Internet Exceptionalism or Not– internet (small ‘i’) vs. Internet (Capital ‘I’): To Capitalize or Not… Who Decides?

It’s a grand debate: Whether or not to capitalize the word– ‘internet’ (small ‘i’) or ‘Internet’ (capital ‘I’): Capitalization, to some, suggests– ‘internet exceptionalism’… where exceptionalism is the perception that it’s something very special, exceptional (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way… According to Tim Wu; what is it about the Internet that makes it exceptional? Is the internet any different from say; computers, or smartphones, or electricity, or automobiles… The debate may appear trivial but there are many prominent– media, institutions, businesses… not to mention millions of private individuals who are in the habit of capitalizing or not capitalizing the word ‘internet’, and see no reason to change… 

This capitalization wars came when Associated Press (AP) style-guide announced that its stipulating lower-case for words, such as; internet, web, email… The AP is not the first style-guide to insist on lower-case for many technology-related words, many other media outlets prefer lower-case, as well… This tug-of-war has been going on for years with stylistic guidelines by many respected media sources, including; New York Times, Guardian, Economist, Wired News, Huffington Post, Chicago Manual of Style, Webster World College Dictionary… and many online and print media organizations…

In the article Should You Capitalize The Word Internet? by Katherine Connor Martin writes: Research shows that the capitalized form of the word ‘Internet’ is slightly more common, than non-capitalized ‘internet’ version… Over the past few years, the proportion of evidence for the two forms has remained relatively steady with Internet (capital ‘I’) having an edge, accounting for about 60%… It’s interesting to note that dictionaries are relatively inconsistent on this issue since they are lagging indicators of language change, hence waiting for usages to become settled before committing, and this particular change is still underway... Research also suggest there are geographic preferences in usage, e.g.; in UK, the preference for lower-case ‘i’ seems to be more dominant… whereas in the U.S., the capitalized form ‘I’ retains an edge… and preferred usage in other countries also varies…

According to Michael Straker; Internet is a contraction of  the word ‘inter-connected network’ and historically, the governing bodies that set internet standards have treated the word as a proper noun, capitalized… This was handy to differentiate various types of ‘internets’– worldwide set of ‘inter-connected networks’ from just any ‘inter-connected set of computer networks’… And so the argument was made that since the Internet is ‘exceptional’, it therefore deserves the preferential treatment bestowed upon proper nouns… But, in fact, earliest use of the word ‘internet’ was a lower-case ‘i’ cited in Oxford Dictionary in 1974.

In the article Why ‘Internet’ Should Not Be Stripped of Its Proper Noun Status by Amanda Edens writes: The Associated Press, one of the most widely followed authorities on writing style, has lower-cased the word ‘internet’ in their style-guide… According to the AP; hence forth it will use lower-case for words, such as; ‘internet’, ‘web’, ’email’… in all instances. This decision sparked much debate in the editorial and technology industries and beyond… But it’s not the first time that AP’s style-guide changes has caused ripples, and perhaps even confusion. Case in point: why in the world is there a hyphen in ‘e-commerce’, but not ’email’?

The word ‘Internet’ originated as the adjective ‘inter-netted’, basically meaning ‘inter-connected’ when describing a network of multiple computer networks… ‘Internet’ eventually replaced ‘inter-network’ as the standardized term, evolving from an adjective into a noun… There’s a distinction between ‘an internet’, which simply refers to one of those networks of networks, and ‘the Internet’, the global network of networks… So what exactly determines whether ‘the Internet’ should be a proper noun, deserving of capitalization? According to AP; let ‘usage dictate style’ and that suggests that there is no need for capitalization… On the other hand, Slate magazine makes a compelling argument the Internet is ‘exceptional’, hence it deserves capitalization.

In the article Should You Capitalize the Word Internet? by Susan C. Herring writes: This tug-of-war has been going on for years. Should the word ‘internet’ be spelled with a ‘i’ or ‘I’… There are legitimate reasons for capitalizing and compelling reasons for non-capitalizing. These competing forces are engaged in a back-and-forth tug of war, resulting in inconsistency in the spelling of the word… According to Bob Wyman; the ‘I’ should be capitalized to make clear the difference in meaning between the Internet (the global network that evolved out of ARPANET, the early Pentagon network), and any generic internet, or computer network connecting a number of smaller networks…

