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Op/Ed

How to spot an ethics problem in your family business

(OPINION) Will your family business be able to carry on your legacy, or fade away into a manipulated version of the original mission? The answer has everything to do with ethics.

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Private businesses are the backbone of the American Dream. Locally owned enterprises offer great alternatives for people who feel a little uneasy about handing over their hard-earned cash to faceless mega-corporations. The beneficial effect of small, privately owned businesses on their local economies is well known. Entrepreneurs lower wealth inequality in their communities, create opportunities for employment, and often become fixtures of the lives of their neighbors’ lives.

Yet, despite the myriad of ways that privately owned businesses can do good, family owned organizations can sometimes lose their way. Sometimes this is caused by the lack of structure and oversight that comes with a large corporation, and other times it comes from a lack of cohesion as different generations become involved with the business.

If you’re wondered whether your business family tree is creating a bit more shade than shelter, Nick Di Loreto and Rob Lachenauer of the Harvard Business Review have identified a few things that you can look out for:

1. Ensure that your family narrative is passed down.

Your business is more likely to stay true to its founding mission if all of its different generations understand why and how the business has faced challenges (and embraced opportunity) in the past.

2. Avoid “sterilizing” your brand by being too professional.

There’s nothing wrong with investing in your business as it scales, but try not to chase “professional” polish too far. If you are trying too hard to emulate the big guys, you might lose the authentic personality that has made you successful.

3. Remember that success is about more than money.

If the purpose of your family business is profit only, you’ll find the priorities of your organization shifting rapidly. If your family seeks to succeed only because they’d like to show off their new wealth or success to their neighbors—they’re actually setting the business up for failure.

It is critical to gauge whether you’re headed toward a sound legacy or a slow decline. Most suggestions will boil down to this crucial point: If you let outsiders determine what the optimal performance metrics are or success of your business is, you’re losing your ability to lead, develop an authentic brand, and focus on the priorities that can help your business thrive for generations to come.

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AprilJo Murphy is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. She is a writer, editor, and sometimes teacher based in Austin, TX who enjoys getting outdoors with her handsome dog, Roan.

Op/Ed

Sadly, the tiny home movement has morphed into an elitist badge of honor

(EDITORIAL) Prepare to roll your eyes all the way back into your head, because the latest tiny home project in Cali puts the movement even more out of reach of the average American.

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Though they probably didn’t intend the correlation at the time, whomever first said “Less is more” could have easily been referring to the tiny home movement in America.

We’ve cultivated a strange fascination with small things in grandiose settings, and the latest gimmick to grace the “tiny home” movement is no exception – it’s a 3D printed tiny home in California that’s merely 300 square feet in size and sells for $250,000 on land valued at over $5M.

The land in question serves as a refuge for tech giants who just want to get back to nature, albeit inside of a tiny air-conditioned property. They’re marketing the “Sleeping Pod” as an efficient place that runs exclusively on Tesla batteries (ooh), and it’s a final nail in the coffin of a movement that started as a means of efficiency and sustainability, now morphing into catering to the mega wealthy.

Bucking the city in favor of no light pollution and agricultural-themed living is understandable, and no one needs that kind of respite like the people this site attracts.

But, like… y’all know that tents are a thing, right?

We’re past the point of being wildly confused that someone would ever pay a premium to live in a significantly smaller house; in fact, millennials and their parents alike seem to idolize the notion — one that, absent its public allure, might still be viable as an affordable, sustainable, comfortable alternative to traditional living.

Unfortunately, it seems like you’ll need to own a social media service or three if you want a shot at America’s latest frugal fascination.

It’s worth pointing out that sustainable, cheap tiny housing does exist — just not here. In other areas of the world, 3D-printed homes made from recycled materials can be built for under $10,000 in less than a week, and sustainable sources of energy such as solar- and wind-based power (while not initially cheap to implement) are investments which easily pay for themselves once they’ve been installed.

In an ironic twist, the ability to afford significantly less room for the opportunity to experience minimalism at its dumbest is now one reserved only for the rich.

While the technology powering Monterey Peninsula’s Galini Sleeping Pod, dubbed the “sustainable airstream of our time” is inspiring, the elitist price tag attached to it is not.

The bottom line resides in common sense: sustainability shouldn’t be a privilege, and it shouldn’t be marketed as a luxury.

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Op/Ed

Instead of ‘leaning in,’ women leaders are opting to ‘lean out’

(EDITORIAL) Many women have tried to “lean in,” but as that sets many back, they’re opting to “lean out” and forge their own path.

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We’ve been reporting on how many of “truisms” about women in the workplace are actually myths. Women do ask for raises and try to negotiate – they just aren’t heard. Women do possess the qualities that our culture looks for in leaders – they simply aren’t seen as being “feminine” characteristics, and so are coded negatively.

