Fake news is not the problem. Artificial intelligence is.


By Neil Patrick


Today is a bad news day according to the news feed on my smartphone. Just like most other days then. It’s Tuesday 5th September 2017.

Like billions of other people, the news feed on my smartphone has been tailored for me by an algorithm. And my news has been written by junior hacks assembling computer generated information into ‘stories’. Doubtlessly they have been taught by their bosses that bad news and misery is the foundation of maximising readership.

These poor folk have no clue what they are writing about. They are simply painting by numbers.

I tweeted a while back in my #dearrobots series: ‘There’s a reason it’s called artificial intelligence – it’s not the same as real intelligence.’

Artificial intelligence is not just within the machines and IT that business deploys. It is penetrating the very brains of the people we need to trust for our news.

The algorithm which delivers my newsfeed has ‘learned’ what I like to read. Sort of. Because it has no ability to discern quality thought and content from junk.

And it helpfully put up the top three stories it thought would be of most interest to me.

So far so good.

The top three stories were:

Daily Telegraph: ‘Growth in UK services sector falls to 11-month low’

Reuters: ‘UK Car Sales are falling off a cliff’

Sky News: Lego sales drop: 1,400 jobs axed

Bingo! Yes these are all stories I want to know about.

But after this promising start, everything went downhill from there. Three news stories, yet every one was so ignorantly written that they not only told the wrong story, they would actually mislead 99% of readers into believing the wrong ‘facts’.

I am the last to criticise the integrity or quality of any of these three news sources, yet each one had provided me with what can only be described as fake news.

The first two ‘stories’ are not stories at all. They are simply the normal thing which happens every summer - people stop work for a couple of weeks and go on holiday.

This is why most business slumps in August

And if you work in a service business, it’s a very good idea to go on holiday in August, because unless you are a wedding photographer or ice cream vendor, chances are your clients have gone on holiday too and you might as well join them.

It’s nothing to do with Brexit, squeezed incomes, or business confidence. Yet according to the Telegraph writer, ‘This makes last month the weakest since September 2016’.

Wow. That’s almost exactly a full year…in fact the worst since the last time everyone went on their summer hols.

The Reuters writer has fallen into the same trap of not knowing about this mysterious thing called seasonality. In the UK, car sales have always bottomed out in July because new registration plates showing the vehicle registration year (half yearly since 2001) come out in August. They have done this since August 1962.

Of course new vehicle sales slump in July, because no-one in their right mind wants to buy a car which appears to be six months old when they drive it off the forecourt.

Yes the UK car retailing sector is headed for crisis as I have written about here. But sales have slumped in July every year forever for this simple and predictable reason.

This is not a story – it’s a clueless intern churning out words about a subject they care or know zilch about.

Which brings us onto the Lego story.

Everyone loves Lego, including me. So I was sorry to hear that they were in difficulty.

1,400 lay-offs is about 8% of their workforce.

Yet here’s the fascinating thing. Just six months ago, this appeared:

Lego is the world’s most powerful brand according to Forbes and Brand Finance:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffkauflin/2017/02/14/the-most-powerful-brands-in-2017/#5b5375ef1f84

Viewed through this lens, this story is huge. The world’s most powerful brand is laying off almost 1 in 10 of its workers because of falling sales in the US and Europe.

When we look at Lego's profit history, the significance of this becomes even more stark:




Perversely, the magnitude of this story is diminished, whereas the non-stories about normal seasonal fluctuations in business stats are blown up to cause alarm to anyone who cannot assess the merit of what they are reading.

Yup fake news is everywhere. But it is AI and low grade journalism which is creating it not some evil masterminds intent on global domination.

The truth is much simpler and less sensational (as it usually is). Artificial intelligence has assumed command of the brains and fingers of the people who write our daily news.

Sure, robots don’t get drunk like old school journos. They don’t hack phones. And they don’t snoop into people’s private lives.

But they can’t write a reliable piece of news either.



Robots aren’t just stealing jobs; they are the creators of their own destruction.


By Neil Patrick




Asimov’s three laws of robotics are often cited in the debate about jobs and the threat of AI.

Isaac Asimov was a gifted and insightful science fiction writer. No more, no less. But his thoughts applied to today are about as helpful as reading Jane Austin is for tackling wealth inequality.

