20 posts categorized "Books" Feed

A Healthy Democracy Needs Healthy Journalism

As the election year continues, the Bill Moyers and Company site provided this reminder and warning from the late reporter and editor Ben Bagdikian:

"In the United States, voters cast ballots for individual candidates who are not bound to any party program except rhetorically, and not always then…. No American citizen can vote intelligently without knowledge of the ideas, political background, and commitments of each individual candidate... No national paper or broadcast station can report adequately the issues and candidates in every one of the 65,000 local voting districts. Only locally based journalism can do it, and if it does not, voters become captives of the only alternative information, paid political propaganda, or no information at all.”


"As regional daily newspapers have shuttered, as local newspapers have downsized, as local radio hosts have been replaced by syndicated “content,” and as old lines of distinction between broadcast and print and digital media ownership have been blurred (thanks to wrongheaded federal legislation, lax regulation, and greed), communities across this country have become information deserts. Voter turnout for local elections is often so dismal that it invites questioning about how cities, villages, and towns are governed — and how those in power are held to account."

The messages are from Bagdikian's book: "Media Monopoly." Yes, journalism must serve the people and not the (rich) few and corporations. A healthy democracy needs robust journalism and not a media monopoly that reports propaganda and entertainment masquerading as hard news.

Market Power: Why You Pay More For Products And Services, Get Less, And Earn Less

During his review of the book, "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few" by Robert B. Reich, Paul Krugman discussed "market power." This is how monopolies (and oligopolies) affect the prices consumers pay for products and services in the marketplace. Mr. Krugman cited several examples of monopolies (and near monopolies) which consumers (and labor unions) should be aware of. First some background:

"Market power has a precise definition: it’s what happens whenever individual economic actors are able to affect the prices they receive or pay, as opposed to facing prices determined anonymously by the invisible hand. Monopolists get to set the price of their product; monopsonists—sole purchasers in a market—get to set the price of things they buy. Oligopoly, where there are a few sellers, is more complicated than monopoly, but also involves substantial market power."

How economists approached the concept of market power:

"Milton Friedman, in a deeply influential 1953 essay, argued that monopoly mattered only to the extent that actual market behavior differed from the predictions of simple supply-and-demand analysis—and that in fact there was little evidence that monopoly had important effects.Friedman’s view largely prevailed within the economics profession... It’s increasingly clear, however, that this was both an intellectual and a policy error. There’s growing evidence that market power does indeed have large implications..."

Some examples of market power to the detriment of consumers:

"... most Americans seeking Internet access are more or less at the mercy of their local cable company; the result is that broadband is both slower and far more expensive in the US than in other countries. Another striking example involves agriculture, usually considered the very model of a perfectly competitive sector... Monsanto, now dominates much of the sector as the sole supplier of genetically modified soybeans and corn. A recent article in The American Prospect points out that other examples of such dominance are easy to find, ranging from sunglasses to syringes to cat food."

Read about more examples. This blog has discussed in detail the monopolist behaviors by Internet service providers, the lack of competition in key markets, proposed legislation to encourage competition to help consumers, blocking efforts by other politicians, and why consumers in the United States pay more and get slower speeds for broadband. Now you have an idea why the big banks have threatened to withhold campaign donations and lobby against credit unions. The big banks want less competition, so they can raise prices.

If you're feeling squeezed by high prices, you are. Middle-class workers are being squeezed where companies with market power both charge higher prices than otherwise for products and service, and offer lower wages (bold added):

"Other evidence points indirectly to a strong role of market power... there is an extensive empirical literature on the effects of changes in the minimum wage. Conventional supply-and-demand analysis says that raising the minimum wage should reduce employment, but as Reich notes, we now have a number of what amount to controlled experiments, in which employment in counties whose states have hiked the minimum wage can be compared with employment in neighboring counties across the state line. And there is no hint in the data of the supposed negative employment effect. Why not? One leading hypothesis is that firms employing low-wage workers—such as fast-food chains—have significant monopsony power in the labor market; that is, they are the principal purchasers of low-wage labor in a particular job market."

Yet, many politicians claim that raising the minimum wage raises unemployment. Now you know that, a) these politicians are protecting the oligarchs and monopolists; and b) why that isn't true. Think of it this way: in a free country, labor unions are a right by employees to band together to gain some power in  the marketplace; just as corporations band together in industry associations employing lobbyists. No wonder most corporations (and their bought politicians) oppose unions.

It doesn't have to be this way. Most people:

"... tend to think of the drastic decline in unions as an inevitable consequence of technological change and globalization, but one need look no further than Canada to see that this isn’t true. Once upon a time, around a third of workers in both the US and Canada were union members; today, US unionization is down to 11 percent, while it’s still 27 percent north of the border. The difference was politics: US policy turned hostile toward unions in the 1980s, while Canadian policy didn’t..."

Hopefully, this has connected the dots for people wanting to understand what is happening in the economy and why. Thanks to both Mr. Reich and Mr. Krugman. What are your thoughts about market power? About Mr. Reich's book? About Mr. Krugman's book review?

History: Mississippi Sovereignty Commission Spied On Citizens And Civil Rights Activists

Mississippi State flag It was arguably the largest government spy program on U.S. citizens prior to September 11, 2001. And, you probably have not heard about it.

The documentary "Spies of Mississippi" describes the structure, goals, and activities of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC) when it spied during the 1950s and 1960s upon more than 87,000 American citizens, mostly civil rights (voting) rights activists, to maintain a White-supremacist controlled government in the state:

"A no-nonsense group called the  Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission has quietly created a secret, state-funded spy agency answering directly to the Governor.  The Commission has infiltrated the civil rights coalition, eavesdropping on its most private meetings, and pilfering its most sensitive documents. The spies’ method of obtaining such sensitive information can be traced to an even more explosive secret known only to a handful of state officials that oversee the Commission and its anti-civil rights spy apparatus..."

Freedom Summer was a campaign during the summer of 1964 to register African-American voters in southern states. Campaign participants included mostly white college students from northern states working with African-American residents in several southern states to register voters. The MSSC, formed, funded, and controlled by the Mississippi state government, was central to using informants and paid investigators to identify, monitor, and track activists, who were often beaten and murdered. The murders received national and worldwide attention in 1963 with the murder of Medgar Evers, the head of the Mississippi NAACP, and in 1964 when three Freedom Summer students went missing. The students' bodies were later found buried underneath a 14-foot earthen dam.

Besides watching the documentary, you can learn more online.The Mississippi Department of Archives And History contains information and documents that describe the MSSC:

"... was created by an act of the Mississippi legislature on March 29, 1956. The agency was established in the wake of the May 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Like other states below the Mason-Dixon Line, Mississippi responded to Brown with legislation to shore up the walls of racial separation. The act creating the Commission provided the agency with broad powers. The Commission's objective was to "do and perform any and all acts deemed necessary and proper to protect the sovereignty of the state of Mississippi, and her sister states... the Commission was granted extensive investigative powers. The governor was appointed ex-officio chairman of the Commission. Other ex-officio members were the president of the Senate, who was vice-chairman of the Commission; the attorney general; and the speaker of the House of Representatives. In addition, the Commission comprised the following members: two members from the Senate, appointed by the president of the Senate; and three members from the House of Representatives, appointed by the speaker. The governor, attorney general and legislators served on the Commission during their tenures in office..."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote that the documentary:

"... is a grim reminder of the depths that Mississippi authorities plumbed in their efforts to subvert the civil rights movement... The film draws on a trove of Commission records, which are available and searchable online thanks to a 1994 court order in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Mississippi... within a few years it had mushroomed into a full-scale spy agency, employing a network of investigators and agents who surveilled civil rights activists, tapped their phones, monitored their meetings, stole sensitive documents, and undermined voter rights efforts. The Commission was ruthless, waging an all-out war against change. Perhaps most painfully, it assembled a cadre of African American informants.. It destroyed the lives of people like Clyde Kennard, a Black Korean War veteran who attempted to enroll at what was then Mississippi Southern College. The Commission orchestrated the planting of evidence used to convict Mr. Kennard of stealing chicken feed. He served seven years in prison. Commission agents also funneled information to local law enforcement (which was rife with KKK members) about student activists who were descending on Mississippi for the "Freedom Summer" of 1964... films such as "Spies of Mississippi" serve two vital purposes: remembrance and reminder. They advance the long project of accounting for America's history of racial subjugation, in brutal detail. They also remind us, in the words of Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson, of the "need to keep us safe from terrorists, but also from ourselves." "

The MSSC highlights the consequences when a government spies upon its citizens without notice, consent, transparency, and accountability; and fails to comply with the U.S. Constitution. The documentary is currently being shown on Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS). The film and the book are available online for purchase and download. Watch the trailer:

4 Reasons Why Your Internet Access Is Expensive And Slow... And Could Get A Lot Worse

Your Internet service is more expensive and slower than necessary. You're probably thinking,  "Really? That can't be. We Americans invented the Internet." Yes, we did. And now, we Americans enjoy second-class Internet service. How did that happen?

