An Interview With Chip Bell, Author Of Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles

Ron Damon

We recently had the opportunity to talk to author Chip R. Bell about his most recent book, Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service that Sparkles, which explores the nature and value of innovative service. Mr. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national bestselling books, including Take Their Breath Away, Managing Knock Your Socks off Service, Managers as Mentors, The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service, and Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service.

S & S: What sparked your interest in helping businesses improve their customer service?

CB: It all started years ago with reading a book (Marketing For Business Growth, by Ted Levitt): “No one buys a product, they buy an expectation of benefits and a solution to a problem. We don’t buy a ¼ inch drill bit to frame and hang on our living room wall; we want a ¼ inch hole.”

I was the director of organization development and training for a large bank. I asked to be a part of a small task force to help craft the long-range retail strategy for the bank. I was hooked on how organizations could create a more wholesome work environment while adding value to customers through providing a better service experience. The number-one impact on customer relations is employee relations.

Innovative service

S & S: This is your third book on innovative service. How does this book take the concept forward?

CB: Innovative service – what I call value-unique as opposed to value-added – can give birth to whimsy and cute. There is nothing wrong with adding clever flourishes to a customer’s experience. But what if the goal was to have a more profound impact on the customer? What creates the experiences customers remember for the rest of their lives, not just until the end of the week? My book, Kaleidoscope, is more about the character of innovative service.

It is about seriously sparkly service that is remarkable. Seriously has a double meaning. It can mean “super sparkly” that makes customers go “wow—that was delightful.” It can also mean “profoundly sparkly” that makes customers go “whoa—that was unexpected.” Disney World makes you go “wow;” Cirque du Soleil makes you go “whoa.” Remarkable means service so impactful customers remark about it—a story they are eager to share. This book is about “whoa” more than “wow!”

Kaleidoscope

S & S: Your book is an extended metaphor comparing a kaleidoscope with innovative customer service. What prompted the comparison?

CB: There are two aspects about a kaleidoscope that make it a fitting metaphor for the content of this new book. Kaleidoscopes engage the viewer in collectively creating visual charm; innovative service engages customers to collectively (customer with service provider) create great experiences. The other aspect is that the gems or glass pieces (my granddaughters call them “jewels”) inside the business end of the kaleidoscope never change. We do not open up the kaleidoscope and change the jewels. The jewels are the core (call it the character) of the kaleidoscope that, when reflected in the three mirrors inside the cylinder,create the magic. Innovative service is grounded in a core set of values—like enchantment, trust, grace, alliance, etc. I chose nine core jewels of innovative service to make up the nine chapters of the book.

Value unique

S & S: You mention the ever-shifting patterns seen in a kaleidoscope are equivalent to value-unique service. What is the benefit of value-unique service over value-added service?

CB: Great question. Value-added service is taking what customers expect and adding more. It is the airline upgrading a frequent flyer to first class. It is comping a dessert if the meal at a restaurant is not perfect. There are two challenges with value-added. First, it can elevate the expectations of customers. “Last time you upgraded me to the concierge level of the hotel, can I get an upgrade again?” Second, continually one-upping the last experience can get pricey…ultimately you run out of room.

Value-unique is not adding more, it is creating unique, simple, unexpected experiences. While there is an obvious limit to generosity, there is no limit to ingenuity. The key is to provide front-line employees with the support and trust to break old patterns and find new ways to deliver unique. Customers love service surprise, just like the free prize inside the Cracker Jack box that was financially worthless but emotionally priceless. Simple, unexpected, yet appropriate is the key to creating customer advocates who are eager to tell or tweet their great story to friends and colleagues.

S & S: What is the most innovative kaleidoscopic customer experience you’ve ever enjoyed?

CB: I will give you three! Since I travel every week, many of my experiences are related to events on the road. The Hotel Monaco puts a goldfish in my room. The housekeeper takes care of it. Their only request is that I give my goldfish a name. So, when I return to the hotel for another stay, the front desk clerk asks me “Would you like Trixie to come up and spend the night with you again?” Their bathrobes are not boring white, but rather leopard and zebra print! There is a yoga mat in the closet. Not only are they pet-friendly, they have a concierge dog in the lobby greeting arriving guests. It is this kind of innovative thinking that makes their hotel experience unique.