Indeed, the earliest citations from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in the 1970s, referred to ‘internet’ in the generic sense and spelled it with lowercase ‘i’, whereas later OED examples refer to the global network, using a capital ‘I’. According to Chris; the debate– internet (‘i’) vs. Internet (‘I’)– is a difference without a distinction. Or is that a distinction without a difference? Either way: While it matters very much to some people, it’s all the same to others… Also, would you believe that in some circles a full caps version (INTERNET) once held sway?  While some media abandoned the big ‘I’ awhile back…

The choice is really up to the individual. However, you should always be consistent; if you adopt AP’s recommendation, then use it all the time. Don’t complicate things– and annoy your readers– by shifting back and forth… Linguistic choices have social consequences, even if the choice involves something minor as capitalization. Some experts suggest that the issue of capitalization is a political choice– geeks vs. non-geeks… For some capitalizing the word ‘Internet’ signifies sense of importance, better yet it suggests– Internet exceptionalism… for which many may, or may not agree with…

Most Organizations Are a Kludge– Fundamentally Broken And Many Are Just Held Together with Duct Tape…

You hear it daily: Government is dysfunctional, nothing gets done, conflict, confrontation… these are just a few signs that the process of government is broken… But these are also the signs and realization that many corporation, organizations… have the same issues. More often than not organizations are broken in some capacity, e.g.; customers are being ignored, internal processes are running amok, Internet website is a ghost town, productivity is down, expenses are out of control, profits are non-existent, management cannot agree on a strategy… And yet many corporations continue to function… these organizations might be described askludge, clumsy, messy, lack of decisive decision-making… they have ugly structures that more or less deals with issues but in very inefficient way– they are kludges that are held together with duct tape…

Kludge (rhymes with nudge), Oxford English dictionary defines it as; to improvise or put together from an ill-assorted collection of parts…  According to Sheryl King; kludges can also be seen as– innovative allowing an organization to stay-up and running despite its clear need for a more fundamental solution to improve performance… Quick fixes enable organizations to achieve a near-term operational continuity, but at expense of sustained corporate innovation and performance… In a nutshell, the more organizations opt for kludging, the more they are on the road to ultimate failure… However, many organizations become habitual kludgers and muddle forward…

In the article Organizations Are Broken by Greg Satell writes: It’s an era of technology but many organizations are not capable or smart enough to keep pace with the changing disruptive landscape… the changes are ubiquitous but many organization don’t know have to deal with them… Yet much like organizations themselves– the strategic planning process, which is the fundamental tenet of corporate strategy, has become a victim of its own success… In the quest to strive for ever greater efficiency, rather than more innovation– the process is getting more complicated, more granular, cumbersome… and the outcomes are marginal at best…

Management needs to rethink and shift their strategic model from– ‘pushing’ workers to achieve, instead to ‘inspire’ workers to achieve… According to Jack Welch; our planning system was dynamite when we first put it in… thinking was fresh and the actual ‘process’ of planning mattered little– it was the ‘ideas’ that really mattered. We then hired a head of planning and he hired two vice presidents, and then he hired a planner; and the ‘strategy books’ got thicker, and the ‘printing’ got more sophisticated, and the ‘covers got harder’, and the ‘drawings’ got better, but the ‘results’ got poorer… This is a sure sign that the organization is broken…

In the article Top Signs That an Organization Is Broken by Liza Mock writes: Are you and the people you work with happy? Is it easy to get your job done without jumping through hoops? If yes, chances are that your organization is healthy… If not, there is a fundamental flaw in the way your organization is structured… Consider these common mistakes:

  • Structure That’s Out-Of-Touch: An out-of-date organizational structure where the old hierarchy that management embraces remains in place, but it no longer reflects marketplace reality… A ‘stay with the status quo’ strategy keeps the organization from thriving… and it’s a sure sign that the organization is broken…
  • Unclear Roles & Responsibilities: Unclear management roles are one of the biggest sources of conflict within an organization. This leads to confusion, unmet expectations, and ultimately makes people feel demoralized and a common source of organization dysfunction… and it’s a sure sign that an organization is broken…
  • High Attrition Rate: When workers feel powerless they become disengaged and ultimately don’t  care much about work, which in turn leads to high attrition rates… A high turnover rate is a sure sign that an organization is broken…

