23 Days and Reporting

We ended up having a gap for today’s Silicon Valley Tale, so I thought I’d write about something not that close to home – The disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370.

Communication

I’m so confused by the communication strategy. It seems like every day some other person is holding a press conference about the condition of the search, the reasons behind the disappearance or some garbage floating in the ocean.

Is this reporting style an impact of the twitter-era, real-time news world that we’ve come to live in? It’s been 23 days of leading headlines – the majority of them erroneous.  I think everyone wants resolution on the situation but this has frankly been painful. I don’t blame the families in China for wanting absolute truth of the plane’s demise.

Speaking of: shouldn’t this be about the families and company’s responsibility to account for the situation? Every day some new country, company or private citizen comes forward and frankly just creates a lot of noise and mis-information.  At this point, there’s very little opportunity for anyone to come out a hero in this situation.

Technology

As a child of the Silicon Valley boom, it’s almost incomprehensible that in this day and age, there is no “real” way to track the location of this plane.  If you take Edward Snowden at his word, we are being tracked every minute of every day from the purchases that we make to our physical location via our smartphones.

March 20, Malaysia Air, Flight 370 Search Zone Courtesy of cbsnews.com

They have millions of dollars of equipment invested in airplanes. How is it that  everything is still dependent on the little black box?  No one ever thought to push that information into the cloud?  If nothing changes, in 7-10- days when the black box transponder batteries fail, these poor families will be out of luck. The industry will have to defer resolution of the situation to satellite data analysts inventing a new mathematical model to track satellite waves bouncing off the ocean.  I guess that’s better than nothing.

Helplessness

Seeing that same headline every day makes me feel helpless. Satellite data, radar data and 20 countries commitment to search. There’s still nothing. They are left to use ships and airplanes to do a physical search using map grids in the largest area ever undertaken – and it took them 23 days to get this far.

After 9/11, I heard that it takes a tragedy to make significant changes in the way companies and countries do business.  I hope the airline industry takes this head-on, so that no future family has to endure a marathon of pain. Otherwise, we might as well start talking about a new Bermuda Triangle.

 

Addicted to Multitasking

Image

My name is Ursula and I am multitasking addict.

Living in Silicon Valley, working moms take multitasking to the extreme. We are always on, leaning in, reclining or shrugging it off. Our worlds revolve around the hamster wheel of innovation and progress. Always pushing us forward into the unknown void of a supposedly better future. And if you can’t multitask, you’re going to fall off that wheel or loose a limb or two. So, is multitasking endemic to our environment or part of our DNA?

For me, it’s a little bit of both. Even before the digital age, I was always someone who had to be doing 5 things at once. Maybe that is why I am ambidextrous and today can watch multiple TV shows while checking work emails, writing book #2, and creating this blog.  But I’m also a multitasking addict because of the choices I have made in being a mother, my career and wanting to spend more time with my family. And I think I am not alone.  How many of you working moms have found yourself in this situation:

7 AM. I have a headset in my ears, phone by my side and laptop on the kitchen counter. I log into the connect session for my second call of the morning. As I wait for coworkers to join the call, I feed our dog, Maverick, and then begin prepping breakfast and lunch. Oh yes, I forgot to mention my husband is in Europe on a business trip—he also works in high tech. As the call begins, I look at the agenda then head upstairs to wake the kids as I listen to the first speaker.

My kids are 8 and 10 years old, so fortunately, they are used to this routine. And I rarely get any grief from them especially when Maverick is with me, ready to give them a juicy kiss. I wake them up, give them a quick hug and point to the morning “To Do” check list posted outside the bathroom door: Go to the bathroom, brush teeth, brush hair, get dressed, make beds. They have until 7:30 AM to make it downstairs. I continue to listen to the first speaker and can actually visualize the Powerpoint slide he is referencing. As I walk back into the kitchen, I check my author Twitter account and schedule a couple tweets.

