Being isolated has been a real challenge for me. I am fortunate to be with my family, but relating to my co-workers and partners only via screens and phones has been taxing. I’ve always considered myself some kind introvert but now I recognize the energy I get from sharing space and experience with people. This may be the most productive I’ve ever been at work, and typically such sprints have coincided with periods I remember being happy. For a variety of reasons, this isn’t working out that way. We’re making things together, but something is missing. The energy of others may signal additional meaning to the work. Needless to say, I’m a little turned around.

If you’re having similar experience, you’ll enjoy this chat with Kate O’Neill, author, strategist, futurist and founder of KO Insights. She has been working in technology for more than 25 years, and thinking about the way people relate through it, alongside it and in spite of it. We discuss the luxury of the tools we have at this moment, and the way we may be bending to the tools versus shaping the tools to us, giving them more power as platforms than the intent.

Kate is everywhere. Her brand new show, The Tech Humanist Show is a multi-media-format program exploring how data and technology shape the human experience. You can find it on Twitter or on the YouTube channel. Her newest book, Tech Humanist is a classic.

Listen to the audio here:

Adam Pierno 0:10
All right, welcome back to another episode of the strategy inside everything I am joined all the way from beautiful although cold and windy. New York City with by the fantastic Kate O’Neill. She is a strategist futurist and the founder of KO Insights. She also pretty much never stopped doing everything. She is also a speaker and speaks around the world and an author of multiple books, including her most recent book Tech Humanists, which will probably inform a lot of what we talked about today. Kate, how are you doing today?

Kate O’Neill 0:43
Doing all right, how about you, Adam?

Adam Pierno 0:44
Awesome. I cannot thank you enough for making time. I really appreciate it. I thought, Oh, man, be bored and you were like, I’m bored. I just I was like, Alright, you know, it’s kind enough to make time. Thanks.

Kate O’Neill 0:56
It’s a no, I’m really grateful to have this conversation with you. I’ve been looking forward to it. But yeah, it’s funny that i think i think a lot of us are staying busy. It’s just the activities are dispersed in different ways and the remuneration is different.

If you like this conversation, have I got a podcast for you. The Strategy Inside Everything is available everywhere, including direct to your inbox.

Adam Pierno 1:11
It is a lot. Give people a sense. There might be one or two people who don’t know you already that are listening. But and for those people, would you give them a sense of kind of your background and who you are and what you’ve done?

Kate O’Neill 1:23
Yeah, sure. So I have been in the technology space, in general, for around 25 plus years. And that started after I was in college, I was actually a linguist by education. But I came into into the tech space professionally, because at the time that the World Wide Web came to be i was i was supervising a language laboratory at University of Illinois, Chicago, and I built a website there, which was that turned out to be the first departmental website that got seen by a guy at Toshiba who recruited me to come to Toshiba in the 90s to build their well in and I ended up building Their first intranet at Toshiba. And that whole started a whole series of things. I wasn’t the first, I was in the first hundred people at Netflix, I had their first content management role. So I got to do this really fun series in the 90s of sort of pioneering sort of firsts and, and be part of helping figure out a lot of things around content strategy and user experience. And you know, kind of putting some of these pieces together that we didn’t necessarily have language for, and then over the next few decades, had done a lot of consulting and writing and speaking and trying to help put frameworks around that and really try to understand how to bring that to a more disciplined approach for people.

Adam Pierno 2:38
That’s really cool background and really, a lot of there are a lot of futurists out there. And the futurist is not a typical role. So they have the varied background, which is always for me, it’s always interested in reading the background of how did they get to a place where they understand but being there at the forefront of of the web and have a pat a place like Netflix, even Toshiba at the time when you were there was a cutting edge place. They’re still doing pretty amazing things.

