Friday, 21 July 2017

Fast Company/Adele Peters: Why This Van In Fresno Is Releasing A Million Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes

Fast Company
    07.21.17 6:00 am

Verily (Alphabet’s life sciences division) is using robots and AI to mass-breed sterile mosquitoes and set them free to eliminate the wild population.
Why This Van In Fresno Is Releasing A Million Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes Every Week
“By the end of the study, we hope to not be able to detect Aedes aegypti in the two neighborhoods we targeted.” [Illustration: Terriana/iStock]

By Adele Peters7 minute Read

Zika-carrying mosquitoes haven’t shown up in California yet. But Aedes aegypti–an aggressive, non-native species of mosquito that is known to carry the Zika virus, along with dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and other diseases–arrived in Fresno County in 2013. Traditional methods of mosquito control, such as insecticide spraying programs, don’t work well against the species, which tends to breed in small, hard-to-reach sources of water like dishes under flowerpots. Insecticides can also kill bees and other beneficial insects.

So the city’s mosquito control agency–along with a startup called MosquitoMate, and Verily, the Alphabet subsidiary formerly known as Google Life Sciences–is now testing a new approach called Debug Fresno. Each week, until December, the team will release 1 million sterile male mosquitoes in two Fresno neighborhoods. When the mosquitoes mate with wild females, the resulting eggs won’t hatch. Females mate only once. (Male mosquitoes don’t bite, so the influx of millions of them shouldn’t annoy humans). In theory, the technique could dramatically reduce or eliminate the Aedes aegypti population before the mosquitoes become infected with a disease like Zika and start spreading it.

“By the end of the study, we hope to not be able to detect Aedes aegypti in the two neighborhoods we targeted,” says Jacob Crawford, a scientist at Verily, noting that it may be necessary to “spot treat” again at the beginning of the next mosquito season to account for eggs left at the end of  this season.

The fundamental technique is not new, though advances in technology–including Verily’s use of computer vision–may make it financially viable now. It relies on Wolbachia, a bacteria that naturally occurs in many insects, but not Aedes aegypti. If a male mosquito is infected with the bacteria and mates with an uninfected female, they can’t produce offspring (Wolbachia also reduces the chance of a female mosquito passing on diseases when it bites). There’s a catch: If both the male and female have Wolbachia, their eggs will hatch normally, so the method only works if it’s possible to ensure that the only infected mosquitoes that are released are male.

“Using this sterile insect technique, where you release a lot of these sterile males, they’ve eradicated [insects] on a continental scale.”  [Photo: courtesy Verily]
A German researcher first tested the use of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in Burma in 1967, carefully breeding the mosquitoes and hand-sorting out the males before releasing them. Twelve weeks later, the local mosquito population was gone. A similar technique was used in the Americas to eradicate the screwworm fly, a fly that lays eggs in animal wounds, hatching maggots that eat through flesh and can kill livestock and even humans. “Using this sterile insect technique, where you release a lot of these sterile males, they’ve eradicated this insect on a continental scale,” says Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky and founder of MosquitoMate.

Raising mosquitoes and sorting them by sex is labor-intensive, and that makes it expensive. But Dobson, who patented a way to infect mosquitoes with Wolbachia in 2005, was able to begin working with Verily, which has automated ways to mass breed and sort mosquitoes. Verily is using MosquitoMate’s strain of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in the study. The system produces more than 100,000 male mosquitoes each day. Though Verily won’t go into detail about how the full system works, Crawford will say that “our sex-sorting technology uses computer vision to detect female mosquitoes, which are then removed, leaving us with a very low risk of female contamination.”

Because Aedes aegypti isn’t native to California, eradicating it–or the Asian tiger mosquito, another invasive species–shouldn’t affect local ecosystems. “The tiger mosquito invaded the U.S. in 1985,” says Dobson. “So we’re going back to pre-1985, and the bats and the birds were doing just fine prior to that.” He notes that for species that eat mosquitoes, the insects are a very small part of their diet.

Still, some researchers are concerned that the strains of Wolbachia used in the mosquitoes could possibly jump to other insect species. “If it got transferred to a pollinator species, we can have population size reduction and associated pollination problems in many of our crops,” says Gabriel da Luz Wallau, a public health researcher in the entomology department at the Aggeu Magalhães Research Center in Brazil. Wallau says that such transfers are frequent in nature; Dobson, however, says that his team has created experiments to try to make Wolbachia transfer between species, and it has never happened. Other mosquitoes and insects also naturally have the bacteria, so if transfer is a risk, it already exists.

The method isn’t the only way to kill mosquitoes without insecticides. Others are using mosquitoes that are genetically modified to be sterile, something that could potentially work as well or better–but that is less likely to get public support.

“Our sex-sorting technology uses computer vision to detect female mosquitoes.” [Photo: courtesy Verily]
“Many people are (incorrectly, I feel) not comfortable with GMOs,” John Beckmann, a postdoctoral researcher in Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry who studies Wolbachia, says in an email. “Thus the advantage of Wolbachia is a nuanced semantic advantage in that they are not genetically modified. This means the people you can imagine–I won’t judge–are typically less concerned with this type of insect release as opposed to one that involves GMOs, which comes with all the political baggage that that charged term carries.”

Others are using Wolbachia in a different way; Eliminate Dengue, a nonprofit in Australia, releases both male and female mosquitoes infected with the bacteria. Because both are infected, they can successfully breed.  But once the infected mosquitoes are released, they pass the bacteria to future generations, permanently reducing the risk of disease transmission because of Wolbachia‘s disease-blocking power.

“The approach we’re taking, you do it once, and then once you do it you don’t need to reapply it,” says Scott O’Neill, who leads Eliminate Dengue and is the director of the Institute of Vector-Borne Disease at Monash University. “That makes it very cost effective and very cheap and very suitable for developing countries. But it makes a lousy business model because you don’t have anything to sell once you do it once. We’re a not for-profit, in the business of trying to alleviate disease in developing countries, so we’re looking for the cheapest and most effective way to do that in a sustainable way for those countries.”

Dobson says there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach; Eliminate Dengue’s approach, for example, could initially increase mosquito bites, because it releases females along with non-biting males. But it does work with one application because the bacteria can spread to successive generations, and the organization has already tested it at a large scale, having released mosquitoes across entire cities in Australia (a full randomized trial will be complete in two years, but so far, the team’s observational data suggests that the method eventually completely disrupts the transmission of disease).

“I think we should be exploring multiple alternatives because we need new tools,” Dobson says. “Existing chemical pesticides, we’re having problems with resistance, we’re having to spray more and more, and even then, the mosquitoes are just not dying. They’re resistant to some of these chemicals.”

Ultimately, MosquitoMate and Verily aim to create a system that will be affordable enough to use in developing countries, like Eliminate Dengue’s system.

“There are new pathogens that we’re learning about that are being established in the U.S. every year,” says Dobson. “But if you compare that to the challenges being faced in other countries, there are much more daunting problems overseas. That’s absolutely where we want to go with this technology: Can it be used to help those who are most in need? For that to work, it’s going to need to be an affordable solution.”