In the article Fix A Broken Organization by Ben Peterson writes: Have you ever seen what happens when an organization goes bad? Spoiler alert; it’s not good… When you don’t have the right strategy, the right culture, the right talent… then the consequences are disastrous… Overcoming a broken organization is never easy– when you see signs of trouble, or when you are looking to achieve better results, then be prepared to take some difficult steps... Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Rebuild with best principles, not just best practices: This means focusing on principles, not practices. Take time to identify the organization’s DNA… Do an honest organizational assessment; identify its purpose and the things that inspire your customers, employees, management… and clearly define the mission and vision statements… these principles establish a firm foundation for the organization…
  • Be humble and open: Rebuilding an organization is hard, and it requires everyone ‘to be the very best they can be’, beginning with management… and they must show genuine humility and acknowledge the organization’s shortcoming with stated actions to fix them…
  • Rip and replace: When fixing a broken organization you can’t always afford to spend time tweaking failed strategies and initiatives… Find the elements that are not working and simply replace or eliminate them… Dig deep and figure out what exactly motivates the team, the customers, the partners, the suppliers… not just financially, but psychologically as well…
  • Implement values: Defining cultural values for the organization means nothing if they are not integrated into everyday work… Finding the right people and, perhaps equally important, weed out those who don’t share the organization’s common values are key to fixing a broken organization…

Keep your eye on the gauges: All organizations need maintenance to survive and thrive… It’s an ongoing process that requires constant attention and care. It requires honest and continual assessment of all the factors that impact performance of the organization. Hence, always be prepared, at any time, to make any necessary adjustments, within exception, to fix a broken priority in the organization or speed-up the journey to an ultimate goal…

 

Delusion of Diversity in Workplaces– Good, Bad, Necessity: More Diversity of Thought is Needed on the Subject of Diversity…

Diversity is often referred to as the key to innovation in business and crucial for companies that want to attract and retain top talent. But is it always the answer? Research has shown diversity alone is harmful for some individuals and organizations. It has been linked to lower revenue, slower decision-making, increased conflict, absenteeism, missed opportunities… Diversity is a technique and not an end in itself; it needs to be balanced against other considerations, e.g.; some business skills are concentrated in– certain locations, certain groups of people, certain cultures…

Narrowness can be a source of strength and cohesion and not a sign of weakness… According to Jonathan Levy; diversity comes in many different shapes and sizes, and differences can include visible and non-visible factors. Whether that’s background, culture, personality, work-style, size, accent, or language. Or personal characteristics like age, disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation… With so many differences, how do you manage diversity?

According to Evan Apfelbaum; companies promote diversity in the workplace as moral imperative with ‘bottom line benefits’… But research on its value is mixed: Some studies have found diverse teams– meaning work groups composed of workers from different– backgrounds, races, genders…  promote creativity, nurture critical thinking… and tend to make better and more thoughtful decisions, because they consider a wider range of perspectives…

Other studies indicate diverse teams fuel interpersonal conflicts, reduce cohesion, and slow the pace of learning… The trouble with past research is it assumes only diverse settings are capable of changing how people behave, form impressions, make decisions… According to Dr. Thomas Sowell; nothing so epitomizes the politically correct gullibility as the magic word ‘diversity’, and it’s essentially a fancy buzzword for ‘group quotas’, which is a subjective criteria used to measure hiring practices within many organizations…

In the article Business Case Against Diversity by Tina Vasquez writes: The business case for diversity has become a popularly held belief and the reasoning behind it is very simple: When a corporation’s management and workers are too much alike, they think too much alike and in turn, look at both problems and solutions the same way… By contrast, having a more diverse group in these positions leads to more diversity of solutions, innovations, better governance, and the type of outside-of-the-box thinking so desperately needed in the corporate world… Unfortunately, there is a growing body of evidence that seems to suggest diversity does not deliver as promised… Many companies have reported little to no change in their performance.

Even more unsettling is the idea that making efforts to diversity the workplace is actually creating conflict and toxic work environment. According to Dr. John-Francoise Manzoni, Dr. Paul Strebel, Sandoz, Dr. Jean-Louis Barsoux; diversity may be prize in theory, but the truth is that workers often feel baffled, threatened, or even annoyed by other workers with views and backgrounds very different from their own… According to Professor Katherine Phillips; when organizations bring in people with different cultural, gender, ethnic backgrounds, contrasting experiences; its hoped that they offer different perspectives and opinions about any given issue, e.g.; it’s assume that a black manager and a white manager working together on an issue will come up with divergent ways to solve the problem…

But such assumptions have implications that we tend not to think deeply about, e.g.; First, when individuals work together in a group, any unexpected perspectives will come from workers who are different– the black person in a group of whites, or the marketing person in a group of engineers… will bring forward a different point of view that the group can benefit from… Second, even more important, is that workers who appear to be similar to each other, such as; two middle-aged white men, will share same views… And is it realistic to assume that all superficially alike people think alike?