Asimov’s third law stated, ‘A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.’ Most assumed this referred to physical harm. The reality is that that it is economic and social harm which we should be most worried about.

If you read this blog, you’ll know that I have been arguing for over 5 years here that the rise of the machines is unlike any previous technological change in the existence of mankind.

Its scope is so vast and the pace of change so rapid, that people, let alone institutions and government cannot keep up. And it is ordinary people who will pay the price for this.

It has been interesting to watch opinion about this shift. It started as a utopian view that the machines would free us all from the tedious and boring work; we’d all become valued for our creativity, our people skills, our innovation. Unless we didn’t have much of these things to start with…

When the raw economics revealed this was a Disney-like fantasy, then it was argued that this revolution would create a new world of work in which we’d all become freelancers, skipping merrily from assignment to assignment. The gig economy would be our liberator and digital communications would free us so we could all sit on a beach somewhere with a laptop earning our living. What happened instead was that the likes of Uber and zero-hours contracts created hideous exploitative machines of misery for millions.

Yet these were just the growing pains it was argued. Regulation and government interventions would act to calm the beast. Smooth out the inequalities and inequities. Like ensuring that Google and co. paid their fair share of tax…

I didn’t buy any of it. Yet I secretly feared that I was digging my own grave. Which would probably have a headstone including the words ‘reactionary, pessimist and Luddite’.

Then this week an article appeared in the Times by a young man named Raphael Hogarth .

Titled, ‘A life without work is not my idea of fun’, Raphael reports that the evidence from those who know most about these things such as AI entrepreneur Jeremy Howard, despair that “people aren’t scared enough”.

I agree. They are not even a little bit scared enough. This is indeed a monster unleashed. Just not quite the same one as Asimov envisaged.

The tidbits of crack cocaine attached to the monster such as online shopping, ITunes and MyFaceGram have blinded people to the reality that the monster will simultaneously pander to their desires while covertly devouring their ability to earn the money they need to live.

And in so doing, the machines will destroy their own revenue-based raison d’etre.

But to get back to Raphael’s article. What was most interesting to me was that he seemed to accept without much difficulty that his own future employment was under threat from AI. And that assuming the governments of the West manage to create a workable form of universal basic income (which I doubt), then he’d rather not have an idle life.

This is perceptive and admirable. It is also a watershed. It’s the first time I have seen in mainstream media, any commentator resigned to the reality of the AI monster.

And yet again, I find myself saddened by the fact that my own worst fears have come a step closer to being realised.



How happy shiny people can damage your business


By Neil Patrick

Following on from my post here about the connection between fake LinkedIn profiles and online fraud, I was reminded recently of something I’ve been doing almost unconsciously for years. And I suspect we all do it.

How do we make judgements about people and businesses we encounter online? It’s fairly normal to look at their endorsements and recommendations.

Recently I was talking to a client about their website. Like many websites, this one contained real recommendations from real clients. But these clients were shy. They didn’t want their pictures posted despite their glowing praise for my client.

So stock photos were used rather than their real portraits. It was an innocent enough effort to make the page look a bit more polished and attractive.

But this innocent mistake was hurting their credibility.

Because just about anyone can tell what is a stock photo and what is a genuine portrait.

When we see pictures of shiny happy people in beautiful surroundings, unless you are a big brand with big marketing budgets, it sends a subliminal message to all that see it.

That message is not ‘This looks good.’

The message is ‘This looks fake.’

 
Shiny happy people yesterday. They are pretending. You know it and I know it.


Yes I know good marketing creates aspiration. I know that good business is about enabling dreams and ambitions. And I know that if we want to be taken seriously, we should present our businesses well.

But we live in an age where almost everyone alive has spent their whole lives bombarded by thousands of advertising images almost every day. Consequently, we have developed finely tuned antennae for perceiving what is real and what is fake in marketing and advertising.

It is this evolution of subconscious perceptive skills which demands that we strive more for truth than gloss.

Today, there’s a greater need than ever for us to be authentic. To tell it like it is. Warts and all.

Lying and massaging the truth is right out. So why do so many small businesses attempt to present themselves as big and corporate? Try to convey an impression they are large enterprises when they are not? Owners call themselves CEOs, when the truth is they have few or even no employees?

This really is an own goal because small businesses have a real advantage that big corporates do not. They can provide a highly personal and unique experience to their customers. They can easily go the extra mile. They can make their customers love them much more easily than a big corporation can.

