Category: Business


Incentivizing Ethical Technologies

How can we incentivize technology innovations that nurture deeper human relationships? Increasingly I wonder if it is possible to do this with marketing technologies. The marketing technologies that scale and make money seem more and more to push the ethical boundaries of privacy and manipulation. For example, ultrasonic tracking.

Ideally, people would resist such infringements by 1) not using unethical technologies and 2) not purchasing from companies that employ unethical technologies and 3) expressing concern to politicians who could seek regulatory action against such technologies and the companies that use them. Of course, this would require A) transparency and B) willingness of people to act on what they feel is unethical and C) willingness of technology companies and their clients, as well as regulators, to respond to the concerns of people. I would not recommend holding your breath for this to happen.

While I am personally doubtful there will be near-term change in unethical marketing technologies, I do suspect there could be a significant backlash in the next 5-10 years. Sooner? Longer? But I do think a backlash will eventually take place. Here’s why. The feedback cycles inevitably will lead to overshoot. That’s when something keeps going on beyond the time when it can sustain itself. I think we are close to overshoot right now when it comes to marketing technologies. Many have already crossed the boundaries of ethical use. The feedback loop (negative reactions) just have not yet caught up. Eventually they will.


New Adventure

Last month on the Rabbit Room, I wrote about vulnerability. About myself, I observed, “Over the years I’ve learned to tuck away emotions like hurt and sadness behind calculated reactions to injustice and disappointment.” The time since that post has been split evenly between ending a job of 8 years and beginning a company, now 3 weeks old. There has been ample opportunity since March to experience vulnerability and its corresponding emotions.

My new venture SMPLFR (pronounced “Simplifier”) has two objectives. I am building a consulting practice focused on content strategy. Every single word has the power to change the world. Unfortunately, many writers are producing far too much change. There is no shortage of content. SMPLFR helps organizations simplify messaging and the execution of content strategy. In a world of excess, less becomes an advantage.

SMPLFR also is a product company. I am using it as a platform to write my next book: working title, Simplify the Middle. My first book focused on individual change. What can you and I do to embrace simplicity? This new book will emphasize systems change. How do you and I (and institutions) simplify the way things are done? Beyond the book, I have dreams for the SMPLFR product platform, starting with a simplicity lab. Exactly what that looks like and who is involved… more to come.

There have been so many encouraging moments in the past few weeks. Kind words of affirmation. Entrepreneurial adrenaline. Outlets for creativity. But there have been discouragements, too. A 3-week-old company lacks security. The “let’s get going” activator in me is being sorely tested by the virtue of patience any entrepreneur must nurture. In the past I have started companies with others; I miss having business partners.

I have been reading Andy Crouch’s new book Strong and Weak while spinning up SMPLFR. It is a godsend. Perfect timing for my dual journeys in vulnerability and entrepreneurialism. The mission I have given to SMPLFR is to amplify human flourishing. Then I came across this line in Andy’s book. “Leadership begins the moment you are more concerned about others’ flourishing than you are about your own.” A terrifying and invigorating summation of all that I desire my life and SMPLFR to be.


Simplicity and Human-Centered Business

Businesses actually caring about people is not new. People always have been human and so, even as some business owners past and present have treated employees inhumanely, there always were and still are and ever will be businesses run by executives who treat employees with dignity. Simplicity can help.

For example, in the creative industry there is a product full of simplicity that helps tame the complexities of projects large and small. Basecamp. You might have know the company as 37Signals before its recent name change. You might know, too, that the company has something like a cult following among its users. Personally, I would like to resist the label of cult follower, though I could hardly be more of a fan. Using Basecamp is a pleasure. A human-centered pleasure.

With the launch of Basecamp 3, Jason Fried and his team are exploring a way to make the corporate grind even more human. Work Can Wait. In the always-on noise of cyber modernity, this feature allows employees to shut off notifications for certain periods of time, like weekends or after hours.

Now, I have been a business owner and felt the pull of a 24-7 workweek. And in the past eight years at my current job, it has been the rare evening or weekend when I have not checked the status of a project or at minimum scanned emails. I am of the opinion that work is one of the most human things we can do Yet, stepping away from work and being present with family and friends and community is equally human.

What does all this have to do with simplicity? Users of Basecamp will know that it is a beautifully simple product. I do not have enough experience to know if SpaceX could use Basecamp to launch and land rockets; highly complex projects probably require different, less simple project management software. Behind the ethos of Basecamp, though, is the belief that complexity does not need to be tamed with complexity. There is a commitment to the power of simplicity baked right into the software user interface. And, it seems to me, the new Work Can Wait feature extends that commitment beyond UX. The feature makes the case that not only are complex challenges not solved by more complexity, but complexity is not overcome by constancy. As humans, we bring our non-omnipresent and non-omniscient selves to all that we do at work. The way that we are built, we need to step away from time to time.

Honestly, I am not sure I could use the Work Can Wait feature in the new Basecamp. Perhaps habit and the demands of the always-on world around me would win out. But I appreciate the idea. And it seems genuinely human-centered.