What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them

You want to be generous and flexible with your employees. Why wouldn't you? Everybody is working harder. Everybody is under more pressure. Everybody needs more than what they are getting.

If you are the boss, one of the most important parts of your job is taking care of your people. Remember, people work to take care of themselves and their families. They want your help. Some managers consistently do more for their employees. If you're not one of those managers, what is your problem?

What are the key elements of every job that employees typically care about? Based on more than twenty years of research conducted by my company RainmakerThinking, Inc., including hundreds of thousands of respondents, this is what employees care about:

  1. The ability to earn more money. This is all about the compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?

  2. More control over their own schedules. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?

  3. Relationships at work. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, coworkers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?

  4. Task choice. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? How much of it is "grunt work" (tedious or otherwise difficult recurring tasks)? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee's opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities, or projects?

  5. Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?

  6. Location and workspace. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues? Within a given workspace, how much latitude will the employee have to customize his/her immediate surroundings?

Most employees have a considerable desire and interest in customizing some or all of these key elements. When you find out what a particular employee really needs or wants from you, it is like finding a needle in a haystack. How do you make those needles work for you as supersonic bargaining chips? Leverage them for everything they are worth to make win-win custom deals whenever you possibly can.

  • "You don't want to work on Thursday? I'm glad to know that. Here's what I need from you by Wednesday at midnight."

  • "You want your own office? Here's what I need from you."

  • "You want to bring your dog to work? Great. Here's what I need from you."

  • "You want to have lunch with the senior VP? Here's what I need from you."

When managers are able to do that, they are giving the employee control over her rewards by spelling out exactly what she needs to do to earn them. In exchange, the employee will probably be willing to do a lot -- to work longer, harder, smarter, faster, or better -- and you will provide her with an immediate reward that is uniquely valuable to her.

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Making Climate Change Relevant - David Saddington's Climate Change Speech Discusses Personal Impact (TrendHunter.com)

(TrendHunter.com) In his climate change speech, David Saddington discusses why a scientific approach to educating the public is wrong. When the speaker was younger, he promoted scientific education around climate...

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Chobani Dresses Dogs Up in Costumes in Adorable Ad for Halloween

Tim Nudd - November 01, 2014 at 08:26AM

Petco had a whole Halloween contest around dressing up pets this month, but you don't have to be a pet brand to get in on that action. Droga5 did this cute ad for Chobani, featuring pooches in their Halloween costumes—while enjoying the treat that is Chobani yogurt.

Check out the video below. Happy Halloween!

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Zombie Brands: The Science Behind Undead Market Icons

- A Halloween monster-mash co-authored with Tatiana Astray, Ana Babic, Anton Siebert, and Ela Veresiu of the Schulich School of Business marketing department

When companies and products die, their brands often live on. From Napster and Pan Am to Woolworth and Mister Donut - zombie brands abound. They have been resuscitated, redefined, or kept alive by unusual means.

However, zombie brands are not all made from the same cloth. Some are brought back as nostalgic fashion icons, others have been sustained by passionate fans. Yet others simply continue exist in other parts of the world or in our imagination. A brief journey into the world of zombie brands and the consumer science behind them:

Titanic: Disaster Zombie Brands


Why is Titanic such a bewitching brand, despite its sad origin story as the "unsinkable" steamship that sank in its maiden voyage? One popular explanation is the brand's resurrection through James Cameron's 1997 epic romantic film Titanic that is the second highest grossing movie of all time worldwide with an estimated $2.185 billion in earnings. A second popular reason is our society's morbid fascination with people and places associated with death, disaster, and devastation. This has created a profitable global industry known as dark tourism, which features deathly destinations such as London's Jack The Ripper Tour, San Francisco's Alcatraz Island, U.S.A Gettysburg Battlefield, or Italy's The Lost City of Pompeii. However, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, the key to unlocking this branding mystery lies first and foremost in the story's ambiguity. Consumer researchers Stephen Brown, Pierre McDonagh, and Clifford J. Shultz II find that "a spectrum of Titanic ambiguities, from confusion through contradiction to cumulation" help keep consumers' entertained by allowing their imagination and creativity to run wild. In the end, don't we all need a little more mystery to spice up our daily lives?

