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James Meadows
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David Sax wrote a book called Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. He addresses the occasional human tendency to become fed up with the inherent challenges of living in a digital world that prods us away from analog. It is a subject that I think we must always be assessing because it constantly affects everyone.

Steve Wieberg in his review of the book does an excellent job summarizing Sax’s fundamental concern (“Analog Strikes Back: In a Digital World, We Cling to Vinyl and Paper, Author Says” The Kansas City Star, 12/18/16, pp. 1D, 8D.):

“People, he says, are craving real, tangible things and experiences and not always something stored in a cloud. Many prefer turning the pages of a book to reading on a backlit screen, or shopping in stores over purchases with a click. They want to hold objects in their hands. They want human interaction. Sometimes, they just need an escape from screens and keyboards.” (p. 8D)

I agree with Sax’s fundamental concern. Simultaneously I love what I can do with technology and I love what technology can do for me. I would not want to be without it. The key to this dichotomy is balance.

It is only when we simultaneously maintain our appreciation of analog and our appreciation of technology that we are then prepared to filter selectively in the moment. How that works for you might be very different from how that works for me.

In a world that increasingly is technology, we need to keep surfing the wave, but we also need to remember how to get back to the beach.

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If we reflect over decades, we can always identify certain brand names that are indelibly imprinted into our memory. Even as a child, I can remember certain brands that simply captured my imagination and admiration. Many of those brands hold that same position on my metaphorical mantle today. Why does this happen? It boils down to positive experiences, ideas, images, and associations with that brand.

Tim Ferriss is the author of Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. Ferris has come up with certain sacred rules of branding, all of which are worth your reading. Below are a couple snippets [ ]that stood out to me as clearly universally true to my experiences and very likely your experiences too:

“If everyone is your market, no one is your market. . . . In a social-sharing-driven world, cultivate the intense few instead of the lukewarm many.”

“Branding is a side effect of consistent association. . . . Put good business first, and good ‘brand’ will follow.”

As I reflect upon the best brands that have stuck with me throughout my life, I do believe that it has been that “consistent association” that did the trick. Consistency implicitly sticks.

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We use predictive mathematical models constantly for all kinds of systems, behaviors, processes, and devices. We use them to try to predict future events. In some of these situations the models work well. In other situations, the models are lacking. And in some models, we simply haven’t had enough of the future yet to validate them.

That might be the case with something called the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC). From the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site :

“[the social cost of carbon] is meant to be a comprehensive estimate of climate change damages and includes changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from increased flood risk, and changes in energy system costs, such as reduced costs for heating and increased costs for air conditioning. However, given current modeling and data limitations, it does not include all important damages.”

Although the SCC many believe arises from noble concerns for our future on the planet, perhaps the model behind it is a bit of a stretch. David Kreutzer, a senior research fellow in energy and climate change expresses some skepticism at a recent energy summit (Matthew Phillips, Mark Drajem, and Jennifer A. Dlouhy. “How Climate Rules Might Fade Away” Bloomberg Businessweek. 12/19/16–12/25/16, pp. 6–7):

“Believe it or not, these models look out to the year 2300. That’s like effectively asking, ‘If you turn your light switch on today, how much damage will that do in 2300?’ That’s way beyond when any macroeconomic model can be trusted.” (p. 7)

Predictive models can be great tools, but every tool is useless beyond its limits.

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I was perusing the table of contents in my February issue of Scientific American when something rather frightening caught my eye. It was a blurb about an article related to the dangers of space travel. In framing the blurb however, it tangentially reveals a little known unsettling truth about our brains. As a public service, I now share it with you. Within the blurb, we find this clear statement:

“Cosmic radiation could be more damaging to astronauts’ brains than thought.”

So not only do we have the somewhat unsurprising observation that cosmic radiation might be damaging to our brains, but we are also reinforced on that little known truth that thinking itself is damaging to our brains! When I think about (ouch!) the billions of thoughts (ouch!) that have transpired within my tiny little pea brain, I am horrified at how much damage I may have already done. Because I have so many things to keep on my mind and so little mind to keep them on, this is a very disturbing truth.

I don’t know about you, but as for me, I am going to stop thinking immediately. I don’t want my precious pea brain to sustain any more damage than it has already. Besides, we’ve still got that cosmic radiation thing to worry about too!

