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Nick's Blog: Facebook - How Did It All Go Wrong?

Facebook generates huge profits and causes big problems for governments in many countries. But can it be fixed?

Undermining customers

Facebook has grown at an incredible speed to become one of the most influential companies in the world. But it is under intense pressure to explain its actions. Its promise to protect people’s personal data was undermined during the 2016 Brexit vote and the 2016 US elections. During the period information, misinformation and lies swirled around the network with little control or concern over what was and wasn’t true.

The company’s digital age success story is founded on old-fashioned advertising, as it captures the attention of customers and keeps them engaged. One criticism of the company is that it provides users with what they want in a way that polarises opinion, stokes fear and stirs anger between different groups. The company’s algorithms are designed to entice users by offering the material they want, regardless of the quality of the source. Driving activity on a social media platform may not seem too dangerous an occupation but the company is also under intense scrutiny for its effect on the mental health of young people.

The currency of the company is people’s private data, which it collects from everywhere and not only directly from customers. Difficulties arise when such data is marketed as part of the operation of the business, not least because it distorts figures. The aim of the company to connect everyone is used to find better ways of collecting and selling information to advertisers. Customers seldom question how their information is managed as they use the platform to talk to and share updates with friends and family. But there is a growing sense of unease amongst politicians and the public about how the company treats the information it holds.

Undermining democracy

The democratic process depends on the free and open reporting of facts and a commitment to the letter and spirit of the law. It also depends on a strong, trustworthy and sustainable press. And when a small number of companies soak up the vast majority of advertising spend it leaves little room for journalists to report the truth. In this context, Facebook’s use of data is indiscriminate as it presents true, partially true and untrue information with the same ease. News from the company is what users choose it to be as they are provided with information that confirms their view of the world regardless of its validity. The company’s reach stretches around the world but its success masks the damage done to the privacy of individuals and the fair running of democratic elections. Unscrupulous organisations and countries also exploit the company for their own gain, which weakens its vision of protecting customers and acting as a force for good.

So, Facebook has grown to become a major global influence but it must take responsibility for its actions as they affect millions of people around the world.

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Nick's Blog: Will Exercise Keep You Healthy?

Lifestyles today are damaging people’s health as exercise is replaced with endless hours of screen time. But is the answer as simple as getting more exercise?

New Year resolutions

New Year resolutions are made and broken at this time of year as good intentions clash with the discipline of reality. It is always difficult to start a new exercise regime as bad habits and laziness combine to stifle efforts. Each year begins with a commitment to change, albeit in the knowledge of likely failure. The benefits of physical activity are well known but many of us struggle to commit on a regular basis. In today’s world exercise is a choice as it is no longer necessary for day-to-day survival. As a result, it is often squeezed out by the priority of spending time at work and with family and friends.

There are of course always new ways to get fit as gym membership, cross-fit clubs, running programmes and even spinning classes abound. Regardless of the attraction of such activities however it is difficult to make progress as more sedentary habits like watching TV prevail. Life over many decades has become less physical as modern trends replace the need for active work. History shows we evolved as a species by using our bodies to find food, build shelters and stay alive. Life was more energetic and full of physical tasks to keep us strong and healthy. Everyday living depended on our ability to walk for miles, run at speed, and become strong enough to carry out manual work. In contrast, today’s environment provides every possible labour saving device and gadget to avoid expending energy.

The role of technology

Technology plays its role in reducing levels of activity too as inventions of every ilk make life more convenient. Everything from hoovers to dishwashers to grass cutting robots and of course cars encourage inactivity. The changing nature of work makes a difference too, as office jobs with the requirement to sit for hours have mushroomed to become the norm. As a result, sitting is now seen as one of the biggest dangers to health with the resultant risk of a rise in diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Even wearable technologies such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit trackers have little impact, as they soon become fashion accessories rather than fitness devices.

The reality of living with little exercise has unsurprisingly attracted the attention of the medical profession, as activity is encouraged for young and old alike. Exercise in this context is seen as an essential part of a healthy life rather than a lifestyle choice. Regular workouts are recommended by doctors as a way to stay healthy. But there is a challenge as doctors suggest that even with regular exercise sitting still for long periods of time has a negative effect on our health.

So, exercise is good for our physical health and mental wellbeing but it may not be enough when interspersed with prolonged periods of inactivity.

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Nick's Blog: The Journey From Education To Learning.

