Apple is gay.  But not as gay as the world needs it to be.

When Tim Cook came out to the media as gay I was not surprised.  We all knew that Apple products were disproportionately favored by gays.  The statistics occasionally cropped up and then disappeared in a very…Apple sort of way.  A very “gay” sort of way in fact if you wanted to use a crude and unfair generalisation in terms of stereotyping 5-7% of the world population and the richest corporation in the history of homo sapiens.  Interestingly enough that is about the market share of Apple products globally. (If you add smartphone and computers it may be a bit less but both kind of statistics are really hard to nail with any precision.)  Apple is the perfect demonstration of how hypocritical a gay CEO can be when he is the one in a position of power.

 

We don’t know exactly how many people on the planet are homosexual.  And to be honest, we shouldn’t really care. I have walked Gay Pride marches enough to know that all my gay friends, and the friends of their friends are a fantastically varied collection of human beings.  In fact I don’t even think classifications help. There is no “gay meter”, human sexuality is a wonderfully complex thing, nobody is completely “straight” and what people fantasize about or do in terms of their sex life is nobody else’s business.  It shouldn’t even be mentioned in business.

 

Oh wait.  Actually it is.

 

One of the biggest, most consistent and absolutely fair demands of all of us who believe in equal opportunities, is the push for fair pay.  I want my daughter to get paid as much as a man when she works doing a similar job. Hey Siri, is this true in Apple regarding gay employees?  Hmmm…no response, eh? I want my kids to grow up in a world where we don’t need quotas in upper management. Hey Siri, are there disproportionately more gays in Apple?  Siri won’t tell you.  Apple won’t tell you. It is their right after all not to tell you.  But why is nobody asking? We ask about all sort of other groups of people.  We do our politically correct best to help minorities of every kind.  We read and write about how a corporation needs a coherent mission and values.  If Apple is more camp than others why is not openly projecting it?

 

It seems rather impressive that we can #meToo ourselves until we are blue in the face and turn a blind eye to this opportunity.  If Tim Cook was a Yankees fan, when he met the President of the USA, we would read “and they joked about the game”. If the CEO of the richest corporation in the history of humanity was married to a woman we would probably see her at his side there too.  Through a combination of good timing and the all powerful Apple PR machine, since he bravely came out openly as gay however we have heard almost nothing.  A few carefully planned and executed, possibly paid for, high profile, profiles about it then. And since? Is Tim Cook in some way obligated to bring up LGBT issues since he has the ear of the world?  Should he be doing more?

 

Of course it is a personal choice.  And he should have the right to a private life.  Other CEO keep their families away from the media.  But the case of Apple and Tim Cook is a remarkable demonstration of the limits of selective political correctness, the limits of #metoo type of approaches and our extremely hypocritical approach to demands for transparency and “the truth” about our world.

 

The mythology of the Greek crisis

If you have any Greek friends you have probably heard the yarns.  The terrible harsh measures imposed on Greece “for the banks”.  Global capitalism eating up it’s children like Saturn and not a Zeus in sight to fight back.  Even Alexis Tsipras, the communist trained youngster, couldn’t do a Hermes on them.  He talked the talk and then somersaulted into submission signing one after another Memorandum of Understanding.  The “sold off Greece”, “mortgaged our future” and many other horrible things.   According to most Greeks it was either “the Germans making money off us” or “the EU making an example of us”.  According to conspiracy theorists it is “the beginning of a global economic meltdown.”

Let me help you with some facts.