The vast majority of cases of yellow fever, for example, take place in sub-Saharan Africa. Dengue fever, which can develop into a fatal illness, is a leading cause of death for children in some less-developed countries in South America and Asia. Though Aedes aegypti doesn’t carry malaria–a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people in Africa each year–other researchers are studying how Wolbachia could be used in mosquitoes that do. Verily’s automation system could potentially be used to mass-produce and release those mosquitoes as well.

“Right now we are optimizing our program for speed so we can demonstrate that our technology can work,” says Crawford. “We are mindful of adjustments we can make to future designs to make it financially viable for different environments around the globe where diseases like dengue or Zika are endemic.”

The team will also have to show that it’s effective in reducing or eradicating disease-carrying mosquitoes–something that the current trial in Fresno could prove. It will also show how long it takes for the mosquito population to crash. “It’s not until you do these large real-world trials that you can actually see how it works in the field,” says Dobson.
About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.


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    07.20.17 infographic of the day

See What America Hates Most, State By State
The dating app, Hater, which matches users by what they hate, just released a map of the U.S. that reveals what is most scorned by each state.
See What America Hates Most, State By State
[Photo: Flickr user Sarah Stierch]

By Joe Berkowitz1 minute Read

One thing that always brings people together is a specific, intense opinion. It feels good to rally around something positive (“Carly Rae Jepsen is the best!”) but there’s also a dark, transgressive thrill in bonding over a negative (“Ed Sheeran should go live on the sun!”). A new map of the U.S. reveals the ties that bind Americans in shared hatred.

The data that comprises this map comes from Hater, a dating app that connects people based on mutual pet peevery. Hater gives users 3,000 topics to weigh in on, swiping down to hate, up to love, left to dislike, right to like–to create a profile of pure loathing. Since each topic gets a score between 0 and 1 based on swiping, Hater can calculate this score for users and look for patterns in each state. The company has been collecting the swipes since launching in February, and with over half a million users, the hate is strong.

What the map reveals ranges from about what you’d expect to some serious surprises. Californians seem like the type who would be instantly irritated by the ascendance of fidget spinners, and I’ve never met a New Yorker who didn’t hate Times Square. Kansas’s disdain toward Seinfeld is kind of unexpected, but that’s not necessarily a reflection of the state’s occasional fits of antisemitism. That could happen anywhere.

The funniest revelation from the map is the one-two punch of Nevada and Utah, two divergent states which are hilariously seated right next to each other. Mormon-centric Utah users hate Porn the most, while those in the eye of the debauched hurricane that is Vegas hate feminism. Go figure.

Have a look at the rest of the map below, and let us know on Twitter what you hate more than your state apparently does.
About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.


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    07.20.17 hit the ground running

Former Recruiters Reveal The Industry’s Dark Secrets That Cost You Job Offers
Recruiters are often asked to do the impossible, which sometimes makes them resort to unsavory—or downright discriminatory—practices.
Former Recruiters Reveal The Industry’s Dark Secrets That Cost You Job Offers
[Photo: tookapic via Pixabay]

By Rich Bellis7 minute Read

    We’re seeking a creative, experimentally minded, outside-the-box thinker to join our fast-paced, innovative team.

According to Laurie Ruettimann, who became a consultant after 12 years in HR and recruiting, job descriptions like these are “generally a lie.” In her experience, “They’re just looking to fill the position with someone who will stay a little longer than the person who quit.”

Not that recruiters want candidates to know that. Many are simply trying to squeeze people into job descriptions that may be outrageously ambitious or just mismatched for the needs of the role. As a result, recruiters sometimes resort to bad habits, indulge in crude biases, and mislead job seekers in order to keep their clients happy. Fast Company spoke to a few who’ve since left recruiting to learn some of the less-savory realities inside the industry—and what candidates can do to protect themselves.
Your Identity Might Get You Typecast

“A lot of recruiters—most that I know—will Google candidates who make it pretty far [in the hiring process],” says Ruettimann, “and then use Google image results, and also blog posts, tweets, and open Facebook accounts to judge someone’s character and credibility,” practices that she observes are frequently discriminatory and in many cases illegal.

Whether or not they’re aware of it, recruiters typically have a preconceived notion of what the ideal candidate looks like, Ruettimann explains, which often rests on stereotypes. Weight bias is still especially prevalent, she’s found—”these beliefs that someone who’s overweight is slovenly or lacks motivation.” And in her view, “diversity in Silicon Valley’s mind is the picture of Phylicia Rashad,” says Ruettimann, referring to the actress who portrayed Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show. She has seen African-American women get considered more readily for roles as diversity/inclusion chiefs while white men more often lead the pack to head up sales teams.

One recruiter who spent a decade at a Canadian executive-search firm backs this up. The recruiter, whom I’ll call Mark (he requested anonymity to speak candidly), says there’s “a penchant to see more diversity, but the definition is narrow,” typically reduced to race and gender; it was common to tout a candidate for being a “visible minority.” “It’s the only way to highlight that for the client on a call,” he explains, since “we can’t put it in our documentation.”

Mark also claims “there’s kind of a sweet spot” in terms of age for C-level positions. “My boss would say things like, ‘Did they have enough gray hair?’—not literally, but are they seasoned enough, do they have enough experience where they could be credible?” There were occasions when recruiters would nominate younger, well-qualified candidates for senior leadership roles, Mark recalls, but “I’d say 20% of the time they’re open to meeting with that person.”
There Are Fewer Applicants Than You Think

Erica Breuer is a personal branding strategist who worked for a year at staffing agency before deciding she’d had enough. One tactic she says was “used a lot was throwing out there how many people we’re [supposedly] speaking with when really it might’ve only been one to two options.” By the time a recruiter reaches out, she says, they’ve probably narrowed the candidate pool more than they’re letting on.

“Many candidates feel that there’s this huge job market and they’re competing against all these people,” says Breuer, and employers use that assumption to their advantage. “You always hear about this pile of 500 applications, when that’s not what it’s looking like behind the scenes.” So if you’ve gotten to the point where you’re speaking one-on-one with a recruiter, you may already have more leverage than you think.
Fancy Credentials Still Count (Way More Than They Should)

At the start of the hiring process, says Mark, “You get 100 resumes every single time, so how do I get to the top 20% of these people quickly?” One solution, all too often, is to zero in on prestigious credentials.

Recruiters “go to lower common denominators,” he says: “Who are all the Ivy League–school grads? Who are the McKinsey folks? Who is from a brand or company who we know and love?” As Mark points out, that leaves a candidate pool that’s only as diverse as those elite institutions. “We wouldn’t eliminate people for not having these things,” he says, “but we would prioritize people who did have Harvard credentials, for instance.”

In Mark’s experience, the only really effective workaround is a referral. “It can supersede a lot of things. It depends who it’s from, but if the CEO says, ‘We should be talking to that person,’ [recruiters] will be screening that person”–no matter what name brands may or may not grace their resume.

