Journal of Accountancy What CPAs Should Know About Machine Learning vs. Deep Learning

What do these terms associated with artificial intelligence really mean? Here’s a primer.

By Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA October 15, 2018

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already changing the nature of our lives. When you ask Siri for a restaurant recommendation or when you tell Alexa to play your favorite song, you’re interacting with AI.

AI has also been making its way ( reshaping-the-accounting-industry/#3ee4799237f3) into the accounting world. Finance departments, for example, have found ways to automate what was once laborious data entry using the technology. Among the activities automated are vendor bill data entry, general ledger coding, and expense reporting, to name just a few.

While these changes are helping to increase efficiency, they’re just the beginning of the innovations headed our way. To help you prepare for those, this article looks at two subsets of AI, machine learning (ML) and deep learning, that could have a huge impact on the way accounting professionals do their jobs. Keep in mind that to take full advantage of AI, you must move to cloud technology, as discussed in my Sept. 17 article “The Required Step Before AI and Blockchain (”

As machine learning and deep learning have become buzzwords throughout the tech and business worlds, commentators have rushed to make sweeping generalizations ( soon-taxes-bye-bye-accounting-jobs/) about robots replacing human jobs within accounting. In this race to make the grandest statement possible, a lot of nuance gets lost and the narrative of accountants losing their jobs gains an audience. The truth is that while these technologies will certainly alter our careers, nobody yet knows exactly what the transformation will look like. In fact, many people don’t even fully understand the terms that are being used so that they can make their own determination of how this will affect them and their careers.

Defining AI, ML, and deep learning

You may remember the old adage from your high school geometry class that “every square is a rectangle, but every rectangle is not a square.” AI, machine learning, and deep learning have a similar relationship. All deep learning is machine learning, and all machine learning is artificial intelligence, but not vice versa. AI is the largest umbrella, followed by machine learning and finally deep learning.

Let’s start at the top. AI refers to the ability of machines to mimic human intelligence. Software developers facilitate this by taking knowledge of how a human performs a set of tasks and then writing code that empowers a machine to perform that set of tasks on its own. AI includes things such as workforce planning, understanding and translating language, recognizing images and sounds, and even applying knowledge and problem-solving skills to complete tasks. For example, a software program could mimic an accountant who uses knowledge of the tax code to run your tax information through a set of static rules and gives the amount of taxes you owe as a result.

Machine learning takes AI to the next level. Beyond the coding to mimic human behavior with AI, the software begins to learn the result of the set of tasks and how a human may respond, in order to speed up the task for the next time. For instance, after you watch a movie or a TV show on Netflix, you get recommendation for other movies and shows to watch based on what you’ve already watched. This is an example of machine learning creating a better experience by automatically providing you with relevant content options, potentially saving you the time of having to do a manual search.

Taking things one step further, deep learning ( is based on the structure and function of our brains, the interconnection of the many neurons. Within deep learning, artificial neural networks (ANNs) are algorithms that mimic the biological structure of the brain. In ANNs there are different neurons that have discrete layers and connections to other neurons. Each layer picks out a specific feature to learn. It is that layering that gives DL its name; depth is created by using multiple layers as opposed to a single layer. An example of deep learning is Google Translate, which can automatically translate images with text in real time to a language of your choice. You hold your camera phone over an image or text and your phone runs a deep learning network to read the image and translate into the language you speak.

An example of using all of this together is a driverless car. With AI, you put a destination into your GPS, and the car executes your orders. Machine learning could prompt the car to ask whether you want to go a certain place based on the date and time you turn on the engine. A deep learning car could automatically stop for coffee at your favorite cafe on the way to work, just by knowing that you often stop there.

What this means for accounting

While AI adoption for data entry may be a viable option very soon, machine learning and deep learning applications are still a ways off.… 2/4

10/19/2018 What CPAs should know about machine learning vs. deep learning

Because machine learning relies on huge amounts of data to provide accurate results — e.g., the more content you choose on Netflix, the better its predictions on what else you would like — the biggest accounting firms are leading the way when it comes to developing machine learning applications. That’s because the biggest firms not only have the most resources to invest in research and development, their huge client bases also give them tons of data with which they can test what works in the accounting space.

