How to Motivate Employees Without Bossing Them Around

You’ve spent a lot of time developing that new policy or process, and you know it’s the right thing to do for your company or department. But now comes the hard part: engaging team members in the change. 

You’re concerned that your employees:

a) won’t get it

b) won’t believe in it, and 

c) won’t do it.

In the past, you’ve tried to use data to make your case. But you learned that facts aren’t interesting (You had to deal with too many yawns and too much staring into space.) nor do facts persuade. 

You could try to create a spectacular presentation (Good-bye, PowerPoint; Hello, Prezi?) but you’re not confident that all that effort would be worthwhile. After all, once the show is over, will anyone remember it?

Sounds like you’re ready for a completely different approach to communicating with your employees. What you need to do is this: Tell a story.

I’ve been reading a terrific book–Managing By Storying Around–by the late David Armstrong. As CEO of Armstrong Industries, Armstrong used stories “to inspire others and to help them discover something about themselves that they would have otherwise missed through a boring flow chart or company memo,” according to his company tribute page.

Storytelling wasn’t just an avocation for Armstrong; he could point to years of evidence demonstrating how the practice helped employees be more receptive to change and new ways of thinking.

Here are 7 reasons to consider this approach for motivating your team members. Management by storytelling is: 

  1. Simple. Since we’ve all told stories since we were children, anyone can do it.
  2. Timeless. Management fads have come and gone, but storytelling is still compelling, whether you’re listening to a sermon or watching the latest Marvel blockbuster.
  3. Appropriate for any demographic. “The nature of your workforce will change over time,” Armstrong writes. “But you’ll always be able to tell stories to communicate with every employee.”
  4. The best form of training. At Armstrong’s company, leaders used stories to tell people “how we do things. They let people know the kinds of things that will get them promoted and what will get them promoted.”
  5. An effective way to empower people. “The stories lay out guidelines; it is up to the people to get the job done,” wrote Armstrong. “Once they know what we believe it, they internalize it and, to a very large extent, manage themselves.”
  6. A great way to spread the word. Armstrong Industries shared stores to everyone in the company, so “the things we believe it are constantly reinforced.”
  7. A wonderful form of recognition. “People love to hear and read about people–especially about themselves,” wrote Armstrong. 

Okay, you’re convinced that it’s a good idea to tell stories. But how do you create a story? Armstrong’s book offers a super-simple formula:

  • Always begin with a heroic deed.
  • The story must be true. (Verify all facts.)
  • Think of a clever title.
  • Stick to one idea or theme.
  • Keep the story short. You should be able to tell it in under two minutes.
  • Use people’s names.
  • Be specific and form a mental picture.
  • Even if the moral of the story seems self-evident, be explicit about the message you’re trying to get across.

Want more direction on how to tell an effective story? Here are three columns I’ve written recently that you might find helpful:

Published on: Sep 22, 2018

The Booming E-Scooter Market Just Reported Its First Fatality

While California just made it legal for adults to ride electric scooters without a helmet, the wildly popular vehicle has had its first confirmed fatality.

The Washington Post reports it was confirmed that Jacoby Stoneking, who died on Sept. 4, was not wearing a helmet while riding a Lime e-scooter in Dallas. Stoneking took the scooter home from a restaurant on Sept. 1, but called a friend saying he had injured his foot and asked him to call him a Lyft. When the Lyft driver arrived, Stoneking was unresponsive, lying near a broken Lime scooter. Stoneking’s death, caused by blunt force injuries to the head, was ruled an accident by Dallas authorities. Lime says it will investigate the accident and work with the family.

Injuries and emergency room visits tied to e-scooters has been on the rise since mobility services have put more than 65,000 e-scooters on U.S. streets. The Washington Post interviewed ER doctors in seven cities and found that a spike in severe accidents occurred after the scooters were set loose. “The devices may look like toys but inflict the same degree of harm as any other motorized vehicle on the road, only without having to comply with safety regulations,” Peter Holley wrote.

California Gov. Jerry Brown made it legal Wednesday for adults to ride motorized scooters going up to 35 mph without helmets. Electric scooter service Bird was a big proponent of the law. Bird became the fastest startup to reach a $2 billion valuation in its last round of funding this summer.

People don’t want to look dorky by carrying around a helmet, so they’re likely to go without when hopping on one of the ubiquitous scooters. Yesterday, about a year after the e-scooter craze started, Bird announced it had reached 10 million rides on its scooters, and Lime said it had reached 11.5 million rides. But the services have also faced bans from cities that consider the dockless scooters dangerous nuisances.