To be considered against stacked odds like these, he say, “it’s really important to be able to network your way in . . . Go look at LinkedIn profiles of people inside the organization. Look at how they came up and where they came up, and model their paths. What led them to their role eventually?”
You May Need To Oversell Your Skill Set

According to Breuer, many companies are “either looking for someone who has a very specific type of experience—like ‘programmer of 20 years but also has experience writing for women’s magazines’—or [are] just stacking up all these skill sets that no one person has. They’re both impossible scripts.”

“There were times where I would sit my candidate down and say, ‘Listen, they’re really looking for this—what can we do about it?’ I would encourage the candidate sometimes to just bring it up and be frank,” or else to talk up a snippet of their experience to match what an employer wanted to hear.

Breuer says she’d also have to “prep the client” in situations like these, encouraging hiring managers to ask a certain question that she’d coached the candidate to answer. “When you get to that point when you only have two options, you’ve got to get creative with your candidate.”
“Solopreneurs” Need Not Apply

Ruettimann believes an economic downturn is overdue, which will flood the job market with legions of contract workers, freelancers, and so-called “solopreneurs” applying for corporate jobs with full-time benefits. Whether or not that proves true, Ruettimann says that in the recruitment world, “nobody really believes in the gig economy.”

The prevailing attitude, she says, is that “if you’re self-employed, it’s because you can’t get full-time work.” So job seekers looking for traditional roles after years supporting themselves—particularly older ones—she says, “are facing serious ageism and bias in the workforce.” Ruettimann’s advice is twofold: “If you’ve been in this gig economy, get your references in order and make sure you’re working for really awesome clients who can vouch for you, then think about turning those clients from customers into employers—like now.”

Second, “downplay how much you took on in terms of risk or innovation or ability”—that experience won’t matter nearly as much as a job description may lead you to believe; in fact, risk-takers are seen as unpredictable liabilities. Instead, Ruettimann suggests, “highlight the fact you can work in a team, that you can take orders, that you’re looking to learn, you’re looking to collaborate.”

No matter what they claim, she says, recruiters are “looking for someone who will come in and assimilate with the team, not necessarily challenge it.”
The Job Is Being Made To Sound Better Than It Is

In Breuer’s experience, “there are a lot of companies talking about their mission and values, but it’s really a sales story. I was seeing huge promises get made to candidates, and three weeks in they’re emailing me saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t what I expected.'” The two items she found most commonly oversold were “the degree of flexibility that came with the role and e-learning and internal education [opportunities].”

“I think companies know how much both of those things mean to candidates,” so recruiters tout them, often in good faith. But, she says, “I don’t think companies have the best systems and internal processes in place to make sure they’re fulfilling on them.” As recruiters, Breuer explains, “we have these stories that we repeat—that sales story. We believe it when we’re saying it because we’ve heard it so often,” even if it isn’t entirely true.

The solution? “There’s nothing better than actually asking to speak to a few people who work there,” says Breuer. Read every Glassdoor review you can. Get ahold of former employees on LinkedIn. “If you think you’ve done enough research, do that extra half hour—reach out to a few more people, Google it one more time.”

She adds, “If you’re not feeling sure, there’s probably info you haven’t uncovered yet that’s making you feel nervous about what you’re looking at.”
About the author

Rich Bellis is Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.


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Managers, Here’s Why You Keep Promoting The Wrong People
These common misconceptions cause even the best managers to make badly timed (or just bad) promotions.
Managers, Here’s Why You Keep Promoting The Wrong People
[Photo: DragonImages/iStock]

By Lisa Aldisert4 minute Read

If you’re a manager, maybe you can remember a time when you promoted someone to a position that they really didn’t deserve. And if you can, then you already know that undeserved promotions are time-wasters, morale-killers, and frustration-inducers–not just for you, but for the company as a whole.

What you might not know, even in retrospect, is why you went ahead and promoted that person in the first place. More often than not, over-promoting is a knee-jerk reaction and not a strategic decision. Perhaps your organization was going through growth or contraction, or you’d had some of your key people unexpectedly leave. Whatever the case, to avoid falling into that trap again, you’ll need to get your head around the myths and misconceptions that lead managers to promote the wrong people–or even the right ones at the wrong times.
Misconception #1: A Promotion Is Just A Label

It’s tempting to think of undeserved promotions as just lip-service that keeps whiny employees happy. But even if you think that, your employee might think otherwise. Soon he or she is sharing the promotion on social media, touting the new job title with coworkers, overstepping boundaries, and possibly even giving your clients the wrong impression about their new role. This situation can quickly get out of control, so before you give someone a title change, take a moment to think through the attitude change that might come with it.
Misconception #2: The Employee Will Grow Into It

You need to fill an open role, and the path of least resistance is promoting an employee with promise, but who isn’t quite ready yet. You’re pretty much setting them up to fail. They might have been exceeding expectations in their previous role, but without the right experience, they’ll struggle in a new position.

It can be a rude awakening for a star employee to receive criticism once they’ve been promoted, and that’s almost bound to happen if you put them in a role they’re not ready for. More job pressure and constructive feedback can also make employees defensive, feel picked on, or even go into hiding. It takes a lot of self-awareness to recognize when a job might be over your head, and that should really be a manager’s responsibility, not the employee’s.
Misconception #3: It’s Better To Over-Promote Than Be Understaffed

I once had a client with a problem employee who was actually on probation for poor behavior. After another employee quit, management suddenly got worried that she too might leave and they’d be understaffed. Sure enough, she smelled blood in the water, and threatened to resign for another job. Management panicked–instead of seeing her resignation as the gift it was, they gave her a promotion and hefty raise.

Related: How To Survive Working On An Underperforming Team

Needless to say, her work ethic didn’t improve with the increased responsibility. She was literally rewarded for her bad behavior, and the company ended up with an even bigger (and more expensive) problem on their hands. Some employees even catch wind of their employers’ reluctance to fire and rehire, and use that as an excuse to stop putting in effort.
What To Do After You’ve Promoted Someone You Shouldn’t Have

If you’ve already promoted somebody you can now see wasn’t ready for it, there are still a few things you can do:

Define the position: You should start by writing up a job profile that clearly defines the role and what it takes to be successful in it. Make sure to include the gaps that need filling between the employee’s abilities and the requirements of the job. This will help illuminate any hidden issues with skills like time management, prioritization, or delivering feedback. Once you identify those shortfalls, create a training plan for the employee.

Deliver concrete feedback: Make sure to include suggestions for ways to overcome whatever isn’t working. Without beating around the bush, spell out exactly what the employee is not doing well, outline what actions they need to take to improve, and set deadlines. Focus on the level of work, not on the person. Conduct regular follow-up meetings, on two-week intervals, to manage progress and adjust as needed.

Related: How To Give Feedback At Work That Doesn’t Jeopardize Your Career

Move the person into another role: Don’t forget that this is always on the table. If you’ve explored feedback, solutions, and training, and it’s obvious that the promotion still isn’t going to work, it’s time to look for another role that might. Rather than letting the situation crash and burn to the point where your team member quits or gets fired, transferring them to another position could be a win-win.

Just make sure their skills match better the second time around. One saving grace? After the mishap that got you here, at least you’ll have a clearer view of your employees’ strengths and limitations.

Lisa M. Aldisert is a NYC-based business advisor, trend expert, speaker, and author.

