The last remaining human skill

If you read this blog (or even if you don't, but are conscious of the jobs destruction that is happening because of technology), you'll know that if we are to stay ahead of the curve, we humans have to figure out what we can do better than machines.

And that list is being eroded daily. But there are some things which people do really well, and which machines still really suck at.

For all the social media and automated messaging filling the world, by definition, machines cannot substitute for REAL human to human relationships. I call this H2H.

This idea is not new. Dale Carnegie recognized it way back in 1936.

And this might just be the last thing that we can all rely on if we are to survive the tech tsunami. 

I broached this hypothesis with my friend and fellow blogger, Ted Bauer, and he provided his take on this. Turns out that Ted not only agrees, but can evidence how his relationships impact on his own prospects almost daily.

When we are presented with technological tools to do things, humans have a tendency to over-delegate to machines. There are examples everywhere of this. HR people who let ATS software take priority over individual personal judgements. Auto messages which fill our notifications boxes on social media. Bank loans which are assessed not by people but by systems-based algorithms.

We must come to our senses. Let technology do what it's good at. But never surrender or abdicate to it.

So this week, I have delegated my blogging work not to a machine, but a real person in Dallas called Ted Bauer.

PS If you are interested in HR, the future of work, marketing or business strategy, Ted's blog, The Context of Things is a simply brilliant place to get the grey matter working.

Neil was nice enough to do a guest post for me, and then I fell down like an idiot on doing a guest post in return for him. Better late than never, I suppose!

I had been connected with Neil on Twitter and other platforms for a while -- probably over a year at that point -- when we finally met up via Skype a few weeks ago. It struck me as an interesting time for a couple of different reasons. Let me run through a few quickly, and hopefully in a very limited self-promotional way. (I’ll try, at least.)

In that one day, I had three Skype calls -- one with Neil (in England), one with a blogger in Germany, and one with an Australian who lives in Stockholm. (Neil was, of course, the coolest.)

Now, none of these things have turned into stone cold cash yet, and the eternal capitalist (i.e. the class currently ruling America) might scoff and say, “Pfft, that’s not business.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to defining what exactly “business” is: Before I started doing freelance, I was working for this B2B travel consortium company. It was largely a tire fire, as any company over about 250 employees has the potential to be. But I got to attend a few trade shows, and I saw a lot of people from different areas of the world -- hotel managers, cruise line sales directors, etc. -- do the double cheek kiss and talk about “their friends in Calcutta” and the like. Even though I didn’t really like this job, and eventually got laid off from it, it was one of the times I most directly saw the idea of business being truly global.

Sorry, not even close.

The thing that always bothered me about those trade shows, though, was that the same “our friends in Calcutta” people would talk about how travel was “a relationship business.” I used to think to myself: isn’t everything a relationship business, especially now? I mean, working in financial management is a financial job -- but if you ain’t managing relationships therein, I doubt you’ll last super long in such a job. Right?

I may be a little bit jaded (I probably am), but the way I look at business writ large in 2017 is this: I think we’ve had years of executives pining for (i.e. demanding) growth. That growth has come, often, in the form of new revenue streams. When you create (i.e. “force”) a new revenue stream into an already-existing ecosystem, you create a lot of choice overload for the end users. This is why we seemingly have 144 different types of coffee, whereas 20-25 years ago, we maybe had 10.

As every vertical seemingly has 951 different options now, I feel like relationships are, indeed, more important than ever. People may make choices on price (that’ll never go away totally) in some price ranges and industries, but with so much noise and so many half-assed products that executives demanded to get their growth, people want something they can trust. The trust comes from the relationships you build with people at other companies, their sales principals, etc.

I’m not saying anything patently new here. I’m pretty sure that the Egyptians understood relationships drove business and transactions. And I’m pretty sure their overlords wanted some growth too.

