Virtual Reality Transforming Social Interactions

If you watch yourself in a virtual mirror as an attractive avatar for 90 seconds, you will stand closer to other virtual beings and be more confident about your own looks in filling out an online data application. What happens in virtual reality, effects reality.

This I learned from a very interesting lecture video by Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL).

With my communication scholar bias, I was particularly interested in learning how non-verbal communication in virtual reality can be incredibly powerful.  In an experiment called “Augmented Gaze” virtual students are more attentive when the virtual teacher is looking at them.  In another experiment called “Digital Chameleon” if an avatar mimics your head movements with a 4-second delay you find them more engaging and are more likely to be persuaded by them.

Of course, we know of the power of non-verbal communication in reality, but it’s power in virtual reality is a bit of a surprise for me.  I believe, as Bailenson states, this will transform social interactions.

Words Can Get You Fired

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country,” he said. “But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

These words got veteran NPR journalist Juan Williams fired.  You can read the full story “NPR fires Juan Williams over anti-Muslim remarks” from The Washington Post. You can also read William’s perspective.

I am not passing judgement on Mr. Williams for I know too little about the case.  I am however pointing out the power of words.  Words can get you fired.

As a journalist, you make a living off your words.  Your words tell stories and share information.  When your words don’t match with the the standards of your organization — they can get you fired.

According to The Washington Post, NPR found that Williams words, “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”

On, Williams rebutts that NPR, “Used an honest statement of feeling as the basis for a charge of bigotry to create a basis for firing me. Well, now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.”

Strong, or should I say, Powerful, words on both sides.

Forget Coopetition, Now we Have Frenemies

I am probably more easily amused by communication quirks than others, but this is entertaining.

The San Jose Mercury news article on Adobe’s stock climbing on news of a secret meeting with Microsoft, explains that the companies are ‘frenemies.’

“Both Microsoft and the San Jose maker of expensive graphic design and Internet software are “frenemies” (at the same time rivals and business partners) of Apple, the Cupertino maker of Mac computers and “i” devices.”

I guess I have some of those myself.  You know people you run a 5K with, but really want to beat. Frenemies.

The invention of new words is always entertaining.  But the intention of a word that combines two antonyms, now that just makes my day.

Cross-Generation Tech Communication

In this Forbes article on The Cross-Generation Workforce, the digital disparity of generations is highlighted as an issue in the workforce.  I completely agree that as tech-savvy graduates enter the workforce that issues around technology use will need to be resolved.  The article puts forth some good suggestions on how IT departments can address the issues.  I would like to put forth that communication will be the key to making a successful shift.

Skillful communication between new entries into the workforce and the existing workforce has always been the core to successful transitions.  In this case, you have a new workforce that uses different tools to communicate and has a more spontaneous communication style (grossly generalizing here).  The challenge will be to accommodate that style somewhat and also change some of the communication patterns to meet the existing company communication culture.  Of course, that happens through communication.  That happens through listening an observing all members of the workforce and compromising on process and style.  Some of that can come through leadership setting policy and example, but most of that comes through individuals being committed to skillful communication.  Listening to one another and being open to compromise.

The idea that new workforce entries are more tech-savvy isn’t new, but the rapid pace of technological change has definitely increased the divide, therefore, increasing the need for skillful communication.

What Not to Do in Crisis

A crisis communication situation is never fun and always complicated.  Over the years, I have done my best to help clients in crisis navigate the waters.  This NYT article In Case of Emergency: What Not to Do is an excellent overview of the common crisis communication strategies as applied to BP, Toyota, and Goldman Sachs.  What I like most about the article is the clear message that crisis management is not just about the communication — the actions taken are way more important.  But, screwing up the communication does make it worse.

The article walks through the three poorly-handled crisis of BP, Toyota, and Goldman Sachs and points out what could have been done differently.  The top of my peeve list is leaders not sticking to the agreed upon message.  More than any other issue, I have personally found that ‘loose lips sink ships’ to be the greatest issue in crisis communication.  Because leaders are human (and oft full of ego), many find it very difficult to say what was agreed upon by the strategist and then shut up.  The article puts forth a few choice quotes:

“There is no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I would like my life back,” Tony Hayward, CEO of BP

Banking is “God’s Work,” Lloyd C. Bankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs

Believe me, no communication strategist or lawyer suggested those statements.  They just didn’t need to be said.  When all eyes and ears are on a spokesperson in times of crisis, stick to the script!

