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It’s a looooong way from Bros Icing Bros. The Tribeca Film Festival tonight officially announced Smirnoff Ice’s Chris Fonseca: Keep It Moving, directed by Zachary Heinzerling, as the winner of the second annual Tribeca X Award, the top prize for “excellence in creative, original and authentic storytelling that is sponsored or underwritten by a brand.”

The film, created with agency 72andSunny, beat out an impressive line-up of finalists, including BMW Films’ The Escape, starring Clive Owen and created by Neil Blomkamp, For Every Kind of Dream from Square, Kenzo’s The Realest Real directed by Carrie Brownstein, and more.

The winner was chosen by a jury that included Hearst COO Joanna Coles, CCO, Creative Artists Agency CCO and co-head of marketing Jae Goodman, directors and comedy legends Tim & Eric, former J. Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons, and Upworthy CEO Eli Pariser. And since this is related to marketing… the judging also included a proprietary A.I. solution developed by Celtra, that the festival says provided quantitative creative analysis based on performance data and insights from hundreds of thousands of video advertising campaigns powered by Celtra’s creative management platform.

“There was something special in Keep It Moving that resonated unanimously with the group,” Lyons said in a statement. “The message was not only important and poignant – it was expressed with beautiful imagery as well as a unique play on sound that allowed the viewer for a brief moment to possibly imagine what it might be like to live in Chris’ world. It was moving and beautiful as well as inspiring.”

This year the number of entries for Tribeca X tripled to reach 600. Tribeca Enterprises CEO Andrew Essex says he hopes its a signal that more brands are taking seriously the role that great content can play in a well-rounded marketing strategy.

“It is a time where people are thinking about the implication behind something like The Lego Movie, to know there is a sequel in play, and that other brands are communicating in a way that’s designed to attract an audience rather than repel them,” says Essex. “I think it’s a symptom of some very large, secular changes within the industry.”

And let’s face it, the more brand content like this, maybe the less crappy ads there will be for us all to be subjected to. Dare to dream, people. Dare to dream.

Author: Jeff Beer
Posted: April 24, 2017, 9:05 pm

Of the 3,500 species of mosquitoes around the world, only 20 to 25 species carry diseases, like malaria and Zika, that affect humans. But it’s hard to know where those species are at any given time, and current methods–trapping insects and bringing them to a lab for analysis under a microscope–can only happen in a limited way.

Researchers at Stanford University are testing another method: using volunteers with cell phones to record a mosquito’s annoying buzz. Because the sound of a particular species’ buzz is unique, it’s possible to then use machine learning to identify each species and plot it on a map.

In a trial in Madagascar with high school students, the researchers were able to map an entire village in 24 hours. [Photo: Nataba/iStock]
“We realized that using a regular phone–a $5 to $10 flip phone–we can record these acoustic signatures from mosquitoes,” researcher Manu Prakash, a TED fellow and MacArthur genius grant winner, told an audience at TED 2017. Prakash is known for his “frugal science” inventions, including the Foldscope (a cheap paper microscope that he has distributed to students around the world) and a toy-inspired centrifuge that can be made for 20 cents instead of the usual $1,000.
In places like Africa and South America, where cell phones have become ubiquitous, citizen scientists can use phones to gather mass data about mosquitoes. The system, called Abuzz, works quickly. In a trial in Madagascar with high school students, the researchers were able to map an entire village in 24 hours. The researchers say that people are motivated to help–many have lost loved ones to mosquito-borne illnesses–but in the future, the project may also offer incentives to participate such as free phone minutes.

By better understanding where disease-carrying mosquitoes are, it becomes easier to target them.

“I think one of the aspects of this is on a planetary scale, we have absolutely no idea where mosquitoes are, how far they go, how that changes with climate change…this real-time data coming from the ground is the most important thing for policy, but also locally trying to figure out where they’re breeding,” says Prakash. “If you think about the resources that we have, they’re very limited. We need precision attacks on mosquitoes rather than spraying everything around and spoiling resources.”

Author: Adele Peters
Posted: April 24, 2017, 8:15 pm

In 1951, Langston Hughes wrote the now-canonical poem “Harlem (What Happens to a Dream Deferred?).” It became the inspiration for Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play A Raisin In The Sun, which depicted a black family’s experience in mid-twentieth century Chicago. Now almost 60 years later, the U.S. State Department’s website, ShareAmerica, is once again citing the “dream deferred” reference, but not for the sake of literature or drama. Rather, it’s how the website described Mar-a-Lago’s struggle to gain designation as a National Historic Site. In a blog post published earlier this month, ShareAmerica also dubbed President Trump’s favorite Florida private club “the winter White House.” The U.S. Embassy in the U.K. even copied and pasted the post.

Oddly promotional, sure, but is it ethical ? In plain terms, probably not.

“It’s clear cut,” says Kathleen Clark, a professor of law at Washington University, arguing that the post violates government ethics regulations. The rules clearly state that federal employees shall not use public office for the endorsement of any product or service, explains Clark. And the blog post seems quite clearly to be an endorsement of Mar-a-Lago.

It’s unclear why a website managed by the State Department would publish such a post. (We reached out for comment and will update if we hear back.) In fact, the entire piece is a bit of a mystery—a mid-length piece of content churn describing the resort as Trump’s “Florida estate.” Posted on April 4, it teases the meeting Trump was about to have with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

The post then details the history of the Mar-a-Lago estate. Describing how it was built by socialites in the 1920s to be a lavish meeting spot for international VIPs, it launches into a gripping story of love and loss. Mar-a-Lago’s genesis is one of Gilded Age extravagance, we’re told, but it was ultimately forgotten. The resort long sought the attention of public officials but to no avail! Then—wait for it—Donald Trump buys it in the 1980s, restores it, and makes it the private palace it is today. In a major plot twist, Trump gets elected president. Now, the resort is fulfilling its decades-long dream to be a haven and meeting place for the world’s illuminati and also Donald Trump.

The blog post is just one of many on the ShareAmerica page, but it’s by far the most brazen in its Trump brand promotion. After reading it, Clark wondered if the administration either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the separation of private and public business, citing a history of apparent conflicts. She brings up Kellyanne Conway’s endorsement of Ivanka Trump’s brand on national television, which resulted in an uproar. But the White House council’s response, says Clark, was to make “excuses for Conway.” There was “no indication that they took any disciplinary action in any way,” she adds, “or that they recognize that apparently [Conway] hadn’t been trained adequately.”

Perhaps that’s really what’s going on here. The blog’s author—Leigh Hartman, who has written dozens of posts for the government site—may have just not received adequate training. All the same, Clark, as a legal scholar, reiterates just how glaring this issue is. And that’s not just a case of an ethics expert nitpicking over certain obscure legal clauses. “It’s not just some technical rule,” says Clark. “It’s specific expression of a very general rule” that government officials should not use public office for private gain.

These public sites, Clark says, are “for the people.” And Trump’s private resort is most definitely not.

Update: Following the public outcry, the Department of State has taken down the post. An official provided Fast Company with this state:

The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post. 

Author: Cale Guthrie Weissman
Posted: April 24, 2017, 5:50 pm

Today, you may have been surprised to see Shea Moisture trending on Twitter. It’s a popular brand with a strong following, but nowadays when a brand is trending, there’s reason to believe something else is up. Right, United and Pepsi?

The brand’s newest commercial features a few women talking about their struggles with self-confidence as it relates to their hair. But with three out of the four women being white, the controversy is over the one woman missing from the conversation.

Shea Moisture been drew a line in the sand, but now they're throwing the sand in the eyes of dark BW w/ kinky hair.

— Trudy (@thetrudz) April 24, 2017

I get Shea Moisture wanting to get that crossover coin, BUT a black woman going natural isn't the same as embracing your red hair.

— E.Nicole (@erikastruth) April 24, 2017

Black women built SheaMoisture. And not the "I was teased for having good hair" Black women. Black women will take it right on down too.

— Kimberly N. Foster (@KimberlyNFoster) April 24, 2017

Shea Moisture is a product traditionally used by African-American women, and in an effort to perhaps expand its consumer base, the spot seems to have forgotten its foundation. Last year, the brand worked with agency Droga5 on its first TV commercial, a thoughtful look at segregation in the beauty aisle.

A Droga5 spokesperson confirmed the agency did not work on this new spot.

Some of the criticism so far has blamed the brand’s selling a stake in the company to Bain Capital Private Equity for diluting its cultural awareness. But that was in 2015, almost a year before “Break The Walls” was launched. So how do you go from so insightful to tone deaf? That’s the question both consumers and other brands will be asking, while underlining the importance of, first and foremost, knowing–and listening to–your audience.


Related: How Sundial Brands CEO Richelieu Dennis Is Challenging Segregation In The Beauty Aisle


Even if you want to expand your consumer base, you cannot ignore or piss off your base, the people who form the foundation of your very brand. Without that, the rest crumbles. Here, Shea Moisture has unnecessarily created a controversy. An unforced error.

I’ve contacted Shea Moisture’s parent company Sundial Brands for comment, but haven’t heard back yet.

Author: Jeff Beer
Posted: April 24, 2017, 4:45 pm

When Detroit began shutting off the water supply to thousands of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents who were behind on their water bills in 2014, U.N. experts called it a violation of human rights. Three years later, the same thing is still happening. On April 19, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department began another round of mass shutoffs.

One nonprofit has a simple way to help: If you donate money, they’ll use it to pay off overdue bills.

The Human Utility first launched in 2014 as the Detroit Water Project, when cofounder Tiffani Bell–a Code for America fellow at the time, based in Oakland–read about the situation in Detroit and started tweeting about it. As she dug around on the water company’s website, she found a list of delinquent accounts and began to speculate about helping pay them off. Bell worked remotely with another volunteer she met on Twitter (Kristy Tillman, now head of communication design at Slack) to quickly build a website to connect donors with people in need.

Since launching, the Human Utility has helped nearly 1,000 families.  [Photo: czarny_bez/iStock]
Initially, volunteers manually matched donors with people who reached out for help. Now, all donations go into one pool, and anyone with an overdue bill fills out an application that automatically screens them for qualification; they also provide supporting documents like pay stubs.