In the past few years, there has been a massive emphasis on Millennials in the job market. In fact, many companies have rebranded and reinvented themselves to attract employees from this generation. But as companies start looking to the future, it is important to think of the next crop of employees. That’s right, it is time to start thinking of Gen Z! How can companies attract Gen Z candidates to their business?

Because many of these individuals are either still in school or finishing their degrees in the next few years, it is important to understand how their entrance into the job market will affect recruiting tactics. With Millennials, we witnessed the growing importance of company culture and work-life balance: practices that were almost nonexistent for the baby boomer generation. So in order to determine what the “next big thing” in recruiting will be for Generation Z, we have to understand who they are and what they value.

Who Are They?

Although Millennials and Gen Z have many differences, they have one major thing in common. Everyone thinks they are lazy and technology dependent. Thankfully, Millennials have proven this preconceived notion to be very wrong, and I predict Gen Z will do the same! Why? For starters, when it comes to technology, Gen Z is the “first truly digitally intuitive generation”.

Some may believe that this is what makes them inherently lazy, but it is quite the opposite. This makes them not only technologically literate, but also innovative and efficient. Because they grew up with a relatively sophisticated level of technology, they are always looking for processes they can update and steps they can automate.

After taking this perspective into account, it is easy to see why Gen Z may just end up being the most efficient generation by far. Best said by Ajay Chopra, the founding principal of ECHO Design + Architecture, “Gen Z can get work done anywhere with just a wifi password and a pair of headphones”.

Although technology plays a major role in the disparity between Gen Z and other generations, there is a lot more to them- namely, their entrepreneurial spirit. According to a study by Accounting Principals, members of Gen Z are 55% more likely to want to start a business than millennials. This makes a lot of sense when one also accounts for the generation’s intense desire for independence and financial stability. Because they hope to be business owners themselves one day, their thirst for knowledge and drive to perform makes them excellent employees.

What Do They Value?

As mentioned earlier, those who belong to this generation are fiercely independent. This is especially true when it comes to the job market. Because Gen Z absorbed the recent recession through their parent’s eyes, they have a very practical expectation of their job. In other words, they value money and job security. This is not to say that they don’t value a work-life balance, but they do place less of an emphasis on emotional fulfillment when it comes to their profession.

With this in mind, it may be wise to ensure your company that your company can offer competitive pay when it comes to negotiating with Gen Z. Chances are if you don’t, you may miss out on a valuable employee.

Because Gen Z places a very practical approach when it comes to their career, they like to pursue their passion through their side hustle. Although they are just starting their careers, according to research by Open University, 53% of Gen Z don’t rely on their job to provide their only income. They either plan to continue their passion as a second job, or state that their side hustle fits around their life, studies and their current jobs. This approach truly backs their entrepreneurial spirit and future focused perspective!

As an employer if you can tap into this spirit and show them that you care about helping them climb the corporate ladder, you will be able to attract great, young talent.

Over to you now. Do you employ or plan to employ Gen Z staff in your business? Tell us in the comments below.

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Nick's Blog: Beware The Scale of China’s Ambition!

China has a clear vision of how it wants to develop and lead the world. But how will it affect other countries?

Leading China

The Chinese government is clear about its desire to build a strong economy and reach beyond its borders to spread its deeply held values and beliefs. The size of China’s economy means it has an escalating sway on the international stage as it shapes a new world order less dependent on the US and its allies.

China has started a major Belt and Road Initiative to pursue its vision of economic and cultural dominance that will stretch into this century and the next. The aim of the project is to invest billions of pounds to develop infrastructure between China and a raft of other countries across Asia, Africa and other regions. Such strategic ambition coupled with a commitment to create a shared global community in its likeness form the essence of its long-term goals.

The success of the strategy will be decided in future years but its implementation already challenges the position of the US, as the only genuine global leader. The threat is real because China presents its case as a solution to many of the world’s problems: politics; security; economic, social and technological development; culture and environment. Such actions place China centre stage in a rebalancing of world power, displaces the US as the centre point of global influence, and tests the traditional capitalist free market economy model of western governance.

Leading the world

In political terms, China proposes a model based on its unique single party system of democracy coupled with a partnership approach to working with other countries that doesn’t interfere with internal governance arrangements. Both terms raise contradictions although China is developing relationships with countries all around the world on such a basis. In security terms, China describes its method as dialogue and development. Dialogue between opposing parties to reach lasting solutions; development to counteract terrorism and the chaos of refugees fleeing from one country to another in an endless journey of suffering. In economic, social and technical terms, China promotes innovation as a way to trade and encourage peace between countries that otherwise may descend into chaos and conflict. China’s definition of free trade is of course problematic, not least because it is based on the contradictory concept of a socialist market economy. In cultural terms, China places tremendous weight on its problematic form of economic socialism, which is seen as a way to reorder the world. In environmental terms, China proposes the development of a sustainable ecosystem, while acknowledging the harmful effect of its economic growth.