Bill Moyers discussed this issue recently during an interview with Susan Crawford, consumer advocate and author of, "Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age:"

"... many other countries offer their citizens faster and cheaper access than [in the USA]. The faster high-speed access comes through fiber optic lines that transmit data in bursts of laser light, but many of us are still hooked up to broadband connections that squeeze digital information through copper wire. We’re stuck with this old-fashioned technology because, as Susan Crawford explains, our government has allowed a few giant conglomerates to rig the rules, raise prices, and stifle competition..."

You're probably thinking,"This can't be. We are the USA. We are number one." Well, we aren't when it comes to Internet access (emphasis added):

"For 19 million Americans, many in rural areas, you can't get access to a high speed connection at any price, it's just not there. For a third of Americans, they don't subscribe often because it's too expensive... It's fair to say that the U.S. at the best is in the middle of the pack when it comes to both the speed and cost of high speed internet access connections. So in Hong Kong right now you can get a 500 megabit symmetric connection that's unimaginably fast from our standpoint for about 25 bucks a month. In Seoul, for $30 you get three choices of different providers of fiber in your apartment... In New York City there's only one choice, and it's 200 bucks a month for a similar service. And you can't get that kind of fiber connection outside of New York City in many parts of the country. Verizon's only serving about 10 percent of Americans..."

And, your wireless phone service should be cheaper, too:

"In Europe you can get unlimited texting and voice calls and data for about $30 a month, similar service from Verizon costs $90 a month..."

Meanwhile, back in the United States:

"... according to numbers released by the Department of Commerce, only four out of ten households with annual household incomes below $25,000 reported having wired internet access at home compared with 93 percent of households with incomes exceeding $100,000..."

So how did things get like this? How did service in the United States become second rate? Moyers and Crawford discussed four reasons:

  1. In most areas, there isn't real competition because there is only one high-speed Internet provider
  2. In many areas, the providers lobbied governments to prohibit local towns and cities from installing high-speed fiber on their own
  3. Internet service providers put their profits ahead of the greater social good, which has widened the digital divide between people who have and don't have Internet access
  4. Many people believe that government intervention is bad, and that the magic of the marketplace would provide competition, low prices, and good services

Crawford explained why the promises of competition and benefits to consumers never happened:

"... because it's so much cheaper to upgrade the cable line than it is to dig up the copper and replace it with fiber. The competition evaporated because Wall Street said to the phone companies, "Don't do this, don't be in this business." So you may think of Verizon and AT&T as wired phone companies, they're not. They've gone into an entirely separate market which is wireless. They're the monsters on the wireless side that control two thirds of that market. So there's been a division. Cable takes wired, Verizon/AT&T take wireless. They're actually cooperating. There's a federally blessed non-compete in the form of a joint marketing agreement between Comcast and Verizon..."

The city where I live, Boston, is a good example. We have a new Mayor, and a lot of city pride (e.g., "Boston Strong"). We want to remain a world-class city, but you can't get fiber Internet access (e.g., Verizon FiOS) in Boston. Comcast is the cable provider for high-speed Internet access. You may have seen television commercials with a well-known actor standing in Boston promoting fiber Internet access. You simply can't be a world-class city without fiber Internet. Period.

Boston is not alone in this situation. According to Crawford, Manhattan (New York City) is serviced by Time Warner Cable. Crawford summarized the mess, which I call collusion:

"[High-speed Internet Service Providers] clustered their operations. It makes sense from their standpoint. “You take San Francisco, I'll take Sacramento. You take Chicago, I'll take Boston.” And so Comcast and Time Warner are these giants that never enter each other's territories."

Wouldn't it be great to have cheap, affordable fiber Internet access everywhere in your town or city? Everyone needs it.

Students need it to learn, do homework, and prepare for jobs in a digital age. Entrepreneurs need it to start up and grown their businesses. Consumers need it to shop, bank, do business, work from home or tele-commute, stay current with news, and enjoy entertainment (e.g., online gaming, television, music, etc.).

It's fair to ask: how many more jobs and new businesses would have been created in your state (or city) if it had fiber Internet access everywhere? Some local towns tried and got squashed:

"In North Carolina a couple of years ago lobbyists for Time Warner persuaded the state legislature to make it almost impossible, virtually impossible for municipalities to get their own utility... And so now North Carolina, after being beaten up by the incumbents is at the near the bottom of broadband rankings for the United States... All those students in North Carolina, all those businesses that otherwise would be forming, they don't have adequate connections in their towns to allow this to happen..."

The result: higher cable and Internet prices. That's great for the service providers; bad for consumers. There is no sugar-coating this, folks. You are seeing monopoly power at work, and it must be stopped.

What's the solution? First, Internet access should be treated like a utility, as water and electricity are. Second:

"... we have to separate out content from conduit. It should not be possible for a local cable actor or any distributor to withhold programming based on volume. That's what's going on... That should not be legal. Everybody should get access to the same stuff at the same price and they should be announced prices."

Third, break up the buddy-buddy closeness between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and industry. This problem is intertwined with net neutrality;  without which you can expect higher prices and even worse Internet access service.

Fourth, the FCC must operate with broader oversight:

"Just yesterday the former chief of staff of the F.C.C. left to be the general counsel of a regulated company. It happens all the time. And so in order to change this you'd have to make regulation of this area not be carried out by such a focused agency. Right now, the F.C.C.'s asymmetry of information is striking. They only talk to the industry. The community is all so close. In order to break that up you'd have to make sure you had a broad based agency seeing lots of different industries."

Fifth, change will happen only when citizens demand it. Contact your elected officials today and demand faster, cheaper Internet access. Demand that they stop the Comcast's acquisition of Time Warner Cable, too. Tell them that industry consolidation will make the situation worse for consumers, not better. Tell them the U.S. Postal Service should be part of the Internet access solution, too -- especially for rural residents.

Therer are some online petitions. Sign them if you want, but I believe it is always best to directly contact your elected officials.

Crawford's book is available online at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Giving Voice to Values Announces Venture With Business Expert Press

Logo for Babson College and Giving Voice To Values The Giving Voice To Values initiative (GVV) announced recently a joint venture with Business Expert Press (BEP) to produce a series of books on Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility. According to the The announcement (Adobe PDF), the goal of the book collection is to provide:

"... practical, solutions-oriented, skill-building approach to the salient questions of values-driven leadership... [and] emphasize research-based practical examples and guidance on how to positively enact values-driven leadership positions, rather than to focus solely or primarily upon ethical debate."

GVV includes both research and a curriculum taught worldwide in higher-education schools worldwide.  GVV is:

"... designed to transform the foundational assumptions upon which the teaching of business ethics is based, and importantly, to equip future business leaders to not only know what is right — but how to make it happen."

