Amazon has already begun automating its white-collar jobs — Quartz

This takes the emotional side of the business out of the decision-making process.

Not even the executives are safe.

Algorithms have usurped Amazon’s retail decision-makers.

The e-commerce company once relied on humans to predict demand of certain products, such as anticipating and ordering a glut of the season’s hottest toys ahead of the holiday season. But a report from Bloomberg June 13 shows that the decision-making process has slowly transitioned towards automated ordering and communication with manufacturers, leaving humans in the lurch.

This trend isn’t surprising at an automation-minded company like Amazon, but it’s indicative of a wider trend in analytics-based jobs: The algorithms are coming. Whether it’s insurance adjusting or product buying like Amazon’s workers, there could be software that does an increasingly better job for a lower cost than a human salary.

The transition within Amazon is credited to two forces. The company launched a pilot project called “hands off the wheel” that automated demand forecasting and negotiating prices with vendors, and the rise of the Amazon Marketplace, where vendors can bypass Amazon’s buyers and sell their wares directly on the site on their own.

Amazon’s “hands off the wheel” project started several years ago, according to Bloomberg, and the algorithms originally could be overridden by humans if they thought there was a mistake. But as the algorithms proved their worth, it became necessary for employees to justify why they were overriding the software.

And Amazon Marketplace gave the opportunity to streamline the interaction between vendors and the company, by using similar algorithms to automatically negotiate and buy products based on deals vendors were willing to offer.

“Computers know what to buy and when to buy, when to offer a deal and when not to,” Neil Ackerman, a former Amazon executive who now manages the global supply chain at Johnson & Johnson, told Bloomberg. “These algorithms that take in thousands of inputs and are always running smarter than any human.”

Source: Amazon has already begun automating its white-collar jobs — Quartz


Steve Jobs’s Advice on the Only 4 Times You Should Say ‘No’ Is Brilliant |

getty_103575500_200013682000928094_343263In the frantic pace of life to do more and be more, we hardly think about the importance of focus.

That’s why, for those free-spirited, creative thinkers and entrepreneurs chasing after their dreams, this prophetic quote by Steve Jobs 21 years ago hits the nail on the head even more so today. Here’s what he said at an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Coincidentally, another notable thought leader has the same idea in mind. Brené Brown recently tweeted:

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Brené Brown

I’ve been following @aliedwards “One Little Word” movement for years. It’s a powerful way to set an intention for the year. This year is all about focus for me.

Check out Ali’s work here:

What’s your one little word for 2018?

10:49 AM – Jan 22, 2018
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Without focus, your very ability to think, reason, communicate, problem solve, and make decisions will naturally suffer. You just can’t maximize your efficiency or go into a state of flow if your mind is wandering off into multitask land. Speaking of which…

Key to better focus: Give up multitasking.
The common characteristic of people who had the most time and the highest income is the ability to singletask. — Tim Ferriss, New New Internet Speaking

Imagine what we could hear, learn, and share if we were 100 percent present in a conversation. The reality is, we multitask everything. You’re probably multitasking right now as you read this. Is music playing in the background or in your ears? Another webpage or e-mail open? Someone else talking to you? Something is always begging for our attention.

As Tim Ferriss said, what if we were totally focused on being one-taskers? What if we truly focused on one thing, one business problem, one task, one conversation?

We’d be more focused, adaptive, and therefore better decision makers. And the better we can solve problems, the more productive we become.

The most successful people, in fact, are very patient, avoid juggling many things, and live by the motto “one step at a time.”

Additionally, research says multitasking it’s a myth and can be damaging to our brains. You end up splitting your focus over many tasks, losing focus, lowering the quality of your work, and taking longer to hit your goals.

Jobs alluded to saying no to a thousand things. You can start by saying no to these four focus-robbers:

1. Say no to cluttering your mind.
Your first order of priority is to de-clutter your mind from “stuff”–unimportant things, tasks, calendar items, appointments, meetings, social events, and other frivolous activities that you can re-prioritize later, delegate to others, or simply drop from your to-do list altogether. The less your mind is cluttered, the better your focus will be.

