Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"...but I really liked that person!"

It's been a long dry spell. But I am back with some of the learnings from my PhD program.  I am nearing the end of my classwork, and it's important for me to begin to "connect the dots" on things I've learned from a broad spectrum of psychology as well as media courses. This first one is a blog about hiring practices. Something with which I am intimately familiar, since for my organization of almost 9,000 people, this is critical to our success. I have found that a great deal of attrition is tied directly to hiring practices, and now that we are fixing our hiring practices, attrition has improved considerably.

We are often marginally better than chance at hiring the right people. In most of corporate America, and in small to medium businesses across the land, our hiring practices are based on getting resumes, screening candidates and selecting people to interview. As a percentage, a miniscule number of people (generally senior executives at large companies) are hired as a result of a process that has been conducted by industrial or organizational psychologists. And even then, without the right tools and the skill to interpret the results, psychologists get it wrong sometimes, too. Just ask Daniel Kahneman and his research partner, Amos Tversky. Here were two well-trained behavioral psychologists who found that they were marginally better than chance at predicting success for the Israeli army officer corp. Lest you think that these were two run-of-the-mill psychologists, Kahneman won the Nobel prize for economics, based on his research about how we choose, given options with varying risk profiles. And what is it that we are doing when we hire someone? We're predicting that they will succeed in the job for which they are selected.

The problem comes from the way our brains are wired. We like categories because the schema with which our minds interpret our experience neatly organizes things so that we can associate, expect, and predict - all unconsciously, of course. We post a job description with our desired characteristics which end up being a list of categories and superficial adjectives that we believe are characteristics. And prospective employees evaluate themselves against the categories and submit their resumes. They might be screened by an HR person (who is generally the least qualified to judge), but eventually a pile of resumes end up on your desk. Looking at the daunting pile, you say to yourself (or maybe not, but the brain is naturally lazy, and so it is thinking this), "I'll just look through this pile to get to the top half a dozen or so candidates. Since you can’t really judge character from a resume, you do the next best thing: you attempt to judge characteristics by the categories you read. More times than not, with a big pile of resumes, you're looking for the categories that would disqualify someone:  ".....this person didn't go to Harvard"; "...that person hasn't managed more than 100 people"; "....this person doesn't have a degree in economics", and so on. You get the picture.

To add to this, each interview will most likely be conducted differently. Sure you may have some of the same questions you'll ask everyone, but most of the questions you ask will be based on either what you saw in the resume, or what you didn't see in the resume. Then, after your first 30 seconds or so of interaction, you’re either asking questions to confirm that you like the person, or you’re asking questions that will give you the reasons to disqualify them.  The person you eventually hire will fit neatly into your little categorical box with all of its characteristics. Then something happens, about 6 months to a year after you've hired them, and you begin to think you could have hired someone better, or worse, that you may have hired the wrong person. Truth be told, you're probably not much better than 60-65% successful in hiring the best person for the job.

Categories can be dangerous and have been shown to be woefully lacking in their ability to adequately predict outcomes. Up until just recently, insurance companies, for instance, had no way to set insurance rates except through categories. Moving violations became an after-the-fact way for an insurance company to change your rates because the behaviors that led to getting a ticket will predict that you might get another. But why not have the ability to set your rates ahead of time, based on your behaviors? That's exactly why you'll begin to see options for drivers to have potentially lower rates by placing a device in the car that monitors behaviors such as cornering, acceleration, braking, average speed, and so on. All of these are behaviors that much more adequately predict whether you'll get a ticket or be in an accident, than the fact that you're a white, 60-year old, overweight male, like me. In fact, research shows that behaviors are more than twice as powerful as categories at predicting outcomes.

While no process is completely fool-proof, there is a way to drive up your odds for a successful hire to an amazing percentage! It involves a few steps of thought and discipline, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll get as close to predicting success as you can get without the aid of an industrial psychologist steeped in Myers-Briggs assessment. The first step is to think about the job you want to post as a set of behaviors that lead to good results.  In doing so, you’ll likely come up with the top 6 or 8 predictors of success. For instance, you might say that someone who makes great eye contact, smiles a lot, and has a solid handshake, is a person who could succeed at your job of head sales clerk (you wouldn’t hire him based on one behavior, but this would definitely be one of your predictors of success for that job).  Defining these predictors of success is hard work, but once you force yourself to get as much as possible away from categories toward behaviors, you’ll increase your chances for success. To be fair, there may be some categories that are absolutely essential (like a person looking for a security guard would almost always want someone who was at one time a policemen), but these can be part of the screening process prior to the interview.

Once you have defined the top 6 or 8 behaviors (you’ll know what they are because when the person you just hired doesn’t do those things, it aggravates you!), start writing the open-ended questions which help you see the strength or weakness of that behavior in the interviewee. For instance, if safe behaviors is one of the predictors of success for a driving job, you might say “tell me about your personal safety habits”, or “tell me about a time when you avoided an accident because of your situational awareness”. Questions like these give the interviewee an opportunity to give you a lot of information about them self. You needn’t come up with more than 3 or 4 questions per predictor, and you needn’t ask all the questions; only as many as you need in order to get a response that you can evaluate.

Next, establish a scoring system. It shouldn’t be difficult. Make it a scale of 0 to 3 or 1 to 5. A scale of 1 to 10 becomes too difficult to manage: “was that a 3 or 4?” After many interviews, it’s difficult to manage consistency of scoring and remember why you assessed one answer as a “5” and the same answer from a different person as a “6”. So, here is the math part of the process. If you have 8 predictors of success, and you’re scoring on a scale of 1 to 5, the maximum anyone could get is 40 points.  Scoring systems work very well as an aid to predicting success. Anyone who has given birth to a baby in the last 62 years knows the Apgar score, developed by Virginia Apgar, an anesthesiologist, in 1952. The score is based on a scale of 0 to 2 among 5 attributes of a newborn (appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, respiration).  This scoring system is so accurate that it is used in virtually every hospital in the world.  The discipline is around the scoring and the decisions that go with each score. Likewise, when assessing your candidates, keep the scoring simple and maintain discipline in the decisions.

