CMO Mondays: Marketing in the Post-Capitalist Society

I spoke to a class of advertising and PR students at University of Texas last week. Below is the Slideshare of the presentation that I gave. This is an updated version of previous presentations I’ve given on my Reciprocity Theory and The Purpose Economy. I dive into foundational human behavior, technological revolutions, socio-economic evolutions of the last fifty years, and what this means for marketers.

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It’s Time to Seek Out Women Leaders

It’s time we seek out women leaders. I’ve worked for male led companies my whole career. While I have always connected with some mentors to coach and develop me, mostly the companies that I’ve worked for have been harsh and competitive environments. The women that succeeded in these environments had to be as cut throat – if not more – than the men, having to sacrifice their personal lives to get ahead at work.

My wife, Courtney, just went back to work after five years at home raising our kids. She joined StitchFix because there was just something different about that company. Founded and led by women. Purposeful about how they develop their people. They encourage their people to take time off and actually check out of work when they do. They encourage their people to not over work themselves and to spend time with their families. Many employees are working moms with impressively balanced lives. And, yet, it’s an incredibly healthy business that hasn’t gotten caught up in the media and capital-raising frenzy of Silicon Valley, even though it’s founded and headquartered there. This opened my eyes to what women led companies can accomplish.

I recently joined WP Engine, another women led company. 2/3 of our executive team are women, including the CEO, CFO, CMO and SVP of Customer Experience. The company is values driven and has won no less than 5 best places to work awards in the last 2 years. The people are incredibly collaborative. The business is also very heathy and growing rapidly. It’s an exciting place to be. And, it’s a testament to the values and culture that our Founder and CTO (a man) instilled in the business from the beginning and that our leadership team has embraced and built upon.

My eyes have opened up to the power of female leadership. We need more women to step up into leadership roles – even if they don’t believe they’re ready yet. Statistically, women tend to hold back from pursuing new roles until they feel they are qualified and have the experience the role needs, while men tend to pursue new roles despite not having the experience. So, we need more women to step up and take the leap of faith that they are capable. As men, we need to actively seek out and encourage more women to step up into leadership roles. I think our world, businesses, governments and families will be better for it.

I discovered this TED Talk from Halla Tómasdóttir about her journey running for president of Iceland. It touches on the struggles that women face in becoming leaders, but maintains an inspiring tone. My favorite quote from the talk and the video below. Take a look.

“What we see, we can be. So, screw fear and challenges. It matters that women run. It’s time for women to run for office – whether it be the office of the CEO or the office of the President.”

Writing Nostalgia

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As much as I’ve tried to go completely digital in my note-taking and creating To Do lists, I keep coming back to pen and paper. The process of writing things down just helps me absorb information and store it in my long-term memory.

Being a writer at heart, I’ve become a loyal Moleskine user. I’ve continually been impressed with their innovation in connecting the analog and digital world through their products, while maintaining a classic look and feel in their notebooks. But, this morning on Fred Wilson’s blog, I came across this wonderful project on Kickstarter to redesign the classic composition notebook using modern technology. This brings back so much nostalgia from grammar school all the way up to high school when I first started writing more purposefully. I couldn’t help myself and backed the project. Take a look. Maybe you’d like to support it too.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/comp/comp/widget/video.html

The Art of Asking Questions

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The single best indication of someone’s abilities, from CEO on down to the front line employee, is the quality of the questions that he or she asks.

The more experience I gain in life, the more I’m convinced that the above statement is true. Not only does the quality of questions a person asks reflect that person’s curiosity – a character trait that is immensely important in the business environment – but also, it reflects the person’s ability to think effectively, and influence both decision-making and action.

All too often, leaders are measured by the frequency with which they speak and their loudness in the room. This gets misinterpreted as having a “presence.” They’re interpreted as the smartest, fastest person in the room, and the company becomes reliant on his visionary and decision-making capabilities. And, it leads to a command and control culture that actually handicaps the speed with which the organization can move and innovate.