  1. Greek business is, in general, crap.  “Crap” being a term I use in the strictest sense to denote lazy and unorganized.  Greece doesn’t really produce anything.  As a consultant I see a lot of companies “insides”.  Even those that appear to be healthy or export orientated are usually dependent on lazy government contracts one way or another.  There is no “private sector” really because even companies that don’t belong to the government, end up making most of their money directly or indirectly from the government.  Worse still, there is no major improvement.  If someone gave us a gazillion billions to pay off all our debt we would simply slide into debt immediately again.
  2. The myth about Greek civil servants still holds true.  Don’t look at official figures.  When the latest government of pseudo left incompetents took over, my father declared “well, they have no money to give away, so at least they can’t hire loads of new civil servants.”  Many people, usually like my father no longer well connected to developments, believe this.  The truth is that this government has continued with gusto in the age old Greek tradition of giving jobs for votes.  They just find new ways.  We have consultancy positions, committees and dozens of other ways to give money to have people dependent enough to vote for them again.  It is the PASOK know-how.  (A lot of PASOK went into the current government.)
  3. Greeks are still living the good life, they just complain more.  We have all taken a hit and it is true that some luxury items like expensive cars or international travel have been scaled back.  It is also true that people on the edge of poverty are worse off.  But the picture is not so clear.  Hospitals are worse off, lacking essentials very often, but most people find a way to get either private health care or some in between solution.  Doctors working in public hospitals abuse expensive machinery on the side for example.  Bus travel is virtually free as there are never ticket inspectors.  You hardly ever see anyone with a ticket anymore.  Most Greeks still own the house they live in and their summer house and possibly a flat or two in the city which they rent out or AirBnb on the side.  How many Germans have that?

I have written before about the many signs that Greeks are still wealthier and lazier in economizing than most Europeans.  Things like the lack of used goods stores or the price of coffee. Greeks still top charts on rates of spending on personal care or plastic surgery.   Supermarkets recently started charging for plastic bags and there was an uproar.  Old habits die hard.  You still don’t see too many people with carrier bags.  We just take plastic bags from the vegetables section and use them!  The “average American” we all like to make fun of, has infinitely more financial literacy than a Greek.  We don’t spread risk, or count investments or move money, here is a conversation with your average Greek about debt.

No, that sort of thing is for “stupid foreigners.” We just wait for the next Euro idiot to give us more money to share.

The fallacy of collective brainpower

I was 12 or 13 years old when I came across “The crowd”.  It was in Greek and must have belonged to one of my many intellectual cousins.  The subtitle reads “a study of the popular mind” and I couldn’t put it down.  We were guests at my aunt’s house and I read it all before we left.   No matter it was written in the late 19th century; this was fresh and relevant!   While other kids listened to Simon LeBon of Duran Duran, I thought of Gustave LeBon’s amazingly relevant book.  Had never seen it again until recently when I got a copy in English.   And I juxtaposed it with “the Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki written more than a hundred years later and full of examples about Wikipedia and crowdsourcing and how 100 bricklayers can make a better decision than a consultant that gets paid 20,000 per hour.

But Gustave was right.  I grew up checking his conclusions against my reality.  I could see it at my school.  When enough kids get together, they turn into animals.   I could see it across the street in the early 80’s, as Andreas Papandreou, that master of deception, spoke with simple slogans while stealing billions.  When you get enough people together, they lose their capacity for critical thinking, they “go down several rungs in terms of civilization” as he says.  There is no sense of personal responsibility.  Simple slogans, repeated again and again.  Music, images, emotion.  There is no wisdom in this sort of crowd.

I love what companies like Google are doing with our collective data.     I gladly give them access to almost everything I think and do in exchange for their amazing tools.  They make my life much much better.  Yet it is clear that this is not the product of evolution in our civilisation, nor the inevitable course in technology developing.  It is a fortunate respite from a kind dictator.   All these great ideas about the collective wisdom we could develop with technology depend on a kind central hub allowing them to work.  Or, as Surowiecki puts it, we need independence of opinion, decentralization and diversity before we even get to the matter of aggregation.

Our current tech boom is to a large extent an acceptance of failure.   Companies that establish massive followings define the terms, give away stuff and up the ante in terms of infrastructure.    You reward them by buying their stock.  Or by making small companies whose sole aim is to be bought out by the giants.  In the words of LeBon ” every civilisation is the outcome of a small number of fundamental ideas that are very rarely renewed. (…) At the present day the great fundamental ideas which were the mainstay of our fathers are tottering more and more. They have lost all solidity, and at the same time the institutions resting upon them are severely shaken.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

English uber alles: the language digital divide

Google assistant is fantastic.  Unless you don’t speak English.  In which case it is almost useless.  The whole “Artificial Intelligence” vogue is rather misleading.  Because when I speak to Google Allo I am still using all my experience in computing.  It works great for me because I think like a computer.  I break down my questions into chunks the way I think the computer wants to hear it.  I add qualifiers, words to help the machine understand with more accuracy.  I use terms that are more likely to work.  When we say “natural language” hey, there are classifications.  I use “natural language more likely to be understood by Google”.  It drives others crazy.  They blame my perfect accent.  “But I said the same thing!  Why doesn’t it work for me?”  