Cool Tech Isn't Just for Big Brands

Last week Betaworks hosted an event in New York called Future Tech for Brands. Four industry leaders shared their points of view largely oriented around building for the curve.  The dialogue included Suzana Apelbaum, Head of Creative at Google, Dan Bennett, Worldwide Chief Innovation Officer, Grey Group, Alex Magnin head of revenue at GIPHY and Richard Ting, R/GA’s global experience design lead.

The introductory remarks focused on the plague of synthetic media and fake news. This quickly led to reveal that Venmo is rapidly becoming the best, and most trusted social network.  While neural networks creating synthetic memes and deep fake videos might be a turn off, Venmo offers candor and transparency as users put their money where their mouth is.  But what about trends as far as how brands are engaging with tech today?

The first is around the rise of live formats like HQ and Twitch.  Arguably brands are still struggling to work out the best ways to integrate onto these channels, but is there a way for entrepreneurs​ to play in this space?  Suzana from Google placed her bets on assisted experiences and voice experiences, citing the success of Aiden, the chat bot created for Westworld and HBO. You can talk to Aidan via Google home from the comfort of your sofa.  From Aiden to the Johnny Walker guided tasting experience, voice will become the most natural way brands are communicating.  How are you leveraging it?

Giphy’s Alex Magnin celebrated the notion of searching for gifs and sending gifs to your friends as a force in the cultural zeitgeist.  With Giphy, this allows brands large and small to target based on sentiment and translates into gif search.  Incidentally, 70% of all giphy usage is through 1:1 messaging apps. On New Years the Facebook user community sent over 400 million GIFs.  Could this be a fun way to communicate with or respond to your customers?  After all, Giphy is a visual search engine reaching 300 million people per day.

Richard from RGA was emphatic about computer vision and chat bots.  Clarify, a computer vision company, incubated by RGA connects computer vision to objects in the real world such as sneakers, clothing, cars, etc…This is one of many firms making computer vision more accessible. Best-in-class chatbots recognized were, the rose bot, for Cosmopolitan Hotel in Vegas and, Erica, Bank of America’s chatbot.  Beyond computer vision, chatbots, and voice, Apply.AI was also mentioned. This company, in private beta, was designed to help developers of applicant tracking systems (ATS), human capital management software (HCM), and job boards manage their prospects and applicants using AI.

Dan from Grey was enthusiastic about ambient computing, and a world where everything has sensors in it.  The ambient offers an example of products and services in this space along with what to use them for.  While Dan’s mentions of near field radiation technology and 5th Wave computing may be irrelevant to your business, it might be time to consider how your company is using technology to engage both internally and externally.  

10 Reasons Why You Aren't Growing As a Leader (and Why You Should Still Try)

There’s no shortage of leadership content available. As you’re reading this article, millions of other people around the world are gaining knowledge on how to become better leaders via YouTube, blogs, audiobooks, and podcasts. But the alarming part is, the improvement to content consumed ratio is near non-existent.

If you’re a student of leadership, here are 10 reasons why you may not be getting better:  

1. You stop at “consume.”

Reading and listening to learn are fantastic, but if we don’t put what we take in into practice rather quickly that effort can be for not.  Think of it like a golfer who just hits a lot of golf balls on the driving range but can’t take their practice to the course. Find ways to quickly apply what you learn, no matter how small or insignificant it feels.

2. You view leadership as a title, not a journey.

Got a promotion into a management role? Hate to break it to you, but the title change is not going to make you a leader. Leadership is about action, not a position. View your development into a leader as a long-term journey instead of short-term accomplishment and you’ll earn your position over time.  

3. You’re not as good as you think you are.

Generally speaking, people in management roles aren’t the most self-aware people. In over 80 percent of the 360° Welder Leader Assessments we’ve administered, the leader rates themselves higher than their team rates them. Additionally, research shows 80 percent of people think they are better than average leaders.

Regardless of whether you think you are the best leader ever, self-awareness is a critical component to improving, and there’s no place better to gain the knowledge from than your team.  

4. You focus on words more than action.

I know we all love the famous movie speeches that motivate and inspire a group. One speech or one motivational conversation isn’t going to make a huge impact on your team. I have great news, especially if you’re not into public speaking. What will move the needle long-term are your actions and behaviors because that’s what people remember most. There is nothing more powerful in leadership than your example.

5. You think leaders are born not made.

The age-old debate about whether leaders are born or made has been settled.  Research by Leadership Quarterly found 24 percent of our leadership comes from DNA, while 76 percent is learned or developed. Whether or not you think you have the DNA, everyone has to work hard to develop the skills and anyone can become a better leader.

6. You are glued to your screen.

The choices for entertainment on our phones and television screens are endless. Consuming content at the expense of building real relationships with people is a big problem. Take a step back and ask yourself if you’re using your screen as an escape from reality instead of a way to connect with others. Also, consider what content you’re spending time-consuming. Many of today’s content creators or main characters in popular programs aren’t the best examples of leaders.