But this demands that we don’t try to gloss things up too much. For a small business authenticity trumps marketing pizzazz every time.

Which is why happy shiny people in stock photos can do untold damage to small business websites.

And this reminds me about the best advertising advice I ever heard; ‘Good advertising is the truth well told’.



Why we are headed for a car (loan) crash


By Neil Patrick


If you live in the UK or USA and have bought a new car in the last few years, there is a 90% likelihood you paid for it with some form of car finance arrangement. Car sales have boomed due to the low monthly costs of PCP or personal contract purchase agreements.

I’ve been watching the explosion of this market with close interest. And I am now convinced this form of finance is set to implode, or at least be regulated out of existence. But this isn't the whole story. This situation has worrying parallels with the sub-prime mortgages which sparked the 2008 crash and subsequent recession.

As US car finance debt smashed through the one trillion dollar mark earlier this year, my worries seemed justified:






If your work has anything to do with vehicle sales, your career and financial outlook is set to become less rosy as this story unfolds.

When debt bubbles inflate, sooner or later (usually later) regulators step in and clamp down. In the UK, the Bank of England are monitoring things closely they say. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has announced it will investigate PCPs, but has promised no report on its findings until next year. Both these facts are revealing. Clearly, financial regulators believe things are going wrong. But as they also believe these failures pose no major threat to the financial stability of the nation’s economy, they are not treating it as high priority.

I think they are wrong. Not because of the risk within this market itself, but because it could be the flash point for a much larger confidence collapse in wider consumer credit markets. Or what central bankers call 'contagion'.

So if you have bought a car using a PCP contract, there seems to be no reason to be worried about your car loan. But this mounting debt does create a much wider risk to financial stability. And this story has a disturbingly large number of parallels with with the sub-prime mortgage crisis which triggered the 2008 collapse.

Over the coming months and years, used car values will take a severe correction as the excessive volume of recently bought cars reach their contract expiry and come onto the second hand market. When this happens (as it inevitably will), I think it likely that there will be new regulations in force making PCP deals much harder to obtain and much more expensive.

The makings of a new financial crisis are in place. It could even be worse than 2007-8, for the simple reason that the Federal Reserve and The Bank of England have not yet restored their balance sheets to their pre-2008 levels.

To understand what is happening, here are ten reasons why I believe this story will have an unhappy ending for the auto industry even if the contagion risk doesn't actually materialise. And one why it might lead to a better outcome for car buyers…

1. There is a glut of unsold cars and cheap money

The car industry is beset with problems. Even before the vehicle emissions testing scandal, many of the world’s biggest car brands have been battling depressed share prices, insolvency and bankruptcy. Throughout the recession, global vehicle production hardly faltered, while most people’s incomes shrank. Result - all over the planet there are hundreds of square miles of land containing thousands upon thousands of unsold cars.

This is a Google Earth view of one such just a few miles from me:



Meanwhile, central banks have been keeping interest rates at record low levels desperately trying to stimulate our comatose economies back into life. They want businesses to borrow to invest in their future growth. Instead what is happening is businesses are remaining cautious about borrowing and consumers are racking up debt as their pay grows little or not at all.

2. Low monthly repayments not increasing incomes are increasing car sales 

I first began to think something was wrong when I started noticing shiny new cars everywhere I went. In a booming economy, that would be normal. But our economy hasn’t been booming for 10 years. People’s incomes are static or falling and basic costs of living such as food and energy have been rising. This just didn’t make sense.

The answer was not too hard to find. I just started looking at car finance deals being advertised. Like this:




A shiny new Audi TT for less than £300 a month. A traditional car hire purchase agreement for this car would cost around £850 a month if financed over 3 years.

The clever bit here (although doubtless, those involved call it ‘innovative’) is that unlike a traditional HP loan, with a PCP, you never actually own the vehicle (unless you stump up many thousands of pounds or dollars at the end of the contract). You just pay the depreciation (and a deposit) AND a big balloon payment if you want to buy the car at the end of the contract.

For many people, this isn’t an issue. Who cares if you own or rent your car? But that’s not the real issue. Most people need to have a car for daily use. And most people take the path of least resistance when dealing with their financial affairs. So at the end of their contract, most will take out a new and quite possibly bigger one. It’s the best lock-in and exploitation of consumer inertia I have ever seen.