Lastly, before the first interview, decide the threshold by which someone could “pass” and get to the final round of interviews (try to keep it to the top 3 or 4).  Resumes are good, but just understand that if you see one that you really like based on categories, it will influence how you score the question. It’s best not to look at resumes too much until after the interview. That way you can use them to confirm your assessment. So, if you decide that on a 40 point scale, you’ll only accept scores above 30 to the next round (or maybe your bar is set higher at 34), then score each question and don’t total scores until you’re done with all your interviews. Go back and add them up, and be disciplined around the threshold. I promise you that for someone you thought was great, but ended up scoring only a 28, the very first thing you’ll do is start justifying violating your rule by saying to yourself or your hiring partner, “…but I really liked that person!” And that will be the person that becomes the one you wish you wouldn’t have hired. We all believe that we can get them to change enough to make them acceptable, and the numbers prove that more times than not, we’re wrong.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Letter From The Future

Dear Colleague;
I thought I’d write you this letter from the future because, quite honestly, people just aren’t paying attention to what’s going on. Many of them don’t see and aren’t looking for the economic realities of a society and workforce changed forever by technology – and especially media. How do I know this? I know by the way they educate themselves today. Folks just don’t get that literacy is still at the heart of a strong democracy….it’s just a different kind of literacy. The world of new media has left some so far behind, that whole fortunes are changing hands because otherwise intelligent but media-illiterate folks just can’t keep pace with information and knowledge.

When I was a kid, my grandparents used to tell me how easy I had it, being able to ride a bus to school – especially in the winter. The bus made school districts larger in geographic size, as kids no longer had to be within a reasonable walking distance of the school. Of, course, my grandparents were also eager to tell me about how hard they had it when they were kids, walking to school in the snow, uphill, both ways! Now, I’m sitting here in 2032, and in my conversation with my grandkids, I’m telling them about how easy they have it connecting to their class and downloading their assignments. In my day, we had to schlep our books through the rain and snow from home to the school bus, and then to our lockers in the school hallway. Between classes we would run by our lockers to exchange books and notebooks, dashing off to the next class before the bell would ring, marking us tardy. Education was as much about “being there”, conforming, and learning the right answers, as it was about anything else.  

My youngest granddaughter is now a senior at the Distributed University of Science and Technology, getting her self-designed degree in molecular holographic displays. Degrees in broad topics, such as electrical engineering, mathematics, or physics became passé some time ago. Industry long ago discovered that a student graduating with a broad degree still had to undergo considerably more education in order to become productive in a new job.  So, many corporations got together and formed DUST in order to get a properly trained graduate right from the get-go. Why spend all that money getting a degree that wasn’t useful?  Thanks to rising debt, the government had to force educational institutions to rethink education. Many institutions decided to put money into quality staff who were not just media literate, but media savvy.  Students were also forced to rethink their student loans: “do I want to borrow money for living and partying expenses?” As it turned out, if you physically went to a school, it was to participate in a team sport or group activity (no, we still haven’t figured out how to have a virtual marching band!).

Those who don’t want to spend their money in group activities can now attend DUST from wherever they live. My granddaughter is very focused on getting her education, but it takes place with kids from around the world, all peering into the same portal to a teacher who is at home, or in a conference room at an airport. It really matters not. Her class and her support group (and I think she doesn’t know which is which!) are no further away than her Spacebook page, which is on “24-7” on her “learning center” display, as well as her smart phone. Her Windows 20 smartphone connects her to the open video connections of her six closest friends or her class.  I swear, with those video “tiles” on her Samsung Galaxy 35, it looks like the Jetsons meets the Brady Bunch! When she graduates, she tells me that she wants to work for Samsung on blending artificial intelligence (maybe not-so-artificial, these days) as used in holograms – which seem to be in use almost everywhere I go. Some young buck who was a student of Dr. Ohler’s at the University of Alaska (back when they still had buildings) invented this personal Hologram, called “TIMMI”. The guy is probably retired somewhere in the South Pacific.

At any rate, home life is different these days. In fact, the living space in the modern home has been redefined. Bedrooms are still important, as are common areas to gather for food and family time – but I swear that the kitchen is looking more and more like a cafeteria!  Everything in the home that has a function, has an IP address and reports its status to a server in the cloud, somewhere, on its health and the environmental factors that affect it. And it’s all controllable from a single device like my smart phone or my touch pad (and for most folks, these days, those devices are one in the same).  Now, while I’m traveling in Europe, my Digital Life application can see that my wine refrigerator isn’t compensating for the hot Texas summer days, and gives me the opportunity to dial down the temperature and turn up the humidity – all from my device. While I was on my Digital Life application on my smart phone, I noticed that my air conditioner wasn’t keeping my house very cool, which was why my wine refrigerator wasn’t working as it should….So I just reset the temperature on my thermostat to drop the temperature in my house a bit. The number of things I can do with the application are almost endless. I can see a live streaming video of the exterior of my home, and if one of the kids leaves the house without locking the door, I can just lock everything with one touch.  I used to worry about whether I had remembered to shut off one of the burners of the stove. Now I can just call it up through Digital Life, and I have instant peace of mind!

