Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

I’m Joining UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealthcare Logo

Our mission is to help people live healthier lives and to help make the health system work better for everyone.

That’s a mission statement designed to inspire and motivate. That’s what it did to me. I’m overjoyed to announce that I’ve joined UnitedHealthcare as Vice President, External Communications. In this new role, I’ll be leading Content and Social Media, our Regional Communications across the country and our External Corporate Communications. Additionally, I’ll be playing a role in our Corporate Social Responsability initiatives and of course, doing my part, every day, to help make the health sysetm work better for everyone.

I wrote to my world class Walgreens team, upon announcing my departure, “Be open to change. Consistency, while comfortable, will stop your growth. In fact, seek change. If you don’t drive the change you want, you are destined to be run over by change that’s less than desirable.” It’s a sentiment I’ve always believed. That mindset was instilled early on in my career by Pat Fallon. Pat was the pure definition of someone in perpetual motion. He boldly took Fallon into the future, before the future even knew what the future was. I learned a lot working for the agency the bore his name on the door. A willingness to seek, embrace and create change, was at the top of the list.

Minnesota Paddle State Fair Tee

Joining UnitedHealthcare brings about an enormous amount of change for me and the family. For starters, we’re leaving Illinois and moving to Minnesota. For our friends, yes, I know we just sold our condo in the West Loop, only to a buy a house in Evanston (that we loved) and yes, that means we’re selling the house in Evanston to buy a house in Minnesota. We Kmiec’s don’t make it easy. Try as I might to leave Minnesota, it continues to beckon me back. I’ll always be, just a kid from Brooklyn, but Minnesota has felt more and more like home, over the years.

Second, I’m leaving retail and CPG. For 15 of the 20 years I’ve been working, I’ve always been in the thick of retail and CPG. While joining UnitedHealthcare takes me out of that business, it keeps me very much in the middle of health care. There are few industries at the forefront of innovation that connect, touch and impact so many lives. UniteHealthcare, isn’t just in the middle of health care, they’re at the front, leading and embracing change.

The last big change, is my role. For the first time in the last 12 years I won’t be building or leading a digital marketing organization. This was actually one of the biggest draws of UnitedHealthcare. It’s rare that you get to reinvent your career, on your own terms, in a leadership capacity. To join a leading company like UnitedHealthcare, in a leadership role, working for an incredible leader, was an opporunity impossible to pass. If there’s one thing the Walgreen’s Leadership Model prepared me to do, it’s lead teams, where you aren’t the subject matter expert.

The team I’m joining is about as top notch as it gets. My peers are people I admire and respect for their accomplishments, thought-leadership and candor. The leaders across UnitedHealth Group, UnitedHealthcare and Optum come from ad-tech, retail, telecom and other fast-paced, dynamic and exciting verticals. Additionally, I’ve inherited a fantastic team. They’re bright, patient, collaborative and eager to deliver on our mission.

I’m humbled by the trust the organization has put in me and I look to pay it back for years to come.

So, You Want To Travel To Cuba

Just a building in the heart of Old Havana.

I spent my 38th birthday visiting Havana, Cuba. I wanted to get in before the travel regulations were more stringent or before the first McDonald’s showed up. As a photographer and a history buff, I’ve always been fascinated with Cuba. A full detailed outline of their complex history can be found here. Something I rarely do, is hire a tour guide, but having never been, having no cellular reception and no credit card use, I thought it made sense. Our tour guide from Cuban Connections, was simply, amazing. His loose and high-level version of the island’s history was:

