot seat alone? Because they’re the biggest visible fish in the sea, so Facebook will be made an example of. Their entire business model is to make money off of your information, and they’ve been pretty open about that since day one.

But Zuck didn’t set the tone, Eric Schmidt at Google did. And social media platforms have followed suit ever since.

Think about it – you know that Facebook collects the data you insert into their walled garden, but Google manufactured your tv, all of your phones, Gmail accounts, and your home assistant, and it’s obvious what they’re doing with all of that data as it is mined and consolidated in a much less obvious way than Facebook. And it’s strange that Google hasn’t come up in any of these talks of collusion, given the depth of their data and lax requirements of advertisers.

That takes us to the overreactions of today – you know that all of you deleting your Facebook accounts aren’t really deleting anything other than your access, right? Facebook still retains the rights to your photos, posts, and past activity. Just as Schmidt noted above as it pertains to Google.

So your information was used to be advertised to. Nothing new to see here. In fact, it’s not even new that Facebook data could be used politically. Although Facebook seemed to turn the other way when this information was being used, they’re certainly no political virgins – Carol Davidsen, director of data integration and media analytics for Obama for America, said Sunday on Twitter of Facebook, “They came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”

So it’s not new that Facebook allows third parties to use your data. It’s also not new that the data is openly used for political targeting. So why is this call for Congressional hearings now that the toothpaste is so far out of the tube that it’s down the sink!?

Sadly, politics. Because this time it benefited someone that’s popular to hate. But the result will have nothing to do with politics at all.

People under 30 never lived a life with privacy and can tell you that they know it doesn’t exist – and if it’s gone, it’s still on a social media company’s servers somewhere. And if you take a quiz about what kind of bread you are, you know that your info is going to be used for something, because we all know that if you don’t pay for a product, YOU are the product (that’s an old line dating back eras). This is what politicians intend on legislating, good or bad.

Sure, Zuckerberg is the target of the hearings because of the Cambridge Analytica situation that benefited Trump instead of literally anyone else on the planet, but again, he’s flying solo because he’s the biggest fish in the social media sea.

And he should not be in the hot seat alone.

Jack Dorsey should be sitting next to him. Steve Huffman should be sitting next to him. Reid Hoffman should be sitting next to him. Eric Schmidt should be sitting right behind Sundar Pichai.

But it’s more than that. If Zuckerberg is on the hot seat, so should every company that ever uses your data without your direct consent or complete understanding. The politicians and talking heads are all dominating the airwaves right now screaming about privacy, and stomping around that it must be addressed (again, they’re over a decade late). So why not force the auto insurers that use your smartphone info, or health insurers that can use your smartphone activity to indicate your activity levels (and duh, insurability). Why not the fitness apps that report user locations to the public, accidentally unveiling secret military bases? Why not television manufacturers for using data above and beyond what cable knows (like app usage), selling that info to the highest bidders?

Try to tell me this is about privacy. It’s not. So let me tell you where this is going.

Zuckerberg’s flamboyant “let them eat cake” attitude is something the tech world is used to, but politicians are not. What’s at stake is the very nature of Facebook. What are they? How can politicians regulate them? How can they protect users based on the marginal information they kind of understand and kind of don’t?

The bottom line is that they’re asking if Facebook is a media company, a moniker they’ve brushed off for years. That’s where this is going. And they are a media company. Because they are, but are not legislated as one, politicians have set a trap for ol’ Zuck.

And he shouldn’t be alone testifying. He should have a litany of counterparts at various social media companies up there. But their first step is to pin him with being a media company so they can simply regulate the rest.

We’ve cheered on and red flagged both sides of the social media boom since before it began, but watching people not in tune with technology fumble over regulating it is simply bad for business.

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Opinion Editorials

How top performers work smarter, not harder

(EDITORIAL) People at the top of their game work less, but with more focus – learn how to replicate their good habits to get ahead.

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Practice, practice and more practice will get you to be more competent in what you do, but working smarter isn’t always about competency, at least in business. Productivity expert, Morten T. Hansen’s studies indicate that multitasking is detrimental to working smarter. But it’s only half of the problem.