7. You default to thinking about results.

Everyone in business knows the results are important. In fact, without results, there are no jobs. But the best leaders focus on the process and the behaviors that produce the best results versus. solely focusing on the outcome. Direct your attention to doing the right things every day that produce the results and then the results will follow.

8. You’re constantly giving advice.

When you’re as smart and experienced as you are, it’s really tempting to offer advice at every turn. But your advice can actually hurt your people, especially if it’s doled out often. Instead of jumping to offering a solution or “advice,” stop and ask questions to better understand the situation. Oftentimes, a little bit of coaching can help an individual uncover the answer for themselves.

9. You’re too hard on yourself.

Leading other people is one of the hardest things you will ever do in your career.  No matter how good you get, you will never be immune to errors or making a wrong decision. There will be times when things don’t go according to plan, and that’s okay. It’s called life. Can come to terms with it and treat yourself to some grace.

10. You focus on the wrong things.

I know you like the sexy things that come with being a leader, but when you boil it down there are a few essentials:   

  • Understand the fundamentals by focusing on relationships built on trust

  • Get the foundation right by having a vision and core values

  • Simplify lives and improve performance by setting standards and holding people accountable

If you found yourself relating to this list, first, congratulations on being self-aware enough to admit your shortcomings.  Second, keep in mind one of my favorite Latin phrases, “nunc coepi” which means “today I begin.” Start fresh today and know leadership is a journey and not a destination.  

Toshiba Memory chief shrugs off price concerns, sticks with IPO plans

YOKKAICHI, Japan (Reuters) – The chief executive of Toshiba Memory Corp, the world’s No. 2 producer of NAND flash memory chips, on Wednesday brushed aside concerns about falling memory chip prices and reaffirmed the company’s plan to go public in two to three years.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Toshiba Corp is seen outside an electronics retail store in Tokyo, Japan, February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

“Prices fluctuate in the short term to reflect the demand-supply balance,” Toshiba Memory CEO Yasuo Naruke said at a news conference with joint venture partner, Western Digital Corp (WDC.O), to mark the opening of a new production line.

“But we are addressing long-term demand” driven by increasing amounts of data storage due to the rise of powerful smartphones and efficient data centers, he said.

Oversupply has weighed on NAND flash memory contract prices, resulting in an average drop of 15 to 20 percent in the April-June quarter, according to market research firm TrendForce.

Nevertheless, Toshiba Memory and Western Digital started mass production this month at the new line, their fifth, in Yokkaichi in central Japan.

The two companies are also building a new memory chip plant in Kitakami in northern Japan.

The new production lines will make advanced 3D NAND chips, with a stacked cell structure giving them far more storage capacity than conventional planar chips.

Toshiba and Western Digital held a combined 33.8 percent NAND market share in terms of revenue in the April-June quarter, trailing Samsung Electronics’ (005930.KS) 36.4 percent, according to TrendForce.

Naruke said the firm is sticking to its plan to go public “as soon as possible,” adding that it had started preliminary work to prepare for an initial public offering (IPO).

“No changes to our plan, to aim for an IPO in 2-3 years,” Naruke said.

Toshiba Corp (6502.T) sold Toshiba Memory in June to a consortium led by Bain Capital LP, which also included Apple Inc (AAPL.O), South Korean chipmaker SK Hynix (000660.KS), Dell Technologies and Seagate Technology (STX.O).

The deal saw Toshiba reinvest and hold some 40 percent of the unit.

Escalating trade friction between the United States and China is also adding to uncertainty over the flash memory market. Washington plans to impose 10 percent tariffs on about $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from Sept. 24, including some electronic components.

“The impact of the first two rounds of tariffs was small, but the latest round could affect various set products that use our memory chips,” Naruke said of the trade measures.

Western Digital CEO Steve Milligan also voiced concern about the worsening trade tensions, pointing out that some of its products assembled in Shanghai are exported to the U.S.

“We’ll do everything we can to influence things in a positive way, whether it be with the U.S. government or the Chinese government,” Milligan said at the news conference.

Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Darren Schuettler

Global tech firms gear up to fight India's planned data law

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Global tech companies plan to oppose new legislation in India that would require Facebook, PayPal and others to store user data in the country, arguing it will hurt investment and the business models of foreign and domestic firms.

FILE PHOTO: Commuters watch videos on their mobile phones as they travel in a suburban train in Mumbai, India, April 2, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File photo

In July, a government panel recommended that all “critical personal data” should be processed in India, and presented a draft bill that could affect how global firms store customer data.

Facebook (FB.O), Mastercard (MA.N) and PayPal (PYPL.O) fear the new law, which follows similar measures in China and Vietnam, would increase their compliance and infrastructure costs, and affect planned investments.