China, nevertheless, has a clear vision of the future and is progressively affecting the actions of other governments. There are contradictions aplenty in its vision but the same can be said of other nations as they also jostle for position.

So, China’s vision of its place in a new world order is clear and others must articulate a convincing alternative if they want to lead in this century and beyond.

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Nick's Blog: Calling Women Entrepreneurs: Your Country Needs You!

Businesses owned by women make a huge contribution to the economy as they provide jobs in all sectors. But is enough being done to support women entrepreneurs?

Women in business

Small firms account for the majority of businesses in the economy and jobs in local communities. And there is a drive to increase the growth of small companies to boost economic growth. In this context, it is important to encourage more women into business. The barriers to participation however include a lack of equality, fewer opportunities, access to finance, weaker networks of contacts, and restrictions because of caring duties and family commitments. Women also face difficulty when starting a business in areas such as science, technology, engineering and maths; not least because of a lack of engagement in these courses, which means women are less likely than men to enter such fields. Women entrepreneurs are similarly less visible in the construction, storage, transport and communication sectors. By way of explanation, there are systemic societal issues that need to be addressed to enable women to start more businesses in more diverse areas of the economy.

Men traditionally start new businesses at a greater rate than women but the gap is closing as firms run by women are becoming more commonplace and celebrated. The number of women-led businesses is increasing, not least because role models raise awareness and highlight the rewards of enterprise. The number of women starting businesses in the fastest growing sectors however still lags behind men, as greater support is needed to promote female entrepreneurship at all stages of the education system. Supporting women in business is vital to the development of a healthy economy, not least because half the nation’s human resource and perhaps more than half the nation’s brain-power resides in the heads of women.

More data

Employment in businesses owned by women is increasing although more data is needed to measure the impact of such companies on the wider economy. The evidence will help inform government policies, as progress is hampered by a relative lack of women in senior positions of organisations in the public and private sectors. Surveys of small businesses must capture greater samples of women owned businesses to understand their motivation and growth. Survey questions need to examine the factors that influence women when deciding whether or not to start a business. The design of government programmes must be examined too, to ensure their relevance to women as they look for early stage finance and advice. Identifying gaps in the current provision of support must also be examined to enable more women to start more new businesses in the future.

So, businesses owned by women make a huge contribution to the economy but further support is needed to address the imbalance of engagement and participation.

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Nick's Blog: Do You Want To Start A Business?

Starting a business is often seen as a good way to enjoy the freedom of making your own decisions. But how do you begin?

Finding freedom

People are often attracted to work for themselves because it provides an opportunity to be your own boss. But to succeed you need to be clear about what you offer and the demand for such offerings. It is easy to be convinced that what you offer is valuable but more difficult to convince customers. One way to understand the challenge is to talk to other entrepreneurs and customers to get their insights.

Another useful exercise is to ask yourself a number of questions: am I willing to work hard to make the business work? Am I committed to turning the idea into something customers will buy? Am I driven enough to make it work? Am I resilient enough to deal with setbacks? Am I good at setting and achieving goals on a daily basis?

Getting an idea for any new business can come from identifying a gap in the market or creating a whole new market. It can be triggered by something you’ve experienced or a skill you’ve developed over the years. You may not yet know the type of business you want to start. But once you begin to think in this way, ideas will flow until you find the right one.

Write it down

It is also important to write a business plan to detail how the business will operate. This will capture what you need to do and make the venture more practical and real. The plan should include the purpose and vision of the business and its practical objectives and short-term goals. It can be used to raise finance in the early stages and later if you need to attract investment. Practical issues like the business structure, name and location will be decided, as will the need to ensure you don’t underestimate costs or overestimate income in the early stages.

Finding customers is of course vital and the starting point is to understand the market in which you operate. Building a reputation is one way to get yourself known and ensure customers find you. Using personal contacts, building networks and mastering digital and social media provide good and low cost solutions. Developing a web site or web presence is important too but it is equally important to carefully manage its scale and cost. You will need to employ staff and make the right decisions about who to recruit and when. Trying to do everything on your own may not be possible as the demands of running a business are many. One of the most useful skills, therefore, is the ability to prioritise what needs to be done, when and by whom.

