Is Google Promoting Tribalism?

It is well known (or at least it should be) that Google’s algorithm for search provides results that are based, in part, on the information of prior searches. My understanding is this leads to similar people receiving similar search results and different people receiving different results as it relates to the same inquiry.

I first learned of this during the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It was reported that a search of BP from a computer with prior searches of environmental matters would provide pages of listings associated with the Deepwater matter, oil spills, pollution, and activist information. Meanwhile, the same inquiry of BP from a computer that had a history of searching stock quotes, investments, and business, would receive pages about BP corporate matters and the Deepwater situation was relegated pages deep.

This concerns me on several levels. First, it leads to an unconscious concentration of similar opinions. Likeness, familiarity, and similarity are all vastly important as it relates to our social connectedness. And people are highly social. However, we have learned from past experiences that limiting our worldview by reinforcing our current positions leads to hardening of positions, inflexibility, and intolerance of opposing viewpoints.

Diversity in our natural environment promotes the general welfare of all inhabitants. Destroy the mountain lion’s habitat and the deer population swells. The weak, the old, and the sick thrive and survive longer than they would naturally in a balanced environment leading to increased disease that could lead herds of deer to be wiped out, not by predators, but by weakness. Additionally, the swelling numbers outstrip the natural vegetation’s ability to grow and food supplies are reduced leading to either changing migration patterns or starvation. With each cycle of reduced diversity the stresses upon the surviving support systems become greater until a time is reached that a calamity ensues and natural order is restored.

I believe that there is a similarity between the above deer habit example and people. People are naturally tribal in nature. We lived in tribes, clans, and villages for hundreds of generations and large cities and urban environments for less than 10 generations. Our DNA is hardwired for tribal mentality. (As a quick note – assuming a 20 average generation span {25 may be a better value – but I will work with 20 for this} that is 5 generations per century. Egypt, the oldest western civilization (at least on record) is about 10,000 years old. That means we are 500 generations removed from early Egyptians. From the early Greek’s, maybe 150 generations. From the fall of Rome, maybe 50 generations. From 1776, maybe 15 generations. My point is that our DNA is way more connected to our pre-industrial age than it is to our post-industrial age and our habits are vastly interconnected to these biological realities).

Google search results could lead to increased polarization as like people’s opinions are sourced from ever specific and concentrated sources. Aristotle once noted that opinions matter. However it was the opinions of the learned that matter more. Who are our learned people whose opinions we should value? Where are these voices?

Our mass media is following the path of Google. We have Fox on the Right with limited liberal perspective. We have MSNBC to the Left with an absence of conservative thinking. We have many with split personalities as it relates to our interwoven options and positions relative to fiscal and social policies.

Congress and the Executive Branch mirror and more likely extend these polarization and myopic positions as our winner takes all with a minimal majority and swelling support from fans while viciously verbally attacked from their detractors. Where is the civility? Where are the candid conversations about what is best? Where are the policy discussions that include and incorporate our distinct and varying positions? It should not be a winner takes all mentality.

I have met Presidents, Cabinet Members, and Congressional Leaders. I may not agree with all of their individual positions but there is common ground. A conversation about WE over ME is always appropriate. What is lacking today is the courage to reach across the proverbial isle to find our common interests. To find solid ground for one tribe to connect surrounding tribes. To recognize that we all have inherent biases and our maturity is based upon our ability to understand that and to leverage our sameness for the benefit of all.

Extreme positions are easily argued. They are based upon an ideology that in its abstract is generally appealing and logical. These ideologies, whether religious, political, or economic all lend themselves to binary answers. Yet the world is complex. Our environments are complex. Our opinions are complex. Yet our ideologies are too frequently binary.

Google is extremely useful and valuable. Google (along with Yahoo and other search engines) provides a wealth of information. Their algorithm capabilities are complex and highly useful. We, it users, merely need to remember that our search results are predicated on predictive behaviors, biases, and prior searches and we should be cognizant of the subtle implications of such results and seek ways to minimize our polarization tendencies.

October 24th Show Notes: What Are You Worth?

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin were students at Stanford they developed technology that was designed to search Stanford University’s Web pages, which immediately became popular among the students and faculty. This was 1996, and everyone thought that Yahoo! was the dominant search engine, and there could never be another one.

Larry and Sergey did not think their technological innovation was the basis for the company they wanted to start, so they put it on the market—at a price of approximately $1 million.

Fortunately for the rest of us, there were no takers. Had they found a buyer, Google probably never would have been born. It is an excellent example of how overpricing can have salutary effects.