Once in the kitchen, I position my laptop behind the food prep workspace. I can see the presentation and actually engage in conversation about the topic while I spread mustard on a piece of wheat bread. As I reach in the refrigerator for the turkey meat, I receive a text from my husband, “How are you?” I type my response, “Great. How are you? On a call, let’s talk in 30.” As I hit the send button, I hear my name mentioned on the call. I make a comment about the topic. And then if on queue, my son runs into the kitchen followed by my barking dog. I hastily hit the mute button on my phone as a co-worker makes a crack about my living in the “Wild Kingdom.” I continue with the call, pack sandwiches into lunch bags and then start in on making breakfast. I cut up some fruit and scramble some eggs. The call ends. I yell out, “breakfast,” and the kids come running in. I take the headset off and sit down at the kitchen table. We discuss our plans for the day as we eat.

This might seem extreme but this doesn’t happen all the time. And I do set aside time every day to disconnect from my electronics. If I meet people face-to-face, I engage in a conversation without checking my phone ten times. Family dinners are mandatory and a time to reconnect. And unless I have an important project, I don’t check work email on the weekends. Yes, at times it is exhausting to be a multitasking addict, but without it, I wouldn’t be able to find that precious quality time with my family. And to be honest, that’s just how most of us moms roll, living and working in Silicon Valley. 

I Don’t Think “Global” Knows What The Word “Community” Means

“We should remain grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides. The sum of all our evolution, our thinking and our accomplishments is love.”

-Carl Sagan

My grandparents used to live on a cul-de-sac in the outskirts of London known as Lawrence Drive. Roughly 5 years after my grandfather’s passing and 7 years after my grandmother’s, we still keep in contact with three of the couples in the neighborhood whom we, as kids, learned to refer to as “Auntie” and “Uncle” due to sheer proximity and the fact that everyone looked out for each other. These people and my grandparents acknowledged a kind of accountability for one another’s well-being.

Their relationships ebbed and flowed. There were conflicts and a couple of major falling outs. But these neighborly ties were always mended and the general forward momentum of a local group of people living together continued to instill familiarity, forgiveness, trust and an overarching sense of security and belonging.

The first time I visited my grandparents’ house on Lawrence Drive after my grandmother’s passing, there was a note left on my grandfather’s easy chair with instructions describing how to manage the heat and electricity accompanied by a second note expressing words of comfort and an open door in case I needed to see a familiar face.

These interactions were comforting and distinctly human. So the question bears asking: Is this something that can be replicated in the available online mediums that are comprising many our day-to-day communications? My thoughts are “Totally.”  However, our technology is still a loooooooong way away from replicating these kinds of interactions over distances. I have sincere reservations about enabling our current technological resources as a way to establish “community.”  My fear is that, until technology can support the nuance of human interaction, there will be an entire generation of people who have had an excuse to refrain from interacting with one another and therefor, lost some of that vital interpersonal development.

Granted I don’t work in tech, but many of my conversations and communication have increasingly taken place online or via chat/messaging as opposed to IRL(in real life), as the kids say. Much of what I experience with communication via electronics is choppy, cryptic and often just a means to an end. “What time show start?” “Address again?” “Where ARE you?” I have had a few meaningful moments of challenging discourse as a result of posting an interesting article or two online, but the timing is always stunted and there is a certain flow that is lacking.  I hope that the genius minds behind the development of this realm of interaction have the general public in mind when they develop these programs for use by the elderly, the disabled and the otherwise disadvantaged.

To illustrate my point and in order for me to maintain my footing in this ever-shifting landscape of human communication, I have developed a basic equation to help me support my personal belief that sustaining local communities is vital to our survival as a compassionate and loving species.

Proximity + Mutual Accountability = Quality of Life

1) Proximity: From Chapter 3 in the Book Distributed Work: ”Once people are no longer collocated, then a lack of observation and face-to-face conversation are difficult or impossible…..People tend to feel more comfortable in private than in public spaces.”

