If you pay attention to the news these days, you’ll start seeing more and more things happening which can be defined as the battle between algorithms and elbow grease. In many ways, I believe this conflict is becoming the defining juxtaposition of our times; comparing the effects of strenuous physical exertion to formulaic solutions, generally facilitated by computers. Or, in other words, the battle between getting things done the good old school way or the new ways.
Elbow Grease: “Strenuous physical exertion.”
From The Grammarist: “Elbow grease means hard work, energetic physical labor, especially labor that involves vigorous rubbing or polishing. The term elbow grease is surprisingly old, it dates back at least to the 1600s. Other languages have similar idioms such as the French term l’huile de coude, which translates as “elbow grease” and the Danish term knofedt, which translates as “knuckle fat.”
Algorithms: “A set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, as for finding the greatest common divisor.”
Again, from The Grammarist: “An algorithm is logical procedure that is applied to a problem in order to solve that problem. Computers commonly use algorithms. Algorithm is a noun, related words are algorithmic, algorithmically. The word algorithm is derived from the Old French word algorisme, which was the term for the Arabic numeral system.”
But enough with the definitions. How about some simple examples from your own life?
The phone app that connects you and your Lyft ride to one another is the algorithm. The driver is the elbow grease.
The program you follow to train for a marathon is the algorithm. The sweaty distance you run five days a week is the elbow grease.
The Quicken software you use to balance your checkbook in the algorithm. The time you spend actually inputting checks and balancing your account is the elbow grease.
The reason this juxtaposition will become more and more popular is because it also serves as a metaphor for the growing divide between the haves and the have nots, both in this country and around the world.
Internet billionaires, information entrepreneurs (infopreneurs), and hedge fund managers are the algorithms. Gardeners, waitresses, and baggage handlers are the elbow grease.
But please don’t think I’m suggesting that elbow grease only defines blue-collar workers who labor with their hands, while algorithms define people who work with superior technological know-how. Instead, think of this: plenty of white-collar information workers whose jobs will eventually be replaced by computer code also fit squarely in the elbow grease category. These include accountants, engineers, diagnosticians, and even radiologists.
What we do know is that the technological changes we all take for granted today will pose great upheaval for all of us in the near future. For example, you already know that the Uber ride you take today will be provided by a driverless car ten or twenty years from now. And right now that seems like a good thing because it will undoubtedly save money and time, reduce congestion, and free up parking spaces. But it also means that the widespread career of driving, a business segment that employs ten to 15% of all working men in the US, will be replaced by computers, robots, and drones. Where will those displaced drivers go to earn a living? And where will they go to define their worth?
We know that algorithms will replace elbow grease. What we don’t know what it will cost.
It’s not like this is a new phenomenon, by the way. When the agricultural revolution replaced hunting and gathering, it was a more primitive example of algorithms vs. elbow grease. When the industrial revolution replaced the feudal system of labor management, it was another example of the same conflict. And when the Information Age supplanted the Industrial Age, it was yet another example of this paradox.
Each shift resulted in massive social changes that was felt geographically, economically, culturally, religiously, and geo-politically. The only difference from those shifts and the ones we’re experiencing today is that we look at those older changes with a lack of hands-on emotion, the benefit of hindsight, and an understanding that they happened much more slowly and over a much longer period of time than the changes we’re experiencing today.
The contemporary battle between algorithms and elbow grease might just be the largest social experiment and reorganization of responsibility and renumeration humankind has yet experienced. But much like the mouse running around in a researcher’s maze, we don’t know which turn will get us to the cheese nor which one will lead us to a dead end.
But like that mouse, what we do know is that if we want a successful outcome, we’d better start exploring our options.
Does the Second Amendment Trump the First Amendment?
By now anyone not living under a rock knows all about the horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 14 teenagers and three adults were killed in cold blood when Nikolas Cruz sprayed the South Florida school with an AR-15 assault rifle.
Regardless of your opinion of what happened or what should be done, you’ve been discussing the massacre with your friends and your co-workers and you’ve seen endless debates and discussions on TV news, in the newspaper, and on social media.
That’s right, the Florida state legislature. That’s because less than a week after one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history happened in Florida, the state House of Representatives voted down a measure to discuss the assault weapons ban.
Yes, you read that correctly. The state House of Representatives voted down a measure to discuss the assault weapons ban. They didn’t vote down an assault weapons ban. They didn’t vote down a measure to re-implement the assault weapons ban. Florida state representatives voted down a measure to even talk about the situation.