Since launching, the tiny nonprofit has helped nearly 1,000 families. “There’s some people who were living without water for a while,” Bell tells Fast Company. “There’s a lady who wrote an email that hangs over my door who talks about how she and her son were very sick, and they had to live without running water in their house for six months until we helped them. They were doing things like trying to drink from their neighbor’s water hose. Now they don’t have to.”

After going through the Y Combinator program in early 2015, the organization expanded to also work in and around Baltimore, where the donations have helped some families keep their homes.

“You can lose your house over a water bill as well,” she says. “If you don’t pay it…they’ll essentially tack the bill onto your property taxes. So if you don’t pay the property taxes, you’ll lose the house in a tax sale.” Since 2015, the organization has helped around 40 families in Baltimore stay in their houses.

The Human Utility also helps people living in cities near Detroit, although not Flint–where residents pay three times the national average rate for water that still comes from lead-tainted pipes. “We don’t think people should be paying for the water there at all when you can’t drink it in the first place,” Bell says. Flint water shutoffs began in April.

In Detroit, the city launched a water payment assistance program in March 2015 for customers who live at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. The program covers a third of a family’s monthly bill and freezes overdue accounts. But though 5,766 households are enrolled, it’s not a long-term solution. Neither is the Human Utility, says Bell.

“I want it to grow and help more people, but I ultimately want it to not have to exist,” she says. “I want cities to think about the effect of water policy and have it be where water is affordable for everyone.”

It’s a problem that’s likely to continue to grow. One study predicts that in five years–as cities have to continue to invest in expensive new infrastructure, pushing rates higher–as much as a third of Americans won’t be able to afford their water bills.

Author: Adele Peters
Posted: April 24, 2017, 1:30 pm

Alejandro González Iñárritu is not only in touch with his emotions, he’s proven his skill of shaping them into art.

The Academy-Award winning director of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and The Revenant discussed his career and creative motivations with artist Marina Abramović as part of Tribeca Film Festival’s Directors Series. Although topics ranged from virtual reality to President Trump, the through-line of the discussion was Iñárritu’s ability to harness not only his passions, but those of his actors as well, and mold them into some of the most emotionally-charged films of the past decade: 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful. Below are some of the highlights from Iñárritu’s talk.

Alejandro González Iñárritu [Photo: Brigitte LaCombe]

Making Mistakes

“My ambition diminishes reality, and then when I hit reality there’s always turbulence. I would love to be a little bit more mathematically planned, but in a way my enthusiasm is overwhelming, and in the middle of the flight I have to solve a lot of things.”

Molding Emotions

“An emotion is a prism that you can interpret in many possibilities. I have learned there was this fear of an actor or actress [burning out] in a scene where–they should feel the whole emotion in one take and not over-rehearse. There’s a certain truth to that. But the reality is that filmmaking is an art that is not just born by one moment of inspiration. It’s born by the craft and attempts and mistakes. So in a way you have to be trained as an actor and as a director to sculpt the motion–to finding what is true and what is not true in that moment. What I have learned is that by doing it 100 times in rehearsals, the actors suddenly are liberated from the rationale behind the scene.”

Theaters vs. iPads

“When you go to the museum and you see a [Diego] Velázquez and you bought the postcard, to see a film on an iPad, that’s the postcard of the painting. ‘I saw The Revenant on my phone!’ You didn’t see The Revenant. You saw the postcard of The Revenant. The new generations are not used to the complexity of sound, the latitude of the image.”

Working in Virtual Reality

“One of the biggest mistakes of V.R. is that it’s been interpreted as an extension of cinema, but it’s not an extension of cinema. I would say that V.R. is everything that cinema is not, like a radical kind of thing. Cinema is this little hole we look through and all the things that are not in that frame, we have to basically create in our own minds. In V.R., you don’t have that frame in a sense. We’re learning how to explore the narrative space. I think we are in the baby [stages]. It’s completely an experimental period.”

Author: KC Ifeanyi
Posted: April 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

What’s the old yarn about the journey being more important than the destination? Turns out, that’s an apt metaphor for the motivation of elite athletes. At least that what we learn in this new campaign for nutritional supplements brand MET-Rx.

Through former LSU star running back and current projected top 10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Leonard Fournette, we see that all that hard work and dedication isn’t about the golden trinkets.

Here, The Nature’s Bounty Co. chief marketing officer Derek Bowen, and Droga5 creative director Ryan Raab and copywriter Yahkeema Moffitt break down the inspiration and idea behind the new ad.

Author: Jeff Beer
Posted: April 24, 2017, 12:43 pm

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where nearly one in 10 children dies before the age of five and half the population lacks access to clean drinking water, the traditional approach to aid–donations–hasn’t worked very well. Despite tens of billions in international aid delivered to the country since the turn of the millennium, it’s still hard to find clean water. Health clinics regularly run out of medicine. After more than two decades of conflict, it keeps getting harder to get new donations to keep everything running.

A startup is piloting a new model of aid: a community-run business that sustains itself. Called Asili (the name means both “tradition” and “what holds us together” in a local language), it includes three interconnected parts. A farming cooperative gives loans of seeds and fertilizer and gives access to a guaranteed market for crops. With income from the farms, families can afford the Asili’s other two services–kiosks that sell clean water, and modern healthcare at clean, well-stocked clinics.

“We’re doing this in the hardest place in the world, and it’s working.” [Photo: Christopher Michel]
In January 2017, three years after launching, Asili saw its first profitable month. Now 25,000 people have access to water for the first time; to date, the business has sold more than 1.3 million gallons, piped in from a clean local water source. The clinics, which have served thousands of patients, open each day at 7:30 a.m., in a region where 40% of clinics are closed, unpredictably, on any given day. The pharmacies inside the clinics have never run out of the medicine they provide.

“We’re doing this in the hardest place in the world, and it’s working,” says Daniel Wordsworth, CEO of the American Refugee Committee, the aid organization that co-created the startup with USAID, Congolese community members, and the design firm Ideo.org.

“Our moonshot is actually around intimacy. How do you have an organization or an approach or a service that is absolutely oriented to the customer?” [Photo: Christopher Michel]
The business is an early experiment as the American Refugee Committee thinks about how to evolve for the future. “We’re trying to grapple with this idea of what a 21stcentury humanitarian organization looks like, and what a 21st-century humanitarian response looks like,” he says. “Our view is that everything you’re seeing around are kind of like perfected 20th-century institutions. They’re like big, dumb, scaled machines that deliver ‘results,’ but it’s all a little bit Comcast-y. There are some great things about Comcast–like they go everywhere and they do everything at scale, and it kind of works–but it also kind of sucks at the same time.”

Rather than focus on scale, Asili is focused on customer service, and providing a quality product that people are willing to pay for. “I think in our world, everyone thinks that our moonshot when it comes to humanitarian work is around scale,” Wordsworth says. “Whereas I think our moonshot is actually around intimacy. How do you have an organization or an approach or a service that is absolutely oriented to the customer?”

The community was involved in every aspect of the business creation, including the logo. [Photo: Christopher Michel]
To create the new business, the team worked with Ideo.org and the community itself. “It included co-design sessions where we were putting together role plays and asking [community members] to play out different scenarios,” says Jocelyn Wyatt, executive director of Ideo.org. “Like, ‘You’re the woman who pregnant, but you don’t have enough money to cover your visit, and you’re the nurse, and you’re the doctor. Show us what happens.’ Through these role plays, they showed us what would happen in these moments of service delivery.”

The community was involved in every aspect of the business creation, including the logo. Red–the color the ARC initially proposed–was rejected because it is used by local rebels. Green was associated with the military, and other colors were associated with political parties. Instead of choosing a single color, the logo uses red, yellow, blue, and green, to emphasize that the services are for everyone.

“Human-centered design is allowing us to be able to build with the community in mind, with the community at the center.” [Photo: Christopher Michel]
Before the first clinic was built, the community gave feedback on the layout. The community also helped shape the choice to have clear, transparent prices for services at the clinic. At other clinics, fluctuating prices meant that many patients stopped using services. A woman might go for a free prenatal screening somewhere else, and then return and find that the price was now an unaffordable $5.

“Human-centered design is allowing us to be able to build with the community in mind, with the community at the center,” says Abraham Leno, the DRC country representative for the ARC, who manages Asili. “They are not just the way we used to position them as the beneficiary . . . Here your opinion matters. When that opinion feeds into their goals for themselves, their goals for future, their goals for community, then they know that we are serious about building something that would stay longer.”

Leno, who lived in a refugee camp himself as a teenager, believes that traditional humanitarian aid–while helpful for short-term crises–is both hard to sustain and disempowering. In a recent poll of Congolese citizens, a third of respondents said that the country would be better off without international NGOs.

[Photo: courtesy ARC]
“I speak with knowledge of growing up being an African, and coming from this community,” he says. “The global society has not always been able to see things through our eyes. Most times when someone is categorized as vulnerable, as helpless, it takes away a lot of power from you. You start to feel vulnerable and you feel I have nothing to offer. That needs to change. Asili is not a handout.”

Service at the clinics, designed with the goal that the American-based ARC staff would feel comfortable taking their own children there, is so respected locally that people from the nearby city of Bukavu have started coming to the villages to use them. “That’s really unprecedented–you would never leave the city to go to the country for that sort of thing,” Wyatt says.

Asili plans to continue expanding locally. There are currently three clinics, each surrounded by water kiosks, and a fourth clinic will come soon.

By putting three businesses together in each village–the clinics, the water kiosks, and the agriculture business–it helps reduce overall costs. “If you’re in Congo and you have to import stuff in, you have to hire your own customs person to sit on the border for two days a week, that’s going to kill you,” says Wordsworth. “But instead we could share the costs of one person to manage customs and the supply chain. Each business pays for it, but they only have to pay for a portion.”

The business model still has challenges to overcome. The water infrastructure, with 60 kilometers of pipeline, was expensive to build. Before recreating the system in other locations, the team hopes to find ways to lower the capital expense. But the business has proven that it can be operationally sustainable. And if it can work in the DRC, one of the poorest countries in the world, it’s likely it could work elsewhere.

Author: Adele Peters
Posted: April 24, 2017, 12:30 pm

Almost every day, it seems, a new camera for shooting virtual reality content is announced. Ranging from consumer-grade devices that cost a few hundred dollars to those meant for Hollywood filmmakers that come with five-figure price tags, the goal is the same: to ensure that there’s more and more VR content so that people buy more VR headsets.