That brings me back around to actions speak louder than words and the best communication can’t make up for tragic environmental damage, car defaults that lead to death, or getting rich at the cost of economic suffering of others.  But, good communication can pave the path for recovery and open the door to regaining trust.

Time is Money

Time is money. Something I learned just as I entered adulthood.  I remember my first UCSD economics class and a graph that pitted time against money.  The professor asked us students to put ourselves on the graph based on our own values — which was more important time or money?

It’s Free Only if Your Time is Worthless”  by Damon Darlin of The New York Times reminds us the the Internet is not really free because it takes up our time.  For some, lots of time.  Darlin uses the example of searching for free TV shows instead of paying for cable service.  Depending on how much you are worth on an hourly basis, that one show that took you 20 minutes to find could be costing you $30!

In that early economics class I valued time more than money, and I still do. Though my Internet habits may not be keeping with my stated value.  I find myself searching for hours for a flight that is $20-100 cheaper.  That is not good economics.

Thanks to Darlin for reminding us that our time is money.

Singularity Movement — One step too far?

The NY Times SundayBusiness section ran an article titled, “Merely Human?  So Yesterday” about the Singularity Movement.  Singularity, according to this article, is ” a time, possibly just a few decades from now, when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.”  Technology and humans merge with technology taking the leading role.

The Singularity Movement has a university, aptly named, Singularity University that was started in 2008 by Mr. Kurzweil and Mr. Diamandis, with the help of Google co-founder Larry Page.  The corporate founders are listed as Autodesk, Google, and ePlanet Ventures.  The purpose of the university is to educate entrepreneurs on leading-edge technologies and it offers attendees contact with leading thinkers of our time.  With this mission, I agree.  I think it is fantastic that the bright minds of our time are collaborating and sharing ideas to solve the world’s woes.

What I have a hard time with is the side of the movement that, according to the NY Times article “offers a modern-day, quasi-religious answer to the Fountain of Youth by affirming the notion that, yes, indeed, humans — or at least something derived from them — can have it all.”  The article quotes founder Kurzweil as saying, “‘We will transcend all of the limitations of our biology.””  As a practicing Buddhist, this is where I have to bow out.  I am a huge fan of technology and believe it does and will continue to solve many of the world’s woes, but I still want to be human.  I still want to be with the ‘pain body’ that we have on this earth.  I don’t want technology to fix death.

Another NY Times article, “What Broke My Father’s Heart“, addresses the very issue of technology extending life.  Sometimes it is better to accept death.  To accept being human.

I hope Singularity University is successful in it’s stated mission, ” . . . to assemble, educate and inspire leaders who understand and develop exponentially advancing technologies to address Humanity’s Grand Challenges.”  I just hope we keep Humanity the key focus, and not let technology take the lead.

Communication and Bullying

This month’s issue of Communication Currents covers the topic of bullying.  Often bullying is thought of as a physical offense, but more often than not it is a communication offense.  And, communication is always required to solve the problem.

The article points out how prevalent the problem is in schools and organizations.  It also addresses the challenge of solving the problem in an effective manner.  In particular, cultural norms come into play in helping the victim.

For example, people trying to help a victim in the US are more likely to recommend the victim seek a third party support, such as a counselor, than a person trying to help a victim in Japan.  That communication message is poorly received if used in Japan.

From the article: “By contrast, for victims in Japan, network support turns out to be the worst type of message. Being offered to introduce a third-party expert or confidant resulted in a considerable drop in their satisfaction level. There are several reasons that might account for this finding. First, seeking the advice of a third party is not customary in Japan. Seeing a therapist, for example, is still seen as equivalent to having psychological problems. A second reason is the fear of information leakage. Japan is a tightly knit society. As a result, one’s social network does not change often. Revealing the secret of bullying in such a closely tied society is a highly risky maneuver. Finally, suggesting to victims that they should see a third-party can be interpreted as an evasive answer: “I can’t or don’t want to deal with this issue. Go talk to someone else who is better capable of solving your problem.”

