The Power of Paper

Many people will tell you otherwise, but if you really want to enhance your credibility as a consultant on all things digital communications, just hold a giant piece of paper in your hand. True story. It works!

I tried it while moderating a panel on employee activism at the 2017 Arthur Page Society Spring Seminar.

Pretty legit, right?


More importantly, I got to talk with three incredibly interesting people: Heide Gardner, Dawn Lyon, and Tracy Chou. Here’s the session description:

The focus of this conversation will be to understand how employees are activating change within their companies and what leaders can do to work with them more effectively. We will explore questions such as: What is employee activism? How do you identify and work with employee activists? What are the advantages for organizations that proactively work with their employee activists? Page Up Member, Ethan McCarty, will moderate a panel with Tracy Chou, co-founder of Project Include who will discuss her role as an employee activist when she was with Pinterest. They will be joined by Dawn Lyon who will explain how Glassdoor encourages companies to make changes in their workplaces and share research on what today’s employees want most. Heide Gardner of Interpublic will describe her extensive experiences with multi-cultural Employee Resource Groups.

Networks, AI and Your Job

20170322_ethanmccarty_AI_career_matching_ideaMy pal, David Berger, gave me a call after he saw my post yesterday about jobs and networks. I always love to talk with David – he’s the kind of guy who is fun to think with. In the course of the conversation he reminded me of a (now defunct?) program I led in its early stages at IBM called the Expertise Locator which was a web service that matched IBM’s subject matter experts to various pages on the company’s website. After finding a match in topic, it would then publish to the page a “widget” that displayed the expert’s bio, their picture, their latest blog/tweet etc. on the relevant subject and, in some cases, a way to get in touch with them. The system was based on the “three Cs” – no, not a description of my high school report cards – Content, Contacts and Context. The static webpages about various products and services were the content, the universe of IBM experts was the set of contacts and our matching engine stitched together the context.

David and I got to talking about how such a system could work in the world of talent strategies for big companies and how to express that to employees and so on – we both have roles in which conveying a sense of career path and growth to large swaths of people (as well as within our own teams) is pretty fundamental. Now, when we built the Expertise Locator at IBM we didn’t have access to anything like the Watson API, but if I built such a thing today – thinking about careers and jobs – I would want to make that “context” matching engine a lot smarter than the keyword-matching we did back in the day.

The Career Locator would be trained on a particular person’s digital ephemera – her professional social media posts, her work product (documents, emails, presentations etc), her social media network connections – and thus build a dynamic profile of who this person is in a professional context. The system would likewise be trained on the hiring team’s work product (their Jira board, their shared drives, their Slack channels etc etc) as well as the team members’ individual professional digital artifacts. All this stuff changes over time – like, if you looked at the content that the dozen-or-so folks on my team create every day (especially if you include instant messages) you’d be able to get a very good sense of who we are and how we work and how our work flow varies too. Now you have two very dynamic portraits that a smart algorithm could match and, especially within an organization, suggest new opportunities to people based on fit with a team.

Just recently we posted a job in my group and got more than 400 applications. Now granted, probably only about 90 were credible (Why does everyone think they can do comms? I dunno. I really dunno.) But still, three out of the four finalists for the role ended up being people who came in through a shared connection (not through the website) and, ultimately, the person we hired was one of them too. I am sure you can think of a zillion examples like this. Your network is probably smarter than you when it comes to knowing what a good job and culture fit looks like for you. It’s a bit like an arranged marriage – sometimes the parents really do have a better sense of who’d be a fit for you than your romantic (but naïve) notions of what you want and what would really provide you with satisfaction. The same is true of hiring teams and managers — their work product and digital artifacts may provide much better clues to who will fit in the team than their personal estimation, which is often biased by the recency and urgency of whatever pain they are feeling today.

Anyway, if there isn’t a smart startup out there doing this, please get going already, will ya? I am ready with seed money. Ok, I have like $73.47, but still.

As ‘roles’ disappear, invest in skills and networks

I’ve thought this way about my career for a long time…that the “role” I have at any given time is much less important than the work I can do and my understanding of & connection to a strong network.

What’s really going on? In a simple phrase our organizations have become a “network of teams,” and they no longer function well in the functional hierarchy of the past. The concept of a formal “job” with a job description is starting to go away. We now hire people to do “work;” we source them for skills and capabilities (not necessarily credentials); and we manage people around projects, customers, and products, not “roles.”