The vote was on a suggestion to consider a motion to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. Not to ban the weapons, mind you, just to discuss the possibility. But instead of allowing such an important debate to take place, the House defeated the motion 36-71. Amazingly, the “no” voters included nine South Florida Republicans – the very lawmakers who represent the area where the slaughter took place.
The list of Miami representatives who voted “no” includes Michael Bileca, Jose Oliva, Carlos Trujillo, Bryan Avila, Daniel Anthony Perez, Jeanette Nunez, Manny Diaz Jr., and Holly Raschein. Representatives Bill Hager and Rick Roth of Palm Beach County also voted to shut down the conversation. And even more shamelessly, Representative George Moraitis of Broward County (where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located) callously skipped the vote altogether.
From the Miami New Times: “According to Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout… ‘a reasonable person might assume a state rocked by a gun massacre might at least let the full House vote on the idea — but not Florida’s Republican-dominated, NRA-beholden House.’”
Remember, we’re not talking about the legislature refusing gun control or refusing to vote on gun control. We’re talking about the legislature refusing to even DISCUSS the problem and possible solutions. Or as I see it, the legislature simply decided the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) matters while the First Amendment (freedom of speech) does not.
Within the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment requires only 45 words to assure all Americans of their significant liberties:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
In his prescient novel 1984, George Orwell predicted a future where human rights – including freedom of speech – do not exist anymore. As Orwell wrote: “Whatever the (legislature) holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the (legislature).”
Since the Florida state legislature hasn’t actually read the Bill of Rights, I can’t imagine they’ve read 1984 either. Regardless, while George Orwell may have predicted this trampling of our rights coming true in 1984, the Florida state legislature simply moved the date to 2018. And we will all suffer the consequences of their egregious behavior.
If you want to see more about this subject, here’s last week’s CNNi interview with Richard Quest where we talked about companies ending their NRA sponsorships:
I’ve had some wonderful speaking opportunities in wonderful places. In the past few weeks I’ve been to Chicago, Naples, San Diego, Mexico, San Francisco, Maui, and New Orleans. And this week I’m lucky enough to speak in my own hometown – Miami.
All that travel meant a lot of time out of the office. But it’s also been a great opportunity for me to use – and further refine – all the travel hacks that make my journeys so much easier.
I believe there’s only two kinds of luggage – carry on and lost. So, it should come as no surprise that I’m obsessive about packing light and never ever checking bags. To accomplish this I’ve tested lots of products and figured out lots of ways to pare back my travel carry-on. Here’s a quick list of some of my best hacks. If you want more, go to my blog and search “travel light” and you’ll find many more posts on this subject.
If you spend a little time and effort on traveling with only what you need, you’ll find your journeys are less stressful and a lot more fun. And if you carry a credit card with you, you can always buy what you find you left at home and suddenly can’t live without.
Last Sunday was the Das Renn Treffen show in South Miami. Over 450 Porsches – from 60-year old 356s to brand spanking new 911 GT3s – were parked on the streets of South Miami. It’s the largest Porsche show on the Eastern Seaboard and probably the second largest in the country (after the Luftgekült show in Los Angeles).
Not only were the streets of South Miami loaded with Porsches, they were also loaded with people. And as you might imagine, a good percentage of the people roaming the streets were affluent consumers, interested in buying Porsche cars, eating brunch, and shopping for whatever else suited their fancy. To paraphrase the old saying, collectors of vintage German sports cars put the conspicuous in conspicuous consumption.
So you would think the retailers in South Miami would be overjoyed at their good luck. You’d think they’d not only throw their doors wide open, but they’d put out displays of unique products, maybe offer Porsche or racing-themed promotions, serve mimosas or do whatever they could to entice the gaggle of affluent shoppers wandering past into their stores.
You’d be wrong.
Believe it or not, most of the shops in the Sunset Road area were closed during the show. Not only didn’t they support what has grown into an enormous local event, they didn’t even bother to open their doors to take advantage of all the people in their neighborhood. Instead, store after store greeted their new visitors with darkened storefronts and “CLOSED” signs hanging in their windows.
Don’t forget that this is in a day and age when pundits are suggesting that bricks and mortar retail stores are spiraling downward towards obsolescence. According to Forbes Magazine, the Census Department release on retail sales for June 2017 gave a sobering look at the current state of American retail. Every major reporting category except electronics and appliance stores and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores showed a monthly decline. And PWC’s 2017 Retail Trends Report was even clearer, “To be sure, the trends are not good for store-based retailers, which generally complain of challenging conditions and frugal consumers.”
