Tag Archives: Productivity

How ‘Fake News’ Damages Your Company and What You Can Do About It

Since the election, the idea of “fake news” has been prominently debated. Whether from willful blindness or a general sense of gullibility, stories that appear real have spread throughout social media…but this is not a new phenomenon.

200 years ago it was reported that after cutting down a cherry tree, a six year old George Washington guiltily told his father, “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” Similarly, Paul Revere didn’t ride through the streets of Concord, Massachusetts yelling, “The British are coming” and Isaac Newton did not discover gravity when an apple fell on his head.

While these stories are technically fake news, they are distinguished from today’s fake news in their intent. When Mason Locke Weems penned the cherry tree tale in 1806, he was trying to illustrate Washington’s virtue so as to inspire young Americans to emulate him. Elias Phinney relayed Revere’s ride as an act of patriotism. And John Conduitt used Newton’s apple story as a metaphor so the less educated could understand the concept of gravity.

The fake news in our current political climate is more in the vein of Marie Antoinette’s, “Let them eat cake.” This quote was inaccurately attributed to Antoinette when a French Revolutionary anti-establishment pamphlet distributed it as a cartoon. In publishing such an untruth, the author was not trying to generate a metaphorical narrative; rather he was seeking to fuel the insurrection and overthrow of the French government.

As Antoinette can attest, fake news is inherently destructive in nature. Whether it’s from protesters or government leaders, these stories have no purpose but to disparage those with opposing views, stoke irrational fears, and spread falsehoods. There is no way to rationalize it; if an argument is well-intentioned, the truth should be sufficient to convince the masses. If it’s not, you need a better argument.

Consider how your company reacts when a malicious rumor is started. These localized fake news stories have long lasting negative ramifications on your team. Not only are they distracting, but the fabrications harm reputations, working relationships, and the overall culture. This then affects performance, productivity, and the bottom line.

There are two action items we can learn here. One, we need to do a better job identifying and quashing fake news. If you think this sounds easy, think again. A recent Stanford study found that students cannot determine fake news from real news. This lack of critical thinking is particularly alarming considering their nonstop media consumption. Participants had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles and were unable to identify where information came from. In addition, more than 80% believed a native ad identified with the words “sponsored content” was a real news story AND only 25% recognized and were able to explain the differences between a verified Twitter account and one that simply looked legitimate.

This finding indicates that students may focus more on the content of social media posts than on their sources. Despite their fluency with social media, many students are unaware of basic conventions for indicating verified digital information.—Sam Wineburg & Sarah McGrew

The second action item is that as leaders we must take responsibility for this fakery within our organizations. This begins with educating those on our team to be discernable absorbers of information. When new information is presented, teach them to evaluate it based on the following questions:

  1. Do you know the source? Is he/she reliable and trustworthy?
  2. Can you verify the information?
  3. How does it measure up to what you already know?
  4. Does it make (common) sense?
  5. Do you understand the complexity of the information?
  6. Do you understand the context of the information?
  7. What biases do you have that could affect how you interpret the information?
  8. Have subject matter experts corroborated the information? What about the company’s executive team?
  9. How current is the information?
  10. What is the intent of the person disseminating the information?

Fake news is an epidemic. Thankfully, you are in a position to be the Senior Editor of your organization’s “news” outlet. When fake news stories arise, no matter how trivial, report the truth. Don’t allow even one minor fib to become part of the dialogue. The more you practice this, the more fact-checking will become engrained in your culture.

The Business Case for Team-Based Incentives with Atlanta Falcon’s Owner Arthur Blank

You getting Super Bowl fever? As a perpetual supporter of the underdog (unless my Steelers are playing), I’ve been reading about Atlanta Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank. Even if you aren’t into football, you will appreciate that before purchasing the Falcons in 2002, Blank was co-founder of The Home Depot.

It may seem commonplace today, but when it was first introduced The Home Depot revolutionized the home improvement business with its one-stop shopping, warehouse concept. Blank then spent 19 years as its president before becoming CEO and co-chairman.

In learning about Blank, an interview last week exhibits one particularly admirable aspect of his leadership philosophy that gives strong hints as to why he has been as successful as he is. After the Falcons won their spot in the Super Bowl, Blank announced that he is flying all 500 Falcon employees to Houston for the game. When asked, “How big is that bill?” he responded:

It’s not about money. It’s about these associates, who were the ones that support our players, our coaches and our franchise… We are a family of businesses that share a set of values and we want to be able to celebrate this with everybody. All the Falcons associates are going because they’re all a part of what it takes to produce a winning team on the field.

