Business & Money
When I was in college, I completed a brand management internship at Johnson & Johnson. I worked within the baby products group. This was the first time that I became exposed to the fact that product development and marketing were integrated functions. It was astonishing how much research and planning went into the color of the box, the size of the text on packaging and how an open/closing system worked. Testing these things through focus groups and customer surveys was huge, then translating the findings into messaging and marketing activities.
With digital transformation, this becomes even more true. The lines between product and marketing continue to blur. One example I love is Dropbox. When you open a free account, you are encouraged to invite your friends. And this isn’t some random ploy to get users. Both the inviter and the invitee get free storage space within Dropbox, a clear mutual benefit. Here we have core feature of the user experience serving as an incredible marketing and growth tactic.
Facebook is another phenomenal example. Throughout the company’s lifetime, they’ve done very little paid user acquisition. The very use of the product constitutes all the marketing they’ll ever need.
As companies grow, it becomes harder and harder to maintain an effective interplay between product and marketing as functions become increasingly siloed. However, it serves those well that hold dear this symbiotic relationship.
With so much technological progress its easy to fall into the trap of thinking about problems far removed. Artificial intelligence is clear example that comes to mind. At the summit of the hype cycle, there’s a lot conversation about how machines might take over the world and how afraid we should be. The “paperclip maximizer” thought experiment is a great example of this. In this fictional scenario, a super intelligent machine is tasked with maximizing the number of paperclips in existence. While a seemingly harmless goal, the logic purports that, as the AI system continues to improve at an exponential rate, there would be an intelligence explosion of sorts wherein the system begins to self improve and constantly expand its paperclip acquisition capabilities. Over time, this system might get away from its human overlords and use all of the resources on planet earth towards solving its own narrow paperclip maximizing goals.
I find this kind of thinking to be stupid and quite frankly a waste of time. Clearly AI will have far-reaching implications in many areas of our lives, but we’re not anywhere close to artificial super intelligence. Just ask Siri a few questions and you’ll have an idea to where things stand at the present moment. Narrow AI systems are incredibly proficient within their areas of competence (think Facebook’s news feed, Netflix movie recommendations, IBM Watson’s Jeopardy performance, Google’s Alpha Go, etc), but we have a long way to go with more general systems.
What’s more, in the last 6 months, we have much more serious problems to deal with regarding technology and software. Forget about AI, what about human bad actors using software and technology for nefarious purposes. I’ll provide a few examples in case you missed them.
The most recent example is Uber with its “Greyball” software. Here the company used software to figure out who might be an undercover cop in cities where it was operating illegally. Whenever an undercover tried to summon a car, they would instead see fake cars on the map and be unable to secure a ride. As a result, the company could scale to new markets without interference from regulators and law enforcement.
Then we have Zenefits. This insurance tech startup wrote code that allowed employees to skirt the normal certification process for insurance brokers. Thus, the company could hire sales people rapidly who could, in turn, start peddling insurance products much faster than would otherwise be possible.
We can’t forget about Volkswagen. They used software to dance around emissions inspections. During testing, their diesel engines would automatically switch to “energy efficient mode” giving the impression that they were far more energy efficient than was actually the case. In this instance, there’s a real cost to society in terms of pollution and people that may suffer health complications as a byproduct.
With examples like these, it becomes clear that we need to focus more on the human beings operating in the realm of technology than the technology itself. Technology is a tool. How we choose to bear responsibility in the usage of these tools needs serious consideration.
I’ve largely been very lucky in my life. Despite being black, the number of times I’ve had to deal with overt discrimination have been fairly limited. Of course, the systemic problems and unconscious bias are always present, but those are par for the course.
I’m very sad to say that it is painfully obvious that this is not the case for women in the workplace. Following National Women’s Day this week, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Why is it that, in 2017, gender discrimination is still so pervasive? Susan Fowler’s experience at Uber is just one recent example in what seems like a constant deluge.
To our female community members, I’d love to hear from you on this. What has been your experience? If (more likely when) you’ve been a victim, how did you respond? Did you say something? How did your leaders respond? Perhaps most importantly, how did you stay motivated to show up and perform at a high level? From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like a catch 22. Say nothing and deal with it, or speak up and suffer retaliation, marginalization or worse yet have your words fall on deaf ears.
We’re failing our women and it’s disgraceful. While I’ve never been a preparator (not intentionally or to my knowledge at least), I feel ashamed to function as a part of a society where this is ok.
My Latest Discovery
Following on the thread above, I stumbled upon an incredible TED talk this week called “To raise brave girls, encourage adventure.” In case you can’t spare the 12.5 minutes, here’s the conclusion:
“Finally, when your girl is, let’s say, on her bike on the top of the steep hill that she insists she’s too scared to go down, guide her to access her bravery. Ultimately, maybe that hill really is too steep, but she’ll come to that conclusion through courage, not fear. Because this is not about the steep hill in front of her. This is about the life ahead of her and that she has the tools to handle and assess all the dangers that we cannot protect her from, all the challenges that we won’t be there to guide her through, everything that our girls here and around the world face in their future.”
Shouts to Tim Ferris for sharing this one in his “5 Bullet Fridays” email newsletter.
Question Of The Week
Huge favor to ask this week. Within your networks, are you close with any optometrists or ophthalmologists? Hoping to connect with professionals in this space and would be very appreciative for any introductions you can provide.
It’s A Wrap! Have a wonderful week everyone! ❤️️ ❤️️