Kate O’Neill 3:06
Yeah, yeah, they thought that I was working on a project that was documenting the the chip that went into the Sony PlayStation two. So, you know, Toshiba and Sony collaborating, and it was Yeah, it was very cool because sort of forward thinking stuff and, you know, got to learn. I’ve really never done anything since then around hardware and chips, but that was that was my one exposure to like that side of the tech space. I very much

Adam Pierno 3:32
the same,

Kate O’Neill 3:33
I would think so. It was really a kind of a fun thing about moving to Silicon Valley in the 90s that there were actually billboards advertising different kinds of chip technologies. And I thought like that really says a lot about a place you know, years and years later when I wrote pixels in place. I wrote about the meaning of place and and it was one of the things that I really was thinking about, like everywhere you go, that has kind of a cottage industry and of course the cottage industry in the Bay Area is Technology, you get this sense of that cottage industry ever, like what really feeds the economy in the population there? Yes. By what you know, the billboards are and what the kind of local discourse about that is so interesting.

Adam Pierno 4:11
Yeah. And who’s filling the local restaurant or who’s I mean, not in Silicon Valley, everything is delivery. But yeah, well now Yeah. Now, it is also wondering about your background as a linguist and how that plays into it, too. I’m sure you’ve thought a lot about that. And I know it’s covered in a lot of your writing. But how does that apply to? Are you mapping that against looking forward and thinking about how the language we use today and the lexicon that we’re using today is evolving in times like we’re in right now with everything going on?

You just read this whole thing? Hmm. If you’ve got time on your hands, you might like Specific or Under Think It.

Kate O’Neill 4:44
Yeah, everything it plays into everything and the way I think about everything, so I think about, you know, in my early years in technology, I thought a lot about how semantics was kind of like the communication that was we were we were conveying over lines to each other, you know, what was actually like on the pages and in the messages. And then syntax had more or less sort of more the metaphor for information architecture and how we kind of built the structures that everything was encoded on. And that that informs a lot of the way I think now even now about, you know, sort of translating that to the modern web and to other other emerging technologies and other forms of communication through technology. And then and then, of course, yeah, like you say, like even thinking about these days in the pandemic, and in the time where our communication is happening almost entirely through technology, technological means through zoom calls and things like that. It does, you know, there’s that element of it to kind of thinking about what are the nuances of communication that are accentuated and what are the ones that are lost in the translation to these kind of screen based communications? So there’s so many ways to play with that.

Adam Pierno 5:59
Yeah, we’re Using we’re using zoom right now. And we opted to have the video on although we don’t we are recording it, but I don’t publish it anywhere. So I keep people off the spot. But the face to face contact keeps both of us engaged, it will help definitely help me get to see how you’re reacting to something and say, Oh, this this topic is dead move on or Yeah, oh no, she’s got more I can tell you have more to say or I can. There’s so many nonverbal cues that I could gain and vice versa. That if if this pandemic, I’ve been thinking about this a lot if the pandemic had happened even three years ago, without video aspects, and it was all conference calls. I don’t know if companies could be making the progress that they’re making now.

Kate O’Neill 6:43
Yeah, I agree. And it’s funny because it’s not as if, you know, Skype and other Voice over IP technologies haven’t been around. We all know that they have been, but certainly there are. I think there are modifications to the ways that we’ve used them. And the ways we’ve used things like Slack, you know, and other other platforms that have facilitated a remoting of work if not all remote work, right? Like, it seems like you know, even within teams that are actually on location in one place that are using tools like slack and tools like zoom and Skype, there’s been the the foundations of that remote work. So I think you’re right, I think it would have been even a couple of years ago, this is a very different experience. I find

Adam Pierno 7:30
slack less effective. I don’t want to slam slack slack is a lot of people love slack. I compare it to the way where I engage with people on a video call, I just find it less effective. And I almost always if it’s anything somewhere near then a very simple like, Hey, how you doing? Do you have an update on this? Yes, I do. I’ll have a two by noon. Yeah, here’s a link. Anything more tricky than that to communicate? It’s almost always like do you have two seconds for a chat and the next thing I know I’m getting a slack call or a zoom call. And it’s if there’s a hard line that I think we found with slack during this time, we’re really forced to figure out how we’re going to do this in a different location. Have you have you had better luck with some technologies than others?

