The Business Writer Blog

Month: January 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Obama on the \’jobs of the future\’

President Obama announced the launch of a new program geared toward ensuring that all students learn computer science skills.

Why You Need A Boss, Even If You Hate Her

Wouldn\’t it be great to have the stability of a corporate job without having the annoyance of a boss? Not so fast. You may dislike your boss, but you probably need her more than you know.

There are a vocal group of “disruptors” out there, particularly in Silicon Valley, who think that getting rid of all the bosses is the key to empowering more employees to come forward with brilliant ideas. But their theories don\’t do so well in the real world.

Take Zappos as an example. Last year, the online shoe retailer started a high-profile experiment with Holacracy, a flat management structure devised by the entrepreneur Brian Robertson. Under Holacracy, no one has a boss, and everyone defines their own jobs. 

According to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the company adopted Holacracy in an effort to bring about radical transparency. In a Holacratic workplace, there isn\’t a bureaucratic system for sending information down the chain of management. Everyone needs to talk and find out what\’s going on.

There\’s just one catch: About 20 percent of the company\’s roughly 1,500 employees have left since Holacracy was implemented. Last spring, about 210 employees chose to take a buyout when the company\’s shift toward Holacracy was announced, and at least 50 other employees have left since March.

A clear hierarchy in the office makes it “easier to process information because you know who to give information to,” said Lindred Greer, a professor at Stanford Business School who researches power dynamics within teams and groups.

“People don\’t like hierarchy emotionally,” Greer told The Huffington Post, “because whenever you have hierarchy, you have inequity.”

People who think about management and organizational structure love to talk about Holacracy because it\’s such a radical departure from the norm. But current research suggests that while people may not love rigidly defined leadership, they do need it.

The tension between the emotional desire for self-sufficiency and the organizational need for leadership is apparent in some of the media coverage of Zappos\’ experiment. In a story for The New Republic in October, Roger Hodge spoke with Chris Coy, a former Zappos employee

Coy told me he didn\’t object to the principles of self-organization, and, in fact, he considers his whole career trajectory to have been self-organized. “It\’s not the ideas, it\’s the execution,” he said. “We\’re not a culture of critique or open dialogue.” So people don\’t feel free to speak openly because of the “subtle culture of coercive positivity.” 

(HuffPost reached out to Coy for this article, but he declined to be quoted.)

There have been a few Holacracy successes, particularly at smaller companies. The financial services company ArcaTech Systems and the content platform Medium both use Holacracy.

Another startup, the social media management service Buffer, tried to go the same route, but ultimately ditched it after realizing that most people, especially new employees, needed more structure. Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich wrote in a September blog post that “the key realization here was that people by nature have a unique place within Buffer that isn\’t created equal.” This doesn\’t mean every employee isn\’t important, Widrich went on. But Buffer found that a hierarchy helped get things done.

“Systems like Holacracy have potential,” said Greer, because of the way that people react to hierarchy. She actually likes the idea, in theory. However, she said, research suggests that changes in organizational structure need to be less radical if they are to work.

“Don\’t throw hierarchy out the door,” she said. “It\’s about trying to find a way to reduce the inequity that goes with it.”

Holacracy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Sprint will take $5 off your bill for using this app

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\’Caregiver on wheels\’ startup gets $10 million

Kid-friendly ride service HopSkipDrive banks $10 million and scoops up a former Uber GM.

Facebook makes an app that can bypass China\’s censors

Android users can now use Tor to connect to Facebook. It avoids network censors — which means mobile users in Iran and China can now use Facebook on smartphones.

Al Jazeera America To Shut Down By End Of April

NEW YORK — Al Jazeera America will shut down its operations in the United States by the end of April, the company told employees in a meeting on Wednesday.

Al Jazeera America President Kate O\’Brian tearfully relayed the news to stunned colleagues, alongside CEO Al Anstey. In a memo to staff, Anstey said the decision was driven by the “fact that our business model is simply not sustainable in an increasingly digital world, and because of the current global financial challenges.”

That Anstey framed the decision as a business move was striking, since the Qatar-backed Al Jazeera Media Network seemed more motivated to expand its global influence through a U.S. cable network than it did to turn a profit, especially in the short term.

After disrupting Arab-language media in the 1990s and extending its international footprint the following decade through Al Jazeera English, the parent company spared no expense to break into the U.S. market. It could presumably afford to, with crude oil prices around $105 a barrel at the time of its August 2013 launch — though they have since dropped to $30 a barrel.

Despite receiving plaudits for its English-language coverage of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, including from prominent American politicians, the company struggled to get its channel on the cable dial. To some, Al Jazeera\’s image had been shaped during the Bush years, when officials blasted the Arab-language channel\’s airing of Osama bin Laden videos in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The media company launched a campaign to get Al Jazeera English distributed on U.S. cable providers, and eventually tried buying its way in. It spent $500 million to buy Current TV, a progressive network launched by former Vice President Al Gore, and replaced it with a new U.S. channel that would eventually reach 60 million homes. Al Jazeera then built a midtown Manhattan studio and hired over 600 employees for the venture, including executives from rival broadcast and cable networks and established TV anchors.

