Tuesday, September 17, 2019

NEW INC MAGAZINE BLOG POST BY KAPLAN INSTITUTE EXEC DIRECTOR HOWARD TULLMAN


Please Don't Cast Any Heroes for Theranos
Will Elizabeth Holmes be portrayed as some kind of heroic failure in the upcoming movie about her scam-ridden startup? It would be so Hollywood to do so-- and so wrong. We need to teach entrepreneurs better lessons.

Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology

Before the Hollywood myth-making machine cranks into high gear and--in the latest example of tech/financial porn--Jennifer Lawrence helps transform the crooked Theranos troll Elizabeth Holmes into some lip-glossed go-getter whose wonderful dreams sadly got waylaid by a slimy Svengali or an evil cabal of manipulative VCs, we need to get real. We need to take a few minutes to recall just how low and sleazy a story this was and still is. We need to remember how many sick and suffering patients were victimized by this immoral and greedy pseudo-scientist and ersatz entrepreneur and her aggressive host of enablers. We need to learn the almost Biblical lessons (before the movie bursts on the scene) and intelligently apply them as we try to put this sad saga behind us.

Unfortunately, whatever we do, an embarrassingly large number of prospective entrepreneurs and wannabes will be more influenced by the flash and jazz of the flick than by the facts and the injustices and injuries of this flagrant fraud.
My greatest fear, given that no movie ever makes a bundle with an ending that's either open-ended or a depressing downer, is that teams of well-paid and pathetically untalented scriptwriters will try to contort this already painfully truer-than-fiction saga into some kind of watered-down and confused morality tale.  Or, worse yet, into some lament about a poor and tortured soul whose well-meaning attempts at empowerment (and, incidentally, at saving the world) went slightly astray and more's the pity.

I have no problem with heroic failure. I just can't abide attempts to rewrite history and justify what was - almost from Day One - a consistent and intentional plan to manipulate a willing media always looking for a new "star, " as well as deceive and ultimately embarrass hundreds of compliant and oblivious medical professionals.  And, ultimately, to enrich a small group of criminals, not to mention making it harder than ever for honest inventors and start-up entrepreneurs to overcome the enormous obstacles that make innovation in medicine so very difficult, time-consuming and costly.  

In any event, it's important to talk about a couple of important distinctions that I expect to see cropping up both as regards Theranos, but more critically, with regard to the very next round of similar situations, which are always just around the corner. Not dwelling on yesterday's wins or losses is a key start-up success factor, but promptly forgetting the sins of the past or thinking that we're too smart to fall for them is a guarantee of more pain to come. These handy excuses and convenient justifications for bad behavior fall into what I could call the gross rationalization category. As the adrenaline mounts and the excitement builds, so, in too many cases, does the arrogance and the growing belief that for whatever precious reason, crucial cause or momentous mission, the ordinary rules just don't apply.

Here are a few of my favorites:

(1)  Exceptional People Deserve Special Concessions

We hear this all the time and there's no reason to expect that the hero worship and clamor will cease any time soon. Because it's a staple of the media's fixation with looks, luxe and the resultant laissez faire attitude that almost anything goes as long as you do it with style and don't get caught doing anything déclassé. No one has erred more gravely and yet recovered more fully than Kanye, whose complete redemption following his MTV mic grab from poor Taylor Swift has probably amazed even Yeezus himself. But, it's in the "tech" space, if you can call WeWork, for example, a technology story, where the wonders and the overreaching never end. Adam Neumann moved swiftly into the momentary "bad boy" vacuum left by Uber's Travis Kalanick and grabbed hundreds of millions of dollars right before the "soon-to-maybe-never-be" WeWork IPO. And, like the licking dog, he did it because he could and because no one in the company had the guts or the ability to tell him not to. These things don't really happen entirely on their own-- they happen because we encourage them and tolerate them far too long and far too often.

(2)  Parsing the Pieces is Pitiful

As astonishing as it seems, we're already hearing that the Theranos scandal was especially bad and unforgivable because it involved medical technology and impacted real human beings. The unstated corollary seems to be that, if this were just a bunch of flat-out falsehoods and fake test results about some other kind of technology or a different business model, then that behavior might have been relatively okay because - after all - everyone in the Valley lies about almost everything. "Fake it 'til you make it" is just a part of the accepted and crooked code of behavior; if you're duped, it's mostly shame on you. This seems to me to be a lot like trying to pick up the clean end of a shit stick. In the real world, these things are pretty black and white, and the truth isn't a sometime thing. 