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The National Traffic Safety Administration closed its investigation into the 2016 fatal crash of a Tesla Model S. In that crash, 40-year-old Joshua D. Brown was killed when the car’s cameras did not distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from the surrounding sunlit sky. Although the NTSA found no evidence of any safety defect, its ensuing commentary was quite interesting.

The agency’s criticism revolves around Tesla’s use of the term “Autopilot.” Words have meaning. Psychologically and experientially, I would guess that almost everyone thinks of the traditional experiences associated with that word. We mentally see the commercial pilot resting easy in the cockpit as he occasionally glances at the gauges and empty sky. The NTSA followed similar thinking.

Self-driving cars navigate within their environment via a constellation of digital cameras, lasers, and radar sensors. They normally do this extremely well. In principle, I think that is a wonderful and marvelous technological benefit. However, what we choose to call that technological system is important. Most people hear “autopilot” and instantly think “I can relax.”

Perhaps it is time to create a different term for these developing driver enhancements. Perhaps we need to think a lot more like public relations people than overly optimistic techno-geeks. Let’s not call it autopilot until it genuinely is.

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I was delighted to witness one of the most profound moments in the social media world. It is the recent announcement by Bacelook that it will now label fake news. Recognizing that too many uninformed readers can be misled by fake news, Bacelook made the brave choice to save you and me a lot of difficulty by simply doing the homework for us. I for one am thrilled. If your life is anything like mine then you will agree that you have way too much to do without having to worry about actually thinking for yourself.

If that wasn’t good enough all by itself (can it get any better? Yes, it does!), Bacelook remains committed to taking the high road on integrity by using its new Fake News Rating System. This originated from a strategy meeting last week with Bacelook’s executive leadership team.

Just as people of questionable motives will contaminate real news feeds with fake news, the reverse is also true. People of questionable motives will contaminate fake news with real news. This is where matters can really become extremely complicated, but not beyond Bacelook’s ability to navigate that complexity. Here is how Bacelook plans to handle the flip side of fake news using its Fake News Rating System:

Any identified fake news will remain flagged as fake news. However, for anything that has polluted the fake news data stream that is actually real news, that item will be flagged as “fake news level 2.”

Should any of that fake news level 2 evolve into real news and thus feed back into the real news data stream, but then at some point become corrupted again, it will then be labeled as “fake news level 3.” The cycle of assigning levels will progress as far as necessary to remain accurate.

Obviously, the big advantage to readers like you and me is that we don’t have to worry about backtracking all the news-feed loops to figure out exactly what stage of the news cycle we might be reading at any given moment. And by the way, always remember one key truth:

Fake fake news equals real news.

But you won’t have to try to figure that out. Bacelook will do it for you!

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The brand new year of 2017 is upon us. How successful you or I will be in it is largely up to us. Much of that is further determined by how open we are to moving in new directions. Moving in new directions means a lot of different things depending on our life circumstances. Here are some suggestions to prepare for success:

Be Positive Regardless Of Your Problems. Yes, I realize you do not have to look far to find difficulties, roadblocks, and bad news. Nevertheless, carrying a negative attitude into those challenges never did any good, did it? On the other hand, by attacking every challenge with a positive attitude, you consciously and subconsciously unleash more resources. Those additional resources often make a significant difference in the outcome.

If You Are A Business Owner. You might come to realize 2017 demands some new strategies and policies. Will you implement them, and if so, how will you implement them? Thinking those steps through ahead of time can make all the difference in the world. Change is not always easy, but by planning for it and embracing it with a positive attitude you can make it more enjoyable and exciting.

If You Are An Employee. Think about how you can add more value to your organization. Might you have some new approaches that will benefit your colleagues and customers? Do you have ideas or insights whose time has come? Look for new ways to enhance collaboration and success for your team.

If You Are Unemployed. How might this be an opportunity to reinvent you? Could this be the time you search in some totally different directions for that dream job? Although searching for a new job is a fulltime job, remember to give yourself some downtime. Perhaps now is the perfect time to dive into some of those pie-in-the-sky projects you just never had time for in the past. How might you reorganize your life for better balance going forward?

Never Discount Your Experience. You are usually your worst critic. Take a fresh look at all your experience with an eye to capitalizing upon the hidden gold. Surely there are some lessons you have learned from which you can benefit. By taking stock of those lessons now, you can build toward more solid successes in 2017. You can bring a vibrant freshness to your future.

