JCL Blog

Heroes in a Complicated World


You see, its complicated.  We live in complicated times.  Even simple solutions like: use less oil, evoke a tangled web of implications and polarized constituencies.  As the mountain of data available to us grows exponentially, and the tools to analyze it repeatedly double in capability, the complexity we face only gets, well, more complicated.
In these complicated times, the value of the story teller is going up.  Boy do we need people who can weave together compelling narratives from the chaos of our world.
Last week I was lucky enough to meet a handful of storytelling heroes.  People who have dedicated their lives to sifting through the human experience to craft stories that grab us, convey understanding and compel us to do something.  These people are documentary film makers. Here are some great ones you should check out:
  • Chris Jordan went to the middle of the Pacific ocean to photograph the Pacific Gyre.  That island of floating garbage that we have all read about but have never seen.  It turns out we have not seen it because it defies the camera.  The waste is in small pieces, and spread widely enough that it cannot be seen by a person or a camera.  It can however be seen in the stomachs of sea birds dying on Midway island.  Check out the trailer for Chris Jordan's new project Midway.
  • Louie Psihoyos went to Japan to see dophins slaughtered and their mercury laden meat fed to school children.  His creation, The Cove, won an Academy Award and cut the dolphin death rate in half.
  • Chris Paine took on both Detroit and Washington with his 2 movie series: Who Killed the Electric Car and The Revenge of the Electric Car. Now he has created a web site to counter the spin about the environment in the media.  It is called CounterSpill and there you can see a living archive of 100 years of environmental events.
  • James Balog installed 31 cameras to capture the slow motion death of glaciers in "Chasing Ice".  He also has published an excellent string of books.
  • Peter Byck created Carbon Nation, the movie billed as "the climate change solutions movie that doesn't even care if you believe in climate change.
We live in a world where heroes are rare.  We have made Warren Buffet, Lloyd Blankfein and Mark Zuckerberg our heroes because we just don't know where to look for the real heroes.  The next time you find yourself frustrated by the state of things in the world, give some of your time or money to your favorite documentary film maker.  It will feel great and who knows what will come of it!


Facebook's Deal with the Devil

The Economist last week recalled a vivid description by Rolling Stone of Goldman Sachs:  "a great vampire squid" that likes to stick its "blood funnel" into anything that can make it money.  So given all of the advantages that Facebook has, why would a smart guy like Mark Zuckerberg subject himself to a bleeding by the many tentacled machine of Wall Street?  

Maybe Zuckerberg knows that there are bad guys in the world and bringing in the firm that is the best at aggressively pursuing its own self interest will equip Facebook to fend off the other bad guys.  In essence, a deal with the devil.  Who are the these bad guys?  One of Facebook's biggest shareholders is Digital Sky Technologies (DST), the firm of Alisher Usmanov, a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.  Even executives with ten times Zuckerberg's experience would be worried when considering how to control DST.  With Goldman at the table could the dynamics of the relationship between Zuck and the Russians be improved?

If that is not enough incentive, there could be a bigger one right here in the USA.  Goldman Sachs may be good at the things it talks about on its web site, but they really shine when it comes to manipulating our government.  And Facebook needs all the help they can get controlling the US government. Twitter disclosed last week that the government had requested access to data on Julian Assange and people associated with him.  To Twitter's credit they chose to disclose this request to the public.  We can be sure that similar letters were sent to Facebook, Google, and other service providers.  But we did not hear a word about those.

It is a little spooky thinking about government agencies combing through Facebook data, but we can be pretty sure that Facebook's nearly 600 million users, their relationships with other users, and all of the interactions between them must be irresistible to our many law enforcement and counter terrorism groups.   I know that if I had to figure out how to deal with the FBI or CIA, not to mention the SEC,  having Goldman's muscle to back me up would be quite welcome.  

Could Blackwater or Halliburton be next?


Ten Secrets to Keep From Google or Facebook

I am a big believer in Transparency.  So big in fact, that we have developed our own definition at CSG:  "We tell the other party everything we would want to know if we were them."  The other party we refer to could be employees, customers, partners, and vendors.  There are some people however that don't gain admittance to the "other party" group.  Certainly competitors would not obtain this status.  In fact, we are quite careful not to expose information about our company to competitors.

Both Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt have declared that the only people not interested in transparency are those with some bad behavior to hide.   This is preposterous.  Here are the first 10 things I can think of that I would not want Facebook or Google to know about me with the reasons:

  1. Anything that would aid someone trying to steal my identity:  Surely the Social Security number is top on this list, but also credit card numbers, passport number, date and place of birth, mothers maiden name, drivers license number, bank account numbers.  Identity theft is big business and very harmful to its victims.  I think anything on my business card is fair game.
  2. Anything that would aid other criminal behavior with me as the victim:  The number one thing here is location.  There is a very real threat of burglary and even peaserobme.com has stopped contributing to the problem.  In many countries kidnapping is a threat.  So I don't want Google or Facebook to know where I am, what I am doing, my travel dates, or information about assets people may want to steal (VIN number on my car...).
  3. Anything that would aid criminal behavior with my friends as victims:  Location is big here too.  If I indicate my location and who I am with -- I also indicate their location.  Being male and 200 pounds, I really don't worry that much about being attacked.  But in most parts of our country it is not advisable for a female to walk to her car alone at night.  I would not want to do anything that would broadcast such a walk to persons with criminal intentions.  Many tech savvy women around the world do not participate in location based services in real time -- for this very reason.  (they make a habit of checking in on FourSquare well after they have already left)
  4. Anything I don't Want the Government to Know:  Our country was built on a deep suspicion of the government and a belief in the right to privacy.  I do not have to have illegal or immoral intent to want privacy from my government.
  5. Anything about sensitive business relationships:  Managing relationships is hard work and there are many opportunities for misunderstandings.  I would not want my performance reviews, my salary, or the terms and conditions of other business dealings I have with my employer shared on the internet.  Facebook hires people from Google every day -- but is not posting on Facebook who they are pursuing or what they are offering to pay. 
  6. Future business deals:  In business we often engage in conversations about potential future relationships.  When interviewing candidates for a job, we talk to more than one person.  When hiring a new vendor, we talk to more than one.  When engaging with partners or pursuing new customers we are constantly in conversations in parallel.  The content of those conversations, or even who the parties are, should not be shared with Facebook or Google.  There is nothing unethical about interviewing for a job or requesting a salary of a certain amount.  
  7. Intellectual Property or Business Know How:  Google does not share its page ranking algorithm, or the innovations it has developed in running large datacenters.  Facebook does not share how it extracts from the Facebook stream the information it sells to advertisers. 
  8. My Deepest Fears:  If I wake up in the middle of the night with a pain in my abdomen and I start doing searches about cancer -- I don't want Google or Facebook to know.  Particularly when in the morning it turns out to be indigestion.
  9. My Biggest Conflicts:  If I get sideways with my best friend or my spouse, I want time to work it out before the whole world knows.
  10. My Dreams: Talking pie in the sky with my friends is great fun.  Is there something evil in wanting to keep my dreams close to my vest?  I may want to climb Mt. Everest, bring education to Afghanistan, or start a company that makes a nickel every time someone clicks on something, and not wanting to broadcast it indicates nothing unsavory.

There are many people who proclaim that the march to transparency is inevitable and that we should not resist.  Some even proclaim to live their own lives in public.  I suspect neither those people, or Eric Schmidt, or Mark Zuckerberg would have a very different list than this.