For example, KPMG uses ( applying-ibm-ai-to-help-businesses-meet-ifrs-16.html) IBM’s machine learning platform, Watson, to help leasing companies comply with the IFRS 16 lease accounting standard. Argus, a tool developed by Deloitte, uses machine learning to review documents for key accounting information. The tool works with many types of documents, including but not limited to sales, leasing and derivatives contracts, employment agreements, invoices, client meeting minutes, legal letters, and financial statements. Deloitte also has introduced a service that monitors risk ( risk-management.html) associated with algorithms and machine learning, which can help early adopters use these innovative technologies with reduced fear of adverse effects.

How to embrace the tech

While the Big Four have the most financial resources to invest in AI-related technologies, Jeanne Boillet, the global assurance innovation leader for EY, believes that smaller practices have a chance to experiment more effectively because they can be more agile to respond to market changes. She recommends ( 201818949.html)that “accountants … start small but think big: Starting out by doing simple proofs of concept that are highly relevant for your business will ensure that your use of AI in the future will be suitable and effective for you specifically.”

As a smaller firm practitioner, you have the opportunity to take advantage of software packages that are pre- built by the developers that are investing in AI and ML innovation. You can research online ecosystem marketplaces that integrate with your software-as-a-service (SaaS) general ledger systems to automate tasks such as bill payment, expense reporting, audit sampling, and more. It is always good to test one application at a time to see if it will help your practice increase efficiency and minimize errors and allow you more time to work on value-added tasks for your clients. It is important when researching applications that you ask about their AI and machine learning road map to ensure they are going to continue making investment in this area.

Ultimately, machine learning and deep learning will allow accounting professionals to spend more of their time helping their clients run their business, rather than focusing on the data entry and computational aspects of their jobs. Our advice has always differentiated us from technology. It’s our time to not only focus on the technology, but also to invest in the learning around soft skills areas such as communicating the analysis of financial ratios and collaborative opportunities with clients and your team. Learning the technology and focusing on the human component are equally essential. You will need to be strong in both areas to thrive in the coming years.

10/19/2018 What CPAs should know about machine learning vs. deep: learning://… 1/4

Amy Vetter (, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is CEO of The B3 Method Institute, a keynote speaker and adviser, Technology Innovations Taskforce leader for the AICPA’s Information Management Technology Assurance (IMTA) Executive Committee, and author of the book Integrative Advisory Services: Expanding Your Accounting Services Beyond the Cloud, published by Wiley.

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How Peer Coaching Can Make Work Less Lonely

By Norian Caporale-Berkowitz and Stewart D. Friedman

A near-constant stream of business and scientific news reminds us that 50% of Americans are lonely. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s powerful HBR article notes that half of CEOs suffer from loneliness. In addition to its personal toll, there is also an economic cost: workplace loneliness causes burnout, affects job satisfaction, and lowers both performance and retention. It also increases health care costs.

The Causes of Loneliness at Work

Loneliness is a subjective feeling of isolation. Number of coworker interactions and whether or not you work remotely are not causal factors. What matters is the quality and meaningfulness of relationships. It’s common for employees to feel lonely while surrounded by colleagues with whom they don’t genuinely connect. Indeed, do your colleagues see the real you or just a carefully managed, work-safe persona — a brilliant disguise? If the latter, then you’re likely to suffering some degree of loneliness.

Loneliness isn’t usually a failure of the employee but is, rather, a systemic cultural issue. Humans have a need to feel valued by the people around them at work, at home, and in the community. Yet many people keep work relationships at a distance because that’s what they believe is expected. Unless employers demonstrate they value basic human connections at work, it is difficult to change the common gospel that who you are is not who you should be in the office. Psychological safety — the sense that we can be free to be ourselves without fear of retribution — doesn’t exist when our managers don’t model vulnerability, a generator of high-quality connections, because they worry it might undermine their authority. Cultural norms that discourage genuine relationships lead to loneliness.