 

Here’s the problem.  Google and pretty much everyone else in Silicon Valley, they are all only thinking in English.  Your Amazon Echo is designed for native English speakers.  (Pun intended.)  All your gadgets are.  Worse still, the intelligence is designed around people thinking  in English.  All the structure, the concepts, the way it is set up.  It is rather entertaining how some people get caught up with the fact that slang and tech words are conquering the world.  That is the tip of the iceberg.

 

Silicon Valley is moving ahead of the rest of the planet with leaps and bounds.  Light years ahead.  We don’t have local information.  We can’t use amazon like you do.   We can’t pay for stuff or call a self driving car.  Amazon will not be able to deliver to the trunk of my car either.  The United States are a test bed for new tech and the gap with everyone else will grow exponentially.  And only in 2030, when computers are smarter than humans, maybe, just maybe, those computers may decide to develop all these wonderful tools for the rest of the earthlings.    And even then it will take a lot of work.  Because English is the language that provides the structure and concepts.  More likely that you will have all learnt to think like Google by then. 

 

2030 is still material for science fiction.  Today, now, it is clear that we all have to move to the Valley or fall behind.  We have neither the data with which to develop such advanced tools, nor the number crunching power.   The entire planet sends their thoughts to Google every day  Out position, habits and preferences.  It is no conspiracy theory, it is simple mathematics.  Not impossible to catch up, just really really hard.

Apple’s (real) product recalls and Brad Pitt’s (alleged) whores

If you Google “apple product recall” you get less than a page of results.  That is peculiar, isn’t it?  Try searching for “recall history” or anything like that and you more or less get the Google equivalent of “what you are looking for does not exist in this galaxy”.  So then being Greek, I use the terms  “ανάκληση προϊόντων Apple” and get 32 thousand results.  Obviously the propaganda masters at Apple don’t bother with Greece.  Much like Apple support doesn’t bother with Greece and other “minor” markets.  They just rely on the well documented pro Apple journalist bias.  If I want a more serious and organised list of Apple product recalls, I can go for the United States to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  That gives me many many more Apple product recalls.  And that is when you realise it is not just that Apple users are fanatics.  The company puts a lot of PR effort in making information disappear.    As it lobbies Washington to fight Samsung with legal fines and other restrictions.

PR and lobbying are of course well established form of corporate action.  Will Apple get fined for the whole Irish tax debacle?  Of course they won’t.  Hold up a bit with all the emotionally appealing “think different” adverts of us all flying about in the perfect future, white clothes, white background, white devices and white hoverboards.    Earlier this year Apple recalled  iPhones, iPads, iPods and Mac computers sold from 2003 to 2015.  And you think Samsung is the problem?  They admitted to 12 “incidents” which means that there were probably hundreds.  It is rather entertaining to watch liberal America up in arms against the “irrationality” of Donald Trump.  He lies in your face, changes views, claims the internet as an information source and generally does pretty much whatever he wants with absolutely no attention paid to facts or logic.  Yet “70% of the most active iPhone states vote Democrat“.  So you are accepting irrationality from your phone’s manufacturer, but think it is not OK for a President.

Who is more likely to have had an affair?  Brad Pitt or Stephen Hawking?  A politician or a doctor?  You will make a guesstimate about any of these questions based on your available information.  Do you read gossip magazines often?  Do you work in a hospital and hear rumours of infidelity often?  Apple makes product recall information disappear because it knows you won’t bother to search or think about it as long as I did today.  If I ask you about Brad Pitt again, but this time it is via chat on your cell phone, you will answer even more succinctly if you don’t like typing there.  Especially if you are using the iPhone keyboard which for some ridiculous reason is different from other keyboards on the planet.  As humans we are always looking for shortcuts.