After a scrumptious meal at the Restaurant R’Evolution in the Royal Sonesta hotel in New Orleans, you might be too stuffed for dessert. So the waiter places a large, colorful Peruvian jewelry box on your table. Inside each drawer or behind each tiny door is a miniature pastry, petit four, or delicate sweet. That’s thinking out of the box!

The highly contemporary new Pacific Rim Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver puts antique retro-toys (a kaleidoscope, yoyo, or slinky) on your guest room’s industrial-strength desk. The contrast between super-modern and super-nostalgic creates an enchanting memory.

Organizational change

S & S: You mention in your book that innovative service has to come from within, from your core beliefs. How can service industry leaders apply these concepts to promote organizational change?

CB: Actually, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with organizations famous for innovative service, not just good customer service. When I examine the traits common to leaders in these organizations, there are amazing similarities. They spend their time with front-line employees, not in meetings all the time. As Bill Marriott said in a meeting I attended, “Being there is not to make employees happier; it is to make leaders smarter.” You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to be there.

Innovative service leaders know their front line is not only the ambassador of the organization; they are vital scouts with real-time insight into what matters to customers. Innovative service leaders are noticeably curious, highly inclusive, and humble. Their default is to trust their employees. Consequently, they are transparent and open. They demonstrate the highest level of integrity and are always eager to “do the right thing.” They are quick to affirm and assume the best in both employees and customers.

Core beliefs

S & S: What are the core beliefs that drive value-unique, innovative service?

CB: They include:

  • The pursuit of joy, not just the drive to make money
  • The willingness to take risks and experiment
  • Service to others as a vital cause, not just a necessary task
  • A devotion to the customer and the zeal to make every customer feel valued
  • Service laced with clear and present integrity and wholesomeness
  • A strong alliance-building orientation that treats colleagues as partners
  • A focus on a long-term relationship, not a short-term transaction
  • A change-driven recognition that today’s fad is tomorrow’s antique

What’s next?

S & S: What’s next from Chip Bell? Any new books in the works?

CB: I am confident when another book shows up, I will write it down. For me, books and articles are gifts that have been entrusted to me. I treasure my role as a transcriber and work to never take that special privilege for granted. My primary work now is promoting the new book. Additionally, I have a new keynote on Kaleidoscope and I’m having fun delivering it to audiences each week! Finally, I deeply appreciate your support of my work.

For more on how to create an unforgettable customer experience, see The Secrets Of Profoundly Remarkable Customer Service.

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Amazing Digital Marketing Trends And Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015

Sunny Popali

Amazing Digital Marketing Trends & Tips To Expand Your Business In 2015The fast-paced world of digital marketing is changing too quickly for most companies to adapt. But staying up to date with the latest industry trends is imperative for anyone involved with expanding a business.

Here are five trends that have shaped the industry this year and that will become more important as we move forward:

  1. Email marketing will need to become smarter

Whether you like it or not, email is the most ubiquitous tool online. Everyone has it, and utilizing it properly can push your marketing ahead of your rivals. Because business use of email is still very widespread, you need to get smarter about email marketing in order to fully realize your business’s marketing strategy. Luckily, there are a number of tools that can help you market more effectively, such as Mailchimp.

  1. Content marketing will become integrated and more valuable

Content is king, and it seems to be getting more important every day. Google and other search engines are focusing more on the content you create as the potential of the online world as marketing tool becomes apparent. Now there seems to be a push for current, relevant content that you can use for your services and promote your business.

Staying fresh with the content you provide is almost as important as ensuring high-quality content. Customers will pay more attention if your content is relevant and timely.

  1. Mobile assets and paid social media are more important than ever

It’s no secret that mobile is key to your marketing efforts. More mobile devices are sold and more people are reading content on mobile screens than ever before, so it is crucial to your overall strategy to have mobile marketing expertise on your team. London-based Abacus Marketing agrees that mobile marketing could overtake desktop website marketing in just a few years.