I found this article interesting in that it brings up an issue that is really communication based — in both its cause and solution — and addresses the cultural influence of communication.

Broadcast Slideshow

There is a new feature in Office 2010 that I can’t wait to try.  It is called Broadcast Slideshow and it allows you to create a link to your presentation so others can watch it via the Internet.  Brent Whichel of explains the feature in this video.

I think of the number of times we set up webinars to share information.  From my understanding, this feature can replace a basic webinar.  Just create and distribute a link to your PowerPoint presentation and others can follow along in a web browser as you flip through your slides.  Now, granted, there are polling and other features that webinars offer, but this is a simple alternative when you just want to share a presentation.

When I am working on developing a presentation with a client, I often find that we are each going through the same presentation slide-by-slide discussing what needs to be changed.  That requires the repetitive dialogue of ‘now we are on slide x’.  With the Broadcast Slideshow feature, that dialogue will not be needed because as I flip to a new slide, my client will be able to see that same slide.

Of course, being a Mac user, I will have to wait until 2011 before I can get the full-powered version.

Does Social Networking Make us More or Less Social?

That is the question on many social scientists and communication scholars minds.  When people use social networks and texting, does it hinder their ability to communicate in person?  Are these technologies making us more social or less social?

It is not clear how the rise in instant, computer-mediated communication will change the nature of social interactions, but it is clear there will be a change.  A significant change.

In the New York Times article this Sunday, Antisocial Networking?, the writer brings forth current statistics on teens’ use of social networking and texting and debates the social implications.

Commentary on the statistics from the PewInternet Study website suggests that face-to-face teen contact has actually remained steady (31%-2006, 39%-2007, 29%-2008, 33%-2009) while texting and social networking has increased.  In regard to texting, the author, Rich Ling, comments “Thus, another interpretation is that teens actually have more access and more informal, casual contact because of texting. This is because texting is woven into the flow of other activities.”

There we have it, evidence that it is making us more social.

But the NY Times article also mentions a Kaiser Family Foundation report that American kids between 8-18 spend 7 1/2 hours a day using an electronic device.  That is evidence that it is making us less social.

Is all this electronic interaction making the next generation less able to develop and maintain healthy relationships?  Or, are healthy relationship going to be defined differently in the next decades?

All I know is that I am thankful I am alive during this period of such change and can’t wait to see how technology and communication continue to intermix and influence each other over time.

PowerPoint — An Internal Threat?

The New York Times did a story, “We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint” about the military’s use or misuse of the presentation tool.  As is common, the tool is blamed for horrible presentations that result.  While I do not agree with the belief that PowerPoint makes you stupid and it is the tool that makes presentations bad, the article does make some valid points.

In claiming that PowerPoint is an internal threat, General McMaster makes a good point.  “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” If only bullet points are used, it is difficult to see the interconnectedness of items, make a complex situation seem overly simple.  With that I totally agree.

He goes on to make the point that PowerPoint hinders the decision making process because it limits critical thinking and discussion.  Here I don’t agree.  It is only when the tool is misused that this occurs.  If people are presuming that once it is on a slide it is fact and not questioning the presenter, then it limits critical thinking, but that is the fault of the people.  And if the presenter does not use PowerPoint to encourage conversation, then that is the fault of the presenter.

I do think that there is a tendency to believe that PowerPoint replaces more elements of a communication interaction then it really does.  If used properly, it promotes communication and understanding by giving an additional visual element to the conversation.  That is it.  It doesn’t replace the conversation or lessen the responsibility of anyone participating.  That is the crux of the issue.

Since the program is not going away any time soon, as the article clearly states is the case in the military, perhaps it is time to teach more people how to use the tool more effectively.

If Communication Fails . . . Spouse Spying

The Forbes article “How to Track a Cheating Spouse” is one way to find out if your mate is being faithful.  Being that I am all about communication, I prefer the direct communication route.  If you ask your spouse to their face if they are sleeping with someone else, chances are you will be able to tell from their reaction, even if they lie straight to your face.

