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For tech, 2018 was the first of many very bad years to come

18 December 2018

From allTop Viral:

When it reemerged after the early 2000s dotcom bubble, the tech industry was a force to be reckoned with. Company after company emerged that was forging new market niches or disrupting old ones. Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Benioff, and Travis Kalanick became household names among the tech savvy. Those in the know used Facebook regularly, shopped almost exclusively on Amazon, and took Ubers around whatever city they lived in. This was the growth period.

Before too long, the gospel of tech spread beyond the young, the hip, and the knowledgable. Grandmas got Facebook, Amazon became the default verb for shopping online, and Ubers spread to nearly every city and town in the country. This was 2010-2016, and even as the companies were growing and spreading, the cracks were beginning to appear.

By 2017, the narrative was changing. Wired didn’t want to publish positive stories about tech anymore, not only because they’d been burned after endorsing companies that turned out to be duds or bosses that turned out to be jerks, but because their readership wasn’t into that kind of story anymore. They wanted to read negative stories.

And now there’s 2018. The narrative has fully shifted away from the “heroic tech companies” narrative. They are now, officially, villains.

. . . .

The next few years will be bad for tech. Not because of anything tech does, even, but because the narrative has changed and it will be some time before it shifts again.

Link to the rest at allTop Viral

PG understands that clickbait has its imperatives, but the truth (as opposed to the narrative) is that tech companies and those who lead them have their ups and downs just like other industries do.

Being the smartest person in the room doesn’t insulate much-lauded tech CEO’s from making terrible decisions nor does it permit them to understand what all the departments and employees in their company are doing.

The ancient Greeks had a lovely word to describe this perennial human trait which long predated the microchip – hubris.

Examples include the Persian king Xerxes who tried to punish the sea for destroying his bridge over the Hellespont and Ajax, who told Athena to help other warriors because he did not need divine help.

In The Iliad, Niobe, the queen of Thebes, had six sons and six daughters. She bragged about their virtues and number to the goddess Leto, who had only two children: Artemis and Apollo. When Artemis and Apollo heard of Niobe’s pridefulness, Apollo killed all of Niobe’s sons and Artemis killed all her daughters. This punishment for Niobe’s pride and her disregard for the gods’ superiority to mortals left her crippled by her grief and unable to stop weeping, even after she was later turned to a rock.

From The Harvard Business Review:

Hubris, the sin of overweening pride or arrogance, may be the most misunderstood disorder an executive will ever be confronted with. It’s not just narcissism; it’s much more dangerous than that.

Actually, no one nailed the nature and dynamics of this problem better than Aesop did: The Hare, in a circumstance where he should prevail (racing the tortoise), snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, after making a jackass of himself with his pre-race prattle. Had the Hare avoided hubris (and his famous nap), he would have handily trounced the tortoise, and moved on to signing autographs and giving press interviews. Pride did not just goeth before the fall; it actually caused the fall.

. . . .

[T]o understand hubris you need to recognize that it is first an act of defiance, and only after others have been completely offended do those suffering hubris take actions that ensure they will not achieve the successes they guaranteed they would.

By contrast, narcissism is a character disorder, which means it starts in the teenage years and defines a person’s entire modus operandi.  If, owing to a childhood that left you bereft of good feelings about yourself, you feel a need to preen and self-promote to merely stay afloat psychologically, that problem sticks with you forever. Psychotherapy can dampen a narcissist’s tendency to self-aggrandize, but under duress he’ll regress and become insufferably self-centered. A narcissist is pretty much a narcissist all the time.

Hubris, on the other hand, is a reactive disorder: Either the unfortunate consequence of endless laudatory press clippings leading to supreme over-confidence, or the culmination of a winning streak that causes a person to suffer the transient delusion that he is bullet-proof. Many good people will, under bad circumstances, suffer from hubris— but they tend to recover after toppling from their pedestals shrinks their egos back down to size.

Kenneth Lay, the former CEO of Enron, is a good example of executive hubris. Long before the company imploded, Lay lauded his company for being a “new economy” corporation “before it became cool to be one.” In an email sent to employees and the public only weeks before Enron’s coffers ran dry, Lay boasted, “Our performance has never been stronger, our business model has never been more robust. We have the finest organization in American business today.”