2. Say no to interruptions.
Technology is one of the greatest obstacles to gaining good focus. The constant distractions from notifications can take you off track. First, when you get in the office, avoid jumping into email; you may get sucked into a whirlpool of others’ needs, so do this last. Next, minimize interruptions by going airplane mode, or turning off notifications and placing your smartphone in another room nearby (better yet, how about using an app blocker like Freedom on all your devices?). So, what do you lose by not doing any of this? One study with a group of employees found that if all interruptions were eliminated, those employees would recapture three to five hours a day every day, which equals 40-60 percent of the standard workday.

3. Say no to time robbers and yes to time locking.
Time locking is the perfect way to recover stolen time from the people you work with–the time robbers–who interrupt you constantly. Avert them by simply scheduling a specified block of time on your calendar to devote strictly to an important task or activity that requires the most focus, energy, and undivided attention. That means your co-workers need to know about your intent to time lock, so that they’ll cooperate in allowing for no interruptions, other than real emergencies.

4. Say no to your own unbelief.
Sometimes the whole business of having one true focus that will leave a legacy really comes down to a “mindset” of believing in yourself. For those Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs), you will need to stay positive about the journey ahead and look at the progress you’ve already made in hindsight. Set good boundaries and treasure your time and focus by staying positive and by sharing your BHAG with a few close colleagues so they can cheer you on and help keep you on target.

How To Be More Assertive At Work When That’s Just Not Your Personality

It’s your job to ask for things. Here’s how to be more comfortable with getting what you want.



Find it hard to advocate for yourself? You’re not alone. The personality trait that psychologists call “agreeableness” describes how motivated you are to get along with other people. If you’re highly agreeable, that motivation can sometimes prevent you from sticking up for your own interests. Anytime you ask for something at work, you run the risk that you’ll be told “no”–and possibly aggravate the person you’re asking. As a result, agreeable people may be put off from asking in the first place.

This can be a problem, because research suggests that agreeable people tend to make less money than disagreeable people (even accounting for the fact that disagreeable people lose their jobs more often). And in leadership roles, agreeable people may not be as good at getting their teams all the resources they need. So what can you do to be more assertive even when it just isn’t in your personality to do so? Here are a few tips.

Stop Hedging

When you’re feeling concerned about making a certain request, there are a few different ways you might show it. One of them is with the way you phrase the request itself. Hedging phrases and expressions like “sort of,” “kind of,” or “technically,” can water down what you’re trying to say–and make you sound less confident than you need to be in order to get what you want.

For example, when you say to someone that you’re “kind of done” with a project, you’re not really stating that you are finished with it, just somewhere in the vicinity of done.

These linguistic habits can creep into your questions just as easily as they can water down your statements. Maybe you preface a request by saying, “I was sort of hoping that you would . . . ” hoping that this phrasing will come off more polite. Agreeable person that you are, you think your chances of getting what you want will be higher when you aren’t seen as imposing on anybody. But you might be wrong; This language makes it sound like your request isn’t all that important, or even that you’re not certain it deserves to be granted.

Just state your requests more directly. “I need . . . ” or “I want . . . ” will typically get you much further. Decision makers in your organization can’t help you unless you state clearly what you need to be successful, and explain why it’s so important. Even if they can’t grant what you want that very moment, they may be able to help you out in the future.

Treat Your Request Like A First Impression

People are influenced not just by the content of certain statements, but also by the confidence with which they’re put forward, and the same is true with requests.

All the lessons you’ve learned about how to meet new people also apply when you’re asking for something. You know you have to look people in the eye, stand tall, and give a firm handshake in order to make a first impression. You’ll want to be just as emotionally intelligent when you’re asking people for things–including people you already know well and work with every day. Speak clearly and audibly, make eye contact, and act as though you expect cooperation from them.

Your agreeableness may prod you to take a more casual approach, but you need to resist that urge the same way you’d have to if you were meeting new people while networking. It’s important to project the expectation that your request will be taken seriously, and that display of confidence can boost the chances that it actually will be.