3. Car makers are celebrating a record sales year in 2016 but…


U.S. auto sales are now crashing: It’s broadly acknowledged that U.S. auto sales have peaked after a record year in 2016. But even this ‘record’ is an illusion; Americans had to be enticed to buy with discounts of over $4,000 per vehicle on average, shaving 10% of the typical asking price and depressing margins for car makers. Lately, even discounts can’t stop this downward spiral - April marked the fourth consecutive month of declines in U.S. vehicle sales - with Ford posting an ugly 7.1% decline.

Meanwhile, forget all the nonsense about how disruptors like Tesla Inc. is worth “more” than Ford based on market capitalization. The reality is Tesla trades for roughly 6 times sales – and you can’t even calculate its P/E because it doesn’t have a single penny in earnings this year and isn’t expected to be profitable in 2018 either.


4. Banks are withdrawing from car finance, but new firms are charging into the void:

This is a typical scenario in a financial sector when large institutions perceive increasing risk. They edge out of the riskiest parts of the market. In their place, smaller and less cautious firms move in to take up the slack. And in the last two years this is exactly what we can see happening:




5. Credit and affordability checks are too loose

Car finance underwriting is much looser than mortgage underwriting. The applications are completed by car dealer staff who frankly don’t care if you can afford the payments or not. If you believe all car salesman tell the truth, then good luck with that. The simple truth is that when the seller of finance is not the provider of that money, there will always be people erm, let’s say, stretching the truth in order to make the sale.

6. Consumers do not understand what they are buying

Finance is boring and complex to understand for many people. And when all they care about is getting their hands on that shiny new car, all rational sense can disappear. If I learned one thing after 20 years in the finance industry, it was that there’s only one number 99% of customers care about. It is simply ‘how much will this cost each month?’

This is perhaps the best example ever of blind ignorance – and it is skilfully exploited by finance providers with invisible collusion with car sales men and women. It’s only if we drill down into the detail that it becomes clear that even with a low monthly repayment, driving a brand new car is a very expensive way of getting about. Depreciation is the biggest cost component of new car ownership and if you borrow the money to pay for just the depreciation, you are not just losing the depreciation, you are also paying interest on that depreciation for the privilege.

7. Loan portfolios are being securitised

Whilst some PCPs are provided by in-house manufacturer finance divisions, these are not growing their participation. A whole new sector of firms have sprung up to take advantage of this booming market.

This is a big problem for the simple reason that they have no money of their own to lend. In order to lend it to you, they must obtain this money by buying it on the wholesale money markets. And the cost they must pay for this depends on the market’s appetite for lending. Thanks to massive QE over recent years, right now, the markets are awash with funds and so money is both cheap and plentiful. This money oversupply means inevitably that it gets treated less cautiously than when times are tight.

But there is a bigger issue which has worrying echoes of what happened with subprime mortgages in 2007-8. PCPs, just like sub-prime mortgages are being bundled up and sold on to institutional investors. Sensible car loans and risky ones are being bundled up together and sold. For the originators of these loans (the finance firms), this is a neat way to get the risk off their balance sheet and their income flows turbocharged. But this is also what I believe will ultimately crash the market. Because the moment confidence is dented in the quality of these loan portfolios, there will be panic and a rush for the exits. And we are already on the path to this because:

8. There are rising default levels on these loans

Losses at auto lenders, particularly those specializing in lending to subprime borrowers are reaching a level not seen since 2008. Ford Motor Credit, has already warned in its most recent outlook that “we continue to see credit losses increase.”



This will inevitably lead to tightening auto credit for consumers, as these losses begin to exact their pound of flesh from the lenders.

Some specialized subprime lenders will keel over. Larger lenders with good quality loan portfolios will bleed but survive by tightening their underwriting standards in order to weather the storm. And that’s precisely what the auto industry is dreading: tightening credit.

The auto boom over the past few years has been funded by  all-time record low interest rates and loose underwriting, with long loan terms and high loan-to-value ratios, often over 120%. They made everything possible. But they also infused the $1.1 trillion in auto loans with some very big risks.


