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Observe more. Ask questions.

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I cannot recall where I first saw this, but be it known that this is not my idea, but something I’ve taken up as a challenge. The author essentially avoids asking people what they do, as a conversation starter. He pointed to the emphasis it places on our careers and how it is not a terribly good at getting to know the person. (I searched “avoiding the question what do you do” and got a few search results that more or less echo whatever it is that I read before.)

The challenge here is to see how long you can go without asking the question “what do you do?”

The question is an unfortunate one in that it is rather vague. If you really want to ask someone about their career, it makes more sense to ask it more directly. This begs the question, what do we really want to know when we ask the question? One writer suggests the question “what excites you?” as an alternative. It’s a bit awkward, but their point is well taken. Asking something less typical can elicit a more meaningful response and it might even catch the person off guard, requiring them to actually consider the question.

I catch myself asking this and realize it’s mostly out of laziness or simply a lack of focus in the moment. Surely there is a more intriguing question or a basic starter question to engage with someone. It reminds me of those times when people start talking about the weather. (I am guilty there too, but in the case someone brings up weather I try to connect it to something else. “Yeah, that was a miserably cold day, but it sure does help keep the ski slopes from melting away. Do you ski at all?)

I was reviewing my “about me” page and my professional profiles (e.g. LinkedIn) and I noticed a word I frequently use: methodology. It’s something I focus on, in contrast to focusing on so-called “best practices”. Something in the news caught my attention though. In politics, we often hear of a person’s ideology in the context of how or why someone voted or leans a certain way. I began to wonder if their ideology is my methodology? What is the difference between these two concepts? Are they related in some way?

Could it be said that ideology drives decision making in a single direction, while methodology drives us to make a decision based on inputs?

Ideology creates a static outcome. “I believe in x…” and “x” is what you shall have. Methodology creates a dynamic path to your outcome.

Does it stand to reason that ideology drives methodology?

If so, what’s your ideology?

In the last three weeks, Ben Thompson has been hammering away his point about the past advantages of controlling supply and the future advantages of those who control demand, e.g. Facebook, Google. Not since reading Stratechery or listening to Exponent on a regular basis have I considered this shift in focus.

Just a few days ago, I read this from John Gruber, citing an article from The Hong Kong Free Press:

The US-based global tech giant Apple Inc. is set to hand over the operation of its iCloud data center in mainland China to a local corporation called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) by February 28, 2018. When this transition happens, the local company will become responsible for handling the legal and financial relationship between Apple and China’s iCloud users. After the transition takes place, the role of Apple will restricted to an investment of US one billion dollars, for the construction of a data center in Guiyang, and for providing technical support to the center, in the interest of preserving data security…

When we talk about Google or Facebook controlling demand, what happens when that is an entire government? Is this what being a competitive country will mean for the 21st century? Is this ultimately a fight between open and closed society?

Gruber finishes his commentary with:

…I don’t know what Apple could do other than pull out of the Chinese market entirely.

This sentiment echoes those who feel compelled to advertise on Google, publishers who provide content or parish, and those who do not delete our accounts for the fear missing out. We either play by their rules or go home and most of us are unwilling to go home.

The last morning of my Colorado ski weekend was spent in the hotel lobby having breakfast and waiting for the airport shuttle to arrive. There was a family sitting across the way — two parents and three kids — who looked to be done eating. The two adults were sitting on either ends of the table, both staring into their iPhones. Two of the children, who’s faces I could see, appeared to be rather bored. In a judgmental moment, I wondered what the adults were thinking. Was this acceptable or were they simply oblivious to their behavior? More curiously, I wondered what they were doing on their devices that had them captivated?

 Photo: D. Pendagast

Photo: D. Pendagast

It would be easy to rat out parents for their lack of…parenting. But this is not about telling parents how to be a parent and more about whether or not we are giving thoughtful consideration for what our device usage will mean for our kids. I remember the first couple times I babysat and how tempting it always was to stick a VHS tape of Scooby-Doo and let the kids zone out on front of the television. It would happen, but towards the end, after we had played tag or hide-and-seek or whatever game we would play. With devices and screens in all of our hands, to what unintended consequences will we be subjecting our young people?

Jean Twenge, writing for The Atlantic:

But the impact of these [smartphones] has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health.

It is not enough to say that parents need to educate themselves. Dr. Twenge is helping lead a group of investor activists aimed towards Apple Inc. and their iOS device software. They are publicly advocating that Apple integrate more stringent parental controls to both monitor and limit the usage or screen time that children have of these devices. In an interview with On Point, when asked why this is a problem for Apple and why this doesn’t point to a need for more attentive parents, she quickly points to other initiatives that Apple has taken up (e.g. climate change, social justice) and how it has positively contributed towards its bottom-line.