  1. Big Data for personalization plays a key role

Marketers are increasingly using Big Data to get their brand message out to the public in a more personalized format. One obvious example is Google Trend analysis, a highly useful tool that marketing experts use to obtain the latest on what is trending around the world. You can — and should — use it in your business marketing efforts. Big Data will also let you offer specific content to buyers who are more likely to look for certain items, for example, and offer personalized deals to specific groups of within your customer base. Other tools, which until recently were the stuff of science fiction, are also available that let you do things like use predictive analysis to score leads.

  1. Visual media matters

A picture really is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and nobody can deny the effectiveness of a well-designed infographic. In fact, some studies suggest that Millennials are particularly attracted to content with great visuals. Animated gifs and colorful bar graphs have even found their way into heavy-duty financial reports, so why not give them a try in your business marketing efforts?

A few more tips:

  • Always keep your content relevant and current to attract the attention of your target audience.
  • Always keep all your social media and public accounts fresh. Don’t use old content or outdated pictures in any public forum.
  • Your reviews are a proxy for your online reputation, so pay careful attention to them.
  • Much online content is being consumed on mobile now, so focus specifically on the design and usability of your mobile apps.
  • Online marketing is essentially geared towards getting more traffic onto your site. The more people visit, the better your chances of increasing sales.

Want more insight on how digital marketing is evolving? See Shutterstock Report: The Face Of Marketing Is Changing — And It Doesn’t Include Vince Vaughn.

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About Sunny Popali

Sunny Popali is SEO Director at www.tempocreative.com. Tempo Creative is a Phoenix inbound marketing company that has served over 700 clients since 2001. Tempos team specializes in digital and internet marketing services including web design, SEO, social media and strategy.

Social Media Matters: 6 Content And Social Media Trend Predictions For 2016 [INFOGRAPHIC]

Julie Ellis

As 2015 winds down, it’s time to look forward to 2016 and explore the social media and content marketing trends that will impact marketing strategies over the next 15 months or so.

Some of the upcoming trends simply indicate an intensification of current trends, however others indicate that there are new things that will have a big impact in 2016.

Take a look at a few trends that should definitely factor in your planning for 2016.

1. SEO will focus more on social media platforms and less on search engines

Clearly Google is going nowhere. In fact, in 2016 Google’s word will still essentially be law when it comes to search engine optimization.

However, in 2016 there will be some changes in SEO. Many of these changes will be due to the fact that users are increasingly searching for products and services directly from websites such as Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

There are two reasons for this shift in customer habits:

  • Customers are relying more and more on customer comments, feedback, and reviews before making purchasing decisions. This means that they are most likely to search directly on platforms where they can find that information.
  • Customers who are seeking information about products and services feel that video- and image-based content is more trustworthy.

2. The need to optimize for mobile and touchscreens will intensify

Consumers are using their mobile devices and tablets for the following tasks at a sharply increasing rate:

  • Sending and receiving emails and messages
  • Making purchases
  • Researching products and services
  • Watching videos
  • Reading or writing reviews and comments
  • Obtaining driving directions and using navigation apps
  • Visiting news and entertainment websites
  • Using social media

Most marketers would be hard-pressed to look at this list and see any case for continuing to avoid mobile and touchscreen optimization. Yet, for some reason many companies still see mobile optimization as something that is nice to do, but not urgent.

This lack of a sense of urgency seemingly ignores the fact that more than 80% of the highest growing group of consumers indicate that it is highly important that retailers provide mobile apps that work well. According to the same study, nearly 90% of Millennials believe that there are a large number of websites that have not done a very good job of optimizing for mobile.

3. Content marketing will move to edgier social media platforms

Platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat weren’t considered to be valid targets for mainstream content marketing efforts until now.

This is because they were considered to be too unproven and too “on the fringe” to warrant the time and marketing budget investments, when platforms such as Facebook and YouTube were so popular and had proven track records when it came to content marketing opportunity and success.

However, now that Instagram is enjoying such tremendous growth, and is opening up advertising opportunities to businesses beyond its brand partners, it (along with other platforms) will be seen as more and more viable in 2016.

4. Facebook will remain a strong player, but the demographic of the average user will age

In 2016, Facebook will likely remain the flagship social media website when it comes to sharing and promoting content, engaging with customers, and increasing Internet recognition.

However, it will become less and less possible to ignore the fact that younger consumers are moving away from the platform as their primary source of online social interaction and content consumption. Some companies may be able to maintain status quo for 2016 without feeling any negative impacts.