So, before starting a business take time to ask a number of searching questions and write a business plan; for therein lie the answers you seek.

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Nick's Blog: Can Retail Survive In 2019?

Technology is changing the retail industry as business comes under attack from online shopping and the internet. The trend will continue in 2019, as technology continues to disrupt shops and supermarkets.

New Retail

Retail is evolving to reflect a combination of traditional and online shopping. Supermarkets are undergoing a transformation as automation spreads to displace human labour. Products appear and disappear as a result of online reviews and ratings feedback. Speed and price dominate competition as online retailers move faster and sell cheaper than older rivals. Quick access and payment methods shorten waiting times from point of order to delivery, which delight the digital shopper. Trials and pilot testing explore how customers are able to shop without the frustration of having to stopping and pay. Cameras register items as they are removed from shelves and charge them directly to customers upon leaving. And the convenience of one-click shopping from the comfort of the couch to next day delivery is one of the wonders of online shopping. Meanwhile, traditional retailers struggle to reinvent business models as they haemorrhage profits and grow less competitive each day.

Some of the most obvious changes have already taken place at the checkout, as customer self-scanning techniques replace employee interaction and any semblance of contact. The next step in the substitution of staff will see the introduction of robots to stock shelves, reduce costs and increase efficiency. Technology will not negate the need for every employee but will reduce the numbers employed as owners are forced to invest in new systems to succeed. Virtual reality and early stage holograms will shape the shopping experience too, as retailers provide interactive digital customer experiences to increase traffic and turnover. Smartfloors that track and analyse shoppers every movement are also on the horizon as a way to attract customers, understand flow patterns and encourage specific routes to maximise time spent in stores and money extracted from customers. Every action is deconstructed to fathom the behaviours of customers, shape future store layouts and minimise costs of lighting and heating systems.

Facial recognition software will identify regular shoppers and offer tailored packages and personalised services to increase spend. Technology will collect data from each visit to tailor the shopping experience for every occasion. Smartmirrors will provide feedback on what customers wear and offer complementary items to fit particular styles and individual wallets. Smart shopping trollies will follow customers around supermarkets and to their cars before returning to wait for the next shopper. They will also read shopping list from smartphones and suggest the best route through the aisles to avoid delays and the old-fashioned nuisance of having to queue.

So, the retail industry will thrive in 2019 but its use of technology will change the shopping experience and create havoc for the businesses that fall behind.

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Nick's Blog: Are you ready for Brexit?

Brexit is the biggest political story of recent years as it dominates the headlines on a daily basis. But for many businesses it is just one more change that has to be managed.

Managing change

One of the biggest challenges for business is the increasing difficulty of recruiting staff, as uncertainty over Brexit triggers a shortage of people and skills. Shops, farms, factories, hotels and hospitals are just some of the sectors suffering from a dearth of people. Agriculture, construction, engineering, finance, manufacturing, professional services, transport and many other areas are suffering too. The key issue however is not a shortage of staff but the growing need to manage change in a time of turmoil.

Brexit is causing confusion but technology is causing even greater upheaval as it powers a new digital economy that upends traditional industries. The challenge for today’s business leaders is not how to manage in the face of leaving the EU but how to manage in a time of flux. Many businesses have benefitted from a prolonged period of cheap labour and face a situation where the demand for staff will continue to exceed supply. As a result, companies must learn to compete in a climate where automation plays a greater role, cheap labour plays a lesser role, and people with the right skills command higher salaries.

Mastering change

To meet the challenge businesses need to be better managed and managers better trained, as gaining every advantage is vital in a time of crisis. For businesses with the capacity to change opportunities abound; for businesses that lack the capacity to change competition will climb to worrying levels.

Concerns about Brexit will of course continue, as businesses fret about the future. In this context, it is prudent to plan for different possibilities and focus on what can be controlled in the meantime. For instance, regardless of the Brexit effect staff recruitment and retention will continue to be troublesome. One solution, of course, is for employers to invest in employees as a way to compete in world that increasingly rewards people’s skills.

Significant change however is taking place in all sectors of the economy, not least because the digital economy is reaching a tipping point and combines with the chaos of Brexit to unnerve the market. Nevertheless, the winners will be those who figure out how to perform in such chaos and confusion. Luckily, resilience is built into the DNA of entrepreneurs as they naturally adapt to their surroundings. The real issue is who will adapt most quickly and who will fall behind, as businesses in all sectors of the economy drift towards one category or the other.