It is the same reason homeopathy has lasted so well despite being complete rubbish with absolutely no results on any level.  (No, not even placebo.)  No matter how much evidence you pile in front of someone they respond “well, one time my son had a terrible rash and it just wouldn’t go…but homeopathy saved him”.   One time, one highly subjective personal experience trumps everything else.  And you can’t outTrump Trump.  Stupidity is unbeatable and we are all terrible judges.  You don’t know if the new iPhone is any good like you don’t know if you are more likely to get hit by lightning, a car or a falling piano this year.  In fact I suggest you are more likely to guess whether Brad Pitt does drugs with Russian prostitutes than to objectively compare an iPhone with a Samsung phone.

It is a bit like a husband-wife argument about who does most around the house.  Each of us focuses on their own contribution.  What it costs each of us in terms of energy.    Apple computer users have put up with the absolutely ludicrous application navigation wheel for years.  When pushed they will claim it is “the best”.  Like iPhone users claimed they didn’t need copy-paste until they got it.  Or two buttons on a mouse until Steve Jobs presented the magic mouse.  They “burned Pentiums to the ground” one month and the next were “using the incredible power of Pentium”.

So leave Brad Pitt alone.   And check those product recall lists before you start talking about Apple.

 

Facebook will help us rebuild Greece

No, Zuckerberg isn’t about to buy Greek debt.  Nor will he set up Research and Development in Crete.     He isn’t even going to call up European leaders and ask them nicely to be kinder on repayment terms.  Facebook is going to help us build consensus.

Most people currently believe that social media achieves the exact opposite.  It is not mass media.   We hide alone and pretend, end up feeling inadequate…and all that kind of thinking which is prevalent right now in research papers.  “Get off social to get happy!” seems to be the accepted wisdom.

But let’s talk about really bad politicians.  We all have some.  My Italian friends simply could not believe what Berlusconi got away with for so long.  Americans are currently worried about Trump but forget they had George Bush, an equally dangerous buffoon, calling the shots for two terms.  The British simply laughed at the idiotic stuff Tony Blair came up with regularly and most African countries are almost used to crazy dictators.   All around the world, people vote for leaders so incredibly stupid, we would not trust them to hold our ice cream, let alone decide our kids’ future.   (More on “Trump, trinkets and the triumph of the twats” here.)

In Greece we have Alexis Tsipras.  I don’t need to run through moronic highlights.  The whole world has had a taste.  Take the worse you have seen or heard about him and just multiply it by a hundred.  He is an absolute idiot.  Uneducated, incapable and brash.  A lethal combination.

What is interesting about this particular clown however is his rise to power and what we did about it.   Many of us could see it coming.  We got on our soap boxes and cried:  “can’t you see?”  They couldn’t see.  He got elected.   Some of us insisted and from Day1 posted all the terrible things they did.  Still, we were the weirdos.  Yannis Varoufakis upped the ridiculous ante.   We were on Facebook about it.   The “let’s give them some time to see what they can do” attitude started cracking.  Some Facebook friends started expressing doubts.

Gradually more and more people turned.   If you are professionally on social media like me, you see a lot of different profiles, a lot of different groups of “friends”.  The arty people seeing their hopes of socialist reforms dashed.   The business crowd feeling the enormous damage done to the economy and the image of Greece abroad.  For a communications guy like me, the signs were glaring, obvious and flashing like bright lights: my country has split up into two social media clans.  On the one side are civil servant and all those directly or indirectly making money from Government.  On the other side the private sector.   We are the schmucks paying the bill.

This is no new divide.  But social media is helping as clear up the situation.   If you are a civil servant you can’t hide it from me in the long term.  A recent Facebook unfriending made this pretty obvious to me.  He is my age, full of energy, similar outdoor interests, also a keen traveller, well read and we agreed on everything.  Even touchy subjects like child rearing approaches.  In politics we had a similar approach, ended up supporting similar parties.   On Facebook it seemed so that is.   And then recently he did it:  he reposted an article that “not all civil servants are evil”.

Like you do on Facebook, I pushed a bit.  It didn’t take much prodding.  He came out and admitted it:   “I am 47, have a wife and a kid now, I will not give up my job security”.    It was the fastest unfriend I have ever done.   Because it was obvious. Sharing anything with him is simply a waste of time.   I live in a global economy and have my kids ready to go to any country in the world necessary for work at a moment’s notice.   Government handouts are not part of this plan.  Business opportunities are always global.   He talks the talk but, like the bloated Greek public sector, will not walk the walk.