JFK: Celebrity Zombie brands


The John F. Kennedy story is the perfect American story. You start off with humble beginnings, followed by a period of hard work, and finally the attainment of power. There is romance, the pursuit of ideals, the lurking of danger, and ultimately death at the height of one's panicle! It is no wonder that the "Kenny" story continues to haunt the collective conscious through films, documentaries, and books. However, outside of our voyeuristic desires to know more about Kenny there is a hunting belief among us. We tend to believe that Kenney's essence lives on in the objects he once owned, and you can buy this essence, for the right price of course. A few years ago, John F. Kennedy's golf clubs were auctioned off for over $1 million and his Air Force One bomber jacket for over half a million. Consumer researchers George E. Newman, Gil Diesendruck and Paul Bloom have looked at why people buy objects owned by celebrities in a recent Journal of Consumer Research study. The authors found that people tend to believe that one's essence can be transferred to objects, and that when it comes to willingness to pay, this belief played a critical factor when participants were determining the value of a celebrity's object. Alas, whether you believe in ghosts or not, we can safely say that whoever has those clubs and jacket also has a little bit of Kenney's essence with them, no?"

Mister Donut: International Zombie Brands


Following a 35-year success story from selling doughnuts on the streets of Boston to becoming the second biggest doughnut chain in North America, Mister Donut faced a deadly challenge in the early 90s. New owner Allied-Lyons offered all stores the opportunity to convert to Dunkin' Donuts, the leading doughnut chain. In the blink of an eye, Mister Donut was erased from the American commercial landscape. Luckily, there was a glimmer of hope elsewhere. In 1983, Duskin Co. Ltd of Japan acquired Mister Donut's sales and trademark rights for Asia and began to open stores in Japan. The adoption of Western products by local consumers is often linked to a global trickle-down model. In this model, consumers around the world emulate Western goods, lifestyles, and practices in the hope of becoming "modern" consumers who enjoy the "good" (i.e., Western) consumer life. But how can it be that a brand like Mister Donut flourishes in Japan even after it has been entirely removed from its Western country of origin? A study in the Journal of Consumer Research can help provide an answer. The global spread of Western consumer culture, such as the doughnut and coffee culture, provides "an identity space where certain products and symbols can become representative," say consumer researchers Dannie Kjeldgaard and Soren Askegaard. To become the brand that is representative of this identity space and hence flourish in a foreign market requires a successful adaptation to local cultures and consumers. Brands then acquire lives of their own in foreign markets, more or less connected to their origins, and sometimes even without any material existence back home. As Mister Donut's over 1,300 stores in Japan and zero stores in North America demonstrate, a brand can be dead in one place, but incredibly alive in another.

Apple Newton: Fan-Managed Zombie Brands


Just like zombies that never die and in one way or another feed on humans, this brand has been alive long since its plug had officially been pulled back in 1998. As we know from brand experts Albert Muñiz and Hope Schau, consumers' attachment to a product or brand can sometimes survive its abandonment by the marketer. In a Journal of Consumer Research article, they illustrate the power of consumer narratives and the enduring human need for religious affiliation. Religious, you may ask? Yes! Newton fans faithfully resisted against modernity and a world which would not include their beloved personal digital assistant. They deemed the product mystical, supernatural, and perfect despite the fact that it failed in the marketplace. Much like stories about zombies, legends were told about this product surviving extreme conditions that should have destroyed it -- such as falling from the roof of a speeding car. Another recurring theme in online communities dedicated to the Newton was resurrection -- people strongly believed that it will one day return. Fans' storytelling resembled urban legends stemming from unconfirmed rumors and accounted by unidentified witnesses. Sometimes these rumors can spread like wildfire. Remember the rumor about the sewer alligator in New York City? Remember the mass-poisoning rumors in Europe in the early 1990s that led consumers to avoid all foods from the list supposedly issued by a hospital in Villejuif (France)? Remember the stories about the P&G's satanic logo? Now, remember that time someone mentioned they saw an Apple-Newton-like device in the hands of a Disneyland employee four years after Apple had abandoned it? Fan stories like these kept the brand alive, albeit on life support. A discontinued, zombie-like formation that was stripped of the potential to foster new life, new brand extensions, new memories. While the rumors of Apple Newton's reintroduction to the market were in the end just rumors, some 20,000 Newton fans are still defying the marketplace norms by continuing to use the product till this day.