Kate O’Neill 8:17
Yeah, so you know, it’s funny in my career, I’ll say my, let me call it my recent career, meaning like the last decade or so, of my career, I, the last five years, I’ve been a professional speaker and author. And that’s been you know, all of what I do and some consulting advising in there too. But before that, for five years before that, I was running an agency out of Nashville called meta marketer, and it was an analytics and digital strategy agency. And a lot of what we were doing was this kind of remote enabled work. We had teams that were we we were on location with each other, but we were working with companies all around the world. So there was we used tools like, you know, Basecamp and some of these other kinds of tools to capture a lot of our workflow and to try to template eyes A lot of it and and the kind of conversations that we were you using in tools kind of like slack at that time was more of that. Here’s an issue, here’s a response, like, here’s a client issue, and we know that we need to address this, let’s try to capture it in the system so that there’s some sort of codified knowledge and some way to build upon that over time. And so what I find now is that a lot of these pivots to zoom or pivots to you know, that kind of the the one on one capturing is a little bit losing some of that the codification of that knowledge. And so there’s a, I think there’s a balance that we’ll probably end up needing to strike where the, the, how we go forward needs to have some root in what is the knowledge that we’re getting to amass as an organization,

Adam Pierno 10:02
when we think about it organizationally, right, not individually. And when you read about slack or or listen to them talk about how it was founded. That’s what they were trying to create a log. Right. But if the, if the organization uses it as a proxy for AOL Instant Messenger, right? There’s no it’s no, it’s an impossible log. It’s impenetrable, sir. So yeah, Basecamp kept the record, but Basecamp breaks down when people try to add more too much context, right? And slack is like, there’s so much context, you wouldn’t even know how to how to search it.

Kate O’Neill 10:39
Yeah, it’s just too chatty. And I think it only works or there have been environments that I’ve been part of as a consultant where they use you know, that’s another thing too is that as somebody who dips into organizations for projects and then dips back out like it’s it’s a very weird tool for me because everything is so organizationally based it’s not you know, it’s it’s not like email where We can just do this kind of one off exchange and even have a thread. And that’s there. It’s preserved in each of our clients. And so each each slack instance, I have to join, I have to be added to and then it’s, you know, kind of the context, the taxonomy is based on the organization, which is good in some ways, but that’s the kind of adjustment I’ve had to make as someone who is a consultant or freelancer, like dipping into these organizations, but I will say that some organizations do a better job and others have kind of keeping that chattiness, you know, to one channel or another, and having more productive channels that are like, okay, here’s where we’re keeping the knowledge about this client or this project or whatever.

Adam Pierno 11:40
Yeah, and that was part of what I wanted to talk to you about today is that idea of the stratification of which part is for which part of the roles because at work with your families with getting getting new clients, as you pointed out before we started recording, there’s no doubt There’s no single thing that we’re doing. There’s a personal part, right? Well, small talk, there’s the work part. There’s the hardcore project management part. There’s the ancillary part or the management part there, they take on a lot of threads. And it’s one of the challenges I have personally had is, we’re on slack. But maybe I should now turn this into an email. Or I should go to our project management system, or I should go to the Google Docs where we’ve been capturing thoughts on this. And I’m wondering if you’ve seen and in the organizations you’re working with or people you’re talking to how that is really forcing thought among organizations and people about how they’re handling all those different parts of your, your splintered personalities that are all projected through one rectangle. Yeah,

Kate O’Neill 12:47
I mean, right now I feel like it’s a whole reinvention for everyone. Like I think this has been a great pause, quote unquote, has, has forced that reckoning with Even what seemed like good workflows before, you know, like, I think that the observation has been made a bunch of times that we’re all not just working from home right now, that’s not that’s not This isn’t like normal working from home, this is working from home in a pandemic with a great amount of existential stress and anxiety

Adam Pierno 13:17

Kate O’Neill 13:19
your writing. Right. And, and in many cases, you know, kids at home or sick family members or whatever, and that’s, that’s a very, very different situation from what it would normally be for most people. So so I think that’s an important consideration. And it’s also important as a keynote speaker, I’ve been noticing that a lot of my peers are talking about well, I’ve been doing virtual presentations for a long time and like Well, yes, I have to, but I didn’t do them in this context. And you didn’t either and I didn’t

Adam Pierno 13:50
want this material right. This thing and it’s hard it’s it’s a weird shift and then I’m Aren’t you half wondering like when you’re in a room There’s 1000 people there, and you can hear the laugh or you can hear a gasp, or you can see the faces that that didn’t connect. They didn’t get it. And you can go save, like, hold on. I want to explain this one more time. Yeah. And weird to be presenting it virtually. And just be looking at the chat to see if anybody’s gonna follow up.