In the article Workplace Diversity by William Powell writes: We have been saturated with the idea of diversity in organizations… We have heard about the benefits and how organizations are less productive when they have less diversity. Lack of diversity is equated with racism, bigotry, discrimination, host of other negative connotations… Diversity has devolved into a metric that organizations use to show they are ‘progressive‘…

It has become a part of marketing and recruiting campaigns and its diminished the original need for diversity into nothing more than a metric that’s supposed to make organizations feel warm, gooey and accepting as if they have reached a state of enlightenment… What good is it if the diverse nature of workers have no voice or outlet for expression in an organization? What good is diversity if it’s in direct opposition to what is actually needed in an organization…

In the article Diversity Is Bad for Business by Jack Manhire writes: The fact is that in a global marketplace diversity alone is often bad for business. Yes, the range of economic and demographic trends demands greater diversity in organizations but diversity by itself typically ends up being a quota system… or according to Laura Liswood; it’s Noah’s Ark approach by selecting– two of these, two of those, two of the others…

All too often, those hired to fill the quotas soon learn that they are not hired for their unique skills and they are not included in the ‘inner circle’ of the organization… This leads to a feeling of exclusion with the only hope for getting into the ‘inner circle’ being to assimilate and leave one’s true self at the door, and to act more like everyone else. Then guess what happens when workers feel excluded or forced to assimilate? They leave the organization! Hence, diversity often leads to more turnover and drives down an organization’s  performance… It’s for these reasons that both; diversity and inclusion are necessary for a high performing organization…

Studies show that diverse organizations with low inclusive culture have lower profitability, higher attrition rates, less employee discretionary effort, and less likely to capture new markets… On the flip side, diverse organizations with high inclusive culture have greater market share, higher discretionary effort, higher intentions for management and workers to stay with the organization, and enjoy an operating profit that is almost three times higher than non-inclusive organizations… Hence diversity alone is bad for business, but inclusion and a sense of belonging are the keys that unlocks the rich performance benefits of a diverse workforce…

Managing the Balance Between– Negativity and Positivity– in Workplace: Organizational Success is All About Attitude…

Negativity is a kind of cancer that occurs in most organizations… Every organization seems to have at least one person who has a tendency toward negativism– You know the type: ‘No, that will never work’, or ‘That’s stupid’,  or ‘That’s impossible’… According to Eric Friedman; no organization can escape occasional bout of negativity; whether it’s complaining about company policy, or working conditions, or frustrated with a management hire, or bitching about the terrible coffee… When left unchecked, negativity can dramatically impact organizations; its moral, productivity, profitability, reputation...

However according to Gareth Cartman; imagine a world without negativity– smiles everywhere, acquiescence everywhere… In a world free of negativity, you would do everything. You would never question anything, you would just get on with things and do it. Yay for positivity! Hurrah for positivity! But after a while things start to go wrong. The idea that nobody questions– a project, a decision, a new product… that everyone thought was so brilliant– but then things go so badly awry… But hey, let’s all be very positive until the whole organization falls apart because no one wanted to be negative…

In the article Overcoming Negativity in the Workplace by Jeanne Bliss writes: Negativity can be brutal: I’m not even talking about normal culprits like; gossip or ineffective management… yes, that’s part of it and that’s certainly negativity but it goes beyond that– it’s a cancer in workplaces… It’s about worker engagement, careless attitude… which has huge implications for the success of an organization… If workers are– unhappy, disengaged, negative… then the organization will suffer and eventually fail, if not corrected…

Research from MIT’s Sloan School of Management showed that most workplaces lack clear organizational priorities… Only one-third of senior managers could correctly identify the organization’s priorities. When you drop 2-3 levels below senior management, it’s essentially a vacuum around priorities… which means middle management are self-prioritizing themselves, and that means front-line workers (i.e., ones closest to customers) are working on priorities that may or may not have resonance to the actual organizational priorities…

Hence, when workers priorities are unclear and constantly shifting, engagement begins to drop, and negativity in the workplace begins to rise… It varies by company and industry but this can be a major root cause of negativity in the workplace… Overcoming negative thinking in the workplace revolves around three basic workers’ issues:

  • Empower Workers: Empower workers to be creative in work assignments– let them have ownership over their work– don’t micromanage every aspect of their work. Let them show their skill sets– and if they mess-up or do something off-brand or not customer-aligned, then course correct with them…
  • Recognize Workers: One sure-fire way to establish negativity in the workplace is when workers do not feel rewarded… Most studies indicate workers leave– their managers, not their jobs. Hence, honor workers’ accomplishment and recognize their achievements…
  • Respect Workers: Trust and respect workers… yes, they won’t always be perfect and when they’re off-base then course correct with them… More trust, more empowerment, more respect, more recognition– begets less negative thinking in the workplace…