Always Give A Reason

You’d be surprised how many people forget this one, but it’s always crucial to justify your request. You don’t need to give a long, drawn-out explanation of why the thing you’re asking for matters, but a clear statement of the underlying need or purpose is key to sounding assertive. The reason helps because it shifts people from making an up-or-down decision to having to argue with the reason. Sometimes, just the effort of having to grapple with the reason is enough to get people to agree.

A classic 1978 study by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer and her colleagues looked at this issue when people would line up to use the office photocopier. They found that whenever somebody just asked if they could cut the line (a “yes” or “no” question), they were generally told “no,” and had to take their place at the back of the line. But if they gave a reason–“Can I cut in? I need to make some copies?”–people were much more likely to let them through. The reason itself couldn’t have been more obvious, but it was enough–people just didn’t want to have to argue with it.

Of course, a good reason (not just any reason) also helps bolster the case for your request. It’s always useful for people to understand not just what you want, but why you want it. The trick, though, is to keep your request short. When you can give a crisp statement of why your request matters, people assume you have really thought it through. If you ramble in your reasons, then the request is likely to seem half-baked, too.

This is potentially good news for agreeable people whose personalities tend to make them less keen on asking for things; even being able to muster a short explanation can go a long way.

Remember There’s No Harm In Asking

Finally, don’t forget that people who act as gatekeepers for resources know that people are going to ask them for things. Part of the job of managing a team is determining how to allocate those resources. Managers in those roles expect to have to manage those requests.

That means that you’re not doing something socially inappropriate when you approach someone with a request. It also means that they aren’t usually going to be angry with you if they have to tell you “no.” Typically, they’re just doing their best to manage the organization’s resources in the best way they think they can. In other words, it isn’t personal.

If it helps you become more assertive, just remind yourself that your managers and supervisors don’t feel bad about asking you to do things. So you shouldn’t feel bad about reciprocating. Every organization has goals that its team members are charged with carrying out. Not asking for what you need hinders those goals. In that sense, withholding your request is probably the most disagreeable thing you can do.