Their concerns are to be taken up lobby groups planning a joint effort to pressure New Delhi to reconsider.

“The potential fear of restricting cross-border data flow would impact the business models of several Indian as well as global companies,” said a draft of their letter addressed to India’s information technology minister.

Slideshow (2 Images)

“Fear of restrictive regulation has the potential to negatively impact the flow of foreign investments,” said the letter seen by Reuters.

The letter, to be delivered by Sept. 30, is supported by the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, the Washington-based Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), London-based techUK, and India’s NASSCOM.

Together they represent some of the biggest names in global technology, including Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O), Inc (CRM.N), Microsoft (MSFT.O) and India’s Wipro (WIPR.NS).

An IT ministry official said data localization was necessary to enable the government to carry out investigations and to guard against data breaches, which are widespread globally.

“They (industry) are too ambitious to think this won’t become a law within a year,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The campaign will argue that the data law hurts both foreign and local firms, many of which now store data overseas, said an official of one of the international companies involved.

ITI’s executive vice president for policy, Josh Kallmer, said the group would send lobbyists from Washington and Brussels to hold talks with Indian officials.

The US-India forum said it was working to build an industry-wide consensus on data protection. The Confederation of Indian Industry is also canvassing members to join the effort, an industry source said.

TechUK declined to comment, while NASSCOM did not respond to a request for comment.

India is the latest country to seek tighter control over data and domestic operations of global tech firms.

In June, Vietnam passed a cybersecurity law for technology firms to store “important” personal data on users in the country. Industry lobby groups opposed the measure.

For India, home to several global tech firms, the data law appears set to become the newest irritant in trade with the United States.

Besides the data law, government panels are drafting policies to regulate data stored by cloud computing, e-commerce and payment companies.

Additional reporting by Aditi Shah in New Delhi; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Darren Schuettler

College Is Probably the Right Choice, Unless You're an Aspiring Entrepreneur

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are all college dropouts, and they built wildly successful businesses. So how valuable is a college degree today if you want to be an entrepreneur?

According to the latest reports, there’s a $1.5 trillion dollar student debt crisis. More than 44.2 million Americans have student loans. The average starting salary for 2018 graduates is only a little over $50,000, and the average student in the class of 2017 owes $40,000–roughly equivalent to a 20 percent down payment on a $185,000 home. That’s also money you could use to start a new business.

A 2014 Gallup poll revealed that being a college graduate may improve your chances of happiness, but not if you have to go into debt to do so. If you’re like the overwhelming majority of students who had to take out loans to pay for higher education, college debt could be crippling your happiness.

With the rising costs and four years out of the workforce, it’s time to ask if going to college is still worth it–and more importantly, if it’s the right choice for you.

Start with these two questions:

1. Will it give you the skills you need for the life you want?

Getting a college degree is often considered one of life’s milestones like buying a home. I was told that college was essential for having a successful career and being a functional member of society. That it would provide me with the skills and knowledge needed for the real world.

But is that true?

At NYU, I studied computer science, math and economics. I’ve never needed to do a derivative or an integral since I left college. My writing workshop classes made no noticeable impact on my writing–I don’t think my writing improved until after college.

Looking back, it was my college internship working for Vector Marketing (yes, the company that sells kitchen knives) that taught me skills like time management, sales, marketing, and customer service. Considering I just paid off my college loans at 37, and it had taken half of my life to do it, I’d question whether significant debt and time out of the workforce for college is the best decision.

If you want a career that’s more traditional–becoming a lawyer, doctor, or an executive at corporate firm–going to college is probably in your best interest. It may be the only path.

If you dream of entrepreneurship, if you want to start a company or change an industry, college may hold you back.

College is not designed to teach someone how to become an independent business owner or industry personality. Overwhelmingly, it seems like college curriculum is designed to teach how to think about certain topics, to fulfill assignments and in what should be a safe environment, to develop your independence.

2. What are the alternatives?

Out of the skills that entrepreneurs need to succeed, writing a 40,000 word thesis on the role of feminism in 17th century France probably doesn’t make the cut. Where do aspiring entrepreneurs go instead of traditional universities to learn how to understand customer acquisition, product development, or the mental fortitude to handle the day-to-day ups and downs?

In recent years, there’s been an emergence of programs offering low-cost alternatives to higher education with an accelerated time frame. Seth Godin’s altMBA is four weeks of online training. Through his fellowship program, Peter Thiel will pay you $100,000 not to go to college, and instead, spend two years building your business or product.

If you’re in the tech industry, bootcamps like Flatiron School or AppAcademy, may be worth exploring. They are a fraction of the cost and time, and according to a recent Indeed survey, 72 percent of employers believe bootcamp graduates are just as prepared as those who have a four-year degree.