Last week it was Facebook, which unveiled its professional-quality x24 and x6 cameras. Today, it’s Google’s turn, with the unveiling of the company’s second high-end VR camera, the Jump Halo.

Developed by Google and made by China’s Yi, the $17,000, 17-lens Jump Halo—and its associated post-processing software and distribution system—is meant to shoot high-quality 360-degree video, stitch it together automatically, and be light enough at 7.5 pounds to take just about anywhere.

[Photo: courtesy of Google]

Google launched its first Jump camera last year. This Jump is all new and includes what the company said was the most-requested feature for a second-generation: an upward-facing lens that ensures the video it shoots captures not just 360 degrees, but also everything above the camera, and then stitches it all together seamlessly.

The Jump Halo can shoot 8K by 8K stereoscopic 360 video at 30 frames per second, or 6K by 6K at 60 frames per second. It also gives filmmakers total control over parameters such as ISO, white balance, and the like. It’s optimized for Google’s VR platform, says Yi CEO Sean Da, and ensuring content works with Google’s stitching algorithms, which aim to remove most if not all of the telltale lines that often betray where content from one lens didn’t quite mesh with that of the next one over.

The camera can be powered by a mobile app that gives a “consumer-type experience,” Da says, giving filmmakers control over things like a live view from the camera, as well as the ability to change settings remotely. And once shooting is over, it’s meant to be easy to load the footage into an assembler program. Content then is processed and ready in a matter of hours.

According to Emily Price, Jump’s product manager, the Jump assembler software is able to return fully stitched video in about eight hours, down from the 24 hours it took just a year ago. But, she says, the tool can show a “rough stitch” preview on a laptop while still shooting.

With high-end VR cameras from Facebook, Jaunt, Nokia, and now Google available, one might imagine filmmakers would have a hard time choosing. But according to Armando Kirwin, a VR filmmaker with Samsung’s Milk VR who had early access to the Jump Halo and was one of the first to use Facebook’s $30,000 first-generation Surround 360 camera, there really isn’t that much confusion.

“It’s a different tier,” Kirwin, who spoke at a Google press event unveiling the camera, said of the Jump Halo in comparison to the new Facebook devices.

[Photo: courtesy of Google]

By that, he means that Google’s new camera is meant to be portable, affordable, and within the reach of many filmmakers. Facebook’s camera, on the other hand, is aimed at professionals on multimillion-dollar shoots.

“You can [use the Jump Halo] by yourself,” Kirwin said. “Facebook’s camera requires teams of professionals, which are more expensive.

His point was really to stress that although it might be tempting to position the VR cameras from Google and Facebook as competitors, they’re really aiming at totally different markets and shouldn’t be thought of as such.

[Photo: courtesy of Google]

Still, Kirwin appreciates that VR filmmakers now have many choices for shooting their projects.

“When we started making cinematic VR, there were zero cameras” on the market, he said, “so we had to build our own.

Now, there’s a proliferation of cameras, and that means that soon, VR production will be “democratized.”

Added Kirwin, “That’s fine. That’s the way Hollywood works now. It’s inevitable VR would work that way.”

And that’s nothing but a good thing as the need for VR content to motivate people to buy VR headsets becomes more acute.

“Within a year, cameras that [once] cost us $1 million will cost $10,000,” he said. “The number of people creating content is exploding. That makes a huge difference in the industry.”

Author: Daniel Terdiman
Posted: April 24, 2017, 12:00 pm

All job hunters hear the advice to “stand out,” “be different,” and “separate yourself from the crowd.”

But what exactly does that mean with regard to your job search? Do you send a fruit basket to your interviewer? Record a video of a company cheer you composed? Or maybe you just try to be your “best self”—whatever that means!

Here’s the scoop: You will face competition when applying to most jobs, so the greater the gap you create between you and your fellow applicants, the better. But it’s important to remember that there’s a right way to stand out and a wrong way.


Related: The Surprising Ways You Ruined Your Interview Before You Even Opened Your Mouth


To help you determine how to stand out successfully (and this can vary by industry and position), we’ve developed three rules. Before we jump into them, let’s take a look at two sales manager job applicants I encountered while working in HR for a major retail chain.

Both prospects wanted to “stand out” in the interview process. Applicant A submitted a prospective sales plan, laid out in 30, 60, and 90 days. While some of the specifics of her proposal were a bit off, overall, it was a solid plan that showed creative, analytical thinking.

Applicant B affixed her resume with an 8-by-10 photo of herself. After all, what better way to stay top of mind? Well, Applicant B was memorable, all right, but not in the positive way she’d hoped for. Her move cost her the chance to even interview.

Standing out requires risk taking by nature, but you can mitigate that risk by asking yourself the following three questions to make sure you’re making the impression that’ll lead to an interview and job offer:

1. Is It Relevant?

Being unique purely for the sake of individuality is useless. Find a way to stand out that’s relevant to the company and to the opportunity you’re interviewing for.

Do this. One of our clients, Laurel, a huge Seattle Mariners fan, was looking for a new position in social media. She took her interest and capitalized on it to create a social media and publicity campaign to get the Mariners’ attention and convince them she was the best person for a social media marketing position. She snagged an interview, even though she had less experience than many of the other candidates.

See how this outside-the-box thinking works? You have to consider your industry and what you can do to demonstrate in a way that goes beyond the bullet points on your resume how you’d be an asset.

2. Is It Valuable?

Whatever your plan for standing out, it must further your cause in some way. This rule is why just emailing 100 times or calling 10 times a day after your interview isn’t going to pay off.

Do this. Matt Hirsch, another client, hoped to make a statement following an interview for a graphic design position he really wanted.

His idea? He created a “Hirschy” chocolate bar wrapper that was perfectly tailored to the role. The list of “ingredients” included the graphic programs he’s well-versed in, and the end result was simply a perfectly creative way to illustrate his skill set and show that he knows how to go above and beyond.

Sending a thank you note after your interview is essential, but when competition is fierce, you’d be wise to think about the other ways your follow up can help you stand out.

3. Is It Authentic?

The problem with gimmicks is that they’re, well, gimmicky. They don’t ring true or feel authentic.

So before you rent a sky writer or send your interviewer a CD of your “greatest hits,” make sure your scheme rings true for you and your personality. Whatever plan you pursue, it should share a new dimension of your personality or shed light on a part of your resume you want the hiring manager to understand in greater detail.

Do this. Yet another client, Eric, thought he might be really interested in the solar industry. He created a blog with the intent to write articles that allowed him to investigate whether or not he really wanted to be a part of that field. As it turned out, the website also gave him complete freedom to contact CEOs of solar companies to get their perspective on recent changes affecting their business.


Related: Career Experts Mercilessly Revised My Entry-Level Resume


He then went a step further and published the resulting article on his website. This authentic and completely legit tactic allowed him to investigate the industry, but more than that, it put him in contact with a dozen potential employers.

Consider how you can both be true to yourself and leave a lasting impression that’ll result in getting you hired.

As you can see, standing out doesn’t have to be expensive or super complicated—after all, in some cases, time is of the essence—it just needs to be real and different in the right way. A typo-free, polished resume is great, and a stellar cover letter is awesome too, but when you need to rise to the top of promising candidates, you’re going to want to take things a step further.

Brainstorm some ideas, and then put them through the three guidelines above to ensure you’re hitting the right notes. It can be helpful to enlist the help of an exceedingly honest friend at this stage.


This story originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.

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Author: Anisa Purbasari Horton
Posted: April 24, 2017, 11:00 am

Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon where, in the midst of falling asleep, one experiences terrifying hallucinations, along with an inability to move. I’ve never personally endured this physiological punishment before, but over the weekend I did re-watch the penultimate pre-election Saturday Night Live, which aired in place of a new episode, and it seems like pretty much the same deal.

It’s heartbreaking to look back, knowing what we know now, as America’s flagship political satire machine takes a distorted snapshot of that moment. To watch the Tom Hanks-hosted episode now is to feel trapped without motor function, no way to warn everybody involved that they will regret all of this. No way to tell Kate McKinnon that in a few short weeks, she’ll be back on this stage, singing “Hallelujah” in somber elegy. No way to tell them all that the future they don’t seem to bother fearing anymore is even worse than they probably imagined.

The fact that the instant classic David S. Pumpkins sketch holds up is little balm from the mental trauma of watching the cold open debate sketch again–a relic from an alternate timeline.

Could this certainty really have been the prevailing sentiment last fall? Did we all really assume that the Access Hollywood tape had finally defanged Donald Trump for keeps, and that election night itself was just a formality? Those attitudes are on full display in the opening gambit, a rehashing of the third and final presidential debate. (It was the one in which Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman,” prompting an immediate sea change in countless Twitter handles.)

While there are some sharp jabs at the way Clinton deflects questions about her emails to bring the conversation back to Trump’s many glaring deficiencies, overall the vibe here is: premature victory lap. Kate McKinnon smiles and mugs like she can’t believe her luck at how outlandish and unpresidential her opponent behaves, and the extent to which this whole thing is in the bag. We at home are supposed to laugh and breathe a sigh of relief, soaking up all the righteous self-congratulations in a way the show would end up parodying later on.

“Now we have to turn to the big story of the week,” Tom Hanks as moderator Chris Wallace says at one point. “Mr. Trump, it’s becoming very clear: you’re probably going to lose.”

“Correct,” Alec Baldwin as Trump admits.

If it seems impossibly naive now for the show to double down so hard on its forecast, though, it’s important to keep in mind that the Comey letter had not yet happened, a harbinger of the sudden re-opening of the FBI’s fruitless yet devastating investigation of Clinton. For all the writers knew, the next couple weeks would be a sweat-free cakewalk across the finish line.

The good news for anyone rewatching in 2017 is that this opening sketch is by far the most difficult part to watch. The bad news is that the monologue that immediately follows is almost as painful.

Tom Hanks has gradually developed a reputation as America’s Dad, and his monologue here takes that honor literally. The venerable star speaks to all of America in a father-son style aimed at healing the divide wrought by the most contentious election in modern times. The writers take a funny and thoughtful approach to this gimmick–“Remember when you went through that Depression? This is nothing!”–and Hanks, the consummate pro delivers the hell out of it. The only problem is that the speech feels even more sure of the eventual outcome of the election than the cold open did. Everything about it seems designed to reassure everyone on both sides, after the fact, that we can indeed come back stronger than ever from this narrowly averted apocalypse. The calming, reconciliatory tone doesn’t exactly play so well now, six months into that apocalypse.