(3)  Defending the Indefensible is Delusional

But the worst set of excuses, exceptions and explanations are those which suggest that ahead of every enterprising entrepreneur awaits a series of virtually irresistible snares, sinkholes and seductions intent on pulling even the best of them down the slippery slope into fraud and outright criminality - all in the name of building a great business. Cutting corners, telling half-truths, forgetting a few awkward details or unseemly results is how you do business in the start-up world. How could you really expect them - in the midst of such an important and game-changing crusade - to take the time to follow the rules and do the right things?
Watching Elizabeth Holmes on stage late in the game--when the jig was largely up-- blatantly lie to fawning interviewers isn't a study in someone missing a few dotted I's and crossed t's. Hers was a coolly calculated and consistent long-term plan to fool everyone for as long as possible and in every way possible. The more anyone tries to explain it away, the more we just encourage new inventive attempts to find questionable and quasi-legal shortcuts, fix or evade the rules and pull off other scams.

We're seeing kids' lungs destroyed and people starting to die from vaping, and the scumbags pushing and promoting these products, primarily to kids, are claiming in full page ads in the New York Times that the medical problems are due to black market knockoffs and other inferior products. Surely it couldn't be their disgusting, nicotine-addiction devices. They're running another version of the Theranos race and they'll keep it up until someone has the guts to cry "foul" and shut them down.     
And let's not forget to put the moronic mothers and path-paving dads who bribed their kids' ways into college into this category as well. You already hear chatter all day long about how well-meaning these affluent parents are and how they simply lost control and fell into the clutches of evil and venal men. After all, how bad could they be if they're regularly on TV? Let's give them two weeks of reflection time (with a little sunbathing tossed in) in a spa-like detention center and call it a day. After all, they meant well. Right?

PUBLISHED ON: SEP 17, 2019



Sunday, September 15, 2019

Alexa, how can we stop becoming dehumanized?

Loop North News
63 °Rain
Howard Tullman
Alexa, how can we stop becoming dehumanized?

We have all benefitted from the wonders of smartphones, algorithms, and a gig economy that puts people at our disposal on an app’s notice. But we seem to have stopped noticing the people.

15-Sep-19 – It seems to me that we hear more tales all the time about the accelerating changes in social behavior and business etiquette brought about by the many ways that new disruptive technologies saturate our lives. Tech today is realistically unavoidable, critical to our livelihoods, shamefully extractive, and obviously manipulative. And, of course, utterly addictive.

We’re all suckers for the stuff and all we ask in return is that it work smoothly most of the time. But we need to ask a lot more of these new tools and of ourselves because the long-term impact of the incremental – and seductive – changes they’re making in our daily activities is beginning to undermine our mental and physical health and how we relate to each other. Vaping is killing kids, social media is screwing up their psyches, product and service quality yields every day to convenience and comfort.
Most of the systems and solutions, such as the state and federal regulatory agencies, that theoretically protected us in the past are broken or corrupted. You’d think that if they were doing their jobs at all, we wouldn’t have gas stations selling CBD snake oil and every kind of vaping device imaginable to all comers.

For all that these new platforms and programs were intended to help connect us, improve our access to knowledge, and bring us all closer, what we’re seeing instead is nothing of the sort. When Lady Gaga calls social media “the toilet of the Internet,” she’s not just talking trash – she’s reflecting the realities of a tech-enabled medium that’s largely out of our control. One whose unintended consequences are just now beginning to be understood.

But social media is just one simple and relatively obvious symptom of the much broader set of concerns and changes we are facing. While many of these enhancements are quite compelling and relatively easy to incorporate into our activities, they are also very hard to abandon, restrict, or limit to their ideal use cases once they are launched and sent into the wild.

We know that we’re all captives today of a growing set of tools, networks, and platforms – operated by a very few private entities – that are already largely beyond our power to fully control or regulate. The prospect and promise of tech augmentation – constantly enhanced and expanded capabilities in so many areas – is both exciting and frightening at the same time. Once you’ve seen the prospective freedoms of the future, your perspective and your attitudes are unalterably changed in many ways and there’s no going back.


Rawpixel Ltd.In addition, competitive and, increasingly, global business considerations, changes in market conditions and financial circumstances, and constantly increasing user and consumer expectations of bi-directional speed, immediate access, and cost-effective solutions are accelerating many of these changes.


If you want to stay and play in the game, you have no choice but to try to keep up.
It’s also human nature to fall in love with the functions and features of any new shiny thing and overlook the flaws, trade-offs, and failures that are always present as well. In our entrepreneurial and naive enthusiasm for constant change, we foolishly and too often believe that over time, everything gets better and that trees actually grow to the sky. The fact is that some of these emergent issues can get better and be dealt with in straightforward ways, but only if we recognize that they need to be addressed.

A simple everyday example: In inter-generational business meetings, we have a new protocol to protect our eager young team members from running afoul of their elders, one which requires us to explain to the old folks that the newbies often take their meeting notes on their phones instead of on the old foolscap paper legal pads we all used in our youths. If we don’t explain this at the outset, the uninitiated will quickly conclude that the kids are checking their email and texts or updating their social profiles and news feeds instead of paying attention to the business at hand. It doesn’t matter how diligent you’re trying to be if the geezer sitting across from you thinks you’re shopping, socializing, or checking out sports results.