Pan Am: Nostalgic Zombie Brands


George Carlin, the late American comedian and social critic, stated that "America has no now... Our culture is composed of sequels, reruns, remakes, revivals, reissues, re-releases, recreations, re-enactments, adaptations, anniversaries, memorabilia, oldies radio, and nostalgia record collections." There is just something about the past that brings us comfort, makes us feel better about ourselves, and can even make us more empathetic. Marketing professors Morris Holbrook and Robert Schindler were among the first to show that consumers maintain, sometimes for the rest of their lives, those early imprinted preferences toward people, places or things that were common when they were younger. At a broader, societal level we sometimes experience communal nostalgia in the wake of world-changing events such as wars, revolutions, or environmental catastrophes. As consumer researchers Stephen Brown, Rob Kozinets, and John Sherry have demonstrated, consumers can resort to retro brands in order to connect to the communities which once upon a time shared those brands. In the Journal of Marketing, Brown, Kozinets, and Sherry explain that consumers interact with the cultural meanings of cult, nostalgic brands and expand them into social universes composed of stories. Few better examples exist of stories about "the yearning for what is gone but not forgotten" than that of Pan American Airways. Founded in 1927, Pan Am soon grew to be the principal international air carrier in the United States. Besides for its industry innovations, such as using computerized reservation systems and jet aircrafts, Pan Am was known as a cultural icon of the 20th century. It fostered high levels of customer commitment and developed strong ties to popular culture of the Cold War era. A well-remembered instance was the Beatles' landing to the John F. Kennedy airport aboard Pan Am's Clipper Defiance aircraft back in 1964. Largely due to mid-century nostalgia, the Pan Am brand was kept alive even after it was sold to Delta Air Lines in 1991. The brand was revived in 2011, when the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) aired a TV show titled Pan Am. In 2013, a nostalgia flagship store opened in Miami, FL called Pan Am & First Flight Out, which features model airplanes, old props, travel carry-ons, passport covers, and even chocolate wrapped in Pan-Am-themed packaging. In early 2014, Pan Am announced a possible reintegration of the brand which will once again provide scheduled airline services. This nostalgic zombie brand seems to have managed its meanings well among consumer communities and is coming back due to popular demand.

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Joe Oliver says he'll balance budget despite falling oil prices, dip in GDP

Joe Oliver

Neither falling oil prices, disappointing GDP numbers nor the $2.4-billion cost of the new income-splitting and baby bonus programs announced yesterday will prevent the federal government from balancing the budget in 2015, according to Finance Minister Joe Oliver.

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Why You Have to Get Better at the Boring Stuff

There are plenty of thrills when you're starting up. But those long stretches of mind-numbing work? That's what ultimately determines whether or not you're successful.

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How to Hack Sleep

Improve your productivity (and the productivity of your employees) with these tools and tips for better rest.

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Weekend Roundup: Why the Arab Spring is Still Flowering in Tunisia

The savagery of ISIS, the slaughterhouse of Syria's civil war, the marauding militias in Libya and the restored autocracy in Egypt have devoured the hopes of the Facebook generation that spawned the Arab Spring. In Tunisia alone the spirit of the Jasmine Revolution still flowers.

While the character of Tunisian society and culture has much to celebrate with its success, including just-completed peaceful elections that favored the main secular party, there is another factor: the absence of outside intervention, particularly from the West.

In The WorldPost this week Rafik Abdessalem, Tunisia's former foreign minister, explains why despotism will never return to his country. Soumaya Ghannoushi argues that the many years that activists from the moderate Islamist Ennahdha Party spent in exile abroad taught them "the art of compromise and consensus, which may be the hallmark of the nascent Tunisian political model." Jonathan Labin, head of Middle East, Africa and Pakistan for Facebook, chronicles how the same social media that fomented political upheaval is now connecting young people in the region to jobs.