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    07.18.17 how to be a success at everything

Do These 5 Emotionally Intelligent Things Within 5 Minutes Of Meeting Someone
Being instantly likable isn’t rocket science, but this checklist takes practice to master in the short space of a first impression.
Do These 5 Emotionally Intelligent Things Within 5 Minutes Of Meeting Someone
[Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images]

By Harvey Deutschendorf4 minute Read

What’s the point of networking if not to get other people to like you? Sure, you need new contacts to see you as interesting, competent, professional, and potentially valuable to them—but if they don’t also find you likable, nobody will feel motivated to reach out later and work with you.

The reason why all comes down to emotional intelligence, the set of skills and qualities that allow people to form deeper, closer relationships with others. Likability is a key ingredient in that, and its career benefits are pretty obvious. For instance, being likable—and liking your coworkers in return—can increase your chances of getting promoted.

But when it comes to first impressions, you don’t always have much time to get people to like you. So here are a few straightforward things that the most emotionally intelligent people do to cement their likability from the get-go:
1. Show Genuine Enthusiasm For Meeting

Especially in business contexts, some people’s demeanors while making introductions are terse and serious. That might feel formal and “appropriate,” but it’s not always the most emotionally intelligent thing to do. Neither is laying it on thick with a forced grin and over-the-top proclamations about how absolutely wonderful it is to meet.

Just be natural. Pretend you’re meeting a sibling’s new significant other at a social occasion. Give your best, authentic smile. Open up your posture so your legs are at a wide stance but you’re relaxed. Make eye contact, offer a firm handshake. It’s that easy.

Related: 3 Things Effective Leaders Know About Being Likable
2. Offer A Compliment

If you notice something about the person you’ve just met that you can compliment them about, do it right away. Maybe there’s a recent accomplishment you’re aware of that you could mention. If not, ask a question or two that can lead to information you can later compliment them on.

Emotionally intelligent people are great listeners right from the moment they make acquaintances. They know that most people love to talk about themselves and will like and appreciate anybody who’ll earnestly listen. The problem is that most of the time—especially in the moment or two after meeting someone—we’re too busy thinking about our own responses and can’t wait for the next opportunity to jump in. This tendency is natural, and it sometimes gets worse when we’re nervous.

So treat the first five minutes after meeting somebody as a silent quiz session: Pretend you’re being tested to see how much you can find out about the new acquaintance—that when five minutes are up, you’ll have to write an essay about everything you’ve just learned, and the more information you include, the higher your score.
3. Ask At Least Two Open-Ended Questions

Conversations often die quickly or turn into monologues when they aren’t propelled forward by good questions. When someone starts talking about something they enjoy, use that as an opening to ask more: “How did you get into that?” “What do you like most about it?” Since it’s something they’re clearly dying to talk about it, don’t just ask yes/no or simple factual questions that might cut off their chance to really dig into it.

Aim for at least two open-ended questions within the first few minutes of striking up a chat with somebody you’ve just met. That should be enough to get a good, in-depth conversation going. On a subconscious level, you’ll quickly become somebody they remember liking and will want to be around.

Related: This Emotional Intelligence Test Was So Accurate It Was Creepy
4. Find Something You Share

Have you ever spoken with someone and found them distracted, glancing around the room or maybe maybe fiddling with their phone while you were speaking? If you did, there’s a slim chance you came away really liking them afterward. In order to make someone feel like they’re getting your full attention, you obviously need to focus on them exclusively. But you also have to find an interest or belief you both share.

The most emotionally intelligent people know that it’s easiest to connect with people they’ve found something in common with. These commonalities might not always be obvious, though; you have to look for them. For example, there’s a really experienced runner who works out at my gym, and we often have a chance to chat. Since I personally have zero interest in running, there wouldn’t seem to be common ground for a meaningful conversation beyond, “Good to see you again, how’s your week going?” But since most people like food, I once asked him what he eats before a major long-distance run. It gave us something in common to talk about.

These conversational openings are really simple but not always obvious right away just after meeting someone. Pay attention to what makes somebody light up, become more animated, and sit up straight. These little cues are easy to catch early on in your conversation, and they can make for great opportunities to quickly find commonalities, passions, and ideas to talk about in those crucial few minutes while we’re forming first impressions.
5. Say Their Name Before You Leave, And Commit Key Facts To Memory

Everybody loves the sound of their own name. Say it when you first meet someone; then sprinkle it throughout the conversation whenever you get the chance. At a minimum, make sure to say their name when you’re about to leave: “Really great meeting you, Shareen.” “Thanks for chatting, Kyle, let’s be in touch.”

Finally, emotionally intelligent people reinforce the likability they’ve banked during first impressions by remembering a few key details later on. The names of a new acquaintance’s partner, kids, even the pets they have or that vacation recommendation they shared—that’s all useful information to refer back to the next time you see them. It’ll help you stand out in their memory, and make them look forward to connecting with you again—because for some reason or other, they find that they just like you.
About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to


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    07.17.17 pov

We Need A Massive Remote-Worker Hiring Spree In The American Heartland
The most innovative companies already have diversity targets. This CEO says it’s time to add geographical ones.
We Need A Massive Remote-Worker Hiring Spree In The American Heartland
[Photo: NASA via Wikimedia Commons]

By Stephane Kasriel5 minute Read

This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.

The 2016 election laid bare multiple divisions in American society, but one of the biggest is geographical. In major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, people are generally doing well (if not equally so), while many places situated far from urban business centers aren’t.

Remarkably, faith in the American dream runs highest in locales where social mobility is lowest. U.S. companies, which for the past eight months have been struggling to navigate choppy political waters, should see that as an opportunity—even a call to action.
Add Geography To Your Diversity Goals

Many business leaders I’ve spoken to have been thinking harder lately about how to reverse political, cultural, and socioeconomic polarization. Some say more urban professionals from the coasts should move out to the middle of the country. Others might wish for corporations to relocate to suburbs and rural areas in need of opportunity, rather than continue the opposite trend.

But if businesses really want to create jobs in struggling parts of America—the places unfairly dismissed by some on the coasts as “flyover country”—and bridge political divisions in the process, the solution is simpler: Hire more people outside of big coastal cities. Just don’t ask them to move.

Related: Where The American Dream Is The Most Dead, People Believe In It The Strongest

The most innovative companies have already committed to building more diverse workforces, knowing that that’s both an ethical and competitive imperative. Some have set clear hiring targets for demographic representation, occasionally even publishing them in order to keep themselves accountable. Why not take the same approach to geography?

As virtually every politician across the political spectrum will eagerly remind you, residents of places like Youngstown, Ohio, or McDowell County, Virginia, are pissed off—and they have every right to be, because their local economies have been shattered in recent decades while jobs funneled out to big cities or overseas. In one analysis a couple of years ago, 20 metropolitan areas were generating more than half the country’s GDP output, and there’s little to indicate much has changed since.