Medium- Read, write and share


It seems we’re entering another of those stupid seasons humans impose on themselves at fairly regular intervals. I am sketching out here opinions based on information, they may prove right, or may prove wrong, and they’re intended just to challenge and be part of a wider dialogue.
My background is archaeology, so also history and anthropology. It leads me to look at big historical patterns. My theory is that most peoples’ perspective of history is limited to the experience communicated by their parents and grandparents, so 50–100 years. To go beyond that you have to read, study, and learn to untangle the propaganda that is inevitable in all telling of history. In a nutshell, at university I would fail a paper if I didn’t compare at least two, if not three opposing views on a topic. Taking one telling of events as gospel doesn’t wash in the comparative analytical method of research that forms the core of British academia. (I can’t speak for other systems, but they’re definitely not all alike in this way).
So zooming out, we humans have a habit of going into phases of mass destruction, generally self imposed to some extent or another. This handy list shows all the wars over time. Wars are actually the norm for humans, but every now and then something big comes along. I am interested in the Black Death, which devastated Europe. The opening of Boccaccio’s Decameron describes Florence in the grips of the Plague. It is as beyond imagination as the Somme, Hiroshima, or the Holocaust. I mean, you quite literally can’t put yourself there and imagine what it was like. For those in the midst of the Plague it must have felt like the end of the world.
But a defining feature of humans is their resilience. To us now it seems obvious that we survived the Plague, but to people at the time it must have seemed incredible that their society continued afterwards. Indeed, many takes on the effects of the Black Death are that it had a positive impact in the long term. Well summed up here: “By targeting frail people of all ages, and killing them by the hundreds of thousands within an extremely short period of time, the Black Death might have represented a strong force of natural selection and removed the weakest individuals on a very broad scale within Europe,“ …In addition, the Black Death significantly changed the social structure of some European regions. Tragic depopulation created the shortage of working people. This shortage caused wages to rise. Products prices fell too. Consequently, standards of living increased. For instance, people started to consume more food of higher quality.”
But for the people living through it, as with the World Wars, Soviet Famines, Holocaust, it must have felt inconceivable that humans could rise up from it. The collapse of the Roman Empire, Black Death, Spanish Inquisition, Thirty Years War, War of the Roses, English Civil War… it’s a long list. Events of massive destruction from which humanity recovered and move on, often in better shape.
At a local level in time people think things are fine, then things rapidly spiral out of control until they become unstoppable, and we wreak massive destruction on ourselves. For the people living in the midst of this it is hard to see happening and hard to understand. To historians later it all makes sense and we see clearly how one thing led to another. During the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme I was struck that it was a direct outcome of the assassination of an Austrian Arch Duke in Bosnia. I very much doubt anyone at the time thought the killing of a European royal would lead to the death of 17 million people.
My point is that this is a cycle. It happens again and again, but as most people only have a 50–100 year historical perspective they don’t see that it’s happening again. As the events that led to the First World War unfolded, there were a few brilliant minds who started to warn that something big was wrong, that the web of treaties across Europe could lead to a war, but they were dismissed as hysterical, mad, or fools, as is always the way, and as people who worry about Putin, Brexit, and Trump are dismissed now.
Then after the War to end all Wars, we went and had another one. Again, for a historian it was quite predictable. Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.
That was Hitler, but it was also Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, Mugabe, and so many more. Mugabe is a very good case in point. He whipped up national anger and hatred towards the land owning white minority (who happened to know how to run farms), and seized their land to redistribute to the people, in a great populist move which in the end unravelled the economy and farming industry and left the people in possession of land, but starving. See also the famines created by the Soviet Union, and the one caused by the Chinese Communists last century in which 20–40 million people died. It seems inconceivable that people could create a situation in which tens of millions of people die without reason, but we do it again and again.
But at the time people don’t realise they’re embarking on a route that will lead to a destruction period. They think they’re right, they’re cheered on by jeering angry mobs, their critics are mocked. This cycle, the one we saw for example from the Treaty of Versaille, to the rise of Hitler, to the Second World War, appears to be happening again. But as with before, most people cannot see it because:
1. They are only looking at the present, not the past or future
2. They are only looking immediately around them, not at how events connect globally
3. Most people don’t read, think, challenge, or hear opposing views
Trump is doing this in America. Those of us with some oversight from history can see it happening. Read this brilliant, long essay in the New York magazine to understand how Plato described all this, and it is happening just as he predicted. Trump says he will Make America Great Again, when in fact America is currently great, according to pretty well any statistics. He is using passion, anger, and rhetoric in the same way all his predecessors did — a charismatic narcissist who feeds on the crowd to become ever stronger, creating a cult around himself. You can blame society, politicians, the media, for America getting to the point that it’s ready for Trump, but the bigger historical picture is that history generally plays out the same way each time someone like him becomes the boss.