From Istanbul, WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones reports on violent student clashes at Istanbul University, where the war in neighboring Syria has begun to make its way into the classroom. She also reports on how the recent attack on security personnel in the Sinai has prompted a stronger crackdown on dissent in Egypt.

In another seminal election this week, Ukrainian voters tilted decisively westward. The French philosopher and champion of the Maidan movement, Bernard-Henri Lévy, discusses the significance of standing behind Kiev as it faces down Vladimir Putin. Writing from Moscow, Georgy Bovt sees disaster ahead as Russian and Western elites are no longer able to understand or even listen to each other. Writing from Tbilisi, Ghia Nodia bluntly opines that "the West can offer no conceivable partnership terms that Putin would accept." As if to prove him right, Vladimir Putin lashed out at the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi, blaming the West for instigating world disorder.

Writing from Moscow, Elena Chernenko, Vladislav Novyii and Ivan Safronov report that when Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi meet in Beijing next week at the APEC summit, they will likely sign a "digital non-aggression pact" that underscores how they see eye to eye on cybersecurity.

From Mexico City, Homero Aridjis expresses the exploding outrage across the country at the spiraling violence wrought by political corruption and drug cartels, most recently in the state of Guerrero where 43 students are missing and presumed dead.

In this week's Forgotten Fact series, The WorldPost turns to Mexico and breaks down some of the key numbers so readers can better understand the violence rocking the country.

Writing from Beijing, Lijia Zhang traces the impressive advance of women in China through the experiences of her own mother and grandmother. Artist Jia declares that she agrees with the recent statement of Xi Jinping that he has had enough of "weird" architecture in China as traditional buildings are torn down for Western-style development. WorldPost China Correspondent Matt Sheehan reports on how the continuing protests in Hong Kong are dividing the city. He also takes WorldPost readers behind the Mong Kok barricades, chronicling a 24-hour stretch with ongoing updates and photos. Human rights lawyer Gladys Li decries the historically incorrect collaboration of Hong Kong tycoons with Beijing Communists to deny full democracy to citizens. Meanwhile, Keping Yu, a key official of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, explains that, while China is not moving toward multi-party elections, political reform that is decentralizing and balancing power is nonetheless extensive. Minxin Pei doubts that the rule of law can be squared with rule by one party.

As the Ebola scare in the U.S. begins to ebb, Sriram Shamasunder and Phuoc Le criticize the lack of support medical and public health professionals in the U.S. are getting for their efforts to fight Ebola in West Africa.

On another health front, Bartow Elmore documents how the Coca-Cola Company is coping with the American attack on obesity by ramping up sales of its full-calorie brands in overseas markets.

In the third episode of Tree Media's "Green World Rising" series, actor Leonardo DiCaprio posits that green tech can soon meet 100 percent of global energy needs.

In an interview, Peruvian novelist and Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa observes that the combination of religious hatred and "secular cynicism" sweeping the world is nourishing "monsters" like ISIS.

Finally, moral philosopher Peter Singer cautions that we are becoming "too cautious" about technological advance. "Skepticism can be lethal," he says.


EDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Senior Advisor to the Berggruen Institute on Governance and the long-time editor of NPQ and the Global Viewpoint Network of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Senior Editor of the WorldPost. Alex Gardels is the Associate Editor of The WorldPost. Nicholas Sabloff is the Executive International Editor at the Huffington Post, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost's 10 international editions. Eline Gordts is HuffPost's Senior World Editor.

CORRESPONDENTS: Sophia Jones in Istanbul; Matt Sheehan in Beijing.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Arianna Huffington, Eric Schmidt (Google Inc.), Pierre Omidyar (First Look Media) Juan Luis Cebrian (El Pais/PRISA), Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute/TIME-CNN), John Elkann (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa), Wadah Khanfar (Al Jazeera), Dileep Padgaonkar (Times of India) and Yoichi Funabashi (Asahi Shimbun).

CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

The Asia Society and its ChinaFile, edited by Orville Schell, is our primary partner on Asia coverage. Eric X. Li and the Chunqiu Institute/Fudan University in Shanghai and Guancha.cn also provide first person voices from China. We also draw on the content of China Digital Times. Seung-yoon Lee is The WorldPost link in South Korea.

Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the "whole mind" way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Members of the Berggruen Institute's 21st Century Council and Council for the Future of Europe serve as the Advisory Council -- as well as regular contributors -- to the site. These include, Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juan Luis Cebrian, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei Kudrin, Pascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon Musk, Pierre Omidyar, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel Roubini, Nicolas Sarkozy, Eric Schmidt, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter Schwartz, Amartya Sen, Jeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry Summers, Wu Jianmin, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Ahmed Zewail, and Zheng Bijian.

From the Europe group, these include: Marek Belka, Tony Blair, Jacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar Issing, Mario Monti, Robert Mundell, Peter Sutherland and Guy Verhofstadt.


The WorldPost is a global media bridge that seeks to connect the world and connect the dots. Gathering together top editors and first person contributors from all corners of the planet, we aspire to be the one publication where the whole world meets.

We not only deliver breaking news from the best sources with original reportage on the ground and user-generated content; we bring the best minds and most authoritative as well as fresh and new voices together to make sense of events from a global perspective looking around, not a national perspective looking out.

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WTO in Seattle - 15 Years Ago

In November 1999, the WTO met in Seattle, where I live, to negotiate the terms of globalization.

I missed it.

At the time, I was negotiating a union contract. Our negotiating teams recommended rejecting a terrible contract offer. Over 98% of our members voted "No," leading to a 40-day strike a few weeks later.

My daughter heard about the WTO meeting from friends at school. She asked me if she could cut class with her friend Janine to go to the demonstrations. I told her three things. First, of course! This is history. You must see it. Second, here are two quarters. If you get arrested, call me and I will come get you out. (Cells phones were still a novelty.) Third, stick with Janine. No boys. For each boy you add to your group, your collective IQ drops by half - an old Dave Barry joke, but I know something about this.

I didn't understand the WTO or it's work. My feelings were captured in the movie, Battle in Seattle (great trailer) featuring Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriquez, and Woody Harrelson. Near the end of the movie, demonstrators are in jail, asking each other if all the planning and effort had been worth it. One said, last week no one knew about the WTO. This week they still don't, but they're against it.


In the 15 years since, the demonstrators' message has come into focus.

A generation ago, trade deals were about trade. They were really boring, with incomprehensible names like General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

The WTO broadened those goals from boring tariffs to regulation, health care, patents, the environment, currency manipulation, financial regulation, immigration, government procurement, labor rights and human rights - policies that are normally settled through democratic accountable political processes.


Photo by Dang Ngo / Rainforest Action Network.

NAFTA took effect in 1994, introducing a new format for globalization. NAFTA was designed from the top down to tip power in favor of global corporations, at the expense of civil society.

The WTO met in Seattle to extend NAFTA's corporate-friendly principles to a global standard. Mass opposition in Seattle and elsewhere blocked that effort.

Globalization shifted course. Rather than seeking global consensus at the WTO, where many countries were reluctant, globalization would move forward through "bilateral" agreements. Large countries would have more bargaining power over smaller ones, and the bilateral deals would attract less attention and less opposition. We now have a jumble of hundreds of bilateral agreements.

Today, we are circling in on the global standard, with two new multi-regional agreements - one with 12 countries around the Pacific (TPP), and a second between the US and Europe (TTIP). Again, the issue is not trade. It's about defining the moral, social, political and economic terms of globalization.

Looking back to 1999, it's clear that the WTO and NAFTA-style trade deals were never about economics or shared prosperity. They are really about power relationships. Who will have the power to claim any new gains created through work?

A European diplomat recently promoted this multi-regional approach, saying the global standards set in these deals would be great for global corporations. TPP and TTIP would determine how life would be organized in 2050.