In fact, the low national unemployment rate of 4.9% masks a deeper problem: Many people who would otherwise be available for work have completely opted out of the labor market. The “official” unemployment rate is higher in some places and lower in others, but in all cases it excludes those who haven’t actively sought work in the past four weeks. What’s more, people are dropping out of the labor force or retiring despite a spike in health care jobs, many of which can be done from anywhere by just about anyone.

One explanation, as PBS contributor Paul Solman points out, is that those roles are typically “quite demanding, both emotionally and physically” and often constitute “low-end, low-pay” work. The same is true for many who do manage to stay put in the “employed” column by picking up part-time, low-pay jobs with few or no significant benefits.

It’s not that good work doesn’t exist: Just ask any hiring manager how hard it is to fill an open role. There are lots of jobs to be had, just not where many people actually live, particularly outside a handful of major metro areas. For years, even the best-intentioned tech companies have cited a bogus “pipeline problem,” claiming that there just aren’t enough qualified female engineers or African-American developers out there for them to hire. That’s never been the case—it’s just that businesses haven’t always known where to look, or looked hard enough.

Related: The United States Of Innovation 2017

Much the same goes for geography. If they’re willing to actually look, companies can locate top talent well outside the same crowded cities where they keep desperately hunting within limited, competitive local pools. Some top knowledge workers actually want to leave major hubs for smaller towns and rural areas where their dollars will go further—they just haven’t found employers that will let them. Maybe that means a Seattle company recruiting new, remote hires in small cities undergoing surprising tech booms, like tiny Bozeman, Montana. Or maybe it just means letting a top performer leave headquarters to keep doing her job remotely from someplace else.

When companies make even small shifts toward more distributed workforces, the outsize impact can be surprising. Thanks to the well-known “multiplier effect,” for every job you fill in (let’s say) Detroit, you can actually create up to 4.3 jobs altogether: The person you hire will spend the money she earns locally, creating work for lawyers, schoolteachers, dentists, retail staff, and restaurant workers. It’s the reverse for every designer and developer you ask to move from someplace else to work with you in your New York office; you’ve just taken her talent and spending out of another city that’s now that much less likely to flourish in the future.
Yes, It Requires Going Remote

None of this can be accomplished without embracing remote work. While major employers, like IBM most recently, have ended long-standing remote-work policies, employees already see flexible arrangements as the inevitable future of their working lives. What’s more, offering more remote positions can help companies meet their diversity goals; women are especially likely to cite flexibility as a top employment priority.

Requiring people to come to a set location at fixed hours is a remnant of the Industrial Age, and it’s time to let it go. The COO of one growing company explained in Fast Company last month how he’s helped assemble a workforce from 19 employees back in 2006 to over 400 today—all of whom are remote. It can be done. After all, outside of big cities, the talent you seek isn’t concentrated enough to fill an office tower. There’s no single magic town filled with talented web developers you can hire in one lightning recruiting session.

Instead, companies need to leverage all the technological advances of recent years to erase what researcher Steve King has called the “paradox of place,” whereby “even though the internet and connective technologies have made working remotely easier than ever, people and companies are increasingly clustering together in fewer locations, mostly in cities.” At my company, Upwork, our own team is distributed. Over the last year, we’ve had 250 remote team members in the U.S. spread across 209 cities in 38 states, and by 2020, we plan to increase that number by at least 40%.

Related: Why These Freelancers Ditched Cities For Rural America

I call on business leaders to join me in setting targets of their own. Commit to hiring your next team member in a smaller city, small town, or rural area. Then commit to doing this as often as possible for the next few years until it becomes second nature.

You’ll find there’s a lot of talent out there, including in places you haven’t thought to look. There are many people who’d welcome the higher rates a tech company could pay. Don’t be cheap, either: Offer San Francisco or New York rates, which won’t just feel generous to someone living in a less-expensive part of the country but can actually help jump-start those areas’ economies. You’ll be rewarded with great loyalty. You’ll gain access to new talent, new insights, and the increased creativity that greater diversity brings.

What’s more, you’ll be helping to distribute opportunity and—maybe—a small, badly needed measure of understanding.
About the author

Stephane Kasriel is the chief executive of Upwork, where he built and led a distributed team of more than 300 engineers located around the world as SVP of engineering before becoming CEO. Stephane holds an MBA from INSEAD, an MSc in computer science from Stanford, and a BS from École Polytechnique in France.


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    07.14.17 most creative people

5 Startups Changing How Americans Buy Their First Home
The antiquated mortgage process is getting a digital upgrade.
5 Startups Changing How Americans Buy Their First Home
[Photo: Flickr user Kevin Dooley]

By Ainsley Harris3 minute Read

House-hunting starts online these days, with a visit to Google or Zillow. That initial search might lead to a FaceTime “open house” or uncover a 3D house tour. But put in an offer, and the process quickly turns analog. The hunt has gone digital, but applying for a mortgage still involves fax machines and pay-stub printouts.

That is finally changing. Entrepreneurs steered clear of the highly regulated mortgage industry in the years immediately following the 2008 financial crisis, which was precipitated by a glut of subprime mortgages, repackaged and marketed by Wall Street as low-risk securities. Now they see potential to transform a slow and expensive process, and at the same time serve first-time homeowners accustomed to managing their financial lives via smartphone. The prize, if they succeed: A share of the $8.4 trillion U.S. mortgage market. Here are five of the most promising startups to emerge so far.

This early-stage Y Combinator startup recently caught the attention of Mark Zuckerberg, who invested $5 million last month via his philanthropic vehicle, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Landed’s mission is to bring home ownership within reach for educators by funding as much as half of their down payment.

When the homeowners sell, Landed takes a cut of the home’s appreciation. Zuckerberg’s investment will support growth in three California school districts with high housing costs. “We hope this kind of down payment support will help to make it a little easier for great educators to stay and build successful careers in the region,” CEO Jonathan Asmis says. The startup partners with local lenders and real estate agents to implement its financing model.
Clara Lending

Jeff Foster, cofounder and CEO of of Clara, brings a similarly mission-driven approach to his mortgage startup. Foster left Wall Street and joined the Treasury Department in 2010, where he helped craft housing policy reforms in response to the unfolding financial crisis. “[Americans] took on loans they couldn’t understand because they didn’t have a good toolkit to evaluate choices,” he says. At Clara, he has raised $27 million to build a fully digitized mortgage process from scratch, while layering on financial education for prospective borrowers. “Our goal is to streamline that process and help the borrower make better decisions.”

Social Finance (SoFi) has quickly morphed from a student loan refinancing operation to a one-stop shop for the financial needs of affluent millennials—including mortgages. The company introduced mortgages in October 2014, and within two years originated over $1 billion worth of loans. Many of those have been “jumbo” loans, which require just 10% down but charge a higher interest rate.

For the typical SoFi customer—high-earning, but early career—jumbo loans offer a way to get on the real estate ladder in pricey markets like New York and San Francisco. “We’re bringing a lot of new folks into the SoFi community through our mortgage product,” says Michael Tannenbaum, chief revenue officer. As of January, mortgages were his fastest-growing product, with roughly 60% going to first-time buyers.