In the article Dealing With Negative Workers by Jacqueline Whitmore writes: Most everyone has  encountered workers who stay in an organization for years, all the while complaining on a daily basis about– the boss, the organization, colleagues, customers… it’s tiring just thinking about it… However, it’s important to remember that complaints, much as we may not want to hear them, often unearth legitimate issues…

The danger is falling into the trap of responding to a complaint with another complaint– competing complaints– its one-upmanship of the worst kind. Perhaps you work with people who complain endlessly but never offers solutions. These negative people create destructive energy and drama, and if you are not careful, they can pull you into their chaos; disrupting your focus, side-lining your goals, tarnishing your reputation. According to Susan M. Heathfield; the way you deal with negative people is by spending as little time with them as possible.

Set limits with coworkers whose negativity you believe is baseless or unwarranted… The reason or cause of their long-term negativity are not your concern… Every negative worker has a story, but you cannot get sucked-in by listening to grievances that cause their negativity– don’t reinforce negativity by giving it legitimacy; negativity is a choice. Negativity mongers need to do something different– a new job, a new company, a new career, a new outlook, or counseling…

In the article Why Negativity is a Good Thing by Alexia writes: The psychological world is wrong: Negative thinking is a good thing in many organizations. Too much time is spent trying to think positive about everything… blocking negative thoughts, chanting positive affirmations and focus on images that make you feel good… It’s the blind belief that only positive thoughts are good thoughts… But negativity is a good thing, too. Without negative thoughts good things never happen…

Negativity is what makes you question what you are doing, and without it you will never see the potential pitfalls in what you are doing… Few organizations appreciate the potential in negativity. They attempt to manage negative thinking out of the workplace, and insist that only positive thinking is allowed. Managers should surround themselves with people who ask questions, people who doubt, people who say ‘this will never work’, even when it appears to be working…

Every organization must have a balance of people– positive thinkers and naysayers… people who question decisions, question the processes, question the results, question how the results were obtained… At times it can be very painful but you must listen to all legitimate points of views. The days of believing that everyone in the workplace– manager, worker… will blindly follow every decision is naive, at best: Perhaps it’s time to be more positive about negativity…   

Pursuit of Happiness in Workplace: Achieve, Recognition, Engage, Relationship: Focus on Things That Matter…

Most people want to be happy and in fact, the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence; it’s an unalienable right. But studies have found a paradox: The pursuit of happiness tends to make people unhappy… People are spending a fortune on finding happiness, and becoming less happy in the process… A series of studies carried out by psychologists at UC Berkeley showed that paradoxically; the more intensely people value, pursue happiness as a distinct goal, then the more likely they are to display symptoms of unhappiness, anxiety, loneliness, even depression… And this is a major disruptive issue in many workplaces…

Organization must create a safe, congenial, productive work space where workers can thrive and become fully engaged with their work experience… According to Gretchen Spreitzer this means, e.g.; (1) provide workers with more opportunities for decision-making, (2) share information about organization’s strategy and competitive challenges, (3) set and reinforce norms that promote civil and respectful behavior, (4) offer feedback on outcomes of important initiatives… When leaders create ‘open’ workplaces– workers grow, develop, thrive… Hence, when it comes to happiness in workplace, organizations must focus on concrete issues, not abstract ideas…

In the article Research About Happiness at Work by André Spicer, Carl Cederström write: The concept of happiness to boost productivity has gained increased traction in corporate circles… Organizations are spending a lot of money on happiness– coaches, team-building exercises, game-plays, funsultants, even Chief Happiness Officers… These activities may appear jovial, or even bizarre, but organizations are taking them extremely seriously… But when you look closely at the research it’s actually not clear that encouraging happiness at work is always a good idea…

Yes there is evidence to suggest that happy employees are less likely to leave, more likely to satisfy customers, are safer, and more likely to engage in citizenship behavior… However there are also alternate findings, which indicates that some of the ‘take-for-granted’ wisdom about what happiness can achieve in the workplace are mere myths… To start, there are a wide range of definitions for ‘happiness’– it’s an individual thing– each person has their own definition of what make them happy– hence, trying to develop a universal measurement can be rather elusive…