Comfortable, yes, but deep and meaningful?  Ho-Hum. Thinking back on my grandparents’ relationships with their neighbors, the “falling out” times were not insignificant. But they were challenged to grow past whatever it was that was angering them to either forgive and forget, or hash it out and move forward. I feel that in the “global” or on-line version of type of progress, it is much easier to ignore or even “defriend” someone with whom one is in a disagreement. Close proximity lends an urgency to situations, which requires us to act in real-time. Without proximity, there is rarely an opportunity for challenging discourse and deepening of connectivity, for less inward reflection or growth, and for less of an impetus for personal evolution.

And because of the “numbers game” of non-verbal communication, during online exchanges, we are losing a large part of conversational context and the nuanced character of human connectivity. What kind of text does one choose when intending to type sarcastically?

If we interacted with each other face-to-face the same way we interact with each other online, it would be utter idiocy as the following esurance commercial hilariously illustrates.

Clear and honest communication is necessary for the perpetuation of any relationship.  Part of being honest is “showing” in conjunction with “saying.”  Showing someone you are angry by scowling and speaking with a heightened sense of urgency is a form of sincerity if communicated in the moment and can give a clear indication of what is at stake. This requires a certain vulnerability and can be scary at times. This type of exchange cannot happen when one can leave the conversation simply by powering down a device.  Vulnerability, while terrifying, can also be a powerful tool for personal growth and connectivity with others.

+

2) Mutual Accountability: “It takes a village!” How many times can you remember being shuttled to work or soccer (dance, fencing, chess, Mathletics) practice in a car load of other kids from your neighborhood by a brave and (most-likely) exhausted parent from another kid’s family? How many times were you forced to get along with or tolerate one of the other kids in that carpool? How hard was THAT? But this is where we start to develop personal accountability for our feelings and actions. We start to understand that we don’t exist in an emotional vacuum. Louis CK makes a great case for holding off on giving cell phones to kids.

Then there is the development from personal accountability to mutual accountability. Do you remember just taking a walk to the corner store as a kid? Feeding your neighbor’s cat while they are away in Mexico? These relatively simple activities require a certain level of trust and accountability for other people in your local community. They take time and practice to develop and can be exceedingly comforting in times of great need (e.g. The Lawrence Drive neighbors’ letter to me on my grandfather’s chair). We get to evolve from sharing a space for a limited amount of time in a car with a bunch of other tweeny, self-centered, immaturity machines, to cohabitating in dormitories, walking each other home from bars/music venues/late night parties, shuttling each other’s kids around to soccer (dance, fencing, chess, Mathletics) practice. Accountability for oneself takes practice. Mutual Accountability takes practicing with others.

=

3) Quality of Life: In the limited amount of time that we have as physical beings on this tiny planet, why not make it easier for ourselves and learn to live together in the real world? Our ancestors have been doing it for centuries. Granted, they didn’t always get along, but in the instances when they did, they probably had THE most interesting lives, loves and stories to share. The stories become legacies and the joy of the previous generations perpetuate through to the following generations. Personally, I want my stories to be full of the love, joy and hilarity that can only be experienced in the presence of other human beings. Each time I go to see a band perform live, the musicians absolutely alter the atmosphere of a space with the intensity of their performance. Or that time when I was 14 and we were playing pool in France and I sunk the 8 ball by giving it air over one of my sister’s striped balls. Those weekends when all of the neighborhood kids would escape into the forest behind our houses and build forts out of discarded lumber as the cows looked on. Or the only time I ever saw my dad cry was when he put his head in my lap as we learned of my uncle’s passing. These life-changing events shaped who I am today and instilled in me a level of understanding and compassion for humanity that I needed to be physically present for. Not one of them happened online.

I sometimes think that our humanity is all that we have to share in our lifetimes. We are fallible and impressionable and we need each other to understand our own nature. The better examples we are of each other, for each other, the more joyful and meaningful and loving our time on this planet can be.