9. Loans are being sold by unqualified and highly incentivised car salesmen

Car sales people don’t get paid much money, unless they sell a lot of cars. But dealer margins have been eroded so much that car salespeople now earn most of their pay from the sale of finance not cars. The days when being a cash buyer had salesmen bending over backwards for your custom are long gone. Selling cars is nothing like selling finance, but when your pay check depends primarily on how many car loans you sell, it’s easy to guess what happens. In the UK, car salespeople selling finance have to be registered and take a test to ‘ensure’ they know what they are talking about. But the reality is that these tests are taken online and so easily cheated that such qualifications and checks, mean almost nothing.

10. Regulators are doing too little, too late, too slowly


The announcement recently by the FSA in the UK that they were going to investigate the PCP market made headlines, but will soon be forgotten by the mainstream media until the findings are released (some time next year). Meanwhile the party will continue at car dealerships the length and breadth of the US and the UK until the whole thing ends with a whimper or a bang ( I confess I’m currently unsure which).

Meanwhile the defaults on these loans are growing and the bubble is getting ever more unsustainable with subprime auto loans now being about three times more than they were just five years ago:


And finally - there is some good news for consumers coming I think

So for car dealers and consumers too, these are quite probably the last days of the party. But there is a hidden bonus for car buyers coming I think. As this all plays out and we see some bankruptcies amongst lenders, a tightening of underwriting, reduced PCP availability and falling used car values, we will see some real bargains on dealer forecourts. Buying a newish car and paying for it with cash or a more conventional loan will be more affordable than ever. Just not crazy cheap, thankfully.That or 2008 all over again.




Eight great job interview questions for applicants





It’s been a while since I wrote an essay about “penetrating questions” for job seekers to ask on interviews.  For reference, the prior ones in the series are Ask, Ask 2, Ask 3, Ask 4, Ask 5, Ask 6, and Ask 7.  (Ask and Ask 3 were actually republished here on Neil Patrick’s site; this one was written exclusively for him!)

As an aside, one of the questions from Ask 7 was about inviting five dinner guests from history.  I decided to answer it, publicly, myself in an essay.  I’d thought it was a worthy intellectual exercise.

I often get ideas for these questions from other peoples’ essays.  The essay The Interview Secret HR Doesn't Want You To Know... by J.T. O’Donnell, founder of WorkItDaily, sparked a thought for another question… or two or three.  I hope these prove useful to you in your interviews.

What on my resume caught your eye?

This is a question, to be asked of the hiring manager only, that gets to the heart of why you’re in their office.  It forces them to identify something overwhelmingly-positive about you, and puts you in a good frame in their mind (on the flip side of things, if they have no clue, that’s not a good sign!).  And whatever they name gives you specific things to focus on, because that gives you an opening to:

And that, , applies to which problem you have… ?

You’re making them do the work for you.  They’ve just – presumably – named one of the key strengths that they saw in your background.  Now you’ve opened the door to their explicitly naming one of the challenges they have and how your background meshes with it.  Not only can you now address that problem specifically, by getting them to tie your strength to their problem, you help get them to see you in the position.

What last made you laugh at work?

This is a culture question.  Nobody expects work to be a comedy or social club, but it is a place where you spend a significant portion of your waking hours.  The answer doesn’t need to be detailed or elicit a specific joke they remember hearing, but if they really have to think hard about the last time they laughed as a result of something – e.g., “Well, the other day my co-worker and I were ribbing each other about…” – then that’s a potential warning sign that there’s no real joy on the part of people working there.  Even worse if they flat-out can’t think of a single instance.

Am I the first person you’ve brought in for this position?

Very often hiring managers don’t really know, precisely, what they want when they first write the job description; they have a vision, but visions don’t always comport with what’s actually available.  And it’s very typical that as interviews go along tweaks to that vision they have are made.  Gleaning some idea of where you are in the sequence can help you understand the possibility that the real wants and needs have deviated from the published ones.

Can you describe the last time you had to help a subordinate get through a roadblock?  And can you describe, generally, what the issue was?

It is inevitable that projects will run into roadblocks.  Some of these can be gotten through with persistence on the part of the individual person.  Others can require managerial “pull” to get something loose.  A good manager will be willing to help a subordinate get through these – after, of course, the individual has tried without success.  And if an issue happened once, generally, it’s likely to happen again if it involves a different group or function, so forewarned is forearmed about a potential difficulty you might face.

Could you walk me through your day yesterday?