But what do these “store-based retailers” complain about when the throngs of people eager to visit their stores are not “frugal consumers” but affluent, eager shoppers? How about when the most “challenging condition” their customers might experience is having to make their way around a one and a half million-dollar Porsche 959 or an $850,000 Porsche 918 in order to enter a store?
My father used to say, “When opportunity knocks you can’t say ‘come back later.”
But what do you do when opportunity doesn’t knock but instead blares its autobahn-tuned air horns asking to come in and purchase when your store is closed?
Are you stressed out how you’re going to add an effective digital strategy to your marketing mix? Are you wondering how valuable Facebook “likes” and tweets on Twitter are to your business? Is the alphabet soup of online acronyms — SEO, SEM, HTML, ROI — driving you mad?
Maybe you need to take a lesson from the Swan Oyster Depot.
For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to pull up a stool at the Swan and slurp down some briny fresh oysters, here’s what Condé Nast Traveler says:
“Opened in 1912, Swan Oyster Depot isn’t a restaurant, it’s a landmark. Today, the fifth generation is behind the original marble counter, and the ground rules remain unchanged. Except for the rich, creamy clam chowder, everything here is served cold. Cooking means tossing shrimp salad with Louie dressing, shucking oysters, or cracking crab. The stools at the long, narrow counter fill up during the lunch hour, so try to get there before or after noon. But be warned, the owners close when they sell out of the day’s inventory.”
What Condé Nast doesn’t say is that besides the freshest oysters, crab, shrimp, and sea urchin, the Swan also serves frosty Anchor Steam on draft and some of the best sourdough bread I’ve ever eaten. And they only take cash.
I’m one of those impatient people who hates to wait in line. Yet I happily stand out on Polk Street in the perpetual queue waiting for one of the few barstools to open up. I’ve never been there exactly at opening time, but I bet there’s a line then too. I’ve never seen the Swan Oyster Depot without a line out front.
As far as I’m concerned, the Swan Oyster Depot has it all – great food, great service, a great location, and a great story. But one thing they don’t have is a digital strategy. How do I know this? There’s a hand-written sign on the wall that told me so.
Swan Oyster Depot!! Does Not
Have A WEBSiTE!! Anything
you see ONLine is UNauthorized!!
We Only deal person to person!!!
Funny thing is that besides telling customers that the Swan Oyster Depot doesn’t have a website, the sign does tell you the other things that make the lunch counter special. The handwritten quality of the sign is indicative of their hands-on approach to their food, their décor, and their service. And the idea that they “only deal person to person” is a clear confirmation of the Swan’s friendly, personal, service.
Because regardless of how many people are waiting outside coveting your stool, the guys behind the counter will tell you to take your time, relax, and enjoy. And they’ll happily discuss the origin of the oysters, carefully slice your smoked salmon or tell you the story about when their grandfather bought the restaurant.
The Swan does all this because after 115 years in business they know who they are and why their customers keep coming back. Whether they know it or not, the guys behind the counter have carefully aligned their products and services and their authentic truth, with their customers’ aspirational desires. They clearly and consistently talk their talk and walk their walk and reinforce their brand value.
There’s a great lesson inside the Swan Oyster Depot for all of us. Not to mention a dozen Kumamotos and a pint of Anchor Steam.
Recently my very successful speaker friend Bill Cates was invited to do a TED talk.
Bill reached out to me to find out how I had enjoyed my TED experience and what specific recommendations I might have for him. After answering his questions, I directed him to my website so he could watch my talk:
Bill’s (edited) response:
“I watched your video. I can see why this is a great video for you. I gave it a like while I was there. 😊
The breakdown of Obama’s 3-word slogan is great.
I love your concept: ‘Your brand is based on 3 words, All about them.’ (Sounds like the title of a great book. Oh wait… it IS the title of a great book. 😊)
The most powerful part of the talk (for me) is this statement: ‘The most powerful brands, the most compelling brands, the brands that help you win your argument, sell your product, sell your service, do not make the consumer feel good about you. They make your customer feel good themselves!’
You could build a business on that!”
Here’s the funny thing:
I HAVE built a business on that.
And you can too.
Many of us have been trained to build businesses on what we do. It’s such a strong part of business culture that it wasn’t too many years ago that people actually named themselves based on their occupations.
Ms. Goldsmith was a goldsmith.
Mr. Baker baked.
Ms. Fletcher made arrows.
Mr. Bowman shot those arrows.
Carter transported goods. Smitty was a blacksmith.