Thinking back, my union contract negotiations in 1999 and the WTO demonstrations in Seattle were really two sides of the same coin. It's all about power relationships - who will decide how we divide wealth?

At a labor meeting during our strike, our International President told a large crowd that most strikes in the last 20 years were against take-aways, not for new gains. Workers struck to keep what they had.

Our strike marked a huge shift in the our power relationship, as workers. In our old relationship, our CEO had said employees were his most important asset. Our new workplace power relationship looks more like Wal-Mart's approach, adapted to our high-end manufacturing industry. In the Wal-Mart business model, every stakeholder should feel at risk, contingent and precarious. The dominant stakeholder will extract gains from all other stakeholders, then come around and demand more concessions.

Productivity would come from the global supplier network. Any work and any job could be moved to another country, either for lower cost, a weaker civil society, or simply as leverage to play one stakeholder off against another.

If that is global businesses' new business ethic, then the trade deals are creating global norms to serve that goal. This new system is working exactly the way it was designed.

In 1999, most Americans gave our trade negotiators the benefit of the doubt. The burden of proof fell on the labor and environmental protesters in Seattle and other cities. With years of lived experience since NAFTA, the jail scene in the movie looks more perceptive every day. We're not sure what the global trading system does, but we're against it.

Fifteen years on, critics of our trade policy now have the benefit of doubt. The burden of proof falls on the advocates of more NATFA-style deals.

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GM recall news, $70 oil and another pipeline pitch: BUSINESS WEEK WRAP

Mideast Bahrain Oil Prices

From new developments in GM's unfolding recall scandal, to the many ways that suddenly cheap and plentiful oil is affecting Canada, it was a busy week in business news. Jacqueline Hansen gets you caught up in our weekly video recap.

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Lobbyist-Tied Group Accused Of Faking Support For Potentially Higher Energy Bills

Wisconsin is the latest state to see a national group attempting to influence state-level policies on utility rates and solar energy -- and this one used a campaign that allegedly faked support from locals.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission is reviewing three cases where utility companies have asked for changes to the rate structure. As part of the public comment process on those proposals, a group named the Consumer Energy Alliance submitted a petition claiming support from 2,500 Wisconsin residents "who believe every energy consumer should pay a fair share for maintaining the electrical grid" and who support changes to the current utility rate structures. Consumer Energy Alliance is a Houston-based trade group with connections to Washington, D.C., energy lobbyists.

The petition caught the attention of many in the state who thought it was suspect that 2,500 people would sign a petition in support of policies that would likely raise their energy bills. Many also wondered why the CEA, a Houston-based group, would be so interested in Wisconsin rate policies. Not long after the petition was submitted, however, a reporter at Madison's Cap Times found that at least some of the people who reportedly signed the petition weren't aware of what they were signing and actually opposed the rate changes.

Cap Times reporter Mike Ivey found many of the supposed signers said they had received a phone call but had not actually signed the petition, or that they had been unclear of the position the petition advocated. The Wisconsin Public Service Commission reviewed the submission, and on Thursday announced that it was not accepting the petition because a disk submitted along with it for substantiation "didn't contain the information" promised, Cynthia Smith, the chief legal counsel for the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, told The Huffington Post. The commission's administrative law judge "determined there wasn't sufficient information as to the methodology or what people thought they were signing," said Smith. Thus, the petition won't be considered as part of the record in the rate cases.

The petition was filed as part of proceedings on proposed rate changes for Wisconsin utilities. It was supposedly signed by customers of Madison Gas & Electric and WE Energies, which each have separate proposals before the commission. The proposals from MGE and WE would both increase the fixed charges for customers while lowering the amount customers pay per kilowatt hour of energy used. The proposal from WE would also lower the amount of money customers with solar panels could make by selling excess energy they generate back to the grid -- a policy known as net metering.

Wisconsin is one of 43 states and the District of Columbia that has a net metering policy, which has been credited with helping grow the market for rooftop solar. But electric utilities in a number of states have been pushing back on those policies in recent years and attempting to raise the rates on solar customers, who they argue are not paying their fair share for use of the grid. One of the most recent disputes over solar policy took place in Arizona in 2013, when the local utility eventually disclosed that it was funding a campaign from the national conservative group 60 Plus Association against net metering.