The quote is from “Robotics, AI And Cognitive Computing Are Changing Organizations Even Faster Than We Thought.” Hat tip to Ted Bauer (The Context of Things) for sharing the link.

So what should journalists do?

I’m a member of a professional group called Page Up composed of communications executives at big multinational firms as well as senior folks from various PR agencies. And while there’s much talk about the nature of the media and news business these days given the political environment, there’s also a ripple of shock and fear running through the corporate comms industry. I mean, you basically have a cottage industry that relies on being able to influence an at-least-superficially-objective media. The disintermediation is unrivaled as far as I know — having the President berate companies through an unfiltered platform is bigger than anything I’ve seen. Bigger than websites. Bigger than blogs. Bigger, even, than Second Life!!!!

So a fellow Page Up m,ember sent me a link to this article by Ken DoctorNewsonomics: Rebuilding the news media will require doubling-down on its core values following a conversation we had about the future of our profession (crisis communications, by the way, is looking like a growth industry, amiright?)

Now, it’s worth reading, but I’m not sure if I agree entirely with the premise. My better angels want a return to journalism’s core values to work…I just don’t think our new media landscape will find the traditional tools of integrity and fact-exposing all that effective. Publishers have simply been too weakened by the Facebook/Google aggregation duopoly (h/t Ben Thomson) so cannot afford to support journalism that strives for objectivity — there’s no mass market anymore to appeal to and sell advertising into: this is the age of niche and therefore the polemic.

That said, I found some of the tactics the author suggests in the tail end of the article really interesting. They kind of take the truth-exposing to another more ‘digital’ level — data-driven story-telling — which can adhere to those trusted principles — could be a way to take the fight to the fascists. Journalists at the NYT and some other outlets are increasingly using visualization and immersive media to contest falsehoods — that seems about right to me and looks like a lot better way to steal the attention back from the burning dumpsters that seem to constantly rekindle themselves like trick birthday candles all over social media.

Another thought: there may be hope in applying the superhuman powers of machine learning and chatbots (intelligent agents) to confront the hordes of trolls on the internet — twitter, facebook, instagram, google and others have started spinning these up in recent years. Though largely the effort has been to either identify and remove copyrighted material, obscenity or hate speech, it could just as well be applied to pants-on-fire level fake news. The DNC and other political organizations looking for the next frontier of confrontation would do well to invest in AI, surely their competitors are already.

Beef stew with spinach

And because I care about digital trends, the emergent mechanisms of communication and also eating well, I offer you this recipe. 

Not sure exactly how I made, it but it goes something like this…I change it slightly every time, but it always turns out well. Don’t be afraid to get some salt in there but taste it — the beef broth can be salty depending on what kind you get so just be aware I. Order to avoid over salting. 


~2lbs stew beef

1 big bag of raw spinach (probably like half a pound?)

Large can of roasted crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen organic brand)

Small can of tomato paste

2 cans beef broth

4 celery stalks

4 scallions

Two big carrots

One large parsnip 

One box of brown mushrooms

About two lbs –maybe a little less– of small potatoes (mix of gold and red)

Five whole cloves of garlic

One yellow onion

1tsp smoked paprika

Cut most of those ingredients into hearty, fork-worthy chunks. Dice the onions, scallions and mushrooms a little smaller. I leave the garlic cloves whole, but you may prefer smaller pieces. Don’t chop the spinach. 

Ideally you’d brown the beef over a high heat in a pan with some salt and pepper. It’s stew beef and therefore not super fatty, so you can just spray a little Pam in there to avoid sticking. Deglaze the pan with some of the broth and dump that into the slow cooker. Or if you’re feeling lazy, as I was this morning, just toss it in there w out searing it. It’s gonna cook for a long time, so no worries. 

Pour your broth, canned tomatoes and tomato paste into your slow cooker and stir it up a bit. Dump all your other ingredients in there too except the spinach. Sprinkle in your smoked paprika. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Set for 12 hours on low. (I often set everything up the night before so I can start it at 6:30 when our boys wake up…then it is done for dinner.)

Give it a stir every hour or so for the first few hours and when you do, add some spinach. By hour three or four you should have the whole bag of spinach in there. At that point you can ignore it until you serve it. I suppose you could try to cram the spinach in there earlier if you want to leave for the day, but it is bulky until it reduces. Improvise!

I make it without hot sauce so it is more appealing to the rest of my family who, sadly, do not care for spicy food. But then I put chipotle hot sauce in mine in the bowl to liven it up a bit.