T@W Weekly: Fake I

AI washing, noncompetes, and women in the workplace

The Word: AI Washing

I’ve learned a few “washing” terms this year, and “AI washing” is the latest. Here’s the rub from Axios:

The tech industry has always been infatuated with the buzzword du jour. Before AI landed in this role, it belonged to "big data." Before that, everyone was "in the cloud" or "mobile first." Even earlier, it was "Web 2.0" and "social software."

  • About three years ago, every company became an "AI company," says Frank Chen, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a leading Silicon Valley VC firm.

  • Now, investing in a purported AI startup requires detective skills, Chen says: "We have to figure out the difference between 'machine learning that can deliver real competitive differentiation' and 'fake ML that is a marketing gloss over linear regressions or a big team in the Philippines transcribing speech manually.'"

As I’ve tried to highlight in the newsletter, this problem isn’t going away. While it’s easy to blame marketing or founders chasing cash, it’s really an ecosystem problem of focusing on features over outcomes.

In hiring for example, outsourcing or simplifying the tech stack can help drive meaningful results, without the help of “innovation” at all. Yet, what gets funded, what gets coverage, and what gets prospective buyers attention, is often out of alignment with what organizations actually want from technology.

If you have a CEO, investor, coworker, or prospect asking about AI, ask them why? Often, the reasoning behind the ask is as vaporous as the AI they want to buy.

What the Click?

  • McKinsey released their women in the workplace report. As you might expect, there are some bright spots of improvement (C-suite representation, for instance) and a lot of things that still aren’t. Worth the full read. (McKinsey)

  • Congrats to friend and (now former) colleague Vadim Liberman on starting his new role as editor at ERE. I still have warm feelings for David Manaster and all of my former coworkers over there, at least until this happened… (ERE)

  • Is 2020 the year of the job search? Probably not. But, New Years is right around the corner and like all well-meaning gym goers, we’ll see some folks give it the old college try. (American Staffing Association)

  • What’s the dirty secret in work technology? More difficult implementations, with over half missing the deadline for launch and 42% rated not fully successful after two years. Complexity doesn’t change just because software moved to the cloud. (Josh Bersin)

  • Thinking of throwing a fib or two onto your resume? A U.S. State Department official has resigned thanks to an inflated resume. LinkedIn is one way we’ve added social proof to the application process and made it more difficult to inflate your way into a job. (Business Insider)

Defending Noncompetes for… Fast Food Employees?

An older story turned new, noncompetes are back in the firing line. It gained momentum recently thanks to some fast food restaurants enforcing noncompetes and no-poach agreements on restaurant workers. It only makes sense as a way to keep already low labor costs lower.

New federal legislation has been proposed that would nearly eliminate most noncompetes, fairly similar to the laws in California that have made noncompetes a non-factor there. And of course, some employment lawyers are more than happy to carry water for their clients here (emphasis mine):

Tom Muccifori, a partner at Archer & Greiner and chair of the Haddonfield, N.J., firm’s Trade Secret Protection and Non-Compete Practice Group, believes the proposed law goes too far and is destined to fail. He adds that it represents the third federal effort to restrict or ban noncompete agreements in the past 18 months (the first two stalled).

“All three of these proposed bills are not likely to become law as currently written,” he says. “They represent a political over-reaction to some of the perceived abuses seen across the country, in which employers have sought to implement noncompete agreements against low-level workers in the fast-food industry, sandwich shops, pizza parlors and the like.”

They aren’t perceived abuses, they are abuses. In an ideal world, every noncompete should have to be justified, on an individual basis. Not only should they be an extreme exception to the norm because of the power differential between an employee and the employer, they should be defined by legislation and vigorously defended by governmental agencies with enforcement teeth.

Businesses have lost the credibility to define what is and isn’t appropriate in noncompetes. The abuses of noncompetes have been well documented and there should be clear, defined standards that aren’t driven by case law and corporate attorneys.

T@W Podcast of the Week

Vadim Liberman was on Laurie Ruettimann’s Let’s Fix Work podcast to talk about his new role of course, but also about technology trends and authenticity. It’s a fun conversation, especially if you haven’t heard Vadim chat about some of these issues.

And Finally… Thank You!

I’ll be off next week for Thanksgiving here in the U.S. but I really appreciate all of your sharing of this newsletter. I actually got my first unsubscribe notification a few weeks ago, which might sound like a weird thing to be thankful for. But it reminded me that I send something out every week that people enjoy and seems to not be falling flat on its face.

I’ll take that as a small victory as I am stuffing my face next week with family at the Oregon coast. So thanks again and see you in December!

Cheers, Lance