But, I guess if you try the direct communication and they lie, you can do as this article suggests and use technology to track down their activities.  Now we not only have phone logs and kept text-message conversations, but we even have GPS to track if people are where they said they would be.

So, if direct communication fails . . .

Scrabble Words

Being that Scabble is my most favorite game in the world, I was quite interested in hearing the news about proposed changes to the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD) shared in the NY Times.

I recently had the opportunity to play Scrabble with an ordinary dictionary (travel version at that) and found it very unsatisfying. All of my usual end-of-game short words didn’t even exist in the travel dictionary.  It made me miss my OSPD.  But little did I know that the Scrabble Dictionary had so much conflict surrounding it.

From the NYT:

“The rules on the inside cover of the box, written by the game’s inventor, Alfred Butts, and its first marketer, James Brunot, are explicit: “Any words found in a standard dictionary are permitted except those capitalized, those designated as foreign words, abbreviations and words requiring apostrophes or hyphens.”

The interpretation of those rules, however, has been anything but simple. This past week, outrage sounded worldwide after reports, which proved untrue, that Scrabble would permit the use of proper nouns. The linguistic dust-up was only the latest in the game’s history.”

Apparently I am not the only one who has heated debates over whether foul language and foreign words commonly used in English should be allowed on the board.  Apparently there is a constant debate over making the dictionary more inclusive versus concise.  Next time I am arguing over a word with an opponent, I will remember two things:  1) I am not alone in my struggle 2) never play without my OSPD by my side.

It is About Time!

“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Quoted in NY Times Article, Top Defense Officials Seek to End ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’).

Did it really take our military 16 years to figure that out!?!

The message that has been sent to those serving our country is that it is ok to lie, but not to be gay.  Even though it is actually against the law to lie, that is better than telling your fellow service people that you are gay.  And, now, 16 years later the military leaders are thinking that maybe they were wrong.

It is about time!  Actually, it is way past time, but better late then never.  How about the message:  accept others for who they are because all humans have more in common than they have differences.  How about the message:  if you are willing to put yourself in harms way for the benefit of your country, we are all grateful.

Good Reminder of Cross-Culture Communication Needs

Just read a Forbes article titled “Technology’s Language Barrier” on the topic of communicating with technology across cultures.  It is an interested article and a good reminder of how we need to increase our cross-culture communication skills as our world shrinks from technology innovation.

Simple mistakes, like not understanding that Chinese women don’t change their names when they marry, strongly impact communication.  As the Internet opens the door to more cross-culture communication, these misunderstandings can occur more frequently and with greater consequences.

The article points out that while English has become the de-facto business world language, most of the 900 million people who have Internet access don’t speak English and 250 million of those people live in Asia.  Being able to effectively communicate with these people is critical from both a cultural and a business perspective.

Communicating with A Sex Doll

Now this story on Roxxxy peaked my interest — from a communication perspective, of course.  Robotic girlfriends have been around for a long time in some form or another.  And, as in every other area, technology has improved the experience, so I have read.  But apparently the physical experience is not enough and communication is a desired feature.  Douglas Hines’ original 1993 invention Trudy, lacked personality.

According to John Murrell’s Good Morning Silicon Valley email newsletter:

“Roxxxy still can’t move without assistance, but she offers what Trudy lacked and customers apparently wanted — conversational skills. “Sex only goes so far — then you want to be able to talk to the person,” Hines said. Equipped with sensors and an attached laptop, “she’s a companion,” he said. “She has a personality. She hears you. She listens to you. She speaks. She feels your touch. She goes to sleep. We are trying to replicate a personality of a person.” ”

So I get that communication is a critical part of intimacy with another human, but I am having a hard time with the concept of communication contributing to the experience with a sex doll.  But, Hines is being responsive to customer demand, and apparently the ability to communicate is desired.  And, when you order the robot online, you fill out a survey that allows Roxxxy’s personality to be personalized to match your likes and dislikes.  The cost for this conversational doll ranges from $7-9K.

Tell Them What You’re Gonna Tell Them

Remember the saying “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” that is a recommendation for effective communication?

Well this week, the tech industry giants seems to be doing just that. Today Google speculation about the new Nexus One phone and Apple speculation about the slate computer were all over the Internet, including this San Jose Merc article.