WHY I AM DELETING THE FACEBOOK APP FROM MY IPHONE

I am going to delete the Facebook app from my phone. WAIT! I am not deleting my Facebook account. Oh, the horrors. I am just getting rid of having access to it 24-7. Here’s why:

1. BEING PRESENT When I go somewhere, I want to be focusing on the people I am with, not what other people (that are not anywhere near me) are doing. A “Live in the Moment” thing. Many times, I have been at a restaurant or party with great friends and incredible conversation.  At some point, someone ultimately picks up their phone and checks Facebook (including me). I have a pretty good life, a great family, lots of friends and plenty of fun. Frankly when I am out and about, I want to be focusing on just that, vs. thinking about what other people are doing half a world away.  Facebook has become a crutch for even the smallest of pauses in what started out as great discussions.

2. BEING IDLE As a full-time working mom of two and a wanna-be wine writer (but really more of a wine drinker), I have very little down time. I am actually typing this blog post on my laptop at my daughter’s softball practice. When I’m at home or work, I constantly have something to focus my brain on.  In the rare moment that I don’t have something to do immediately in front of me, I find myself popping open Facebook on my phone to see what other people are focusing on. Stoplights, waiting in line for coffee, maybe or maybe not in the potty. There is always something to look at on Facebook. But being idle is scientifically proven to help the brain function and regenerate. I personally like it when my brain is functioning, n’est pas?  Remember the days when one would just sort of un-focus and stare out into space while getting gas or waiting for take-out at the Pho place? I want that to be me. Idle.

3. BEING PRIVATE I don’t know about you, but those sponsored posts are starting to get a little creepy. They are annoying of course, because they are the first things I see on my mobile newsfeed. However, they are freaking dead on. Those smart f*ckers at Facebook know that I am in the market to buy Moscow Mule Copper Cups even before I do.  Are they monitoring my ginger beer and Tito’s purchases?  Did they listen in on my conversation with a friend about how I can’t wait for this refreshing and delicious cocktail to be served at a party? I am scared and frightened.

4. BEING DIFFERENT I actually (really!) do a lot of work on Facebook, managing a couple different Social Media programs for my winery and wine brands. However, the Pages App takes care of that. I can post and interact just as easily. The Messenger App allows me to participate in group conversations and it comes up like a text on my phone. Bonus! Like iMessage, Facebook Messenger doesn’t use up any text data fees.  With these two functionalities available in other apps, removing the main Facebook app won’t put me behind at work or ruin my social life. If I absolutely must post a picture of the adorable thing my kid is doing RIGHT NOW, Instagram baby.  If I have something so important to say that the world must know IMMEDIATELY, I can always set up my Twitter account to post on my page for me.

I fear this exercise will be difficult for me. I am fully aware that I am addicted to what other people are doing. I am a total sucker when to comes to the stupid shit like buzzfeed’s top 21 types of mustaches. And the mushy video of total strangers kissing for the first time. And pretty much anything Jimmy Fallon. Wait, Jimmy Fallon is not stupid. But time suckage. Need to stop the time suckage.

While contemplating this decision, I almost convinced myself it was impossible. I was going to miss those cool “check-in” connections. ”Hey I’m at the Justin Timberlake Jay-Z concert too!” But I got to thinking, in reality, aren’t those interactions sort of awkward? Just because a “friend” happens to be at the same place at the same time, why is there an unspoken obligation to see each other? We didn’t come together. I probably have not seen that person in forever, maybe not since high school.  If I really wanted to be with that person, at that place and at that time, well, wouldn’t I be? Ultimately the “where are you??” posting on someone’s cool picture of JT and JZ busting it out fades away or results in a “sorry we didn’t connect at the show” type of message.  Awkward!

So that’s it. The app is gone. I pressed that little wiggly blue box. It’s over. And I think/hope I will be a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, co-worker and friend for it.

I still have the iPad app though. That does NOT count.

Do-You-Facebook-and-Poop-the-anti-social-media1

SXSW: Spring Break for Silicon Valley

SXSW: Spring Break for Silicon Valley

South by Southwest (or SXSW, or “South By”) has come and gone for 2014. Having been my second festival, I thought I knew what better to expect this time. Much of it was as I had planned carefully, with lessons learned from my virgin experience. I only packed a few comfortable shoes. I planned for Austin’s schizophrenic weather and brought mittens and a coat, as well as a bathing suit and flip-flops. And (aspirationally), I packed running shoes “just in case” I’d have time to run on the treadmill – which, of course I did not. SXSW is the kind of event that once you leave your hotel in the morning, you’re not coming back for anything except a warm bed in the wee hours of the night.

