GDPR — The Getting Started

THE GENERAL DATA PROTECTION REGULATION TAKES EFFECT on 25 May of this year. When we hit that deadline, you won’t comply. That’s what a senior lawyer told the audience at an event I attended. What he meant was that businesses generally won’t be able to get the changes done by the time GDPR comes into force.

The Regulations will affect all organisations to some degree. I can imagine several reactions. The truly awful manager might sit back and relax. “Well, if everybody else is going to have big problems complying with the regulations, we’re just one in the crowd. No need to rush!”

Even a sincere manager might be paralysed by the size of the job: “Should I get legal advice?”, “Do I need to employ an expert in security?”, “How can I run the business while all this work is going on?”.

A better approach would be to treat the big demands of GDPR as a good reason to get started. After all, even if you’re not compliant by the deadline, the effort you’ve put in to move in the right direction could make the difference between a slap on the wrist from the regulator and having the book thrown at you. “But they won’t be able to prosecute everyone”: no of course they won’t, but they will prosecute someone, and under the regulations it’ll be possible for those who’ve had a bad experience with your company to report you for any mishandling of their data.

Another point: why think about GDPR only in terms of avoiding prosecution? While it’s true that new regulations often fail to achieve much and just add paperwork, think about what you’re required to do under GDPR. Shouldn’t we have been doing a lot of it anyway?

Could it be a great opportunity? Get your organisation compliant, then tell everyone. Awareness of data rights and of cyber-security are only going to increase. Meanwhile your non-compliant competitors may get whacked by the new fines that GDPR brings in. The best manager will start now and keep going.

Book Review:- The Four, Scott Galloway (ISBN 9780735213654)

A COMMENT ON THE COVER OF THIS BOOK states that you’ll never look at Amazon/Apple/Facebook/Google the same way again, which is true. Galloway brings out the corporate personality of each company. Unlike many business books he tells you things you couldn’t have worked out for yourself.

The section on Apple is notable for the way he recasts Steve Jobs as a marketing genius who transformed Apple from a technology to a luxury company, going against the conventional thinking about distribution: “Jobs understood, as none of his peers did, that whereas content, even commodity products, might be sold online, if you wanted to sell electronics hardware as premium-priced luxury items, you had to sell them like other luxury items”, with a bricks and mortar retail presence.

You may remember the portentous TED presentation asserting that Apple’s success was because the motivation of their people (The “Why”) communicated itself to customers. This was never very convincing, and it was always hard to find other companies whose success could be explained the same way. I’m grateful to Professor Galloway for showing that, although the Apple story is unparallelled, it’s a triumph of marketing, not a semi-spiritual journey.

What’s Amazon’s core competence? The conventional business book would cite the operational capabilities, engineering or brand. For Galloway, the reason is “…its appeal to our instincts. The other wind at its back is a simple, clear story that has enabled it to raise, and spend, staggering amounts of capital”.

He has plenty of comment on the other two companies, and the book is full of quotable phrases, but the real value is the way he puts the elements together. For example, in the mass marketing funnel he says that Facebook is in the high position: “It suggests the ‘what’, while Google supplies the ‘how’ and Amazon the ‘when’ you will have it.”

A growth investor will find this book helpful in deciding whether the valuations of these companies are an accurate reflection of their future prospects. There’s an equally useful survey of contenders like Microsoft, Tesla and Walmart.

Professor Galloway appears from time to time on the Bloomberg Surveillance programme and his book was Surveillance Book of the Year.

The clip is worth listening to as Galloway suggests that there’s a possibility that these companies will be broken up by the government. I didn’t see that in the book and it’s something else that investors will need to think about. You’ll also note that Mr. Galloway doesn’t use the “F-word” on Bloomberg. In the book he doesn’t seem to be able to manage without it, which is irritating.

Distill Your Message for Maximum Strength

NINETEENTH-CENTURY CIVIL SERVICE EXAMINATIONS IN CHINA were so difficult that they played an indirect part in the death of more than twenty million people. Hong Xiuquan failed them repeatedly. Finally he had a breakdown, and instead of working for the Qing emperor, he lead the Taiping rebellion.

Among the requirements, candidates had to write poetry. One sardonic business writer saw an advantage to this: “It was known, finally, that it is virtually impossible to find an order of merit among people who have been examined in different subjects. Since it is impracticable to decide whether one man is better in geology than another man in physics, it is at least convenient to be able to rule them both out as useless.”

It occurs to me that the ability to write poetry may not have been such an odd qualification for a civil servant. If the poetry had to be flowery and verbose it wouldn’t help, but the skill of writing something like haiku could definitely be useful for communication, not just in government but in any organisation, and especially when talking to customers.

Less Is More
Being able to find words that evoke feelings is a talent that not everyone possesses. Another skill in short form poetry (which can be learned) is to throw out words that don’t add anything. Compare it to a distillery. At the beginning of the distillation process, there’s a lot of water in the mix. As it is removed, the whiskey gets stronger.

We get older and learn to handle “ten dollar” words. We know how to build long complicated sentences. We’re tempted to display our skill, but writing is like playing a musical instrument. Just because you can fill the air with notes doesn’t mean you should. What’s left out often makes the difference.

So it’s as simple as that? Was there really a story here? Well, if your writing doesn’t have the magic of poetry, perhaps it’s “anti-poetry”, unmusical and prosaic, repelling your readers instead of attracting them. If you don’t pay attention to your writing style, you could get into the habit of using jargon (as distinct from technical terms which have to be used in specialist fields). Jargon replaces ordinary words. It sounds more impressive – that’s the purpose – but doesn’t add meaning.

Words Beat Jargon
If you’re busy, do you really have to talk about “bandwidth”? Is there any need for the word “ideation” – do we get ideas nowadays in some new way that can’t be expressed in English? No – and yes, if you search other posts in this blog you may find that I’m guilty of jargon too – we all have to prune it back constantly. Jargon impresses naïve hearers or readers, but others will be annoyed. Some will wonder whether you’re covering up your insecurity. Why alienate part of your audience? Showing off with words is like showing off your money – it can be fun but it won’t make you real friends.

The more you distill your message the stronger it will be.