Kate O’Neill 14:16
Yeah, it is what also I think I’ve been, I think there’s been a lot of really great learning and sharing amongst my peers and my colleagues in the speaking space. So I’ve attended a lot of virtual events, as well as presenting a lot of virtual events in this time to try to sort of observe what’s working. And one of the, one of the tricks I’ve learned from others and they’ve been using and passing on to others is, you know, to really engage people in the chat so you get, you know, you can use proxies, you can use exclamation points as laughter You can use a, you know, have people type in one single character for like, type y if you agree that yes, you know, yes, I have been experiencing some existential Hanks during this time or whatever you can, you can see this flood of that one single character and it’s a Little bit like the exhilaration of hear laughter or seeing heads nodding, at least it gets you some kind of sense of engagement with the people that are on the other side of those screens everywhere. Yeah, it’s not it’s not the same. But I feel like one of the great things about this is that we will get to sort of rethink some of the proxies for human interaction. And that is going to help us going forward, we are going to be able to think about how the emerging technologies that we are creating that will facilitate different kinds of communication, different kinds of human experiences, can embed some of that understanding of what are the proxies of meaningful human experience when your only connection is like screen based or text character based? And that’s important, I think,

Would you like to hear more from Adam? Book him as a live or virtual speaker

Adam Pierno 15:46
yeah. And I’m what I was thinking, do you think that is more of a function of people learning to better to master the technology that we have today? Or is that more of people getting an insight into how to relate to other people and what they need in a moment.

Kate O’Neill 16:05
That’s probably a little bit both right? It means that your instinct as you asked that question,

Adam Pierno 16:09
I don’t know, I was thinking it out as it came out. So

Kate O’Neill 16:14
it feels like both to me and I, you know, one thing that you learn about me after spending even five minutes with me is that I’ve default both and answer like, and everything does depend. But it’s also to me, a lot of things are both and a lot of things make much more sense in an integrative framework than in an exclusionary one. So so I would think that more more likely than not, it is the fact that we need to understand the technologies in the media that we have now better, and also that we need to understand how to relate to each other better. And building upon that, I guess, like, how do how do we read the signals of what the interaction with each other mean? I mean, everybody has had an Kind of understanding for a long time, that sort of sarcasm doesn’t translate an email and you know, you can’t you can’t have some of the nuances of communication come across in written language like people people joke about the sarcasm font on Twitter and things like that. But that’s that’s just us not being able to read each other very well as not being able to kind of make that leap across the limits of the chasm of that technology. And say like, here’s what’s really happening here are where the intense are and here’s where, you know, we need to understand what’s really what we’re really trying to get across.

Adam Pierno 17:34
Yeah, I am on record as saying emoji are off brand for me. I don’t use emoji, but I haven’t gotten that during this time. Shit, man. Sometimes you just have to use emojis you have to add an extra exclamation point you have to do a winky face so that people know I’ve I’ve shifted at the beginning of this from like, what do I need to get through 10 hours at my desk in my guest room to a what is the other person’s On the other end of this message, what do they need to know what I’m really asking and so that they feel supported and it doesn’t come across as threatening, but it comes across as inquisitive or helpful. And much more thinking about these is pixeled characters. They don’t look like they may not look the same to them getting it done. Yeah, me sending it.