Though only half Greek, I love this place.  Greek culture can and should have a bright spot on planet Earth.  But it will not achieve anything while sitting on its butt.  Through Facebook we will unfriend all those civil servants.   We will uncover the hypocrites.  Over time they will give themselves away.  Sooner or later they repost something about Merkel being bad to us, or idiotic pseudo economic conspiracy theories borrowed from a failed ex minister in Australia.   We will build a new consensus and a new idea about what it means to be Greek in the modern world.   One post at a time.   It’s not about living in Greece and it sure as hell isn’t about job security and living off loans.  If there is something special about this great civilisation it has nothing to fear of new technologies, new economies or alien invasions, Jews, Germans and whatever other imaginary enemy lazy Greeks imagine are all working against them.

I hope Argyris quits his job in the civil service and finds something to do in the real world economy some time soon.    (Posting this on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter now, guess he will see it sooner or later.  ; )

 

Trump, trinkets and the triumph of the twats

Next time you meet a dog, try this.  Take a fresh juicy steak and say:  “If you sacrifice this meat, you will earn a special place in Dog Paradise!”  No, a dog will not give a hoot, a steak or half a dry poo for the afterlife or any other such vague idea.  It is a uniquelly human thing to put religion, politics or fantastic creatures of our collective imagination above basic needs.

Sathya Sai Baba was a charlatan who amongst other ridiculous tricks “magically” produced trinkets for his audience.   That was not what they travelled to see him about though.  It was his ideas.   The trinkets were just part of the morning ritual.  A lucky few got to meet with him and be blessed.   Less lucky few suffered his sexual advances.  Silently.  For an idea.

It is our capacity to join forces for big ideas and trinkets that makes us humans such an incredible force to be reckoned with.  No matter what you think of Donald Trump, he has won.  The world is split into Trump lovers and Trump haters and both these groups go to pretty impressive extremes for him.  Much like they would a few centuries ago for their king.  In France they traded the idea of a Sun king for that of a Republicby killing their previous way of understanding how the world was ruled at the guillotine.

What this monumental advance of our species has achieved is to bring idiots like Trump to the forefront.   Twenty thousand years ago, you had to be a good runner, a strong fighter, able at fishing and hunting, fast at fashioning tools and a lot of other things.  Every day.  All the time.  But big ideas in politics and religion brought together more people than ever before, in groups larger than ever before.  And so we could support the twats.

Those with no obvious gift, strength or ability found niches.  You could make a living producing nothing edible.   One clever weird looking man claimed he heard the voices of his ancestors.  In the old days they would have killed him as a misformed baby.  He surely would never get a woman.  Now he had twenty virgins in the next room waiting for him to be sacrificed.

The leader of the clan was no longer the strongest or wisest.  It was the useless fool who insisted no matter what.

When the Greeks met the Greeks and made…Greece

About 2100 b.c. a migrant, cattle-herding, pony-riding people made their way into the Mediterranean land mass that today is called Greece. They entered overland from the north, probably the Danube Basin, but their origins may have been farther northeast, for they spoke a language of the Indo-European linguistic family. Modern philologists believe that the ancestral Indo-European language—whose modern descendants include English, German, Gaelic, French, Farsi, Hindi, and modern Greek—evolved in the fourth millennium b.c. on the plains of southern Russia. This mother tongue then branched into different forms, carried in all directions by nomadic tribes. The group that reached Greece circa 2100 b.c. brought with it an early form of the Greek language. These people can be called the first Greeks.

The land that they invaded was held by farmers who had probably immigrated centuries earlier from Asia Minor, a place with which they perhaps remained linked via an eastward trade network that included the Aegean island of Crete. They apparently knew seafaring and stone masonry—two skills that the nomadic Greeks did not yet have.

But the Greeks were the stronger warriors. They took over the country, probably by violence in the most desirable locales, but elsewhere perhaps by intermarriage (as may be reflected in the many Greek myths in which the hero marries the foreign princess). One apparent sign of conquest is the wrecked remnant of a pre-Greek palace that modern archaeologists call the House of the Tiles, at Lerna on the plain of Argos. Destroyed by fire circa 2100 b.c., this may have been the home of a native ruler who led an unsuccessful defense of the fertile heartland of southern Greece. Yet at certain other sites, archaeologists have found no clear signs of violence—only continued habitation and the abrupt emergence of a new style of pottery, betokening the Greeks’ arrival.