But today, too many forces conspire against us being successful just by being good at what we do.
This is due to the ascendance of democratized information, the ubiquity of overnight delivery of goods, the consistency of computerized production, and the 24/7/365 nature of social media. Thanks to these factors, your clients and customers have unlimited access to people and companies who do what you do and sell what you sell.
Are you better than the competition? Of course, you are. Just Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,” the members of my blog community are also the best at what they do.
But today that’s just not enough.
First, most of your customers and clients aren’t qualified to determine if you’ve done a good job for them or not. After all, if they were as good at doing what you do they would do it themselves. You spent years studying your profession. Then you spent more years honing your craft. Or, as the old saying goes, “you’ve forgotten more than they’ll ever know.”
Second, unless you sell an instant gratification product or service, your clients won’t know how well you did your job until days, weeks, or even years have gone by. (By the way, the same thing will happen if they choose to work with your competition.)
You might not discover the true outcome of your doctor’s knowledge and effectiveness until the end of your life. You probably won’t know the true extent of your investment professional’s techniques and talents until enough years have passed for your investment strategy to pay off (or not). And you certainly won’t know if your insurance broker recommended the right products for you until you actually experience the event they’ve helped you protect against.
So why do we spend so much time, effort, and money trying to prove that we’re better at something that our customers aren’t capable of properly evaluating in the first place?
Instead, the way to win your argument, sell your product or sell your service, is to make your customer feel good themselves. And you do this by creating an All About Them brand that speaks not just to your potential customers’ needs but to their prevailing aspirations.
Showing your customers not just how you can help them achieve what they want but how they can be who they want to be puts you in a singular position way above your competition. And making your customers feel good not about just what you can do for them but about themselves will secure your place in their roster of critical contributors to their own success.
To reiterate my friend Bill’s good words: “You could build a business on that!”
Did you know that more than 4.4 million working Americans are drivers? According to the Census Bureau, more than 2% drive trucks, 0.4% drive busses, and 0.3% drive cabs and other vehicles. In most parts of the US, truck driving is the most common job for men. In The Bronx and Queens, Southern Texas, and Southern California, up to 9% of workers are drivers.
You already know that self-driving trucks and self-driving cars are getting closer and closer to being the new normal, even if the technology isn’t quite ready for primetime. And even when it is ready, the transition away from human drivers will take time. But a driverless reality is undoubtedly in our near future and when that happens up to 10 to 15 percent of the male workforce will find themselves newly out of work.
As the seldom sensitive Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said: The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car… (But) when there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper.
But chances are you don’t drive for a living, so why do you care? As you might logically see it, the advantages for someone who doesn’t make their living from driving will be great. A driverless future offers lower prices, safer roads, less congestion, and the improved fuel economy and lower emissions that computer-controlled driving promises. And while increasing unemployment rolls might concern you, one could also argue that technological advances have transformed many other industries and their employees have found jobs in the emerging opportunities the new technologies provide.
But what if your customers were mostly middle-class men? Would it concern you that up to 15% of your customer base would lose most of their purchasing power in the next five, ten or twenty years?
What if you sold guns?
In 2017, a Pew Research survey found that 48% of men say they own guns. A joint study between sociologists at Northeastern and Harvard universities found that despite the total number of gun owners decreasing from 25% in 1994 to 22% in 2015, the quantity of guns grew by over 70 million pieces. Fewer owners suggests that the same group of gun buyers have been steadily adding to their personal armories.
From that you could logically suppose that if those buyers suddenly lost their purchasing power, they would simply stop buying more and more weapons. And if you were in the armament business, it would make sense that you would be concerned about the diminishing income opportunities for an enormous swath of your customer base.
To combat this, the gun industry has set off on an active strategy of attracting disenfranchised male buyers. They are selling guns as the natural connection between arms and the diminishing sense of masculinity that comes with a number of occurrences, including joblessness. I thought about this after reading a fascinating thesis by Columbia University student Julia Udell. In her paper, Udell shows how the gun industry capitalizes on the growing zeitgeist of male insecurity.
As Udell explains it, the gun industry uses three points — aggression, protection, and hyper- sexuality — to build a strong connection between men and firearms. For example, on Piers Morgan Tonight in 2011, Ted Nugent said: “Anybody that wants to make me unarmed and helpless… we’re going to vote you out of office or suck on my machine gun.”
As Udell points out, besides his fervent gun lobby, Nugent was lobbying for masculinity. Nugent’s desire to be perceived as strong rather than helpless, along with the hypersexual nature of his threat, reflects the same strategy gun companies use to keep their customers buying.