According to Darrin M. McMahon; happiness is a slippery concept and it can be a proxy for all sorts of things– from pleasure & joy, to plenitude & contentment… A stream of research shows contradictory results about happiness and its relationship to productivity. One study even suggested there might be negative correlation between job satisfaction (happiness) and productivity, i.e.; the more miserable workers were, the better the profits… Sure, other studies have pointed in the opposite direction, saying that there is a link between feeling content with work and productive. But even these studies, when considered as a whole, demonstrates a relatively weak correlation…

Happiness, of course, is a great thing to experience but it’s nothing that can be ‘willed’ into existence. And maybe the less we seek to actively pursue happiness in the workplace, the more likely we are to actually experience it– it’s happiness which is spontaneous and pleasurable, and not constructed and oppressive… But there is also a workplace reality that must cope with in a sober manner. To actually see the reality for what it is; and not as you– executives or worker– pretend that it is…

In the article Why Happiness at Work Really Matters by John Collins writes: Are you happy at work? Are the people around you at work happy? Should you even care as long as the work is getting done? It turns out you should– happy organizations are more successful on a range of metrics– but creating a happy work environment is counter intuitive… Research and practice both show that what makes people happy in the workplace is not obvious– its individual thing– and the relatively easy things to provide, such as; good pay, free food, perks… are very much over-rated…

You might think providing perks, such as; free food, massages in the office, on-site medical services, gym facilities… would ensure a happy workforce. But the equation is not that simple– it’s not just a case of perks-in, happiness-out… While benefits may attract workers to an organization… they are not necessarily effective at improving an organization’s performance; it’s ‘passion’ not ‘perks’ that are the big contributor to success…

Part of the problem is that humans are incredibly good at adapting and get used to almost anything– good or bad. A classic study was done by Philip Brickman, Dan Coates and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman at University of Massachusetts in 1979. They compared lottery winners to accident survivors who were paraplegics and quadriplegics… they found no significant different in general happiness. People who had won big on the lottery were happy about their good fortune, but in fact took less pleasure from everyday activities than the accident survivors…

A big salary, although it makes life more enjoyable, it’s not the key to happiness… It actually can come to play as a factor of unhappiness– workers are unhappy when they think others in the organization are being paid more than them, to do the same task… A Princeton study found that workers who are highly paid are relatively satisfied, but they are barely happier day-to-day– they tend to always want more– never really satisfied… According to Alexander Kjerulf; workers are much happier when they are recognized for achievement and more engaged as they develop productive relationships… Happiness is manifested thru self-esteem, not self-indulgence…  

 

Soaring Retail Stores Bankruptcy, Chapter 11, Reaching Record Levels: Fierce Competition and New Realities in Strategy…

Retail stores are closing at record numbers, and the number of retailers filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is headed for record year. In only three months this year and already the retail battlefield is littered with the corpses of nine brands that have filed for bankruptcy, which is about the same number that filed in all of 2016... At this rate, the retail industry is on pace to far surpass the high-water mark of 18 major retail bankruptcies set in 2009… The rate of Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings is often an indicator of an industry’s health, which is bad news for retailers… According to Ian Wenik; number of large-liability retail Chapter 11 filings (at least $250 million in liabilities) nearly doubled in 2016 and that trend shows no signs of slowing down… 

So why is 2017 shaping-up to be bad for retailers? The issues seem to be multi-fold, e,g.;  middle-class consumer population is shrinking, shifting shopping habits to online shopping… plus more subtle issue according to AlixPartners is that more than half filings to date come from retailers that were purchased by private equity firms, which is up average 31% over prior five years… These leveraged buyouts use a combination of equity and debt to purchase a firm, and that often saddles companies with massive debt… Hence this year is shape-up as– ‘year of retail bankruptcies’.

In the article Retail Business is the New Oil and Gas by Tonya Garcia writes: The future of traditional retail is looking increasingly gloomy, with trimming store locations, lagging revenues amid declining foot traffic is setting the stage for a spate of bankruptcies, restructurings. The Fitch Ratings’ ‘Bonds of Concern List’ is filled with retailers, and it’s expecting the default rate for the retail sector to jump to 9% in 2017 from 1% over the last 12 months… The retail sector had $38.9 billion in outstanding debt as of end of 2016… Hence this may very well be a  ‘tipping point’ for retail with more bankruptcies heading in the near future…