I did not find her interview compelling. I am not yet convinced this is a technological problem in need of a technological solution. Why should parents not be held more responsible? Are there no third-party apps that can track your child’s usage? The example that came to mind when hearing this was when automobile manufacturers were required to include seatbelts, this makes sense. Accidents happen and sometimes we are not at fault when they do. Regulations and laws requiring such safety measures are necessary. Personal device use however seems to fall outside of this. What is it that companies like Apple are responsible for here? Has designing for addiction created a valid rationale for us to demand Apple and others implement their own “seatbelts” to safe guard children and others from excessive use? How do we or how have we proven this already?

I wonder how exactly to design for this. Does the phone shut down after a period of time or does it only accept incoming phone calls from approved people after a certain time? Their research suggests that it is not important what the person is doing on the device, but a positive correlation between total usage time and risk to mental health.

My lens on this is my now two-year-old nephew. My brother and my sister-in-law are absolutely amazing to allow us to FaceTime with him and regularly share photos and videos. We get to see his personality developing and even giggle when we see a bit of ourselves in him. Being a part of his life is increasingly becoming of utmost importance. (You know I am bad when I show more photos of him than some of my co-workers do of their own kids.) Yes, I know I use my iPad and iPhone around him and this all has me concerned about my own device usage and how we should be presenting ourselves to him in these formidable years.

This past fall, I celebrated my college reunion, marking ten years since I began a sales career as a technically-minded, people-person. In that time, for me, I realized, it has always been about creating new things. My entrepreneurial attitude is central to this, whether I was conceptualizing and bringing a new international graduate experience to life or building a mobile app designed to capture and monetize local business loyalty. Yet, a key aspect to this has always been missing: risk. I have maintained a safety net. In hindsight, my decision to launch my own business two years ago was a tacit admission that I needed to embrace risk in order to define my own future, my own success, and ultimately my own impact.

Formed in 2016, InQwired LLC, is my boutique management consulting firm and creative outlet where non-profits and small businesses can turn for sales and marketing talent. The experience of starting InQwired has been eye-opening. While I continue to operate it, the biggest challenge continues to be the very definition of this business and translating the ideas and goals into a cohesive, coherent message. What is the nature of the work and how do I position myself within the market? How do I build out a team to scale operations while delivering an exceptional service? What kinds of work can I take on and which jobs are better referred to others?

Oddly enough, the things I help others accomplish are exactly the things on which I need to focus. The more I delve into owning and operating this business, the more I realize the limits of my own business literacy. This, coupled with a tremendous desire to become a sales and digital marketing authority, has led me to the conclusion that pursuing an advanced business degree is both fitting and timely. My clients and I would both benefit from the breadth and depth afforded by the comprehensive curriculum of the MBA, which will help future-proof my career and my value.

In the pursuit of building a business, I would personally benefit from both the knowledge gained (e.g. finance, organizational strategy) and bolstered (e.g. sales, operations). In part, the safety net mentioned previously had been the talent I surrounded myself with while in previous organizations. The full-time MBA will not only give me the platform to learn and demonstrate new proficiencies in business, it will allow me to contribute my perspectives and bond with a dynamic, diverse, and collaborative cohort. There is something to be said for going through a full-time cohort program, especially for an entrepreneur. The camaraderie and shared experience can be a powerful way to inspire and discover others with similar passions to drive the creation of new enterprises.

The UConn MBA experience will instill in me a renewed sense of courage — a boldness — necessary for defining and taking a business to market. The business ideas I bring can be refined through various course work and potential opportunities like CCEI. The program also provides the opportunity to find like-minded individuals and maybe future business partners.

Through CCEI and the summer intersession, I envision forming a small team and going through an accelerator-like experience to hone the right strategy and structure, produce thorough market research and financial analysis, and capture the necessary talent. As I have engaged with more prospective clients, I have discovered there is a need beyond traditional consulting services — a just-in-time expertise or agile talent, still project-based, that they can turn on and off when they need. This experience will allow me to incubate and validate those ideas, building a sound but nimble foundation.

Beyond these next two years, I plan to continue pursuing lifelong learning. While the concept has always been ingrained in me, it has only taken on real meaning in the past year, mainly that I need to take it upon myself to read more, observe more, and — this is the part I had yet to internalize — create more. As an extension of that, I want to develop myself into a thought leader and someone who can contribute to the broader body of knowledge. An aspect of this is building a personal brand and making sure I have an appropriate outlet to reflect and author my own content and to be my genuine, curious self.

Why UConn specifically? Attending a public research university in Connecticut will allow me to better understand business, yes, but also in the context of our State political and social climate. Anyone can take their career to Silicon Valley or Austin or Seattle, but perhaps a worthier endeavor is right here in our local communities. I have resided in the greater Hartford area, calling it home for over ten years now, and I think there is a real need to problem solve right in our own backyard — to distinguish Connecticut’s business environment and give people a greater reason to call this place home.