By contrast, leaders that listen first and ask poignant questions can quickly lead a team to a breakthrough insight and enroll the team into action around that insight. Indeed, while people might follow an order, they still want to, and will, come to their own conclusions. If this conclusion is out of alignment with the leader’s order, the leader will quickly find his directives silently questioned, challenged and usurped in the daily actions of the organization. Brilliant questions, on the other hand, are designed to lead a team to the same conclusion, and, ultimately, to aligned action around that conclusion.

Questions reflect a person’s ability to expand the context in which an organization operates and the possibilities that an organization creates. Questions reflect a leader’s ability to coach and guide her her team. Questions reflect what is important to a person. Questions say a lot about a person. So, chose your questions wisely.

Regulatory Tension of the Sharing Economy

airbnb-logo

Airbnb is in talks to settle a suit in which they sued New York City and New York state after Governor Cuomo signed a law that would impose fines on Airbnb hosts that break local housing regulations. According to a Bloomberg article, people that advertise vacant apartments in a multi-unit building for 30 days or less could be fined as much as $7,500 (for repeat offenders). People are still allowed to rent out a room in their house or apartment as long as they are also staying there.

The settlement of Airbnb’s suit concerns whether or not the company will be liable for fines incurred when users of its platform break local regulations. Airbnb claims that the new law seems to target its company and violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects Internet intermediaries (such as Airbnb) from being held liable for content published by its users on its platform.

My city of Austin, TX has seen similar regulatory tension this year. In February, the City Council imposed regulations to restrict short term rentals that are not owner-occupied, limiting Airbnb and Austin’s own darling, HomeAway, from operating in the city. In May, Uber and Lyft lost Proposition 1, which aimed to let the two TNCs (transportation network companies) self-regulate background checks for their drivers. In a fairly tight election, Austin citizens voted 56% against Prop 1 and 44% for it – leaving it to the city to run the background checks on drivers. Uber and Lyft left Austin’s city limits instead of complying with the new law.

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What we’re seeing is a natural tension between fast innovation in the private sector and slow evolution in the public sector. Regulators at city, state and federal levels are grappling with how to manage the changes brought forth from companies in the sharing economy. These companies are eliminating wasted capacity at a rapid rate, and that can have some positive and negative side effects. A frequent complaint around Airbnb and HomeAway is from neighbors of the apartments or homes that are being rented out – that the guests at these short-term rentals are disruptive. On the other hand, Austin saw a 12% drop in drunk driving crashes after Uber came into the city, and then saw a 7% spike in drunk driving incidents immediately after Uber and Lyft left the city.

Personally, I believe that the benefit derived from these companies outweighs the negative impacts. But, I do believe these companies need to strike a balance between entering a market and proving customer demand, and proactively engaging regulators to find a reasonable long-term regulatory framework for operating these new business.

Human Morals in Machines

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One of my co-authors, Laura Sawyer, shared the below TED Talk, “Machine intelligence makes human morals more important” by Zeynep Tufekci. Tufekci discusses both the precision of our machine learning algorithms, as well as how the unconscious biases of the programmers developing the algorithms are making their way into the algorithms. She explores these issues by giving us examples of how machine learning could affect the hiring (read: not hiring) of people that might struggle with depression or that are likely to become pregnant, how these algorithms use biases to decide who gets paroled, and how these algorithms decide who sees what content or ads.

Tufekci makes a strong case for the need for transparency and to audit our machine learning algorithms, as once those algorithms begin to learn on their own, they become a black box. We don’t know what they’re learning, how they’re making decisions, and what biases are present in making those decisions.

In our republic, we’ve set up checks and balances for decision-making with the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government. In our companies, we have checks and balances for decision-making with the structure of the executive team, board of directors, and investors. Our society’s decision-making has thrived because of thoughtful and rigorous debate. So, why couldn’t we hold our machines to the same standards?

My favorite quote from Tufekci talk is below. Enjoy the video.

“We cannot outsource our moral responsibilities to machines. Artificial intelligence does not give us a get out of ethics free card.”