One of the most pervasive of these gendered myths is the concept of “leaning in.” As famously defined by Sheryl Sandberg, the advice to “lean in” and volunteer for additional responsibilities at work implies that women aren’t already doing so. That’s false (and a harmful stereotype to perpetuate).

No matter the industry, women do lean in. The truth is they often aren’t given credit for it when they do.

It should come as no shock then that after “leaning in” and not receiving additional credit, better compensation, or increased recognition in their companies — many women and minorities are getting frustrated with trying to change a status quo that isn’t interested in changing. Instead they are opting to “lean out.”

They are simply leaving and creating opportunities elsewhere.

One example of someone opting to lean out is Allison Baum, recently profiled by Quartz. A VC professional, Baum tried leaning in at her company only to receive minimal appreciation. She attributes this lack of progress to the way that her corporation wasn’t set up to help women succeed.

The Guardian ran a shocking report last year about the negligence of many of society’s safety systems (like seat belts!) that failed. Literally. They failed to incorporate women’s bodies as part of their designs.

Eventually, Baum left and founded her own VC firm. Leaning out allowed her to not only create an opportunity for herself, but to in turn create more opportunities for women and other minorities in the tech field.

If you’re in a position of authority, or are in a position where you are thinking of how you can best build your company so that all your employees can succeed, let Baum’s story illustrate the restrictions of only thinking about business in a “traditional” fashion.

In order to encourage the diversity that you need to grow and thrive, the very fabric of your team or organization must be built with more than one image of success in mind.

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Op/Ed

A hugely dangerous challenge of the Internet of Things

(EDITORIAL) The Internet of Things is here, with all manner of soft AI voices and shiny Bluetooth bits. But how long can we count on it staying?

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LG Alexa internet of things

So, robot apocalypse. The Internet of Things machines have their cold metal fingers all up in our data, our houses, our sand dunes and/or porn.

And for what? What do they offer in exchange for this unprecedented invasion of our day to day lives?

Seamless, user-friendly automation to help with a thousand daily tasks, demonstrably improving our quality of life.

That’s… that’s actually a pretty good offer! Nice work, robots.

It comes with catches, and we’ve covered those, but Day One bumps and blunders are part of owning tech. They generally get engineered out.

What I want to talk about is Day 100, or 1000. Because the important word in “Internet of Things” isn’t “Internet.” We have the Internet. We can confidently expect the Internet to continue being a big deal.

But “things” is an important word. Things are distinct from tech. With tech, buying the thing and futzing with the thing are part of the fun, especially for practicing nerds like your narrator. Tech is new, and the excitement of a new game or a new phone can take the edge off, say, a server crash or a quick trip to tech support and back.

What about things? No early adopter aura in history will get a customer to ignore a fridge full of rotten food. Fridges need to work, period. So does your thermostat and your car. All those things are charter candidates for the full IoT overhaul, and they’re all capital T Things, not tech. They aren’t shiny toys people can live without for a week or four. They’re expected parts of daily life, things that need to work on Day 1, 100, and 1000.

Are companies preparing for that? Are the startups rising out of the blue-light-white-plastic Stuff Renaissance prepared to rebrand as global service providers, doing the hard, unglamorous, absolutely necessary work of digital maintenance?

Bigger question: are they prepared to guarantee security while they do so? Because anything with digitized bits needs patches and updates to function, and if it can download patches and updates, it can download things that are not patches and updates. No one wants to chase a botnet out of their microwave. Are the companies invested in always-on Things standing up and saying they’ll take responsibility for indefinitely securing and maintaining the infrastructure they intend to profit from?

Short answer, no. They’re not. Operations departments tend to be vanishingly small, painfully understaffed, spectacularly underpaid. Let’s be real,: we don’t prioritize stuff like that. We’re talking the digital equivalent of the guy who chases the raccoons out of your HVAC, and that sounds entirely too much like work.

Maintenance is not sexy.

But it’s absolutely necessary. It’s generally just the beginning of a thing. It gets the wheel rolling, and that’s not to be undersold.

But the IoT wheel is most definitely rolling. The issue is keeping it in motion, making it a wifi-level universal usage standard, not a 3DTV fad.

That won’t get done in a meeting. That gets done through long term adoption, and long term adoption will be about attracting, training, and retaining people willing to do the hard work of maintenance and customer support.

The Internet of Things wants to be a major step forward in the infrastructure of daily life. I am incredibly in favor of that. But daily life works because it’s the full time job of a whole lot of people to make sure it does so. So to Internet of Things companies, I say – pay them, treat them well, make your organization the best place in the industry for them, or be left behind by the people who do.

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