  1. Natives were here. Spain showed up. Slaughtered the natives. Imported slaves.
  2. Over time, you have large land owners. You have businessmen. There’s a revolution against the colonization. The slaves are told if you fight along side “us”, you’ll get your freedom. They do. The freedom isn’t exactly freedom.
  3. Post revolution #1, Cuba still basically has a free market economy. The original founders of Bacardi, for example, started in Cuba. The free market economy creates haves and have nots. There’s a 2nd revolution led by Castro, Guerra and others. They topple the government.
  4. To rectify the have and have not situation, the government tells the wealthy, you know longer own that, we do. Yes, they took someone’s business, house, land and their wealth. They take that and “give it to the people.” Sure, you can stay on, in your business and we will offer you a salary.
  5. The wealthy who are now robbed by the government, leave for places like Spain or Puerto Rico. Bacardi, based in San Juan, is only based there because after the government seized their assets, they fled to Puerto Rico to start anew. This is why Havana Club exists. The brand was built on the plantations, distillery and inventory of what Bacardi had left, before leaving.
  6. This habit of siezing wealth to fully redistribute to the poor drove out innovation and entrepreneurism, but provided things like government provided healthcare. The Cuban healthcare system is renowned and their medical advances, respected. It also meant that, no Cuban, would ever have to pay for a funeral. 
  7. When you “own” a house, you don’t own a house. The government owns the house. Your taxes pay for the upkeep of the outside. You are accountable for the inside, to a point. Think of this like the a country-wide Home Owner’s Association.
  8. Every restaurant we would eat at, is ultimately government owned. Restaurants fall into 2 basic categories. The first are called “Paladares” – these are restaurant concepts that are created and managed by a person. If you will, Adam’s Taco Joint. But, even though it’s my idea, concept and business, the government would need to approve it and they generally own the building being used. Most Paladares are above the 1st floor. The second category are government designed concepts. It’s their direct business. But, it employs the staff. If you’ve ever lived in Pennsylvania and contested with the state owned liquor stores, this is that concept, but for eateries. These restaurants are usually on the first floor. 

Pretty fascinating stuff, from a tour guide born, raised and trying to make a business work in Cuba. I’m not making a judgement on anything. I am and always have been a fan of history. Cuba’s is complicated.

La Guarida

But, you probably didn’t come here for the history, you came for the travel advice and the photos.

How to Travel to Cuba – The Basics

  1. We flew from Chicago through Ft. Lauderdale and into Havana, on Southwest Airlines. I can’t recommend them enough.
  2. You will need a Visa. If you book with Southwest, they help to decrease the cost of the Visa, to $50, per person.
  3. You will need to purchase Cuban Healthcare. Again, in your ticket purchase with Southwest, this cost is included.
  4. You can reserve a hotel online with a credit card, but U.S. credit cards are not accepted in Cuba due to the embargo. So, you’ll need to pay in cash for your hotel and everything else. We stayed at the Melia Habana. On a 2nd trip we would probably pick the Iberostar for it’s direct proximity to the city center.
  5. Customs in Cuba will require your luggage to be screened again. Total process is about 15 minutes.

From the center of Old Havana

How to Travel to Cuba – The Tips

  1. Bring lots of cash. I would recommend about $200 a day, per couple, to cover 3 meals, bottled water, tips, taxi, drinks. Beer and mixed drinks are generally $3 to $4.50, but can creep to $6 or $12 at finer establishments. It was rare to pay more than $5. If you exchange money, realize you can only do it at the airport, a bank or your hotel (if they offer it). The exchange rate + fees, means you get $0.87 CUC for every $1 USD.
  2. Havana was safe and very walkable. Walk, talk with the locals and explore. I can’t say this enough. Every street, every corner is a new adventure.
  3. Cabs, both new and classic, are all over the place. You’ll never pay more than $30. When you aren’t hoofing it, this is the best way to travel around the city.
  4. Your U.S. cell phone service won’t work, or if it does, it will be very expensive. If you stay at a hotel, most offer WiFi for free. To make that work, while on the go, I recommend downloading AlaMesa, the Cuban version of Yelp, that works without an internet connection. This was invaluable.
  5. Drink the rum. Specifically, drink the Ron de Santiago 25 year. Trust me on this. Also, drink the daiquiri at The Floridita. And make sure to have a mojito or pina colada at the Hotel Nacional.
  6. Facebook, twitter, Instagram and email will work. No dice on Snapchat and most retail websites. For example, good luck visiting Target.com. I found FB Messenger to be the best cross platform way for keeping in touch with everyone.
  7. Tipping for good service is not expected. But, if offered, the standard is 10%. Some restaurants and bars will include a 10% feel automatically. Read your bill, so you don’t “tip” twice. 

We had an amazing time soaking up the sights, culture, food and drinks. I can’t say enough about the warmth and friendliness of the Cuban people. Every person we encountered was kind, patient, helpful and pleasant. If you can find the time to visit, I highly recommend it. A full collection of my favorite photos from the trip can be found here.