College is great if you want to go the traditional career path. However, in today’s world, it is not the only or best path available. If you want to go the non-traditional route of an entrepreneur, consider if the investment of time and money is right for you before enrolling in a four-year university.  

Jeff Bezos Claims the Most Important Decisions Should Be Taken With This 1 Very Peculiar Thing in Mind

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Amazon isn’t being garlanded with uncontrolled adoration at present.

And then Amazon goes and tries to obtain a patent for putting employees in cages. All for their own safety, you understand.

In essence, you see, some people think of Amazon as a typically heartless tech company in which machines and data rule.

With touching timing, CEO Jeff Bezos thought he’d try and disabuse critics of this notion.

All of my best decisions in business and in life have been made with heart, intuition, guts… you know, not… not analysis.

Well, who would have believed that? Not… not I. It sounds truly, blessedly human. 

He went on to give a fascinating life lesson: 

It turns out in life that your most important decisions are always made with instinct and intuition, taste, heart.

I confess that one word stopped me there. 

It’s one of the most subjective of elements. It’s also one that I don’t readily associate with Amazon.

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I think of its website as efficient, but certainly not tasteful.

And when I think of certain Amazon products, I feel an incipient need for antibiotics. 

The Amazon Echo, for example, is less tasteful that any trinket any tourist has brought back from any country. Ever.

It’s supposed to live in your house, yet it’s sheer garbage-can tawdriness makes me wonder how anyone can look at it on a daily basis, never mind talk to it. 

The Kindle, too, is to aesthetics what the worm is to horse racing.

And remember the Amazon Fire Phone? No, I don’t know anyone who does either. 

Indeed these products could, to my eyes, have been designed entirely by robots from the Planet Plim. 

Please, I know you’ll think I’m exaggerating. 

It’s just that Bezos brings up something riveting.

Just as you’re making decisions with intuition, heart and guts, so your sense of taste might not lift even one human heart other than your own.

Taste is, actually, optional to business. 

Without taste, you might succeed hugely. Some would argue that many of the world’s richest people have attained their golden everything precisely because they have no taste.

They’re prepared to dive into the gutter without an inch of golden rubber covering them.

They’re prepared to treat people as mere pontoons to be stepped upon, as they skip across the waters of success and boast they did it all themselves.

Rare is the entrepreneur that bothers to consider taste and all its ramifications.

Rare is the entrepreneur who believes that their product should add to the emotional and aesthetic uplift of human hearts.

And that’s why quite a few people admire Steve Jobs.

Ukrainians relive bloodshed of Kiev's Maidan in virtual reality

KIEV (Reuters) – A volunteer medic and the man whose life he saved. A lawmaker whose Facebook post calling for protests in Kiev’s Maidan square helped bring down a president.

A visitor uses VR (Virtual Reality) glasses during the presentation of a simulator of virtual reality showing the 2013/2014 demonstration in Ukraine, when dozens of protesters were killed in the final moments of Viktor Yanukovich’s rule, in Kiev, Ukraine September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

These are some of the characters featured in a virtual reality reconstruction of the bloodiest day in the 2013/2014 street demonstrations in Ukraine, when dozens of protesters were killed in the final moments of Viktor Yanukovich’s rule.

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the protests, a group of fourteen journalists, designers and IT engineers developed a program allowing the user to walk through the area around Maidan square.

Videos of people who were there on February 20 – the bloodiest day of violence – pop up to relate their experiences and explain the significance of particular spots. A transparent blue wall marks where Yanukovich’s forces lined up to repel the protesters.

A co-founder of the New Cave Media Sergiy Polezhaka (R) and his staff members test a simulator of virtual reality of the 2013/2014 demonstration in Ukraine, when dozens of protesters were killed in the final moments of Viktor Yanukovich’s rule, in Kiev, Ukraine September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

For Alexey Furman, co-founder of New Cave Media, who covered the protests as a photojournalist, the experience of recreating the event was cathartic.

“For me especially it was a very traumatic morning, as it was for hundreds of other people,” he said. “I saw people getting killed.”

“I think the project actually helped fight the PTSD that I had because I’d been on Maidan dozens of times in 2013 and 2014,” he said in an interview, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.

He used to avoid Instytutska street, which runs on a hill down to Maidan and was the scene of much of the bloodshed, because of the painful memories.

“But now to be honest, I come to Instytutska and go like ‘Oh, we still don’t have that 3D-model, we have to work on it.’”

Slideshow (9 Images)

The team says it took around 200,000 images to build the virtual reality model, a project which was part-funded with a $20,000 grant from Google Labs.

More than 100 people were killed during the protests, who came to be known locally as the ‘Heavenly Hundred”. A small strip of Instytutska was subsequently renamed after them.

