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Opinion Editorials

Targeted advertising is a serious, potentially invasive change in how business works.

(EDITORIAL) People get ads for all sorts of crazy things based on gender and age, but are targeted ads not incredibly invasive?

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Not what I was expecting

You know something? When I sat down to write today, I did not expect to be talking about gametes.

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I certainly had no expectation of addressing other people’s gametes, and the complex sociocultural narratives associated therewith. Though come to think of it, I can’t imagine talking about my own would be any less weird, so let’s start there. I have no insight as to the appropriate position of my own sex cells in the great digital metanarrative we all live with daily, let alone those of 3.6 billion perfect strangers.

The present

What I think I may have insight into is the rapidly changing nature of privacy, and the much less rapidly changing expectation of privacy, between consumer and advertiser.
For those of us in the business of ideas, especially the business of business ideas, over the last decade concepts like consumer metrics and Big Data have been, like, catnip covered in chocolate with an espresso chaser.

We’ve digitized, mathematized and monetized people in ways science fiction writers would have called shenanigans on a generation ago.

It would almost have been harder not to. The defining characteristic of the last 30 years has been an onslaught of available information that would have made Johann Gutenberg choke on his lager.

On the whole, consumers have been on board with that.

The collection of vast amounts of data by various external agencies has become an accepted part of daily life. At best, we sigh happily as Google transfers our YouTube preferences from laptop to phone to smart TV. At worst, we sigh over our news vendor of choice and Jimmy Fallon does jokes about the NSA that evening, or an equally adorable if less well-remunerated commentator helps you keep your DVR from going all Orwell on you.

Then, because you’re a lady over 30, Instagram cheerily tells you to freeze your eggs.

Interesting fact: this was originally pitched as a “debunk” article. My boss is a mile smarter than me, has a fine-tuned BS detector (no idea how she puts up with my nonsense) and for her this didn’t cross any relevant line. It was just an ad for an objectionable product, something everybody lives with.

Wait, what?

I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m not sure at all, and I’m almost certain that’s the problem. The ad was over the line for the author. It wasn’t for my boss. It wasn’t for me either, and that’s what got my attention, because for incredibly obvious reasons I have no idea where that line is.

That’s a problem.

It’s a problem because it’s my job to know where that line is. It’s my job to think about this stuff, hard. Come to think of it, that’s probably why the aforementioned far more competent boss keeps me around: I invest serious brain time in informatics, predictive analysis, Big Data and lots of other lovely buzzwords. My thing is how ideas and people interact in the present business environment.

With all the expertise I’ve managed to acquire, I’m telling y’all – we haven’t done this.

We haven’t done anything like, anything that begins to aspire to be like, the legwork necessary to figuring out where the line is between predictive analytics and, you know, treating people as interchangeable numbers. Because that’s literally what that is. That’s what we’re doing, and a degree of it is absolutely necessary. Quantification of human behavior is behind power grids, potable water and WiFi.

We need those.

Going a further degree down that road, as with targeted ads and predictive matrices like credit scoring, may not be necessary, but it’s profitable, and I’ve got no beef with that either. But a degree beyond that is “hey, perfect stranger, I’d like to be involved in how you feel about your fertility cycle!” I don’t even have one of those, and my gut response is “&%$# yourself and everyone involved with you.”

That is an undesirable outcome, both from a business perspective and from the perspective of being a semi-decent human being.

We haven’t properly parsed how far apart the degrees are. On the whole, we haven’t even made a systematic effort to find out.

Do better

Maybe the article’s an overreaction. I’m not sure. I am sure telling someone “your offense over our approach is petty and irrelevant” is a fast path to no money.

If we’re interested in maintaining both profit and the ability to look in the mirror without gagging, it’s well past time we figured out just how well you need to know someone before telling them what to do with their cells.

#NoMoreInvasion

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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