Week 229 in Detroit.
This week I heard repeated comments about 2020. “2020 cannot get any worse.” “What’s next?” “I don’t want to say anything else and tempt fate.” The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to understand it. It has the potential to become like small talk — the weather — and mask the significance of what’s happening all around us.
As you know, I always try to share thoughts, articles or topics that struck me throughout the week. When I started the Saturday Cup of Joe, it focused on being new to Detroit, new to my company and new to fintech innovation. Throughout the 229 weeks, I have tried to think of new ways to think about the world, tackle leadership challenges, ask better questions, and innovate in meaningful ways.
I’ve gotten comfortable being wrong or being perceived to be wrong. Asking questions or trying and failing on new ideas is one of the best ways to be wrong (or be perceived to be wrong). Not all my writing is well-polished, I do my best given my schedule but often the Saturday Cup of Joe includes typos and the ideas can fall short of my ideal.
Not sure today’s post is any different but I’m excited, once again, to share what I’ve read, considered and debated over the past week.
Thank you for reading and I hope this is interesting, thought-provoking and worthy of your time.
A few weeks ago I wrote about an article on CIO.com from Damon Carter, SVP and CHRO at CATIC in Rocky Hill, CT. Damon is writing a series of articles on how technology companies can address systemic racism and diversity & inclusion in our businesses. CIO.com published part 2 and it cuts to the core of the immediate, tangible steps to create a culture where leadership promotes inclusion and value.
For instance, tech leaders must be proactive in learning and educating themselves FIRST when trying to combat systemic racism in the workplace. From unconscious bias to code switching and racial gaslighting, “becoming well informed about the unique experiences of Black talent will enable leaders to sincerely demonstrate awareness of the various struggles people of color encounter in the workplace.”
One of the critical steps for any leader and organization is acknowledgement. Engaging and listening is the only way to true understanding. Damon highlighted one of the most important parts of the understanding process — creating opportunities to share the learning. Of course, authentic change in the organization will only come when the leader engages, listens and understands; however it will not cascade throughout the company until leaders create opportunities to spread the understanding to others across all teams.
Here’s something I’ve never given any thought — the population density of what is now the United States of America in 1492. Luckily for me, someone has created a map.
What is Right versus what is right?
I’ve been working out a few issues this week. Haven’t we all? Since we’ve volunteered for this role — reader of the Saturday Cup of Joe — I’ll assume it’s ok if I play this out in real time. The primary issue that has been in my mind has been the indictment, and lack thereof, in the killing of Breonna Taylor. I wrote several weeks ago — what would your child have to do where you’d understand the police officer should have killed them? This week was much more about the legal system and legal process than public safety. The only thing I can do without writing another 10,000 words is try to frame this up from my perspective, ask good questions and hope that it makes me (all of us?) think.
There’s justice and then, there’s the other side of justice. In other words, there’s right and then there’s right. According to the existing system, it is right to follow the criminal justice system and bring police officers involved in a fatal shooting of a woman asleep in a private residence under investigation. It is right to follow the process which includes a grand jury. No one is questioning the authority of a grand jury. What people are questioning is: What is right here?
It’s too easy to say nothing.
It’s too easy to label some people naïve and label others cynical.
What is difficult with these facts, this case, in this moment, is how we actually utilize the system.
We need the community to hear the case and determine whether the community will stand for the action. It’s not perfect, I know. Juries don’t make law. But it’s the way we determine these things and this one deserves a public, on the record, determination.
A hearing, in a public courtroom, on the record, where a jury (admittedly, the unenviable position of a jury of Louisvillians) must determine the guilt of these officers.
I don’t disagree that it would be fraught with controversy. But again, there’s right and there’s right. We need the opportunity to hear, to consider, to debate and yes, to argue. That process, that part of the process, is not insignificant.
Too often we label that process unsavory and discount the value of working through the process together — even if we ultimately disagree. It has value.
Unfortunately it appears that will not happen because, well, process. These are not easy cases. Existing law, history, bias and bad policy converge on human nature in a moment of horror. For some people, instead, to quickly and easily determine that this killing, a killing this controversial, is appropriate removes the necessary and important opportunity for the community to wrestle with its choices and its future.
To confound matters even further, in my own mind, is the additional layer that I’m adding to the situation.
The Second Amendment.
Look out! I know. He’s going there. Oh my goodness. I’m nervous already.
In order for me to “answer well,” I need to consider this.
My understanding and interpretation of the Second Amendment (keeping in mind that it holds no authority outside the Saturday Cup of Joe) is that it protects gun ownership so that government agents cannot overpower or overwhelm the citizenry, specifically a well-regulated militia.
Plain clothes government agents — federal, state or local — crashing through the front door of a private home unannounced and firing on private citizens is exactly the type of intrusion the Bill of Rights was meant to oppose.
In fact, when government agent storms the house, unannounced, we actually have the second AND fourth amendments to protect us. Somewhere along the line, we’ve determined that no-knock warrants and plain clothes government agents are actually acceptable under the 4th Amendment — the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects…and no Warrants shale issue, but upon probable cause…describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Again, beyond the originalist text, but that’s what courts have determined is necessary given the complex and evolving society in which we live. The 4th Amendment has been interpreted to adapt to the war on drugs, modern technology and public safety concerns, while the 2nd Amendment has not. Law & order!