“We’re Onto Cincinnati”

Clarifying Clinical Cannabis

Too much has been written on the concept of people leaving managers, not companies. While I’m sure people do in fact leave organizations they love, because of their managers, we need to be careful not to paint with such a wide brush. In my career, it’s rare that I’ve left an organization because of a manager. I’m wise enough to know how fortunate I’ve been to have had amazing managers, over the past 20 years.

My time at Walgreens has come to an end. I made the decision to leave the organization. I certainly didn’t leave because of my manager. Deepika Pandey, is unequivocally, one of the smartest digital marketers out there. Don’t take my word for it, just look at what Google has to say about her. She will push you, make you rethink what you think you know and coach you to be better. You’ll get autonomy and direction, along with accountability and trust. I learned more in the past 4 years than the previous 10 years. I grew more. I changed more.

I leave Walgreens, ready for the next adventure, better prepared to succeed and far more enabled to lead teams with individuals who have far more subject matter expertise, in an area, than I do.

The hardest part about leaving an organization, is the people. It’s always the people. You form bonds. You build relationships. You learn. You teach. And, if you do it all well, the gravitational pull that tries to keep you, because of them, is almost impossible to counter.

I wanted to share what I wrote to my team, on my last day, at the corner of Happy and Healthy.

Dang. You’re the best. No two ways about it. I thought a lot about what to write in a “farewell” email. Then, I realized, it’s probably not farewell. This is a small bubble we work in. The likelihood we’ll cross paths as colleagues, partners, competitors or team-members is incredibly probably. So with that, rather than pen a farewell email, I decided to craft one built on advice that I hope you take:

  1. Your word is your bond. Your integrity is everything. Always err on the side of being honest, forthright, direct and transparent. The sting your words may have will never last longer, than the feeling of betrayal that stems from a half-truth or boldface lie.
  2. You are not, order takers. Ask, “why.” Ask, until you feel comfortable. If you don’t understand the question or request, you are doomed to fail. Through asking, “why”, you may uncover a new path forward.
  3. Choose to play, “take it or leave it” sparingly. When you draw a line, realize there are only two options. There’s a 50/50 chance you walk out with what you want. But, through compromise, generally, via discussion and education, you can discover new approaches and options.
  4. For the most important topics, meet face-to-face. Email leaves far too much to interpretation. Furthermore, you will form better relationships through frank discussion. You can’t manage, let alone, lead, via email.
  5. Take your earned PTO. And when you take it, don’t answer your emails. Put your faith in your team, to cover for you, while you’re out. I promise to get this right one day.
  6. Be open to change. Consistency, while comfortable, will stop your growth. In fact, seek change. If you don’t drive the change you want, you are destined to be run over by change that’s less than desirable.

I have, in so many ways, enjoyed working with all of you. Early mornings, late nights, fire drills, the office banter, celebrating our successes, dissecting our misses and debating the tough decisions; they made good days better and the hard days, just a little bit easier.

Thank you all. Don’t be a stranger. If you need anything and yes I mean anything, reach out.

An embarrassment of riches. That’s how I would describe my team. Thankful to have had them for as long as I had them.

Onto Cincinnati“…and by Cincinnati, I don’t actually mean I’m moving to Cincinnati. It’s a lovely city, but our future plans won’t be taking us there.

In A Biddable World, Does Buying Power Matter?

Consolidation

Read the history books. Take your pick. Ogilvy on Advertising? Juicing The Orange? Where the Suckers Moon? All of them will paint a similar story, when it comes to media and media agencies. Consolidate your spend with a partner and they’ll offer value in the form of buying power. Additionally, if you commit to buying all your media “upfront”, the publisher also returns some type of value to the buyer.

This has been the case for decades. Media agencies consolidate their clients’ spend into one large spend with a publisher. Where possible they try to orchestrate one giant upfront purchase, By consolidating that spend into one giant spend, they generate a more favorable rate from the publisher and then pass on the savings to the advertiser…well, most of it.