When LendingHome launched in 2014, it focused on “fix and flip” real estate investors. Then, with $1 billion in originations under its belt, the company began targeting first-time homebuyers this past spring. “We’re focused on giving homebuyers confidence and control over the process,” founder Matt Humphrey told Forbes. That means incorporating tips and feedback into the application itself, and offering features like a way to lock in a desirable interest rate. LendingHome has raised over $100 million to date.

Quietly, in the background, white-label software provider Blend has been helping established banks up their digital game when it comes to processing mortgage applications. The company launched in mid-2015, and raised $40 million in Series C funding in January of last year. Its mobile-friendly product imports an applicant’s financial information from around the web and speeds the bank’s time to a pre-approval decision. “The multi-trillion dollar mortgage industry has been running on legacy technology for decades,” says cofounder and CEO Nima Ghamsari. Blend’s technology offers banks an easy upgrade, compliant with regulatory demands and far cheaper than the $7,000 or so that a paper-based mortgage origination typically costs.
About the author

Staff writer Ainsley (O'Connell) Harris covers the business of technology with a focus on financial services and education. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.


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These Are The Places In The U.S. That Will Be Soaked By Climate Change First
Low-lying coastal areas are going to start seeing flooding every couple of weeks–even though there is no rain or extreme weather. Get ready to get wet.
These Are The Places In The U.S. That Will Be Soaked By Climate Change First
“The analysis shows the sheer number of communities up and down our coasts that will be coping with chronic inundation.” [Photo:Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

By Ben Schiller3 minute Read

They call it “sunny day” or “nuisance” flooding: days when it doesn’t rain and there’s no extreme weather, but streets in coastal areas become impassable all the same because an extra high tide comes on top of an already rising ocean. Across the country, more and more cities are experiencing these high tidal events and–if nothing is done to avert climate change–hundreds more could join the ranks of Miami Beach, Charleston, and Annapolis in the coming years.

A newly published report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which campaigns for action on global warming, calculates just how many. By 2035, it says 170 communities could see “chronic flooding” every two weeks, or more frequently, under an “intermediate” climate scenario. By 2060, it forecasts the same for 270 communities, with at least 40% of their land under water 26 or more times a year.

“The analysis shows the sheer number of communities up and down our coasts that will be coping with chronic inundation,” Shana Udvardy, one of the authors of the study, tells Fast Company. “It’s a clarion call for responses to sea level rise within local, state, and federal governments and particularly for a federal response to this ballooning challenge.”
In 2100, a regular high tide could flood New York as badly as Hurricane Sandy.

The analysis, based on federal data, was published in a peer-reviewed journal. It defines chronic flooding as inundation across at least 10% of a community at least 26 times a year. It calculates affected communities according to a scenario where global carbon emissions crest in the middle of this century and seas rise about four feet. Some estimates for future climate impacts are more serious, though, with emissions continuing to climb through this century and sea levels rising 6.5 feet or more.

Under the less serious scenario, the affected areas include some of the country’s most popular holiday-home destinations, including the Jersey Shore, North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound, southern Louisiana, and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. By 2100, up to 490 communities—or 40% of all East and Gulf Coast oceanfront communities—will be chronically inundated, the study says. (See the detailed map here for other affected towns and cities.)

Miami Beach–often seen as ground zero for sunny-day flooding–doesn’t yet cross the threshold for chronic inundation. But it is a poster child for flood adaptation. It plans to spend at least $400 million on raising its roads and installing new pump infrastructure. Other parts of the state aren’t so proactive. Florida governor Rick Scott has denied climate science and outlawed the use of the term “climate change” in official communication. Udvardy also praises Charleston, South Carolina, which has developed a citywide sea-level rise strategy, and Annapolis, Maryland, where flooding already occurs 40 times a year and planners are thinking about how to provide local businesses with interruption and flood insurance.
“Low-income communities, communities of color, and other traditionally underserved communities” tend to be less prepared and face greater risks than “wealthier, often whiter communities, especially in urban settings.”

Globally, climate change is expected to have a disproportionate effect on poorer countries. And it’s a similar story in the U.S. The report says: “Low-income communities, communities of color, and other traditionally underserved communities” tend to be less prepared and face greater risks than “wealthier, often whiter communities, especially in urban settings.”

While small towns by the beach will see a lion’s share of flooding, the analysis foresees trouble in bigger urban places as well. Under the intermediate scenario, five communities in the greater Boston area will be under water every other week by 2060 (including 15% of the town of Revere, Massachusetts). By 2070, the report sees one quarter of Alameda, an island in Oakland, California, chronically flooded by 2070. Meanwhile, on the other side of the San Francisco Bay Area, one-quarter of San Mateo could be chronically inundated by 2070, the analysis shows.

In a high scenario, where global sea levels rise six feet or more, 668 communities will see chronic inundation. That includes 60% of East and Gulf Coast oceanfront communities and 50 metropolitan areas, including four of the five boroughs of New York City and places like New Haven and Bridgeport, Connecticut. Boston, Alameda, and other cities would see chronic flooding in at least one quarter of urban areas. In 2017, New Orleans is the only major city with a chronic inundation zone wider than 10% of its surface area.

The report says communities have to choose between defending (like building sea walls), accommodating (where gray or green infrastructure manages higher sea levels), or retreating (the last option was taken by homes in Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy). Udvardy says coastal towns and cities should generally discourage risky development, for example through re-zoning, building permits that require construction above certain projected flood levels, and subsidized flood insurance. “We need to foster more resilience and have state, local, and federal governments work together more,” she says.
About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.


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Keeping Track Of All These Voice Assistants Is Becoming A Problem
As the Siri and Alexa clones add up, all their different skill sets and ways of talking could turn consumers off.
Keeping Track Of All These Voice Assistants Is Becoming A Problem
[Source Photos: Flickr users MouthGuy2013, and Nicole Mayone]

By Bob O'Donnell5 minute Read

Even for a casual observer of the tech industry, it’s easy to see that digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby are hot. Whether embedded into the latest smart speakers, built into the latest device operating systems, or evolving as independent entities, these new anthropomorphized chunks of code are receiving enormous amounts of attention from tech vendors, the tech press, and the general public.

But as hot as they are, there’s confusion among consumers about what digital assistants are and what they’re supposed to do. That’s largely because the various assistants offer an overlapping, but different, set of “skills,” to use Amazon’s term.

My firm, TECHnalysis Research, surveyed just under 1,000 people who own and use smart home and digital assistant products. The key takeaway of the research is that no one assistant currently has the ability to meet most people’s needs—more than half (55%) said they use multiple digital assistants. And just over a third of that group said they weren’t comfortable doing so, because of differences in the ways assistants currently work.

The various assistants understand different “wake-up” words, and different phrases to call up specific data or actions. If people have to learn how to address and ask questions or make requests of assistants in very different ways, it may cause confusion that ultimately leads to a slowdown in adoption of assistants in general.

The decision over what assistant to use depends on the device they live in. Those that live in smart speakers (“Alexa . . .”) are used more than those built into phones or PCs (“Hey Siri . . .”), the research shows. Interestingly, multi-assistant users most often select an assistant based on the device that’s closest to them.