There’s only one more politically tinged sketch in this episode, and as retroactively tone deaf as the preceding ones were, “Black Jeopardy” remains insightful, funny, and fearless.

Saturday Night Live had used Black Jeopardy a few times before, in the wake of its newly diverse writing staff. This time, however, the writers set out on what must have sounded like an impossible mission: to survey the common ground between MAGA-hatted Trumpsters and certain aspects of black culture. They succeeded to a highly improbable degree, finding the overlapping parts on the Venn diagram where, say, both groups distrust the government. Even now, after many of us have read Trumpgrets stories, and been asked to empathize with the president’s newly disenchanted flock, the sketch continues to be illuminating. It also retains its punch in the end, when both sides realizes the Venn Diagram does not stretch far enough to cover the concept of Black Lives Mattering.

Of course, the most brutal part of this episode to watch now is what’s out there beyond the frame, unknown at the time. While the world of late-October 2016 was about to turn its attention back on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton, puncturing the giddy smugness that undergirds some of this episode, Trump’s campaign was also under federal investigation for possibly colluding with a foreign government. Not being able to reach back through space and time to let Tom Hanks in on that little secret feels like being trapped in a nightmare, unable to move.

Author: Joe Berkowitz
Posted: April 24, 2017, 10:56 am

As the cheeky disclaimer reads at the beginning of each episode, Netflix’s new show Girlboss is “a loose retelling of true events” pertaining to Nasty Gal entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso’s life . . . “real loose.”

However many degrees removed from reality Girlboss is, Amoruso’s come-up is surely an exception to the typically narcissistic proclamation of, “someone should really make a TV show about my life!” Amoruso went from dumpster diving and stealing to creating a wildly popular eBay store selling vintage clothes, which she later spun into the fully-fledged business Nasty Gal and her best-selling memoir #GIRLBOSS. Netflix was aiming to channel all of that into an equally successful series with Amoruso as one of the executive producers.

However, the ironic thing is, what makes Girlboss interesting has little to do with why we know Amoruso at all, i.e. creating Nasty Gal.

Let’s just rip the Band-Aid off: Girlboss is a chore to watch at times. The caricature of Amoruso, played by Britt Robertson, bounces between having exhaustingly sassy pluck and a woeful disregard for common sense business acumen. It’s almost as if you’re rooting for her to fail. Of course, there exists the story arc of Sophia learning to grow up through the frequent missteps any entrepreneur may have in growing a business. But where Girlboss fails to drum up any interest there, it’s brilliant in its methods of storytelling, namely in episode 10.

Girlboss isn’t precious with linear or conventional structures. There’s an episode told through ellipses of time, counting down to a very important delivery Sophia has to make. And part of the finale builds to a scene where sporadic editing of a conversation between two characters so accurately illustrates the complexities of being in and falling out of love. But the standout episode by far is “Vintage Fashion Forum,” where online messaging is personified to hilarious and devastating ends.

Sophia’s eBay store Nasty Gal Vintage is at the peak of its popularity with her loyal following and at the peak of resentment with a group of vintage clothing sellers who have taken to starting a forum to air out their grievances of how Sophia is making a mockery of their trade and siphoning their profits. In what could’ve have been told through montages of computer screens displaying rapid-fire typing of vitriolic comments, the internet forum drama takes human form in a roundtable discussion.

There’s the relentless self-promoter dropping links to their own site, the proverbial shouter who refuses to learn how to use the caps-lock key, and there’s even a cameo from an internet troll who storms the forum to alert everyone how ugly they are. Episode 10’s approach to bringing digital aspects to life is refreshingly inventive and, as proved toward the end of the episode, malleable tone. The comedy of errors in the forum is only an opening act to the the climax of the episode that is a one-on-one fight between Sophia and her best friend Annie.

After making it known that she would like to work full-time with Sophia on building her company and being rebuffed because, as Sophia says, “Nasty Gal is my thing” the two square off online which is represented as them sitting across from each other in a stark white room saying what they’re typing. What this scene depicts so well is how flat text on a screen can bely true emotions. The “digital” version of Sophia is coldly resolute in her perception that Nasty Gal is hers and hers alone while Sophia IRL is a quaking and crying wreck at the thought of losing her best friend.

It’s a surprisingly powerful scene that falls in line with the rich emotional texture Girlboss is actually capable of. Both Robertson and the show itself are at their best when dealing with the intricacies of relationships across family, friends, and significant others, as well as how those storylines are told. Perhaps the main plot of Nasty Gal’s inception felt weaker in comparison to its tangential events because it’s only just half of the company’s story. The show ends with Sophia opening Nasty Gal’s own website after being kicked off of eBay, and within just a few hours, she completely sells out her stock. If season one’s intent was to set the stage for Nasty Gal’s ascent in online retail, season two could redeem itself, in regards to making business interesting, by focusing on Amoruso eventually stepping down as CEO and Nasty Gal’s descent into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Author: KC Ifeanyi
Posted: April 24, 2017, 10:41 am

Most people think networking is about making new connections—which is true—but you also have to invest in the connections you already have, whether they’re people you met at the last networking event, or your former coworkers, clients, and friends. In fact, even your current team, boss, and clients are as much a part of your network as anyone else. Here’s how to put to good use the people you already know.

1. The Stunt Double

Who they are. People who are like you—job-wise, that is. In other words, people in your department or who do the same job as you, or people who do your job either in other departments or at other companies.

Why they’re helpful. They’re great for bouncing off ideas, seeking advice for a specific problem, turning to when you’re hiring someone, or simply having a buddy to hang out with at industry events.

How to invest in the relationship. Chances are, these people are going to keep similar schedules, be interested in the same industry events, and face similar day-to-day challenges as you. This is great news—because it makes for an easy way to connect with them. Consider inviting someone in this category to attend a conference or event with you. (Bonus: You get to show up with a buddy!) If the person works at your company or is working on a project with you, you can also suggest going out to drinks to unwind after a major company milestone (say, the product you’ve both been working on launches, or you hit a major deadline).

When spending time with people in this category, don’t be afraid to open up a little—otherwise, you’ll never know when you’re facing the same challenge and might be able to help each other.


Related: These Are The Most Important People In Your Network At Each Stage Of Your Career


 2. The Outsider

Who they are. People who are in your industry but not your role, in your role but not your industry, or in your company but doing something totally different.

Why they’re helpful. They can offer fresh approaches to solving problems and broader perspectives on your work, role, or industry. They can also be good sounding boards when you’re thinking of making a career change.

How to invest in the relationship. Get to know people in other departments at your company—whether that’s through a kickball league, a volunteer outing, or a casual happy hour—and connect with people you haven’t spent time with before. You can also start spending time with friends or friends of friends whose jobs sound fascinating, even if it’s something that doesn’t seem related to your work. The sky really is the limit when it comes to building these relationships.

3. The Higher-Up

Who they are. People who have the jobs you’re interested in at one, two, or levels ahead of you.

Why they’re helpful. They’re the ones with the power to hire and promote you (and/or give you the guidance that makes that happen), mentor you, and teach you more about your field.

How to invest in the relationship. Make an effort to keep in contact with senior individuals you’ve worked with—even if just for a single project—or those you’ve connected with at an event. Check in with them on a regular basis (say, every six to 12 months) to share an update (e.g., if you get promoted, change jobs, or win an award), and don’t be afraid to ask for their advice. Sometimes just bouncing an idea off someone is a great way to stay on his or her radar, provided you don’t go overboard or demand too much time.

Scheduling a lunch catchup or coffee is a good way to maintain the relationship, but just an email often does the trick. Keeping these more senior people in the loop about your career will make it more natural for you to get in touch when you do want to ask for advice or a favor.

4. The Newbie

Who they are. Those with less experience than you, like junior employees or interns.

Why they’re helpful. These folks can tell you a lot about team dynamics and morale that you might not be able to see. They can also give you a chance to practice your leadership skills if you’re not yet a manager. Somebody with a “beginner’s mind-set” who’s newer to your function or industry may help you think about problems differently.

How to invest in the relationship. People more junior than you may be afraid to strike up a conversation—so make it easy for them by being the one who initiates. Take the new intern out to coffee when he or she starts, and then check in every couple of months to see how things are going. Or round up the more junior people who sit near you for a midday coffee or ice cream break or a lunch out of the office, especially if their schedules are on the flexible side.

Tell junior team members explicitly that you’re glad to help them. And when someone asks you for something, be prompt with your response—those more junior than you are the most likely to feel intimidated if they get blown off.


This article is adapted from The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook for Navigating Your Career by Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew, cofounders of The Muse. It is reprinted with permission.

Author: Rich Bellis
Posted: April 24, 2017, 10:00 am

Artificial intelligence is rapidly changing just about every industry, with billions being poured into algorithms for everything from self-driving cars to detecting cancer to chatbots. Not so much fashion.

Mad Street Den, a three-year-old artificial intelligence startup founded by a husband and wife team in Chennai, India, is boldly going where few startups have gone before. The couple’s complementary career paths have helped. CEO Ashwini Asokan was previously with Intel Labs working on product design; her husband and CTO, Anand Chandrasekaran, is a neuroscientist who switched over to AI when he realized the technology wasn’t quite there yet to build silicon brains.

After living and working in the U.S for years, they returned to their country of birth in 2014 to build a startup, tooling around with a few different ideas before landing on fashion. Since then, they’ve developed over a dozen AI-assisted tools for online retailers, many of them using computer vision algorithms that can suggest pieces to finish an outfit or meet a customer’s tastes. The company says that in an internal study, online shoppers spent 72 minutes on websites where its software was deployed, compared to 25 minutes on sites without it. 

Ashwini Asokan

 

Among the clients they’ve racked up are a mix of internet marketplaces, brands, and big box stores. Their international clients include Villoid, a fashion app cofounded by British model Alexa Chung; HipVan, a Singaporean decor and furniture brand; and Indian online platforms Tata CLiQ and The LabelLife. In the U.S. the company works with Thredup, a fashion resale website based in San Francisco, Shoprunner, and an iconic denim brand that they won’t name. (Its own mysterious name is a hodgepodge of high-tech and human, Asokan explains: Mad stands for “mind able devices,” den is what their first space was like and street comes from a night where one too many drinks were had.)