However, others may need to rethink their content marketing strategies for 2016 to take these shifts into account. Depending on their branding and the products or services that they offer, some companies may be able to profit from these changes by customizing the content that they promote on Facebook for an older demographic.

5. Content production must reflect quality and variety

  • Both B2B and B2C buyers value video based content over text based content.
  • While some curated content is a good thing, consumers believe that custom content is an indication that a company wishes to create a relationship with them.
  • The great majority of these same consumers report that customized content is useful for them.
  • B2B customers prefer learning about products and services through content as opposed to paid advertising.
  • Consumers believe that videos are more trustworthy forms of content than text.

Here is a great infographic depicting the importance of video in content marketing efforts:
Small Business Video infographic

A final, very important thing to note when considering content trends for 2016 is the decreasing value of the keyword as a way of optimizing content. In fact, in an effort to crack down on keyword stuffing, Google’s optimization rules have been updated to to kick offending sites out of prime SERP positions.

6. Oculus Rift will create significant changes in customer engagement

Oculus Rift is not likely to offer much to marketers in 2016. After all, it isn’t expected to ship to consumers until the first quarter. However, what Oculus Rift will do is influence the decisions that marketers make when it comes to creating customer interaction.

For example, companies that have not yet embraced storytelling may want to make 2016 the year that they do just that, because later in 2016 Oculus Rift may be the platform that their competitors will be using to tell stories while giving consumers a 360-degree vantage point.

For a deeper dive on engaging with customers through storytelling, see Brand Storytelling: Where Humanity Takes Center Stage.

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About Julie Ellis

Julie Ellis – marketer and professional blogger, writes about social media, education, self-improvement, marketing and psychology. To contact Julie follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

More Than Noise: Digital Trends That Are Bigger Than You Think

By Maurizio Cattaneo, David Delaney, Volker Hildebrand, and Neal Ungerleider

In the tech world in 2017, several trends emerged as signals amid the noise, signifying much larger changes to come.

As we noted in last year’s More Than Noise list, things are changing—and the changes are occurring in ways that don’t necessarily fit into the prevailing narrative.

While many of 2017’s signals have a dark tint to them, perhaps reflecting the times we live in, we have sought out some rays of light to illuminate the way forward. The following signals differ considerably, but understanding them can help guide businesses in the right direction for 2018 and beyond.

When a team of psychologists, linguists, and software engineers created Woebot, an AI chatbot that helps people learn cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for managing mental health issues like anxiety and depression, they did something unusual, at least when it comes to chatbots: they submitted it for peer review.

Stanford University researchers recruited a sample group of 70 college-age participants on social media to take part in a randomized control study of Woebot. The researchers found that their creation was useful for improving anxiety and depression symptoms. A study of the user interaction with the bot was submitted for peer review and published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health in June 2017.

While Woebot may not revolutionize the field of psychology, it could change the way we view AI development. Well-known figures such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates have expressed concerns that artificial intelligence is essentially ungovernable. Peer review, such as with the Stanford study, is one way to approach this challenge and figure out how to properly evaluate and find a place for these software programs.

The healthcare community could be onto something. We’ve already seen instances where AI chatbots have spun out of control, such as when internet trolls trained Microsoft’s Tay to become a hate-spewing misanthrope. Bots are only as good as their design; making sure they stay on message and don’t act in unexpected ways is crucial.

This is especially true in healthcare. When chatbots are offering therapeutic services, they must be properly designed, vetted, and tested to maintain patient safety.

It may be prudent to apply the same level of caution to a business setting. By treating chatbots as if they’re akin to medicine or drugs, we have a model for thorough vetting that, while not perfect, is generally effective and time tested.

It may seem like overkill to think of chatbots that manage pizza orders or help resolve parking tickets as potential health threats. But it’s already clear that AI can have unintended side effects that could extend far beyond Tay’s loathsome behavior.

For example, in July, Facebook shut down an experiment where it challenged two AIs to negotiate with each other over a trade. When the experiment began, the two chatbots quickly went rogue, developing linguistic shortcuts to reduce negotiating time and leaving their creators unable to understand what they were saying.