The joint venture seeks concise business education books of about 150 pages that target undergraduate, MBA, and executive education students:

"Books may be focused upon a functional area (e.g., Accounting Ethics); an industry (e.g., Ethics in the Financial Sector); a regional area (e.g., Practical Ethics in India); or some combination of the above. Although it is fully expected that some manuscripts may well include a focus upon the theory and analysis of ethical questions, or the history and benchmarks of Corporate Social Responsibility as it has evolved..."

I look forward to hearing more about the GVV/BEP joint venture and the books it publishes. Improved ethics by executives are sorely needed. One doesn't have to look far to find examples of unethical executive behavior, fines, and wrongdoing: JPMorgan Bank, Johnson & Johnson, Moneygram, CVS, government contractors, companies with data breachesemployers that commit wage theft, companies that produce leaky mobile apps, and companies that publish fake online reviews. A 2013 study found that junior banking executives consider wrongdoing an accepted way to advance in their careers.

Logo for Business Expert Press BEP is a leading resource in business education. The company publishes collections of concise, academically sound, and applied books for undergraduate, MBA and executive business education. Books are available in both print and e-book formats.

Interested authors can discuss book ideas with Mary C. Gentile, Director of Giving Voice To Values initiative, Senior Research Scholar at Babson College, and Editor of the GVV/BEP book collection.

Publishers Consider Ways To Further Use Data Collected By E-Readers

While listening to National Public Radio (NPR) in my car on Monday, I heard a very interesting report about how publishers are considering how to further use the data collected by e-readers (e.g., Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook). Specifically, publishers are considering ways to use the data collected to give more detailed feedback to authors.

First some background for those who don't use e-readers, or who use them and haven't read the associated privacy policies. E-readers and e-books are increasing in popularity. Pew Research found:

"One-fifth of American adults (21%) report that they have read an e-book in the past year... 88% of those who read e-books in the past 12 months also read printed books... The average reader of e-books says she has read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by a non-e-book consumer... 30% of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more ... 72% of American adults had read a printed book and 11% listened to an audiobook in the previous year, compared with the 17% of adults who had read an e-book... E-book reading happens across an array of devices, including smartphones...."

About e-books and public libraries, Pew Research found:

"Some 12% of Americans ages 16 and older who read e-books say they have borrowed an e-book from a library in the past year... E-book borrowers say they read an average of 29 books in the past year, compared with 23 books for readers who do not borrow e-books from a library... more than three-quarters of the nation’s public libraries lend e-books... 58% of all library card holders say they do not know if their library provides e-book lending services... 46% of those who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries say they would be “very” or “somewhat” likely to borrow an e-reading device that came loaded with a book they wanted to read... 58% of Americans have a library card..."

Both surveys include plenty more results, but it is clear that consumers would read more e-books if they knew that their public library provided them. The benefits of e-readers are clear:

  • Convenient: can carry with you several books without the heavy weight,
  • Books don't take up shelf space in your home, and
  • E-reader providers can learn your reading habits and recommend similar books.

In 2012, the EFF compared the privacy policies of various e-readers. The disadvantages:

  • Loss of privacy: e-readers collect data about your reading habits and the online searches you performed to find e-books you want to read,
  • Some e-readers collect and track the annotations consumers may make on an e-book text,
  • The privacy policies of some e-readers are vague about exactly what data they collect (e.g., e-book purchases from other sources),
  • Selection may be limited if your e-reader requires a certain format (e.g., AZW, ePub, PDF, RTF, etc.),
  • Many books are not available in e-book format,
  • Most e-readers share your readhing habits with other companies, while some offer opt-out capabilities.

The obvious data collected by e-readers includes the types (e.g., genre) of books downloaded onto your e-reader, when you downloaded e-books, the books read, and your reading patterns (e.g., the types/genres of books read). Other data collected, that you may not be aware of, includes how fast you read a book, which portions of the book you actually read, what e-book you immediately purchased next after completing a specific book (e.g., this probably applies to books in a series), and any annotations you made on the e-book text.

Some consumers may abandon an e-book after reading the first few chapters or a few pages. Some consumers may skip the introduction. Other consumers may read the last chapter first. For a given book, many consumers may skip a common chapter. For example, the Wall Street Journal reported that an average consumer read the third book in the "Hunger Games" series in about 7 hours, or 57 pages per hour.

Now, publishers and authors can know all of this. Publishers consider this data collected an opportunity to provide more feedback to authors. Thankfully, many authors will ignore this feedback and keep the creative process first (e.g., write what they intended regardless). But the data collection continues.

The e-readers with WiFi capabilities (e.g., Kindles, mobile devices, tablets) can combine geolocation data with your reading habits to determine where you read certain books. Whether or not this data collection bothers you is probably a personal choice.

If your reading habits include books about a certain medical condition, then you might be concerned about the loss of privacy. If your reading habits include topics to research a new business venture you have to keep secret until launch, then you might be concerned about the loss of privacy.

One way to think about e-readers: reading a book was historically something you did alone and in private. Not anymore. What's your opinion of e-readers and e-books?

Want to learn more? Try some of these:

Attention All Borders Customers! October 15 Deadline Approaches

Attention all customers of the Borders book chain! The Saturday October 15 deadline approaches quickly.

You must act and opt out by the deadline if you do not want your personal contact information and purchase history transmitted to the company which is buying Borders' assets. According too the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

"... as part of Borders’ sale of assets in a bankruptcy proceeding, Barnes and Noble is acquiring customer information from Borders, including email addresses and purchase histories. Consumers can opt out of having Borders share that information, but they must do it before the October 15 deadline. An email from Barnes and Noble with a subject line that reads “Important Information Regarding Your Borders Account” explains how you may opt out of having your information transferred to Barnes and Noble."

Opt-out information is also available at Borders.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

The Age of Conversation 3 and Water

As you may remember, the Age of Conversation 3 book -- with one chapter written by yours truly -- went on sale in May of 2010. All proceeds from book sales go to a worthy charity. I have some good news and some not-so-good news about that.

First, the not-so-good news. You may recall that Make-A-Wish was the originally intended charity. Sadly, that fell through about some rigid rules MAW had about how we bloggers were to promote it. Then, the #2 charity choice. UNICEF, was uninterested.

The good news: despite these setbacks, a charity was selected and it is charity: water:

"... is a non-profit organization bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations. We use 100% of public donations to directly fund sustainable water solutions in areas of greatest need. Just $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years."

I encourage you to visit their site, watch the video or read the charity: water blog, and then buy the Age of Conversation 3 (AOC3) book if you haven't already. For maximum impact, please buy the book on or before October 15, Blog Action Day 2010. You can buy AOC3 at online retailers including Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble. A Kindle version is also available! For students of social media, AOC3 is a must-have.

We picked Blog Action Day 2010 because the 100 bloggers who contributed to the AOC3 want to support a worthy cause. It doesn't hurt that all bloggers worldwide will discuss on October 15 the same topic: water. You can also follow Blog Action Day feed on Twitter.

I think that we all know the value of clean drinking water. We need it to live. Experts state that about 1 billion people around the planet don't have access to clean water, and 42,000 people die each week from water-borne diseases.

Once again, thanks to our friends at Channel V for their digital publishing and accounting work for AOC3. The AOC3 editors already received the first royalty check of $2,000.00 which was forwarded to charity: water. Watch this video about charity: water:

charity: water 2010 September Campaign: Clean Water for the Bayaka from charity: water on Vimeo.

A Conversation With Mary Gentile, Author of The Book: Giving Voice To Values

At some point during your career, you will encounter a situation where the organization you work for is not doing the "right" thing -- something unethical, immoral, and/or illegal. You know what the "right" thing is but speaking up may be risky or unsafe. Would you speak up about what is right?

Your boss wants to cut corners at the expense of safety. Or, your coworker alters the financial report with fake numbers. Or, a small business owner signs work agreements with subcontractors he has no intention of paying when the invoices arrive. Or, the information technology team skips the implementataion of standard data-security methods. Knowing right from wrong is easy. Speaking your mind about it can be hard if you are feeling pressure from your boss, your coworkers, or your own career concerns.