So, Brexit will continue to dominate the headlines but the real issue for business leaders will continue to be how to manage in a time of disruptive change.

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Nick's Blog: Technology: What Does The Future Hold?

Technology driven by artificial intelligence increasingly determines our choices in a world of smart machines and digital networks that grow smarter every day. But how will it affect our future?

Changing technology

Technology is playing an ever-greater role in our lives as it changes how we live on a daily basis. It tracks every purchase we make and predicts and shapes what we are likely to do next. It touches everything we do as its creeping reach even undermines the democratic process and ability to exercise free will in the face of false news. It collects micro-data about our lives as a way to understand our personal inclinations and actions. The more information it gathers the more it knows about us and the more it knows about us the more it determines the decisions we make. Never before has technology had such an impact as it was historically designed to support our goals and ambitions. But for the first time infused with artificial intelligence that allows it to learn from past experience and glean meaning from data it is learning at a faster rate than the human brain.

Mankind evolved over the millennia to dominate life on the planet through the development of technology and the ability to communicate and cooperate with others as a way to master the environment. But the next era will take us into the unknown because technology is now enabled with the capacity to make autonomous decisions and operate outside the sphere of human influence. Whether or not we remain in control of future technologies is in doubt, not least because artificial intelligence and future digital systems and networks will be used for malicious as well as well-worthy ends.

Changing lives

Technology is changing cultures too as traditional beliefs and ways of doing things are replaced by newer and more sophisticated computer driven algorithms. Such change is quickening, as those who control the digital tools exercise greater power than ever before. Technology in all its forms and functions already makes its own decisions rather than rely on or limit itself to instructions crafted by humans.

Technology, engineering and science are replacing traditional sources of expertise and knowledge, as information is decentralised and shared through the internet and social media. Religious orders, international organisations and even national governments have less control over how people get information and what they deem to be true or false. Such progress has led to better choices for millions of people but it also threatens our ability to make independent decisions. For the first time in history, technology has the capacity to stifle the will of the people as its influence spreads into every facet of life without our explicit knowledge or permission.

So, technology is shaping the future to an extent not previously experienced and as a result lives will change in ways not yet known or understood.

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Nick's Blog: Would You Vote For Donald Trump?

Love him or hate him Donald Trump stirs the blood wherever he goes and whenever he tweets. But he also commands a large vote and may well be re-elected in 2020.

Remaking America

Trump triggered a trade war to meet his promise of Making America Great Again but also hurt businesses that rely on global markets. He ignores warnings about climate change but hidden in his lack of concern lie lower energy costs for millions of rural voters. His cutting of taxes even finds favour with many of those who object to his abrasive style and offensive language. His approach wins voters who don’t like what he says but support his pledge to disrupt the status quo. What many voters say and what they do may be difficult to reconcile but it demonstrates his talent for giving people what they want.

Other complexities appear amongst Trump supporters as they cross gender, race and socio-economic boundaries in ways that upend traditional voting patterns. He creates a new niche of voters that disagree with his behaviour but back his habit of saying what others don’t and won’t. He is also rewarded for keeping campaign promises, a trait not always shared by other politicians.

There is of course an underlying core of voters who see Trump as a man of radical change who is unburdened by the usual way of doing politics. Others support him because the economy is improving as more and better jobs are available. As a result, when economic performance is measured against his mindless rants on Twitter voters opt with the former and choose to ignore the latter. His appointment of conservative judges to the Supreme Court also guarantees swathes of voters who choose to ignore his worst traits. His harsh criticism of minorities strikes an uneasy chord. But it reflects what many people are afraid to say in what they see as a too liberal and politically correct atmosphere.

Remaking politics

Trumps main achievement however is to change the rules of politics and invent a new way of getting elected. His ability to operate outside the bounds of normal behaviour is shaping a different approach to politics in a system seen by many as dysfunctional.

In post-Trump politics those ignored by an economy shaped by social media, technology and globalism will have a place. New actions to revitalise local communities ravaged by decades of decline will be welcomed, not least because politicians will only succeed when they reach out to those who feel left behind.

A new type of raw energy has been released by Trump. Such energy will last long after he is gone although harnessing it will need mature thinking and grounded policies. Millions of people abandoned by a weak economy will be given a voice through Trump’s legacy, not least because they are now seen as an essential part of the electorate.

So, you may or may not vote for Trump but the anger he has unleashed is deeply felt by voters and will play a role in elections all around the world.

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