The CEA said Thursday that it was withdrawing the petition from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission record anyway. David Holt, the group's president, told The Huffington Post that the CEA didn't intend for the petition to be "specific to merits of any rate case" and instead it was about presenting "sensible, logical, balanced positions" on electricity.

Holt pushed back on claims that the names on the petition were gathered in a misleading or incorrect manner. "As we do with all these cases, we went back and reviewed our entire process and verified the authenticity of all the respondents and the accuracy of our whole process, so we're comfortable with that," he said.

But the CEA's involvement in Wisconsin has drawn attention overall. While the group says it represents consumer interests, its member list is made up of a number of oil and gas companies and manufacturers. And the group has close ties with HBW Resources, a lobbying and consulting firm that says its mission is to "promote government policies on behalf of our clients that encourage the development of energy resources." Holt is a managing partner, but says he spends "99 percent" of his time on the Consumer Energy Alliance; all the staffers listed on its site also work for HBW Resources. Holt said the Consumer Energy Alliance, which is registered as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, is run by a board of directors and the board "signs a contract with HBW Resources to help manage CEA."

Both WE Energies and MGE have said they had no involvement with the CEA or the petition. "We're not involved with CEA and we had nothing to do with the circulation of the petition," said WE spokesman Brian Manthey. MGE spokesman Steve Schultz said: "We oppose any group or activity that would mislead, misinform or interfere with the right of due process entitled to all MGE customers. Our commitment is to them."

The CEA petition raised hackles among people in Wisconsin who oppose the proposed changes. "Public input is supposed to be a really important piece of consideration in rate cases," said state Rep. Chris Taylor (D) in an interview with The Huffington Post. "I'm concerned that we've had some fraud by this out-of-state group, alleging that there are 2,500 people that want to double their utility base rates."

Taylor is also concerned about what the proposed changes would mean for solar. "It's really an attack on consumer production of energy," said Taylor, adding that it will determine the future of energy policy in the state. "Is Wisconsin going to be a state that welcomes renewable energy, or are we going to tax renewables out of existence?"

Tyler Huebner, executive director of the pro-renewables group RENEW Wisconsin, which also opposes the changes, thinks the changes would paralyze the growth of solar. RENEW's analysis has found that solar has only a 0.02 percent penetration in WE Energies territories currently, and a 0.07 percent penetration in areas MGE serves. Going forward with the changes, "It would be very select few locations that would be interested in solar," says Huebner. "It would really, really dampen the market, and would probably remove it for residential."

Some of the groups that had asked the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to review the CEA petition want more scrutiny turned on the CEA. "If the only consequence from this is that the petition is thrown out, it's certainly not a deterrent to CEA in how it handles public comments in other states and other proceedings," said Robert Kelter, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center based in Madison. "There's got to be some consequence to taking an oath that you're telling the truth in a public service commission hearing and then getting caught [in a situation where] what you were saying was not true."

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission's decisions on the rate cases are expected by the end of the year.

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When Experts Are a Waste of Money

Corporations have always relied on industry analysts, management consultants and in-house gurus for advice on strategy and competitiveness. Since these experts understand the products, markets and industry trends, they also get paid the big bucks.

But what experts do is analyze historical trends, extrapolate forward on a linear basis and protect the status quo -- their field of expertise. And technologies are not progressing linearly anymore; they are advancing exponentially. Technology is advancing so rapidly that listening to people who just have domain knowledge and vested interests will put a company on the fastest path to failure. Experts are no longer the right people to turn to; they are a waste of money.

Just as the processing power of our computers doubles every 18 months, with prices falling and devices becoming smaller, fields such as medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence and synthetic biology are seeing accelerated change. Competition now comes from the places you least expect it to. The health-care industry, for example, is about to be disrupted by advances in sensors and artificial intelligence; lodging and transportation, by mobile apps; communications, by Wi-Fi and the Internet; and manufacturing, by robotics and 3-D printing.

