For decades, the business world has embraced worker empowerment. But recently a countermovement—workforce optimization—has been on the rise. It treats labor as a commodity and seeks to cut it to a minimum by using automation and artificial intelligence, tightly controlling how people do their jobs, and replacing employees with contractors. This approach is especially prevalent in the tech sector and the gig economy. And it is cause for deep concern.
”I thought back to the day I decided to go to law school. It was a warm spring day. May 4, 1970. I was a freshman at Oberlin College. A few days earlier, President Richard Nixon had expanded the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia. Antiwar college protests erupted throughout the country.
About 1 p.m. in the afternoon, the news hit us in the gut as we huddled around TVs and radios on our sheltered college campus. In just 12 seconds, the Ohio National Guard fired over 60 shots at student protesters at nearby Kent State University. Nine students were wounded, one of them paralyzed for life; and four students — Allison Krause, Jeff Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and Bill Schroeder — were killed.
Bill Schroeder was an ROTC student watching the protest; he was shot in the back. Sandy Scheuer was walking to class. I didn’t know them, but I’ve never forgotten their names.”
That quote comes from an article that my friend, colleague and ‘he that keeps me on the straight and narrow’ … Stuart Robbins just shared with me.
My father fought for the British Army in the second world war. If you are 75 or under, you were not on planet earth during that war and as a result, the impact it had on that generation is being lost – if not forgotten.
The Vietnam war is much more recent, but still, is – like WWII being lost into history, so when I read first hand experiences, especially something as personal as the words Lee wrote, I like to stop and reflect for a moment.
And who is Lee Fisher?
”Lee Fisher is dean of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. He is the former Ohio attorney general, lieutenant governor, director of the Ohio Department of Development, chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, president and CEO of the Center for Families and Children, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, state representative and state senator.
But there’s more. He recently came on to the People First Podcast and talked with Stuart about Law – and, IMHO, more importantly Leadership in Law. If you don’t want to jump off to another site, you can listen to it right here …
I often find that knowing a little more about people, their history and what shaped them, helps me understand the context of who they are today and what they are saying. Lee is no exception. In fact I think it is possible to draw a straight line from the experience he described in that quote above to his life’s work. I hope you agree.
It used to be that we lived in private and chose to make parts of our lives public. Now that is being turned on its head. We live in public, like the movie says (except via micro-signals not 24–7 video self-surveillance), and choose what parts of our lives to keep private.
People … Process and THEN Technology … but as usual the world at large is ignoring the advice – and jumping straight into an app without much thought … let me explain.
If you are a celeb – you can get in.
If you are one of the masses … we have a wait line for you … once you have downloaded our app and given us your telephone number … curiously out of the box it asks you to confirm the phone number you want it to use … so it has already read the data on my phone – without my permission – even before I have been accepted.
It is iPhone only for now. (They know where the money is).
The site itself tells you nothing – but others have explored and looked and opined. (Links at the end.)
But What About Privacy?
One thing the site could have done would be to talk about their privacy policies, where the data is, why they have it (because they don’t seem to ask for it) and why they need it. Not to mention how they intend to handle things like harassment. But like all good ‘bro software’ – we’ll sort that out later ….
Nothing on the site reveals much about what people should be concerned about, only what they are concerned about … access to celebrities!
Diving further down …
“Recording any conversation is strictly forbidden, meaning your encounters with VIP members or general conversations are protected.”
… how do they manage that? They don’t. Nothing stops me audio recording a conversation … if I can hear it … I can record it. (By the way – I am sure that they record it. Are they? The prohibition stated applies to us – not them. And I assume that if they aren’t now – they will be using AI to scan the voices to ‘learn more about us’ in the future.
Also – any idea if your contacts are safe? Or are they going to be mined aswell? (In fairness – I just checked my phone – they aren’t even listed on the ‘approved apps’ – but then again, I’m not in yet.
But here is the truly insidious thing. Let’s say you have no interest in Clubhouse. That said you aren’t a hermit. You are ‘connected’. You have to be. The people that are inviting you to join Clubhouse know that you are connected and in their minds should be there. And that’s just the ones you know about.
The fact is that if you are in the contact book of anybody that has joined Clubhouse … it’s a safe bet to assume (like it or not) that your information is already in the ‘Clubhouse Social Graph. And if you know anyone who is inviting people – your data has definitely been uploaded.
Watch the articles start to appear in the mainstream press as Clubhouse starts to grow. Watch people throw their hands into the air and ask ‘who knew this was happening’ … who gave Clubhouse permission. I don’t need to wait.
The answer is you – assuming you joined and invited people.
The sad thing is that all of this (and I am writing this as Clubhouse numbers are sitting around 1 million) is so clear to anybody who pays attention or even stops to think for two minutes before clicking away on buttons ‘confirming their agreement’)
This play is designed to operate around ‘ignorance’, at worst and at best – ‘who cares – I don’t mind – I have nothing to hide’.