Do we want AIs interacting in a secret language because designers didn’t fully understand what they were designing?

The implications are chilling. Do we want AIs interacting in a secret language because designers didn’t fully understand what they were designing?

In this context, the healthcare community’s conservative approach doesn’t seem so farfetched. Woebot could ultimately become an example of the kind of oversight that’s needed for all AIs.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that chatbots have great potential in healthcare—not just for treating mental health issues but for helping patients understand symptoms, build treatment regimens, and more. They could also help unclog barriers to healthcare, which is plagued worldwide by high prices, long wait times, and other challenges. While they are not a substitute for actual humans, chatbots can be used by anyone with a computer or smartphone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of financial status.

Finding the right governance for AI development won’t happen overnight. But peer review, extensive internal quality analysis, and other processes will go a long way to ensuring bots function as expected. Otherwise, companies and their customers could pay a big price.

Elon Musk is an expert at dominating the news cycle with his sci-fi premonitions about space travel and high-speed hyperloops. However, he captured media attention in Australia in April 2017 for something much more down to earth: how to deal with blackouts and power outages.

In 2016, a massive blackout hit the state of South Australia following a storm. Although power was restored quickly in Adelaide, the capital, people in the wide stretches of arid desert that surround it spent days waiting for the power to return. That hit South Australia’s wine and livestock industries especially hard.

South Australia’s electrical grid currently gets more than half of its energy from wind and solar, with coal and gas plants acting as backups for when the sun hides or the wind doesn’t blow, according to ABC News Australia. But this network is vulnerable to sudden loss of generation—which is exactly what happened in the storm that caused the 2016 blackout, when tornadoes ripped through some key transmission lines. Getting the system back on stable footing has been an issue ever since.

Displaying his usual talent for showmanship, Musk stepped in and promised to build the world’s largest battery to store backup energy for the network—and he pledged to complete it within 100 days of signing the contract or the battery would be free. Pen met paper with South Australia and French utility Neoen in September. As of press time in November, construction was underway.

For South Australia, the Tesla deal offers an easy and secure way to store renewable energy. Tesla’s 129 MWh battery will be the most powerful battery system in the world by 60% once completed, according to Gizmodo. The battery, which is stationed at a wind farm, will cover temporary drops in wind power and kick in to help conventional gas and coal plants balance generation with demand across the network. South Australian citizens and politicians largely support the project, which Tesla claims will be able to power 30,000 homes.

Until Musk made his bold promise, batteries did not figure much in renewable energy networks, mostly because they just aren’t that good. They have limited charges, are difficult to build, and are difficult to manage. Utilities also worry about relying on the same lithium-ion battery technology as cellphone makers like Samsung, whose Galaxy Note 7 had to be recalled in 2016 after some defective batteries burst into flames, according to CNET.

However, when made right, the batteries are safe. It’s just that they’ve traditionally been too expensive for large-scale uses such as renewable power storage. But battery innovations such as Tesla’s could radically change how we power the economy. According to a study that appeared this year in Nature, the continued drop in the cost of battery storage has made renewable energy price-competitive with traditional fossil fuels.

This is a massive shift. Or, as David Roberts of news site Vox puts it, “Batteries are soon going to disrupt power markets at all scales.” Furthermore, if the cost of batteries continues to drop, supply chains could experience radical energy cost savings. This could disrupt energy utilities, manufacturing, transportation, and construction, to name just a few, and create many opportunities while changing established business models. (For more on how renewable energy will affect business, read the feature “Tick Tock” in this issue.)

Battery research and development has become big business. Thanks to electric cars and powerful smartphones, there has been incredible pressure to make more powerful batteries that last longer between charges.

The proof of this is in the R&D funding pudding. A Brookings Institution report notes that both the Chinese and U.S. governments offer generous subsidies for lithium-ion battery advancement. Automakers such as Daimler and BMW have established divisions marketing residential and commercial energy storage products. Boeing, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and General Electric are all experimenting with various electric propulsion systems for aircraft—which means that hybrid airplanes are also a possibility.

Meanwhile, governments around the world are accelerating battery research investment by banning internal combustion vehicles. Britain, France, India, and Norway are seeking to go all electric as early as 2025 and by 2040 at the latest.

