The Emperor’s New Clothes

I had the opportunity to attend Pop-Up Magazine’s, “The Song Reader Issue” earlier this week. The premise of the event is a bunch of stories told in unique ways, and that the night happens live, and only once. The show organizers don’t record or photograph the event, and the audience is encouraged to respect the code as well. Most audience members choose to experience the night live, without documentation. This issue was the first to feature music, singing, and a focus on sound. In general, the performances are spoken word, so Pop-Up was a little bit out of their wheelhouse this time around. The tickets sold for $35-$55/ticket, and the event was hosted in the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The tickets sold out in 3 minutes. Literally!  I came away from the night with a few interesting take-aways.

Authenticity vs. perfection: These two characteristics felt like a dichotomy at this event. I often shoot for perfection in my performances and professional endeavors, and most of my peers do the same. When you are that polished, you generally lose some of the authenticity. However, Pop-Up strives for raw, authentic, sincere performances, and unfortunately, they sacrificed perfection. The thing is, though, it wasn’t just a lack of polish, but in my opinion, a lack of talent and showmanship. It’s one thing to have an awkward transition between acts, or a technical malfunction with the microphone, but to sing out of key/rhythm, or to try so hard to be “real” that you end up trying too hard does not mean you have tapped into an authentic performance. It’s a fine line, authenticity vs. perfection, but lacking skill or talent does not equal sincerity. (Note that there were a few STELLAR performances, hitting the mark for both authenticity AND perfection.)

We pay for THAT? And yet, many people criticize the quality of community theater performances, or balk at a $20 ticket to a local show. So, why is it that we’re willing to pay for sub-par quality in some situations and not others? I’d argue that the Pop-Up brand equity carried the sales for this event. They’ve produced quality content in the past, and so, even though many of this year’s performers were less than perfect, everyone felt that it was worth it to pay to be part of the evening. But, you can only produce lower quality experiences for so long before you tarnish the brand equity and lose your strong following. Are we willing to take a step back and say that yes, it was an interesting event, and yes, it sparked conversation. But, no, in fact, it was not the most amazing set of musical performances I have ever seen. Are we willing to shell out for a local performer because we know their talent and dedication is worth the money? Where do we draw the line on paying for authenticity vs. perfection?

At a certain age… you should just stop trying, right? WRONG. I’m having this interesting debate with myself about my judgy attitude toward the performers. On one hand, if you’re charging that much for tickets and holding it in a prestigious venue for a well-attended event, you should have some talented people, the best of the best, up there singing and playing their hearts out. On the other hand, why are we (fine, FINE, I’ll admit it, I am critical) so critical of musicians once they reach some magic age? When you’re a little kid, it’s totally acceptable to sing incoherently or forget the lyrics, it’s super cute, because you’re a kid. Even in high school, we’re all very encouraging to soloists who miss notes or go a touch flat, because, hey, they’re young. But why do we require all performers over the age of 20 to be amazing? Why can’t we let people sing their hearts out just because they truly love to sing? For me, I think the deciding factor is whether you’re paying for a certain level of quality. You know that the guitarist at a local club is probably not worth $100 a ticket, but a world-class rock star can demand $400 a ticket. Then again, “world-class rock star” doesn’t actually indicate a higher level of musical or vocal skill or talent. So what makes it ok to pay celebrities millions for auto-tuned tracks and pyro-technic shows that drown out the music, but phenomenal artists with beautiful voices or technically adept fingers barely make a living? There’s something wrong with our (my) thinking.

So, I don’t really have an answer for my musings. I will say that Pop-Up accomplished the goal of being inspiring and thought-provoking. It’s also resulted in many conversations with my co-workers and my husband, all of which are quite authentic. Kudos to you, Pop-Up… maybe I missed the point entirely by assuming I was in for a superb amount of perfection. Then again, the conversations and internal struggle might prove that I actually understand Pop-Up perfectly.