For example, company X wants to buy media on Yahoo. But, so do companies Y and Z. Yahoo, in theory wants to have that money, committed, as far in advance as possible. For this example, let’s assume, companies X, Y and Z all work with the same media company. That media company, now takes the consolidated investment from companies X, Y and Z and uses it as negotiating power to drive down cost and/or create more value for the spend.

Theoretical “buying power” was and is, still a reason, for selecting a media agency partner. Better buying power should lead to better rates, better value and in theory, create cost savings. All of the above made sense 50 years ago. It made sense 10 years ago. But, does it make sense, now, today, in 2017?

What’s changed? Well, buying power works in a world, where there’s a fixed cost to negotiate off of. Let’s say you live in a condo building with 9 other tenants. All of the tenants need to replace their front door. The cost of the door is $500. But, if all 10 tenants can agree to purchase their door from the same company, that company might be willing to decrease the cost by 10% to ensure they get all 10 tenants to purchase from them.

But, what happens if the cost is no longer, fixed? When that happens, the idea of buying power, goes away. Let’s use search engine marketing, as our example. Companies bid on terms, with the winning bid (s) showing up as a paid ad on Google. So, if company X bids $1 and company Y bids $1.25 and company Z bids $2, company Z wins. That $2 bid might have been good enough to win on Tuesday at 3PM, but on Wednesday at 8AM, would be been lost to someone bidding $2.10. That type of dynamic marketplace eliminates 2 things:

  1. The idea of paying upfront for the media. Try asking Google if you can purchase $1MM of SEM, in advance. You can’t, because the value isn’t fixed. That $1MM in spend could equal 1MM clicks, it could also equal 2MM clicks or zero clicks. Because you on only pay on a click and your ads are only shown if you win the auction, there is no way to lock in a rate. It’s no different than buying stock.
  2. The concept of buying power. Whether you buy that keyword directly or use a company, the cost per click is still going to be a variable rate. There is no savings that comes, because you spend 10X more than the competition.

Search Engine Marketing was the first true biddable marketplace for digital advertising. But, today, most everything in digital marketing is biddable / represented in a dynamic marketplace. You have programmatic display, video, social, etc. All of them offer some type of biddable buying option. This is a big deal, when you consider that, today, more than 50% of marketing dollars are in digital, not traditional advertising mediums.

Does “buying power” exist, when everyone can purchase the same thing, at the same cost? Of course not. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with a media agency. However, it does mean, if buying power is the biggest reason you’re choosing to work with an agency, you’re thinking about it the wrong way.

Happy 10th Birthday Cora

Cora's 1st 9 Birthdays

10 years. My word, didn’t they go by in a blink. Who is this girl in front of me? I remember you screaming, barely 7 pounds and entering this world with authority. I knew it, the day you were born and I know it now, you, Cora Madison are a force to be reckoned with.

It’s an amazing thing to bring life into this world. At that moment you know, you will never do anything better, more meaningful or world changing.

Cora, to think, at 10, all the lives you’ve made better, and yet, there are so many more more lives for you to impact.

2 years ago I said to you, jokingly, “Cora, you’re like my best friend.” And you, ever so cooly, said, “I’m your only friend.” Now, I don’t know if you’re my only friend, but I have no doubt, you are my best friend. For we have a bond, that will be timeless and unbreakable.

Continue to be bold, honest, assertive and kind. You’ve only scratched the surface of the woman you will one day become.

2017 SXSW Recap – A Marketer’s Point of View

SXSW March 10 - 19, 2017. Credit SXSW.com

Earlier this month, the annual SXSW Interactive Festival, took place in Austin, TX. I attended, along with my colleague. We divided and conquered the massive amount of content, sessions, trade floors and vendors, over 5-days. The following is a recap of key themes and implications.