Kate O’Neill 18:22
Absolutely. Have you read the book? Because internet, understanding the new rules of language. Gretchen McCulloch wrote this book, I think it came out last year. And it’s fantastic. And it’s one of the things that when you’re when we’re talking about this, it makes me think of a lot of what she explores as a linguist looking at language and how it communicates over the internet. I do think about like, the difference between an ASCII character smiley face versus an emoji smiley, right. And, or versus using a GIF that sort of suggests a smile or a laugh. There’s such a there’s such a difference there and It’s a, you need a fluency in the language that that is in order to get the real meaning across. But you also need to know the fluency level of the person on the other side. Yeah, right. And that’s one of the tricky things I think about this. So when I keep coming back to in even metaphorically, I keep coming back to this understanding of meaning, as a sort of three part thing. There’s, there’s the intent of the speaker, you know, if you’re trying to convey something to someone, there’s what you’re actually trying to get across. There’s the message itself as its own note, or its own kind of nugget. And then there’s what the listener receives of that information. And all three of those are different. And then there’s there’s potentially overlap between those three things you hope and there’s overlap, right? And the more overlap there is the more shared understanding there is, which is the more meaning that there is, but you also have to take into consideration context. That wraps this entire thing up and what context is creating it are these limitations and expansions of what can be understood. And I think one of the things that why I go back to saying, you know, none of us none of these, my fellow keynote speakers have ever done virtual presentations in this moment, because the context is completely different. The fact that this is all we have changes at the scenario quite a bit. So no matter how much experience any of us have, in doing virtual, we have never done it, where all anybody had was the screen to be able to engage with, like new knowledge being presented in that format. Yeah. So I think that those are all really important considerations to kind of thinking through, like, where do we go from here? And how do we understand how we even create meaningful experiences, how we create meaningful connections with one another how we build upon the, like, the the sense of nuance, that’s there. mixture more of that nuance is understood.

Adam Pierno 21:02
Yeah, this thing comes back to , well, everything comes back

Kate O’Neill 21:06
Yes, all the emojis

Adam Pierno 21:08
some of the work I’ve done with experiences are show that there’s it knows no experience exists in a vacuum. And so right there’s everything’s interconnected and every part of your life if you go in, and I always tell the story about I went into the bank last year, and it was two days before my birthday, and I they asked for my ID and I gave them my ID and spontaneously, the person looked at my ID and just started singing happy birthday, and the toll to her left and right, like took a step over and barbershop quartet did me a happy birthday because I was the only person in there and it was lovely. Amazing. However, I will never forget and I will be a customer that bank until something. But like, what had what I needed. The financial transaction I was trying to make wasn’t meant to be a happy one. And it was like Well, now I’m happy that now I’m conflicted. I’m an emotionally weird place. So the experience is great. I still tell people about it. In fact, this is the first time I’ve told the story with the but yeah, to demonstrate that the how connected the systems are and how much context is important. And so your your point about, yes, we’ve all done virtual presentations, right. We’ve pitched business we presented to our boss virtually, but now it feels like a the stakes are different. I don’t know why it feels like anytime I log on, I’m waiting for someone from HR to be on the other side of that thing that’s like, hey, like, I don’t know why I just feel like the end is coming for something could be a knee problem,

or just the general context, because everything is coming through the rectangle. Yeah, we’re all slack is up and email and I don’t want to miss an email, because I have no excuse not to. So maybe I’ll just quickly flip off of what Kate’s saying and just look at email. Real quick, and then we’re all scrolling and the kids are coming in and asking questions about math. Yeah, the context is a lot different.

Kate O’Neill 23:08
Yeah, it changes, I think, you know, we know this about how experiences happen in place to like that. This is again comes back to I wrote pixels in place in 2016. And, you know, a lot has changed since then. But the intent of that book was to really examine how physical connections and and or physical spaces and virtual spaces or you know, physical experiences and digital experiences connect with one another and how we can create more meaningful experiences as a whole by understanding the reality of both of those like dualities, I guess you could say and when what you cover is kind of what each one does for you uniquely. Yeah, yeah. But also, I think one of the things that was interesting about that is to think about the the elements have safe physical space and how different kinds of physical space change the nature of the experience that you’re having. So you know, being in a church is different from being in a museum, which is different from being in an office and you know, the kind of conversations that you’re willing to have or that you know, kind of feel compelled to not have, you know, those kinds of things all changed. And so I think this is very similar to that in the sense that we are relegated to, as you say, this rectangular screen, this box of viewing all of our interactions, everything has kind of come down to this this rectangle. And and that really, I think, changes the way we think about what’s possible and what we should be saying what we should not be saying. And so there’s just there’s a lot that that kind of shifts our, our expectations and our understanding of that.

Adam Pierno 24:54
Yeah, I think about in preparing for this, I was wondering about empathy. As you know, if you watch a character on TV, even on the news, there’s a limit to the empathy you can feel in a lot of cases, depending on how it’s how a story is presented. And I’ve been thinking about if I only engage with people through video chats, so there’s people I know but let’s say we hire, let’s say, I get a new client, and they only know me through that. How do I quickly figure out how to connect with that person when I when I don’t get that inner personal, that true inner personal time with them? And make? How do I earn that same, that same empathy from them or that same connectedness with them when it’s just I’m just moving pixels?