In the meantime, expect huge investment and new battery innovation from interested parties across industries that all share a stake in the outcome. This past September, for example, Volkswagen announced a €50 billion research investment in batteries to help bring 300 electric vehicle models to market by 2030.

At first, it sounds like a narrative device from a science fiction novel or a particularly bad urban legend.

Powerful cameras in several Chinese cities capture photographs of jaywalkers as they cross the street and, several minutes later, display their photograph, name, and home address on a large screen posted at the intersection. Several days later, a summons appears in the offender’s mailbox demanding payment of a fine or fulfillment of community service.

As Orwellian as it seems, this technology is very real for residents of Jinan and several other Chinese cities. According to a Xinhua interview with Li Yong of the Jinan traffic police, “Since the new technology has been adopted, the cases of jaywalking have been reduced from 200 to 20 each day at the major intersection of Jingshi and Shungeng roads.”

The sophisticated cameras and facial recognition systems already used in China—and their near–real-time public shaming—are an example of how machine learning, mobile phone surveillance, and internet activity tracking are being used to censor and control populations. Most worryingly, the prospect of real-time surveillance makes running surveillance states such as the former East Germany and current North Korea much more financially efficient.

According to a 2015 discussion paper by the Institute for the Study of Labor, a German research center, by the 1980s almost 0.5% of the East German population was directly employed by the Stasi, the country’s state security service and secret police—1 for every 166 citizens. An additional 1.1% of the population (1 for every 66 citizens) were working as unofficial informers, which represented a massive economic drain. Automated, real-time, algorithm-driven monitoring could potentially drive the cost of controlling the population down substantially in police states—and elsewhere.

We could see a radical new era of censorship that is much more manipulative than anything that has come before. Previously, dissidents were identified when investigators manually combed through photos, read writings, or listened in on phone calls. Real-time algorithmic monitoring means that acts of perceived defiance can be identified and deleted in the moment and their perpetrators marked for swift judgment before they can make an impression on others.

Businesses need to be aware of the wider trend toward real-time, automated censorship and how it might be used in both commercial and governmental settings. These tools can easily be used in countries with unstable political dynamics and could become a real concern for businesses that operate across borders. Businesses must learn to educate and protect employees when technology can censor and punish in real time.

Indeed, the technologies used for this kind of repression could be easily adapted from those that have already been developed for businesses. For instance, both Facebook and Google use near–real-time facial identification algorithms that automatically identify people in images uploaded by users—which helps the companies build out their social graphs and target users with profitable advertisements. Automated algorithms also flag Facebook posts that potentially violate the company’s terms of service.

China is already using these technologies to control its own people in ways that are largely hidden to outsiders.

According to a report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the popular Chinese social network WeChat operates under a policy its authors call “One App, Two Systems.” Users with Chinese phone numbers are subjected to dynamic keyword censorship that changes depending on current events and whether a user is in a private chat or in a group. Depending on the political winds, users are blocked from accessing a range of websites that report critically on China through WeChat’s internal browser. Non-Chinese users, however, are not subject to any of these restrictions.

The censorship is also designed to be invisible. Messages are blocked without any user notification, and China has intermittently blocked WhatsApp and other foreign social networks. As a result, Chinese users are steered toward national social networks, which are more compliant with government pressure.

China’s policies play into a larger global trend: the nationalization of the internet. China, Russia, the European Union, and the United States have all adopted different approaches to censorship, user privacy, and surveillance. Although there are social networks such as WeChat or Russia’s VKontakte that are popular in primarily one country, nationalizing the internet challenges users of multinational services such as Facebook and YouTube. These different approaches, which impact everything from data safe harbor laws to legal consequences for posting inflammatory material, have implications for businesses working in multiple countries, as well.

For instance, Twitter is legally obligated to hide Nazi and neo-fascist imagery and some tweets in Germany and France—but not elsewhere. YouTube was officially banned in Turkey for two years because of videos a Turkish court deemed “insulting to the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,” father of modern Turkey. In Russia, Google must keep Russian users’ personal data on servers located inside Russia to comply with government policy.

While China is a pioneer in the field of instant censorship, tech companies in the United States are matching China’s progress, which could potentially have a chilling effect on democracy. In 2016, Apple applied for a patent on technology that censors audio streams in real time—automating the previously manual process of censoring curse words in streaming audio.

