Welcome to The Grey Area

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This is the twelfth edition and since I have not missed a month since I started this newsletter, that means it's officially the first birthday! When a year passes that always is a good opportunity to reflect on the time that has passed. The last twelve months have been an interesting ride, also with this magazine. Writing regularly is a thing that turned from a hobby to an obligation. Not in a bad way, though. I really enjoy the regular reason it gives me to sit down, structure thoughts and put them into a well-formed order to illustrate you, the reader, the train that picked up all those thoughts on the way to end up in your mailbox. And it started out as a nice excuse to really prioritise writing on my To Do list. Funny thing is, putting the fun back into my To Do list also played out really well in other areas of my life and business. So as a birthday is always a celebratory event I encourage you to celebrate with me, get a nice beverage of your choice right now, whatever time it is where you are and when you read it, put everything aside and just enjoy the moment. To us!

What we wrote

Who will keep the kids?

Who will keep the kids?
Akihiko Kondo is a perfectly normal human being. He works as a school administrator, lives in Tokyo and, until recently, shared his home with his wife, the celebrity Hatsune Miku. But an act of neglect silenced her and since then Kondo is struggling to communicate with her. Until now this sounds like a perfectly imperfect relationship between two people, especially considering there is a celebrity involved. Miku however is not a human that you can meet in her flesh. She is one of Japan’s most famous anime characters and is all over the Japanese internet.

When Kondo married Miku in 2018 he acquired a so-called Gatebox that thanks to basic AI technology allowed him to have a holographic depiction of Miku in his home, talk to her and have at least the illusion of a romantic relationship. Which by the way he is not illusional enough to confuse with a relationship between two people. But his ability to control the narrative did something humans failed to give him: It helped him overcome his depression.

So what changed? Well, the company that provided Kondo with the technology to experience his relationship with Miku, discontinued the service that offered the hologram in 2020. They pulled the plug. Kondo replaced the hologram with a life-sized doll, but his marriage has never been the same ever since.

Akihiko Kondo might seem like an extreme case of tech affinity. But when we are honest with each other we all tend to have some kind of relationship with our technical devices. We all grew fond of the little things these devices offer to make our things easier. And it is no big surprise we fall for the services tech companies offer. After all, they are really good at creating a desire for and within us.

Companies make decisions based on different parameters than the individual customer. While the customer is looking for that one product that makes our lives easier, more pleasant or richer, most companies focus on the optimal intersection between what they can create with their resources and what they assume the most customers want - or what they can make the most customers make desire. If we’re lucky we find that one service and we love it. We can’t (want to) live without it.

Tech companies change their focus more and more from having customers, users to having fans! They seem to understand the importance of caring about existing clients. Personal recommendations are already number one in regards to marketing channels and who better to recommend your product than your already existing clients.

But sometimes what a company offers might turn out less profitable over time. Customer desires change nearly as fast as hype cycles and what is technologically possible evolves even faster. And companies have to make a decision: Do we discontinue a certain service or not? Single people’s personal investment in the matter will mostly not play a big part in that decision. Rather, they will look at the cold facts and numbers. How much revenue can we still generate? Is it still viable? If they decide they cannot or will not meet a certain threshold the decision is made: The product or service is discontinued. And we are at the beginning of our search for a fitting product - again.

So do we all need to get prepared to have our hearts broken? Well, I suppose we will. Especially in this fast-changing and hype-based world. But I am optimistic that we will learn to adapt over time. We survived the Take That Breakup in the 90ies - we will survive the change in the services we use.

Mostly, it will not be comfortable. A breakup never is. Most of the time it’s a pain in the bottom. And next to all the emotional stuff that we deal with, what do we do with the things we have created together? Who gets to keep what? Getting your data out of one service and into the other is - if even possible - nothing short of a degrading process.