Image

Seth Meyers holds Grumpy Cat

What I didn’t expect was how many new and incredible opportunities there were to consume content that were not a part of the sanctioned festival. Brands have learned that the influx of marketers, digital leaders and creative thinkers provide the perfect opportunity to deliver smart content to their audiences, without the necessity of a festival badge. I dined one morning on breakfast at the W Hotel at the Social Media Today event, which featured social executives from Whole Foods, IBM and MasterCard. I spent another day at Lamberts BBQ at the Brand Innovators Summit, hosted by social maven and author @TedRubin and jam packed with 20-minute presentations from big brands like Mondelez International (holding company for Oreo, Nabisco and more). Even the pop-up shops and takeovers surrounding the Convention Center had plenty of content to offer. Esurance scanned special gold badges for a chance to win prizes. HBO’s Game of Thrones pedaled pedicab “Thrones” around the streets of Austin and over to their special exhibit of props and costumes from the show (of which I did not tour, due to the consistent hour plus wait time to get in.) Even Grumpy Cat, last year’s top Internet Meme, made his way into the party. Content at SXSW is EVERYWHERE you look, every hour of the day and night. Overwhelming? YES.

The collective hours of planning and money spent by these brands has got to be in the billions. Months of ideation, construction, shipping, assembly, amplification and tear down. As impressive as this is, real-time marketing was conspicuously absent. I am very surprised that any of these brands didn’t take advantage of this massive opportunity to do something so simple – a la “You can still dunk in the dark” Superbowl Tweet from last year – yet so – yes I will say it, the center square in SXSW Bingo – disruptive, that it won the day. Oreo came close (again), crowdsourcing cookie flavors from Twitter and dispensing them on the spot using special machines created for the event. Maybe it’s just too busy, too crazy, too fragmented, or brands just plain run out of gas by the time they’re there. But also there are 100,000 people using their phones to take pictures and check Twitter, and even more not there watching the social stream to feel they’re a part of the action. My bet’s on seeing more of real-time marketing attempts next year.

So, common themes of SXSW 2014:

  • Disruption (I said it again): Brands are very aware they need to do something unexpected to get people’s attention.
  • Real time marketing: Brands are dying to be first with a witty Tweet or to market with something that’s hot. My sense from the sessions I attended was the larger the brand, the harder it is to pivot. IBM Social Business is doing some really innovative, cool things with social analysis and analytics. Here’s one they did at the very hip CMO Clubhouse outpost (it was the agency space used to photoshoot Grumpy Cat!) Social Command Center with my own Twitter handle. This new software analyzed every Tweet I’ve ever sent and applied the sentiment of my content with characteristic traits similar to Meyers-Briggs. It turns out I rate very high in Adventurousness and Imagination, which I’ll take! Where brands could go with this, especially as we move into more sophisticated social selling models, is really interesting.

    Image

    My Twitter profile IBM analysis

  • A Return to Being Human Marketers: Dynamic Signal, an up and coming tool for brands wanting to become true social businesses inside and out, hosted a roundtable panel at the Brand Innovators Lounge for clients and prospects to openly share successes and insights. It was really great to hear these brand marketers talk about connecting their employees with easy to share content, because they get that their best advocates are inside their own walls. It’s not that your employees don’t want to tell everyone about the exciting things happening at your company; it’s that they’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. “Employees want to know what they can do right,” said Susan Emerick, IBM executive and author of The Most Powerful Brand in the World. “They want to have a positive experience and want to make sure they’re not doing anything wrong to put themselves and their company in jeopardy.” Dynamic Signal makes it easy to share, a tenet Bryan Kramer, the president of our agency PureMatter calls “#H2H”. Bryan sat on the panel to share his expertise about how important it is to bring back the simplicity, empathy and imperfection in how we market today, discussed further in his new book There is No B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human, H2H. “We’re selling to humans – not businesses – no matter what,” he says.