How Peer Coaching Can Help

Peer coaching is about cultivating a network of allies that can provide mutual support in creating positive change to improve performance. In addition to its many benefits for learning, these relationships address the roots of loneliness at work. On the surface, peer coaching might look like low-budget professional coaching. Employees gain new perspectives on their issues and opportunities, as well as accountability partners to improve follow-through on creating change, but without paying professional coaching fees. But it’s much more than that. When organizations invest in peer coaching systems they signal a cultural shift that normalizes talking candidly about life with colleagues. Employees gain feelings of connection, trust increases, and individuals develop insights into their own problems through helping others. Peer coaching provides opportunities for one-on-one connection and demonstrates that our inner lives are welcome in the workplace. Let’s explain a bit further three of the ways it helps:

  • Creates a culture that values connection. People develop symptoms of loneliness when they feel isolated regardless of how much actual social support is available to them. Psychological problems increase when people have little hope for more connection in the future. An employer’s commitment to increasing connections among employees can reduce loneliness even before any coaching begins simply through the signals such initiatives convey. This is especially relevant for younger employees; 71% of millennials want their coworkers to be like a second family. When employers help employees build peer-to-peer coaching networks, it creates a culture of connection. Employees experience being vulnerable with coworkers and begin to view lowering their walls as an asset, not a liability. They see the workplace as a source of personal nourishment. Loneliness dissipates when we feel we are among people engaged in helping each other. As one of our clients said after a peer coaching exchange, Just having someone who was truly interested in helping me was an incredibly powerful experience.”
  • Replaces social snacking with meaningful dialogue. Communicating mostly over email or chat and then turning to social media on breaks — that’s social snacking, which gives the illusion of connection without actual nourishment. What matters is not how often we interact, but whether our interactions are meaningful. Peer coaching replaces snacking with satisfying meals of real talk. Those at the table are revealing themselves and accepting others as they are. The reciprocal nature of peer coaching relationships, in which employees take turns talking about work in the context of their whole lives, is a catalyst for deep mutual understanding. By providing opportunities for individuals to talk — without pressure to deliver or impress — peer coaching can reduce loneliness more effectively than staged social events in which people might be laughing and drinking but still hiding behind a mask they’d rather remove.
  • Increases psychological safety.  When researchers recently asked Americans “How many confidants do you have?” the most common response was “zero,” compared to a modal response of “three” just two decades earlier. Research shows that people who are lonely, compared to those who are not, are less able to make new connections. Because peer coaching involves repeated conversations with consistent partners, it is an effective method of creating confidants that persist over time.  One of our clients said, “I feel like I gained three new family members, people who are supportive and non-judgmental.” Coaching focuses on listening and asking questions. Because participants in peer-to-peer coaching exchanges see their coaches as focused first and foremost on gaining understanding of what’s on the inside, these relationships produce feelings of psychological safety.

Once you are comfortable with the idea of doing something to deepen relationships at work, set up a simple method for two people to try out a peer-to-peer coaching exchange following these basic guidelines. Each pair can take turns coaching each other for 20 minutes each. In essence: Listen and don’t try to fix problems. Start with coaching sessions over lunch; eating together increases trust and is a natural way to schedule a one-on-one that isn’t focused on specific work tasks. Be sure to check in on what people learn about how to be effective as coaches and as clients in their dialogues and use that knowledge to make needed adjustments.

Peer coaching can be effective in fighting loneliness through opt-in one-on-one dialogues where the work of creating stronger human connections can happen.

Norian Caporale-Berkowitz is pursuing a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology at the University of Texas–Austin, where his research on scalable and preventive mental health programs is supported by the university’s top fellowship. Norian leads workshops for teams at Authentic Revolution, and you can find him on LinkedIn.

Stewart D. Friedman is the Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School. The former head of Ford Motor’s Leadership Development Center, he is the author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and LifeBaby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, and Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. For more, visit, find him on Twitter @StewFriedman, or on LinkedIn.