But this is what struck me about my triple Skype day: first off, I’m a lowly blogger sitting in north Texas, in my living room with an oversized dog. And yet, I’m making connections and building relationships with people all over the world (no one in Calcutta just yet). In the weeks since we’ve Skyped, I’ve made new LinkedIn connections via Neil, and I may meet up with someone in this area who connected with him first. Now, again, are these things all paying opportunities? No. But might they be? Or might they offer the Gladwellian/Stanford University “weak ties” principle that builds something out? Of course.

So if a lowly, stained-undershirt-wearing blogger such as myself can build these relationships through social media and the tech tools of our day, I feel that could be a broader lesson here. All business is about relationships, and relationships will transcend time and space. Nurture ‘em, grow ‘em, focus on ‘em, and you may just have a predictable revenue stream on your hands without introducing the 19th new version of your hammer.

Neil and I may be a ways off on the double cheek kiss part of our relationship, although I do look forward to meeting in person eventually. But until then, two laptops, a few Twitter accounts, some LinkedIn messages, and more will continue to show me that we truly are all living in a relationship-driving, utterly-global business world.

Snake oil decoded

By Neil Patrick

This could be pointing to a cliff edge...

All the time I go onto social media at the moment, I am assailed by ads that say: ‘Follow my fool proof plan to riches’, ‘Turn your passion to profit’, ‘Hack your way to success’, and any number of similar sales pitches.

I don’t know about you, but it’s clear to me they all use the same formula. Some of it is obvious, some of it is subtle. But I detest all of it because of one critical aspect:

They entice people who are often desperate and extract money from them without any obligation to deliver success for their clients.

Don’t get me wrong. I am passionate about entrepreneurship and business start-ups. We need more people succeeding in their entrepreneurial efforts and I spend a lot of time helping people do this.

I have no problem with XYZ Megacorp paying Tony Robbins or whoever many thousands of dollars to speak at their events. Or with people who genuinely help others to get better at whatever they do.

I do a lot of coaching myself. But there’s a key difference from what the snake oil salesmen do:

I do not resort to a one size fits all, silver bullet solution.

Every piece of coaching and consulting I do is unique to each client. If I think a client will not or cannot benefit from my involvement, I tell them and try to introduce them to someone else I know and trust who can help.

I’d rather make no sale than take money for something that will not work for that client.

The snake oil men and women take a different view however:

They want your money more than they want your success.

I despair every time I am presented with one of these programmes. Because these books, DVDs, coaching programmes and seminars are cynically selling false hope in the full knowledge that only a few buyers will ultimately benefit.

Yet usually, these packages are not scams. Many contain good advice – once you get through all the padding. And there’s A LOT of padding.

So I thought I’d decode their methods so you can see them for what they really are. Because I have spent my whole career in business and specifically marketing, I think I can see through these people better than most.

And I’ll admit that I have spent a lot of my own money to buy these things, not because I believed they would be of great value to me, but because my curiosity to see them from the inside proved too strong to resist.

They all use similar devices and once you know what they are, you are much better equipped to avoid being duped. So to help you see through the polished and persuasive pitches, here’s a quick summary of what to look out for. 

They are their own proof

This is not a reason to buy anything from anyone...

They ‘prove’ their method works by describing and showing pictures of how wealthy, happy and successful they have become. Look at me! This could be you…IF you buy this now. So be prepared for lots of pictures of expensive cars and houses, big bank statements and pictures of palm trees, white sand and blue skies. 

They use free enticements

They bait the trap with a free offer. This is a device to snare your personal details so they can upsell.

The way to secure thousands of prospects is to give away something for free. Except it’s not really free. You must give them your email address and quite possibly a lot more personal information. This might be sold on, but more typically is used to fill your mailbox forever with more offers and sales messages. To minimize the chance that you unsubscribe, these emails will typically ‘give’ you ‘incredibly valuable information’.
They imply scarcity when there is none

This is a common trick. ‘Last few places remaining – don’t miss out’. I cannot keep this offer open longer than the next 24 hours. Etc. This is another ruse which implies that it’s popular so it must be good. And we are at risk of missing out if we don’t buy now. Poppycock. Ignore the offer, and another one will arrive within a few days for sure. 

