Creepy vs. Caring

blackcatSusan’s keynote address at the recent EMACS conference capped off the two previous keynotes from Duke Power and Hyatt Hotels with examples of how to improve customer satisfaction, net promoter score, and of course increasingly engage customers in a productive relationship. Susan focused on Amazon and Kroger as she demonstrated their proven methods of appealing to and influencing customers about what they buy.

Her funny story about buying a book for close friend who was experiencing a nasty divorce and then having some of her staff viewing her screen as Amazon suggested other books about infidelity is funny on one level since everyone knows we are happily married, but shows the “creepy” side of this new and widespread digital tracking of our interests. She also talked about it being a bit creepy that Kroger sent her coupons for things she buys there all the time … and they know her buying preferences because we also participate in the Kroger Rewards program where we get discounts on many things plus cash back on our gasoline purchases.

This got me thinking. We have certainly heard customers express fears about “big brother” with smart meters. It is a bit creepy that our bill analysis can detect when you have been on vacation or when you have had added visitors staying in your home. How comfortable are we about our digital footprints we are leaving everywhere? Perhaps we have not done a good job of explaining the benefit of all this digital tracking to help customers understand and manage their lives?

As the proliferation of helpful electronics continues (iFit, the new Apple watch, etc.) we may see a backlash if we don’t clearly keep the benefits to the consumer in focus. Yes, there will always be nefarious individuals who can use this same information for devious and negative purposes. But, our lives are being made better, so onward we go.

Perhaps the key question here is who is the custodian of all this information? Perhaps we should be a bit more careful about letting others who might sell or use this information get between the utility and the customer. Google has made it clear that they have no loyalty to the utilities. Apple seems to be saying they will let nothing bad happen with all the data they are getting.

Do we have the same confidence in companies like Amazon? Read the book on Bezos called The Everything Store and judge for yourself. It is pretty scary. It is very creepy.

I Approve This Message

politicalAre you as tired as I am of the constant barrage of political attack ads? How are we ever going to get things done in the future if all we do is tear each other up along the way? Revenge is almost certain a result of this process. Consensus is far from likely. Dialogue gives way to dogma … never good.

Plus, think about the amount of money being spent here and how much better it could be spent doing some good in the world. Finally, why would anyone who is intelligent, with good values, and a desire to mend fences want to run for political office? It is certainly not a profession any longer and, given the approval ratings, we all know to be true, it seems that those in office are more interested in staying there than changing anything.

Term limits seems wise. Debates are fine. But, the blatant attack ads strike me as a contradiction in a society that prizes political correctness in every other dimension of life. Where are the PC police when it comes to politics? Seems they have turned a blind eye … doesn’t it?
I am Joel Gilbert and I am not, nor will I ever, run for any political office. And, I approved this message.

Kids Say the Darndest Things!

kidsPerhaps you are old enough to remember this show originally hosted by Art Linkletter and later by Bill Cosby. It was hilarious how kids see the world around us, and how differently. Well, I have one situation like that just came to mind I wanted to share.

As I have looked over my years of raising four daughters and now a son who is finishing high school, it struck me how entertaining their perspective can be when they apply what they know to situations they have not yet experienced and are indeed much more complex than they understand.

Raising our son Stephen has been an absolute joy, but balancing parenting against the stresses of running a business as a husband and wife team leaves few hours in the day that have not been committed. Today, this past Sunday, after playing a concert at one church, attending Sunday School at another and then the worship service and answering a bunch of emails. I turned to my wife Susan and said … I really don’t have anything I have to do this afternoon. Then, as I was sitting there eating lunch with her, I told her I had to recount the short story as follows.

I was traveling a lot in those early years. I would come home and Stephen would ask me to help with his homework, play duets on recorder, or go hiking with his Cub Scout group on the weekend. Sometimes I could participate, but sometime I would have to tell him I was too tired from the day or had too much work remaining to do that evening or before leaving town Sunday afternoon.

After having to turn down three or four of his invitations in a row, when I arrived home and started sharing how much I still had to do, Stephen seemed confident he knew what I should do. Applying what he had seen done at his school when students struggled, he suggested, “Dad, they need to put you in a slower group.”

There’s the answer … slower groups. Is that funny, or is that tragic?

Maybe we have gone too far. Back when I was in high school, there were two tracks: college bound and not. There were no exceptions to the college bound group. Either you made the grade or you didn’t. There were four-year comprehensive tests you had to pass … period.

When I was at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute during orientation, they told me to look to my left and right and that one of us was not going to make it. They were right. I did. It wasn’t easy. That is what gave me the training I needed to tackle some of the big problems I did.

Now we have T Ball where everyone runs the bases and no one strikes out. No wonder we are losing our status in the world. We have lowered expectations and adjusted the game down to the laziness of the masses. No wonder we won’t tackle the big problems any longer.

The Princess and the Pea 2.0

800px-edmund_dulac_-_princess_and_peaYou all remember this story from your childhood, right? The Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a little girl who proves she is a princess by having a fitful night unable to sleep because there was a pea under several layers of mattresses. The reason this story comes to mind is that we now have an elite group of people who are so sensitive to misinformation that logic no longer prevails. If you need proof of this, just check out why childhood diseases that we thought were eradicated long ago are returning. The reason is that an irrational fear over autism is causing some parents to avoid childhood vaccinations. The result is tragic.