The region that the Greeks now took over—and that would henceforth be their homeland—is a huge, jagged, southward-pointing peninsula, with a coastline stretching nearly 2,000 miles. Beyond its shores, particularly to the southeast, are islands that beckon to sea travelers and traders. Through the peninsula’s center, from north to south, runs an irregular line of mountain ranges, whose slopes in ancient times held forests of oak, beech, and fir— timber for generations of house builders and shipwrights. In a later era, the limestone formations in these mountains would yield marble for sculptors and architects. But the mountains also occupied most of the mainland’s total area, leaving only 20 percent as arable land.
Aside from scattered pockets, the farmland lay mainly in three regions: the plains of Argos, Boeotia, and Thessaly, in southern, central, and northern Greece, respectively. These territories were destined to become early Greek centers of power, especially the region of Argos, with its capital at Mycenae.

The soil of much of Greece is red or orange from clay deposits, which served centuries of potters and sculptors. In ancient times the farmed plains and foothills produced wheat, barley, olives, grapes, figs, and pomegranates— crops that could survive the ferociously hot, dry Greek summer. Summer, not winter, is the barren season in Greece, as in other parts of the Mediterranean. Winters are relatively mild—cool and rainy, but far rainier on the mainland’s western side. The eastern regions, although traditionally densely populated, are blocked by the central mountains from receiving the westerly rainy weather. Athens gets only about 15 inches of rainfall a year; Corfu, on the west coast, has three times that much.

In such a country, where farmland and water supplies were precious, the Greek invaders of circa 2100 b.c. found most of the best locales already settled. The Greeks took over such settlements but kept their pre-Greek names. For that reason, the names of most ancient Greek cities do not come from the Greek language. Names such as Athens, Corinth, and Mycenae are not etymologically Greek; their original meanings are lost in prehistory. Relatively few ancient mainland sites have recognizably Greek names, among them Pylos (“the gate”), Megara (“the great hall”), Chalcis (“bronze city”), and Marathon (“fennel”).

Eventually the Greeks acquired the civilizing arts of the people they had conquered. The Greeks learned shipbuilding, seamanship, and stoneworking—skills at which they excelled. More significantly, they borrowed from the non-Greeks’ agrarian religion, which perhaps involved the worship of a mother goddess and a family of fertility deities. Non-Greek goddesses and beliefs, imported into Greek religion, served to complement and refine the warrior Greeks’ Indo-European-type worship of a sky father and male gods. A new spirituality was born.

Thus in the centuries after 2100 b.c. came the creative fusion of two cultures—one primitive Greek, one nonGreek. To these two elements was added a third: the example and influence of the dynamic, non-Greek, Minoan civilization of Crete. By 1600 b.c. such factors had produced the first blossoming of the Greeks, in the Bronze Age urban society called the Mycenaean civilization.

The excerpt is from “the encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek” (David Sacks) because I find it useful to put things in perspective like that sometimes.  Hint, hint.

The Asian Toad and Google research for business

My friend James is probably the smartest person I know.  Whether he is teaching himself music in order to do the soundtrack to an amazing documentary of his, building innovative mammal free zones in New Zealand, riding a motorbike or in Madagascar fighting the Asian toad.

The what?  When a modern human comes across something unknown, we Google it.  Just like that.  Which means that billions (3.2 billion) of searches a day globally can tell us a lot.  People in the UK search for “toad” more than other countries, but of course there are toad in books, children’s series, music band and all sorts of other things.   Maybe there are opportunities in those for some sort of co-promotion.  The English are followed by Ausies, Americans, Canadians, NZ and …Nigeria?  Following Google searches is a bit like the dictionary game.  I just spent five minutes learning about “The Grasshopper and the Toad”, a short story by a Nigerian, as well as the use of the word “toad” in Nigerian politics.  Which is exactly the sort of peripheral knowledge you need as a business when researching your topic.