From exile in Russia, Yanukovich has denied Ukrainians’ widespread belief that he ordered his special forces to open fire.

At the end of the experience, the user meets two people whom fate threw together on February 20 – a wounded protester and a medical volunteer who held his hand over the wound “for a good twenty minutes maybe even more,” said co-founder of New Cave Media Sergiy Polezhaka in an interview.

“Hiding in a tiny place under the tree … waiting for danger to calm down a little bit, to save this protester’s life, this is the iconic image from that morning for me.”

The user will also meet the journalist turned MP Mustafa Nayyem, whose Facebook post in November 2013, calling for demonstrations against Yanukovich’s decision to pull out of a deal with the European Union, triggered the Maidan revolt.

The protests in turn lit the fuse for Russia seizing and annexing Crimea in March 2014 and the outbreak of Russian-backed separatist fighting in the Donbass region that has killed more than 10,000 despite a notional ceasefire.

Editing by Richard Balmforth

Cyber Saturday—Massachusetts Gas Fires, Credit Freezes, Snowden Reassessment

On Thursday evening, 60 suspected gas fires broke out in three Massachusetts towns north of Boston. Naturally, people wondered about the cause.

Some accounts on Twitter began to speculate, baselessly, that the explosions were the result of hacking. One hacker-activist with a large following stoked the rumor mill by asking whether anyone else suspected the fires “might be some kinda of cyber attack targeting SCADA systems?” (SCADA systems, or supervisory control and data acquisition systems, refer to industrial control hardware often used in power plants.) Another Twitter account followed this up with an unsupported claim that U.S. agencies were “looking for traces of weaponzied stuxnet virus,” referring to a malware program, widely attributed to U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies, that knocked out Iranian nuclear centrifuges in the aughts.

Industry professionals swiftly tamped down on the unsubstantiated gossip. Rob M. Lee, CEO and founder of Dragos, a startup that specializes in industrial cybersecurity, approached the incident with characteristic level-headedness. “[T]hese events sadly happen and cyber is often the least likely answer,” he wrote in a tweet. “[T]he folks involved will be focused and thorough to find the root cause. I.e. wait.”

Kudos to the cooler heads, like Lee, who urge caution while officials sort this mess out. I tend to agree with Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity firm FireEye, who told a Senate committee this week that frequent talk of an impending “cyber Pearl Harbor”—a theoretical attack that could cause national power outages—distracts from the real threat. As Mandia put it, “I believe that our nation is more likely to face an enduring, more protracted cyber campaign akin to ‘cyber trench-warfare.’”

Indeed, and so often that trench warfare takes the form of disinformation run amok online.


The ransacking of Equifax has had at least one positive outcome. Next week a federal law kicks in that will force the big three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to provide fee-less “security freezes,” hold orders on credit files that help prevent identity theft. Starting on Sept. 21, the credit bureaus will no longer be allowed to charge for the service—a long overdue reform. Brian Krebs, an investigative cybersecurity journalist, has a nice write-up of the upcoming policy change on his website.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett


[email protected]

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

This Simple Act of Kindness at McDonald's Improved a Dying Man's Life (That's Why It Went So Viral)

This starts as a sad story. Perhaps “wistful” is the better word.

It ends, for our purposes, with a small act of kindness–one that meant the world in the moment–and that also has meaning for one of the biggest brands in the world.

The setting: Australia’s Gold Coast. 

An ambulance crew was assigned to transport an elderly man, who is in the final throes of a struggle against a fatal disease, to palliative care. 

We don’t know his medical condition, but we can assume it’s serious. It was his wife who made the call, and when the EMTs arrived, she told them that her husband, Ron, had hardly eaten in the last two days. 

“If you could eat anything, what would it be?” one of the ambulance officers asked.

Ron’s answer was direct: “A carmel sundae,” he said. From McDonald’s.

So, the two-person ambulance crew did the only thing that made sense in the moment. They stopped at McDonald’s (Macca’s, as they call it in Australia), and got him his carmel sundae.

They snapped a photo, put it on Twitter. And things took off.

Recently, I asked 27 psychologists for their best advice on how people can develop habits that will make them happier, according to science. A few things kept coming up over and over. One of the most important was the practice of doing small acts of kindness for other people.

The psychologist known as the “father of positive psychology,” Martin Seligman, perhaps put it best: “Doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.”

Of course, for the ambulance officers here, this really was just a simple gesture. It probably took no more than five or 10 minutes out of the ambulance offers’ day. 

But it resonated, and spread far beyond the original Twitter post. And I think it’s because we instinctively recognize that these kinds of kindness improve not only the life of the person doing the act, and the person receiving it–but also all the rest of us who simply observe it.

“People call an ambulance when they are at a low point and are quite vulnerable,” the head of the ambulance service told one local news organization who wrote about this story, but “it’s the simple things and the level of compassion that make a really big difference to people.”