To see the competition coming and develop strategies for survival, companies now need armies of people, not experts. The best knowledge comes from employees, customers and outside observers who aren't constrained by their expertise or personal agendas. It is they who can best identify the new opportunities. The collective insight of large numbers of individuals is superior because of the diversity of ideas and breadth of knowledge that they bring. Companies need to learn from people with different skills and backgrounds -- not from those confined to a department.

When used properly, crowdsourcing can be the most effective, least expensive way of solving problems.

Crowdsourcing can be as simple as asking employees to submit ideas via email or via online discussion boards, or it can assemble cross-disciplinary groups to exchange ideas and brainstorm. Internet platforms such as Zoho Connect, IdeaScale and GroupTie can facilitate group ideation by providing the ability to pose questions to a large number of people and having them discuss responses with each other.

Many of the ideas proposed by the crowd as well as the discussions will seem outlandish -- especially if anonymity is allowed on discussion forums. And companies will surely hear things they won't like. But this is exactly the input and out-of-the-box thinking that they need in order to survive and thrive in this era of exponential technologies.

I tried such an experiment myself, crowdsourcing a book on women in innovation. After researching the exclusion of women from the technology industry, I wanted to propose ideas to fix the problems. It was unlikely that I, as a male, would be able to understand the depth of the problem that women face; to articulate painful stories of sexism and abuse; or to propose meaningful solutions. So I asked the crowd. I enlisted Columbia School of Journalism professor Farai Chideya as my coauthor, and we hired a project manager, Neesha Bapat. Together, we brainstormed questions we wanted to ask and problems we wanted to solve. We placed these on an online discussion forum. Then we approached our women friends and armies of social media followers to ask them to join the discussion. By the end, more than 500 women had come together to share ideas and propose solutions. Within six weeks, we were able to perform research that would have taken years, and developed a consensus on what needed doing. Women documented their own heart-wrenching stories and told the secrets of their success. The result of this effort is a book, Innovating Women , which dozens of women have told me has helped, motivated and inspired them.

Another way of harnessing the power of the crowd is to hold incentive competitions. These can solve problems, foster innovation and even create industries -- just as the first XPRIZE did. Sponsored by the Ansari family, it offered a prize of $10 million to any team that could build a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the earth's surface, twice within two weeks. It was won by Burt Rutan in 2004, who launched a spacecraft called SpaceShipOne. Twenty-six teams, from seven countries, spent more than $100 million in competing. Since then, more than $1.5 billion has been invested in private space flight by companies such as Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace and Blue Origin, according to the XPRIZE Foundation.

Heritage Provider Network's CEO, Dr. Richard Merkin, wanted to decrease the number of avoidable hospitalizations -- which cost the country more than $40 billion every year. So, in 2011, he offered $3 million to the team that could best predict how many days a patient would spend in the hospital, and 4,500 teams, from 41 countries, provided more than 39,000 entries. The best entries were seven times as accurate as any health-care organization's predictions. "Health care has become an information science, and health-care organizations that embrace the status quo will become the Kodaks and the Blockbusters of the second decade of the 21st century," Merkin wrote in an email to me.

Competitions needn't be so grand. InnoCentive and HeroX, a spinoff from the XPRIZE Foundation, for example, allow prizes as small as a few thousand dollars for solving problems. A company or an individual can specify a problem and offer prizes for whoever comes up with the best idea to solve it. InnoCentive has already run thousands of public and inter-company competitions. The solutions they have crowdsourced have ranged from the development of biomarkers for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease to dual-purpose solar lights for African villages.

Not long ago, success in business came from hoarding knowledge. Whether in departments, in groups, or in individual experts, the motivations were to keep information confidential and use it to gain an edge. Today, it is all about sharing. When an idea is shared, one plus one equals three, because the parties learn from each another and develop new ideas. In this way, crowdsourcing harnesses the creative and competitive spirit of people all over the world, enabling them to solve big problems as well as small and bypassing the knowledge-hoarders we once depended on.

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