What is tragic about Lay’s self-destruction and the Enron collapse — apart from the number of lives ruined by it — is that Lay built the business, retired, and returned in a effort to save it, not to feather his own nest. Yet ultimately Lay could not throw himself on his shield and admit defeat, so he let his pride get in the way of reason, causing devastation as a result. Unable to watch his pride and joy fail, and unwilling to make the hard decisions that might have saved a diminished version of it, he decided to cook the books – and in so doing, his business’s goose.

. . . .

Chief among the aspects of your corporate culture that you must imbue in all employees -but particularly the stars who are most vulnerable to hubris— is the virtue of humility. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the Fool warns the ill-fated monarch, “Have more than thou showest; speak less than thou knowest.

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review

From The Guardian:

Originally a triumph was an ancient Roman celebratory procession awarded to generals who had won important battles. It was a ritual governed by strict rules; no general’s remit ran in Rome itself, so when he returned from his campaign the successful general had to wait outside the city walls while the Senate suspended the law – for one day only – to allow him in with his army. In order to merit a triumph, a general had to have won a decisive victory in which his troops killed more than 5,000 of the enemy while sustaining relatively light casualties themselves.

Not every general could expect a triumph even when these conditions were met; he had also to hold the rank of magistrate at least. Scipio Africanus, after his amazing feats of generalship in Spain, was granted only an ovatio because he was insufficiently senior.

A triumphant general was given a warm welcome. Standing in a four-horse chariot, accompanied by toga-clad senators, followed by his booty and captives, and surrounded by his troops shouting “io triumphe!” and singing coarse songs, he made his way through huge, applauding crowds along the Via Sacra to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, there to sacrifice an assortment of animals to the king of the gods, and to offer up the bay leaf wreath which the Senate had placed on his brow as the sign of his victory.

The most important person in the triumphal procession was not, however, the general himself, but the slave who stood with him in his chariot. It was this slave’s duty, as the procession wound its way through the cheers, to whisper warnings into the general’s ear, to help him guard against the consequences of pride, arrogance, overweening self-belief, loss of perspective, and forgetfulness of home truths.

“You are mortal,” whispered the slave. “Remember, the gods are jealous. Disaster might follow triumph, and when it does it can be all the more devastating therefore. Success breeds many enemies. Unless you are magnanimous in victory, you might one day taste the bitterness of defeat. Homer said: ‘It is man’s lot to fight, but fate alone grants success.’ Men are never truly conquered by arms, but by love and reason; so far, you have only conquered by arms.”

. . . .

Hubris, as the slave’s whispers show, is one risk of triumph. Another is its tendency to invite repose, relaxation, a dropped guard. In either case it invites future defeat.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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3 Comments to “For tech, 2018 was the first of many very bad years to come”

  1. “Wired didn’t want to publish positive stories about tech anymore …”

    Or could it possibly be that the advertisers wanted wired to write negative stories that would attract more eyeballs to their pages (and ads)?

    And we’ve been hearing the ADS from most of the rags ever since Jeff started showing them how things could be done using the internet.

    This constant ‘bad news blathering bubble’ should pop at some point – and I might start listening to them again (far to often a glance at the headlines is enough to tell me that I don’t need or want to go further …)

    MYMV and you get/hear something positive today (puzzles came today – funny they’re both snow scenes .. 😉 )

  2. Tsk.
    Yes, the next few years will be tough for the media hype machine’s darlings of the “Post PC” era. Especially those raking it in through ads. They’ll be getting lots of bad press…while raking in cash by the truckload.

    Really?
    Those folks have no concept of scale.

    And that is only those in the ad business.
    The ones helping companies run, building industrial robots, planes, trains, automobiles, and rockets don’t count as tech, right? Nor the ones building solar cells and windmills, super batteries or pharmaceuticals. or the ones not so quietly reinventing agriculture. Nope, none of those matter.

    Because the only tech that matters is the Manhattan-silivalley connection.

    (sigh)

  3. Well in business that really happens so maybe they can try to hope for the best

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