Kate O’Neill 25:45
Yeah, I have to say that quite honestly, I have found it in the last few weeks, in some cases easier to to make connections over the phone versus being on a zoom call. Because I think there’s maybe ways in which you know, a lot of us are getting sued. burned out. And and also I think the, the, the conditions are different. And there’s expectations that aren’t sometimes met, like, maybe the lighting is bad, maybe you know, your your connection is bad. Maybe you have some distractions in the background or something like that, or maybe I do. And maybe all of that is causing there to be barriers in our, in our rapport that wouldn’t exist over the phone, ironically, because we wouldn’t have we know we’d have sort of our imagination open in that space. So I’ve actually found that. Yeah, right. Right. I’ve actually found that in some ways to be easier. Like, I think, if I have a sales call, I’m really great. I’m really grateful when it can happen over the phone and not on zoom because it’s less distracting. I would stay focused on the mission of the call.

Adam Pierno 26:49
Well, that’s interesting. So so all the ancillary stuff of like, what’s on the bookshelf behind the person or, you know, any kind of visual cues become a sensory Oh, overload Plus, if they are taking it on a literal phone, yeah. And then they’re less tempted to just flip over to slack really quick and see if they got a message while you’re presenting a slide or while you’re talking to answering their question.

Kate O’Neill 27:12
Yeah, probably that too. And I think there’s just a level of relief that some people are feeling right now to right when they’re on a phone as opposed to being like stuck in front of a screen because they can pace a little bit and they can, they can stand, they can walk, they can, you know, do a little, like, fix themselves a cup of coffee or something. And that’s not you know, you’re not able to do that when you’re on a zoom or whatever kind of call. And, and I think there’s a sense that, you know, maybe it’s just a little bit out I’ve actually seen a lot of my friends tweeting this kind of sentiment, I tweeted it back in early April, I think I’m done. And I’m a huge extrovert. It’s not that I don’t like the connection. I really do. I really love being able to see people and I want the connection. But I do feel like you know, it was clear to me even then that there are ways in which it’s Kind of too much information for what’s needed at the time, you know, if you just need to get something done, and kind of have a mission based sort of communique, this, this may be too much information.

Adam Pierno 28:11
Yeah, it’s more efficient, you can pack a lot more into it. And there’s less I guess, when you don’t see people, you’re less obligated to do things like small talk or less, like, you know, comment on there. Like, yeah, whatever is happening in the background sometimes. And

Kate O’Neill 28:26
I think, you know, that’s nice. It’s nice if the small talk is is part of creating a real connection and a real genuine, you know, human moment, but as often I think as often as not small talk doesn’t really do.

Adam Pierno 28:41
Yeah, sometimes it’s just filling time. Right, right store stalling a conversation that you didn’t want to start or that the person is trying to figure out how to how to enter.

Kate O’Neill 28:49
Yeah. And so I don’t know, I guess I kind of think about the ways that we go forward from this and what we build into like the new the new modalities The new interactions then, you know, and what does it look like to have been informed by this moment, and I hope that what it means is that we will be more more sensitive to the possibility of, you know, sort of just enough information on one hand, you know, kind of creating the right context, that’s, that’s just limited enough to be able to be efficient for what needs to be done. But also, on the flip side of that, to be able to create more nuanced to communicate sort of like more contextually aware environments, you know, that bring in more of the senses and allow people to have fuller engagements with one another because obviously, if you’re trying to have like, family gathering via a video call, you want there to be a more kind of connected experience.

Adam Pierno 29:48
Yep. Have you tried it? We tried it on Easter Sunday. Yeah, it was pretty weird.

Kate O’Neill 29:53
We’ve done a few. It’s kind of it’s always funny because there’s always someone who’s struggling a little bit you know, with their connection. Usually me, who gets relegated to sort of the tech support role? And I think it plays out the exact same way every time.

Adam Pierno 30:09
Yeah, there’s a lot of like, well now point the camera this way, so we could see.