It also depends on the task the user has in mind. Eighty-six percent of smart-speaker owners ask their device to play music, for example, while just 52% of smartphone users ask their assistant to do so, and only 46% of PC-based assistant users.
A New Concept

The path to consumer-friendly personal assistants includes a few milestones in computing (don’t forget Microsoft’s Clippy), but Apple’s Siri was the first to popularize the concept in 2011. It presented itself as a mobile, voice-driven interface (with a limited vocabulary) that allowed certain types of commands to be made and certain types of information to be requested. Even as it has expanded its applications, Apple has sought to keep Siri’s skills limited. Siri was also limited by the single basic microphone found on an iPhone or iPad.

The “big bang” in the digital assistant world came with Amazon’s Echo device, which was announced in the fall of 2014 and became widely available in the spring of 2015. The Echo used a specially designed microphone array optimized to get a clean “input” signal from your voice. More importantly, though, Echo’s assistant, Alexa, also brought with her a wider vocabulary of recognizable words than Siri. And a year into her life, Alexa learned even more words as developers created third-party skills for her.

Along the way, Microsoft introduced Cortana. Google first tried Google Now, then renamed the assistant “Google Assistant,” suggesting that the artificial intelligence-powered assistant would underpin lots of Google services. In addition to voice, both of these assistants also brought with them an enhanced AI focus. Each in their own way, they proactively learn things about you by looking (with your approval) at your productivity and personal data. They use this data to offer more personalized and contextually relevant data to you throughout the day. Siri and Alexa have steadily added these machine-learning capabilities, too.

Samsung’s Bixby and the Google Lens add-on to Google Assistant give the digital assistant the power of sight. The use the host device’s camera to capture images of people, objects, and places around you, then use sophisticated AI to recognize and manage them. This new twist adds an intriguing layer of contextual information. The assistant can see what’s going on around you.

Related: After Lots Of Talk, Microsoft’s Bots Show Signs Of Life

Moving forward, we’ll see even more capabilities added to digital assistants, including more natural responses, the ability to sustain longer conversations, and other skills that haven’t even been thought of yet. In many cases, however, those advancements are likely to be rather subtle, such as moving from a two-question interaction to a three-question one, or providing a slightly more contextually appropriate response to one of your queries.

As assistants gradually get smarter, they’re likely to specialize in different ways to accommodate different users and use cases. Actually, we’re already seeing differences in approach among the various assistants. One assistant might be good at providing answers to random questions (“What’s the capital of South Dakota?), while another might be far better at helping a user organize a future conference call.

While the ultimate goal of all the assistant platforms may be the same—to provide the digital equivalent of a personal assistant—each of the big tech companies creating them is coming at the concept with a unique perspective and with its own agenda. Apple wants to provide links to its services, all while maintaining the privacy of individuals. Google wants to leverage search to gather lots of personal data to create a smarter assistant (and potentially open up new advertising channels). Amazon wants to provide an intuitive, natural language front door to its many services, and maybe gain a foothold in the tech platform wars.

In practical terms, that likely means the various assistants will end up asserting themselves as very distinct, and different, personalities.
Platform Wars

This all matters because digital assistants represent the next great tech platform battle. All the major tech players know this, and are working to create platforms that can be built upon to sell additional services, provide deeper hooks into their respective ecosystems, or develop other types of products or business models that have yet to be completely figured out. Because of that potential, digital assistants now carry with them the gravitas of being inherently important for future business.

At the same time, all these major tech vendors also recognize that it’s still early days for digital assistants, so there’s a chance for almost anyone to release a product and grab some market share.

For consumers, digital assistants represent an intriguing glimpse into the future of more personalized, more contextualized, and more meaningful types of computing experiences. They show the potential for all the intelligent devices around us to go way beyond simply showing us pretty digital things on various screens. Assistants could enable completely new types of interactions with users. They could become like personal concierges that show us just the right information at just the right times. They might also provide a bridge between the digital world and the analog world we inhabit.

The era of the digital assistant is coming, but getting there—and determining where there is—will mean a rocky climb, as we search for the right words to speak to overlapping, incomplete visions of that future.

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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    08.27.14 work smart

Templates And Hints For The Perfect Email For Almost Every Situation
If every email you sent was perfectly phrased and well-received right out of the inbox, how much time could you save?
Templates And Hints For The Perfect Email For Almost Every Situation
[Business: Kazoka via Shutterstock]

By Kevan Lee10 minute Read

Have you ever received an amazing email, one that you’d like to print out and pin to your wall, one that made you grin from ear to ear or slow-clap in appreciation and reverence?

When I come across these gems, I drop them into a “Snippets” folder. I study them, I swoon over them, and I borrow bits and pieces of them to send better email.

Now imagine that every email you send is as great as these occasional all-stars you receive. Impossible? Not at all. Worth shooting for? Definitely.

Related: Six Ways To Write Emails That Don’t Make People Silently Resent You

At Buffer, we strive for 100% awesomeness in the emails we send to customers, and that pursuit of excellence carries over to the emails we send to teammates, colleagues, friends, and family. We want to send better email, the kind that delivers the intended message plus the desired emotion.

So I’m happy to share some of my sources of email inspiration. These are the templates and snippets that have caught my attention over the past few months, and which I’m hoping to include in more of my communication in the inbox. Think you might like to try any of these out in your daily emailing?
An email template for shaving 20 hours off your work week

Author Robbie Abed took to LinkedIn to share a pair of emails that he had used successfully to shave his workweek from 60 hours to 40 hours.

Here is email number one, which is to be sent on Monday.

    Subject: My plan for the week


    After reviewing my activities here is my plan for the week in order of priority. Let me know if you think I should re-prioritize:

    Planned Major Activities for the week

    1) Complete project charter for X Project

    2) Finish the financial analysis report that was started last week

    3) Kick off Project X–requires planning and prep documentation creation. Scheduled for Thursday.

    Open items that I will look into, but won’t get finished this week

    1) Coordinate activities for year-end financial close

    2) Research Y product for our shared service team

    Let me know if you have any comments. Thank you!


The clear intention here is to set the expectation for the week ahead and give a supervisor a clear understanding of what you’re working on.

Then, on Friday, you send a second email, summarizing what you completed during the week and noting any open items that need further attention or follow-up from colleagues.

Related: The Only Five Email Folders Your Inbox Will Ever Need

The idea here is simple: Set expectations early on in the week and follow through at the end of the week. According to Abed, this provides clear boundaries on your time, it shows your supervisor that you are responsible and organized, and–if everything goes according to plan–it might get you out of the office on Friday having worked zero overtime.
How Michael Hyatt says no to guest bloggers

Author and speaker Michael Hyatt gets a lot of email requests for a lot of different things. One of the most popular requests is for guest blogging – either bloggers who wish to submit guest posts to his site or other sites looking for Hyatt to write for theirs.

Here’s how he says no to guest blog pitches.

    Dear [name]:

    Thanks for your interest in being a guest blogger on my site. I am grateful that you took the time to write this post and submit it. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to use it.

    I have received scores of submissions–more than I expected. As a result, I am having to turn down many well-written posts, including yours. Sometimes this is because the topics overlap or the posts are too general for my audience. Regardless, because of my time constraints, I can’t really provide more detailed feedback.