If you worked at BP or Goldman Sachs, would you have stood up about what is right? If you worked at Heartland, TJX, Checkfree, Facebook, or HealthNet would you have spoken up about what is right about data security?

After making the decision to speak up, what does it take to get heard? How can we be more effective at speaking our mind, and building alliances with like-minded coworkers, so that pressures don't stop you from acting on our values?

Mary Gentile explores these issues in her new book. GIVING VOICE TO VALUES: Speaking Your Mind When You Know What’s Right (Yale University Press; $26; August 24, 2010; hardcover and Kindle). A Babson faculty member, consultant, and director of the Giving Voice to Values curriculum, Mary Gentile shows us not how to decide what’s right or wrong, but the much harder step of how to speak our minds and act on our values when we already know what’s right.

I discussed these issues recently with Mary. I have known her since the mid 1990's when we both worked at the Harvard Business School: she was an instructor and I performed business and economics research in the Research Services department at Baker Library.

I've Been Mugged: What prompted you to write the “Giving Voice to Values” book?
Mary Gentile: I have worked in business education for almost 25 years – ten years at Harvard Business School, fifteen-plus years of independent consulting to business schools globally, and now since 2009 I've been based at Babson College in Massachusetts.

During all that time, I became increasingly convinced that the approach taken most often to business values and ethics in business schools and in corporate training efforts was missing a critical piece. These efforts most often focused on building Awareness of ethical conflicts and on teaching models of ethical Analysis to help managers and employees to decide what the "right" thing to do might be in a particular situation. But there was a glaring absence when it came to teaching about values-driven Action: that is, what to say and do once we knew what we thought was ethical.

And it was this very gap that Giving Voice To Values (GVV) – the book and the curriculum it is based upon -- was designed to fill.

The GVV approach has been catching on quickly and widely. We currently have well over 100 pilot sites in business schools and organizations on six continents. The work has been or is about to be featured in the Harvard Business Review (twice); the Financial Times (twice); strategy+business, BizEd, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and many other publications. Now with the publication of the book, we are excited to see the audience grow further.

Mugged: What are the common traits of organizations that effectively give voice to values and facilitate employees raising unpopular messages?
Gentile: In our conversations with individuals who have voice their values and in our work in business education, we have seen that there is a fairly consistent set of organizational traits that can enable "voice." They are not big surprises: things like, a culture of openness where it's not only acceptable but valued when employees raise their concerns and questions and ideas; managers who listen; a clear statement of organizational mission or purpose, that is broader, bigger and deeper than simply making the quarterly numbers; the sharing of organizational "stories" that celebrate times when individuals expressed their values to good effect. Perhaps the most interesting one is the willingness of leaders to speak openly with their peers and reports about the process they went through to decide and act on their values, not in a bragging or self-celebratory fashion but as a sincere expression of their own learning.

Mugged: What are the common traits of employees and managers at these successful organizations?
Gentile: Well, as I said before, openness; a willingness to learn from each other; a regular appeal to the organization's wider mission as well as their own personal sense of professional purpose. And as we learn from GVV, folks who have thought in advance about the kinds of values conflicts that are predictable in their particular industries and functional areas, and who have anticipated and practiced "pre-scripting" themselves ,are more likely to be able to voice their values when it's necessary. They have, in effect, "normalized" the process of voicing values and have developed the muscle memory necessary to make voice their default position when such situations arise.

Mugged: What are the common traits or habits of organizations that do NOT give voice to values and employees are NOT able to raise unpopular messages?
Gentile: Just as sharing stories of times when managers have effectively voiced their values can help build a culture that enables such behaviors, stories of cutting corners or the celebration of cynicism can disable voice. Remember the prominent stock tickers at Enron which encouraged employees to focus, always and primarily, on the short term stock price. If you want your employees to focus on long term sustainable results achieved in a responsible fashion, then you need to focus on that.

Similarly organizations and managers who don't listen, who punish the messenger, are not likely to hear the messages that can save them for legal and ethical turmoil.

Mugged: Skeptical readers might say that ethics/values are irrelevant; that they don’t contribute directly to company profitability. Obviously you disagree. How do ethics and values relate to profitability and company growth?
Gentile: Well, there are plenty of stories – especially these days – about organizations that have or are paying a price for ethical infractions. Think about Goldman Sachs and the settlement it had to pay in the John Paulson scandal, or BP and the price it is paying for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

But the GVV approach is somewhat different. Too often, discussions of business ethics start from the position that we have to prove that "ethics pays." And as I said before, there are plenty of stories about times when managers and companies have paid a steep price for values transgressions. However, we all also know that folks sometimes get away with such violations.

The point of GVV is to suggest that we all know in our heart of hearts that sometimes ethics pays and sometimes being unethical can pay, at least for a while and at least in monetary terms. But nevertheless, we also know that many of us -– probably most of us -– would actually like to act in alignment with values like honesty and compassion and integrity, if we thought we could do so effectively. That is, we would be more likely to voice and enact our values if we felt more competent at it.

And that is what GVV is all about. I am not focusing on trying to convince someone to be ethical. Rather I'm trying to empower those of us who would already like to act on our values to be better at it. The focus is on "moral competence" more than "moral courage." The seven pillars of the GVV approach – Values, Choice, Normalization, Purpose, Self-Knowledge and Alignment, Voice and Reasons & Rationalizations – each yield a set of insights and tools for achieving this competence.

Mugged: Which sectors (e.g., public/government, private/corporations, nonprofits, academia, NGOs) does your book provide organizational examples about, and why?
Gentile: Most of the examples are from the private sector, although there are a few NGO examples. This is because the work was developed in the business education context. Nevertheless, the scenarios and the skills discussed are widely applicable. I increasingly receive queries from other fields – engineering, medicine, law, liberal arts, NGOs, etc.

Mugged: This blog discusses data breaches (e.g., when organizations fail to protect the sensitive personal data they archive of employees, customers, and former employees) and corporate responsibility (e.g., what those organizations and their executives do, or don’t do, after a breach). In your research, what examples have you seen about data breaches, corporate responsibility, and executive responses?
Many of the examples we have seen have to do with the reporting of financial data which entails similar issues of accuracy, honesty, and responsible handling of information. We also feature a case wherein a hardware producer encounters a potential privacy violation in the re-use of previously owned hard drives. We have another case that focuses on the honest reporting of market research on customer preferences. The pressures and anticipated consequences in all of these situations come down to the same kinds of issues: time pressures; cost pressures; fear of displeasing our bosses. What we have seen in our interviews is that those individuals who actually voice their values in such situations have spent at least as much time focusing on the potential pressures and consequences of failing to act: potential lawsuits; customer defection; actual loss or pain to customers; negative reputational effects, etc.

Mugged: What specific departments or functions (e.g.,, IT, human resources, marketing, finance & accounting, general management, etc.) within organizations does your book discuss, and why?
Gentile: The GVV approach is relevant to all functions because values conflicts arise in many areas but examples in the book and the curriculum include financial management, human resource management, supply chain management, external relations, strategy, internal auditing, marketing, sales, etc.

Mugged: For organizations that are good at giving voice to values, what specific documents or training do these organizations provide their employees?
Gentile: I believe that the more specific and organizationally customized the training can be; the more it involves leadership all throughout the organization (as opposed to being relegated to HR only) and the more it provides opportunities to share positive examples from within the firm and to practice actually scripting responses to common scenarios, the more effective it will be. This is the GVV approach.

Mugged: Many organizations either outsource or offshore outsource their back-office operations to other companies. How has this business practice affected the ability of companies to give voice to values?
Gentile: Well, of course, this practice can complicate the process for several reasons such as the lack of familiarity and comfort with cultural norms and the sheer distances that mean certain behaviors are just not that visible. In the end, however, we have found that these pressures are simply variations on the same kinds of challenges one faces within a domestic organization and the same types of skills and practices are required.