Investors are also taking notice. Mad Street Den recently raised an undisclosed Series A round of funding from Sequoia Capital India along with another infusion from existing investors Exfinity Ventures and growX Ventures. From launching with just one other cofounder and employee, neuroscientist Costa Colbert, they have grown to 45 employees with a headquarters in San Francisco, and offices in London and Chennai. 

Beyond its software, Mad Street Den is also writing about artificial intelligence on Medium and its own site. Asokan feels particularly strongly that talking about the actual role of artificial intelligence in our lives is critical to ensuring its proper use. In a popular talk entitled “Bots, Brains and Bullshit,” she calls out the “Terminator” narrative surrounding AI and argues that as machines learn faster we need better conversations to understand that progress.

Fast Company: So what exactly does your software do for fashion?

Ashwini Asokan: The first one that we’ve made some fantastic progress on is the suite called Vue Commerce. Vue Commerce is basically an end-to-end AI-assisted onsite or on-app set of products. So people are browsing a site or looking up on their app and we’re basically trying to understand what they are looking for, at the starting levels, of color pattern necklines, sleeve length, styles. We’re trying to look at user behavior, history, and their cohort.

We’re looking at it at a completely meta level. I think traditionally people have looked at it as big data, but we’re actually looking at it and even the visual aspects of every little thing that the user is doing. At the end of the day fashion is super visceral. It’s super visual. [But] we’ve pretty much stripped that entire experience off of our apps and our sites. We’re missing that tangible and almost emotional experience one has when you go and try something on in a store, when you actually touch and feel something. A big question that we were asking ourselves is, how can we use computer vision to change that experience online?

FC: What does that look like, specifically?

Anand Chandrasekaran: We have what’s called dynamic personalization, and that becomes relevant when a site has 200,000 dresses. Which of 200,000 should I show you? We can’t pick up all the cues immediately obviously. But in time we can show you 200 of the 200,000 dresses that are relevant to you. And it’s our job and the job of our AI to start picking up those kinds of things.

Anand Chandreasekaran

AA: So if you’re looking at, let’s say, a pink polka dot A-line dress. Chances are you like the shape of A-line dresses and like pink polka dots. But people like different types of pink. Maybe you like baby pink and I like fuchsia—”pink” is not pink. I might start with that polka dotted dress but I might go down a very different path. Let’s say I’m only interested in A-line. And so I’m willing to go around very specific kinds of styles, while you on the other hand are only looking for specific types of pink. Both of us end up having entirely different experiences on that site. And whether it’s product page recommendations or ensemble creations, we do personalized recommendations with every single click that you make on a given app or a site.

FC: Do you think that the “if you like that, you’ll like this” approach could inadvertently keep us in our fashion bubbles, the way our algorithmically designed news feeds keep us in personalized filter bubbles and echo chambers?

AA: If you are always going to show me something I’m expecting to see, at some point I’m going to get really bored and move on. The question we ask ourselves is, how do we inject randomness at regular intervals?

 

On the other hand, it’s all about surprise. How do you surprise someone without pissing them off? It’s wonderful to show someone florals, but if you do it all the time, it becomes really boring. But what happens when you start to understand what florals are all about? It’s about nature, or maybe you like the texture it usually appears on—we all have our own preferences.

We do so much understanding of the intent of each and every user. Is this someone that is trying to look at breezy, airy, earthy prints? You can slowly start expanding it to adjacent materials and patterns. You are looking at theme and intent, you’re not looking at it very literally, like, I’m going to go get you more florals. We are looking at cohorts, too. We are looking at people like you. Then you inject more variance into the journey.

Read more: AI Can Make Us All Dress Better. So Why Isn’t The Fashion Industry Using It More?

FC: Why you’d choose to launch your company in Chennai, versus, say, New York ?

AA: I had gone up and spoken to the who’s who in computer vision in Silicon Valley. It became very evident they were very jaded by computer vision. They kept saying “Oh no, we’ve seen this stuff, like 10 or 20 years ago. This stuff never goes anywhere.” There wasn’t like anything that people were like “Oh my god” about, which was a sign to us.

We want to experiment through the industry and through the market with partners as opposed to just building science projects inside our labs. Moving to India opened up the Asian market for us in ways that I had never imagined.

Retail was the last of our experiments, by the way. We’ve done stuff in gaming, we’ve done stuff in analytics. We’ve done quite a few of our experiments in the space of facial recognition and motion expression recognition. We’ve built up quite a few models. Finally, the models that we ended up doing actually didn’t use a lot of those core technology pieces.

In Asia everyone’s door was open. Every other retailer or e-commerce site was like, “come on let’s do this together.” So there was some extensive work that we did in the early days with the retailers in Asia, which pretty much allowed us to develop our products for that industry.

A couple of months ago, we closed our Series A with Sequoia and I think the reason we got there was because we started in Asia. Now of course we’re pretty much completely in the U.S. But Asia totally leapfrogged the U.S. They were at least two and a half years ahead of anyone else, I would say.

FC: I know Gilt and other fashion groups are doing interesting work in AI but there don’t seem to be a lot of startups around fashion and AI. I’m curious if you think this is sort of like a blind spot for a lot of more typical tech companies, who maybe are going to be a lot of young men in the Bay Area who don’t think to innovate in fashion.

AA: Yeah, You know the lack of bias does help.

FC: I was trying to ask about that as nicely as possible. How does diversity play in?

AA: We talk about this all the time. I am very vocal when it comes to the world of gender and I do a lot of work in that space. I am also interested in the trajectory of technology, the intersection of people and quality products and looking at it from a perspective of design. If you look at the industries that are the fastest adopters of technology, they’re usually porn, sports, and fashion, and actually religion.

We gave up on gaming is because we realized that the industry was not ready. The same thing with analytics, the same thing with so many. We were thankfully very connected when we came to India. We’ve known all these VCs for a while and people kept giving us introductions, and it didn’t matter. These industries were just not ready for this. And retail on the other hand opened up and swallowed us whole. They still can’t seem to get enough of us.

I would say in the last 12 to 18 months there are a lot of people that have cropped up in this space. Like way more than I have seen in the past, but for us we’re not just looking at fashion. We’re now moving into furniture. We’re moving into all things retail, including offline. We’re looking at retail as the entire value chain and operational stuff. You need to have an open mind and to know that this is one of the industries that’s adopted technology way quicker than most others have. And part of it is not having that bias.

FC: I’m sure you are crazy busy but you blog a lot and give talks about AI, a lot of it trying to dispel the Terminator narrative that comes up a lot. Why do you think it’s important to be educating the wider public about AI?

AA: To be honest at the end of the day nobody cares about a lot of this stuff, people are going to go ahead and do what they’re going to do. Like, all this AI-madness-killer-robot talk is a press-generated thing. People in their day-to-day are like, ‘whatever’ Sure, they care about their privacy or maybe a few things here and there, but I think what happens when people suddenly see something that changes their life, that brings something of super value to them. Or you show something to a company—that all of this reduces 30% of their costs when it comes to operations—that is magic.

We believe that the magic should be in the products and what happens when business industries looks at our products. But education has to be done in very layman, laywoman terms, completely demystifying the topic and letting people know exactly what it is that you’re doing.

AC: You know, we already have experience building intelligence. It’s our children and they are pretty useless when they are born. They have to go through a lot of training. They have to be tempered by society before they are of any use to mankind in general. So how is that going to be any different from any other intelligence that we build? And that’s kind of the space that we are operating in. Saying that we can build intelligence is one thing; making that intelligence useful or even worthy of being spoken about in the terms of our potential successors or partners takes a lot of work.

FC: What’s in store for the company and AI in general, as you look ahead?

AC: Let me dodge that question. I’m not going to make that mistake again of thinking that AI can be built in isolation. It will be done the way the market decides it. So we will continue to be building useful products.

I’ve actually said the future of this is going to be in hardware. There is no way we can be building AI systems at scale without solving the fundamental issue of how much power we are consuming to run these tasks. That will actually bring things to the next level, when we can start putting some of that intelligence in as small of a chip that can go in phones. You’ll be putting a lot more intelligence out there and that will further enable us to bring intelligence to a completely different level.

There are people out there building deep learning networks that are very good. But they are very computationally heavy. If you talk with any deep learning practitioners, they say a lot of the work is converting the data, whether that’s audio or images, into signals that are more abstract, and coming up with meaningful inferences. Moving computation into neuromorphic chips, you can move that processing very close to the data it’s working with. If you put it in a phone, you can work with all the photos and videos on your phone. It’s not saying you’re moving the technology to the phone, but you’re going to be able to do a lot of the processing on your phone before streaming it to the cloud for larger brains to tackle.

Author: Jackie Snow
Posted: April 24, 2017, 9:30 am

If you want to become more creative, the answer may lie in becoming more courageous. A new class at USC Annenberg called Improvisational Leadership is encouraging students to step outside of their comfort zones and explore new experiences.

“Students fear finding the perfect job the day they graduate,” says Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations and professor of professional practice. “They’re under pressure to perform because of student loans and their parents. They’ve taken the classes and done the internships, but they’re often short on life experience.”

The Improvisational Leadership class is designed to expose students to new experiences, making them more creative by expanding their frames of reference. The class is 100% experiential, with no tests, textbook, or papers. Creativity can be learned, but not through lectures or reading, says Cook. “It has to be learned through doing,” he says.

And that can take a nudge. Each week, Cook, chairman of the global PR firm Golin and author of Improvise: Unorthodox Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO, challenges students to push their personal limits by trying new things.

Forcing Yourself Out Of Your Comfort Zone

“The experiences are totally at their discretion and documented in a private Facebook group with pictures,” says Cook. “They explain what they did, how they felt, and what they learned.”

One student, who was working as an intern at a company, mustered up the courage to ask for full-time job, and got it. Another student entered a contest for USC scholars and won. Another got a tattoo, while others went on a digital detox.

“Trying new things gives you the courage you need to experiment with your life and not be worried about whether or not you fail,” says Cook.