I am not so interested in the news as I am in the communication technique.  It is the game of garnering the attention of technology consumers.  It is the game of stealing the attention from other companies.  Just as  CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is about to kick off this week in Las Vegas, Google is swinging attention its way with a press conference the Tuesday before the show.  And, even though Apple is not making any announcements to several weeks after the show, new is ‘leaking’ about future announcements, stealing a bit of attention from Google.

The original saying was a recommendation to help audience’s remember the key message.  Well, in this case, I would say not only does it help the consumers of technology remember what is being announced, but it also works as a power play to attract their attention — away from other company’s news.

Nothing Like Mama’s Hugs

I read about a website in a San Jose Mercury News story today.  Started by an ex-tech-marketing pro, Mamabread gives online visitors an ear and support.  From a communication perspective I find this website interesting on two levels.  The first is at the emotional level — how many people feel they have nobody to listen to their problems?  The second is at the technology level — can people feel fulfilled by a response from a stranger on a website?

As indicated by 10,000 page views in its first month of existence, it appears the answer to the above questions may be ‘Plenty’ and ‘Yes’ for many people.  The founder, Michelle Lee, makes a point in the Merc article that people can’t really use social networking sites, like Facebook, to vent.  I,too, find the tendency to post only the ‘good stuff’ on networking sites.  Who really wants to hear about the bad stuff anyway.  Well, of course, Mama does.  I will have to give Mamabread a try and see if I feel better.

All for Direct Manipulation

In this Forbes article, Dan Woods talks about his difficulties of moving from a touch-screen device to a point-and-click device and back again.  I am in complete agreement with Dan’s statement, “The confusion, however, has made one thing clear: multi-touch is clearly better than point-and-click. My brain wants direct manipulation. I want the virtual world I am looking at on my screen to act more like the physical world I live in most of the time.”

Direct manipulation — love it.  When you want to file a physical piece of paper, you directly manipulate it into a drawer.  On a point-and-click device, you may have the same drawer concept, but on a multi-touch device you have a much closer replication of reality.  Through time, our electronic devices have come closer and closer to mimicking the way we act in our physical worlds.  The multi-touch device is a big step forward.  Now I just have to be patient while the rest of my gadgets catch up to my iPhone.

More Control, More Privacy – I like it

I have chosen to use Facebook for my personal sharing and Twitter, this blog, and LinkedIn for professional sharing.  Not everyone makes the choice to divide their social networking venues in such a manner, that is why I think Facebook’s new privacy options discuss in this Forbes article are good news.  I especially like the idea of controlling what content you post can be seen by what audience.  Who knows, it might mean I can change my ways and use Facebook for both personal and professional networking.

Holiday Shopping; a Physical Experience
I know today is Cyber Monday and there are plenty of good shopping deals floating in the cybersphere, but I just can’t seem to engage. To me, holiday shopping is still a physical experience. Standing in front of Target at 5 am on Friday has a feeling to it. A feeling of being with others. A feeling of being part of a larger American cultural experience. The tense feeling the the air. The push from a fellow shopper anxious to get to the ‘door buster’ deal before you do. That is a physical experience. Somehow the click of the keyboard just isn’t doing it for me. Maybe next year.

It All Comes Down To Communication.
This article in the New York Times about bankers and their verbal faux pas, is just another example of how so much of business comes down to communication. Those who communicate well, are rewarded, those who don’t are scrutinized. Sometimes it helps to listen to the experts tell you how to communicate better. But sometimes just doing the obvious, such as apologizing honestly, is all it takes.

Impossible to Ignore

In a New York Times article reporting on Forrester Research stats, the reporter writes, “Time waster or not, social media are a phenomemon that is now nearly impossible to ignore.”

I agree, but would drop the ‘nearly’ from the comment.  The Forrester stats show 50% of adults visiting social network sites at least monthly.  In my world, the number is even higher.  In a show-of-hands survey in my communication course that just started at SFSU, that number was 100%.  The social sites are a mode of communication so popular that they seem to be replacing much of the phone communication I used when I was in college.