Mugged: When consumers apply for a job at a potential employer, what questions would you suggest they ask during the interview process to determine whether the potential employer is effective at giving voice to values for its employees?
Gentile: Well, you can learn a lot by asking for some stories/examples of leadership behaviors that the firm values highly: for example, you could ask "can you share some examples of things employees in this job (i.e., the one for which you are interviewing) have done that really impressed you? What would you regard as high performance and leadership in this job?" And you can ask "How open is the company and management to hearing from employees about new ideas or about concerns with current practices? Can you share some examples?"

Mugged: Are there any public documents consumers should read about an organization that indicate if that organization is good at giving voice to values?
Gentile: I would always do the usual due diligence, read the company's own preferred language about itself -– website, annual reports, press releases -– but recognize that these are examples of "public speak." So going further to look for interviews with senior management in the business press; business reporting on the firm; investor guidance; consumer complaints; and other public sources of commentary can give you a fuller picture. There is no substitute for talking to current employees, off the record, if you can swing that.

Mugged: We seem to be swamped with many new technologies… smartphones, notebook PCs, cloud computing, social networking sites, distance learning, and similar online services. Is any of this useful or necessary for an organization to effectively give voice to values?
Gentile: Each of these new technologies can be used for good or ill. Just as each of them provides potential opportunities for new ways to deceive or manipulate, they also provide new ways to share positive messages and to keep each other "honest." In the end, it all comes down to the individuals and both their intent as well as their mastery. For those of us who want to voice our values effectively, it is useful to develop as many possible methods of communication as possible. The GVV approach would focus on inviting examples and practice with using these methodologies positively.

Mugged: What do you see in the future for improving organization effectiveness at giving voice to values?
Gentile: I do believe that the more that companies and their leaders provide opportunities for employees to actually practice developing scripts and delivering them, out loud, in a peer coaching context, the more genuine and reliable their efforts at creating a values-driven organization will be. As I speak about the "Giving Voice To Values" approach in more contexts – to both business education as well as practitioner audiences –- increasingly I encounter interest in using this approach.

Age Of Conversation 3 On Sale!

Images of the Age of Conversation 2010 Edition. Hardcover and paperback
Click on the image to view a larger version.

I am pleased to announce that the Age Of Conversation 3 book is available! You can buy the book at online retailers including Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble. A Kindle version is also available! If you want to learn about social media, then this book is a must-buy.

Age of Conversation 3 (202 pages; hardcover; paperback; Kindle; ePub) captures the distinct shift from social media as a hypothetical consumer loyalty tool, as it was considered only a little more than a year ago, to its current state as a staple in the modern marketing toolbox. Although the book covers more than just social media, the topic is ubiquitous among the book’s 10 sections:

  1. At the Coalface
  2. Identities, Friends and Trusted Strangers
  3. Conversational Branding
  4. Measurement
  5. Corporate Conversations
  6. In the Boardroom
  7. Innovation and Execution
  8. Influence
  9. Getting to Work
  10. Pitching Social Media.

Age of Conversation 3 is the third book in the series which started as an online conversation between two marketing pros -- an American and an Australian —- and evolved into the first editions with more than 100 bloggers from nine countries. Today, the latest edition, with more than 170 bloggers from 15 countries, has grown into a treatise on the state of social media including the intersection of social media and marketing best practices.

Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton have edited the latest book, which includes a veritable “who’s who” of the world’s leading marketing bloggers. McLellan heads the McLellan Marketing Group, a Des Moines, Iowa advertising agency, and writes the Drew's Marketing Minute blog. Heaton works for global software giant SAP, and writes the Servant of Chaos blog from Sydney, Australia.

Like the last edition, yours truly has contributed a chapter to the latest edition. Why did I write about? Well, you have to purchase a copy to find out.

Proceeds from the sale of the book are directed to a charity selected by the majority of contributing authors. The book was as published by new digital publishing company Channel V Books. A version of the book will soon be available as an ePub for other digital readers beyond the Kindle.

Meet The Publishers: Age of Conversaton 3

A prior post introduced the authors in the upcoming book. Today, I'd like to introduce the publishers.

But first, a brief background. The editors - Drew McLelland and Gavin Heaton - of Age of Conversation are not professionally-trained publishers, but are bloggers like many of us. Regardless, the Age of Conversation 2 (AOC-2) was a beautiful book, in both paperback and hardcover. Two authors from the AOC-2, Gretel Going & Kate Fleming, started a publishing company called Channel V Books and offered to help publish Age of Conversation 3 (AOC-3).

So, an agreement was reached and Gretel/Kate assumed most publishing duties for AOC-3. According to Drew McClelland, these duties included:

"... in-house management of the entire publishing and marketing processes from start to finish (often working with the author from the beginning to shape the manuscript for his/her audience and create their platforms), and their seamless connection to major online retail distribution channels such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Finally, they handle all royalty and online distribution/fulfillment, which allows authors to focus on personal goals and business objectives, rather than on the business of their book."

AOC-3 Editor Drew McLelland described the benefits of working with Channel V Books:

"They work with business thought leaders who need to publish books in order to promote themselves and their businesses, solidify their credibility and attract new opportunities—but don’t have the time (or desire) to learn and manage the intricacies of the publishing business in the process. Channel V Books bridges the gap between self-publishing and traditional publishing by offering the best of both worlds: the highest production quality, distribution channels, visibility, creative flexibility, ease and, most importantly, profitability."

Thanks Gretel and Channel V Books!

Meet The Authors: The Age of Conversation 3

Age Of Conversation 2010 will be available in April I am happy and excited to announce that the Age of Conversation 3 (AOC-3) is at the publisher for printing! The book will be available sometime during April 2010, and in the following formats: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and iPad.

The theme for the AOC-3: It's Time To Get Busy. The book has a new Web site, thanks to Sticky. The new cover artwork was designed by Chris Wilson.

I am thrilled to introduce you to the talented and insightful social media authors who contributed to the AOC-3 -- of which I am one. As the publication date nears, I will share more information about the book.

Now, take a few minutes and browse the AOC-3 authors' blogs:

Adam Joseph

Priyanka Sachar

Mark Earls

Cory Coley-Christakos

Stefan Erschwendner

Paul Hebert

Jeff De Cagna

Thomas Clifford

Phil Gerbyshak

Jon Burg

Toby Bloomberg

Shambhu Neil Vineberg

Joseph Jaffe

Uwe Hook

Steve Roesler

Michael E. Rubin

anibal casso

Steve Woodruff

Steve Sponder

Becky Carroll

Tim Tyler

Chris Wilson

Beth Harte

Tinu Abayomi-Paul

Dan Schawbel

Carol Bodensteiner

Trey Pennington

David Weinfeld

Dan Sitter

Vanessa DiMauro

Ed Brenegar

David Zinger

Brett T. T. Macfarlane

Efrain Mendicuti

Deb Brown

Brian Reich

Gaurav Mishra

Dennis Deery

C.B. Whittemore

Gordon Whitehead

Heather Rast

Cam Beck

Hajj E. Flemings

Joan Endicott

Cathryn Hrudicka

Jeroen Verkroost

Karen D. Swim

Christopher Morris

Joe Pulizzi

Leah Otto

Corentin Monot

Karalee Evans

Leigh Durst

David Berkowitz

Kevin Jessop

Lesley Lambert

Duane Brown

Peter Korchnak

Mark Price

Dustin Jacobsen

Piet Wulleman

Mike Maddaloni

Ernie Mosteller

Scott Townsend

Nick Burcher

Frank Stiefler

Steve Olenski

Rich Nadworny

John Rosen

Tim Jackson

Suzanne Hull

Len Kendall

Amber Naslund

Wayne Buckhanan

Mark McGuinness

Caroline Melberg

Andy Drish

Oleksandr Skorokhod

Claire Grinton

Angela Maiers

Paul Williams

Gary Cohen

Armando Alves

Sam Ismail

Gautam Ramdurai

B.J. Smith

Tamera Kremer

Eaon Pritchard

Brendan Tripp

Adelino de Almeida

Jacob Morgan

Casey Hibbard

Andy Hunter

Julian Cole

Debra Helwig

Anjali Ramachandran

Jye Smith

Drew McLellan

Craig Wilson

Karin Hermans

Emily Reed

David Petherick

Katie Harris

Gavin Heaton

Dennis Price

Mark Levy

George Jenkins

Doug Mitchell

Mark W. Schaefer

Helge Tenno

Douglas Hanna

Marshall Sponder

James Stevens

Ian Lurie

Ryan Hanser

Jenny Meade

Jeff Larche

Sacha Tueni & Katherine Maher

David Svet

Jessica Hagy

Simon Payn

Joanne Austin-Olsen

Mark Avnet

Stanley Johnson

Marilyn Pratt

Mark Hancock

Steve Kellogg

Michelle Beckham-Corbin

Michelle Chmielewski

Amy Mengel

Veronique Rabuteau

Peter Komendowski

Andrea Vascellari

Timothy L Johnson

Phil Osborne

Beth Wampler

Amy Jussel

Rick Liebling

Eric Brody

Arun Rajagopal

Dr Letitia Wright

Hugh de Winton

David Koopmans

Aki Spicer

Jeff Wallace

Don Frederiksen

Charles Sipe

Katie McIntyre

James G Lindberg & Sandra Renshaw

David Reich

Lynae Johnson

Jasmin Tragas

Deborah Chaddock Brown

Mike O'Toole

Jeanne Dininni

Iqbal Mohammed

Morriss M. Partee

Katie Chatfield

Jeff Cutler

Pete Jones

Riku Vassinen

Jeff Garrison

Kevin Dugan

Tiphereth Gloria

Mike Sansone

Lori Magno

Valerie Simon

Nettie Hartsock

Mark Goren

Peter Salvitti

Development Starts On The Age Of Conversation: Third Edition Book

Calling all authors for the Age Of Conversation third edition book I am pleased to announce that work has started on the third edition of the Age Of Conversation book! You may remember that I authored a chapter in the second edition: The Age Of Conversation: Why Don't They Get It.

Well, the editors of the third edition are accepting new authors. Each author is responsible for writing a one page chapter up to 400 words. Chapters must be submitted during November 2009. Authors can select one of ten (10) themes to write about. The third edition will feature up to 300 authors. All proceeds from book sales will go to a charity to be selected by the authors.

If you are interested, I suggest that you read more at either of the editors' blogs: Drew McLellan or Gavin Heaton. Both blogs have a link so you can sign up and choose your theme.

Which theme did I pick? To find out, you'll have to read the third edition of the book when it is available in 2010.

New Book Reveals How Google Collects Large Amounts of Data About Consumers

Recently, I wrote about the data breach at a Google service, and how Google compromises your privacy. Thanks to Bill G. for alerting me to this Boing Boing blog post.

Boing Boing reviewed the new book by Greg Conti titled, "Googling Security: How Much Does Google Know About You?" You can remove the question mark, since Google knows a lot about you, and probably far more than you realize:

"Conti enumerates all of Google's (often fantastic) services, describes how compelling they are, and then notes what information you disclose when you use them -- even when you only use them inadvertently (say, when you send email to someone with a Gmail account, or when you load a bookmarked Gmap that's been sent to a group of logged-in Google users, thus tying yourself to those users as part of the same group)."

The review was favorable:

"Conti's explanations are extremely accessible, even when discussing difficult and counter-intuitive subjects like cross-site scripting and cookies. Likewise accessible are his concrete recommendations for staunching the flow of personal information from your computer into Google's records. Finally, Conti does a great job of explaining why people who "have nothing to hide" might still want to keep their information to themselves... I've given the subject of privacy and Internet use a lot of thought, but even so, Conti's book opened my eyes to potential risks I'd never considered.

Put this book on your holiday gift list. It's on mine.

Introducing The Age of Conversation 2008. Buy Yours Today!

I am pleased to announce that the 2008 edition of "The Age of Conversation" book is available for purchase. 100 bloggers contributed to the 2007 edition. 237 marketing, technology, and creative bloggers from 15 countries contributed essays to this year's edition titled, "The Age of Conversation: Why Don't They Get It?". You can buy the book online at Lulu.com. All proceeds benefit the Variety Children's Charity.

In addition to nearly tripling the number of authors, the book has eight topics:

  1. Age of Conversation Manifestos
  2. Keeping Secrets in the Age of Conversation
  3. Moving from Conversation to Action
  4. The Accidental Marketer
  5. A New Brand of Creative
  6. My Marketing Tragedy
  7. Business Model Evolution
  8. Life in the Conversation Lane

I'm excited to be one of the contributors to the 2008 edition, which many consider one of the coolest social media events of the year. I have worked with a couple of the contributors, including Lori Magno of "Moda di Magno" and Ryan Barrett of "Cheap Thrills." I'd like to introduce you to the 237 contributors:

The Age Of Conversation 2008 Adrian Ho, Aki Spicer, Alex Henault, Amy Jussel, Andrew Odom, Andy Nulman, Andy Sernovitz, Andy Whitlock, Angela Maiers, Ann Handley, Anna Farmery, Armando Alves, Arun Rajagopal, Asi Sharabi, Becky Carroll, Becky McCray, Bernie Scheffler, Bill Gammell, Bob LeDrew, Brad Shorr, Brandon Murphy, Branislav Peric, Brent Dixon, Brett Macfarlane, Brian Reich, C.C. Chapman, Cam Beck, Casper Willer, Cathleen Rittereiser, Cathryn Hrudicka, Cedric Giorgi, Charles Sipe, Chris Kieff, Chris Cree, Chris Wilson, Christina Kerley, C.B. Whittemore, Chris Brown, Connie Bensen, Connie Reece, Corentin Monot, Craig Wilson, Daniel Honigman, Dan Schawbel, Dan Sitter, Daria Radota Rasmussen, Darren Herman, Dave Davison, David Armano, David Berkowitz, David Koopmans, David Meerman Scott, David Petherick, David Reich, David Weinfeld, David Zinger, Deanna Gernert, Deborah Brown, Dennis Price, Derrick Kwa, Dino Demopoulos, Doug Haslam, Doug Meacham, Doug Mitchell, Douglas Hanna, Douglas Karr, Drew McLellan, Duane Brown, Dustin Jacobsen, Dylan Viner, Ed Brenegar, Ed Cotton, Efrain Mendicuti, Ellen Weber, Eric Peterson, Eric Nehrlich, Ernie Mosteller, Faris Yakob, Fernanda Romano, Francis Anderson, G. Kofi Annan, Gareth Kay, Gary Cohen, Gaurav Mishra, Gavin Heaton, Geert Desager, George Jenkins, G.L. Hoffman, Gianandrea Facchini, Gordon Whitehead, Greg Verdino, Gretel Going & Kathryn Fleming, Hillel Cooperman, Hugh Weber, J. Erik Potter, James G. Lindberg, James Gordon-Macintosh, Jamey Shiels, Jasmin Tragas, Jason Oke, Jay Ehret, Jeanne Dininni, Jeff De Cagna, Jeff Gwynne & Todd Cabral, Jeff Noble, Jeff Wallace, Jennifer Warwick, Jenny Meade, Jeremy Fuksa, Jeremy Heilpern, Jeroen Verkroost, Jessica Hagy, Joanna Young, Joe Pulizzi, John Herrington, John Moore, John Rosen, John Todor, Jon Burg, Jon Swanson, Jonathan Trenn, Jordan Behan, Julie Fleischer, Justin Foster, Karl Turley, Kate Trgovac, Katie Chatfield, Katie Konrath, Kenny Lauer, Keri Willenborg, Kevin Jessop, Kristin Gorski, Lewis Green, Lois Kelly, Lori Magno, Louise Manning, Luc Debaisieux, Mario Vellandi, Mark Blair, Mark Earls, Mark Goren, Mark Hancock, Mark Lewis, Mark McGuinness, Matt Dickman, Matt J. McDonald, Matt Moore, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Michelle Lamar, Mike Arauz, Mike McAllen, Mike Sansone, Mitch Joel, Neil Perkin, Nettie Hartsock, Nick Rice, Oleksandr Skorokhod, Ozgur Alaz, Paul Chaney, Paul Hebert, Paul Isakson, Paul McEnany, Paul Tedesco, Paul Williams, Pet Campbell, Pete Deutschman, Peter Corbett, Phil Gerbyshak, Phil Lewis, Phil Soden, Piet Wulleman, Rachel Steiner, Sreeraj Menon, Reginald Adkins, Richard Huntington, Rishi Desai, Robert Hruzek, Roberta Rosenberg, Robyn McMaster, Roger von Oech, Rohit Bhargava, Ron Shevlin, Ryan Barrett, Ryan Karpeles, Ryan Rasmussen, Sam Huleatt, Sandy Renshaw, Scott Goodson, Scott Monty, Scott Townsend, Scott White, Sean Howard, Sean Scott, Seni Thomas, Seth Gaffney, Shama Hyder, Sheila Scarborough, Sheryl Steadman, Simon Payn, Sonia Simone, Spike Jones, Stanley Johnson, Stephen Collins, Stephen Landau, Stephen Smith, Steve Bannister, Steve Hardy, Steve Portigal, Steve Roesler, Steven Verbruggen, Steve Woodruff, Sue Edworthy, Susan Bird, Susan Gunelius, Susan Heywood, Tammy Lenski, Terrell Meek, Thomas Clifford, Thomas Knoll, Tim Brunelle, Tim Connor, Tim Jackson, Tim Mannveille, Tim Tyler, Timothy Johnson, Tinu Abayomi-Paul, Toby Bloomberg, Todd Andrlik, Troy Rutter, Troy Worman, Uwe Hook, Valeria Maltoni, Vandana Ahuja, Vanessa DiMauro, Veronique Rabuteau, Wayne Buckhanan, William Azaroff, Yves Van Landeghem