Taking Risks

In addition to weekly activities, students are given specific assignments that help them take risks. For example, each student has to select a senior executive at a company they admire and learn everything they can about them. Then they use that information to track them down for a call or a meeting. “They’re learning that in the real world, it can be hard to reach people, and you have to improvise and employ new tactics,” says Cook. “Some are successful and some are not, but they all learn from the process.”

Students also have to listen to something they don’t understand. “One [journalism] student went to a chemistry class,” says Cook. “Another listened to an NRA podcast, and another watched Korean television.”

In another exercise, students pulled a topic out of a hat and were given five minutes to prepare a presentation that positions them as an expert. “The idea is that you’re sometimes not given much time to prepare for something, and you have to sound knowledgeable and confident,” says Cook. “These real-life skills and experiences help you think on your feet.”

And in another, students must negotiate something. “They’re often very nervous about asking for something, but people respect you for negotiating,” says Cook. “They expect and respect it, especially when you’re standing up for your values.”

The Value Of Fear

Cook’s exercises are working, says Cynthia Blondeel-Timmerman, an undergraduate public relations major enrolled in Cook’s class. “Fear can stop you from accomplishing incredible things,” she says. “I am someone who is afraid of failure, so learning about the different ways to conquer my fears was very enlightening.”

Blondeel-Timmerman’s new experiences included taking a pole dancing class, trying Korean barbecue, traveling to New York for the first time, and singing a choir solo. The excitement prompted her to start trying two new things a week. “What surprised me most was how much life opens up when you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone,” she says. “You never know where a door leads, and you can only find out if you go through it,” she says.

Ian Hurley, a graduate PR student, says the class taught him that it’s important to never get complacent. “Once you settle in and stop trying and experiencing new things, you limit your capacity to grow and think differently,” he says. “That’s not something that people look for in leadership, and from this class, I’m going to constantly reflect on how I can continue to seek out new experiences in order to continue to widen my world view.”

He also learned that he shouldn’t fear failure. “To some extent, everyone in the class has admitted to not trying something or speaking up in a meeting or reaching out to a higher-level executive out of the fear that they will fail, and be shunned or criticized for their incompetency,” he says. “Through this class, we have all figured out that limiting ourselves because of fear is something that can put far more of a strain on our career growth than trying something earnestly and failing.”

An Ongoing Process

Becoming courageous and creative doesn’t happen overnight, says Cook. “It builds up a little at a time by doing new things and trying things you’ve never done before,” he says. “Every little step pushes you out of your comfort zone. I’ve seen students do things they never thought they could do before. They’re nervous, but they do it because it’s an assignment. The next time is easier. The goal is to become more creative, courageous leaders.”

Author: Stephanie Vozza
Posted: April 24, 2017, 9:00 am

Flying cars still seem like one of those futuristic technologies that only exists for now in the realm of science fiction and old episodes of The Jetsons. But Uber is taking the technology seriously and this week it takes another step forward with a summit meeting that lays out its vision.

In October, the ride-hailing giant published a 97-page white paper laying out all the challenges for setting up an urban flying taxi system to link with its on-demand car service. Since then, it’s hired NASA veteran Mark Moore as director of aviation engineering for its Uber Elevate initiative. Moore headed the space agency’s research on electric propulsion, autonomous control, and personal craft until February.

On Tuesday, Uber is convening its three-day Uber Elevate Summit in Dallas to lay out its plans for urban air travel. Given that the San Francisco-based company is flying everyone out to the Texan city, there’s a good chance that Dallas will be one of the cities with which Uber has promised to announce “collaborations.”

“What were looking at is, in the next several years, being able to bring experimental aircraft into and test them in the relevant environment of the city,” says Moore.

Uber will provide a live stream of the event from the conference home page, beginning Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern time.

Uber will also announce the companies that will supply these electric taxi planes. Note the word “planes.” Several companies, such as Germany’s E-Volo and China’s EHang, have introduced electric copters—known as VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) craft that look a bit like upscale toy drones. (EHang, in fact is, a drone maker). But that’s not the way Uber is going, says Moore. (Dubai’s transport agency will start a flying taxi program using EHang’s copters this summer.)


Related link: Airbus Is About To Build A Self-Flying Robo-Taxi


Instead, Uber plans to use electric VTOL planes that briefly tilt their wings and propellers up to take off vertically like drones, then tilt them forward to fly forward. Such planes—as well as electric propeller systems—were being developed by Moore before he left NASA. He isn’t saying yet what companies will make planes for Uber, but Airbus provides a good example with its Vahana autonomous electric plane, announced in February and set for flight tests in the fall.

What other craft might Uber fly? Also in attendance at the conference will be Slovenian electric plane maker Pipistrel and German “electric jet startup” Lilium (it actually uses small, high-speed propellers). Big aviation players such as Embraer and Bell Helicopter will also attend.

Airbus Vahana concept. [Image: courtesy of Airbus]

Keeping Quiet

Noise is one major reason why Uber is going with planes instead of helicopters or oversize quadcopter drones like EHang’s. “One of the reasons helicopters haven’t gained traction in cities as a transportation solution is because they are so noisy,” says Moore. “They have a [low-pitched] noise characteristic that just travels forever, and it’s quite annoying.”

Brien Seeley, founder of the Sustainable Aviation Foundation, agrees. I spoke with him over the weekend at the organization’s 2017 SA Symposium. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you think you are going to come into to a quite residential, serene community and land close by the houses, with a noisy [helicopter] rotor downwash vehicle, you’re crazy,” he says. (Seeley isn’t affiliated with Uber.)

Moore claims the sound from Uber’s planes will be higher-pitched, as well, blending into the hum of car traffic in cities rather than rumbling on over a longer distance and rattling windows.

Switching from piston engines or turbines to electric motors cuts down noise, but what really makes a difference is that plane propellers can spin slower. Moore gives an example of a plane’s propeller tips slicing through the air at half the speed of a helicopter’s. Based on the physics of flight, that makes the plane propeller as much as 32 times quieter. “That’s where the magic happens,” says Moore.

In case you’re wondering why, it’s in part because helicopter blades are essentially spinning wings. The faster air flows over a wing the more lift it generates. As a blade swings forward toward the front of a helicopter, it’s moving in the same direction the helicopter is traveling. Airflow speed is a combination of how fast the rotor is turning, plus how fast the helicopter is moving forward. It’s kind of like walking up an escalator that’s already heading up. As the same blade spins toward the back, it’s heading in the opposite direction the helicopter is flying—like trying to walk down that same “up” escalator—hitting the air more slowly and generating a lot less lift. Adjusting the tilt of the blades and spinning the rotors very fast are the tricks helicopters use to even out lift, but faster-spinning rotors make more noise.


Related link: Here’s Why South America Is Getting Helicopter Ride-Sharing Before The U.S.


Outsiders say Uber may be understating the noise challenge. “Noise is going to be a big issue, that I don’t think anyone’s addressing appropriately,” says Tyler MacCready, the CEO of Apium, which is developing swarm technologies so that craft like drones and sky taxis can fly in tight formation. “And that’s one that even Uber in their Elevate report—they say hey, don’t worry this is going to be quiet. That’s wrong,” says MacCready.

Brien Seeley reckons that the sound of a plane or helicopter has to be below 50 decibels, about the volume of a conversation at home, at a distance of 40 meters from its landing area at a small airport. (Here’s a good decibel guide to the noise level of different real-life sounds.) Otherwise either the noise will annoy neighbors or the airport will have to be too big to create a buffer. About VTOL, Seeley says that, “It’s appealing because of its perceived small landing pad; however, again, its noise signature will dictate the true acreage and thereby its proximity.” He’s proposed an XPrize competition to develop air taxis that meet the 50-dB at 40 meters target, which he calls a “Herculean challenge.”

Uber talks about putting its mini-airports, called vertiports (complete with fast battery charging), on top of buildings to minimize the noise. “You would think so,” says Seeley, “but those people going out of the skyscrapers want to go to their suburban McMansions, whose serene community won’t allow them to land there.” Dallas, for instance, is a very flat city.

The type of craft is very important to noise, says Seeley. He agrees that planes are better than helicopters, but the type of plane matters. A tilt-wing craft is essentially a helicopter when it’s taking off. Also, Moore is a longtime advocate and developer of what’s called distributed electric propulsion—spreading a bunch of small motors and propellers across the airplane wing. One of Moore’s last projects at NASA was the X-57, a research plane with 14 electric motors and propellers. Covering the wing in small propellers is more efficient than using a few large props, but it’s generally a lot noisier, as they have to spin faster. Perhaps this won’t be as noisy as a helicopter, but it could still be too loud.

“The great spectrum that pushes and pulls against itself is, extremely tiny little rotors, and 30 of them, all blowing; and they’re screaming like banshees,” Seeley says, “or one extremely large [propeller], slow-turning like a Danish windmill that moves the same amount of air silently.”

Sky Gridlock?

Even if robo-taxi planes are virtually silent, how will people feel about a sky full of them? “You’re never going to blacken the skies,” says Moore. “It’s never going to look like Star Wars.” Even with a thousand air taxis per city, Moore says someone would see only “a couple aircraft” when they look up. Others tend to agree, saying that the promised reduction in street traffic will be worth it. “There’s a lot more room in the sky. I think we’re way off from the day when the skies get too crowded,” says Tyler MacCready. (He recommends using systems like his to help aircraft fly in tight formation so that traffic is kept to minimal areas.)

One reason the skies will stay clear, says Moore, is because Uber will use planes and not helicopters. To keep noise manageable, electric choppers would have to fly slower—around 50 miles per hour. (E-Volo projects a max speed of 100 kilometers per hour, about 62 mph. EHang lists an average cruising speed of 60km/hour, about 37mph.) Moore says that Uber’s taxis will fly at around 150mph. “So they get to where they’re going very quickly. They don’t stay up there,” he says.

Author: Sean Captain
Posted: April 24, 2017, 9:00 am

For a short period of time, I once wanted to be an event videographer. I was working as a television news producer at the time and saw how much videographers were able charge for weddings and other events. It seemed like a much better use of my film degree—or at least a more profitable one—until I discovered how time-consuming it was to edit video. I remember one wedding (of the five or so I did before calling it quits) where I spent an entire evening desperately trying to sync up the audio between three different cameras, constantly adjusting the video frame by frame until it finally matched up.