Face Your Failures. Sometimes it is easier to hide from your failures. Nevertheless, denial does not mean deletion. Worse yet, denial does you a disservice. Only by fully facing the things you messed up can you learn from them. You should be smarter entering 2017 than you were entering 2016.

Be Humble. I never met a person who thought he or she knew it all that learned something new. I enjoy learning new things . . . every single day. However, I cannot do that if I already know it all.

Remember Your Resources. You have friends, mentors, and loved ones around you who genuinely care about you. You have a philosophy of life, and religious and spiritual convictions that sustain you. You have hidden opportunities just waiting to be discovered. You have time-tested strengths and abilities. Summon all those terrific resources because they are there to help you.

This year could become the most successful year of your life. Make it so!

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Very soon, 2016 will be history. Now is a good time to assess how you did. If we never pause to assess our performance, we might forfeit valuable lessons. With that in mind, here are four questions I challenge you—as I challenge myself—to ask concerning 2016:

1----How did you do in your business performance? Reflecting upon all the professional roles you have held, how did you perform? Did you do your job with energy, accuracy, enthusiasm, and insight? By reflecting upon your business performance, you can bask in some well-deserved affirmation of the highlights. You can also reengineer your business approach where some fine tuning might be needed.

2----How did you do in your ethics performance? Did you stand tall and true to your ethics regardless of the cost? By reflecting upon those times when your ethical commitment was put to the test and it stood strong, you can rejoice in your victories. You can also rethink your approach to ethics if you found yourself coming up short for any reason.

3----How did you do in your leadership performance? Did you exercise strategic and sound leadership in every situation that demanded it? By reflecting upon your various leadership situations, you can affirm your leadership where it was tested and found to be solid. You can also identify those situations that may have revealed some leadership deficits and begin seeking ways to improve and refine.

4----How did you do in your personal performance? Did you exhibit maturity, passion, strength, and wisdom as you managed your attitude, money, opportunities, relationships, loved ones, spiritual or religious convictions, physical fitness, emotional and mental fitness, and overall wellness? By reflecting upon your personal performance in these areas, you can take comfort and joy where you know you brought your best self to the table. You can also take a hard look at any of those areas in which you know deep in your heart that improvement is needed.

These four questions are revealing. If you enjoy your answers, I am happy for you! On the other hand, if you are unhappy with the answers to any of these questions, then some thoughtful, soul-searching realignment is needed.

Now for the especially exciting news: you have the power to make the needed changes. Remember—our failures are only meaningless if we do not learn from them. Let us learn from them so we can make 2017 the best year ever!

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Sometimes we can become so excited about the future of artificial intelligence that we forget how much AI cannot do. In spite of how well business processes are streamlined and customer experiences are enhanced (which are good things to be sure), AI is nowhere near ready to replace people in a holistic fashion. Nevertheless, some folks in earnest hope, (and others in grave fear), anticipate a future ruled by robots.

Don’t hold your breath. AI is a single IT approach that adds value in certain circumstances, and where those circumstances exist, let’s use it. Simultaneously, we must remember that AI is a powerful tool, but it is not all-powerful, nor will it be. I like the way that Christopher Mims summarizes the status of AI (“Artificial Intelligence Has a Way to Go” The Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2016, pp. B1, B4):

“Reflecting on my own brief experience as an invertebrate neuroscientist, I’d say that today’s AI is at the jellyfish stage in the evolution of biological intelligence. Real brains–and genuine intelligence–are so far in the future as to be beyond any reasonable horizon of prediction.” (B4)

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I read recently that experts believe that a depressed worker loses about 6 hours productivity each week. That is a lot of time. No matter how you calculate it, the financial costs are significant. Depressed workers are the hidden profit killer for the company, the employees, and the customers. Everyone loses.

Fortunately, most progressive companies look for ways to enhance employee wellness, including conquering depression. Employee assistance programs, wellness coaches, and additional resources all help employees find help for difficult life challenges. Even among medical insurance plans, the trend is toward covering mental health more adequately than in the past.

Finally, as a professional person, you have an ethical obligation to remain alert to colleagues that may be struggling with depression. Granted, depression isn’t always easy to spot. Nevertheless, you never know when an opportune moment may occur. Perhaps someone opens up to you after a meeting, someone asks for some personal advice, or you just happen to pick up the telltale signs that something is seriously wrong.

In those moments, we must never forget how powerful our influence can be. The life you touch may be the life you save. And that outcome is profitable for everyone.

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