You can also browse clippings and author interviews on our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter. What did I write about in my essay? To find out, you'll have to buy a copy (paperback, hardcover, or online). I think that you'll enjoy the book and the unique perspectives presented.

[Editor's note: The fund-raising goal is $15,000 for the Variety charity. Also, I encourage everyone to read this this review by Media Post.]

Just How Stupid Are Us Americans?

Information you should know about your fellow citizens of the USA, from the book "Just How Stupid Are We? Facing The Truth About The American Voter" by Rick Shenkman (Basic Books, 2008). Some excerpts from the book:

"About 1 in 4 Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half of Americans can name at least two members of the fictional [Simpsons] cartoon family, according to a survey."

Shenkman proposes five characteristics of stupidity:

"First, is sheer ignorance: Ignorance of critical facts about important events in the news, and ignorance of how our government functions and who's in charge. Second, is negligence: The disinclination to seek reliable sources of information about important news events. Third, is wooden-headedness... The inclination to believe what we want to believe regardless of the facts. Fourth, is shortsightedness: The support of public policies that are mutually contradictory, or contrary to the country's long-term interests. Fifth, and finally, is a broad category I call bone-headedness... The susceptibility to meaningless phrases, stereotypes, irrational biases, and simplistic diagnoses and solutions that play on our hopes and fears."

Several examples prove Shenkman's points:

"... only a small percentage of people take advantage of the great new resources at hand. In 2005, the Pew Research Center surveyed the news habits of some 3,000 Americans age 18 and older. The researchers found that 59% on a regular basis get at least some news from local TV, 47% from national TV news shows, and just 23% from the Internet."

"In 1986, only 30% knew that Roe v. Wade was the Supreme Court decision that ruled abortion legal more than a decade earlier. In 1991, Americans were asked how long the term of a United States senator is. Just 25% correctly answered six years. How many senators are there? A poll a few years ago found that only 20% know that there are 100 senators..."

"Which country dropped the nuclear bomb? Only 49% know it was their own country"

And, we only seem to know the basic, easy historical facts:

"What happened at Pearl Harbor? A great majority know: 84%. What was the Holocaust? Nearly 70% know. (Thirty percent don't?) But it comes as something of a shock that, in 1983, just 81% knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was and that, in 1985, only 81% could identify Martin Luther King, Jr."

It's easy to question whether we can elect effective leaders when we don't seem to know who or how our government works:

"Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Fewer than half of Americans could tell you her name during the length of her entire tenure. William Rehnquist was chief justice of the Supreme Court. Just 40% of Americans ever knew his name (and only 30% could tell you that he was a conservative). Going into the First Gulf War, just 15% could identify Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense. In 2007, in the fifth year of the Iraq War, only 21% could name the secretary of defense, Robert Gates. Most Americans cannot name their own member of Congress or their senators."

For the record: mine are Kerry, Kennedy, and Lynch. I write to them frequently.

"Only 34% know that it is the Congress that declares war (which may explain why they are not alarmed when presidents take us into wars without explicit declarations of war from the legislature). Only 35% know that Congress can override a presidential veto. Some 49% think the president can suspend the Constitution. Some 60% believe that he can appoint judges to the federal courts without the approval of the Senate. Some 45% believe that revolutionary speech is punishable under the Constitution."

Poverty is no excuse:

"... Americans in the middle class who attend college exhibit profound ignorance. A report in 2007 published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that on average 14,000 randomly selected college students at 50 schools around the country scored under 55 (out of 100) on a test that measured their knowledge of basic American civics."

A democracy works when citizens participate. The younger generation isn't doing any better than the older generations:

"In 1972, when 18 year olds got the vote, 52% cast a ballot. In subsequent years, far fewer voted: in 1988, 40%; in 1992, 50%; in 1996, 35%; in 2000, 36%. In 2004, despite the most intense get-out-the-vote effort ever focused on young people, just 47% took the time to cast a ballot."

Should civics be taught in schools? You bet! And it should be required. But don't title the class "Civics" or "American History." Instead, give it a more relevant title like, "How to Participate in a Democracy" or "How to Use A Democracy For Your Benefit" or "Your Rights And Responsibilities In A Democracy."

Unfortunately, this stupidity problem also affects consumers' actions about identity theft and company data breaches. It is difficult for consumers to take effective action to protect their identity information, if consumers don't:

Addendum: you can buy Shenkman's book online at Amazon.com. It'll make a wonderful holiday present.

The Age Of Conversation: A Cool Social Web Experiement

Last year, I had just started blogging when the first edition of The Age of Conversation was published. 100 bloggers contributed to the 2007 edition, which is available for sale at Amazon.com. All proceeds still go to Variety Children's Charity (and if you click through the Amazon link, the affiliate money goes to Variety too).