For example searches for “toad” have seasonality.  Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be because of some amphibian habit.  For example in the UK, October seems to be the main month for “toad in the hole”, a popular local dish, comfort food for many.  By contrast in the America, searches for “toad” peak every year at May and Arkansas is the state leading in interest.  If you are planning a campaign for the Asian toad, maybe do it in the winter when people so you don’t compete with all the people asking “what is the difference between a toad and a frog?”    In Australia searches for toads are in the Northern territory, don’t waste any ad money elsewhere.

Of course Google “normalises” the data.  Which means they try and mess it up enough so you can’t reverse engineer it, or use it to compete.  Still, with time, even without numbers, you can see that there are more searches for a “horned frog” than an “asian toad”.  You can follow that path too and look for promotional opportunities if you want to.

I picked the example of the Asian Toad on purpose.  If you are using a business problem you are often too close to the topic to explore.  For example searches for “toad” correlate in seasonality in the U.S. with searches for “vinyl siding”, “house paints”, “insects” and “utility trailer”.  Each of these terms merits some online detective work.  Working around the limitations of data provided by Google is actually inspiring.  Searches for “frog” correlate mostly with “garden clogs” in America but while checking this out I discovered “save the frogs”, a poetry competition in Australia which made quite a digital dent in terms of stats.

Searches for “toad” in Australia correlate with the term “religious”.  The search to figure out why this occurs won’t fit in a blog post.  But you see the point:  playing around with Google search data brings new ideas to your project.  It changes priorities by giving new angles.  Something you consider secondary might be a huge business opportunity in a specific segment.    New ideas are born, old ones improved.  We are all essentially trying to build a model of how things work.  Use Google’s model to tweak yours.

It is a big and complex world.  Don’t let your assumptions narrow things down too quickly.  Oh, and check out http://jamesreardon.org/ – tell people about the Asian toad and let’s all do something about it.

What the Oscars and your business can learn from the NBA

Yannis Antetokounpbo is not your average Greek.  Born in a poor neighborhood of Athens.  Nigerian parents.  2.11m tall and with amazing physique, he is a wonder to watch whether it is in the Greek all star game, Team Africa or the NBA.  A young man with a great smile he can get Nigerians, Greek and people from Milwaukee excited.  At the same time!

When Dirk Nowitzki plays in New York, Germans flock to watch him.  Maybe because he won the  German Sports Personality of the Year in 2011, maybe because they knew someone who played with him at Röntgen Gymnasium or maybe because he was the first non American to win the Naismith Legacy Award.  In all, around 100 non American players from 37 countries or territories play in the NBA.

There are young American kids, black, white, yellow or red, buying basketball jerseys with the name “Kristaps Porzingis”.   Ever heard of that name before?   In fact the Latvian player is fourth in jersey sales after Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.    And those names you have probably heard of!

Now let’s compare that to the way Hollywood works.  Another year with protests about no black nominees.   Don’t see many Greeks there.  Nor Nigerians for that matters, or Germans or Latvians.  And you are surprised the ratings are down?   When a young basketball player like Porzingis is truly amazing, it is simply a matter of time before he “ends up” in the NBA.  Family, medical or political conditions can’t stop the process.   As an audience we demand that the best on the planet gather to entertain us.  We want to see how the twenty year old 2.21m power forward can manage against Nowitzki or LeBron.  It is the Gladiator arena of our age, except we pay them well instead of killing them off at the end.

An excellent foreign actor, director or composer is not sure to end up with an Oscar.  In fact he or she might never even make it to feature films.  There is no draft, no preselection, no scouts sending videos to CEOs saying “hey!  You have to watch this and get this kid on the team!”   No detailed statistics about shot percentages, rebounds or blocks per game averages.  Hollywood is a closed club where who you know is more important than what you do.  No surprise then that the old white guys in there tend to select other white people.  There is no mechanism to freshen them up as long as people keep going to the movies.

The National Basketball Association on the other hand is race agnostic.  A team owner who made racist remarks last year was instantly vaporized.  No pseudodemocratic dilly dallying or decision by committee, he was out with the first retweets.    Your business should be more like that.  Not just colour.  Forget degrees, business sense or even attitude problems with the kids you are looking at; focus on anything amazing and unique around you and build a work environment which thrives on it.  Remove obstacles like racism or any such -ism.

The NBA is where the best basketball players in the world gather to complete and put on the best show in the world.  For the entire world.  By the entire world.