Welcome to the panopticon

Tonia Ries has just published an article titled Privacy Fail: Klout Has Gone Too Far, which outlines how Klout is indexing social networks and creating/measuring user profiles, even if they have never registered with Klout.

About the same time Facebook was accused of creating ‘shadow profiles’ on users and nonusers.

As I said recently, welcome to the panopticon.

When Jeremy Bentham originally came up with the idea of a panopticon he introduced it saying:

“Morals reformed – health preserved – industry invigorated instruction diffused – public burthens lightened – Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock – the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied – all by a simple idea in Architecture!”

Source: Bentham, Jeremy The Panopticon Writings. Ed. Miran Bozovic (London: Verso, 1995). p. 29-95

And thus it is, that by the beginning of the twenty-first century, we have (well most of us) willingly and freely chosen to become part of an electronic panopticon.

Privacy is now only possible by a steadfast refusal to participate in digital society in any way – by becoming like the Unabomber and moving to a shack in the woods. And even then, if others who participate in the electronic society mention your name or activities online, you are still caught up in the net.

Global surveillance has been made easy, simple, and ubiquitous. The very devices – laptops, tablets, mobile phones – we all carry enable this constant geophysical tracking via the SIM cards and wifi connections.

However, as we are seeing with the various #Occupy movements around the world, these same technologies that enable surveillance of us by the authorities, also enable sousveillance of the authorities by us.

This is one of the interesting things about living in an electronic panopticon. Unlike Bentham’s inmates we are not physically constrained to cells. We can move about freely (for the most part).

And we can also co-opt the same technology to create our own networks. Those networks can become peer-to-peer and frictionless. They can enable us to organise into groups very easily and to share information and ideas in ways that used to be hard.

The panopticon is here, it’s time to turn it to our own ends.

Social media, radical transparency, insights, and klout

One of the various social media influence scoring platforms – Klout – has just changed its algorithm and overnight many people’s Klout scores have dropped.

This has caused one of several reactions:

  1. complete indifference
  2. refutation of the importance of social media influence measurement
  3. howls of pain at the destruction of hard work in achieving high Klout scores
  4. humour like that of @jason_a_w
  5. even an #occupyklout movement

All very amusing  to someone like me.

But the really interesting thing is that we have entered an age of radical transparency.  Now our social connections and interactions are open to analysis because of our increasing use of social networks and social  media.

If the data is there and publicly available then it will be analysed.  There is little we can do to stop this phenomenon.  As users of social networks we are fair game due to the public nature of our social discourse.

However, as  a marketer, I’m often on the other side of this equation. In our businesses we seek to understand who the relevant influencers are for our particular niche or geography.

Social media is the new focus group.  And it is far richer than any focus group we ever had in the past. Now brands can engage with people in realtime and adjust strategy and products in response to feedback.

We need to find ways to cut through the enormous bolus of information that is there to be digested. And we need to make some kind of sense of the new landscape we all inhabit.

Mechanisms to measure people’s influence have always existed. Clothing, manners, motor vehicles are only a few of the ways we’ve judged people’s status and influence in the past.

Social media influence measurement and monitoring is only just starting.  Our lives are now lived in plain view and the data is open to analysis.

Welcome to the panopticon.

Occupy Wall Street Activist Slams Fox News Producer In Un-Aired Interview

As the various Occupy protests fan out around the world many of us are trying to make sense of them, and to ascertain into which particular mental box these protests ought to go.

This interview of Jesse LaGreca, a vocal member of the Occupy Wall Street protests and writer for the Daily Kos, by Fox News is fascinating. It gives an insight into the kinds of problems Jesse is interested in addressing. Of particular interest is his desire to not have the movement end with a specific goal in mind:

“As far as seeing this end, I wouldn’t like to see this end. I would like to see the conversation continue. This is what we should have been talking about in 2008 when the economy collapsed.”

This video comes courtesy of Kyle Christopher from OccupyWallSt.org media team.

Also worth a read is another article: Jesse LaGreca: The Smartest Man on Wall Street?

What about CSR and the triple bottom line?

In response to yesterday’s post someone on Twitter, @dmanww, raised the very sensible issue of the triple bottom line, or as some might call it, corporate social responsibility (CSR).
https://twitter.com/dmanww/status/125358981429465089

However, having worked in a number of organizations that took the triple bottom line and corporate social responsibility very seriously, I know that it is not pervasive within the organization in the same way as the maximization of shareholder value.