According Moody’s ‘Distressed List’; there are 19 retail companies with a credit rating of ‘Caa’ or below… this is the highest number of highly distressed retailers since the recession… According to S&P Global Ratings; majority of business outlooks across retail sector are reasonable stable, but ratings trends are negative... Shifting consumer preferences, and patches of global economic and policy uncertainty are contributing to the increasingly negative outlook bias…

In the article Big Retail Bankruptcies Equal To Post-Recession High by Mary Beth Quirk and Krystina Gustafson write: Regardless of the reason for filing for bankruptcy, more retailers who enter Chapter 11 are ending up in liquidation… According to Rieger-Paganis; as chains liquidate or restructure the store footprints are reduced, i.e.; hundreds and even thousands of retail stores are closed… And store vacancies produce a ripple effects that runs through the entire industry, i.e.; consumers don’t like to shop where there’s a lot of vacant space…

Closed stores have a tainting effect especially for ‘malls’ and ‘grand shopping centers’… too many store vacancies means less foot traffic for the stores that remain… According toTyler Durden; malls were once shining beacon of capitalism but now they are failing at alarming rates due to combination of shifting consumption patterns, years of under-investment by mall owners, and retailer bankruptcies over the past 12 months… The net result is there are large swaths of once prime real estate empty…

In the article Year of the Retail Bankruptcies by Jacob S. Frumkin and Felice R. Yudkin writes: Each bankruptcy case has its own unique set of facts. Several themes, however, recur in retail bankruptcies that are important to revisit given the filing trend, e.g.; gift cards… When well-known retailers files for bankruptcy often there are big liabilities outstanding with respect to unredeemed gift cards that were purchased prior to petition date, e.g.; RadioShack’s bankruptcy filing had about $44 million in unused gift cards outstanding…

Although retailers in Chapter 11 often seek authority from bankruptcy court to continue to honor ‘customer programs’, such as, allowing gift card holders to use the gift cards post-petition, but not all retailers seek such relief… Additionally, courts are inconsistent in the treatment of gift card holders, e.g.; in ‘Sharper Image’ bankruptcy cases, the claims of gift card holders were entitled to priority treatment, subject to court-approved claims process, however in the ‘Borders’ bankruptcy cases, certain gift card holders who did not timely file proofs of claim were denied… When retailers close stores and declare bankruptcy– courts attempt to balance the interests of all the stakeholders but unfortunately there are always winners and losers…  

Many chain retailers spent the 1990s, early 2000s investing heavily in expanding their brick & mortar stores, while ignoring the coming threat of online retail… Although many retailer will suffer, many will survive and in some cases even thrive, in this changing retail shopping environment… And at some point the market will reach something akin to an equilibrium where online and offline segments stabilize… but for some it will be awfully painful getting there… A few experts suggest that retail sector is going through what might be called- ‘canary in a coal mine’ phase, i.e.; advanced warning of impending danger… But according to Michael Cannivet; every market cycle has its ‘canary in a coal mine’: Ten years ago it was real estate, then banking & finance services, and before that it was disruption in the technology sector…

All these dislocations start small and  grow then spread and become major events. Yes, it’s customary to see retailers go belly up when economic conditions are poor, but currently the economy is growth positive, yet there is serious carnage in the retail space... According to David Silverman; despite the massive number of stores being closed, the situation in retail is hardly bleak… but the challenge for retailers is to profitably align their retail strategy– embracing online & offline… with the powerful structural and cultural changes that are being spawned by the Internet and changing buying habits of consumers…

One key challenge in this digital environment is the coordination of in-store selling and various e-commerce channels into an ‘omni-channel’ approach… According to David M. Katz; moving to an omni-channel approach is an imperative for most retailers– the necessity of retailers to craft a well-conceived omni-channel strategy that provides seamless coordination to consumers through multiple touch points, e.g.; e-commerce (smartphones, computers…), in-store kiosks, social media… A well-integrated and globalized outreach is a big determinant for retail success going forward…

Copy, Copy, Copy… It’s a CopyCat World: Brilliant Imitators, Architects of Sameness– It’s an Economy of Impersonators…

We humans prize originality, innovation… yet we are natural-born copycat, imitator, impersonator… Many species of mammals can imitate the world around them, but no other species on earth can imitate with the skill and accuracy of a human being… Humans are natural-born rip-off artists and to be human is to copy. According to Christopher Sprigman; copying is the mighty force that drives many industries… It helps to create trends and helps to destroy them, then paves the way for new ones to take their place… and it’s hard to escape the copycat jungle…

Imitation might be the best form of flattery but it can also end-up in messy legal battles. More than 6,000 patent infringements lawsuits were filed in U. S. last year, where companies were locked in emotional corporate battles spending millions of dollars trying to prove that one poached the other’s– technology, product... Companies loss hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue due to copycats… Even though throughout human history, innovation has been fueled and sustained by imitation…

In the article Copycat Economy by Pete Engardio and Faith Keenan write: Competition is the essence of a market economy, but rarely has it been this brutal… In numerous industries, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a unique advantage long enough to make good profits on innovation. Time was, when companies could milk a novel product for years before cut-rate clones arrived… But now most industries have copycats knocking at their door before a product has even been released. It’s a ‘copycat economy’ and it raises some critical questions: How do organizations make money in copycat environment, especially when demand is flat?