This is more about clear explanation and communication than anything else, but it’s amazing how often these kinds of confusing situations lead to unfortunate outcomes because we don’t take the time to get things squared away at the outset. As we always say about hacking, it’s happened in your business, it’s just that you may not have realized or discovered it yet.

Also, it’s clear that you can’t start too soon. The growing adoption of voice as the principal interface for the command/control systems of the smart home and smart car has us growing more and more accustomed to no longer talking through machines to other people, but instead talking simply to the machines themselves.
A new generation of children take Alexa and Siri inquiries and the “living” interactive devices in their homes for granted. The only open question you might ask their parents is whether they are teaching their kids to say “please” and “thank you” when they make their demands for songs, stories, or other social interactions with these systems. If they aren’t taught some basic courtesy when they’re toddlers, they’ll be absolute tyrants to their teachers by the time they get into school. We already know that their slightly older and inordinately entitled siblings demonstrably have only the most fleeting acquaintance with the concept of gratitude, so that boat may have already sailed. And, if we’re not at least a little bit attentive and responsive to the next group coming down the pipe, they may turn out to be even worse.
But to me, the harshest and most dehumanizing risk we face from technology is the resultant interpersonal disconnection.


We’re starting to regard workers in the gig economy – ridesharing drivers most of all – as mere extensions of our phones or, worse yet, as drone drivers to be summoned as and when we wish.Adobe Stock


It’s frightening how little person-to-person interaction is actually required to take an Uber or Lyft from place to place. Honestly, but for the very modest and tiny driver’s images that appear on screen – mostly for liability reasons – there could just as easily be a trained chimp sitting in the front seat. Taking directional instructions from their own mobile device or, to hear tell in the near AV future, no one driving at all. Somehow, I keep hearing Bruce Springsteen singing about evolution in Part Man, Part Monkey in the background.

Here again, the choice is in our hands but only if we extend ourselves and try to stem the powerful tech tide. It doesn’t take much to make a difference and to help make a little daylight in someone’s day – even for just a few moments – and to change a rote and robotic experience into a few shared minutes of connection. You don’t have to decide to sit with the driver in the front seat or become his or her next best friend. You just need to invest a few minutes of conversation, make some eye contact, and offer a smile or two to change the nature of the whole experience.

As our world gets bigger, broader, and more automated – canned and clickable suggested responses to texts and emails are my latest favorite examples – we have to be extra careful to understand the value and importance of individual connections and conversations and how quickly and easily these new technologies can wash away the warmth and even the perceived worth of others we encounter daily.
The way we treat the people we barely know and may never see again will have a lot to do with the world we’ll see in the future and whether it’s a place we really want to be a part of. Even if you’re super busy, multi-tasking, and frazzled – and who isn’t – you can still invest a few moments to be “present” and to pay attention to the people you meet. Your time and attention are much more important than the amount of your tip.


Howard TullmanHoward Tullman is General Managing Partner for G2T3V, LLC – Investors in Disruptive Innovators, and for Chicago High Tech Investors, LLC. He is also executive director of Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship at Illinois Institute of Technology. And the author of You Can’t Win a Race With Your Mouth: And 299 Other Expert Tips from a Lifelong Entrepreneur.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Harper Reed at the Kaplan Institute


New INC. Magazine Blog Post by Kaplan Institute Exec Director Howard Tullman


Alexa, How Can We Stop Becoming Dehumanized?
We've all benefited from the wonders of smartphones, algorithms, and a gig economy that puts people at our disposal on an app's notice. But we seem to have stopped noticing the people.

Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology


It seems to me that we hear more tales all the time about the accelerating changes in social behavior and business etiquette brought about by the many ways that new disruptive technologies saturate our lives. Tech today is realistically unavoidable, critical to our livelihoods, shamefully extractive and obviously manipulative. And, of course, utterly addictive. We're all suckers for the stuff and all we ask in return is that it work smoothly most of the time. But we need to ask a lot more of these new tools and of ourselves because the long-term impact of the incremental, and seductive, changes they're making in our daily activities is beginning to undermine our mental and physical health and how we relate to each other. Vaping is killing kids, social is screwing up their psyches, product and service quality yields every day to convenience and comfort. Most of the systems and solutions, such as the state and federal regulatory agencies, that theoretically protected us in the past are broken or corrupted. You'd think that, if they were doing their jobs at all, we wouldn't have gas stations selling CBD snake oil and every kind of vaping device imaginable to all comers.