In March, after U.S. President Donald Trump told Fox News, “I think maybe I wouldn’t be [president] if it wasn’t for Twitter,” Twitter founder Evan “Ev” Williams did something highly unusual for the creator of a massive social network.

He apologized.

Speaking with David Streitfeld of The New York Times, Williams said, “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

Entrepreneurs tend to be very proud of their innovations. Williams, however, offers a far more ambivalent response to his creation’s success. Much of the 2016 presidential election’s rancor was fueled by Twitter, and the instant gratification of Twitter attracts trolls, bullies, and bigots just as easily as it attracts politicians, celebrities, comedians, and sports fans.

Services such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are designed through a mix of look and feel, algorithmic wizardry, and psychological techniques to hang on to users for as long as possible—which helps the services sell more advertisements and make more money. Toxic political discourse and online harassment are unintended side effects of the economic-driven urge to keep users engaged no matter what.

Keeping users’ eyeballs on their screens requires endless hours of multivariate testing, user research, and algorithm refinement. For instance, Casey Newton of tech publication The Verge notes that Google Brain, Google’s AI division, plays a key part in generating YouTube’s video recommendations.

According to Jim McFadden, the technical lead for YouTube recommendations, “Before, if I watch this video from a comedian, our recommendations were pretty good at saying, here’s another one just like it,” he told Newton. “But the Google Brain model figures out other comedians who are similar but not exactly the same—even more adjacent relationships. It’s able to see patterns that are less obvious.”

A never-ending flow of content that is interesting without being repetitive is harder to resist. With users glued to online services, addiction and other behavioral problems occur to an unhealthy degree. According to a 2016 poll by nonprofit research company Common Sense Media, 50% of American teenagers believe they are addicted to their smartphones.

This pattern is extending into the workplace. Seventy-five percent of companies told research company Harris Poll in 2016 that two or more hours a day are lost in productivity because employees are distracted. The number one reason? Cellphones and texting, according to 55% of those companies surveyed. Another 41% pointed to the internet.

Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, argues that many product designers for online services try to exploit psychological vulnerabilities in a bid to keep users engaged for longer periods. Harris refers to an iPhone as “a slot machine in my pocket” and argues that user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers need to adopt something akin to a Hippocratic Oath to stop exploiting users’ psychological vulnerabilities.

In fact, there is an entire school of study devoted to “dark UX”—small design tweaks to increase profits. These can be as innocuous as a “Buy Now” button in a visually pleasing color or as controversial as when Facebook tweaked its algorithm in 2012 to show a randomly selected group of almost 700,000 users (who had not given their permission) newsfeeds that skewed more positive to some users and more negative to others to gauge the impact on their respective emotional states, according to an article in Wired.

As computers, smartphones, and televisions come ever closer to convergence, these issues matter increasingly to businesses. Some of the universal side effects of addiction are lost productivity at work and poor health. Businesses should offer training and help for employees who can’t stop checking their smartphones.

Mindfulness-centered mobile apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Forest offer one way to break the habit. Users can also choose to break internet addiction by going for a walk, turning their computers off, or using tools like StayFocusd or Freedom to block addictive websites or apps.

Most importantly, companies in the business of creating tech products need to design software and hardware that discourages addictive behavior. This means avoiding bad designs that emphasize engagement metrics over human health. A world of advertising preroll showing up on smart refrigerator touchscreens at 2 a.m. benefits no one.

According to a 2014 study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, approximately 6% of the world’s population suffers from internet addiction to one degree or another. As more users in emerging economies gain access to cheap data, smartphones, and laptops, that percentage will only increase. For businesses, getting a head start on stopping internet addiction will make employees happier and more productive. D!


About the Authors

Maurizio Cattaneo is Director, Delivery Execution, Energy, and Natural Resources, at SAP.

David Delaney is Global Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, SAP Health.

Volker Hildebrand is Global Vice President for SAP Hybris solutions.

Neal Ungerleider is a Los Angeles-based technology journalist and consultant.


Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.