There are many factors at work, e.g.; in pharmaceuticals, drug-makers are hyping derivatives of old blockbusters as their patents expire and generics swarm-in… In electronics, digitization makes hardware easier to copy… plus explosion of low-cost Asian rivals. Even many innovative strategies of the 90s are commonplace, e.g.; zero-defect quality, efficient supply chains, virtual design… To succeed, companies must constantly innovate products that fetch premium prices, or get costs down to mass-production levels… and do it as soon as a new product hits the market, rather than waiting months later…

In the article Different in a Copycat World by Jonas Ridderstróale, Kjell A. Nordstróm write: The rules by which business is conducted have changed. It’s an age of ‘karaoke’ capitalism– a philosophy of imitation, engrained into the corporate mindset… and the only way to survive is to chuck convention… According to Oded Shenkar; imitation gets a bad rap and imitating firms is seen as a me too? These players are often perceived as a pitiful lot– they have very little original thinking to offer… And so common perception is that this pitiful lot is left to lead a life of picking-up crumbs discarded by innovators…

But that perception is wrong because copying innovation is as critical to prosperity as innovation itself… Savvy imitators generate huge profits through efficiency, cost saving– they save not only on R&D costs but also on marketing and advertising costs. Also they avoid many costly errors by observing, learning from the first movers… Organizations are now forced to come to terms with the new reality; it’s not enough to create a product with groundbreaking design features, but the products must also be designed so as to make them difficult to copy from the very beginning. Organizations must focus on creating value and brands that are protect-able…

In the article Copycat World by Sarah Kauss writes: A glimpse into the copycat world exposes the challenges that the ‘first-to-market’ brands face in a globally manufactured and digitally driven world of innovative products and designs… Although you may be proud to have developed a product worth imitating, it can be very frustrating to see how easily patented creations (and brands) could be at risk of being tarnished by– fake, sub-par imitators… And even though you cannot avoid copycats or sub-par look-a-likes you must be prepared for when they start chasing your success (or literally trying to be you)…

But key question: Do knockoffs or imitations really harm business? Or, do they keep the wheels of industries turning? According to Helena Pike; knockoffs are so inevitable that they are ‘the ransom of success’… Multi-billion-dollar businesses are built on reproducing the latest creations for fraction of the original price. According to Susan Scafidi; calculating the financial and other loss, i.e., reputation… when a brand is copied is notoriously difficult to quantify but certainly, for iconic brands, the loss can be substantial…

In the article Brilliant Impersonators by Kat McGowan writes: A popular belief thinks of innovators as lone genius who with a flash of inspiration brings about a world-changing breakthrough: But that characterization is a myth… Most innovation is mundane; it’s a process of lots of copying and a little bit of creativity. The history of technology shows that advances happen largely through tinkering, i.e.; person(s) recreate, redesign, re-imagine, re-purpose something, which makes it valued differently...

Isaac Newton talked about standing on the shoulders of giants, but he should have said that– innovators are dwarves, standing atop a vast heap of dwarves. Credit should be given where credit is due– the mighty machine of innovation turns out to be powered by an army of– small minds, thinking unoriginal thoughts… According to  Robert Boyd, Peter Richerson; when lots of imitation is mixed with a little bit of individual learning… outcomes can outreach the abilities of any individual genius.  According to Kat McGowan; creating something new is the easy part: What’s really difficult is maintaining a base of knowledge done through copying, and shared for future innovations. Luckily, humans are very good at it…

The usual explanation of why humans are so successful as species is simply that humans are smarter than all other species– humans have huge brains, uniquely intelligence… and that allows them to figure things out through sheer force of logic… However, according to Michael Tomasello; many other species besides humans– copy, learn from each other but only humans ‘over-imitate’– they copy everything even things that are– irrelevant, wrong, unnecessary, illegal… humans are compulsive about it. Copying seems to be part of the human DNA