For all that these new platforms and programs were intended to help connect us, improve our access to knowledge, and bring us all closer; what we're seeing instead is nothing of the sort.  When Lady Gaga calls social media "the toilet of the Internet", she's not just talking trash; she's reflecting the realities of a tech-enabled medium that's largely out of our control. One whose unintended consequences are just now beginning to be understood.

 But social media is just one simple and relatively obvious symptom of the much broader set of concerns and changes we are facing. While many of these enhancements are quite compelling and relatively easy to incorporate into our activities; they are also very hard to abandon, restrict, or limit to their ideal use cases once they are launched and sent into the wild.

 We know that we're all captives today of a growing set of tools, networks and platforms (operated by a very few private entities) that are already largely beyond our power to fully control or regulate. The prospect and promise of tech augmentation - constantly enhanced and expanded capabilities in so many areas - is both exciting and frightening at the same time. Once you've seen the prospective freedoms of the future, your perspective and your attitudes are unalterably changed in many ways and there's no going back.  In addition, competitive (and increasingly) global business considerations, changes in market conditions and financial circumstances, and constantly increasing user and consumer expectations of bi-directional speed, immediate access and cost-effective solutions are accelerating many of these changes. If you want to stay and play in the game, you have no choice, but to try to keep up.

It's also human nature to fall in love with the functions and features of any new shiny thing and overlook the flaws, trade-offs, and failures that are always present as well. In our entrepreneurial and naïve enthusiasm for constant change, we foolishly and too often believe that, over time, everything gets better and that trees actually grow to the sky. The fact is that some of these emergent issues can get better and be dealt with in straightforward ways, but only if we recognize that they need to be addressed.

A simple everyday example: in inter-generational business meetings, we have a new protocol to protect our eager young team members from running afoul of their elders, one which requires us to explain to the old folks that the newbies often take their meeting notes on their phones instead of on the old foolscap paper legal pads we all used in our youths. If we don't explain this at the outset, the uninitiated will quickly conclude that the kids are checking their email and texts or updating their social profiles and news feeds instead of paying attention to the business at hand. It doesn't matter how diligent you're trying to be if the geezer sitting across from you thinks you're shopping, socializing or checking out sports results. This is more about clear explanation and communication than anything else, but it's amazing how often these kinds of confusing situations lead to unfortunate outcomes because we don't take the time to get things squared away at the outset. As we always say about hacking, it's happened in your business; it's just that you may not have realized or discovered it yet.

Also, it's clear that you can't start too soon. The growing adoption of voice as the principal interface for the command/control systems of the smart home and smart car has us growing more and more accustomed to no longer talking through machines to other people, but instead talking simply to the machines themselves. A new generation of children take Alexa and Siri inquiries and the "living" interactive devices in their homes for granted. The only open question you might ask their parents is whether they are teaching their kids to say "please" and "thank you" when they make their demands for songs, stories or other social interactions with these systems. If they aren't taught some basic courtesy when they're toddlers; they'll be absolute tyrants to their teachers by the time they get into school. We already know that their slightly older and inordinately entitled siblings demonstrably have only the most fleeting acquaintance with the concept of gratitude, so that boat may have already sailed. And, if we're not at least a little bit attentive and responsive to the next group coming down the pipe, they may turn out to be even worse.

But, to me, the harshest and most dehumanizing risk we face from technology is the resultant interpersonal disconnection. We're starting to regard workers in the gig economy - ride-sharing drivers most of all - as mere extensions of our phones or, worse yet, as drone drivers to be summoned as and when we wish. It's frightening how little person-to-person interaction is actually required to take an Uber or Lyft from place to place and honestly, but for the very modest and tiny drivers' images that appear on screen (mostly for liability reasons), there could just as easily be a trained chimp sitting in the front seat taking directional instructions from their own mobile device or - to hear tell in the near AV future - no one driving at all. Somehow, I keep hearing Springsteen singing about evolution in "Part Man, Part Monkey" in the background.

 So, here again, the choice is in our hands, but only if we extend ourselves and try to stem the powerful tech tide. It doesn't take much to make a difference and to help make a little daylight in someone's day - even for just a few moments - and to change a rote and robotic experience into a few shared minutes of connection. You don't have to decide to sit with the driver in the front seat or become his or her next best friend. You just need to invest a few minutes of conversation, make some eye contact, and offer a smile or two to change the nature of the whole experience.

 As our world gets bigger, broader and more automated-- canned and clickable suggested responses to texts and emails are my latest favorite examples-- we have to be extra careful to understand the value and importance of individual connections and conversations and how quickly and easily these new technologies can wash away the warmth and even the perceived worth of others we encounter daily.
The way we treat the people we barely know and may never see again will have a lot to do with the world we'll see in the future and whether it's a place we really want to be a part of. Even if you're super busy, multi-tasking, and frazzled -- and who isn't -- you can still invest a few moments to be "present" and to pay attention to the people you meet. Your time and attention are much more important than the amount of your tip.

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