I’ve noticed, these days, that the houses that sell the best are the ones that not only have access points for every appliance, measurement device, or entry point, but they now have a “learning” center. The learning center consists of a small room with a working table, lots of electrical outlets, and a two-way video connection with a large, 4-foot, video screen. Cisco have perfected their “Telepresence” products and made them cheap enough that builders include them in their new homes. Now, all newly-built living units have built-in molecular tele-presence displays (MTDs). When we called them “televisions” we measured the resolution of the displays in terms of pixels. As you’ll remember, the number of pixels a screen could have had practical upper limits, the larger a screen was, the easier it was to see the pixels. Now these new MTDs have a fluid 3-dimensional look with no pixilation at all – no matter how large the display. It’s sort of like “plasma displays meets 3-D glasses”, but with no glasses! Televisions don’t exist anymore because they were only one-way devices. They were good for the media conglomerates to be able to send information to the viewer. But heaven forbid that you should want to communicate to the world with your TV! Back in the first decade or two of this century, the only way to communicate to the world was to use your smart phone or personal computer and post stuff on video share sites, social sites or use some sort of video-connect service….I think we called it WebEx when I was in graduate school.  

Starting the day with a high protein breakfast is important, but my granddaughter, like my daughter is very particular about what she eats. She opens the refrigerator and picks up a package of Greek yogurt. Packaging has gotten to be very expensive “real estate” and the new Nutrition and Diet Administration has so many requirements for disclosure, it’s easier just to put a QR code on the side of the package that connects to all the necessary meta-information about the product. (The old Food and Drug Administration that you and I knew has been split apart into the NDA and the Drug Administration Ministry.) When my granddaughter, picks up her yogurt, the focus square in the upper corner of her left eye-glass focuses on the QR code on the package, bringing up all the meta-information about the yogurt  in the micro-display in her glasses. Of course, it’s only viewable by her, but every time she opens the refrigerator and picks up a package, I can hear her talking to herself: “Let’s see, ingredients, no”…. “farm of origin, no”….. “percent of organic content, no”…. “ah! yes! expiration date, that’s it. It looks like this yogurt is good for another four days”. Of course, isn’t that the whole point behind yogurt, in the first place?

Once my granddaughter is off to her learning center, downstairs, I need to check in with my healthcare provider.  Since healthcare has become a government-sponsored service, I don’t need to drive to a doctor’s office and wait any longer. I’ll just sit myself down in front of my 6-foot MTD and hook up a couple of devices to my fingertips and body monitors, all of which are communicating wirelessly to my MTD.  My MTD has a camera so that video works in both directions. While I’m waiting for the next available doctor through the health exchange, I’ll download all my vital signs – blood pressure, blood glucose, heart rate, oxygen levels, and EKG – and sit here and read the news from a few of my favorite sources. (Fortunately, we stopped killing trees about 10 years ago. Nothing arrives in print anymore. It’s just there, on any device I use, whether it’s my smartphone, my  touchpad or my MTD.  Doctors like this arrangement, too.  There are no more doctors’ offices. They just work from home through the health exchange, connected by video to each of their patients, one at a time. The only place they have to show up is at the hospital – still haven’t figured out a way to make triage and surgery a virtual connection, just yet.

I have long-since retired and am really enjoying my smart house on the lake here in north Georgia. But my kids are all still working hard. My oldest daughter used to be in anti-money laundering work.  She was really good at what she did. Then money, as I knew it growing up, became passé. I remember the fellow who was chairman of AT&T at the time I worked there, saying that “people never left home without two things: their wallet and their cell phone; and that our job at AT&T is to make one of those obsolete!”  Well, it looks like he succeeded, since people only carry phones these days – smart phones….real smart phones. All of our rights and privileges, authorizations, validations, identification and currencies are stored in the cloud. A right of citizenship is carrying your smart device. We truly have become digital citizens. Now when a person is born, they get assigned a number for life. We used to have many numbers – social security numbers, bank account numbers, phone numbers, credit card numbers, home phones, fax machines (in fact, I can’t remember when the last time was that I saw a facsimile!) – now there’s just one number. You can call me on it, text me on it, charge me on it; it’s my bank account, retirement account, credit card, and voter identification, my driver’s license and my passport!

Wow, it’s hard to believe how much stuff I used to carry in my briefcase, just to get from one place to the next on a business trip! The good news is that illegal aliens are really easy to detect, since they aren’t carrying a smart device, and even if they stole it, they couldn’t get it to authorize anything without the retina and fingerprint of the person they stole it from. I guess we stopped referring to them as cell phones several years ago. With accounts and exchanges all being electronic, everything happens virtually. Currency flows from one account to another without ever really changing hands, and without having any physical properties or manifestation…it kind of reminds me of that game we used to play called Second Life. Who knew that fantasy would become reality? The good news is that the government’s Treasury Department stopped printing money several years ago; and there is no more counterfeiting organization within the FBI. And what became of my daughter’s anti-money laundering consulting job? Well, she’s become an expert in transactions and authorizations, now that exchanges create transactions, and smart devices create authorizations.  And now days, you can’t have one without the other.

Work – did I say I was retired? Oh yes, I had to retire from AT&T, but that doesn’t mean I had to stop working. In my final years as a company employee, I thought it would be interesting to get a PhD in media psychology. You wouldn’t believe some of wild things we thought about in the first and second decade of this century. Phone coverage was so spotty then, we actually had trouble keeping voice calls connected in some areas of cities and buildings. There was a time when mobile connectivity was the “figure” in our daily lives because something was always going wrong to interrupt service. Downloads took many seconds – sometimes a whole minute! Sometimes e-mail didn’t get sent right away. Now, connectivity is far into the “ground” of everyday life, I can’t remember when the last time was that I actually thought about connectivity.  Like my dad’s old wall phone – yes I still remember when phones were mounted on the wall – and all they did was connect to one other phone at a time for a conversation. Those old phones had become so commonplace at one time, that people just assumed there would always be dial-tone. Now, everyone carries their own personal communications device, and most people wouldn’t know dial tone if it bit them! People rarely use their devices to talk with others, but occasionally they do.