That’s a good point to keep in mind–for brands, for businesses, and for any of us moving through this intertwined adventure we call life.

Facebook's AI Can Analyze Memes, but Can It Understand Them?

Billions of text posts, photos, and videos are uploaded to social media every day, a firehose of information that’s impossible for human moderators to sift through comprehensively. And so companies like Facebook and YouTube have long relied on artificial intelligence to help surface things like spam and pornography.

Something like a white supremacist meme, though, can be more challenging for machines to flag, since the task requires processing several different visual elements at once. Automated systems need to detect and “read” the words that are overlaid on top of the photo, as well as analyze the image itself. Memes are also complicated cultural artifacts, which can be difficult to understand out of context. Despite the challenges they bring, some social platforms are already using AI to analyze memes, including Facebook, which this week shared details about how it uses a tool called Rosetta to analyze photos and videos that contain text.

Facebook says it already uses Rosetta to help automatically detect content that violates things like its hate speech policy. With help from the tool, Facebook also announced this week that it’s expanding its third-party fact checking effort to include photos and videos, not just text-based articles. Rosetta will aid in the process by automatically checking whether images and videos that contain text were previously flagged as false.

Rosetta works by combining optical character recognition (OCR) technology with other machine learning techniques to process text found in photos and videos. First, it uses OCR to identify where the text is located in a meme or video. You’ve probably used something like OCR before; it’s what allows you to quickly scan a paper form and turn it into an editable document. The automated program knows where blocks of text are located and can tell them apart from the place where you’re supposed to sign your name.

Once Rosetta knows where the words are, Facebook uses a neural network that can transcribe the text and understand its meaning. It then can feed that text through other systems, like one that checks whether the meme is about an already-debunked viral hoax.

The researchers behind Rosetta say the tool now now extracts text from every image uploaded publicly to Facebook in real time, and it can “read” text in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, German, and Arabic. (Facebook says Rosetta is not used to scan images that users share privately on their timelines or in direct messages.)

Rosetta can analyze images that include text in many forms, such as photos of protest signs, restaurant menus, storefronts, and more. Viswanath Sivakumar, a software engineer at Facebook who works on Rosetta, said in an email that the tool works well both for identifying text in a landscape, like on a street sign, and also for memes—but that the latter is more challenging. “In the context of proactively detecting hate speech and other policy-violating content, meme-style images are the more complex AI challenge,” he wrote.

Unlike humans, an AI also typically needs to see tens of thousands of examples before it can learn to complete a complicated task, says Sivakumar. But memes, even for Facebook, are not endlessly available, and gathering enough examples in different languages can also prove difficult. Finding high-quality training data is an ongoing challenge for artificial intelligence research more broadly. Data often needs to be painstakingly hand-labeled, and many databases are protected by copyright laws.

To train Rosetta, Facebook researchers used images posted publicly on the site that contained some form of text, along with their captions and the location from which they were posted. They also created a program to generate additional examples, inspired by a method devised by a team of Oxford University researchers in 2016. That means the entire process is automated to some extent: One program automatically spits out the memes, and then another tries to analyze them.

Different languages are challenging for Facebook’s AI team in other ways. For example, the researchers had to find a workaround to make Rosetta work with languages like Arabic, which are read from right to left, the opposite of other languages like English. Rosetta “reads” Arabic backwards, then after processing, Facebook reverses the characters. “This trick works surprisingly well, allowing us to have a unified model that works for both left to right and right to left languages,” the researchers wrote in their blog post.

While automated systems can be extremely useful for content moderation purposes, they’re not always foolproof. For example, WeChat—the most popular social network in China—uses two different algorithms to filter images, which a team of researchers at the Univeristy of Toronto’s Citizen Lab were able to successfully trick. The first, an OCR-based program, filters photos that contain text about prohibited topics, while the other censors images that appear similar to those on a blacklist likely created by the Chinese government.

The researchers were able to easily evade WeChat’s filters by changing an image’s properties, like the coloring or the way it was oriented. While Facebook’s Rosetta is more sophisticated, it likely isn’t perfect either; the system may be tripped up by hard-to-read text, or warped fonts. All image recognition algorithms are also still potentially susceptible to adversarial examples, slightly altered images that look the same to humans but cause an AI to go haywire.

Facebook and other platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit are under tremendous pressure in multiple countries to police certain kinds of content. On Wednesday, the European Union proposed new legislation that require social media companies to remove terrorist posts within one hour of notification, or else face fines. Rosetta, and other similarly automated tools, are what already help Facebook and other platforms abide by similar laws in places like Germany.