The other Forrester stats are also interesting. Percent of adults who read blogs is 39%, contribute to forums and discussion groups is 23%, review products or services 19%, listen to podcasts 16%, publish, maintain or update a blog 12%, use RSS feeds 9%, and contribute to article in a WIKI 5%.

The contributing content side of these stats are telling of a cultural communication shift.  In my SFSU classroom, other than social networking, the number of students who contribute online is relatively low (10%).  But it is the increase in contributing to this ‘impossible to ignore’ phenomenon that will have the greatest effect on change.

Sharing my traffic data

I happen to love it when I am stuck in traffic and I can see just how long I will be stuck by looking at Google Maps on my iPhone.  Therefore I am more that willing to share my data back with the rest of you who may also be stuck.  Google is now offering arterial traffic data.
The trick is, the data is coming from you and I and all the others who are using the mobile Google maps service.  As we travel, we are sending our speed and location back to Google and that is being used in aggregate to map traffic patterns.

Now some people may not like this data capturing device, and they can opt out of the feature.  But Google has privacy features that make me, and many others, feel safe in sharing our data.  For example, vehicles are anonymous and start and end points are deleted so even anonymous vehicles can’t be tracked.  I hope Google’s privacy efforts make enough of us feel secure so that there is sufficient data to make the service effective.  Then we all will be sitting in traffic less often.

Fed Bank “Barnstorming” Communication

Bernanke is taking a different approach to communication as chair of the Federal Reserve.  According to a NY Times article today, Bernake is “Barnstorming”.  He is actively communicating with the public about the purpose and the strategies of the central bank.  He has appeared on 60 Minutes and hosted a town hall forum on Kansas, MO.

I welcome this new ‘open’ communication and think it is beneficial to the American people.  Transpancy is a must for regain trust and educating people on the process will also help.  True, he may be politically motivated since his term is up in January, but regardless of the motive, the benefit of open communication is still there.

An Answer for Everyone

Forbes covered news from the TED conference
on a project called QuestionBox supported by the Grameen Foundation and OpenMind.

QuestionBox is Google for developing nations. It is accessed by mobile phone and allows people in remote ares to ask questions “about weather, history, science, whatever they want.”

What a fabulous way to open up communication and increase knowledge across the globe.  We get so spoiled jumping on the Internet and getting our most random questions answered.  It is wonderful that this privilege is being extended to people all over the world who don’t yet have access to laptops and high-speed Internet connections.

Spinning Statistics & Patience Please

The Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that Obama’s approval ratings on key issues are slipping.

My response, is  two fold

1. The media gets to spin the statistics however they want
2. We need to be patient because it was our need for instant gratification that got us in to this mess.

“Barely more than half approve of the way he is handling unemployment . . ”  could have been written, more that half of America supports the way Obama is handling unemployment.  And the comment “On health care, the poll, conducted by telephone Wednesday through Saturday, found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) approve of the outlines of the legislation now heading toward floor action.” could have changed the headline to a positive support headline.  But these particular reporters decided on a negative spin — which probably will attract more attention.

Speak of attention.  We all need to work on expanding our attention spans and practicing patience.  It is America’s need for instant gratification — wanting the house we couldn’t quite afford, banks using leverage to make more money now while pushing the risk to later — that is part of the problem.  It can’t be fixed overnight.  And, as Obama is constantly communicating, we all need to be part of the solution. Part of that is having patience.  I know it is hard when you are out of a job or making a lot less money than before.  But, if we give up hope 6 months into the presidential term, it is only going to get worse.

Sotomayer: Two Sides of the Same (Good) Coin

During the confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayer those opposed to her nomination are claiming that she will judge cases based on gender and ethnicity.  She keeps defending that she will rule by law.

First, good for her for staying so consistent in her messages.  Second, the sides are arguing about either/or, when it is really both.  It is not either she rules by gender and ethnicity or she rules by law. She will rule by both because it impossible to separate. Every human comes as a package — a cultural and experiential bundle — that influences all of their decisions and their communication.

Sotomayer’s background will influence her decisions, just like every other judge is influenced by their own background.  At the same time, she will follow the law in her rulings, just like other capable judges.  That is not a bad thing.  It is actually just two sides to the same coin.