There used to be this company called Amazon (they were bought out by Sam’s Club many years ago: thus the name Samazon.  What the folks at the old Sam’s Club had figured out was that they could sell off most of their real estate and still be the largest provider of groceries and dry goods to the home. They kept one large facility in each city and just use it as a distribution point for delivering goods to the homes in the local market. It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same. I remember as a kid at my grandmother’s house, seeing the milkman make his delivery to their house twice a week. Samazon is successful because they have captured something long forgotten and broadened it to include anything you can buy that you don’t need to be fitted for!  And Cashiers and stockers are a thing of the past. Just pickers and drivers have jobs. Orders come from peoples’ smart devices generate a picking list and authorizes a funds transfer to Samazon.

Anyhow, I digress. In the old days, Amazon had invented this thing called a “Kindle”. It wasn’t so much that they had cornered the market on functionality, but they had figured out the optimum size for a personal communications device. All smart devices are now about 7 inches in diagonal, and the phone part is a Bluetooth connected ear piece. These devices come equipped with the ability to respond to voice commands (it seems like everything does, these days) through the Bluetooth connected earpiece/microphone. The radio is in the smart device, so as long as it is on or near my person, my world of friends and my world of search are never further away than my voice. There was a time when I had 300 or 400 telephone numbers memorized; now I can’t even remember my wife’s number! But fortunately I’m alright because I can still remember her name!

Where was I… oh yes, retirement. So retirement for me was getting to do what I wanted to do on my terms. I got introduced to a school called Fielding Graduate University – now the largest distributed learning institute in the country – so I studied for a PhD to allow myself an opportunity to continue to make a contribution….and get paid for it! I started a company to help other companies do workforce training and development using various media along with augmented reality. This all came about while I was working for AT&T. At the time, I had noticed that we had a problem getting all of our field operations force on the same page, as it were, for the process of installing or repairing a customer’s broadband service ( and in those days, we thought 50 Mbps was really broadband!  We used to say to ourselves, “who would ever need more than that!”).

One day, I was looking at the customer satisfaction surveys and trying to correlate them to the repeat-dispatch reports, and….viola! It hit me out of the blue: every one of our techs had their own way of resolving problems. Some would just continue to switch out the hardware, some would open up a trouble ticket for another department (the infrastructure folks) to come fix the line, and some of our techs were really good at fixing the problem or doing the installation right the first time. I wondered to myself, “how can we get everyone on the same page?” So, in those days, I dispatched our Metrics group to do time and motion studies on our best techs, and even film them at work. We got the infrastructure group to profile every element of each circuit – all the way out to the home. Actually, it seems we already had most of that information, but it was only available to be viewed in a call center on a single-purpose computer screen by someone who was trained to do just that. Talk about inefficient! The next step was that I asked our IT group to develop a tag with a QR code which correlated to the circuit and all the profile information. Last, I asked our Operations Support group to develop a work-flow “engine” which could step a tech through the thought process of an installation or a repair (in fact, these days, the installations go so smoothly, they apparently rarely get dispatched to repair anything, unless the customer tries to monkey around with the equipment. We haven’t yet seemed to invent a technology that keeps curious customers away from the stuff they shouldn’t touch!)

Boy oh boy!, You should see these techs today! What used to cost the company, on average about 4 hours of time, now gets done in less than an hour and a half. The techs arrive at a home, and the first thing they do is point the camera on their touchpad at the QR code on the tag at the end of the circuit closest to the customer’s house. All of the profile information about the line, the circuit, the conditioning, the previous service, the number and type of trouble tickets and anything else associated with the history of the line, pops up on the touch pad display. Based on the profile, and whether the tech is there to do an install or repair (and the system already knows which because the now fully-automated dispatch center tracks the IP address of the touchpad by its GPS coordinates), a step-by-step video appears on the screen, showing the tech what to do, and communicating with a Bluetooth wireless connection on the test equipment, confirming the tests were done and showing the results. With each step, a 15-30 second video clip is shown based on the readings of the test equipment and where the tech is in the process. Should a technician get confused and not know which connection goes where on the back of the customer’s equipment, he or she can just point the camera on the touch pad device at the back of the equipment and the image recognition software knows which video clip to show in order to help the technician follow through with the right procedure.  It would be nice to just have one piece of equipment to train people on, but competition has kept multiple manufacturers’ equipment alive and well in the middle of networks! And to boot, customers always seem to vary widely in their consumer electronics buying habits.

The interesting part of technology is that even with all the various equipment manufacturers, the company can now take almost anyone off the street and make them productive in a week, rather than the nine weeks it used to take. The economics of the business have completely changed! A week and a half of training versus nine; an hour and a half installation time versus four;  2% repeat dispatches versus twenty; and because they’re doing most everything right the first time, our customer satisfaction scores are off the charts! Now that’s how to build a brand!

Some of the subtending consequences to the business are that there are no more books (in fact, come to think of it, I haven’t seen a book in so long, I’ve forgotten what they smell like!). No more people in the call centers – everything’s completely automated. When I was at the company, we would tend to hire people who are technically savvy, and generally had a short learning curve for the technical aspects of the job. Since leaving the company, however, with all the media-related aspects to the technician’s job, I have developed the testing to assess how literate people are with various types of media, and how quickly their media literacy translates to manual dexterity for making physical connections. But the testing also gives great insight into a person’s ability to interact with others (like our customers) without the use of media. It seems that the more media saturated we’ve become, the more it’s become important for any brand to have folks who don’t hide behind the media in their personal interactions. In fact, we’ve found that the truly media-savvy folks are ready to be productive in just two days, instead of the week it’s now taking! But the hardest thing to train them on is how to read the customer’s voice inflections and body language and respond in such a way that allows for a delightful customer experience. But they must be doing something right at AT&T because their competitors have lost so much market share that several of them have gone out of business or have been bought out for their customer base. 