This should be aimed at a potential coworker.  It gives you, at least in a one-day snapshop, what a day might be like.  Also, watch facial expressions – positive or negative?  And do they attempt to gloss over the question?  People who are enthusiastic about the work and the environment will happy to talk about things at length.  People who are not, won’t.

(An example: I asked a similar question, “What’s your typical day like?” to a potential coworker during an interview.  Their answer was revealing: “Oh, I usually get here about 7 AM, …, and I leave about 7 PM… and sometimes I come in on the weekends to catch up!”  My unvoiced thought was “You’re pushing 60 a week at work, and you need to catch up on the weekends?  And this is OK with you?”  

Later, talking to a recruiter, I learned that this company has such a reputation for squeezing workers for immense hours of casual OT that people would tell this recruiter NO THANK YOU when she named the company whose job she was pitching!  One actually said “I’d rather be homeless than work for this company”.  The recruiter ended up not accepting any more contracts from the company.)

What is a typical day like for one of the group?

This is a compare-and-contrast question to the above, to be asked of the hiring manager.  What happens versus what do they think happens?  It’s also an awareness question, i.e., how connected to the group is the manager?  Are they aloof?  Connected?  A “helicopter boss”?  The answer can give some clues.


I hope these, and my former thoughts in Ask 1 – 7, help you not only land a good job by asking great questions, but gain insights into places that, when you hear the answers, you decide you will pass on working there.


© 2017, David Hunt, PE
David Hunt is a Mechanical Engineer looking for a full time position north of Boston, MA in the USA.  He is seeking a job, ideally in the medical device or defense industries, as a:
  •          Design Engineer (with a strength in plastics, but that’s not all he can do)
  •          New Product Introduction Engineer (e.g., DFMA)
  •          Cost Reduction Engineer
  •          Manufacturing / Process Engineer
And do check out his portfolio.



What no-one tells us about the jobs crisis


By Neil Patrick





Your vote won't help solve the jobs crisis - as long as politicians pull on the wrong levers.

Three big things have happened in my life in the last few months.

First, I finished writing my book, Careermageddon with Dr. Marcia LaReau of Forward Motion Careers. What started as a small project to try and create a helpful guidebook for people frustrated about their work opportunities, grew and grew as we uncovered layer upon layer of complexity as we sought to understand the real mechanics of the jobs crisis.

Then political events took over.

On Thursday 23 June last year, the EU referendum in the UK returned a result that almost no-one expected. Over 65% of registered voters voted, and the die was cast. Despite 'experts' warning that such a decision would be economic suicide for the UK, large swathes of the UK especially those who felt let down by their political leaders, voted to leave the EU.

The outcome of the US election was no less of a shock to most expert observers. Donald Trump campaigned largely on an anti-globalization platform. Jobs for US citizens and stricter border security were to be high priorities. These policy promises resonated with large numbers of non-metropolitan people in the US, left behind in a globalized economy which delivers immense wealth for a few, and less and less for most who either have a job or those who cannot get one.

The shocks of these two outcomes are still reverberating. I am not going to argue for or against Donald Trump or Brexit. Yes I have my opinions, but the point is they really do not matter.

I’ll say it again. My personal opinions and political beliefs do not matter.

Yet I’m very much in a minority. People on both sides of these arguments are endlessly busy championing their support for their choice, and denigrating those who have the opposite view. Meanwhile, the mainstream media under assault from Mr Trump is railing against fake news, quite oblivious to the fact that they are doing nothing at all to help provide greater understanding of the realities of the jobs crisis. They report ‘news’ (in reality arguments and scandal) but are truly hopeless at conveying insight.

These political outcomes have divided societies in the UK and the US, like none before. The reason it is pointless for me to argue for one political side or the other, is that the thing I care most about is jobs and incomes. Not about winning political debates. And jobs are not primarily made or lost by decisions about immigration, or who wields political power.

The jobs crisis is not fundamentally an outcome of political decisions. Yes Donald Trump is committed to getting jobs back for US workers. Yes the Brexit campaign succeeded because many people in Britain felt that unrestrained migration into the UK was creating unbearable pressure on our nation. They believed (contrary to much evidence), that immigrants were ‘taking our jobs’ and altering the fabric of our society for the worse.

The real drivers of falling incomes, long-term unemployment, and social unrest are nothing to do with immigration, or the UK’s membership of the EU, or who is in the White House.

