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Genius New Virtual Meeting Tech
I saw a video recently that will make our lives much better. And yet: some serious concerns about what it means for our future at work.
High on the list of Lockdown World problems is the battle for bandwidth between you, your family, housemates and neighbours. There’s only so much upload speed.
When the kids start gaming, your inspirational Zoom speech becomes a chopped-up Morse code of random half-words.
Gaming tech outfit Nvidia has fixed that problem by turning Zoom You into a nice streamlined algorithm. You upload your picture. The software picks up data points from around your face, and moves your avatar face to match.
The images are amazingly accurate, and it takes up much less bandwidth. You get clean images from the worst internet connection.
Plus you can adjust your image so you’re looking straight at the viewer, rather than the standard down-and-to-the-side Zoom look.
It’s an ingenious miracle. And also cause for thought on what happens when we’re all reduced to a series of virtual data points.
Tinder Syndrome Moves To Corporate
The world of Tinder, Bumble and those apps is – I’m told – a minefield of discrepancy between photo and reality. On screen they’re a Hemsworth, then you find Jonah Hill waiting for you in the bar.
Get ready for that syndrome in your supply chain at work. You’ll discover you’ve been doing business with the 2003 version of your account manager.
The first face-to-face meeting will be an uncomfortable revelation. You look around confused.
‘It’s me,’ says a familiar voice from a face you don’t quite recognise.
Uncomfortableness leads to avoidance, so they make excuses to get out of the in-person meeting. They end up working an entire virtual career as their long-ago self. Because they feel deep down that that’s their real, best identity. Who doesn’t feel that way sometimes?
And if you’re going to do that, the next logical step is picking someone better-looking to be Zoom you. Now we’re deep in the matrix.
I have had to deal with using someone else’s face, and it’s weird and annoying. I’ll drop that story at the end so we can keep to the point.
What Can You Trust Now?
On the flip side of the work avatar issue, there’s your reputation to consider.
If you’re the well-known face of your business, what’s to stop someone using your image to make a picture-perfect video of you admitting to running an international conspiracy ring of goat-molesters?
Digital black-ops teams will love it for political campaigns. And so our trust levels spiral ever downward.
You already can’t believe lots of what you read. Get ready for that in video as well.
What Are You?
The whole Zoom identity topic takes us to a murky issue: at work, what are you?
It’s easy if you build kitchens, cook meals or cut hair. For office types, it’s a little trickier.
Are you a face people trust? A voice that solves customers’ problems? A source of ideas that gives your business the competitive edge? A generator of email reminders to keep the kitchen space clean because ‘you’re mother doesn’t work here’?
As tech replaces each part of your identity with synthetic alternatives, what do you build your reputation on?
What can your employer replace with tech that doesn’t draw a salary?
If your job involves a series of common responses to customers or co-workers, I’d be worried.
Work that involves understanding people is hard to disrupt.
The soft skills of persuading other people to do things are quite robot-proof. AI will never have a genius new product or service idea. Code can’t look at your systems and processes, and change them to create a better human experience.
If I had a job or career, I’d be very much back in the office as soon as it’s allowed, because that’s where those hard-to-replace human skills work best.
Everyone knows what you look and sound like, and that will be an increasing source of trust as things get more virtual and less trustworthy.
Meanwhile the work-from-homers will get easier to replace, either with tech or cheaper people offshore.
Scene Change Virtual Pivot Update
Management by video isn’t going to go away when COVID ends. It will be a permanent part of business life from now on.
As part of our efforts to pivot our business, Scene Change, out of the virus depths, we realised that our clients’ senior execs need screen presence. If they can’t lead their organisation through a camera, they can’t lead.
Many of them could use some help. Most CEOs are good at live audiences. Virtual studios are a different beast. The cold silence and lack of visual feedback is brutal.
You can be a star in the conference room and a dead fish on camera.
So we put together a training program with Nigel Collin, who has the unusual career combo of both business leader and actor. Our theory is that if an exec gets good feedback after a presentation in our studio, they’re more likely to return.
It’s quite fun working out the details of products that didn’t really exist before 2020.
Enjoy this quick video of Nigel explaining virtual leadership. Get in quick before we replace him with a low-priced avatar.
Bonus Story: My Secret Actor Life
I know this someone-else’s-face territory.
Before I stopped shaving, I had a regular stream of strangers approaching me in the street going ‘has anyone ever told you you look EXACTLY LIKE A YOUNGER VERSION OF THAT ACTOR?’.
And I would say ‘oh’ because they were not going to say George Clooney or Brad Pitt, were they? No, it was Academy Award-winning Geoffrey Rush.
Nobody ever briefed their cosmetic surgeon with ‘make me look more like Geoffrey Rush please’.
One afternoon I was enjoying a pleasant beer with friends, and two young women from the noisy group near us came over.
‘Hey you look just like Geoffrey Rush!’ says one. ‘Are you by any chance related to him?’
Why not roll with it?
‘Yes, I’m his younger brother Dave.’
‘Oh my God I knew it!’ she says. ‘Can I get your autograph?’
‘Uh … I’m just a guy who works in marketing, I’m not famous, but sure. Do you have something to sign?’
They hunt around and come back with a pub coaster, which I sign as Dave Rush smiley face.
‘What’s Geoffrey up to now?’ she asks.
‘Oh, he’s just chilling this year, he did a couple of pirate movies last year so he needed a break, doing a bit of theatre.’
She pauses, then:
‘Cate Blanchett’s my cousin!’
I go into full jazz hands theatrical mode.
‘OH MY GOD HOW IS CATE? HAVEN’T SEEN HER FOR AGES.’
She backs off a bit.
‘Well, she’s my second cousin on my husband’s side, so I don’t really see much of her but … ‘
‘Well next time you see her, make sure you tell her Dave sends his love!’
I love the idea that at some future family get-together, a bemused Cate Blanchett will get a message from Geoffrey Rush’s younger brother that she knows does not exist.
Anyway since I grew the beard five years ago the spirit of Geoffrey has been exorcised, and now I just get Scott Farquhar from Atlassian. I’m ok with that.
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