This year’s SXSW did not disappoint with both filling my brain with new ideas and killing my brain cells with endless open bars. If it sounds like Spring Break, you’re right (and thanks to Mark Cuban for inspiring the title). But now, after 5 days of walking, talking, brainstorming and partying, I’m ready for a serious break from the madness. It’s one of those events that you don’t realize how magical a time it is, until you return back to sanity and feel full of creativity – and inspired to start planning for Austin 2015.

The World Can Do With One Less Glasshole….

I was recently invited by Google to attend a live hands-on Google Glass demo at their San Francisco offices. Although I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Apple product aficionado, as a product designer with a geek streak a mile long, I just can’t resist an invitation to play with new technology, especially controversial new technology.

Project-Glass

For those of you may not live and breathe Silicon Valley tech news and geeky bleeding-edge technologies (aka those of you who probably have balanced lives and can exist without a 4G device in your hand constantly), here’s the Google Glass primer:

Google Glass has been one of the most-hyped entries into the newly-minted wearable device category (think: smart watches, FitBits, and the like).

It’s a pair of glasses (hence the name) 🙂 with a tiny computer mounted on one side that enables one to do many of the same activities that a smartphone enables — taking pictures and videos, sending emails and texts, getting driving directions, even posting to Twitter and Facebook.  All the apps one can run on a smartphone could [in theory] be transplanted to this device. Imagine making phone calls, ordering dinner, making plane reservations…all with your tiny “eyeglass-mounted” computer.

To operate Glass, one uses their head movements, voice, and [occasionally] hands to interact with the tiny mounted device.

And the really interesting kicker:  No one ever has to know that you’re using Glass. There is no external indicator, such as a light or sound, that lets others around you know that you’re taking a photograph or a video, or recording the scene around you. And since you’re not holding up a device to your face as you would with a phone or camera, there’s no obvious gesture-based indicator.

Oh, and it’s not available to the mass market yet. Google Glass is currently in a pre-release program, which Google has named the Explorer Program. In prehistoric tech terms (aka pre-Google), a beta program enables companies to test pre-release products by inviting early-adopter customers to use them. These beta testers provide valuable real-life field testing, feedback and enhancement ideas to the company in exchange for getting early access to a new product. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.

images

Typically, consumer product beta programs are free of charge. After all, the participants are providing valuable research and testing services to the company producing the product. And more importantly, beta programs are carefully designed to cultivate early customers into strong product evangelists. Most savvy and successful product companies understand that beta customers ARE one of a company’s most critical and valuable customer investments and their strong endorsement of one’s product is nearly impossible to undervalue.

Google, as it appears, does the beta program thing a little differently.

For starters, they charge $1500 to be in their Explorer program.

Yes, you read correctly:  15. Hundred. Dollars.

$1500. To test their new product for them and to give them valuable feedback. $1500. When was the last time you paid $1500 for the privilege to test a product that was not on the market yet? I’ll give you a moment to consider that. Yes, exactly what I thought. Never.

I’ll let you chew on that for a while longer as we return to our regularly-scheduled Google Glass primer program…where was I? Oh yes, explaining the evolution of Glassholes…

The arrival of Google Glass on the scene in late 2012 was not without both fanfare and controversy. Fans have hailed the technology as a true game-changer, a revolutionizing blueprint of the future of personal computing, where hands free becomes a full physical interactive experience.

Critics and the more privacy-sensitive among us have been less sanguine, pointing out that Glass also creates a whole new category of potential privacy invasion, in a world where the lines of personal and intimate communications could be blurred to the point of non-existence.

The thought of someone being able to secretly record your entire interaction with them with the nod of head is quite uncomfortable at the lighter end of the conservative spectrum.

And at the gloom-and-doom end? It’s the end of private interactions in society, a lubed-up slippery slope into a Big-Brother-run dystopian society where everyone is online and on display always. In other words, say goodbye to any private intimate moments, humans. Everything you do and say can be recorded without your knowledge or consent.