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A New Ikea Report Is An Insettling Look At Life In The 21st Century

“Almost half of Americans (45%) go to their car to have a private moment to themselves,” the company reports in a new survey of 22,000 people in 22 countries.


Every year, Ikea Group and INGKA Holding (the holding company that controls the majority of Ikea’s retail stores) publishes a research report on how people live in and relate to a specific aspect of their homes. Since 2014 it’s dealt with morning routines, food and kitchens, and disagreements at home. This year, it takes on a more existential tone–dealing with loneliness, belonging, and the effects of living in cities.

Two years ago, the company asked thousands of people about where they felt “most at home.” At the time, 20% of subjects said it wasn’t the space in which they lived. Two years later, they asked again, and found the number has risen by 15% among people who live in cities. In other words, 35% of people who live in cities don’t feel at home in their house or apartment.

[Image: courtesy Ikea]Other statistics from the report–which surveyed 22,000 people in 22 countries–paint a picture of two competing versions of “home.”

On the one hand, people find a sense of belonging outside of conventional living spaces, whether in the park or at school. In fact, almost a quarter of people who live with others feel more comfortable outside of their homes altogether. At the same time, living spaces are increasingly tied to peoples’ livelihoods, often directly generating income: One in four people surveyed works more from home, and another 25% who live with strangers also rent their space out on Airbnb.

On the other hand, people report a creeping unease with their living spaces: 53% of young families don’t get a sense of belonging from their residential home. Only 57% of people who live with family or alone feel a sense of belonging and the number drops to 34% if you live with friends or strangers.

One person in Rome reported going out to sit in their car on the street to find a fleeting moment of “mental privacy.” They weren’t alone: “Almost half of Americans (45%) go to their car, outside of the home, to have a private moment to themselves, surpassed only by the bedroom (72%) and bathroom (55%), much more traditional and expected spaces to go to have a moment alone,” the authors write. Only 45% feel a sense of privacy or security. “Life at home is changing, profoundly, all over the world,” the report concludes.

[Image: courtesy Ikea]This dovetails with a huge amount of research and theory going back to the early 1900s on changing definitions of home. But what’s fascinating about Ikea’s report is that Ikea, simply by being the largest furniture retailer on earth, has a role to play here. The corporation has more than 400 stores in 25 countries. It reported 936 million visits to its stores last year. One favorite faux-factoid, which, obviously, can’t be verified, claims that 1 in 10 Europeans is conceived on an Ikea bed. We are increasingly renters rather than owners, which makes inexpensive and disposable furniture a necessity. As the writer, Sarah Amandolare pointed out a few years ago, “home” has become less permanent and more transient than ever, and, as a result, we’ve stopped thinking of our homes as “self-expression.”

Ikea, of course, has a stake in helping people feel like they can create a sense of belonging, regardless of where home is–and a real shot at doing so, given its scale and ubiquity in cities. Rather than suggesting a new sofa, the report ends with an interactive quiz that asks about how you feel at home, mapping your answers on a pictograph and offering you a personalized “manifesto” of affirmations about finding alone time and building community. “The important thing is that everyone deserves to experience that feeling of home,” the report adds.

None of it has very much to do with furniture, which is perhaps a reflection of a moment when buying things as self-expression has taken a back seat to self-care for consumers.


Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design’s deputy editor.



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How the Zagat Guides Shaped Today’s Food Culture


Zagat altered the culinary landscape forever. Here’s how it felt from the inside.


By giving voice to diners and showcasing a wider culinary landscape, Zagat transformed the food world. The nearly 40-year-old brand, which was started by lawyer couple Tim and Nina Zagat, pioneered the concept of user-generated content by surveying eaters and averaging their scores into different ratings for food, décor, and service.

As Fast Company shares in a new, exclusive oral history, the resulting burgundy guidebooks radically shifted both how people decided where to eat and their overall power at the table. (And do lots of other stuff; there were category spin-offs galore.) In 2011, Google acquired the company to try to take that magic online. Now a new chapter begins for the Zagat brand, having been acquired earlier this year by review site and social media darling The Infatuation.