Yet, if government agents storm private property, unannounced, without proper government identification, and an American citizen exercises the Second Amendment right — as part of a well-regulated militia, the right of the people to keep and bear arms…shall not be infringed — it is that exact action that leads to a shooting and a killing. Regardless of who shot first, the point is two equal and opposing Amendments faced off.
How do you feel about that? How should the community feel about that?
My point is not to use Breonna Taylor’s death in a litigation of the Second Amendment. My point is to challenge how clear and how strong each of us feel in our beliefs on Breonna Taylor’s death, police brutality in our communities and the standards we apply to the law and the different Amendments. Ideally to think about what would happen if…armed, plain clothes agents stormed your living room or your family member’s house or your daughter’s…and what if it was by accident?
One of the most frequent emails I receive is some version of the following — “Congratulations on your amazing success. Artificial intelligence is THE life-altering technology of our time and we KNOW that our amazing data scientists have discovered insights that will help your amazing business remain the amazing place it is today.”
Artificial intelligence is the new blockchain.
The difference is that a.i. is easier to hid “in a machine learning platform” or “behind a proprietary algorithm.” Blockchain was, for a minute, a solution looking for a problem. Artificial intelligence is capable of being applied to almost everything without a clear message as to why. During the Rocket Mortgage Classic this Summer, I saw a commercial from Callaway talking about their new irons (golf clubs) designed with artificial intelligence. Ummm?
Despite the overuse, data science powering artificial intelligence is much more applicable to our businesses than blockchain.
A.I. raises 3 immediate observations.
1. This is just the beginning. We’re going to be talking about artificial intelligence and algorithms for the next several years.
2. Insights and innovation. The reality is data science can provide novel insights and inform business processes, marketing and conversion.
3. Potential for harm. New technology can be misunderstood and misused. A.I. is powerful and must be evaluated and deployed responsibility.
It’s ok to be skeptical of A.I. but not at the expense of how it can benefit our customers, our teams and our businesses.
6 ideas to define (or not) the next 6 months. Your thoughts?
1. There is no new normal, prepare for new strange. I prefer the mindset — there is no normal — but to each his own. My reaction to the new strange is good. It’s an opportunity. Uncertainty is a threat to some but if you can balance awareness with the proper reaction, it represents the chance to change your team, your life, your world.
2. The future of work has changed forever. Yes. I think that’s true but we’ve probably not yet understood how. Safe to say it’s changing but unclear exactly where and how. My biggest surprise of the last 6 months has been how much the “distance” from travel and office reframed my work priorities. Looking forward to seeing everyone in person at some point but definitely using a new framework to measure the importance of travel to return on investment.
3. Build your screen skills. Eh. I guess, but the focus should be on the message, the work, the results. I don’t disagree that the skills cited by the author — generosity, empathy and energy — are important but this doesn’t seem like a critical lesson for the next 6 months.
4. Plan your career as if you were a company of one. I thought this was the author’s most interesting observation. In some ways, many people have been trying to create the you are a company niche — much of it in that annoying, high intensity entrepreneurial culture. Nevertheless, many of the most dynamic, market-based industries like real estate and entertainment are based on an everything-as-a-service model. Engage by the work or goal not by the salaried commitment.
The reason I think this one is most interesting is the fantasy versus reality. Most people fantasize about working on the work they value and getting paid what they make now or more to do higher level and more dynamic work. The reality is that salaries and commitments to companies are safe and reliable. Removing uncertainty has a cost — either monetary or emotional. Will COVID-19 quarantines and work-from-home policies change how a large segment of the economy approaches work? I don’t know but it’s just the kinda question I love to think about all weekend!
5. For many of us all we need is less. Confirmed. I think there is a hidden benefit or blessing that we’ll all reflect fondly on (when we’re right back to the rat race, probably) about how simple it was when we had fewer options. The clarity of the message, for many Americans, keep working as you normally would just from a laptop in your house instead of a desk in your office. Juxtaposed that picture with the hardest hit segment of the economy — hospitality, travel and local businesses — where clarity was not the problem. The clarity was devastating. No customers for the foreseeable future.
I recognize it did not feel like clarity in many states where industry classification or certain policies (yes, like masks) seem to confuse people but the clarity was — this is happening. A response is required. That clarity simplified the day for many people. How am I going to get food? How am I going to get toilet paper (remember that day)?
I think in the end many people were left realizing that fewer options, less spending has some benefits. None of us want to celebrate those hurt by less spending but it is true the social distancing caused everyone to rethink what we “need.”
6. Build a case for the opposite. Think/Feel/See different. I think this is a component of what I call — answer well. Of course, I’m always advocating for thinking about a problem in a new and different way. When I say “answer well,” it includes bringing an open mind and a challenging mindset to every question. Many people interpret this to mean “big questions” or “big challenges” but for me answer well means even if you only have a minute to decide or five minutes or 5 months, dedicate the attention and give the question your full, best answer under the circumstances. “Build a case for the opposite” is a great way to make sure you answer well.
Goal for next week — watch /the social dilemma_ on Netflix. It’s now been recommended several times. More on that next Saturday Cup of Joe.
Quote: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” — John F. Kennedy, by way of Damon Carter. Thank you!
Bonus Content: The Life and Death of Yahoo! in 11 minutes. The video is called Company Forensics and I thought it was valuable for thinking about growth, managing tech expectations and difference between industry popularity and consumer popularity.
Continued success and continue to answer well,