SXSW @ Macro Level

  1. SXSW was once the place for major announcement and releases. For example, foursquare was launched at SXSW is 2009 and twitter in 2007. This year’s SXSW followed a theme from the past 5 years or so: it’s less about major launches, more about iterative improvements. You could see this on the trade floor, where magic mirrors are no longer large, heavy and expensive, but smaller, lighter, thinner and nearing a price point for the average consumer.
  2. SXSW was founded on the idea of bringing people closer to “tech.” 10 years ago, brands/non-tech companied realized there was value in descending on SXSW to connect with tech companies. 5 years ago, brands started to have a sizable presence. It was only 2 years ago that McDonald’s spent more than $10MM+ to “own” SXSW and connect with millennials. This year, there was a notable shift. There were very few brand activations. Filling their spots were media, entertainment and marketing platforms.
  3. The “main stage” and the official conference schedule were once the big draws. This year, there were certainly some major headliners. Former VP, Joe Biden discussed fighting cancer and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, tackled, among many things, diversity and inclusion. As important as the main stage was, this year was all about the rise of the small stage. Seemingly every tech and media company hosted their own 1 to 2 day event of content. For example, my colleague and I, took in a great day of content, hosted by our partner, Bazaar Voice. The day ended with a panel featuring Ja Rule. Yes, that Ja Rule. He owns a media company now and is disintermediating the business of connecting artists with brands. Basically, you don’t need a SXSW pass to get great content.

Connected Consumer and Retail

  1. Wearables are moving from bracelets and watches that track things, to “fabric” that connects you to the world. After initially being announced at Google I/O, summit attendees could try on the Levi’s/Google smart jacket. There were smart socks, smart shirts and smart sunglasses. Wareable.com has a great recap on all things wearable at SXSW 2017. Also, this session did a great job of saying what must be said; consumers now expect their tech to be fashionable. If it’s not, they won’t wear it.
  2. Last mile delivery is killing every industry. At least that was the prevailing theme from restaurants, clothing retailers and big box stores. I watched more than one panel express the fact that business models like GrubHub are simply not sustainable. Restaurants are paying GrubHub 30% on the value of the order, potentially eating the delivery cost and then losing ~18% on each order. Traditional Brick and Mortar retailers are feeling the same squeeze. The name on everyone’s lips was Amazon. And how could it not be when you could check out their delivery drones?
  3. Politics aside, the clear universally agreed to pro of the new White House, was the focus on deregulation. As a SXSW attendee, we saw the problems of over regulation, up close. Uber and Lyft, both pulled out of Austin due to increased regulation. Austin is a city with virtually no public transportation and a limited taxi service. When you have 100K+ people ascend on your city, transportation is a big deal. With Uber and Lyft gone, several new startups came in to fill the void. Under normal demand, they’ve done just fine. But, the increased demand of SXSW crushed them and exposed several weaknesses. I suspect we’ll see Uber and Lyft back. It’s not just ride-sharing where deregulation was prominent. The business of legalized recreational or medicinal marijuana was everywhere. There were sessions devoted to everything from supply chain to its positive benefits on pro sports athletes. If there’s a supply chain rife for disruption and innovation, this is it.

Losing Steam

  1. Snapchat: every panel lambasted the platform and indicated it was an example of a new bubble.
  2. VR: as the head of ecommerce for a major retailer and brand said, “I want to make real money, not virtual money.”
  3. Wearables: as mentioned above, there’s less interest in the traditional wearable, which looks like a watch, bracelet, wristband, etc.

Health, Beauty and Bots

  1. Health topics were at the forefront of panels, sessions. Even the interactive badges promoted health thanks to the sponsorship by Austin-based tele-health startup, Medici who had street teams around town promoting the ability to text with a doctor services in their app. The overall theme is something we’ve known for years, technology and health go hand in hand. From AI capturing data to predict early signs of disease or health problems to blood tests that will identify the foods that work best for your body, there is no shortage of improved ways of monitoring consumer health.
  2. Decoded Fashion hosted the best beauty panels for brands and influencers outside of the main conference sessions. Panelists stressed the importance of using data to tell the story. This allows brands to understand the needs and patterns of the customer to provide the best beauty recommendations and experience. The use of the influencer can help the success of the brand but it’s important to note that this doesn’t have to be the person with millions of followers. E.L.F. Cosmetics is taking the approach of engaging their best customers on Instagram as “micro-influencers.” These influencers who have a thousand or less followers on Instagram have an 8% engagement rate compared to the 1.7% on average when the base grows to a million followers. Beyond panels, the expo floor showcased the updated technology for the beauty customer. The Hi-Mirror scanned your face to alert you of any current issues or upcoming risks like sun spots or wrinkles and provide recommendations of the best products for your skin.
  3. Rise of the bots was not only the name of one of the many panels but it seemed to be the catchphrase of SXSW. Many sessions made some mention of using chatbots as a means for intelligent conversation with a customer. When considering a chatbot implementation, there should be a clear use case for a problem you are trying to solve for the customer. To avoid falling into the trap of the latest gimmick, companies need to keep the conversation simple and know the audience. As the usage of the bot grows, so does the intelligence making it more predictive and better for customers. SXSW introduced their own chatbot Abby who answered over 56,000 questions during the conference. The top users of the bot became more active each day which alludes to the stickiness of bot. Even though chatbots took over SXSW, it was still to be determined if consumers will be as receptive.