Kate O’Neill 30:14
Like, this is kind of a lot of comedy in it.

Adam Pierno 30:17
Yeah. It doesn’t feel when it’s your family, though. It doesn’t always feel like comedy right away. We’re laughing to know in the brain, like, God damn it, or is it like this,

Kate O’Neill 30:26
it’s the same roles that you’ve had in your family all your life, and they’re just playing out in different ways. But, you know, it’s wonderful that this exists. And I wrote about it in, I don’t know, one of my books, I can’t remember it at some point that, that, uh, even as long as video calling has been possible, it still feels like magic to me. And I would say that’s even still true. The fact that we can get through this pandemic, with video calls being kind of the norm at this point is kind of Magical I think that’s, that’s really one of those places where it’s easy to write off the technology. It’s easy to you know, and I’ve been kind of jokingly dismissing it and talking about the limitations of it. But I still do think that it is pretty magical. It is pretty amazing to be able to do this and for you to be in Arizona need to be in New York, and have like a face to face communication. That’s astonishing.

Adam Pierno 31:24
But But you make a good point. It is amazing. Every time it works. Yeah, this is what I did for two people that came from the beginning of the internet. When right remember, they couldn’t get video to play? Yeah, remember, realplayer would just always be constantly updated every day. He’s Uh,

Kate O’Neill 31:41
well, that’s what that’s a story that I tell a lot about. Like, that’s what’s so amazing to me about you know, being at Netflix in 99 2000 2001 timeframe when you know, we’re in 2000. We were still in like all out bloody battle with blockbuster for market. dominance. I mean, it was not even, it was not clear that Netflix was even going to survive because blockbuster was so much bigger and so much more of a behemoth who was established in the space. So you know, and they tried their, their rental program, which was kind of hilarious because it required you to actually drive to the store every day or something if you wanted to get the most thing most out of it. But anyway, you know that that was happening. We were we were still doing that. And Reed Hastings had the presence of mine and the vision to say, like, let’s divert some research and development money into, you know, set top boxes, which was the predecessor to streaming as we know it, right. And that wouldn’t come out for you know, 2006 was when Roku came out in 2007 was when there’s a dedicated streaming plan on Netflix. But that’s, you know, six, seven years horizon at that time to be a startup who’s who’s kind of coming up against such a, you know, 900 pound gorilla and be trying to figure out how you’re going to not only survive this, but be the innovator on the next stage right? That’s fascinating and that that’s always been so inspiring to me to think about, you know, when we talk about, like, futurism and what that looks like, to me, it’s it isn’t always about, you know, kind of picturing the fire ahead future, it’s just about really having some confidence about what your next step should be.

Adam Pierno 33:16
The next few steps, you know, any thoughts that you have, or have had recently about? What are the next short steps based on if if we are working, if everybody is working from home, or I shouldn’t say everybody but everybody? Yes, right from home today is still working from home in six months. And evolution of of what all this looks like from a from a workplace perspective, I can isolate one area for you instead of asking the most broad question in the world.

Kate O’Neill 33:43
Yeah, we definitely have a broad area to think about, I mean, beyond the workplace because there’s so much talk about terms of restaurants and theaters and whatever else but yeah, but um, but from the workplace perspective, I do think that it’s it’s possible that and I know something In fact, some offices have already begun to open back up in different parts of the US. And so you’ve got, you know, kind of approaches to how do we either do shifts or really spread people out or have Plexiglas barriers

Adam Pierno 34:15
or whatever Twitter just saying, you know, what, we’re just gonna let people work remotely, and we’ll figure it out, we’ll go day by day and figure out what’s the best way to manage all that.

Kate O’Neill 34:23
Right. And then other companies like Google saying, well, at least till the end of 2020, and then, you know, who knows beyond that? I think that’s gonna become the norm. It’s gonna be like, extending, extending, extending, and then, you know, there’s gonna have to be sort of hybrid policies in place. That was kind of always inevitable. I think that, you know, a lot of folks sort of viewed the the opportunity for remote work and distributed workforces as an inevitability. And this is almost like the force that’s tipping it toward that. But that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. I mean, certainly there’s going to have to be a lot of evolution in terms of of management and accountability, there’s been a lot more surveillance that’s creeped up, which is, you know, kind of disturbing that that companies feel like they need to have surveillance as a form of oversight and management. So I hope that I hope that we learned better skills than having to sort of creep on our employees, computers. Seems like not a good approach. I don’t think we have as a species, we don’t have a good history of releasing a surveillance tool and then rolling it back when we didn’t need it anymore. Right. Right.