Thanks for staying in touch, friend. It will be fascinating to see what happens in the next 20 years. I hope I’m still around. I hear that Nicholas Negroponte is predicting that in the not-too-distant future from now, there won’t be any wires, anywhere, for anything! Then we’ll just mail equipment to a customer, and let them install it themselves. Wow, things sure are changing! Here’s to the future!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Media Persuasion

This week, after reading the Introduction to Media Literacy from the Media Literacy Project, I decided to watch a few ads during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I watch the parade every year in honor of a tradition that my father started, and so for me, it’s a pleasant memory and a trip back to more innocent times. I figured that for most of the audience who take the time to watch the parade, it must be a similar feeling. As such, we are “primed” to be persuaded by certain heuristic cues (Griskevicius, et al, 2009) with the positive and sentimental emotions from watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. This gave me an opportunity to watch the commercials with a critical eye.

The first commercial was for the Lincoln Financial Group and the target for the commercial was the “Chief Life Officer” in all of us. An acoustic guitar played a non-descript tune in the background as a pleasant female voice spoke over the images. The images alternately flashed from scenes of the White House and Oval office to scenes of houses, offices, people at work in cubicles, people at play and images of small business owners; all comparing the life, role and work of the president of the United States to all of us in our respective roles, lives, offices, and work. The images were hard-working but happy people, with soft lighting and low sun angles.
Whether you were happy about the outcome of the election or not, the music and images provided happy emotional experience, as the female connected to us by saying “today, it’s not about who is in the white house or the oval office, but it’s about you….”  One of the “subtexts” of the commercial was that our happiness and security doesn’t come from whoever is in the White House. The message was that we are the commander-in-chief of our own lives as the commercial ended with “You’re in charge”.

The persuasion elements used in this commercial were an emotional warm and fuzzy appeal, a nostalgic feeling of friends and family, and use of plain folks to associate with the average person.
The second commercial I watched was for American Airlines. A soft piano playing in the background while images a young military serviceman in camouflage fatigues was making his way home. From the taxi dropping him off at the airport, through ticketing and boarding, to finally getting off the plane, he interacted with several people whom he thanked for their help: “thank you, sir”, “thank you ma’am”, with each interaction. The final scene showed him leaving the plane and thanking the pilot who then said “No, thank you” (ostensibly for his service to our country), and then faded to the tail of an American Airlines plane with a large yellow ribbon. There was no voice over to the commercial, just the voice young man thanking everyone who assisted him.

Of the three commercials I watched, this one clearly had the highest emotional element of persuasion. While American Airlines didn’t try to “sell” a product in this commercial, they were connecting their brand to a more noble cause by association – being thankful for and respecting our nation’s military. The timing of this commercial was also a persuasion element used: placed during the Thanksgiving Day parade.
To compare commercials from a different type of programming, I watched commercials in the middle of the NY Jets – New England Patriots Thanksgiving day football game, later in the day. A Honda Accord commercial appealed to a person’s need for quiet in the midst of a hectic life.  The background music was a piano playing softly, but building a slight tension by not resolving to the chord of the major key until the very end of the commercial. The camera angles showed people apparently at the end of their stressful days, as they finally relaxed in their Hondas with expressions of relief. The male voice of the commercial talked directly to the commercial watcher and used words to indicate that in the middle of a sometimes stressful, sometimes disorganized, always demanding life there was finally a way to escape with a car that starts with “you”.  The final scene was a man and woman dressed in evening wear and smiling going out for the evening, as the music resolved to the major chord.

The persuasion elements of this commercial were basic but cleverly disguised. A simple solution appeal was made to anyone with a complex life. As such, association was also used in that all of us relate to the desire to have a little peace in the middle chaos. And because no celebrities were used, Honda was making an appeal to the average person who could identify with the very plain folks used in the commercial.
Considering all of the commercials I watched through the day, I saw early on, my work as a media psychologist. This came clearly into focus as I perused the commercials during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Some commercials were aimed at kids or at parents with small children. For instance Samsung now has a “LeapPad” – an “iPad” for kids who can’t read yet – that lets them craft their own “commercials”. I immediately thought to myself, “We’re teaching kids who can’t even put two words together media literacy with commercial products!”.  Several of the commercials during the parade appealed to the digital native (Prensky, 2001), or the parent of the digital native. But these products can only teach them the “text” of media literacy. These products can’t teach them the “subtext” or “latent text” of media literacy. The work of the Media Literacy Project is a great start to teaching the subtexts and latent texts. This work needs to be expanded to real-life application where students of all ages have age-appropriate coursework with educated instructors to not only help them understand how to use the tools and skills enumerated in the Introduction to Media Literacy, but to be as proficient with the tools as they are with the text of the various media.


Griskevicius, V.; Goldstein, N. J.; Mortensen, C. R.; Sundie, J. M.; Cialdini, R. R.; and Kendrick, D.T. (2009). Fear and loving in Las Vegas: Evolution, emotion, and persuasion. Journal of Marketing Research 46, (384-395)
Introduction to Media Literacy. (n.d.). Media Literacy Project. www.medialiteracyproject.org

Prensky, Marc. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, Vol.9, No. 5. University Press


Monday, November 19, 2012

Media Bias Inventory

This week, I performed a media bias inventory, using the tools outlined in Digital Community: Digital Citizen (Ohler, 2010). I discovered that I tend to consume media that either entertain me (news and information about the subjects that entertain me, such as sports, cooking, collecting, etc.), or that deal with conservative issues. I try to listen for bias toward liberal issues, for editorializing, and for ideologies that are harmful (even some of the more conservative ideologies are detrimental to real political and democratic progress.)