This is motivating to the staff on two fronts. Monetarily, they are each receiving a one-in-a-lifetime experience that is far beyond most people’s budgets—between the flight, a ticket to the game (pricing starts at $3,500 per seat), hotel, and food it could easily cost $8,000 per employee.

More impactful, however, is the message of shared success that Blank is conveying. If the team does well, we all do well. These team-based incentives reinforce a company culture of collaboration and cooperation. As a result, team members are more likely to prioritize the shared goals and values of the organization over their personal agendas.

Not convinced? A 2010 study found that employees receiving team-based incentives are more willing to put extra effort into their tasks because they don’t want to let their teammates down. Armstrong and Ryden’s research found that companies with long-term, team-based incentive pay resulted in significantly lower than average employee turnover. And another study found productivity increases of 9-17% relative to companies with individual incentives.

If team-based incentives sound costly (and you aren’t able to send your team to the Super Bowl), don’t worry. Research shows that team-incentive schemes are 26-29% more cost effective than individual incentives. I’m no economists, but spending less and getting more for your money sounds like a competitive advantage.

As leaders, we need to make shared success a part of our culture. Impart the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” Make it a regular part of your communication and back it up with tangible incentives and rewards. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll be on your way to your national championship.

How Does Your Homework Affect Work-Life Balance?

Last week my kids went back to school. As much as they groaned, I felt myself grumbling even more knowing that our “relaxing” evenings were about to become a cyclone of homework and school projects. With two working parents, three kids in elementary school, and a prevailing over-achiever mentality, I often wonder how much we are benefiting from the homework that all five of us are doing.

There is much research arguing against homework. In his book The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn states that it’s positive effects are overblown. Homework reduces necessary quality time with family and does not significantly improve learning or academic results. Kohn writes:

For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement. At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied.

Other studies agree:

  • In The Battle Over Homework, Duke University Professor Harris Cooper found little correlation between the amount of homework and achievement in elementary school and only a moderate correlation in middle school. Even in high school, “too much homework may diminish its effectiveness or even become counterproductive.”
  • Many countries with the highest scoring students on achievement tests (Japan, Denmark, etc) are assigned little homework, while the more homework-dependent countries (Greece, Thailand, etc) consistently have some of the worst average scores, according to a four-year study.
  • Even pro-homework advocate Tom Sherrington cited a popular mega-study concluding that homework has minimal benefits for kids under the age of ten.

These are pretty clear-cut findings on school homework, but do they only pertain to our kids? Is our work-related homework any more useful?

I don’t generally like the phrase work-life balance, but it is hard to deny the negative affects of an unbalanced life. Health problems, depression, and impaired sleep are commonly associated. These conditions hurt the employee and the organization, resulting in burnout, a long-term lack of productivity, turnover, and a generally actively disengaged workforce. Mind you, I’m writing this from home after a full day of work, so I may not be the best example of balance, but I am trying to get better.

Here are a few ways you and I can strike a better balance between home and work:

Carve out family time. A study by the University of Michigan found that family meals are the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems for children. It’s also a nice way to decompress after a busy day.

Forget about a 50/50 split. Reasonable expectations are key to a work-life balance. Some days are going to be work heavy, while other days won’t allow for the amount of work you’d like to complete. You may still get frustrated, but anticipating your reality can often make it less wearisome.

Stop blaming your phone. You can decide whether to read and respond to every text as they arrive.

Get organized. Work-life balance will not happen without a systematized schedule, a way to capture to-do items, or focus. Maintain priorities and stick to your daily plan (as much as you can).

Being home is not being lazy. I make it a priority to be home for dinner. I then help get everyone to bed and go back to work. Is it ideal? Maybe not, but I find it relaxing to get a few things off my to-do list before morning.

Get a hobby. As much I enjoy doing some work at night, I don’t do it every night. Find something non-work related that you enjoy. Exercise, reading, etc are great ways to get rid of stress. And TV does not count as a hobby (no matter how much I’d like it to).

Homework for both you and your kids is inevitable. We can complain about it or accept that work-life balance is not based on a set period of time where one turns on and the other off. A healthy mindset involves the ability to integrate family with work/school priorities. Find the balance that works for you so you can spend the rest of your free time checking your daughter’s algebra… as I’m about to do.

Why I Won’t Play Pokémon Go: My Guide to Limiting Workplace Distractions

pokemonUnlike most smartphone owners, I have not downloaded the app sensation, Pokémon Go. While I am typically first in line to consume pop culture, I’m familiar enough with my bad habits to know that the minute this game is uploaded to my phone, I would become obsessed to the point of atrophy. Case in point, I am still haunted by the wasteful Candy Crush summer of 2012.