All that happened roughly 15 years ago. Camera and video technology has changed a lot since then, and now Sling Media—best known for its Slingbox devices that let you watch your home TV service across the internet—is transforming it a little more with the introduction of SlingStudio, a new system for quickly setting up and editing together multi-camera setups for capturing events such as weddings, school sports, or even a church’s Facebook live stream of a Sunday service. (It begins shipping in May.)

“There’s really nothing in the marketplace today that enables an average consumer . . . to go in and produce multi-camera video very easily,” says Vivek Khemka, CTO at Dish, Sling’s parent, which is also the company behind the Sling TV service.

SlingStudio is a hub for video streams, about the size and weight of your average home cable modem. It supports up to 10 streams at a time that can come from anything from smartphones to professional cameras that cost tens of thousands of dollars. To connect, each standalone camera must output its video stream via HDMI to a small box called a CameraLink that can connect wirelessly to the hub from up to 300 feet away. For Android and iOS devices, there’s a free app to download. Setting everything up is about as easy as connecting your computer to a typical Wi-Fi network.

All these streams can then be pulled up on an iPad—but not an Android tablet for now—using an app that reminds me of the consoles that directors used at that television station I worked at. You can see four streams at a time (cycling in additional ones from the 10 supported) and can just drag and drop favorite shots into a live stream or video recording in real time.

What that means is you could shoot a 10-camera production of your daughter’s soccer game just using other parents’ phones scattered around the stadium as your recording equipment. Since you’re editing on the fly, you don’t have to worry about the time-consuming process of importing all those streams into a video editing program and syncing them up later. You’ll have a polished-looking finished product as soon as that last goal is kicked. You can even live-stream the game to Facebook or YouTube as it’s going on (complete with all your video edits between the 10 cameras) from your iPad and add simple overlays such as a digital scoreboard that allows viewers to keep up with what’s happening.

Another plus: You can pull in a dedicated audio stream, either from an audio mixer’s board or from your own recording device, and use that as the master track for the whole production (a must for wedding videos).

“Anyone that knows how to use an iPad can use this and create great multi-camera video,” Khemka says. For those that want to take things a step further and throw the video into an editing program, the Studio hub can record the four streams you’re focusing on onto an SD card where you can access them later. The version you created live on the fly will also be saved to the SD card, and–unlike my wedding video exploits–all the videos will be automatically synced together, so you don’t have to figure out how to match them up in your editing program. Nervous shooters like myself can also record backups on their camers or phones.

The hub is $999 and needs a power source to operate. If you want to take it out and about, a three-hour battery for the device runs an additional $150. The packs for professional cameras are $355 each. However, adding streams from smartphones using the app is free. Though a SlingStudio setup isn’t cheap, the cost may not sound so steep if you price out how much you’d pay to have a professional do the job.

Author: Emily Price
Posted: April 24, 2017, 8:00 am

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s world came to a sudden halt when her husband, Dave Goldberg, died suddenly, at age 47, during a spring 2015 trip to Mexico. In the months that followed, the self-assured author of Lean In found herself lost in grief, adrift from the life she and Goldberg had built.

“[My self-confidence] just kind of crumbled in every area,” she tells Time magazine in this month’s cover story. “I didn’t think I could be a good friend. I didn’t feel like I could do my job.”

But now she has come roaring back—to her daily work at Facebook and to her place of influence in the broader corporate landscape. Her new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy comes out today. And in February, she announced changes to Facebook’s bereavement leave policy.

“Starting today, Facebook employees will have up to 20 days paid leave to grieve an immediate family member, up to 10 days to grieve an extended family member, and will be able to take up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a sick relative,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

Advocates, including organizations like Family Values @ Work, expressed hope that Facebook’s shift in policy would prompt other companies to follow suit. (As of March 2016, just 13% of private-sector employees have access to paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

But Jim Santucci, executive director of Kara—the Palo Alto, Calif.-based grief counseling organization that Sandberg turned to for support following Goldberg’s death—argues that policy changes are not enough. To better serve grieving employees, companies need to “develop a compassionate culture.”

“When things do happen, there [should be] a sense of, ‘we need to support the person,'” Santucci says. He adds: “It starts at the top.”

Of course, there is a place for corporate procedure. “There are some very practical things that organizations can do so that there’s a sense of what they can do to support [the employee] and what the organization can do to support itself,” he says. For example, developing a protocol for handling emails sent to an employee who has died. “How does that make people feel, to see that person on the cc list?”

But Santucci cautions against relying on policy without addressing culture. In his estimation, Sandberg’s example of vulnerability has done as much for other Facebook employees staring down grief as her decision to double Facebook’s pre-approved days of paid leave. Sandberg’s leadership, he says, has normalized facets of grief that an organization might otherwise avoid: “It’s okay to be sad, and it’s okay to acknowledge that someone is sad. These are things that we should talk about.”

Providing resources like counseling through a group like Kara is another option. Founded in the 1970s, Kara offers grieving families the option to participate in group meetings or one-on-one counseling. Trained volunteers lead the sessions, often opening with a ritual. Santucci, who lost his young daughter nearly a decade ago, leads a group for parents. To start each meeting, parents light a candle for their child, and then the group observes a moment of silence. “My child died: Why do I need to live? What meaning is there? It provides a really safe space for people to talk about what they’re thinking and feeling,” he says.

Kara, which supports itself through donations, hosted Sandberg as the keynote speaker at its 40th anniversary benefit over the weekend. “Generations prior to me—they didn’t talk about this kind of stuff,” Santucci says. He’s hopeful that Sandberg’s book and example will help organizations, and society more broadly, better handle grief. “We should be able to help each other and build resilience. But it’s slow.”

Author: Ainsley Harris
Posted: April 24, 2017, 8:00 am

Ever since the failure of its Fire phone, Amazon has needed a way to embed its services more deeply into smartphones. Now, the company has an opportunity in Alexa, its virtual assistant that’s become a hit through the Amazon Echo speaker.

Last month, Huawei’s Mate 9 became the first smartphone to include an app for Alexa voice commands, and Lenovo says it will add Alexa integration to Motorola phones later this year. (Amazon has also added Alexa to its main shopping app for iOS.)

Alexa on Huawei’s Mate 9

But while Alexa is an indispensable presence in smart homes, it’s practically a proof-of-concept on phones. Based on my experience with the Mate 9, Alexa falls short of other virtual assistants, such as Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri in too many ways.

Here’s what Amazon Alexa still needs for Alexa to make sense on smartphones:

1. Quicker Activation

Most Android phones can summon Google when the user holds down the home button, but bringing up Alexa on the Mate 9 isn’t so simple. Users must either tap the Alexa app icon or draw a customizable “knuckle gesture,” which involves knocking on the screen and scribbling a letter. Neither approach feels frictionless, and in both cases, users must then tap a button or say “Alexa” within the app to begin a voice command. A dedicated hardware button or hands-free voice activation would make Alexa much easier to access.

Phone makers may be somewhat limited in where they can put Alexa, due to Google’s conditions for including the company’s services and app store on Android devices. One of those conditions, according to The Information, is that Google must be the phone’s default virtual assistant and voice search provider. If phone makers want to make Alexa more accessible, they’ll need to come up with workarounds. (Lenovo has announced that users won’t have to unlock their phones to summon Alexa, so it must have something in mind. And Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and S8+ have dedicated buttons for the company’s upcoming Bixby Voice, showing that it’s possible for Android phones to have quick access to an assistant that isn’t Google Assistant.)

2. Visual Responses

Although the Mate 9 has a massive 5.9-inch display, Alexa doesn’t put the screen to use. Amazon’s assistant only responds to questions by voice, so you can’t just glance at the long-range forecast or a box score. And for Amazon.com listings and Yelp suggestions, there’s no convenient way to get more information about what you just searched for.

Alexa provides visual information in its companion app, which is separate from the voice command app on the Mate 9.

This situation will likely improve in the future. Amazon’s Fire TV devices and Fire tablets already provide an onscreen presence for Alexa, and in January, Amazon announced that it would extend this capability to devices made by other companies. Alexa will feel more useful on phones once it’s possible to see the assistant’s responses on the screen.

3. Phone-Friendly Skills

Even if Alexa were easier to access on the Mate 9, it still wouldn’t support all the things you’d want to accomplish on a smartphone. Some examples: You can’t get directions to or from a specific place, dictate or listen to text messages, initiate a phone call, adjust phone settings, or set time- and location-based reminders. The Mate 9 also doesn’t support some major functions that do work on the Echo, such as music playback and alarms.

Granted, some of those functions are already available with existing smartphone assistants, such as Google Assistant and Siri. But how many users will really want to think about which assistant to summon based on what they’re trying to accomplish? Alexa needs to be equal to or better than what’s already available if users are going to bother with it at all.

4. Deep Links To Other Apps

Once Alexa starts gaining more phone-friendly functions, it’ll also have to do better at connecting with existing smartphone apps. If you ask to play a song in Pandora, for instance, Alexa on a smartphone should open the Pandora app, rather than playing music in its own self-contained Pandora pop-up. It should also link out to the phone’s default mapping app–on Android phones, that’s Google Maps–for directions, and present users with a link to the phone’s calendar app for further options after creating an appointment.

To some extent, Alexa is already capable of this. On the Mate 9, if you ask for restaurant recommendations on Yelp, for instance, you can then open the Alexa companion app to view a log of all past requests. From there, you can tap on Yelp’s suggestions to view them within the Yelp app. But in other instances, such as calendars and maps, Alexa leaves users at a dead end.

5. A Proactive Element

In recent years, other virtual assistants have moved beyond simply responding to requests. Both Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana, for instance, provide a feed of useful information in their apps, including flight delays, sports scores, package tracking, and traffic alerts. The idea is that a helpful assistant should sometimes provide information without being asked first.

Proactive alerts wouldn’t make much sense on a speaker like the Amazon Echo–you wouldn’t want it blurting out information at random, or to the wrong person–but they’re right at home on a smartphone.

The common thread here is one I’ve touched on before: Alexa has been successful in part because it was designed entirely around voice. Without the crutch of visual feedback, Amazon and third-party developers were forced to make sure the voice interactions were fast and easy to understand.

But this restriction is starting to become a liability as Alexa expands beyond speakers. Amazon has a lot more work to do if it wants to compete with Google and Siri on their native turf.