Here, food-world insiders share what it was like to experience the dawn of crowdsourcing.

Tim Zagat: There was a kosher restaurant, and we didn’t mention it as being kosher. They sent us a nasty note and said it was creating havoc. All these people were coming in, and when they found out that it was kosher they got up and left. I got it straightened out in a subsequent printing. Then [the owner] got upset because he’d decided he [didn’t want to be] kosher anymore, he was getting so much business.

Allan Ripp, former Zagat PR director: At one point, we compared foot traffic and food ratings among some of the high-end and lower-end places. The restaurant run by the [chef who inspired] the Seinfeld Soup Nazi, its food ratings were higher than Le Cirque . . . [Zagat wasn’t merely] riding a wave of a culinary change in the country but also helping advance it.

Alice Waters, owner, Chez Panisse: I think [Zagat] did open up people’s minds about the world of food,
especially in big cities.

Kevin Suto, CEO, Zachary’s Chicago Pizza: In 2003, we were in the top 10 or something for most popular in the Bay Area, and that ruffled some feathers.

Danny Meyer, restaurateur; CEO, Union Square Hospitality Group: I was a junkie with all the statistics. I [created] what I called the value equation: It was basically adding up—for the top 50 restaurants—their food, decor, and service scores and dividing that number by the cost of buying a meal there: quality per dollar. I would then do a plus-and-minus chart, an arrow up, down, or sideways for every single one . . . [The guide] was an annual report card . . . I started to pay bonuses to our senior people at Union Square Cafe based on how we had done in those scores . . . I’ll never forget the year that Shake Shack [which Meyer founded] made the top 50. Who would have ever thought a hamburger place would do that?

A version of this article appeared in the October 2018 issue of Fast Company magazine.


Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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Why We Love Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

Hosted by Samantha White October 3, 2018

People tend to gravitate to leaders who exhibit emotional intelligence, even if it’s difficult to explain why exactly. Clare Haynes, a speaker, coach, and the founder of the UK firm Wildfire, explains the skills that emotionally intelligent leaders possess and how those skills can inspire employees.

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • An explanation of what it means to be emotionally intelligent.
  • Some of the traits exhibited by emotionally intelligent leaders.
  • How genuine listening can bring out the best in your employees.
  • Why professionalism is sometimes linked to being rigid or “starchy”.

Play the episode below at FM Financial Management Magazine:

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Foreword by Jeff Thomson, President and CEO at Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)

Why did they title it Giraffes of Technology?  In 21st-Century business, especially in the United States, organizations and their leaders often embrace a top-down, autocratic style in the quest to achieve short-term gains (e.q., quarterly profits for shareholders). Yet many studies in the area of servant leadership show that a nurturing, empathetic, and values-oriented approach creates greater business value in the long run. According to the authors, the giraffe is the least offensive beast in the wild. It bears no ill will toward any other animal. They view the giraffe as a metaphor for a leader with a unique lookout post–one who incents followership rather than intimidating others in the herd to behave in a certain manner.

Giraffes of Technology using six herbivore-inspired leadership traits that CEOs and managers must embrace over the next decade to create and enable sustainable organizations that enrich society.  Today’s technology triggers a business environment that requires adapting to untidy change–change that isn’t easy but is necessary. The six chapters in the book are rooted in unique themes, or metaphors, centered on the behaviors of the giraffe in the wild: acting as a lookout post to focus on the long run vs. the short run; communicating with others as gentle giants; dealing with a violent birth; moving forward to inspire a never-stop-learning mind-set; dealing with the predator lions who seek to disrupt change; and blending into new herds to enable diversity of people and thought.

The book is an inviting, engaging read. It combines a touch of Back to the Future with a sense of Animal Kingdom to provide an inspiring look at the kind of leaders businesses need to succeed in the 21st Century.