You might not, but Clubhouse and similar actors also don’t care about you (sorry). The point is that they have no interest at all in the ‘nodes’ on the graph – they are focussed on the connections and you dear clubhouse member are feeding the beast … but not just with your information …mine aswell.
… how hard would it be for Apple ( if they do it – others will follow – after they stop laughing ) to offer two contact/address books. Only you know which is real and which is a dummy. In the dummy, you keep a couple of contacts and it is that which you upload when asked by corporations like Clubhouse.
Of course – Clubhouse will then demand a minimum of (say) ‘100 contacts’, and then a market will spring up – £5 for 100 dummy contacts. $10 if you want to include names like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Andreesen, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth – you know the people that cause these problems to begin with, you can!
How will we evaluate complaints of abuse or harassment when we don’t record user conversations?
Clubhouse Post (and the only reference to ‘harassment in the entire post)
But It’s Already Valued At $100 Million!
Of course it is. Andreesen Horowitz dropped a cool $10 million into their bank – and if they got 10% of the company for that deposit – then the company is valued at $100Million … The ‘V’in ‘VC’ stands for ‘Voodoo’.
But still – nothing as to how they recoup that investment.
So How Do They Make Money?
I lie. Lots of ideas …
They will upload all your contacts to their servers.
They aren’t recording – but they say nothing about scraping the conversation running it through AI and building a profile of you – after all – they know who you are – what you are saying – which groups you are in …. (and if don’t think they can dynamically and in real-time scrape and transform your spoken words into text – then clearly you have not seen Descript.
Of course – I have no idea if all this is happening, could happen, would happen – but just three months ago – Facebookers were up in arms after watching ‘The Social Dilemma’ and now here we go again – flocking like lemmings to become the latest product for Silicon Valley tech bros to use.
Various people have said different versions of these words in the past – I like the one from Rounders … that talks about if you cant spot the mark – you are the mark.
Maybe I’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time …. but if I am – can someone tell me how they make money?
(I have ignored all the puff stuff from March and simply linking to December / January stuff – now that the honeymoon is over.)
Vanity Fair – The Murky World of Moderation on Clubhouse.
spoiler alert – what moderation?
Vogue – Everything You Need to Know About Clubhouse, the App Celebrities Are Flocking To.
spoiler alert – that ‘celebrity access’ is both a clue and the key.
Bloomberg – Private Social App Clubhouse Courts Fresh Controversy
No, I don’t know everything about what this app is setting out to do.
When that blog post came out, there were only two full time members of the team – the two founders. One is ex Pinterest. The other is ex Google. So nothing to worry about there. Right?
To my mind their ‘Field of Dreams’ approach – ‘Build it and they will come’ is working for them … but at what cost to the people that join in. I’ve requested access – and sitting quietly waiting to hear back from someone. I am not going to push for access – I am just interested to see how long it actually takes.
Once in – I will be able to say more, but my initial thoughts are very much of a ‘wait – haven’t we been down this road before’?
Sometimes people have a lot to say, but they don’t join into the dialogue – nor even make comments. I get it. I really do. Another post from an anonymous reader, this time answering something I wrote in a newsletter and again – reproduced with permission from the original writer.
Now, this is a subject that really gets to me!!
I have long argued that the biggest conflict in the world today is that between global and tribal politics. I have met anthropologists who maintain that the human-animal is basically tribal – pre-programmed by history, if not genetics, ‘to want to belong’. They argue that this is at the root of all sorts of things we see today – including racism/xenophobia at the most serious level and, more prosaically, things like fashion fads, football fans, pop group mania, etc., at the daily level. However, there is, in my eyes at least, clear evidence of emerging subsets of humans who want to throw all that away in favour of seeing the world, and our species, holistically.
One rather crude indicator of this – a frequent topic in my Operations and Supply Chain Management consultancy and teaching – is the tension between global companies (not of all which are the spawn of the devil, planet-destroying, secret cabal members, but simply businesses whose raw materials, skill-base and customers cannot be defined by random, historical, “lines on the ground”) and national Governments, most obviously over issues like differing tax regimes (and where it’s paid) and customs (import/export) processes.
Extend this to the individual with the option of working at very long distance from ‘the office’, and we see similar issues. Some 6 years ago, I did a piece of work for a Greek client, itself funded by the EU, whose direct customers were mainly from the new Eastern EU member states. HMRC was out of the traps like a top greyhound: within days I was in receipt of paperwork explaining what I needed to do to make sure that my work was taxed (and subject to National Insurance) ‘here in the UK’ (despite me NOT actually being in the UK), rather than in Greece. I presume the argument would be that we are a UK-registered company, I am a UK citizen and the education/experience that enabled me to win the contract were gained in the UK, some of it at University, at the taxpayer’s expense. That’s fair enough. However, many of the people who would say “quite right too” are EXACTLY the same people who complain when a US company, say, elects not to be taxed in the UK on earnings made here. Yet, those companies are employing UK people, who pay (quiet a lot) of tax, when you take NI, VAT, duty etc., into account as well as direct PAYE, they are renting or buying UK property, and paying local tax on it, they are consuming UK products and services that create more jobs and tax, etc. If they moved all their operations out of the UK, would we win or lose? It’s not such an easy calculation as the ‘red top fury’ suggests.