Hansen discovered that the top performers did not try to do thousands of things at a time. He’s not the only one.

Earl Miller, an MIT neuroscientist outlines why humans cannot multitask. As he puts it, “our brains… delude us into thinking we can do more.” But this is an illusion. When we interrupt the creative process, it takes time to get refocused to be creative and innovative. It’s better to focus on one project for a set amount of time, take a break, then get started on another project.

Hansen also found in his research that the top performers focused on fewer goals. He recommends cutting everything in the day that isn’t producing value. As a small business owner, you have to look at which tasks bring in the most profit. This might mean that you outsource the bookkeeping that takes you hours or give up being on a committee at the Chamber of Commerce that is taking too much time away from your business.

Taking on less work will help you work smarter, but Hansen found that it goes hand-in-hand with obsessing over what you do have to do.

When you have fewer burning fires, you can dedicate your time to these tasks to create quality work. According to Hansen, this one thing took middle performers at the 50th percentile and put them into the 75th percentile. When someone is competent in writing reports, for example, and can focus their energy into that, the work is much better.

Top performers also take breaks to rest their brains. One of my favorite analogies is the one where a lumberjack is given a stack of wood that needs to be cut down. He starts with a sharp ax, but over time, as the ax gets dull it becomes harder to chop the wood. By taking a break and sharpening the ax, more gets accomplished with less effort.

Your brain is like that ax. It works great when you first get to work. You’re excited to get started. In a couple of hours, your brain needs a break. Go outside and take a walk. Get away from your desk. Do something different for 15 minutes. When you come back, you should feel like you have a second jolt of energy to take on tasks until you break for lunch. Science backs the need for breaks during the day.

By taking breaks, obsessing over what you have to do, and laser focusing on fewer goals, you’ll be outperforming your competitors (and even coworkers). Work smarter, not harder.

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Opinion Editorials

The real key to working smarter, not harder

(EDITORIAL) We’ve all heard that we should be working harder, not smarter, but how does one go about doing that aside from a bunch of apps?

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I know you’ve heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder,” but what does that mean exactly? How do you work smarter?

A new book by Morten T. Hansen attempts to answer the question. “Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More” was released at the end of January. Hansen found 7 different behaviors outside of education levels, age and number of hours worked. I’d like to take a look at a couple of the things he recommends. Read the book if you want to know more.

Let’s continue on by addressing the 10,000 Hour Theory of Expertise. Under this principle, it’s thought that if you spend 10,000 hours in deliberate practice of a skill, you’ll become world-class in any field. The Beatles are thought to have used this theory to become one of the greatest bands in history. But it’s not just about practicing until your fingers bleed or you can’t stay awake any longer, it’s really about pushing yourself in an area.

Although it has been argued that this theory doesn’t necessarily apply in business or professions, there’s something to be said about deliberate practice.

When it comes to working smarter, no, you don’t need to spend 10,000 hours in the workplace to get better at your job. But you can put some of the principles of the theory in action:

  • Pick a skill that you need to develop. There’s no way you can work on every skill at the same time. Just choose one to focus on for three months, or six months. Review your performance now. Have a benchmark of where you want to take that skill.
  • Carve out time to work on that skill. Spend 15 minutes a day doing something that helps you get better. You know the old joke? How do you get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice.” You’re going to have to find ways to practice.
  • Work on specific elements of a skill. Typically, the skills we want to improve involve a lot of smaller things. Take a good presentation. You need connect with people, have a good outline and learn to have diction and tons of other things. Work on one thing at a time. ?I used to have a real problem with looking at people when I was giving a presentation. For quite a few months, I made it a priority to be conscious of making eye contact. No matter who I was talking to, the cashier, a patron at the center where I volunteer and even my neighbors. It’s much easier now for me.
  • Get feedback. You may believe you’re making progress, but others may have a different vantage point. Find a couple of good mentors who can really evaluate your performance and offer constructive criticism.

Repeat until your skill-set grows.

To get better, you need challenge and practice. Believe me, you’re going to make some mistakes along the way. Get up, dust yourself off and keep practicing.

Competence in a particular area goes a long way toward working smarter.

But wait, there’s more – the discussion continues in part two of this series, keep reading!

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