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Warren Buffett a Giraffe-Inspired Leader Who is Leading Herds

Warren Buffett viewed freight train railroads as our future, and they already have a strong infrastructure in place. US Rail was 144 percent more in 2008 than in 1980. Trains can carry massive amounts of freight and travel 457 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel. If 10 percent of freight moved by truck were moved to rails, the United States would burn one billion fewer gallons of fuel a year. Buffett is betting that the use of freight trains will only continue to grow throughout the twenty-first century.

Buffett is a giraffe-inspired leader who creates smart risks, spending money with thought and concern for more than his company, Berkshire Hathaway. The freight train is the largest investment in the firm’s history, and he likely will be dead when trains become a major part of our country’s transportation and financial success.

Buffett is a renaissance man, fully connected to other humans (like a giraffe connected with other herds vs. lions only with lions).



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Evaluating Emotional Intelligence

This is an article from Harvard Business Review about Evaluating Emotional Intelligence (EI) the idea in practice.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence (EI) Components:

EI Component:  Self-awareness

Definition: Knowing one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and goals–and their impact on others.

Hallmarks: Self-confidence, Realistic self-assignment, Self-deprecating sense of humor, and Thirst for constructive criticism.

 Example: A manager knows tight deadlines bring out the worst in him. So he plans his time to get work done well in advance.


EI Component:  Self-regulation

Definition: Controlling or redirecting disruptive emotions and impulses.

Hallmarks: Trustworthiness, Integrity, and Comfort with ambiguity and change.

Example: When a team botches a presentation, its leader resists the urge to scream. Instead, she considers possible reasons for the failure, explains the consequences to her team, and explores solutions with them.


EI Component:  Motivation

Definition: Being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement.

Hallmarks:  A passion for the work itself and for new challenges, Unflagging energy to improve, and Optimism in the face of failure.

Example: A portfolio manager at an investment company sees his fund tumble for three consecutive quarters. Major clients defect. Instead of blaming external circumstances, she decides to learn from the experience–and engineers a turnaround.


EI Component:  Empathy

Definition: Considering others’ feeling, especially when making decisions.

Hallmarks:  Expertise in attracting and retaining talent, Ability to develop others, and Sensitivity to cross-cultural differences.

Example: An American consultant and her team pitch a project to a potential client in Japan. Her team interprets the client’s silence as disapproval, and prepares to leave. The consultant reads the client’s body language and senses interest. She continues the meeting, and her team gets the job.


EI Component:  Social Skill

Definition: Managing relationships to move people in desired directions.

Hallmarks:  Effectiveness in leading change, Persuasiveness, Extensive networking, and Expertise in building and leading teams.

Example: A manager wants his company to adopt a better internet strategy. He finds kindred spirits and assembles a de facto team to create a prototype Web site. He persuades allies in other divisions to fund the company’s participation in a relevant convention. His company forms an internet division–and puts him in charge of it.




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This Algorithm is Quickly Clearing Old Marijuana Convictions in San Francisco

The article is written by the author Adele Peters, who 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.



Now that weed is legal in California, people with old marijuana arrests can have their records cleared. Code for America, working with the SF District Attorney’s office, built a system to quickly find which people were eligible, and fill out their paperwork for them.

When Proposition 64 legalized marijuana in California, it also meant that people with old marijuana convictions could petition to have those offenses taken off their criminal record or downgraded to lower-level crimes. That process takes time and money and sets up a lot of obstacles for people who may not be able to hire an attorney or take time off work. In San Francisco, the district attorney’s office is helping by going through records itself and doing it very quickly, with the help of an algorithm.

A new machine learning algorithm developed by the nonprofit Code for America can read through charging documents, identify codes for various crimes, and then automatically determine which felony convictions can be downgraded to a misdemeanor (those who also committed violent crimes, for example, can’t have their records downgraded). Then the tool automatically fills out required forms that the district attorney can file with the court.

For those with a criminal record, the changes could have meaningful impacts on their lives. “If you have a felony conviction, or in many cases, if you have a misdemeanor conviction, there are many employers who will not hire you,” says George Gascón, San Francisco district attorney. “There are many landlords that will not allow you to rent or lease a place for them. There are certain types of student loans that you would not qualify because of the felony conviction. So we know that having a felony conviction–for offenses that have been legalized–still holds back a lot of people. Mostly, quite frankly, poor people, and people in communities of color.”