We have a jobs crisis because the world is undergoing changes so immense that policy makers have no reliable models they can turn to with confidence that tell them what to do.

Pulling the traditional monetary levers of interest rates and money supply have proved completely incapable of reigniting sustainable economic growth. They have failed in the Eurozone, failed in Japan, failed in the UK and failed in the United States.

And that is because the changes going on are deep and structural. They are so deeply rooted that even the most sophisticated economic forecasting models and policy levers are completely inadequate to represent and remedy the complexity of what's happening and worse what will happen. They just don’t work in times like these.

In January this year, in an almost unheard of admission of failure, none other than Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England was forced to admit that the Bank’s economic forecasting models just didn’t work when a change as great as the Brexit vote occurred. These models work reasonably well in period of slow and gradual change. They fail completely when changes are large and rapid.

He went even further as I reported here. He admitted that up to half of all jobs in the UK would be eliminated by technology in the coming years.

The real drivers of job creation and destruction are what Marcia and I describe in detail in our book. We call them The Six Engines of Change. They are:

  • Globalization and offshoring 
  • Technology, artificial intelligence and robotics 
  • Disruptive business models 
  • Education and the speed of institutional change 
  • Demographics and the aging population 
  • Fiscal policy 

Firms are able to control their decisions about the first three of these. And they will make decisions based on their raison d’etre. I.e. they will do whatever makes the most money.

Government can do little other than play around the edges of these things unless we wish to submit to a centralized and totalitarian state. On the other hand, education, demographics and fiscal policy are areas where government policy can achieve greater leverage.

Yet none of these are a silver bullet which can reignite economic growth. They are blunt instruments as the central bankers would say. They impact slowly. Which is not helpful when people are struggling to make ends meet week in week out.

In a world which is changing faster than ever before, and where more and more people are feeling that their governments have failed them, we should not be surprised that politicians who promise sweeping change are able to win more votes than those who can only promise more of the same.

We can only hope that instead of playing to the gallery, they grasp the real fundamentals of what is happening and implement policies which truly reflect these complex realities of the 21st century world.

I really cannot predict what is going to happen next, but I have nagging feeling that real change is going to be harder to deliver than we’d all like.




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.

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.




The value of being an outsider


By Neil Patrick


The desire to conform to the expectations of a group is a primal urge for most people. Tribalism is underpinned by conforming to group norms. So being different sets us at a disadvantage – or an advantage if we choose to make it one.

This week I was delighted to be quoted by Marc Miller of Career Pivot in Austin Texas in a post he put together with predictions from several career experts (and me) about the world of work for 2017. Mark had asked us all for our thoughts and I was happy to provide mine.

You can see Marc’s post here:



I was intrigued to see what others had said. My co-contributors were mostly well known to me and I have Skyped, emailed and collaborated with Marc and many of them in the last couple of years. I respect them all and value their friendship towards me - the oddball.

I am the odd man out for at least three reasons:

  • I am a Brit not an American
  • I am not a careers coach, HR person, or recruiter
  • I have no officially recognised accreditations in this field

In fact my day to day ‘normal’ work has nothing to do with careers at all – I am by profession a marketing person.

I chose to set up this blog about the world of work because it interested me. No more. No less. Yet conventional wisdom is that a marketing person who blogs should blog about marketing.

Perhaps I made an elementary mistake. Or I didn’t…

I confess this is post-rationalisation (a dodgy habit at best).

But here’s the thing. I have ventured beyond my comfort zone, I have been stretched. I have learned new things. I’ve not been constrained by years of immersion in a topic. I have come at it like an over-excited kid for whom everything is new and interesting.

I have made many fantastic new friends along the way that I would never have encountered by sticking to marketing. I ask questions that if I knew better, I probably wouldn’t. My personal network has been enriched and diversified. My mailbox is constantly full of interesting things people send me for discussion.

And because I don’t share the same background as others in the field, I come at the subject from a different perspective. And as a marketing person, I know that being different has a special value of its own.

When we are young, it makes sense to focus our network building on our field of specialism. But when we are older and perhaps looking for something fresh and inspiring, we benefit more by venturing into new fields and delight in the discovery of new people and new things. And this restores the excitement in our work which we may have lost way back when.

All it takes is the courage to risk ridicule and rejection. But my experience is that like most fears, this terror exists only in our heads.

On reflection, I have no regrets at all.