Other Good Recaps to Read

  1. Bazaar Voice has 2 great recaps. Check out this one and this one.
  2. HuffPo discusses retail, women in power and the hype around VR/AR.
  3. Fortune talks empathy and AI.
  4. Mobile Business Insights covers everything from autonomous cars to health tech.

If you made it this far, thank you. We know it’s a lot to digest. Please pass on feedback and/or questions.

Social Media and Philanthropy, Start Early

Every year, my kids look to raise money for the American Heart Association. It’s a program their school supports and they’ve become quite the philanthropists. I think it’s equal parts “doing good” and the competitive nature of, who can raise the most funds, that keeps them motivated.

Together they hold the record for most donations, in a single year, with over $2,200. That was 2 years ago. Since starting this program, they’ve raised more money, together, than half the school has. The $2,200 was somewhat of an anomaly, but a great example of using your platform to support your mission. In 2015, Cora, on her birthday, participate in a fireside chat, at iMedia’s Commerce Summit, in Minneapolis. Yes, at 7, she presented…and she rocked it. At the close of her session, she told the crowd about the Jump Rope for Heart program and the donations, came rolling in!

This year, they’re looking to crush it.

What I like about what they’re doing is the realization that it’s harder and harder every hear and it requires even more creativity to drive action. 3 years ago they used their parents’ email accounts. Then 2 years ago, it was twitter and YouTube. This year it’s twitter, youTube, Instagram, Facebook and a twist on the experience. They realized that they couldn’t just do 1 video and call it a day, especially after participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. So, this year, they created a model where they’ll do certain things, when the donation amount hits a specific threshold. For example, they might donate their time, do some yard-work or write letters to veterans.

As a dad and a marketer, I couldn’t be more proud. I encourage you to donate or offer words of encouragement. Visit their page to learn more.

Remember, if you donate, I’ll buy your daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies, donate to your kid’s project to save a rare half turtle-half horse, in Australia or help drive whatever project is their passion.

If we don’t start them thinking about social, philanthropy and good, early, we all lose out.

What Happens, After Everest?

Photo Credit SmithsonianMag.com - Sir Edmund Hillary on top of Mount Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary is credited as the first known person to conquer Mount Everest. Before him, George Mallory, was believed to have come within 300 meters of reaching the top. Tragically, not only did he never make it to the top, he died on that mountain. To come so close to one’s goal and fall short, must have been quite difficult to accept.

Before attempting to scale Everest, Mallory was asked why he wanted to do such a dangerous thing. He replied, “because it is there.” Often, people mistake that quote for something Hillary said.

Now, while Hillary didn’t say that famous quote he did say two other things that have gotten me thinking:

Motivation is the single most important factor in any sort of success.

and

While on top of Everest, I looked across the valley towards the great peak Makalu and mentally worked out a route about how it could be climbed. It showed me that even though I was standing on top of the world, it wasn’t the end of everything. I was still looking beyond to other interesting challenges.

Let me unpack those two quotes. They’re quite powerful. Choosing to climb Mount Everest the first time has to be incredibly motivating. There’s a natural rush that I can imagine in entertaining the idea of doing something for the first time. I also want to use “climb Everest” in a broad term – your “climb Everest” could be running a marathon, learning a new language, etc. –  Everyone has an “Everest.”

But, what happens, after you’ve climbed your Everest? Is it as motivating to climb it a second time? Probably not. If you’ve run a 5K, you look at a 10K, then a half-marathon, marathon, and so on and so on. Let’s be honest, it’s why things like Ultra Marathons were created.