Before you go all NRA or James Brady on me, please look at the bigger picture. Because regardless of how you feel about gun control, guns or the way consumers are manipulated into buying them, the learning for futureproofing your business is clear:
Your consumers’ reasons for buying what you sell, as well as their ability to pay for those purchases, is changing faster than ever before. And whether your customers are soon-to-be-unemployed cab and truck drivers or household purchasers who have just discovered Amazon Prime, it’s critical for your messaging and sales strategies to change as well.
Otherwise you will find your business as extinct as our country’s drivers are about to find theirs.
Each Monday morning I look forward to reading my friend and mastermind partner Alan Weiss’ blog posts. This week Alan wrote: “We live in an age of micro-aggressions and polarization… If you voted for the ‘other’ party, you don’t merely have a differing opinion, you’re stupid.”
That same afternoon I was a guest on Richard Quest’s news program on CNN International. Richard and I discussed Proctor & Gamble’s Tide brand and the problem they’re having with their TidePods. Specifically, teenagers are daring each other to bite into the brightly colored pods and swallow the liquid inside. Then they go on YouTube and post videos of themselves foaming at the mouth and vomiting. It’s kind of like today’s digital version of your mom accusing the teenage you of jumping off the roof just because all your friends did it too.
Except in this case kids don’t get banged up or maybe even break a leg. They poison themselves. ABC News says, “The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported eight deaths related to laundry detergent pod ingestion since these products hit the market in 2012, through mid-2017.”
Richard wanted to know what the proper PR plan would be for effective crises management. My recommendation was not what you might expect to hear from a brand specialist – I suggested that P&G immediately take the product off the shelf. I reasoned that the profits P&G was making from the pods would be dwarfed by the cost of the negative effects of this unfortunate fad. And because of the ubiquitous power of social media, the outcry and backlash could reach far beyond anything Tide could manage.
One of the great things about being on TV these days is you get instant feedback on how you’re doing. All it takes is a quick log on to Twitter to see what people are saying or if they even bother saying anything at all. So when I got off the show I pulled out my phone and checked my Twitter feed. Some viewers agreed with my thoughts. Some did not. And to Alan’s point, a few shared their micro-aggressions.
@ItoKish tweeted: “@BruceTurkel Your idea about TidePods is f<#%ing stupid!”
@TiffanyTillman posted this: “@BruceTurkel You’re an asshole for insinuating that @Tide should remove tidepod from shelves cause idiot teenagers are doing crap.”
It was immediate confirmation that Alan Weiss was right. Just because I presented an opinion @ItoKish and @TiffanyTillman don’t agree with, I am an asshole. Or as Alan wrote (rather more eloquently than those two, I might add): “This pathology is evident daily (online), that great societal mirror… if you disagree with the writer, you must somehow be ‘damaged’… because the writer can’t possibly be wrong or even entertain another point of view.”
Was I insulted by Ito’s opinion or Tiffany’s name calling? Ironically, they did me a favor. By calling me out and calling me an “asshole” they also called additional attention to my TV appearance and my opinion.
I have two main goals when I get on a national news program. I want to build my own brand awareness and I want to position myself as the go-to person when sophisticated clients have serious brand issues. Tiffany’s and Ito’s crude outbursts simply served to spread the word and help people recognize that I have a different way of looking at problems and solutions.
People who already know me have already made up their minds about who I am and what I know. I’m confident that whether or not they also think I’m “f<#%ing stupid” or “an assshole” has little to do with Twitter posts. And people who don’t know me either don’t care whether or not I’m an asshole or they might take an extra minute to click on the CNNi link to see for themselves.
Where could this lead? Again, let’s turn to Alan Weiss:
“You need to have a fascinating conversation with your clients and potential clients. When they realize you’re a thought leader with interesting ways of looking at things they want to keep you around and will find ways to utilize your skills.”
Without it being their intention, Tiffany and the other name callers used the power of profanity to spice up my CNN appearance. Their comments will bring a bit of conflict and controversy to my public persona. And while the metrics are hard to follow, it’s safe to say that more people will view the link now than would have seen it without the outbursts (when I published this blog post, 2,694 people had viewed the clip on LinkedIn alone).
Will these people be potential clients or influencers? Again, it’s hard to say but probably not. But who knows? The whole concept of online virality is based on the energy and actions of people distributing information to people who view it and pass it on and so on and so forth. And who knows where that activity will ultimately lead?
Time will tell. Because clearly, I’m too “f<#%ing stupid!” to know.