2018: The Year of Fighting for Positive Change
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This was an unusual year, largely defined by actions by President Trump that seemed focused on harming the majority of people in and outside the United States. However, the rise of those speaking up, taking action, and making real changes also was unprecedented.
In the end, I actually think the country is on the path to positive change, and many in the technology market have been stepping up to make a real difference.
I'll revisit some of the highlights of this year and close with my last product of the week: an offering from IBM that could transform human resources from a paper-pushing compliance organization to one that will help ensure your career and future.
Cisco and Corporate Responsibility
When I think of corporate responsibility, one company tends to float to the top, and that is Cisco. With massive efforts to train people all over the world in the critical networking skills needed to secure and expand global communications, Cisco has been taking a major chunk out of joblessness.
VR isn’t all about Games and Entertainment. Virtual reality is being used in the healthcare field to treat depression, anxiety, autism, PTSD and even nicotine addiction with Mindcotine.
It has invested millions to reduce homelessness near its headquarters -- something most of the tech firms seem to ignore -- and it has been aggressive in deploying crisis teams during disasters to ensure timely communications to first responders.
On diversity, Cisco is unlike most firms, which seem to work from the bottom up and protect white male dominance in the executive ranks. Cisco has started from the top and arguably is the most diverse of the old school tech firms in the technology segment.
They realized early on that you can't fix a diversity problem from the bottom up, because the executive staff will tend to protect their turf and create glass ceilings to prevent minority advancement.
Largely apolitical, Cisco leads by example, which is both wiser and more effective than entering into pointless political arguments. The firm ranked first for philanthropy in the tech segment in Silicon Valley.
A great deal of credit goes to Tae Yoo Cisco's SVP of corporate affairs, and to Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, who made leading in this space a personal priority.
Dell's Support for Women
Where Dell stands out is in its efforts to deal specifically with misogyny, discrimination, and abuse targeting women. The company has been spending millions of dollars every year promoting women entrepreneurs, and it is the only firm I know of that maintains an entrepreneur in residence with the role historically filled by a woman.
Its not just about the fun and games. Other than providing action-packed, fun-filled entertainment for the entire family, VR plays a big role to help humanity as developers use it to help those in need in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago. Some use it to cure phantom pain among amputee victims, while others rely on VR to provide therapy for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. VR has also been proven to help children with autism by teaching them social cues and real world lessons. It is being used as a practice board for surgical students before they make the first cut. There is even a VR content targeted at young adults that simulates their physical condition when they get to their 60s, and thus encourages them to save for the future.
CEO Michael Dell personally lays down the law in the company, and he has implemented program that aggressively calls out and terminates abusers, and then communicates the result. Those actions create what should be one of the safest environments in tech.
The tech segment is called out in the book Brotopia as having an excessive culture of abuse, down to some managers and executives making sexual engagement part of a woman's "normal" job responsibilities.
Michael Dell and Karen Quintos have focused on this problem with a near manic obsession, which is critical to changing the abusive behavior that has become so ingrained in the culture of so many firms.
Dell is one of too few firms that have gone the extra yard to put in place mechanisms that truly protect women who step up, rather than perpetuating the more typical practice of leaving them exposed during and after they take action against offending employees.
IBM and the Workplace Environment
One of the most annoying things IBM did to me when I worked there was eliminate ROLM's Great Place to Work organization. I'd gone to the company with the express goal of working for and maybe running it eventually, and before I was able to make the transfer, IBM bought ROLM, eliminated that extremely well-regarded group, and moved to kill the company.
It finally made amends this year by focusing its Watson engine on making IBM a far better place to work. It has applied artificial intelligence to helping employees retrain and maintain a diverse skill set. (Another back story is that my mentor told me that the only way to advance was to specialize, a recommendation that I did not take. Now, those with diverse skill sets are far better able to survive organizational changes than specialists.)
Virtual reality is being used in health care. It allows medical students to practice dangerous procedures and gain experience without actually operating on a human. It can also help surgeons determine the best point of entry for surgeries.
IBM's new programs aggressively support and reward diverse skill sets, making IBM employees far more valuable, due to their increasing flexibility, than most other corporate workforces I've studied. While it hasn't recreated that old Great Place to Work department, it has made IBM a far better place to work, and it also has been very aggressive at hiring and advancing women in the firm, which is led by a woman, CEO Ginni Rometty.
IBM once was known for how well it treated its employees; its latest efforts will go a long way toward once again making the company a leader in this regard. This is in sharp contrast to the impressive number of companies threatening and otherwise treating their employees poorly (note that Tesla is on this list). It is great to see my old company, IBM, once again step up to be a strong example of good employee treatment.
As I write this, President Trump is refusing to sign a stopgap spending bill that would allow thousands of government employees to enjoy the holidays, and instead is using them as hostages for an expensive wall that would function more as a monument to Trump than as effective border protection.
In a year defined by #MeToo, abuse at scale -- as detailed by Dan Lyons' book Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us (read it) -- and rather impressively bad behavior by CEOs like Elon Musk , it is both refreshing and important that some companies have been standing fast and have shown by example that you can do well by doing good.
I think Cisco, Dell and IBM have set solid examples this year. As we go into the holidays, I think 2018 was like the year 2261 in Babylon 5 Season 4 , and I'm kind of glad it is almost over.
Virtual Reality Doesn’t Have to be Expensive. The idea that virtual reality is expensive to produce comes up over and over from businesses interested in creating an experience. The truth is although virtual reality can be expensive, it isn’t always expensive. Like most things, virtual reality’s price greatly depends on the scope of the project. Companies can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars investing in the technology. However, other companies like YouVisit can create the same type of experience with costs ranging in the low to mid five figures.
When I was briefed on this a few weeks back, I was stuck with just how critical a service like this is. Based on IBM's solid AI Watson technology, IBM Talent & Transformation Services are a suite of services designed to make employees not only more productive but also far happier and with their jobs.
In a world where we increasingly are faced with technology used against us, this is a solid example of technology that could be used for our benefit. In effect, these services change HR from the compliance organization it sadly has become, to the employee advocate it initially was supposed to be.
Across the set of services, firms can do a better job at scale at finding the best employees; identifying individual problems; providing training for skills that make employees valuable; and ensuring an agile, relatively happy and productive work force.
We will be facing an unbelievable amount of change in the next decade, and if we don't focus on giving employees broader skill sets, thousands who otherwise would be employed will be out of jobs.
We no longer can afford to throw bodies at jobs they are ill suited for and hate -- particularly when there are other unemployed folks who likely need and would appreciate some of these less attractive jobs. Because IBM Talent & Transformation Services could make any company a Great Place to Work, it is my product of the week.
U.S. military makes use of VR to train soldiers. The simulated Virtual world provide opportunities for teams to work together to prepare them for the chaos of combat.