Author: Jared Newman
Posted: April 24, 2017, 7:00 am

Many companies claim to be good places to work. The reality to those inside the shop, however, might feel very different. In the process of churning out cool products or some memorable service, something (okay, sometimes it’s many things) gets neglected. Maybe people are being paid differently to do the same job or dealing with ornery upper managers. Trace the supply chain of that company back far enough, especially if it’s dependent on the developing world, and the problems could become more nefarious: child labor, inhumane working conditions, and unlivable wages. Some leaders probably know this. Others may be woefully apathetic.

To cut through the confusion, GoodWell, a Boise, Idaho-based company has created a new kind of auditing process for companies, nonprofits, and governments to measure their success: Rather than just being profitable and fiscally responsible, they can earn a certification as a fair, equitable, and humane place to work. “We’re providing big companies with a methodology to say, ‘Hey, these are really simple, easy ways to make sure that we’re not doing really, really bad things,’” says chairman and founder Pete Gombert.

GoodWell does that through a scoring rubric designed to measure 11 key indicators of a healthy workplace. The categories include obvious affronts—there’s no tolerance for underage workers—and extremely low thresholds for more complicated problems, like the percent of employees working part-time or earning below poverty-line wages. Other factors include whether there’s reasonable wage parity between executives and average employees. (It’s not exactly a humbling standard, with the cap for CEOs at less than 100 times the average worker’s compensation.) And whether there are substantial pay gaps between men and women doing the same work, and between all people within the same position. (Again, not ideal: The math allows for up to a 10% disparity, plus extra adjustments for years of experience.)

“Most companies do kind of an employee happiness survey or something along those lines, but they don’t really have a scientific approach to measuring how they are perceived by their employees.”[Photo: Howard Berman/iStock]
Most inventively, GoodWell created a new metric for overall employee satisfaction based off the consumer satisfaction concept of “net promoter score” or how likely a buyer would be to recommend some product to others. The company’s “eNPS” or “employee-based net promoter score” asks current employees how likely they would be to recommend their workplace to others on a scale of 1 to 10 and creates a metric about how good a place a given company is to work at. “Most companies do kind of an employee happiness survey or something along those lines, but they don’t really have a scientific approach to measuring how they are perceived by their employees,” adds Gombert. “We provide a methodology to be able to do that, which is tremendously valuable for them.”

The test is pass-fail on a per category basis: Employers must achieve a favorable result for each of the 11 metrics or revamp their practices and complete the entire audit again. While there are three levels of certification (blue, gold, and platinum), ascending that scale isn’t about earning a higher score but rather auditing ever more of your supply chain, which for big companies may mean figuring new solutions to human rights issues they don’t often talk about: Whether their product is made by child labor, and if workers in developing countries are being overworked and paid fairly.

The price of certification depends on scale. It’s a flat fee of $150 to get started, plus $10 for each employee on payroll. To retain their ranking, each group must be re-audited annually. So far, about a half dozen groups, mostly in the Boise area have earned the basic certification, including the City of Boise. “From a somewhat selfish standpoint I think it’s a recruiting tool for the city,” says Nic Miller, the city’s director of economic development, who notes that it’s an easy way to telegraph the city’s values. “If I hear the words ‘millennial’ and ‘mission driven’ a few more times I am going to lose it, but there’s a growing contingent of people who say, ‘I want to be part of something larger than myself and that has a service element to it.’ [This] is a signal to people within the community that as an organization we feel the same way.”

“It’s great for the people who work here to actually have a better understanding of how their jobs and workplace compare to other places.” [Photo: Vladimir Kudinov/Unsplash]
Russ Stoddard, who heads the branding and marketing agency Oliver Russelland is currently undergoing certification, also considers it a retention tool. While the certifications may still have some wiggle room within categories, at least a GoodWell-approved place is clear about exactly how wiggly things are allowed to be. “It’s great for the people who work here to actually have a better understanding of how their jobs and workplace compare to other places,” he says. If managers want to get more specific, they can share the results of their audit internally.

Over time, both Miller and Stoddard like the benchmarking aspects of the program. Scores are shared among members, so people can see how they’re measuring up against others within their industry—and track how they’re improving over time. (The giving network 1% For The Planet, which encourages companies to pledge that amount of their profits toward environmental causes and has generated more than $150 million in funding, is also in the process of becoming certified.)

Gombert, a serial entrepreneur, has learned the importance of such audits firsthand. In 2004, he started Balihoo, a marketing services and tech company that raised $23 million in venture capital and expanded to 120 employees. During the recession, he adopted what he calls a “head down, figure out how to make it to tomorrow” approach to management. “Inherently I knew that I wanted to build a strong culture and a good culture,” he says. “But I never really aligned my actions with my intentions. I used my gut to do that.”

Around 2010, he decided to formalize that process for Balihoo. (“Call it the midlife crisis or whatever you want, but I kind of needed to find some more purpose in my daily work,” he says.) When he couldn’t find a set of procedures to do that, he began inventing his own, and was surprised by the results. “I had hired every single person at that company and negotiated everybody’s salary. This is obviously not something that I was proud of and I’m not proud to admit. We had a gender bias that we were underpaying women,” he says. “We corrected it, but wouldn’t have known about it if I didn’t measure it.”

The idea to open up that process to others came in 2014, after Gombert transitioned from CEO to board chairman at Balihoo. While taking some time off, he traveled the world with his family, stopping to do service projects in places of need. The group ended up building a school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which was suffering from the fallout of a globalized supply chain: Despite working full-time, many of the residents still lived in abject poverty. One of the main employers enabling that, he says, was a nearby factory that supplied goods for the U.S. military.

When he returned home, he decided to create a system where companies might be incentivized to replace unsavory or inhumane business practices in a way that adds value instead. As the certification becomes more widely adopted, not having one may be its own warning signal that some seemingly positive places are actually toxic work environments. Gombert started in Boise because he lives there. He hopes to expand quickly—something the 1% For The Planet deal may help with—to the point that organizations everywhere feel pressure (or excitement) to become certified or else miss out on the best employees.

“The idea is again to kind of align your intentionality with your actions such that you’re not wildly off.” [Photo: Thomas Barwick/iStock]
Eventually, GoodWell may move toward creating a seal for product packaging or group promotional materials to help customers and clients make more informed decisions about purchases and partnering deals. Either way, with enough public pressure perhaps bigger companies may move toward being audited, cleaning up workplace problems on a larger scale.

Perhaps the most surprising part is that the current standards make some allowances for wiggle room on troubling issues. There’s a small length-of-tenure adjustment that takes into account experience in each role for the fair pay measurements. The line for employees earning below the poverty level is less than 10%, not zero, and the annualized attrition rate is less than a quarter overall. “The idea is not to be perfect,” says Gombert, especially considering these broad standards will be applied across many industries and among different companies worldwide. “The idea is again to kind of align your intentionality with your actions such that you’re not wildly off.”

To quote a classic business mantra: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” he adds. Toss in a certification so everyone knows you’re doing it, and the result could be even more profitable.

Author: Ben Paynter
Posted: April 24, 2017, 6:30 am
Small Biz Survival

Small Biz Survival

The small town and rural business resource

  What supports can a municipality provide to encourage innovation and business start-ups?  That was one of the listener questions when I was a guest recently on the Orton Family Foundation’s Heart and Soul Talks. Municipalities and local officials feel responsible for developing their local economy. Too often, economic development takes the same old form […]
Author: Becky McCray
Posted: April 24, 2017, 11:12 am
  The Brag Basket is open! This one is for April 21-23, 2017. Bring your good news, big or small, to share with everyone. What can you share in the Brag Basket? introduce yourself share some great news from this week celebrate progress, even baby steps congratulate a friend applaud for each other confess your […]
Author: Small Biz Survival
Posted: April 21, 2017, 10:17 am
You probably have heard the phrase, “follow the money.” The phrase became popular the book and movie, “All the President’s Men,” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. These Washington Post reporters uncovered the details of the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Today, this phrase remains valid for small-business owners […]
Author: Glenn Muske
Posted: April 19, 2017, 2:35 pm
  Guest Post by Stuart Langley This tidbit turned up in an Atlantic newsletter email this morning. If you’re a resident of California or another state that’s dealt with drought these last few years, we’d love to see (and possibly share) any photos you’ve got that show the impact on your local landscape. Please send […]
Author: Small Biz Survival
Posted: April 17, 2017, 11:32 am
    The Brag Basket is open! This one is for April 14-16, 2017. Bring your good news, big or small, to share with everyone. What can you share in the Brag Basket? introduce yourself share some great news from this week celebrate progress, even baby steps congratulate a friend applaud for each other confess […]
Author: Small Biz Survival
Posted: April 14, 2017, 10:02 am
Let’s start with a paraphrased quote – “Marketing is everything you do” – Jay Conrad Levinson This quote is distilled from a slightly longer one in Levinson’s book, “Guerrilla Marketing.” I have used it for years when talking about marketing. Marketing should be on your mind from the moment you have an idea. Why? Because […]
Author: Glenn Muske
Posted: April 12, 2017, 1:30 pm
  Small towns struggle to fill big downtown buildings. Back in the day, they may have been department stores or large retailers. Now they most likely sit empty. Instead of waiting for one big tenant to fill them, what if we divided them up, and turned them over to a whole bunch of tiny businesses […]
Author: Becky McCray
Posted: April 10, 2017, 11:34 am
The Brag Basket is open! This one is for April 7-9, 2017. Bring your good news, big or small, to share with everyone. What can you share in the Brag Basket? introduce yourself share some great news from this week celebrate progress, even baby steps congratulate a friend applaud for each other confess your undying […]
Author: Small Biz Survival
Posted: April 7, 2017, 11:22 am
People complain about your business.  It’s true. It happens but most of the time you never hear about them. On average for every one complaint you do hear, there are 26 other complaints that people have. That’s a substantial number.  And while many of the complaints are perhaps minor in nature, they are something that […]
Author: Glenn Muske
Posted: April 5, 2017, 2:33 pm
Guest Post by Micah Choquette Owner, Editor and Author of the Sapulpa Times, Sapulpa, Oklahoma, population 20,000 Angrily, I hit “Send” on the message, certain that I was burning a bridge by doing so, but at this point, I didn’t care. It was 2015 and I had just spent far too long chasing a deal with […]
Author: Small Biz Survival
Posted: April 3, 2017, 11:48 am
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