They all have a rags to riches story to tell

This is another device used to convince us that if they were once struggling and are now millionaires, then their brilliant ‘secret’ recipe must work. They used to be ordinary just like us, until they ‘discovered’ this amazing secret to fabulous wealth. If they can do it, anyone can.

They all use upsell

The freebie is a loss leader. Give away 1,000 books, DVDs or whatever and then harangue the hell out of the takers with more offers at massively inflated prices. Taking the freebie says to them, you are interested. And once they have their claws in you, they won’t let go. They all seek to amass huge mailing lists so they can grow their marketing machines. 

The fake offer

This is how the upsell works. First, the prices quoted as ‘normal’ are no such thing. ‘Normally this would cost $2,500. But for a limited time, you can have it for 'just' $499'.

‘And I’ll also provide you with all these amazing extras absolutely free.’

If you were a retailer, you’d have to meet very strict rules before you could make an offer like this. But online direct selling of services has no such rules to satisfy. Your ‘normal price’ is whatever you want it to be; you don’t fool me. 

The money back guarantee

This is another trick. If you sell 100 items at $499, you have just made $49,900 gross revenue. Maybe half the people that bought it didn’t like it very much. But only a few of these will actually ever get around to asking for their money back. It’s human nature. We can be quick to buy, but slow to ask for our money back, especially if the process is made unnecessarily lengthy and complex. So I refund 10 people let’s say. My revenue is reduced to ‘just’ $44,910, and I’ve refunded everyone who asked. My conscience is clear and my bank balance is still looking sweet. 

The universal solution

We are all prone to believe in experts. That because someone else is doing well and we are not, we believe that if we copy them, we’ll do well too.

This is faulty logic because we are all unique. What works for one person is quite possibly a disaster for someone else. The real secret to our success lies inside each of us. By striving to become the best version of us we can possibly be, not a pale imitation of someone else.

Nonetheless, all these people are experts. They are experts at extracting cash from others for things which cost them very little. 

The excuse

This is the get out of jail free card. It runs like this. If you didn’t succeed, that’s because you didn’t do everything I told you. It’s a circular argument which serves snake oil vendors well, because it transfers the responsibility for our success from them to us.

If I hire you to do something for me, I will hold you accountable for delivering what you promise. Yet snake oil salesmen accept no such responsibility.

The really clever trick by the snake oil vendors is that because we are the only ones who can make this happen, they are completely off the hook. They take our money but have absolutely no accountability for our success.

If you want to create your own business, good for you. Work at it. Get the best advice you can from people who understand your business sector and are not peddling snake oil. Figure out how you can do something better, faster or cheaper than others in your marketplace. Recognize your uniqueness and build on it.

Just don’t pay for someone else’s magic formula. The only guarantee from that is that they will get richer and you won’t.

Organised criminals are on Linkedin and out to get you

By Neil Patrick

Inadequate cyber security has enabled an explosion of online fraud. Yesterday the BBC reported that online fraud and computer misuse is now the largest category of crime happening in the UK today. There were over 5 million cases reported in the last year and probably many more which went undetected.

Social media is the new hunting ground for criminals and fraudsters. And they are exploiting it with virtual impunity because the platforms are simply not doing enough to counter this threat to users.

Worse, police resources are just not large or capable enough to combat a problem which is often conducted from outside their jurisdictions. So we have to take care of ourselves and do our bit to protect our online friends as well.

Criminals are lurking even in places we’d not expect to find them. Like Linkedin. Here, fake or misleading profiles are used to create aliases that are then used to commit fraud on unsuspecting victims.