Though rates of marijuana use are similar in black and white populations, nationally, someone who is black is nearly four times as likely to be arrested for possession. In California, until marijuana use was legalized, black people were more than twice as likely to be arrested.

Clearing records can also improve public safety, Gascón says. “There are two major components to reducing the likelihood that people will commit crimes. One is employment and the other one is housing. If you have a steady job and you have housing, you’re less likely to engage in other criminal activity.”

The D.A.’s office can fairly quickly process misdemeanor records, which don’t involve any discretion on the part of the prosecutors–if you have a misdemeanor for marijuana, it can be expunged. But felonies are more complex. It might take a well-trained paralegal 15 minutes to review someone’s criminal history, and that process would need to be repeated across thousands of records. The algorithm can process hundreds of records in a matter of minutes.

Code for America started looking at the issue of expunging criminal records because of another California law, Proposition 47. The law intended to get some low-level offenses reclassified as misdemeanors, but few people were actually getting their records cleared. When the nonprofit started working on the issue in 2016, through a project called Clear My Record, it helped digitize the process,and made changes like sending people notifications by text instead of through the mail. It helped–7,000 people signed up. But “we could see that it really would not scale,” says Code for America founder and executive director Jennifer Pahlka. The team began working on an algorithm to automatically move from rap sheets to completed applications, and that has now been adapted for the San Francisco D.A.’s office.

It’s important, she says, that the technology came out of a lengthy process of understanding what challenges existed in the system. “I think if you look at certain attempts to use technology within complex bureaucratic systems, you’ll very often have people writing a beautiful algorithm, but for a problem that’s the wrong problem,” Pahlka says. “What I’m proud of our team doing is the work to figure out where the real problem is.”

After testing the tool, San Francisco now plans to begin using it, and the team also plans to share it with other district attorneys in the state and in other parts of the country. “This entire system will be put in the public domain so anybody can use it,” says Gascón.


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How Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Toxic People

A 21st-century article below from Dr. Travis Bradberry, Ph.D. who was an award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. 

“Toxic people defy logic. Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons. Either way, they create unnecessary complexity, strife, and worst of all stress.

“Studies have long shown that stress can have a lasting, negative impact on the brain. Exposure to even a few days of stress compromises the effectiveness of neurons in the hippocampus—an important brain area responsible for reasoning and memory. Weeks of stress cause reversible damage to neuronal dendrites (the small “arms” that brain cells use to communicate with each other), and months of stress can permanently destroy neurons. Stress is a formidable threat to your success—when stress gets out of control, your brain and your performance suffer.

“Most sources of stress at work are easy to identify. If your non-profit is working to land a grant that your organization needs to function, you’re bound to feel stress and likely know how to manage it. It’s the unexpected sources of stress that take you by surprise and harm you the most.

“Recent research from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions—the same kind of exposure you get when dealing with toxic people—caused subjects’ brains to have a massive stress response. Whether it’s negativity, cruelty, the victim syndrome, or just plain craziness, toxic people drive your brain into a stressed-out state that should be avoided at all costs.

“The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. Talent Smart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. One of their greatest gifts is the ability to neutralize toxic people. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ to keep toxic people at bay.

“While I’ve run across numerous effective strategies that successful people employ when dealing with toxic people, what follows are twelve of the best. To deal with toxic people effectively, you need an approach that enables you, across the board, to control what you can and eliminate what you can’t. The important thing to remember is that you are in control of far more than you realize.”

They Set Limits (Especially with Complainers)

“Complainers and negative people are bad news because they wallow in their problems and fail to focus on solutions. They want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. People often feel pressure to listen to complainers because they don’t want to be seen as callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into their negative emotional spiral.

“You can avoid this only by setting limits and distancing yourself when necessary. Think of it this way: if the complainer were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers. A great way to set limits is to ask complainers how they intend to fix the problem. They will either quiet down or redirect the conversation in a productive direction.”