    I wish you the best in your writing endeavors. If you have another post, I would be happy to consider it.

    Kind regards,


Here’s how he says no to invitations to guest blog.

    Dear [name]:

    Thanks so much for thinking of me as a potential guest blogger. I am honored.

    Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time. It is all I can do to keep up with my own blog! As a result, I’m afraid I will have to decline your kind invitation.

    Again, thanks for thinking of me.

    Kind regards,


I’ve been on the sending and receiving end of similar emails several times over the past few months. I happened to save a favorite “thanks but no thanks” snippet that I thought sounded appreciative and kind yet still said no.

    I’d love to take part and it sounds like an amazing opportunity. Unfortunately I’ll have to pass, as I’m currently a little over-committed and won’t be able to make the time right now.

Related: Here’s When You Should Use Email Instead Of Slack
Email snippets for saying no

In the examples above, Michael Hyatt said no to guest blogging. That’s a great start. And what about the scores of other opportunities we may need to turn down throughout the week?

Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time coach and trainer, shared a series of snippets for saying no in a post published on 99U. She seemingly had a “no” snippet for any scenario. Here are a few of my favorites.

When you receive perpetual last-minute requests:

    I would love to help you out, but I already made commitments to other (coworkers, clients, etc.) to complete their projects today. It wouldn’t be fair to them to not follow through on what I said I would do. I will be sure to fit this in as soon as possible. Thanks for your understanding.

When people ask you about everything instead of directly contacting the appropriate person:

    That’s not my area of expertise. I would be happy to connect you with someone who could best help you solve this problem.

When you’re given an exceptionally short deadline:

    I know this project is a high priority for you, and if it’s absolutely necessary for me to turn something in by that date, I can make it happen. But if I could have a few more (days, weeks, etc.), I could really deliver something of higher quality. Would it be possible for me to have a bit more time?

When asked to do something optional that you can’t commit to right now:

    I appreciate you thinking of me, and I’m honored by the request. But unfortunately, I don’t have the time to give this my best right now. I think you would benefit from finding someone who can devote more time and energy to this project.

Related: How To Cut Your Email Time In Half
7 simple sentences to set better boundaries

Could it even be as simple as a sentence? Wharton professor Adam Grant has a pretty quick list of seven different sentences that might work to set boundaries on your work/home life. Here’s the list:

    The Deferral: “I’m swamped right now, but feel free to follow up.”
    The Referral: “I’m not qualified to do what you’re asking, but here’s something else.”
    The Introduction: “This isn’t in my wheelhouse, but I know someone who might be helpful.”
    The Bridge: “You two are working toward common goals.”
    The Triage: “Meet my colleague, who will set up a time to chat.”
    The Batch: “Others have posed the same question, so let’s chat together.”
    The Relational Account: “If I helped you, I’d be letting others down.”

Of these seven, I’ve had a chance to try Nos. 1 and 3 just in the past week. The first felt great, as it truly was an opportunity I was excited to pursue yet the timing just wasn’t ideal. Sentence No. 3 felt just as good; had I committed, I would have been way in over my head. So not only was I able to set a boundary, I was able to ensure that the work was completed the best way possible.
How to send the best emails to your customers

In The Customer Support Handbook: How to Create the Ultimate Customer Experience For Your Brand, Sarah Hatter describes in expert detail exactly which words and phrases should be used in a modern-day customer conversation (and which shouldn’t).

Empty words (do not use):

    This issue
    That isn’t
    This isn’t
    We don’t
    We’re unable to
    I can’t

Full words (use liberally):

    Thank you!
    I’m really sorry
    This sucks
    I know this is frustrating
    You’re right
    That’s a great idea!
    Let me check and get back to you
    Thanks for sharing your idea/thoughts/taking the time to help improve the product

Magic phrases:

    “You’re right.”
    “I’d love to help with this.”
    “I can fix this for you.”
    “Let me look into this for you.”
    “I’ll keep you updated.”

Power replies:

    “You’re right, we could definitely do this better.”
    “Thanks for being open and honest about your experience so we can learn from it.”
    “I really appreciate you helping us improve our process–we don’t want this to happen again.”
    “I know this is a huge disruption to your day and I’m working to get it fixed.”

I had a chance to use the “disruption” line just today with a customer who had a less-than-ideal experience. I’m not sure if my choice of words was what won him over or not. I am happy to say that he was super pleased to receive my reply–nothing to sneeze at for a customer we might have wronged.
What to say instead of “Let me know if you have any questions”

Chris Gallo at Support Ops has an interesting, applicable way of looking at that all-too-common wrap-up to the emails we send. How do you end your conversations on email? Seems like we typically choose one of these cookie-cutter sign-offs.

    “Please let me know if you have any questions.”
    “If you have any other problems, just let me know.”
    “If there is anything else you need, please let me know.”

Compare this with how you end conversations in real life. Gallo points out that none of us talk this way to our friends and family; why should we talk this way to our beloved customers?

Perhaps the best example Gallo cites is this one:

    “If there is anything else you need, please let me know.”

    Should I need something else? Am I going to need something else soon? Are you saying that I’m needy?

Instead of the stock answers, try these questions, which sound more human and feel more conversational.

    “Does this help you?”
    “Did that answer your question? And does it make sense?”
    “Anything else that I can help with today?”

(The above example comes from Chase Clemons’s Support Ops email guide, which has loads more examples, if you’re interested.)

I’ve been trying these new signoffs in my personal emails for the past couple weeks, and I will say that it can be a little disarming at first. I definitely felt the urge to end with a token platitude rather than an open-ended “Does this help you?”

Fortunately, it gets easier the more you use it. And I’ve had many meaningful conversations that I might not have had otherwise.
Out with the “buts,” in with the exclamations

This one I’ve borrowed from our Chief Happiness Officer Carolyn who wrote about her removal of every instance of “but” and “actually” from her customer support emails.

With “but,” Carolyn removes the conjunction and replaces it with an exclamation point, splitting one compound sentence into two simpler ones.

    Sentence 1: “I really appreciate you writing in, but unfortunately we don’t have this feature available.”

    Sentence 2: “I really appreciate you writing in! Unfortunately, we don’t have this feature available.”

With “actually,” she removes the word entirely, often opting for a new word or phrase to open the sentence.

    Sentence 1: “Actually, you can do this under ‘Settings.'”

    Sentence 2: “Sure thing, you can do this under ‘Settings!’ :)”

I was inspired by these examples, so much so that I’ve gone to the extreme and attempted to remove all “buts” from the blogposts I write and the conversations I have. It’s interesting, even if I’m unable to follow through 100% of the time, just to note how often the word might come up. I’m prone to use it more often than I thought.

I’ve found that recognizing great emails is one thing, and using them is another. This is why I started cataloging the emails I love and referring to them regularly when I need inspiration on what to say. I go with a fairly straightforward copy-and-paste, which can take a bit of time. The SupportOps crew (and many of our Buffer heroes) use Text Expander to have snippets available via a keyboard shortcut.

This article originally appeared on Buffer and is reprinted with permission.

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