The highest concentrations of this problem are in the wealthiest US suburbs. That is what prompted me to title this blog The Princess and the Pea to point out how sensitivity to silly things now makes us so fitful that we can no longer focus on what is truly important. Some people have gone off the deep end despite the counsel of medical professionals. It seems that the more the professionals weigh in, the more a sense of conspiracy theory sweeps these folks away with their delusions.

So, what are my latest, silly “peas under the mattress” issues we should ignore besides climate change? Oh, have you noticed that it’s no longer called global warming since the warming has stopped? (By the way, there have been virtually NO hurricanes in the Atlantic this year or last … but why should the media comment on that …) Here is my list in no specific order.

Political Correctness: We are now so polite that we no longer communicate effectively. We are so afraid of offending someone that we get all wound up around the axle with silly wastes of time. Yes, of course it may not sound quite right to call the Washington Redskins by that name. But, we have plenty of important things we need to talk about and they require straight talk. Get over it. Go watch Blazing Saddles if you want to see what we called entertainment just a few years ago.

Energy Efficiency: Sure, it may not make any economic sense to promote load reduction when loads are declining on their own if you only look at it only from a load, revenue, and rates perspective. However, if you look at it from a relational perspective, eliminating EE Programs threatens your hard-earned customer influence channels if you no longer promote customers using your product wisely. You can cut back incentives, but you certainly do not want to lose your opportunity to be of trusted influence to customers. Once customers see your EE efforts as nothing more than self-serving or only driven by regulatory pressures, they will not listen to you on other agendas where you need them engaged.

Silver Bullet Thinking: I just got back from the E Source Forum where I met a bunch of folks in new product development. Many of them use the “Stage Gate” process to sift and sort their ideas. Well, that may sound sophisticated, but let’s all just realize that nothing ever gets through this process. It is the perfect way to sound like you are using good business prudence while you systematically kill each and every idea your organization considers. Please substitute directionally correct incremental thinking for this big idea or no idea method. There are no big ideas with little to no risk. Big ideas carry big risks and require real guts and capital to pursue.

Well, that should get my point across. We are stuck in neutral, sweating the small issues and worrying about the optics. We need to boldly move ahead. Don’t fret over the peas, please.

Political Hand Waving

handwaiving_001Magicians generally rely on one principal for all of their tricks. They distract you with one hand that is moving so you don’t notice what is being done with the other hand that is relatively quiet. I also love the line from the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s dog pulls back a curtain and the man behind the Wizard of Oz is exposed. His phrase says it all: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” You can enjoy the scene here.

Perhaps you haven’t been keeping up with current events. You may not fully realize that we are at war once again. Really? Yes, really! But, now the politicians call this new style of war “no boots on the ground” so, maybe it isn’t really war. The news cycle now makes it more like a video game. All we see are pictures of targets in a cross hair that then disappear. Even the method of bombing seems so clinical: surgical. Somehow that seems so politically correct … as if we weren’t really at war. Just wait till some of our pilots are shot out of the sky like one the Israelis took a few weeks ago.

Yes, we are fighting a truly dangerous group of people. Yet, their gruesome tactics seem to be attracting converts to their cause all around the world, in part because of our news cycle. The more they get under our skin and we attack, and we then brag about how we are doing this or that, the more it seems their story becomes attractive to others. I think we really need to take a closer look. There are lots of terribly important questions here we are not asking. Is anyone else sickened by the recurring TV images of men in orange kneeling beside their executioner in the desert? Maybe we shouldn’t be giving them so much air time in our media? Maybe the news cycle itself is helping incite violence?

This reminds me all too much of the battle for cleanliness in hospitals. In the 1970s I served as Deputy Director of the Hospital Association of New York where I helped hospitals in the greater New York City area cope with a myriad of hospital operational problems ranging from staffing (RNs were getting very hard to find and others skills needed to pick up the slack), to scheduling (when do you admit certain patient types so you didn’t overload the staff on weekends or weekdays), to waste disposal. It was then that I learned that that the more we scrub and the tougher the chemicals we use to clean hospitals, the tougher the bugs become we are trying to kill. They mutate into forms that are immune to the methods we use. So, we make stronger chemicals and thereby create stronger bugs. This is, ironically, one of the many reasons we should not go to hospitals if we don’t have to … we expose ourselves to mutant ninja germs!

We talk of kinder and gentler ways to live in this world. Can we have a dialogue with those who have truly different points of view? Or, are we going to simply wave our arms in anger, attempt to control them with our technological prowess, only to watch them mutate and get stronger?

I want you to watch this terribly important news conference and notice how many are in attendance. Watch this right up to the end. There were more people presenting than listening in the audience!

What these men offered were serious comments to open a very serious dialogue. It is about time that leadership in Islam speaks out and condemns this. But, almost no one heard it. Am I the only one who is alarmed by this? It seems the news cycle would rather spend time commenting on whether the POTUS has a latte in his hand when he gets off Air Force One and salutes the marines.

Lots of hand waving going on … maybe all this hand waving is not what we should be watching at all.