In the communication class I teach at San Francisco state we discuss the fact that a human cannot disconnect from their cultural background and life experiences as the interact with the world.  We also discuss that being mindful of what you bring into your interactions, greatly improves your ability to assimilate others’ points of view and expand your experiences.

One coin, two sides — I think Sotomayer will make good choices that will positively influence the world.  Of course, that statement is influenced by my own culture, gender, and background . . . .

Pitching VCs Reminder Tips

The WSJ published an article on perfecting the pitch to venture capitalists this morning.  It is all stuff we’ve heard before and I’ve been coaching for years, but it is a good reminder.

Since the WSJ seems to be the one paper that refuses to join the rest and offer their content for free, I will summarize the article for those who don’t have a subscription.  The article offers 4 areas of tips:

“Modesty Doesn’t Pay”
“Tell it to Mom”
“Don’t Play with the Numbers”
“Stay on the Radar”

Modesty doesn’t pay is a reminder that what you are selling to the VC is yourself and your team.  Sure the business idea has to be good, but the team has to be able to execute on the idea for the VC to invest.  Tell it to mom is about keeping your pitch simple enough that your mom can understand.  Of course, you need to be prepared to dive deep if the VCs ask questions, but the first communication of the concept and your business plan needs to be simple. Don’t play with the numbers is about establishing credibility by accurately depicting your market opportunity.  Stay on the radar is about following up and working to build a relationship with the VC, even if the answer is no to the investment.

My favorite quote from the article comes from Mr. Brotman of Greenhil SAVP in New York.  “A pitch is like going on a date,” he says.  A lot of entrepreneurs don’t introduce themselves.  They might give you a name and a business card; other times they’ll go straight to the pitch.  That’s like going on a date and saying, ‘Let’s get it on.'”

Of course, the best piece of advice is to practice the pitch before the VC meetings.  I have heard from many VCs that they can tell the coherency of the team based on the first presentation — and that coherency comes from practicing the presentation as a team.

Needle in a Haystack

An article in today’s NY Times reports that intelligence wire tapping of Americans did not aid in the thwarting of terrorist activity (
Quotes from the article:

“Most intelligence officials interviewed “had difficulty citing specific instances” when the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program contributed to successes against terrorists, the report said.”

“. . . intelligence leads that came from the wiretapping operation were often “vague or without context,” the report said.”

But, of course.  What did we expect? I don’t have a full understanding of the speech recognition and data mining technology markets, but I know enough to believe that randomly wire tapping Americans in search of terrorist-related communication is like searching for a needle in a haystack.  Too much data and not efficient enough technology to handle the job of broad search-and-seek.

The-get-a-warrant-then-wire-tap is a better process because it applies human judgment at the front end and then uses technology to assist.  Not to mention it provides a level of rights and protection to citizens.

Now that we’ve spent tax dollars interviewing “about 200 government and private-sector personnel” to determine the program was not efficient, we can go back to respecting rights and following law.

“While former Bush administration officials continue to argue that their policies made the country safer,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, “I believe this report shows that their obsession with secrecy and their refusal to accept oversight was actually harmful to U.S. national security, not to mention the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans.”

Mind Maps for Visual Communication

“I suspect that the reason mind maps works so well is that they engage your visual intelligence and provide a way to navigate a much larger space of ideas in a smaller visual field.”
In his article relaying the benefits of mind maps, Forbes guest reporter Dan Woodsis, uses examples from Evolved Technologist to show how complex projects and ideas can be managed over time.
An open source version of mind mapping software can be downloaded at
Mind mapping allows for two-dimensional views of information that traditional outlining prohibits.  When working with clients on creating presentations, I work to get people away from the traditional linear way of thinking through information.  In our visual age, the linear approach does little to help us think and communicate in an effective way.  Mind maps are another way to help us move away from the linear and improve communication.

On and Off — Both are Good

Good Morning Silicon Valley debates whether or not we can ‘turn off’ the electronic connectivity that is pervasive in our lives.

Personally, I am glad to have the option to be connected and “on” and I feel I have the power to disconnect and be “off” when I want.