Some inside Al Jazeera expressed concern to The Huffington Post ahead of the channel\’s August 2013 launch that executives were trying to imitate existing U.S. cable news channels and that Al Jazeera America wouldn\’t distinguish itself from the pack, as Al Jazeera English had done in its coverage of the protests across the Middle East and North Africa. “If they play it safe, they\’re doomed,” Philip Seib, author of a book on Al Jazeera\’s global influence, said at the time. “No one\’s going to pay attention to them.”

Still, Al Jazeera America won awards and admirers in the media world, and some prominent journalists lamented Wednesday\’s announcement. 

Some journalists tweeted that the launch of Al Jazeera America took away from Al Jazeera English — which was already an influential, highly regarded news brand accessible to U.S. consumers online prior to the cable channel\’s launch. 

The decision to shut down Al Jazeera America comes just weeks after the channel aired what was perhaps its most-publicized report, linking Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to performance-enhancing drugs. Manning threatened to sue, while two other athletes who were mentioned in the report — baseball stars Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman — did file suits against the network. 

Despite some Al Jazeera America stories breaking through the noisy cable news world, the channel as a whole never did. Ratings remained anemic over two years into the venture, with audiences hovering around 30,000 viewers. And Al Jazeera America\’s trouble building a significant audience was compounded by allegations of sexism and anti-Semitism from former employees and claims that a “culture of fear” existed inside the network. The parent company also laid off hundreds of employees outside the U.S. last fall, a move The Guardian suggested was tied to falling oil prices. 

Yet top executives expressed optimism just months ago. In November, Anstey dismissed speculation that the company might pull the plug on the U.S. channel. “There is a clear picture of where we are going to go,” he told Variety.

Anstey said in that interview that Al Jazeera America was prioritizing quality news programming, not ratings, and that “it\’s going to take time to build viewership.” He said the network\’s parent company had a “long-term commitment” to keep it running. 

In addition to shutting down Al Jazeera America, the company announced Wednesday that it would expand existing international digital services and the digital platform AJ+, which it touted as having reached more than 2 billion online video views since launching in September 2014. 

Al Jazeera America digital staffers voted to unionize in October, part of a trend for digital media workers.

An Al Jazeera America staffer, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the network can unilaterally decide what to offer non-unionized employees with respect to severance, but must negotiate with the roughly 50 staffers represented by the NewsGuild of New York over the terms of their termination. Several hundred employees overall will lose their jobs when the network shuts down in April.  

“It\’s journalism, so everything\’s unstable and you kind of roll with it,” the staffer said. “But there was no indication that this sort of thing was coming.”

Gabriel Arana contributed reporting. 

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Martin O\’Malley Rolls Out A \’Worker Bill Of Rights\’

Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O\’Malley proposed what he called a “worker bill of rights” on Thursday, offering up a grab bag of liberal labor reforms for the modern workplace.

The former Maryland governor\’s agenda covers many of the measures that progressive labor activists are pressing for at the state and federal levels. It includes federal laws that would secure 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn or loved one; more than double the federal minimum wage, from $7.25 to $15 per hour; increase penalties for employers that bust unions; and make it easier for women to sue over pay discrimination.

The ideas aren\’t exactly new, and O\’Malley\’s rivals, front-runner Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are already on record supporting several of them. But Sean Savett, a spokesman for the O\’Malley campaign, said no one in the race has put out such a comprehensive agenda on workplace issues to date.

“No other candidate has laid out in such detail the specific actions they would take to strengthen workers\’ rights and increase wages — beyond vague, big-picture ideas or Republican-lite proposals,” Savett said in an email.

O\’Malley\’s agenda piggybacks on a number of progressive Democratic proposals that have been stymied in a GOP Congress, such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Schedules That Work Act and the $15 minimum wage proposal introduced by Sanders. It also voices support for a pair of executive actions pursued by the Obama White House — the overtime expansion, which will extend time-and-a-half pay to millions of Americans once it\’s enacted, and the fiduciary rule, which will crack down on 401(k) fees. Neither has gone into effect.

Less than three weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, O\’Malley is still polling in the low single digits, according to HuffPost Pollster. His campaign has struggled to find traction as Clinton and Sanders increasingly take shots at one another on the trail. The former secretary of state leads the Vermont independent nationally by 14 points in an aggregation of polls.

All three candidates have been seeking the backing of labor unions, a constituency O\’Malley may hope to woo with his new worker platform. Most of the major national unions have already broken for Clinton, including the largest public-sector unions in the country. The most coveted labor endorsement – from the AFL-CIO union federation — has not been announced yet.

O\’Malley\’s full proposals can be read here.