Unfortunately, most professionals under price their intellectual capital. They justify this with a variety of excuses:

  • We do not have enough quality customers.
  • Customers view what we do as a commodity.
  • Customers do not understand the value we provide.
  • Our people do not understand their worth.
  • When customers engage in hardball negotiation tactics, we capitulate.
  • Our profession has too much capacity, which drives prices down.

Most of these are nothing but excuses to explain away a lack of purpose, strategy, marketing effectiveness, and poor customer selection. But I believe there is a deeper reason, which I truly did not understand until I began teaching value pricing to my colleagues.

Many participants of my courses have commented that they would “feel guilty” about charging a substantial multiple of their hourly rate. The epiphany for me was that this was not a strategic, or even a pricing competency issue, but rather a low self-esteem issue.

Low self-esteem (or self-respect) does go right to the heart of why professionals question the value of the service they provide. Do you truly believe the benchmark of your value is the hours you spend? What about the years of experience that stand behind that $1 million marketing idea that took 15-minutes to create? Is the value really one-quarter your hourly rate?

You Are Your First Sale

The lesson is vital, and it is this: Before you can charge a premium price, you first have to believe, internally, that you are worth it. If you do not think you are worth multiples of your hourly rate, your customers never will believe it either.

Have you ever dealt with a professional, such as a doctor or a consultant, who came highly recommended? When you learned of the price, did you try to negotiate it downward?

Most highly recommended professionals will not budge on their pricing, because they know they deserve it and are worth it. They are secure and confident in their worth, and they price above the market as a result. Obviously, not everyone can do this. But the ones who do all possess a common characteristic: high self-esteem.

Psychologist Nathaniel Branden has done extensive work on self-esteem. His treatise on the subject is The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, wherein he defines it as:

  1. Confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life; and
  2. Confidence in our right to be successful and happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants, achieve our values, and enjoy the fruits of our efforts.

In his book Self-Esteem at Work, Branden discusses the critical role self-esteem has in the success of enterprise:

A simple example is the fact that analyses of business failure tell us that a common cause is executives’ fear of making decisions. What is fear of making decisions but lack of confidence in one’s mind and judgment? In other words, a problem of self-esteem.”

Branden says “Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.” That is profound. Professionals are deeply concerned, and rightfully so, with their reputations: They care what their customers think of them, of their firm, of their integrity. But what about their reputation with themselves? Most professionals were never taught even to ask the question. According to Branden:

If low self-esteem correlates with resistance to change and clinging to the known and familiar then never in the history of the world has low self-esteem been as economically disadvantageous as it is today. If high self-esteem correlates with comfort in managing change and in letting go of yesterday’s attachments, then high self-esteem confers a competitive edge.”

There is no Standard Price for Intellectual Capital

In today’s world, intellectual capital is the chief source of all wealth. Shelly Lazarus, former chairman and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, explained what advertising agencies are really selling:

Advertising is an idea business: That’s all we are. And ideas don’t come from the air, they come from human beings.”

According to the New York Times, Merv Griffin (and his estate) has made between to $70-80 million in royalties from the “Jeopardy!” theme song, which he wrote in less than one minute.

In 1935, Edgar Kaufman, the German-American businessman and philanthropist who owned Kaufmann’s department store, asked Frank Lloyd Wright to design a small summer home for him near Mill Run (75 miles southeast of Pittsburgh).

Wright surveyed the site but procrastinated on the design. When Kaufman telephoned him one day saying he was nearby and would like to stop by to see the design, Wright replied, “Come on Edgar, we’re ready.”

Two of Wright’s draftsmen who heard the call could not believe it, since no one had drawn a single line. Draftsmen Edgar Tafel explains what happened next in his book about Wright:

Wright hung up the phone, walked to the drafting room and started to draw, talking in a calm voice. ‘They will have tea on the balcony…they’ll cross the bridge to walk into the woods,’ Wright said. Pencils were used up as fast as we could sharpen them. He erased, overdrew, modified, flipping sheets back and forth. Then he titled it across the bottom: Fallingwater.

Two hours later, when Kaufmann arrived, Wright greeted him and showed him the front elevation. ‘We’ve been waiting for you,’ Wright said.

They went to lunch, and we drew up the other two elevations. When they came back, Wright showed Kaufmann the added elevations.

This is why intellectual capital, expertise, wisdom, judgment, ability to synthesize information, along with all the other characteristics of knowledge work, cannot be denominated in hours, efforts and costs to produce.

Napoleon Hill wrote in Think and Grow Rich:

There is no standard price on ideas. The creator of ideas makes his own price, and, if he is smart, gets it.

Do not feel guilty or ashamed of your success, and do not let low self-esteem interfere with being paid what your worth.

Other references:

Paul Potts Video

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

Simon Sinek – Start with Why