I'm excited to be one of the contributors to the 2008 edition. I know and work with several of the contributors to the 2007 edition: Lori Magno and Ryan Barrett. Now, I'd like to introduce you to the team of 275 bloggers who are contributing to the 2008 edition, which is titled "The Age of Conversation: Why Don't People Get It." Perhaps you know some of the contributors:

The Age Of Conversation Adam Crowe, Adrian Ho, Aki Spicer, Alex Henault, Amy Jussel, Andrew Odom, Andy Nulman, Andy Sernovitz, Andy Whitlock, Angela Maiers, Ann Handley, Anna Farmery, Armando Alves, Arun Rajagopal, Asi Sharabi, Becky Carroll, Becky McCray, Bernie Scheffler, Bill Gammell, Bob Carlton, Bob LeDrew, Brad Shorr, Bradley Spitzer, Brandon Murphy, Branislav Peric, Brent Dixon, Brett Macfarlane, Brian Reich, C.C. Chapman, Cam Beck, Casper Willer, Cathleen Rittereiser, Cathryn Hrudicka, Cedric Giorgi, Charles Sipe, Chris Kieff, Chris Cree, Chris Wilson, Christina Kerley (CK), C.B. Whittemore, Clay Parker Jones, Chris Brown, Colin McKay, Connie Bensen, Connie Reece, Cord Silverstein, Corentin Monot, Craig Wilson, Daniel Honigman, Dan Goldstein, Dan Schawbel, Dana VanDen Heuvel, Dan Sitter, Daria Radota Rasmussen, Darren Herman, Darryl Patterson, Dave Davison, Dave Origano, David Armano, David Bausola, David Berkowitz, David Brazeal, David Koopmans, David Meerman Scott, David Petherick, David Reich, David Weinfeld, David Zinger, Deanna Gernert, Deborah Brown, Dennis Price, Derrick Kwa, Dino Demopoulos, Doug Haslam, Doug Meacham, Doug Mitchell, Douglas Hanna, Douglas Karr, Drew McLellan, Duane Brown, Dustin Jacobsen, Dylan Viner, Ed Brenegar, Ed Cotton, Efrain Mendicuti, Ellen Weber, Emily Reed, Eric Peterson, Eric Nehrlich, Ernie Mosteller, Faris Yakob, Fernanda Romano, Francis Anderson, G. Kofi Annan, Gareth Kay, Gary Cohen, Gaurav Mishra, Gavin Heaton, Geert Desager, George Jenkins, G.L. Hoffman, Gianandrea Facchini, Gordon Whitehead, Graham Hill, Greg Verdino, Gretel Going & Kathryn Fleming, Hillel Cooperman, Hugh Weber, J. Erik Potter, J.C. Hutchins, James Gordon-Macintosh, Jamey Shiels, Jasmin Tragas, Jason Oke, Jay Ehret, Jeanne Dininni, Jeff De Cagna, Jeff Gwynne, Jeff Noble, Jeff Wallace, Jennifer Warwick, Jenny Meade, Jeremy Fuksa, Jeremy Heilpern, Jeremy Middleton, Jeroen Verkroost, Jessica Hagy, Joanna Young, Joe Pulizzi, Joe Talbott, John Herrington, John Jantsch, John Moore, John Rosen, John Todor, Jon Burg, Jon Swanson, Jonathan Trenn, Jordan Behan, Julie Fleischer, Justin Flowers, Justin Foster, Karl Turley, Kate Trgovac, Katie Chatfield, Katie Konrath, Kenny Lauer, Keri Willenborg, Kevin Jessop, Kris Hoet, Krishna De, Kristin Gorski, Laura Fitton, Laurence Helene Borei, Lewis Green, Lois Kelly, Lori Magno, Louise Barnes-Johnston, Louise Mangan, Louise Manning, Luc Debaisieux, Marcus Brown, Mario Vellandi, Mark Blair, Mark Earls, Mark Goren, Mark Hancock, Mark Lewis, Mark McGuinness, Mark McSpadden, Matt Dickman, Matt J. McDonald, Matt Moore, Michael Hawkins, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Michelle Lamar, Mike Arauz, Mike McAllen, Mike Sansone, Mitch Joel, Monica Wright, Nathan Gilliatt, Nathan Snell, Neil Perkin, Nettie Hartsock, Nick Rice, Oleksandr Skorokhod, Ozgur Alaz, Paul Chaney, Paul Hebert, Paul Isakson, Paul Marobella, Paul McEnany, Paul Tedesco, Paul Williams, Pet Campbell, Pete Deutschman, Peter Corbett, Phil Gerbyshak, Phil Lewis, Phil Soden, Piet Wulleman, Rachel Steiner, Sreeraj Menon, Reginald Adkins, Richard Huntington, Rishi Desai, Beeker Northam, Rob Mortimer, Robert Hruzek, Roberta Rosenberg, Robyn McMaster, Roger von Oech, Rohit Bhargava, Ron Shevlin, Ryan Barrett, Ryan Karpeles, Ryan Rasmussen, Sam Huleatt, Sandy Renshaw, Scott Goodson, Scott Monty, Scott Townsend, Scott White, Sean Howard, Sean Scott, Seni Thomas, Seth Gaffney, Shama Hyder, Sheila Scarborough, Sheryl Steadman, Simon Payn, Sonia Simone, Spike Jones, Stanley Johnson, Stephen Collins, Stephen Cribbett, Stephen Landau, Stephen Smith, Steve Bannister, Steve Hardy, Steve Portigal, Steve Roesler, Steven Verbruggen, Steve Woodruff, Sue Edworthy, Susan Bird, Susan Gunelius, Susan Heywood, Tammy Lenski, Terrell Meek, Thomas Clifford, Thomas Knoll, Tiffany Kenyon, Tim Brunelle, Tim Buesing, Tim Connor, Tim Jackson, Tim Longhurst, Tim Mannveille, Tim Tyler, Timothy Johnson, Tinu Abayomi-Paul, Toby Bloomberg, Todd Andrlik, Troy Rutter, Troy Worman, Uwe Hook, Valeria Maltoni, Vandana Ahuja, Vanessa DiMauro, Veronique Rabuteau, Wayne Buckhanan, William Azaroff, Yves Van Landeghem

I hope you'll join me in buying a copy of one of the coolest social web experiments ever. You will thoroughly enjoy the book and the unique perspectives of 100 authors in the 2007 edition. The 2008 edition will be available later this year.

The Wall Street Journal Complete Identity Theft Guidebook (Book Review)

Recently, I read "The Wall Street Journal Complete Identity Theft Guidebook: How to protect yourself from the most pervasive crime in America" by Terri Cullen. I found the book to be an easy read and appropriate for consumers who know nothing about identity theft and consumers who know a little about identity theft.

Cullen has organized the material into two broad sections:

  1. Preventing Identity theft
  2. Life After Identity Theft

The first section is packed full of tips about how consumers can protect themselves. Cullen weaves into the text both explanations of important terms and actual stories of consumers who were identity-theft victims. The second section is targeted for consumers who are identity theft victims. It provides practical and usable advice about what to do given your specific situation.  This makes it easy for readers to find the information relevant to their specific situation.

Based on the book's content, Cullen wrote most or all of it in 2006. Much has changed since. For example, I found the book a little weak on Security Breaches. While Cullen explains very well the functions (and biases) of the national credit bureaus, Cullen should provided a better explanation of the differences between a Fraud Alert and a Security Freeze. Yes this is difficult since state laws are changing quickly, but it is critical information for consumers.

Cullen has provided several sample letters (mostly snail-mail) for dealing with identity theft. These letters are mostly identity theft victims who must correspond with banks, credit card issuers, lenders, collection agencies, and credit bureaus. The book includes these letters in print format. A better presentation would  have been  a CD with the sample letters in electronic format.

You can buy Cullen's book locally at many booksellers, or online at Amazon.com.and at BarnesandNoble.com. As you'd probably expect, there's an article excerpt of the book at the Wall Street Journal web site.

The Age Of Conversation 2008: Call For Authors

The Age Of Conversation The debut of The Age of Conversation book in 2007 was such a refreshing and innovative look at blogging, it's no surprise that the planning for version 2.0 of the book is already underway. (If you haven't read the book, here's a backgrounder.) Version 1.0 featured 101 authors, including a couple Boston-area bloggers I know and work with: Lori Magno of Moda di Magno, and Ryan Barrett of Cheap Thrills. I hope to participate in version 2.0.

From now through February 3, 2007 you can vote online for the topic for version 2.0. The three topic options:

  • Marketing Manifesto
  • Why Don’t People Get It?
  • My Marketing Tragedy (and what I learned)

Bloggers interested in contributing to the 2008 edition as an author, should visit Drew McClelland's Marketing Minute blog. Potential authors must provide contact information: your full name, snail-mail address, phone, blog URL, and e-mail address. If your contact information doesn’t make it clear — please share your experience/expertise that would make you a good candidate for writing a chapter in a business/marketing book.