So, back to your individual, living where (s)he wants to live but working for a company ‘back home’, or, in the extreme, in the economy that places the highest monetary value on her/his skills. Would (s)he pay tax in the country of residence, the country of origin, the country employment, or several of these? Would the value of the residence (shopping local tax, etc.) be offset against the value of direct employment taxation in deciding policy?
Or is this another nail in the coffin of nationalistic division?
As a reader of this blog and newsletter or as a listener of my podcast – you know that I am a keen supporter of the broad category of ‘creative professional’ – and specifically ‘musician’. What follows are not my words, but those of a musician that wrote to me recently. Reproduced with their permission and names and venues changed/anonymized to ‘protect the vulnerable’.
I just got my first real paying gig since March 17 for Saturday December 26th. Meanwhile, due to an uptick in local COVID cases the county has announced that restaurants are to remain open, but no one allowed at the bar for the next 2 weeks.
By my calculation from today (Dec. 10), that takes us to December 25th. So, December 26th we will be back to normal?
After 9 months of ‘COVID communications with the owners of a local ‘hostelry’ – and having played there every Friday for over fourteen years, I have now experienced a full u-turn, so instead of returning to my Friday Afternoon slot – which they said “would be there for me whenever I was ready to return”, they have instead told me I will be “on call”, if they need a last minute substitute as ‘their schedule is booked full’.
I told them actually no …. no I won’t.
Beyond that, they are no longer paying what they used to – and that was never a lot to begin with!
The business (music AND the hostelry) has never been stacked with integrity, but this has to be a new low. Maybe to match the pay rates of the stand-ins?
Meanwhile on the other side of town, my Tuesday night gig (again over 14 years) has been taken over by a guy playing bass with a karaoke backing machine … in return for ‘a burger and a beer’ !!
The musician said “he did not want to steal my night” … funny – because he did. He could have said no. I guess the burger temptation was too great.
He was offered the gig by the owner because his belief was that I wouldn’t work for free. (Correct!).
I grew up in a Union town. I remember what those kinds of people were called.
I get it. I really do. I know the venues are struggling with finance like us all – musicians included – but if they can’t afford musicians – why bring them on at all?
If your business model is to offer live music – shouldn’t you pay for it?
And sure – I can hear the gallery calling down – you’ll make it up in tips.
With luck – but in reality – no.
So take a share of the profits of extra beer sold …. yeah – good luck with that! When THEY are doing well, YOU are on a fixed (low) fee – “make it up in tips”. But now they are down … well, you know how it goes.
As you know I’ve made my living as a full time musician and creative all of my life, so sad to reflect on COVID lessons;
loyalty – out of the window
promises – not worth the paper they are written on
dogs – they will eat dogs
Don’t get me wrong, the competition is just getting ramped up. The number of musicians – in this area seems to be growing by the day – and I am pretty sure that the number of hostelries are reducing. (One of the biggest just 10 miles away has announced that it is closing for GOOD. )
Not sure how this is going to play out – but I stand with my belief that a business should only offer what it can afford – and the race to the bottom of price is not a race I am going to join in.
When I order Lobster, I don’t expect to eat it and then renegotiate the price – but that seems to be the life of the live performer.
Still – one door closes, another opens – I wonder what happens when two doors close!
Another Gaping Void nails it. Full piece here, though they don’t use the phrase ‘business bifurcation’.
For a long time, it has been clear that business is bifurcating. The two models are either;
the ‘pile-em-high-and-sell-em-cheap’ model to borrow from Tesco’s Jack Cohen’s business strategy
the ‘totally-high-end-special-and-niche’ model – think $20 dollar pints of beer, $300 bottles of wine, handcrafted artisan wafers …
Gaping Void’s piece brings you right up to date with stories form Saville Row – a set of businesses you might expect to fail in thelight of (say) Brookes Brothers collapse. But no – business bifurcation.
To be fair – those high-end examples aren’t the only way to be in that niche space. Business that scale and deliver low price, do so at the cost of service, value, the personal touch, sometimes quality …
If you are a small business – don’t wonder how to compete with Amazon … work out how to differentiate from Amazon. What worked 20, 30 years ago – still works. It’s just that the ‘what’ is different.
And the first ‘what’ is ‘what business are you in’. It might not be what you think. The business you are in is your ‘core’. Everything else is context. (To borrow from my ‘old’ friend Geoffrey Moore.)