I think I’ve always been a believer that once you climb Everest it’s difficult to get excited about something that’s an even bigger Everest. After all, if you’ve eaten at L&B Spumoni Gardens and had the best pizza in the world, how could any other pizza ever live up? But, seriously, think about it. If you’ve eaten at the best restaurant, drank the best whiskey, had breakfast with the president, etc. When you climb Everest, how does anything ever live up? I have often wondered if this is why people who have become the President of the United States, end up not pursuing other “jobs.” How could anything measure up to being the President? How could anything be more challenging or fulfilling?

The second quote is what’s given me the most to think about. Perhaps there is nothing more exciting and therefore nothing more motivating than climbing Everest…the first time. But, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other Everests out there to climb. The question of course is what else provides the same motivation, as Hillary stated, as your first Everest. And it’s that question, which boggles the mind.

Asking And Answering The Tough Questions

Answers (Credit PrestonBailey.com)

Before I got married, the church required us to attend an 8-hour, all day, Pre-Cana class. The concept of the class is to force couples to have honest conversations about serious topics. By having those conversations, before you got married, you’d be better prepared for marriage and thus would have a higher likelihood of having a successful one.

Let me set the scene a bit. I sat a table of 10, with 4 other couples. Beyond my table of 10, I believe there were 5 – 7 other tables in the room. There was a couple who facilitated the discussion. We were given a workbook to use. A number of topics were in the book. The format was for the facilitators to explain the topic and why it matters. Each person was given 10 – 15 minutes to answer the questions individually and then there was time for you to discuss the questions with your future spouse.

While I don’t have a copy of my Pre-Cana paperwork, there were 2 topics that I remember discussing.

  1. Children: Let’s start with do you want children? If so, how many? How do you plan to raise them? Will religion be part of that upbringing? So forth and so on. You’d think this would be a relatively easy conversation. After all, how could you get engaged without discussing this important topic. But, I can tell you, there were people who had never discussed this. One couple, at our table, was so far off in their answers, they got into a fight. If memory serves me right, the female half wanted 4 children and the male half of the relationship wanted 0. Now think about that for a second. If you’re debating between 2 or 3 kids, cool. Even 1 or 2. But, 4 vs 0?!
  2. Finances: Among the many questions in this topical area, was a real gem, that ignited a fight at our table, that was bad, they were asked to leave the room. They never came back. The question at hand was fairly straightforward: how will your finances be divided up? Will you have a joint-account where everything is pooled together or separate accounts with pre-allocated “things” for each person to pay/budget for or would you have separate accounts and a joint account for shared expenses, like a mortgage? I’ve always been a joint-account guy, as was my future spouse. For us, was this was a fairly basic question. But, for this couple it was not so simple. The female half assumed/answered, “joint-account.” The male half, picked separate accounts. She made it clear that part of why she was marrying him was his paycheck. His explanation for his answer was quite sensible. He claimed she spent far too much money on bags and shoes. She was able to do that because of the subsidization she was receiving from her parents. He had no interest in funding her shoe and bag habit.

I can’t speak to the merits or statistical value of Pre-Cana. I don’t have facts or figures. But, I can say the concept of asking and answering tough questions isn’t limited to the idea of marriage. Personally, there was more to apply from that class in my professional life than there was in my personal life. Asking tough questions and having answers when they’re asked of you, is not always enjoyable, but it is incredibly helpful. When we skirt around an issue, we don’t get to full resolution. Here’s a small set of tough questions you should feel comfortable asking and be comfortable answering:

  1. What’s the next role you want?
  2. How quickly do you expect a promotion?
  3. I don’t feel I’m fairly compensated. I believe $X would be more in line with my value. Do you agree and if so, when can we adjust my compensation?

Over the years I’ve definitely come to see the value in asking and answering tough questions. I’ve also seen the problems that arise from moving the goalposts. For example, let’s take the couple at my table who disagreed about how many children to have. What if the answers were originally 2 and 2, but then a year into the marriage, one of them changed their mind and no longer wanted any? That’s a radical change.  How would you handle that? In a business world, what happens if you went from agreeing to have someone on your team move to an international office, only to have them back out at the last minute?