They Don’t Die in the Fight

“Successful people know how important it is to live to fight another day, especially when your foe is a toxic individual. In conflict, unchecked emotion makes you dig your heels in and fight the kind of battle that can leave you severely damaged. When you read and respond to your emotions, you’re able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.”

They Rise Above

“Toxic people drive you crazy because their behavior is so irrational. Make no mistake about it; their behavior truly goes against reason. So why do you allow yourself to respond to them emotionally and get sucked into the mix?

“The more irrational and off-base someone is, the easier it should be for you to remove yourself from their traps. Quit trying to beat them at their own game. Distance yourself from them emotionally and approach your interactions like they’re a science project (or you’re their shrink, if you prefer the analogy). You don’t need to respond to the emotional chaos—only the facts.”

They Stay Aware of Their Emotions

“Maintaining an emotional distance requires awareness. You can’t stop someone from pushing your buttons if you don’t recognize when it’s happening. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in situations where you’ll need to regroup and choose the best way forward. This is fine and you shouldn’t be afraid to buy yourself some time to do so.

“Think of it this way—if a mentally unstable person approaches you on the street and tells you he’s John F. Kennedy, you’re unlikely to set him straight. When you find yourself with a coworker who is engaged in similarly derailed thinking, sometimes it’s best to just smile and nod. If you’re going to have to straighten them out, it’s better to give yourself some time to plan the best way to go about it.”

They Establish Boundaries

“This is the area where most people tend to sell themselves short. They feel like because they work or live with someone, they have no way to control the chaos. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Once you’ve found your way to Rise Above a person, you’ll begin to find their behavior more predictable and easier to understand. This will equip you to think rationally about when and where you have to put up with them and when you don’t. For example, even if you work with someone closely on a project team, that doesn’t mean that you need to have the same level of one-on-one interaction with them that you have with other team members.

“You can establish a boundary, but you’ll have to do so consciously and proactively. If you let things happen naturally, you are bound to find yourself constantly embroiled in difficult conversations. If you set boundaries and decide when and where you’ll engage a difficult person, you can control much of the chaos. The only trick is to stick to your guns and keep boundaries in place when the person tries to encroach upon them, which they will.”

They Won’t Let Anyone Limit Their Joy

“When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something that they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or snide remarks take that away from them.

“While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what toxic people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within. Regardless of what people think of you at any particular moment, one thing is certain—you’re never as good or bad as they say you are.”

They Don’t Focus on Problems—Only Solutions

“Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress. When you focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and reduces stress.

“When it comes to toxic people, fixating on how crazy and difficult they are gives them power over you. Quit thinking about how troubling your difficult person is, and focus instead on how you’re going to go about handling them. This makes you more effective by putting you in control, and it will reduce the amount of stress you experience when interacting with them.”

They Don’t Forget

“Emotionally intelligent people are quick to forgive, but that doesn’t mean that they forget. Forgiveness requires letting go of what’s happened so that you can move on. It doesn’t mean you’ll give a wrongdoer another chance. Successful people are unwilling to be bogged down unnecessarily by others’ mistakes, so they let them go quickly and are assertive in protecting themselves from future harm.”

They Squash Negative Self-Talk

“Sometimes you absorb the negativity of other people. There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad about how someone is treating you, but your self-talk (the thoughts you have about your feelings) can either intensify the negativity or help you move past it. Negative self-talk is unrealistic, unnecessary, and self-defeating. It sends you into a downward emotional spiral that is difficult to pull out of. You should avoid negative self-talk at all costs.”

They Limit Their Caffeine Intake

“Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re surprised in the hallway by an angry coworker.”

They Get Some Sleep

“I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present.

“A good night’s sleep makes you more positive, creative, and proactive in your approach to toxic people, giving you the perspective you need to deal effectively with them.”

They Use Their Support System

“It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To deal with toxic people, you need to recognize the weaknesses in your approach to them. This means tapping into your support system to gain perspective on a challenging person. Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them, and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as explaining the situation can lead to a new perspective. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation.”


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