Pros and Cons of Online Classes

I finished all my finals for Spring 2013 last week, meaning that I only need 6 hours to graduate with my MBA! I’ll be completing those hours online from the University of Texas at Dallas and graduating in August. HUZZAH! I’ve had quite a few people ask me about my experience with online vs. face-to-face classes, and I have to say bluntly that I hate online classes. This may be largely due to my personality and functional area, but several people have found my insight to be helpful, so I figured I should share it with all of you 🙂


Accessibility – Clearly, the most obvious pro of an online class is the ability to study anywhere. When I lived in Texas and started my MBA program, I knew that moving back to California prior to graduation was a possibility. Thus, it was very important to me to be able to easily finish my hours online if necessary. I’m able to access my classes during my normal routine, and I didn’t have to miss class during business travel.

Flexibility – Flexibility is enabled by accessibility. Since I can access my classes anytime, anywhere, I can re-arrange my schedule to accommodate studying as needed. Need to stay late at work on an emergency problem? No worries, I can push my lecture to later in the week. Happen to have an evening free? I can put in more discussion posts now.


Flexibility and Accessibility – These two pros are a double-edged sword, as professors are much less understanding about conflicts with scheduling. In theory, you should be able to find 2 hours SOMEWHERE in the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that exist. I didn’t really struggle with this, except when I was on my business trip to SXSW. We were literally working from 7am to 2am (yep, not a typo, 2am!) for 7 days straight, meaning that I had to push to complete my lectures ahead of time. Some classes lock down the lectures to make sure students pace through the class, so you can’t work ahead. For on-campus classes, you simply miss the lecture, miss the quiz, and you’re allowed a certain number of absences. In online classes, you don’t get this kind of leeway.

Discussion threads drag on – In a normal classroom setting, you have class discussions that run their course pretty quickly. Either you participate and get your points, or you sit quietly and the professor docks your grade. Unfortunately, many professors require a certain number of posts per topic to receive a full discussion grade. Thus, threads drag on far longer than they should or would in a face-to-face setting. Plus, responses like, “I agree” or, “Good point” often clog up the discussion boards, and in real life, these types of responses would be ignored or not happen at all, since most people know better than to raise their hand to say something with no value. Further, in an attempt to ensure the students are engaged, some professors put silly rules about logging in every other day, only contributing a certain number of posts per day, etc., which means that you can’t just jump in any time, you must schedule time to log in and contribute. This type of requirement defeats the pro of flexibility!

Project and case study coordination is frustrating – You never meet your team, and you rely on email or the group discussion boards. Often, projects are less cohesive and lower quality in online classes because you don’t have the usual back-and-forth collaboration that results in more creativity and effort. It’s also difficult to “present” a PowerPoint deck on the eLearning platform, so students end up straining their eyes to read terribly-designed slides to contribute to the discussion. (See con #2 above)

Lectures are boring – Sure, lectures can be boring in an on-campus setting, but man, lectures are BORING online! There’s no discussion, no body language, no interesting side notes, just monotone voices and text-heavy slides. I should acknowledge my own bias on both of these points. I work at a presentation design firm, so my threshold for bad slides has been significantly lowered. My functional area is creative, so the engineers and scientists probably don’t mind dry lectures, as the subject matter is very straight-forward. But yeah, I have trouble keeping my eyes open, no matter what time of day I tune in.

Scope creep – Again, this one might be specific to me, but I find that my degree is “running in the background” in my mind much more frequently with online classes vs. face-to-face. This is largely due to the fact that I don’t have a set time that requires me to go to campus, sit in a chair for 3 hours, and only focus on that. All other times, I can’t focus on the lecture because there is no lecture. It happens once a week for 3 hours, and that’s it, so it’s pointless to think about whether I should do the lecture now or later, eat before or after logging in, etc. I find myself logging in or feeling pressured about posting and scheduling much more frequently than I did when I attended class on campus. I was able to plan my weeks much better because the schedule was rigid. I try to stick to a rigid schedule, blocking out time for each class on a specific day, but with the posting requirements and lecutre release variability, it’s much more difficult.

Clearly, online classes are not for me, and I would not choose to do it this way in the future. I was only willing to do it for the last semester or two because I landed a position in the “dream job” category, but I would recommend against online training for an MBA. Anyone else have counterpoints to share?