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She left Iran at 14 and now runs a multimillion-dollar firm

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The Real Reason Introverts Dread Small Talk

This article first appeared on QuietRev.com

Just the other day, you avoided making eye contact with your chatty neighbor when you saw her unexpectedly at the grocery store. And you skipped the office holiday party so you wouldn\’t have to make awkward small talk all night with your co-workers.These weren\’t your first transgressions against polite society, and they probably won\’t be your last.

Why do we introverts dislike small talk? Some argue that if we were better at it, we wouldn\’t dread it so much. It\’s true that just like salsa dancing or cooking, the skill of small talk can be learned and refined—and as our level of mastery increases so does our confidence. But this doesn\’t explain why introverts feel the impulse to hide behind frozen broccoli to avoid small talk in the first place. 

In reality, most introverts are drained by small talk because it feels fake and meaningless. When you exchange pleasantries or chat about the weather to avoid silence, you don\’t learn anything new or gain a better understanding of your conversation partner. Psychologist Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, argues that small talk actually blocks honest interaction. “Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people,” she writes in her book. “We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.”

Along with feeling meaningless, small talk saps an introvert\’s limited “people” energy. Imagine that introverts walk around with an invisible battery inside them that contains all their juice for social interaction. When they leave in the morning for school or work, the battery is probably close to full (if they\’ve had enough downtime). Throughout the day, the battery gains or loses energy, depending on the situation. They talk to a good friend about a topic that interests them, and zip!—their battery is topped up. They make awkward small talk with an energetic acquaintance for a long time, and slurch!—their juice level dips.

Author Diane Cameron aptly states, “Introverts crave meaning, so party chitchat feels like sandpaper to our psyche,” or like the depleting of precious, precious energy.

The regrettable news for us introverts is that small talk is a necessary evil. It makes us appear friendly and approachable and can open the door to deeper connections. If you never make small talk, you\’ll never make a new friend, go on a first date, close a business deal or convince your co-workers you tolerate their daily presence. Small talk makes the social wheel go ‘round.

The key to making small talk more useful and less draining is to steer the conversation toward topics that are actually interesting (the sooner the better)—something that will fill our battery, not drain it. So what do introverts like talking about? Ideas, ideas, ideas.

Helgoe writes in Introvert Power,

“Introverts are energized and excited by ideas. Simply talking about people, what they do and who they know, is noise for the introvert. He\’ll be looking between the lines for some meaning, and this can be hard work! Before long, he\’ll be looking for a way out of the conversation.”

Here are more tips to survive small talk and turn it into something meaningful:

1. If you feel anxious about making small talk, remind yourself that your nervousness is coming from you and your beliefs, not the situation. Ask yourself: what\’s the worse that can happen? If the small talk fails and the other person doesn\’t like me, so what? Also, just because small talk was awkward in the past doesn\’t mean it will be that way again.

2. Take the spotlight off yourself by asking questions. We introverts tend to be private and reserved, so we feel uncomfortable disclosing a lot of personal information right away—at least not until we trust the other person or make a meaningful connection. Take the pressure off yourself, and get the other person talking by asking questions about his or her life.

3. Embellish your responses. Of course, if you relentlessly bombard the other person with questions, it will feel like an interrogation. Eventually, you\’ll have to answer some questions yourself. To avoid cutting the conversation short, share more than just one-word, closed answers. Add some intriguing tidbits to your responses so you provide “hooks” for the other person to continue the exchange. For example, when someone asks how you are, instead of replying, “Fine,” say, “Good, thanks. I jogged on my favorite trail this morning, and I\’m feeling great!” Or, “Good, although with the holidays just around the corner, I\’m feeling a little stressed about all the shopping and food prep I have to do.”

4. Deepen the conversation with open-ended questions. You\’ll actually get to know your conversation partner, and you might stumble across something meaningful in the process. Open-ended questions invite the other person to say more than just a few words. Try things like:

“Are you working on anything exciting lately?”

“What has been the highlight of your week?”

“When you were a kid, what was your dream job? Is any part of that still true?”

“What are your thoughts on [insert recent issue in the news lately]?”

5. Go easy on yourself. Introverts tend to be introspective souls who think deeply about things. However, this incredible gift can become a curse when we use it to brood about our mistakes. If a conversation didn\’t go according to plan or ended on an awkward note, be kind to yourself. Everyone messes up sometimes. Spend a few moments reflecting and focusing on your takeaway lesson for next time. As author and motivational speaker Denis Waitley writes, “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker.” You should expect that to accomplish something worthwhile, you\’d have to deal with the occasional blunder.


This article originally appeared on QuietRev.com.

You can find more insights from Quiet Revolution on work, life, and parenting as an introvert at QuietRev.com.

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First Listen: The Besnard Lakes, \’A Coliseum Complex Museum\’

On its fifth album, the Montreal band indulges its progressive tendencies and wide-angle vision of dream-steeped psychedelia, in the process exuding a gentle kind of heaviness.

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