And as the tension between the tech workers and the regular masses increases in such cities as San Francisco over such fundamentals as affordable housing and transportation, Google Glass has become an unintentional symbol of just how removed from the regular world the tech world can get. The term Glasshole, which hails from Google itself, has been bandied about more and more frequently to describe those who are sporting these potentially privacy-invading devices but who lack the situational awareness around both how they are being perceived and how invasive such devices could be for others.

But to be very honest, very little of that was swirling through my mind when I filled out the online application to join the Explorer program in mid-2013…..OR when I received my invitation to participate…OR when I was invited to a special hands on demo session at the San Francisco offices.

It was also not on my mind last Saturday when I trekked over to the Google SF offices on the Embarcadero. To be really, really, really honest, I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about and to get hands-on with this new fangled device. I am a product designer, after all, so understanding and playing with new tech products is part of my everyday work.

I just wanted to see it…and given all the hullaballoo about Glass and Glassholes, I was also curious to see what Google would do to address this negative PR, if anything.  And what they would do with me, a flesh and blood potential customer who was interested enough to come into their offices on a weekend.

And the answer is…(drumroll please)….absolutely nothing.

Google did absolutely nothing with me or for me as a customer when I showed up looking to try, and to possibly buy, their product.

Now, that’s not to say that they didn’t have a room filled with cheery, friendly employees who were happy to explain how Google Glass worked.

They had plenty of demo devices I could try on and play with.

They were happy to tell me that if I [paid my money] and joined the Explorer program, I would be in a position to give Google feedback about my experience with Glass and possibly shape the future of the product.

And they were happy to give me a new coupon code so I could enter the program….for the entry level price of $1750.

Wait, $1750, you say?

Oh yes, the price to join the Explorer club went up. It seems that Google has now started offering new options for glass frame styles available for Google Glass. But, after paying the initial $1500 for the Glass device, one must pay an additional $250 for the frames. (And it doesn’t work without the $250 frames – I asked.)

And when asked if that $1750 would get one the hardware upgrades when the product is launched to the public in a mere few months, the answer was a stuttering somewhat dismissively…”We’ve discussed that. But…we don’t know. Oh well.”

And an even bigger surprise — they had no Google Glass stock onsite. I could of course order Google Glass and pay my $1750 for it that day, earning me the opportunity to come back to the San Francisco offices to pick it up so they could show me how to use it.  Or they could ship it to me…for a fee.

And that was my Google Glass customer experience.

To be clear: The cheery, Glass-knowledgeable Google employees did absolutely nothing to make me want to be a Google Glass Explorer and instead, provided an opportunity for me to very easily decline:

  • They advertised one price and raised it once I was in their offices (in some circles, this is, ahem, called a bait-and-switch).
  • They had no stock available for me to buy that day.
  • I would have to order and then return to pick up my order at their offices again (or pay to have it sent to me).
  • They offered no incentive for my taking time out of my weekend day to come see their product (which would generally qualify me as a “hot prospect” or “interested buyer”).

In short: My experience showed me that Google clearly did not value my time or my interest in their technology.  The message I got was that Google did not value me as a potential customer, and they  definitely made no effort to convert me into an evangelist.

I’ll stop slightly short of calling this out as arrogance and will instead describe it as an insular oversight by a company that has been at the leading edge of technology for so long that they can’t imagine why we wouldn’t be busting down the doors to access their latest cool product. Sadly, the belief that a new technology is so amazingly cool and fantastic that it will just sell itself is not a new one for this industry and thus can’t be blamed on Google specifically.

Not that the fact that Google didn’t invent this attitude makes it any less damaging to them.

I suppose I just thought (hoped?) that a company such as Google, a tech behemoth with the credo of “Don’t be evil,” would know better. Especially with the news as of late, with the negative PR about the tech industry and Google Glass wearers. Especially with some local businesses in San Francisco banning Google Glass from their premises.

I didn’t expect Google to be such….well….Glassholes.