Our answers to tough questions will change over time. That’s normal. Time shapes our views. The difference though between changing an answer and moving the goalposts, is all about perception. When we provide a dramatic change in an answer, unannounced and without prior “warning”, it will feel like the goalposts have moved. But, if we have constant dialogue about the things that matter most, we don’t feel like the goalposts moved. We aren’t blindsided. We view it as something that was going to happen, given all the previous discussions pointed to this change.

From time to time, I do wonder if those two couples ever ended up getting married or if the distance between their answers was to great to overcome. Either way, the value in being forced to confront and discuss the answers to tough questions, can’t be overstated.

Is The Internet Of Things Making Us Dumber?

J.A.R.V.I.S

What isn’t connected to the internet, these days? Toasters? Yep. Thermostats? Check! Lights? You bet. But, what about crockpots? Oh, most definitely. Just about anything that could be connected to the internet, is in fact already connected or will be. That is, by definition, the internet of things. We were promised, the “smart home.” The idea being that with our devices connected to the internet, they would become more intelligent and that new found intelligence would create efficiency, save money, reduce friction and bring about joy.

“Machine learning” and “automation” aren’t consumer facing terms, but they are the underlying reasons why a smart home, could be, just that. Your Nest Thermostat learns your preferences. It knows when you’re home, when you’re gone and when you’re sleeping. It adjusts the temperature to align with those factors and to save you money. That’s the very definition of “smart.”

The past few years were focused on making all of our devices smarter. On some level, they’ve succeeded. Today, the focus is on the combination of internet connected things, machine learning and automation coming together to bring you some form of artificial intelligence. That sounds exciting. After all, who wouldn’t want their very own version of Iron Man’s J.A.R.V.I.S? Amazon has Alexa. Google has Home. Apple has Siri (though not in a device beyond your laptop, phone or tablet). There are more. They’re coming.

I have booth a Google Home and an Amazon Alexa. Considering my own usage and what I’ve observed from other owners, I am convinced, that these devices, in their current format, are making us dumber.

Go back 20 years and imagine a debate in a bar, during a basketball game about whether Michael Jordan had 6 MVPS or 5. That debate would rage on. You would ask other patrons. In doing so, you’d interact with them. You might engage the bartender to answer this question. At some point, you might go to the library or use your computer, after you’ve left the bar, to find the answer and thus, settle the debate. The smart phone came along and it changed that experience, forever. We had answers in a handful of taps. On one hand we were more informed, with limitless knowledge at our fingertips. On the other hand, we became people incapable of making eye contact with one another for more than 10 seconds.

“Personal Assistants” like Alexa and Home are a natural extension of the phone, right? Instead of typing, “how many MVPs does Michael Jordan have?”, I can now just say, “ok google, how many how many MVPs does Michael Jordan have?” For the record, he has 5. He was robbed of a 6th, because writers felt bad that no one else was winning MVPs. So, one year, they gave it to Karl Malone. I digress. Back to the topic at hand; so, why do I think these devices are making us dumber?

  1. Erosion of People/Social Skills: as explained above, we’re losing the ability to carry conversations. While, yes, there will be more and more technology in our lives, I don’t foresee a world, where we never work with, nor have to interact with people.
  2. The Dumbing Down of Language: to get the most out of Alexa, Siri, Home and others, you speak a broken down version of your natural language. Our “English”, if you will, has become laughable. Because we’re being trained to issue commands that are understood by the software, we omit words or convert the proper spoken word into something so basic, it resembles a toddler first learning to speak.
  3. The Elimination of Context: Part of why you’re taught “why” in math instead of how to “ask” a calculator for the answer, is so that we have foundational knowledge. Why? Because, that added context will help us learn how and when to apply the foundational knowledge in real world situations. Geometry teaches us to play pool better. Seriously. Answers, without context, are not just lazy, they undermine our thirst for knowledge. Information, is not, knowledge.

The future is going to be digitally driven and internet connected. There is no doubt. But, if the starting point for what my kids, Cora (age 9) and John (age 7) learn, is a broken down form of language, that teaches them to conform to the norms of an algorithm over traditional social skills and that they shouldn’t have to learn about the underlying context to an answer, aren’t we just raising robots?