One thing I have observed is that I consume media from a much wider variety of sources than I initially thought. I like to be informed about a wide range of topics, and many times will read the headline and one or two sentences at the beginning of the story. By doing this I can see trends (in much the same way that John Naisbitt did for his book Megatrends, 1982) in industries, countries, organizations, and cultures.  
If the article, news cast, or blog is presenting just the facts, I will tend to read it through or stick with the article until I get from it what I want: the point of the story or a useful datum point or two. If there is any editorializing (someone opining on someone else’s quote, or assessing value judgments on a decision or direction in the story) as if I am being persuaded to adopt the bias, I tend to begin discounting the veracity of the story and the facts presented until I can read more sources, understand the context for the facts used, and compare what I know from history. (For me, understanding how civilizations and societies have risen and fallen serves as a great filter on the logical extension of any bias or viewpoint, since we have about 6,000 years of empirical evidence to show that the forces of human nature tend to repeat in every society and civilization.)
I tend to be socially and fiscally conservative, so anything that I read or listen to for information, I realize is filtered by that bias. That said, however, I observed that even conservative viewpoints annoy me that have no logical consistency, and no supporting or corroborating facts. I also find myself avoiding any media where the character of a person is assassinated or impugned, in order to make an ideological point.
As a media psychologist, I’m interested in studying and understanding how media persuades public opinion and perceptions of the truth. I’m also interested in understanding the “chicken-and-egg” syndrome relative to the media we consume: do we consume what comports with our a priori bias, or does what we consume inform our bias?  Secondarily, as part of a broader inquiry into media literacy, I’m interested in how literacy furthers the honest dialog that is integral to democracy: establishing a considered point of view that makes one think and is consistent with the history of human behavior.
Applying these concepts to teaching media literacy for kids is difficult, but I believe they can be broken down into some easier-to-understand concepts that most anyone can grasp. The beginnings of literacy can be understood through the asking of a few simple questions. There are three simple questions which can lead a student (no matter what age) on a media literacy journey:  How do I know? What’s the point? And, does this make sense? These 3 questions can be applied to any information-related content, whether print, digital print, television and video, or radio. These three questions begin a thought process that becomes more critical, over time, and is a good way to teach students how to watch or listen to programs and content, or read news sources and blogs, learning to separate the concepts that are worthy of critical thought from the persuasion tactics that are unsupported (no matter how right they seem). Let’s explore these questions a bit further to mine some further understanding:
1.       How do I know? Are the claims of the story supported, and can I check out those sources to corroborate the facts? Can I verify, or do I have to presume that the author or producer is right?

2.       What is the point? I often ask it this way: “Is there a chicken in this story?” What is the author really trying to get me to understand or to think about the subject at hand? Are there other cues (verbal, visual, sounds, music) that are telling me something different? Do these cues have any bearing on the point of the story, or are they just trying to persuade me on a parallel issue? Could I remove them and not lose the meaning of the story? If so, why are they really here?

3.       Does this make sense? In other words, is it logically consistent? Is it consistent with history? If I take this claim to its logical conclusion, does it hold together? Can I think of exceptions?

I’m sure that within a given class, the answers to these questions would vary for any given news story, but at least students begin to think critically and develop literacy that encompasses more than just the reading of material or listening to a story. Real literacy must teach us to recognize and deal with not just the body of content, but the way it’s presented, the meta-information that surrounds it, and the cues and influences that are part of the delivery.

As Arke (2011) claims, this sort of literacy is far more encompassing than just the teaching of words and their meaning. It requires thought across several disciplines: from sociology, history, anthropology, and psychology to start. Additionally, it requires thoughtful research skills. Our education system requires that we stop “admiring the problem” and get to work on setting standards and developing consistent study material for our kids. Our children are growing up to compete for jobs in a global market, and media literacy will be as much of a basic job requirement in this decade as the “3 Rs” were in the industrial age.

Arke, Edward (2011). Media Literacy: History, Progress and Future Hopes. Unpublished.

Naisbitt, J. (1982). Megatrends. Warner Books. New York, NY.
Ohler, Jason (2010). Digital Community: Digital Citizen. Corwin. Thousand Oaks, CA.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Socrates and Technology

Perhaps in much the same vein as Socrates’ dictum, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, was a warning to the masses to take notice and understand why and how we know and believe things, the tenets of Ohler’s (2010) technology assessment call us to bring our innovations and media to the fore and into focus so that we can understand “how?”, “why?”, and “to what extent?” our technology impacts us.