Security specialists Symantec recently investigated LinkedIn. Its investigation uncovered dozens of fake accounts on the social network, across a variety of industries.

I was shocked. Not that they found some. But that they found so few. I’d expect them to do better than this because even my cursory review suggests there are not dozens of these but thousands.

Depending on the nature of the fraud intended, the fake profile will vary. Some aim to acquire sensitive intelligence information from government employees. Others have more humble crimes in mind such as phishing or email scams. But one which has had fatal consequences is sexploitation. This has already resulted in at least one suicide by the victim.

I don’t know how extensive Symantec's project was, but it took me about 5 minutes to uncover a whole heap of fake profiles without any of Symantec’s technology or resources. And I was shocked to see that the first fake profile I found had over 500 connections and a whole host of endorsements.

Meet Amber Grace Fowler and her friends:

'Amber' has absolutely nothing about herself on her profile. She's not on the staff list at the estate agents she claims to work at. She has a Twitter account which is locked. All this says to me the account is fake, nonetheless the account has over 500 connections, and numerous endorsements for all sorts of things and ALL of course from (dumb) men.

This is what I call a Linkedin honeytrap. This particular fraud involves tricking unwary men into making a connection with the fake account. They are then seduced into committing sexual acts in front of a webcam, not realising they are dealing with an organised criminal gang. The footage is recorded by the criminals and then they have all they need to proceed to blackmail the victim.

You might think that anyone stupid enough to get caught like this deserves all they get. That you’d never be lured into such a trap. But it’s happening all the time. So much so that the government have invested in this film which warns of the dangers:

An increasingly common tactic is to set up a fake profile as a recruiter. Posing as recruiters, the fake accounts enable hackers to see your personal network and gain the trust of those in it.

By making these connections, criminals can entice users to give up personal details, direct them to malware-laden websites and, if they can get their email addresses, launch phishing campaigns - targeted emails that aim to steal personal information.

Linkedin is simply not doing enough to combat this problem. When challenged about it, they said:

"We investigate suspected violations of our Terms of Service, including the creation of false profiles, and take immediate action when violations are uncovered.

We have a number of measures in place to confirm authenticity of profiles and remove those that are fake. We encourage members to utilise our Help Center to report inaccurate profiles and specific profile content to LinkedIn."

Linkedin’s processes are clearly not working well enough to eliminate this problem. They say they ‘encourage members to report inaccurate profiles’. I’ve not once seen a message from them about this. It’s clearly something they’d rather not talk about more than they must, because it reflects badly on their platform.

So we should follow some basic common sense rules to avoid being scammed:

  • Treat all invitation requests from people you don’t know as suspicious until you are satisfied they are genuine. Look for them on other social media sites. Google them. See who else they are connected with. Only accept the invitation when you are satisfied they are genuine.
  • If you are still not sure, cut and paste their profile summary into Google. This way you can see if it has been lifted from someone else’s (a common trick).
  • Understand if your work makes you potentially a high risk person. This includes if you are employed by a large organisation, including government agencies; if you have a position of seniority and influence; if you are a high net worth individual.
  • Review the settings on your Linkedin connections. In your profile privacy settings, you may choose to make your connections not visible to anyone else.
  • Treat invitations to connect from alleged recruiters with caution. Few recruiters that are genuine actively seek to connect with jobseekers. They just don’t need to because they can see all they need to without actually being connected with you.
  • When you encounter a suspicious profile report it to LinkedIn. They do take such things seriously and they will take action. I know because I’ve done it.

And if you need any more encouragement to improve your LinkedIn profile, this has to be it. Often the first suspicious aspect of a fake profile is scantiness of information (or clothes). Putting up information which is verifiable and credible about yourself is one way to distance yourself from those you really don't want to know or resemble.

PS. If you are or know Amber Grace Fowler and that her profile is genuine, please let me know and I will amend this post accordingly. Otherwise I shall do my duty and report the account to Linkedin.