On a wider stage, zoom out some more, Russia is a dictatorship with a charismatic leader using fear and passion to establish a cult around himself. Turkey is now there too. Hungary, Poland, Slovakia are heading that way, and across Europe more Trumps and Putins are waiting in the wings, in fact funded by Putin, waiting for the popular tide to turn their way.
We should be asking ourselves what our Archduke Ferdinand moment will be. How will an apparently small event trigger another period of massive destruction. We see Brexit, Trump, Putin in isolation. The world does not work that way — all things are connected and affecting each other. I have pro-Brexit friends who say ‘oh, you’re going to blame that on Brexit too??’ But they don’t realise that actually, yes, historians will trace neat lines from apparently unrelated events back to major political and social shifts like Brexit.
Brexit — a group of angry people winning a fight — easily inspires other groups of angry people to start a similar fight, empowered with the idea that they may win. That alone can trigger chain reactions. A nuclear explosion is not caused by one atom splitting, but by the impact of the first atom that splits causing multiple other atoms near it to split, and they in turn causing multiple atoms to split. The exponential increase in atoms splitting, and their combined energy is the bomb. That is how World War One started and, ironically how World War Two ended.
An example of how Brexit could lead to a nuclear war could be this:
Brexit in the UK causes Italy or France to have a similar referendum. Le Pen wins an election in France. Europe now has a fractured EU. The EU, for all its many awful faults, has prevented a war in Europe for longer than ever before. The EU is also a major force in suppressing Putin’s military ambitions. European sanctions on Russia really hit the economy, and helped temper Russia’s attacks on Ukraine (there is a reason bad guys always want a weaker European Union). Trump wins in the US. Trump becomes isolationist, which weakens NATO. He has already said he would not automatically honour NATO commitments in the face of a Russian attack on the Baltics.
With a fractured EU, and weakened NATO, Putin, facing an ongoing economic and social crisis in Russia, needs another foreign distraction around which to rally his people. He funds far right anti-EU activists in Latvia, who then create a reason for an uprising of the Russian Latvians in the East of the country (the EU border with Russia). Russia sends ‘peace keeping forces’ and ‘aid lorries’ into Latvia, as it did in Georgia, and in Ukraine. He annexes Eastern Latvia as he did Eastern Ukraine (Crimea has the same population as Latvia, by the way).
A divided Europe, with the leaders of France, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and others now pro-Russia, anti-EU, and funded by Putin, overrule calls for sanctions or a military response. NATO is slow to respond: Trump does not want America to be involved, and a large part of Europe is indifferent or blocking any action. Russia, seeing no real resistance to their actions, move further into Latvia, and then into Eastern Estonia and Lithuania. The Baltic States declare war on Russia and start to retaliate, as they have now been invaded so have no choice. Half of Europe sides with them, a few countries remain neutral, and a few side with Russia. Where does Turkey stand on this? How does ISIS respond to a new war in Europe? Who uses a nuclear weapon first?
This is just one Arch Duke Ferdinand scenario. The number of possible scenarios are infinite due to the massive complexity of the many moving parts. And of course many of them lead to nothing happening. But based on history we are due another period of destruction, and based on history all the indicators are that we are entering one.
It will come in ways we can’t see coming, and will spin out of control so fast people won’t be able to stop it. Historians will look back and make sense of it all and wonder how we could all have been so naïve. How could I sit in a nice café in London, writing this, without wanting to run away. How could people read it and make sarcastic and dismissive comments about how pro-Remain people should stop whining, and how we shouldn’t blame everything on Brexit. Others will read this and sneer at me for saying America is in great shape, that Trump is a possible future Hitler (and yes, Godwin’s Law. But my comparison is to another narcissistic, charismatic leader fanning flames of hatred until things spiral out of control). It’s easy to jump to conclusions that oppose pessimistic predictions based on the weight of history and learning. Trump won against the other Republicans in debates by countering their claims by calling them names and dismissing them. It’s an easy route but the wrong one.
Ignoring and mocking the experts , as people are doing around Brexit and Trump’s campaign, is no different to ignoring a doctor who tells you to stop smoking, and then finding later you’ve developed incurable cancer. A little thing leads to an unstoppable destruction that could have been prevented if you’d listened and thought a bit. But people smoke, and people die from it. That is the way of the human.
So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover, and move on. The human race will be fine, changed, maybe better. But for those at the sharp end — for the thousands of Turkish teachers who just got fired, for the Turkish journalists and lawyers in prison, for the Russian dissidents in gulags, for people lying wounded in French hospitals after terrorist attacks, for those yet to fall, this will be their Somme.
What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much. The liberal intellectuals are always in the minority. See Clay Shirky’s Twitter Storm on this point. The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. They are less violent, so end up in prisons, camps, and graves. We need to beware not to become divided (see: Labour party), we need to avoid getting lost in arguing through facts and logic, and counter the populist messages of passion and anger with our own similar messages. We need to understand and use social media. We need to harness a different fear. Fear of another World War nearly stopped World War 2, but didn’t. We need to avoid our own echo chambers. Trump and Putin supporters don’t read the Guardian, so writing there is just reassuring our friends. We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.
(Perhaps I’m just writing this so I can be remembered by history as one of the people who saw it coming.)