To put it bluntly my bonus often had a small component of CSR involved, but the major KPI was always contribution to revenue (a.k.a. shareholder return).  Very rarely were major issues discussed in terms of CSR impact, but issues were often talked of in terms of impact on shareholder return.

Measurement of the triple bottom line is not the problem. It is only a problem in an environment where the only things that matter are those that are monetized and which are realizable within a short term timeframe.  In that context it is impossible to measure other things that matter – like quality of life, social impact, or common good.

Corporations focus on what provides revenue. That is the nature of the beast. It is not evil to pursue revenue. However, the pure pursuit of revenue is an amoral activity. This is especially true if executed in an environment where things – people, environment, society – are objectified and monetized.

I got interested in the idea of implementing a triple bottom line back in the 1990s.  From my perspective it has not made much progress.  CSR is still largely the responsibility one department within most companies.  It has not become a pervasive filter for everyday business decisions.  And I do not think it ever will become one with the current way corporations are structured, rewarded, and assessed.

Even if a corporation wanted to change their approach on CSR and implement it more fully, the market analysts would most likely punish them.  This is because CSR necessarily impacts upon returns to shareholders.  Since most public companies focus on analyst reports to ensure share prices are maintained this is a problem. And the problem is related to executive rewards, since often these are tied to stock performance.

For modern corporations the complex nexus between  corporate structure, executive reward, and market assessment means that truly implementing the triple bottom line is fraught with risk.

Maximizing shareholder value should NOT be the only goal of the corporation

It is interesting to think about this now that we see Occupy Wall Street spreading around the world (even to Occupy Sydney).

Back in 1976  Michael Jensen and William Meckling argued that the solution to the principal-agency problem — business leaders advance their own interests not those of shareowners — was to make the goal of the corporation the highest return to shareholders and to align shareholders and business leaders through granting stock options. Today this remains the prevalent model of organizing and motivating people within organizations in the western world.

I have long argued that this approach evokes extremely dangerous behaviours in companies – creating corporations that are run as if they are peopled by soulless automata.

The construction of reward systems that prioritize shareholder value as the sole objective of the corporation encourage risk taking, little focus on other concerns (such as social and environmental good), and poor treatment of human resources.

Dan Ariely has written about Better (and more) Social Bonuses – it is worth reading. Bonus scheme incentives encourage unhealthy competition and can drive unintended outcomes, such as ignoring due process (as in the various bank scandals such as the recent UBS rogue trader).

One characteristic of the shareholder value model in action is the objectification and monetization of things – people, environment, social good.  This attitude has inherent problems for all stakeholders in a business, even for the shareholders. Shareholders are people too, they live within a society and an environment.  Thus prioritizing shareholder value over social and environmental good is not necessarily good for shareholders.

As a senior manager in large corporations I often found myself referring to people as FTE (a.k.a. full time equivalents). This objectification of the people within the organization – treating them as if they are mere machines – is a characteristic of this shareholder primacy model.

Once the people who work in the business are successfully objectified it is much easier to treat them in ways that previously impossible. It is easier to implement inhumane or unsafe work practices. It is easier to fire people. It is easier to ask people to do things that are unethical.

The other part of this unhealthy equation is the large institutional shareholders in corporations.  Because they represent interested parties at second or third hand again we see objectification of the process.  They too seek only to maximize benefit for the shareholders that they represent.  But  because they represent those shareholders at arm’s length they do not understand the needs or wants of those shareholders.  Thus the real people who are shareholders are assumed to only seek maximum value no matter how that is achieved.

The common thread in all of this that real people with real desires to create a good world for themselves and their grandchildren do not have their interests adequately represented.  Instead we all suffer – people, planet, nature – because of this single-minded pursuit of maximal shareholder benefit.

 

 

 

 

The bucket manifesto: how to solve complex problems

I came across this slide deck by Bud Cadell recently and thought that is very apt for our times. The challenges facing us as a planet are vast and extremely complex. Systems thinkers are needed more than ever.

As he says:

“In the future, I see a global network of 21st century problem solvers with the understanding and know-how to solve the most massively complex problems; challenges that face corporations, governments, and citizens. These individuals work together to unleash their passion and creativity towards ambitious objectives and tangible change.”

Read more:

It’s worth reading the entire post on his site as well as viewing the slideshow.