I discuss this social issue in my communication course at SFSU.  Just because we have access to the technology doesn’t mean that we need to use it all the time.  And just because we use the technology doesn’t mean we are bad or inconsiderate.  We need to use our social judgment and decide for ourselves what is the right balance of “on” and “off”.  That balance is not going to be the same for each individual and it will take some time before our society will set norms to guide behavior.

Remember when cell phones were new and before each meeting the leader would have to remind everyone to turn them off.  Then the social norm was formed that it is rude to use a cell phone in a meeting and most people automatically turn them off.  But then texting came along and people are still working out that social norm.  It is the give and take between individuals that determine what the social rules become.  And it starts with individuals making their own judgements about when and where and how they want to use the connecting technology.

Whenever a technology is being adopted, it tends to be used in ways and places that eventually are determined to be socially inappropriate.  And at this time in history, many people are so enthralled with technology that they are reluctant to be “off” and disconnected.  But, I believe that will change with time.  Eventually we will all be able to benefit from the features of the technology and be able to balance the “on” and “off” equation.

“Fleeting Expletive” Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the ruling that stations can be fined for ‘fleeting expletives’ aired prior to 10 pm.  The justices indicated their decision was based on their belief that the FCC did not violate policy when changing the rule on expletives back in 2004.  They state that the First Amendment is not the issue at hand.  The Wall Street Journal covered the story

I say, not only is the First Amendment the issue at hand, but several cultural communication issues are also at hand.  Of course, I am not speaking from the technical perspective of the court, but from a broader perspective.  The First Amendment is only the tip of the iceberg.  But, that tip is important when the government is fining stations for unintentional outburst of swear words in live broadcasts.  Never mind that the individual who makes the outburst has any responsibility or, for that matter, rights about what they say in public.

Culturally, American television is way more constricting than in other countries where breast are bared and expletives made without the fear of being fined.  As the world becomes closer through communication, I hope America can adopt a more open point of view.

Another cultural difference is the expectation that the government has any role in controlling the television viewing of children. Why parents would ever want to abdicate that role to the government is beyond me.  I like the FCC chairperson nominee’s perspective much better.

“Mr. Genachowski and other advisers spoke far less about policing the airwaves than extolling the virtues of how technology can help parents monitor their children’s viewing habits.”

Fair Facebook

Facebook took a vote.  Of course, only 640,000 users cast their vote, but at least the opportunity was there.  In an example of the new social media effecting society, Facebook opened up to its users a business decision on how to handle user information.
“The new governing principles state that users own the content they post on Facebook, but they do not provide a clause for permanent deletion from the site. The amended document also lays out how site changes will be handled in the future, saying that if 7,000 users comment on a proposed change, Facebook will provide alternatives and hold a public vote. As before, the vote is stated as binding only if more than 30% of Facebook’s active users vote. ”
Maybe just a first step, but an important first step at social order in the world of social media.

Why People Use Twitter

That is a question I have been pondering as I try and adopt the communication tool, but find myself with little to say to the general public, or that portion who has decided to follow my tweets.  Twitter founder, Biz Stone, puts it succinctly in a San Jose Mercury News interview by reporter Elise Ackerman.  (

Q Why are people using Twitter?
A I think it is because we are realizing that there is a lot of value that comes from open communication. There is kind of an alchemy that takes place when you decide that you are going to move some of your communication to a public arena. You make connections. Things happen that wouldn’t otherwise have happened.

Open communication and alchemy — sounds like music to the ears of this communication scholar.  Makes me motivated to put in more effort and see what connections happen.

I’m All for More Openness

The Federal Reserve floated the idea of holding press conferences, reported today in the Wall Street Journal.

“The Fed’s policy makers already make and disclose economic forecasts four times a year. The Fed chairman gives detailed reports on the economy and monetary policy to congressional committees twice a year. And Fed officials speak regularly on the outlook and give frequent testimony to Congress. Press conferences would be a significant further step toward more openness.”

I am all for more openness.  So much of the current financial conundrum stems from lack of financial transparency.  Having the Federal Reserve take the lead towards openness, just might encourage others to follow suit.  Well, actually the European Central Bank is really the leader here because they already hold press conferences.  At any rate, I encourage the move — just in case they care what I think.