Adam Pierno 35:33
Yeah, right. But I don’t know,

Kate O’Neill 35:35
big conversation happening around that in a broader sense to around you know, the contact tracing immunity passports, like all of these different aspects of different kinds of data tracking and sharing and surveillance that that are going to more than likely come into play and yeah, how how we put some kind of barriers around that to be able to roll it back or keep it from having mission creep. That’s that’s really important

Adam Pierno 36:01
conversation. Yeah, I’m hoping they have those questions, but in the work in the workplace more specifically. I hope some of those things that are being spun up are realized after three, six months, it’s like, wow, this really isn’t benefiting us.

Kate O’Neill 36:18
Yeah, not necessary. It takes a lot of of transactional overhead, you know, to to monitor, as opposed to learning better mechanisms for having teams collaborate and communicate and, you know, kind of keep status updated in meaningful ways. Yeah. And how does it make sense? Or how, you know, how can you get your team to be kind of motivated in the right way and moving in the right direction and couldn’t, you know, incrementally making progress on something so that it doesn’t really matter if they’re spending this five minutes on the project or that five minutes on? Exactly,

Adam Pierno 36:55
yeah, and a definition of what productivity means, right? Does it mean being at your desk? Doesn’t mean that you were available on slack every minute of the whatever the period designated period is, or does it mean that you met your project goal? You delivered what was meant to be delivered in, you know, at the quality is intended on time?

Kate O’Neill 37:13
Yeah, exactly. I tell this story to about one of my other favorite stories from Netflix is when I first came to the company, I was put in charge of a team of content producers. And I didn’t know any of them. I didn’t know anything about them. But what I found out was that most of them lived in Santa Cruz. And this is, you know, companies in Los Gatos, so this is just over the mountain in there on the ocean. And I found out they were three or four of them were all calling in sick on the same days. And this happened three or four times before someone kind of, you know, it’s almost like sort of passing me in the hallway like whispering in my ear, like, check the surf report. And I learned that it was that they were surfers. The people who lived in Santa Cruz were living in Santa Cruz partly because they love surfing and so I had this had to sit down with my team. And I was like, Hey, you know, kind of educate me. I don’t know anything about surfing, I’ve never done it. So what is the timing look like, you know, what does the day look like for you? And so they were like, well, I go out first thing in the morning. And I’m like, well, when are you done? When do you kind of come in for the day and, you know, sort of 1011 you know, maybe latest noon. I’m like, well then come in after that. Like, just just come in sick day for that. Yeah, like, that doesn’t make sense to take the entire day off. If you feel like you can get in a morning of surfing, and then come into the office and put in a good, you know, however many hours it takes to get your work done, and contribute for that day, then that’s all that really matters. And they’re like, really, we can do that. Absolutely. Like, to me, it makes no sense to be arbitrarily focused. And of course, you know, we were in an environment where that was possible other environments may not, you know, the kinds of work may not lead to that kind of flexibility but where it’s possible, I don’t understand why there isn’t more flexibility and that’s Flexibility now has to include a lot of, you know, home schooling, a lot of adaptability for taking care of sick family members. There’s, there’s just a lot of new kinds of variables that I think leaders and managers are going to have to get awfully good at figuring out how to build rapport with their teams build trust with their teams and have open communication that flows every which way. And surveillance is not going to cut it.

Adam Pierno 39:25
No, I don’t think that’s the I don’t think that’s building healthy relationships. No. Well, Kate, I appreciate it. This has been time well spent. Thank you very much for carving out an hour for me.

Kate O’Neill 39:37
Thank you. It’s been really fun

Adam Pierno 39:38
to talk with you next time just by phone next time. Where can people find you on the interwebs

Kate O’Neill 39:45
I you know, a lot of places where I am is online on social media. So you can find me on Twitter at KateO. My website is and I’d love to have you check me out there and connect with Wherever you find me.

Transcribed by

Categories: Podcast