My refusal to play Pokémon Go certainly puts me in the minority. A recent study found that a third of U.S. Android smartphone users have downloaded this game, surpassing Twitter as the most popular current mobile app. For those of you who are not familiar, Pokémon Go is a virtual scavenger hunt. Players explore the real world with their smartphones, hunting for 151 different cartoon characters at grocery stores, parks, and coffees shops. Did I mention that they are also playing Pokémon Go at work, as if our team needs another distraction.

Office workers are interrupted approximately every eleven minutes, academic studies have found. Once distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California.

Another study measured the amount of brainpower lost when someone is interrupted. Two subject groups were tasked with reading a passage and completing a test—one merely did the assignment, while the other was told they “might be contacted for further instructions” at any moment via instant message. When the second group thought they were going to be interrupted but weren’t, they were 14% less likely to answer correctly. When they were interrupted, their scores dropped another 6%.

Distractions steal our time, hurt our productivity, impede our creativity, and damage our efficiency. Even worse, many of our distractions are our own fault, making them wholly avoidable. Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, states that these self-induced distractions are becoming more prevalent and difficult to manage. There is a compulsion to check email, text, social media, and games like Pokémon Go. “We might be in the middle of a meeting but if we don’t check in we start feeling anxious,” Rosen says.

To effectively manage self-inflicted interruptions, we must build our ability to concentrate and minimize distractions. Here are a few tricks that (along with discipline) may work:

  • Take tech breaks. Give yourself a pre-determined amount of time to read through social media or hunt down a Pikachu. Then, silence devices and set the timer. Until the buzzer sounds, you work on that one assignment. No flipping through emails, responding to tweets, or switching screens.
  • Be less accessible. Close your door and tape a sign saying “Do Not Disturb. Genus at Work.” Do this at a set time throughout the week to ensure that you are allowing yourself time to work undisturbed.
  • Hide. If your workspace is too distracting, find somewhere else to work. Leave your phone in your desk and retreat to a less visible area.
  • Stop pop ups. On your smartphone, tablet, and laptop turn off the notifications that interrupt you throughout the day. This includes banners, sounds, vibrations, and badges.
  • Get help. If motivation is the issue, download apps like Freedom and Zero Willpower that will block alerts and social media access at the times of your choosing.

Don’t fall victim to the Pokémons lurking around each corner. They want to break your concentration and take you off task. If you can control the urge, you remain the hunter; however, if you succumb to their temptation, they are now hunting you. You and your team do not have to become prey to a bunch of pocket monsters. Fight the distractions so you can spend time on things that really matter… like Tetris.

Weekender: U2’s Edge on Directing Inspiration

edge-u2Welcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, an edge of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just the edge? Because it’s the weekend!

In the midst of a never-ending brainstorming session with looming high-priority deadlines, how do you re-invigorate your team? You could try yelling at them to squeeze out some creativity, recognition to sweet-talk a few new thoughts, or bribery to “grease the mental wheels.” Unfortunately, anyone on the brink of burnout needs more than motivation; they need inspiration…and it’s your job to provide it.

To supply the necessary inspiration your team needs to reach their creative potential, you must be prepared. In a recent conversation on the podcast Off Camera with Sam Jones, U2’s Edge discussed a trick used by famed record producer, Brian Eno.

Eno is a master of directing inspiration. I’m sure you’re aware of his oblique strategies. We call them tarot cards but they’re basically ways to take a session from being in a safe, orderly, predictable place and knock it instantly into a sort of beautiful chaos. So there are cards that suggest a change of strategy within the studio. He’d shuffle the deck, take one out, and it might say, ‘Everybody swap instruments’ or ‘play whatever song you’re playing at half time.’… What this spoke to is that inspiration is about being out of your comfort zone or trying different things, risking failure and getting out of that very conscious place that we are all in most of the time, because the subconscious part of the brain is way more creative.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to present diversions that will help our team generate the most creative solutions possible. Keep a folder of on-the-go activities that are readily available for you to refresh your team. And remain vigilantly aware of the work environment so you know when these distractions are needed.

Work association games, charades, or any number of team building exercises give the conscious mind a break while stretching the subconscious. This is supported by Shelley H. Carson, author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life, who found that distractions foster creativity by loading a higher number of stimuli in your awareness, thereby allowing your subliminal the opportunity to generate more new ideas.

Not convinced that these games are no more than fluff? You should ask U2, one of the most successful bands in history, who continue to use these games to find new levels of innovation. Then, you may realize that a 15 minute “fun” diversion will save you and your teams hours in frustrating mental gridlock.