My takeaway from my Google Glass Demo experience: Google squandered an opportunity to create more Google Glass wearers and thus increase the number of potential emissaries, educators, and evangelists out in the world, which in turn can make Glass a much more understood and desired product in general. And the bigger unintended side effect: the experienced reinforced in my head why such devices as Google Glass are being touted as symbols of the growing divide between the tech “haves” and the non-tech “have nots.”

But how does a company with so many resources, so much success, and so many talented people working for it reach the “Glasshole state?”

And it’s actually quite simple:  It all starts with how a company treats its potential customers.

There are 2 possible paths:

~ Path 1: Be a company that believes that its  product is so amazing that you don’t have to work to cultivate your customer relationships, that your customers will want your product so badly that will pay any amount of money to have it? That by having your product, your customers are part of an exclusive club because the price is so high?

~ Path 2: Be a company that wants to have its product in the hands of as many people as possible so that they can have an excellent shared experience that enriches their lives and also brings more people into the fold as customers? Such a product can still be highly desirable. (For example: I know I’m biased but take any one of Apple’s products with both mass-market appeal and a “must have it now” customer base that will camp out overnight to get it. That didn’t happen to Apple by accident, by the way. But I digress again).

The two paths, are in fact, mutually exclusive.

And as derogatory as a label such as ‘Glasshole’ can be (and I don’t typically support such judgmental labels), Google did nothing with this opportunity to help me remove it from my vocabulary.  Instead, I got the distinct impression that by joining the Explorer program, I’d be supporting a scenario that would do nothing to dispel the attitudes that produced such a term in the first place.

And it is for this very reason that I won’t be in the Explorer program. The world can certainly do with one less Glasshole.

PS: Google, if you’re listening:  It may just be time for you to turn that “Don’t be evil” credo into “Let’s do some good.” You have the talent, the innovation, and the resources.

As a matter of fact, it’s time for us all to do some good.

Dilemma of the Self-Employed: Will I Ever Be Able to Work for the (Wo)Man Again?

This fall will mark the 10th anniversary of my business, Giant Stride Marketing Group. I’m part of the huge, virtual shadow army of Silicon Valley: the consultants and contractors that bring in their expertise for a project or to help a company get off the ground the right way.

I am typically engaged with three, four, and sometimes six companies at a time, and I bring in other parts of the army so that my clients get the fastest, best business results at the lowest possible cost. This model has become business as usual for a lot of my clients and their Silicon Valley competitors, but once in a while I remember that it’s the front edge of a huge wave that’s changing the global economy.

I can’t believe that I have been at this for almost 10 years. I have NEVER done any one thing for 10 years. So it’s not surprising that once in a while I ask myself if there’s a point in time when I should start thinking about taking the job calls that are still coming my way.

Take-Plunge

The big pluses of being a consultant:

  • Every client brings new learning and new ways of doing things. It’s very rare for me to be bored.
  • The money can be quite good if you’re disciplined and play your cards right.
  • Flexibility and flexibility. Don’t get me wrong; I have lots to do. But when I do it and how I do it is totally up to me.  Or not do things and go on a long vacation instead. ( Like the one in the photo to the Cayman Islands)

But of course there are minuses too:

  • With the flexibility comes responsibility. And responsibility means doing whatever it takes to get a project done, often at the expense of sleep and personal time.
  • To keep the revenue flowing, you always have to be selling. And the critical time to do it is when your project is at its peak.
  • The mix of work I do is often much different than what I would do if I were still an employee. I know of at least one fellow consultant who went back to the W-2 side of the house just for that reason.
  • With some notable exceptions, I typically don’t build the same kind of relationships with my clients that I had with my co-workers. (Good thing many of my former co-workers are still in my life and are often clients. J)
  •  And no matter how disciplined you are, the consulting life brings some level of financial uncertainty. From unpredictable forecasts to slow months, last-minute project cancellations, tardy payments, and even bad debt scares, I have seen a lot.
  • I am a tough boss. Maybe the toughest.

For now, the balance of pluses and minuses is still weighing heavily into the consultant camp for me. I love being in the shadow army. It isn’t for everyone, but if it works it can work very, very well. 🙂

Giant-Stride-logo