But we can plan for it. We can actively decide to choose services that give us certain flexibilities, for example, easy export functions. If we are residents in the EU we can use services that take GDPR norms seriously and make use of our rights to get a report about all our saved data. We can reduce our complexity in systems and think about what we really use and need. We can plan our tech stack strategically. So the heartbreak might only feel like a little crack and not like a hole that is ripped into our core.

What others wrote

No text I ever write just comes out of my brain from some form of abyss. I am not that genius creative. I read a lot of stuff that forms my opinion. Not all of it makes it into my articles. Some things are just a brain tickler. So I will share good pieces with you, so maybe they also tickle your brain.
Climate change is a thing. No discussion. We have to act now if we don't want to be crispy chicken or swimming like a fish this time 5 years ahead.
But what can we as already reasonable individuals do to help the cause even more? Well, as playing is always a good idea in a dire situation, here's a game for you! Can you solve climate change?
Conservatives are not funny, right? Go on, name one funny conservative comedian! Did you succeed?
Comedy has traditionally been the Liberals' field. That comes as no big surprise. Most comedy makes fun of the status quo. So what would you make fun of if your political opinion basically is preserving the status quo? Turns out: They found their very own niche and have become more successful than most of the well known comedians like Steven Colbert or Jimmy Fallon.
As COVID obviously is over, we can all go back to the office and work as effectively there as we did pre-COVID. As goes the tale that hits company floors around the Western World. Well, maybe now is as good a good time to consider what we want to do, where and when we want to do it.
A study tried to find out where our best creative ideas are born. They find that we brainstorm better ideas when we are in the same physical room - but we make better decisions about these ideas when we are on a Zoom call! So maybe not all is better done in the same room at the same time. Consider that next time you invite all your colleagues for a meeting to decide on the latest coffee brand for the office machine!

A word from...
Robert Chesnut

"The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think" - Harper Lee
This month I want to recommend you "Intentional Integrity" by Robert Chesnut
Book Cover Intentional Integrity
Do you have integrity? It is very likely that you answer that question with "yes". Most people have integrity, don't they? What are the components that form that concept for you? And do they overlap with my idea of integrity? If we never talk about it, we will never know.
Especially in companies, we rarely talk about it! We assume that these are things, normal decent humans intuitively have and bring to the workplace. Over the course of being a leader, chances are you will run into many conflicts of interest. And if your company does not have a proper concept what values make integrity for you, your culture will always be incomplete and up for trouble.
But there are ways to have these talks, discussions and negotiations about all the different pitfalls in a respectful and appreciative way to come up with a frame nobody could accidentally leave. In the end it will be what makes - and breaks - good people companies.

The Good News

I have a faible for extraordinary holiday plans. Going where everybody goes and sleeping in big hotel complexes never has been my cup of tea. And what could be more extraordinary than adding a castle to your accomodation list? I for my part have a new travel bucket list! Especially as some of these gems on the list also are not that much more expensive than the All-inclusive holiday where you share the pool with 3.000 other guests.

What's new?

I have a "Now" page. So everyone can see what is going on.
What is a Now page? It's "a page that tells you what this person is focused on at this point in their life. Think of what you’d tell a friend you hadn’t seen in a year." The idea was first brought into the world by Derek Sivers. So this is me sharing myself with you, just as I would do with friends I haven't seen in a year. Even if we have never met in person.
That's it for this month. Thanks for reading the 11th Edition and for your support. Please let me know what you think of the newsletter. All feedback welcome!
And on a last note, just to let you know: This newsletter, as any, was made by the loving support of snacks, coffee, and the vastness of the internet.
We actively want to bring in colours, not just lighten the place up! We want to create the space, where ideas from other dimensions are included, where thoughts outside of the black and white realm find a touchpoint with the spectrum. We want to explore possibilities how our society can be a better one when we don’t fight the unknown but embrace it with open arms and a curious mind. It is an offer to think differently. It’s an offer for different views, opinions and insights so that the “One Size Fits All” story of technology becomes a range of various stories that show us the immense beauty of digitalization.
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