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No Longer Soft Skills: Five Crucial Workplace Skills Everyone Should Learn

Carmen O'Shea

My child’s elementary school focuses on skills they believe support children in becoming changemakers. Through use of an integrated, project-based curriculum, they explicitly teach and assess “learner values” such as iteration, risk, failure, collaboration, and perspective. Their philosophy is that these attributes long considered “soft skills” have become the crucial educational priorities for this generation.

Why do they believe this? Much knowledge is now easily accessed and readily queried, such that the acquisition of specific content or know-how is far less important than how to apply that content in different situations and how to interact with others in the pursuit of goals. This holds true in the workplace as well as the academic environment. When I think about how I operate in my job at a large technology company, it’s not really what I know but what I do with what I know, and whom I engage to get things accomplished.

Watching the school teach these skills just as they do math or language has made me stop and consider what they look like for an employee. I wanted to share my thoughts on five qualities beyond relevant academic skills or professional experience that are just as important (if not more so) in predicting top work performance. These are more qualitative skills that managers should hire for, employees should develop, and organizations should optimize for.

  • Empathythe ability to see and integrate multiple perspectives and to understand the impact of how others think. Empathy can also mean advocating and showing empathy for oneself and for others. Empathy is assuming a good intention even when someone has said or done something we dislike – to stop and pause, attempt to understand, and respond compassionately in a difficult workplace situation. Empathy also extends to intuiting beyond just the professional environment to more of a personal level to truly understand what drives a colleague or employee.
  • Resiliencethe ability to take risks even when you know you may fail and then to bounce back, sometimes repeatedly, from failure. Inherent in resilience is the idea of iteration – that it is often essential to try things multiple times, in multiple ways, from multiple angles, before achieving a desired outcome. Resilience is receiving difficult yet constructive feedback from a manager or peer and resolving to act positively on it instead of wallowing or harboring a grudge. Resilience is maintaining a sense of optimism even in a down quarter at work.
  • Creativitythe ability to think differently or expansively and to approach a problem from multiple angles. Sometimes it’s called “thinking outside the box.” Creativity often includes inquiry, the act of questioning and satisfying one’s curiosity about particular topics. Torrance defined it along several parameters – number of ideas generated, number of categories of ideas, originality of ideas, and how detailed each idea is elaborated. We see it in action during brainstorming phases of projects, but it’s also possible to apply creativity on a continual basis, by pushing colleagues to expand on their thoughts, by not being satisfied with a less than stellar answer, by taking time to understand how multiple approaches to an issue could be combined, or by simply trying something new in a familiar situation.
  • Collaborationthe ability to interact and work productively with others, in all size groups. Effective collaboration requires empathy, especially when collaborators have different backgrounds, styles, or thought processes. Collaboration also requires exemplary communication skills, both oral and written, as well as reflective listening. So much of our tasks on the job require collaboration with others, whether to inform, persuade, learn, or engage, and these interactions form the bedrock for innovation. It’s tough to innovate without collaborating.
  • Flexibilitythe ability to adapt or change course if that is what the situation demands. Flexibility includes letting go of one’s idea in the interest of attaining a goal more quickly. It can also include development a comfort level with uncertainty or ambiguity, especially in times of change. Flexibility is a willingness to absorb feedback objectively and course correct as needed without personalizing the information or demonizing the provider of it. Expounding on another’s idea (not our own) in a brainstorming session demonstrates flexibility, as does remaining calm while an org change takes effect and roles are temporarily unclear.

When employees exhibit these qualities, they are better able to understand their purpose at work and to unleash their passions in the pursuit of that purpose. When teams exhibit these qualities, achievement and employee engagement are higher.  I wager that retention and innovation will improve as well. It’s heartening that as a society we’re beginning to consider how to best prepare our children educationally for the kind of work environments they will encounter after they finish their academic journey.

Do you also see these qualities as valuable in assessing employee fit? How can managers and organizations better identify, train and reward employees for living these qualities?

For more on this topic, see Your Business Needs People With Skills, Not Just Qualifications.

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Carmen O'Shea

About Carmen O'Shea

Carmen O’Shea is the Senior Vice President of HR Change & Engagement at SAP. She leads a global team supporting major transformation initiatives across the company, focused on change management, employee engagement, and creative marketing and interaction. You can follow Carmen on Twitter.