And they’re getting better at their jobs: Two years ago CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s AI systems only proactively caught around half of the content the company took down; people had to flag the rest first. Now, Facebook says that its AI tools detect nearly 100 percent of the spam it takes down, as well as 99.5 percent of terrorist content and 86 percent of graphic violence. Other platforms, like YouTube, have seen similar success using automated content detection systems.

But those promising numbers don’t mean AI systems like Rosetta are a perfect solution, especially when it comes to more nuanced forms of expression. Unlike a restaurant menu, it can be hard to parse the meaning of a meme without knowing the context of where it was posted. That’s why there are whole websites dedicated to explaining them. Memes often depict inside jokes, or are highly specific to a certain online subculture. And AI still isn’t capable of understanding a meme or video in the same way that a person would. For now, Facebook will still need to to rely on human moderators to make decisions about whether a meme should be taken down.

More Great WIRED Stories

U.S. Lawmakers Sound Alarm Over the Threat of ‘Deep Fakes’

Digitally altered photos and videos known as “deep fakes” pose a potential risk to national security, U.S. lawmakers said Thursday.

U.S. House representatives Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, urging U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate the rise of altered videos, audio clips, and photos that appear to be untouched but are actually manipulated.

Because the doctored video, audio, and photography appear to be accurate, the lawmakers are concerned that unspecified “malicious foreign or domestic actors” would be able to easily spread misinformation and propaganda.

“By blurring the line between fact and fiction, deep fake technology could undermine public trust in recorded images and videos as objective depictions of reality,” the politicians wrote.

Advances in artificial intelligence technologies have allowed researchers to create realistic-looking videos, audio samples, and photos that are actually heavily manipulated. Last year, for example, researchers at the University of Washington, created a video of former President Barack Obama giving a speech that did not actually take place.

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The same deep learning technology that can alter videos without being detected can also be used to create audio clips that sound like real people along with tampered photos that are more convincing than those altered with conventional software like Photoshop. The more believable altered media appears to be, the more easily bad actors would be able to fool the public by spreading fake information, as Russian-linked organizations did on Facebook and elsewhere in prelude to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“You have repeatedly raised the alarm about disinformation campaigns in our elections and other efforts to exacerbate political and social divisions in our society to weaken our nation,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are deeply concerned that deep fake technology could soon be deployed by malicious foreign actors.”

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The politicians’ fears echo similar concerns posed in February by a coalition of researchers from institutions like Oxford University, Cambridge University, and the AI research group OpenAI. Those researchers wrote in a report about AI that malicious actors could create videos of “state leaders seeming to make inflammatory comments they never actually made.”

The House members want U.S. intelligence agencies to assess how foreign governments could use the technology for nefarious purposes and identify possible “technological counter measures” that could detect and deter deep fakes.

Apple's Fall Event: All the New Products

The brand new iPhone Xs (pronounced “tennis,” not “excess”) looks a lot like last year’s iPhone X, with some smart refinements. At 5.8 inches, the Xs is a smallish phone, but it’s all screen—the bezel is barely there. If you want even more screen, there’s also the bigger iPhone Xs Max. Both the Xs and the Xs Max use Face ID, like the iPhone X. They come with dual-lens cameras, 4K video capabilities, and a “smart” HDR feature. Better camera software encourages all kinds of fun stuff, like adjusting depth of field after you take a shot. Sounds cool, looks cooler.

Exclusive: Adobe in talks to buy marketing software firm Marketo: sources

(Reuters) – Adobe Systems Inc (ADBE.O), the maker of image-editing software Photoshop, is in negotiations to buy Marketo Inc, a privately held cloud-based marketing software company, according to people familiar with the matter.

An Adobe Systems Inc software box is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The deal would boost Adobe’s cloud-based software offerings as it takes on larger peers Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Oracle Corp (ORCL.N). Marketo offers business-to-business marketing applications that would compliment Adobe’s marketing business.

Private equity firm Vista Equity Partners Management LLC took Marketo private two years ago for $1.8 billion. Adobe is expected to pay significantly more than that should a deal be reached, the sources said, though the exact amount being considered could not be established.

There is, however, no certainty the talks between Adobe and Vista Equity will lead to a deal, the sources cautioned, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

Adobe and Vista Equity declined to comment, while Marketo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Adobe, which has a market capitalization of $130 billion, has topped analysts’ profit and revenue estimates for the past eight quarters, driven by strength in its digital media business, which houses its flagship product Creative Cloud.

The San Jose, California-based company has been actively exploring possible acquisitions. In May, it agreed to buy e-commerce services provider Magento Commerce from private equity firm Permira for $1.68 billion, in a move to bolster its Experience Cloud business.

Marketo was started in 2006 as an email marketing service and is based in San Mateo, California. Last year, it generated revenue of approximately $321 million, according to credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service Inc.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Emelia Sithole-Matarise