Using the investigative tools of a good “de-tech-tive” (Ohler, 2010), we have a methodology to assess the physical characteristics, enhancements, reductions, predecessors, implications, contexts, biases, benefits and impacts (Ohler, 2010) of virtually any innovation or technology. Two technologies I’d like to assess are the smart phone and PowerPoint – in part, because my professional life revolves around these two innovations. These two technologies have become part of the “ground” of my professional life because I use them virtually everyday, whether on the road or in the office. I don’t get paid to understand them; I get paid to use them as part of my arsenal of tools in managing people and communicating effectively. What may be even more important is that I never think about the person or people who are affected by my use of these technologies.  It’s almost as if I’ve placed a higher priority on my communication than on their understanding. So, let’s bring them to “figure” and make an assessment on the “how?”, “why?” and “to what extent?”
The smart phone is an innovation that over half of American adults own; over 27% of the world’s 5 billion cell phones are smartphones.  It is a wonderful amalgamation of technologies – all in one little package, small enough to fit into a pocket. Physically, they consist of a small, printed circuit board that has a PCS radio, a WiFi radio, a GPS receiver, a processor for calls, an ear piece and mouth piece for a phone plus a microphone and speakers, a processor for data, electronic RAM (random access memory), silicon traces, glass (not just any glass, but special glass with a thin layer of liquid crystal in it to detect touch), plastic, an antenna, a camera, and some very sophisticated software. It’s difficult to imagine but the average smart phone has almost 1,000 times more processing power than on the original lunar landing module (Apollo 16).
The smart phone takes cell phone technology to a whole new level. It provides for not just phone calls, but e-mail, scheduling, contact databases, internet surfing, and application use : so far, more than 700,000 applications across four main operating systems (Blackberry, Apple, Android, and Windows). It amplifies our mobile experience for communication modes.
At the same time, however, it diminishes our face-to-face contact with people. The more modes of communication we have at our disposal at one time, the less inclined we are to travel to go see someone. Presentations can take place simultaneously with a call in progress.
The smart phone’s predecessors were the “plain old” cell phone – you know, the thing that you could carry in your pocket but only made phone calls and sent and received text messages. And the plain old cell phone replaced the plain old phone; that device that was bolted to the wall in the kitchen, and which limited your mobility to about 15 feet.
What do the current versions of smart phones imply for the technology? The office, as we know it today, may not exist in the next 5-10 years.  In fact, by 2014, mobile internet usage will overtake desktop internet usage. The class room is changing, the “gathering place” is changing, and the office will follow suit. These smart devices are rapidly becoming one’s information, entertainment, communications, and social media hub.  
What are the social expectations that produced our desire to have this smart phone? The social environment of the office has placed an expectation of location-independent productivity on the average front-line worker. One must choose between carrying a plethora of devices (a cell phone, a PC, a camera, an mp3 player or an iPod, a wireless modem card, a Kindle, and a GameBoy) or carrying a smartphone.
Smart phones favor those with money – they’re much more expensive than a regular ol’ cell phone. They also favor those who have sight and who have working hands and fingers.  Certain functions can be performed with the voice, but to get maximum productivity out of a smart phone requires a tactile operating environment.   Who gets left out? Clearly those without money, those without sight, and those without the use of their hands have been excluded from using the technology.
The qualities which drove the creation and adoption of smart phones were their compact design, their multiple functionality (keyboard, camera, reader, video watcher, web-surfer, and a phone), and their mobile nature.
Smart phones connect us to information and media sources we didn’t have access to – except on hard-wired networks. They connect us to audiences and communities we didn’t have access to. But smart phones simultaneously disconnect us from physical presence – audiences, meetings, the office, communities, friends and family.
Now a look at an older technology: PowerPoint. It is a much older technology than the smart phone, but is every bit at the center of productivity in corporate America. Physically, it can exist on paper with multi-colored ink, or it can exist electronically on the screen of a PC, Tablet, smart phone or screen.
PowerPoint enhances our communication and our ability to communicate complex concepts with phrases and pictures; however, it can diminish our ability to write critically and clearly. Too much gets communicated with cryptic phrases, acronyms, and “ducks and bunnies” pictures, graphs, and visual aids.
The predecessor to PowerPoint was the “slide deck”. I use to travel with my slide deck in my slide carousel. Flying between meetings, I would arrange the slides to fit the presentation I wanted to make. The predecessor to the slide show was the sepia slide with an overhead projector. Unfortunately, I also remember those days of using the sepia slides to make presentations.
An implication for PowerPoint is the ability to share point-to-multipoint in a conference environment, where each person is viewing a shared PowerPoint – appearing simultaneously on everyone’s computer or tablet- while the presenter is talking on a conference bridge.
The social expectations in the business world for using this technology are unspoken but nearly universal. Rarely does a meeting take place without someone asking the question, “do you have a deck for us to follow along?”
PowerPoint is biased toward those with sight, as well as those present in the meeting or with a video-share sight. Who gets left out? Those without sight, those who aren’t present in the room, and those who don’t have a computer or tablet or who don’t have access to an electronic exchange for video connect.
The benefits of PowerPoint which drove its creation and adoption were that a predominantly hardware and firmware-based presentation technology was reduced to software. This new software is highly editable, and is almost completely hardware-independent.
PowerPoint connects us to a presenter through concepts, thoughts, data, and trends, but it can disconnect us from the printed word, from critical writing and from scholarly articles. Especially in the corporate world, where billion-dollar decisions are made with the use of two to four succinct PowerPoint slides. Here brevity is king and verbosity is a liability.
Being able to assess technology in this manner gives me the same platform that Socrates’ students had. Upon hearing his wisdom, they could apply it to themselves, and once internalized, could turn around and ask the probing questions of those around them.  Ohler’s de-tech-tive assessment tools now give us, as media psychologists, the job to ask the questions of “how?”, “why?”, and “to what extent?” in order to bring our innovations into focus, lest they “roll over us” (McLuhan, 1964) completely unawares.

American Cell Phone Usage Statistics – 2011. Retrieved on 11/10/12 from: http://signalnews.com/american-cell-phone-usage-statistics-2011-686 
McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. Critical Edition, Terence Gordon (Ed.). Berkeley, CA. Gingko Press, Inc.
Mobile Phone Statistics retrieved from Digital Buzz on 11/10/12 from: http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/2011-mobile-statistics-stats-facts-marketing-infographic/ 
Ohler, Jason (2010). Digital Community: Digital Citizen. Corwin. Thousand Oaks, CA.
Processing Power for the Lunar Landing Module. Retrieved on 11/9/12 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Guidance_Computer


Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Mantra

This week we were encouraged to develop a mantra for our work as media psychologists. Since my interest in this program from the beginning lay at the intersection of social media and brands, I felt like this would be a fairly simple exercise. Here’s the rub: the mantra had to fit in a Twitter feed – 140 characters maximum (letters, spaces, punctuation, etc.). It’s easy for me to sit down and write two to three pages as I explore my philosophy and engagement in this field of inquiry. But getting it to a succinct statement that plumbs the depths and yet captures the essence of the subject is not so easily done. For consideration in this statement are concepts such as:

-   The 4 Laws of Media: the Tetrad (McLuhan, 1964) – the extensions, amputations, retrievals, and limitations of any new media or innovation
-   The effects of innovation, technology, and media, on literacy, education, cognition, social awareness/ social presence, and our public and private institutions
-   The ancient need for all of us to tell our stories and to be known (Isbouts & Ohler, 2011)
-   The ancient need for us to gather in communities and be part of a larger narrative (Isbouts & Ohler, 2011).
-   Our dependence on innovations that rapidly move from figure to ground and go largely unnoticed in our daily lives – until we don’t have them any more (Burke, 2009).
Using these foundational concepts, I envision using and being involved in social media to help individuals, organizations and corporations see the gains and losses, the extensions and amputations, as well as the limitations and effects of innovation, technology, and new media (including social media) so as to create intelligent personal and corporate brands in the always-on digital world. By moving the technology and media which have become part of our unconscious social competence into focus, we can see them as tools to enrich the narratives of our collective stories, to create an enduring, positive, digital footprint, and for the advancement of critical thought in the anarchy of the information age.

In essence:
Bringing media and technology into focus for a clear view of their effects on personal and corporate brands in the always-on digital world.


Burke, J. (2009). The day the universe changed, Episode 4: The way we are. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V3zfLOMMh0&list=PL5DE4467071FD0EFD&index=4&feature=plpp_video. 
Isbouts, J. and Ohler, J. (2011). From Aristotle to augmented reality. The Oxford handbook of Media (Dill, Ed.)

McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. Critical Edition, Terence Gordon (Ed.). Berkeley, CA. Gingko Press, Inc.
McLuhan’s Laws of Media. Retrieved from: http://www.horton.ednet.ns.ca/staff/scottbennett/media/index.html

Ohler, Jason (2010). Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Timmi and McLuhan's 4 Laws of Media

A few weeks ago, I suggested the creation of a new technology: a trans-media, multi-instance, holographic (TMMIH) avatar – aka “Timmi”.  This week, I want to apply Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrad (4 Laws of Media) to my new innovation.  First, a quick review of the technology I proposed. Timmi is a 3-dimensional holographic image of me or another character (perhaps a cartoon or movie character) of my choosing.  The hologram speaks in my voice or the voice of my chosen character and both acts as my assistant (reading messages e-mails, texts, or speaking meta-data to a search or inquiry when requested), and as my representative on other people’s devices and displays. The hologram becomes a trans-media image when it makes itself instantly available on my device of choice (smartphone, touchpad, personal computer) and when appropriate, appears in my car’s heads-up display while I’m driving. As my representative, I can “push” my hologram to my friends and family, to speak on my behalf when I send a message or voicemail their way.

In looking at this innovation through the filter of McLuhan’s Tetrad, we find a couple of interesting insights. McLuhan’s Tetrad outlines in metaphoric fashion his four laws of media. These four laws suggest that for every new technology, new medium, or innovation, there is something gained (extended), something lost (amputated), something retrieved from our past and, when taken to its extreme, the innovation reverses or flips on us. 
First, with Timmi, we gain a presence in every social situation and community which is important to us. This is more than just being available through text on a screen, or a disembodied voice of voicemail. This is having a likeness of ourselves or a representative of our choosing available to be seen and heard by others, when they are connected. Additionally, as an assistant, Timmi becomes an acoustic interface to what was predominantly a visual and tactile medium (reading messages and responding with typing). This makes our environment of communicating within our communities a two-way, acoustic environment. The medium moves to the “ground” as the hologram image moves to “figure”.

However, with these gains, what do we lose? One of the amputations is the separation of the personal self from relationships that deal with the “agent” self. As this happens, our personal connections to communities we care about can be co-opted by an impersonal likeness as we delegate our presence to a representation of ourselves. The danger in this arrangement is that our real community becomes the relationship we have with our holographic assistant/agent, and we move toward isolation and individualism like the literate man.  

From the past, we retrieve expression, intonation, and the nuances of meta-data which were all amputated in our social media explosion. In the current world of social media, communication by text (words, acronyms, code, cryptic slang, etc.) and emoticons drive the preponderance of our messages. In the visual and tactile domain of smartphones, touch pads and personal computers, our thumbs and fingers and eyes are our “transmitters and receivers”. As Timmi is deployed, we have the opportunity to convey to friends, family and acquaintances more than what can be portrayed by text and emoticons on a display.

What happens to Timmi when taken to its limits?  As Timmi becomes ubiquitous, it reverses or flips on us. We lose real presence in any of our communities, and end up having to show up in person in those communities we really care about, as Timmi can’t convey caring, sympathy and empathy. What started out to be a way to provide an immediate presence, ends up being no presence, as Timmi has become “us”, and our personal presence is really nowhere to be found.

It’s important, as McLuhan maintains, that we think about these things as new innovations arrive, so that we can decide a way of “evasion and survival”. Otherwise, we will be left to deal with the consequences of “the maelstrom created by our own ingenuity.”

McLuhan’s Laws of Media. Retrieved from: http://www.horton.ednet.ns.ca/staff/scottbennett/media/index.html

McLuhan/ Laws of Media. Retrieved from: http://deoxy.org/media/McLuhan/LawsOfMedia
McLuhan’s Wake (2003). The Disinformation Company. New York, NY.

Ohler, Jason (2010). Digital Community: Digital Citizen. Corwin. Thousand Oaks, CA. (p.134-135)