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?

Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

I attended a talk called, “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now” during SXSW, with author Douglas Rushkoff. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the book. Further disclaimer: the concepts in his talk will smack you in the face and send you down the rabbit hole.

So, what is present shock? It’s what we experience in our information overload, tweet it, Facebook it, stream it, Instagram it, post it, always on, always live, always available world. It’s the fact that we aren’t really sure when the past, present, and future begin and end. We demand to know the future right now, but we believe “now” is what’s happening on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. The thing is, the posts on social media platforms are actually in the past. By the time you shoot it, edit it, tag it, and post it as a status update, the moment is already gone. In fact, the moment that you’re living NOW is the moment that you’re spending posting whatever moment just happened in the past! I know, kinda complicated to follow, but think about it. When was the last time you left your smart phone at home while attending a concert? When was the last time you didn’t check in when you landed at a destination? When was the last time you ate your freakin’ food without taking a picture of it? We think that our pictures and tweets and status updates are real life, and that we’re living in the now by capturing every detail of every moment.

There’s a new trend to rebel against the hyper-digital world. I came across a blog of a mom that was lamenting the fact that she spent so much time trying to photograph and post pictures of her kids that she was actually missing spending time with them. She wasn’t holding them in her lap because she was too busy focusing the camera. She wasn’t playing catch or make-believe because she had to act as the history officer to capture every moment. She finally figured out that she was, in fact, living every moment tethered to her smart phone. I realized my own hypocrisy in this area while at SXSW: I was so busy tweeting my sound bites that I was missing content in the moment. I started skimming all my sessions for the tweet, and then I end up in this session that’s telling me that my tweets aren’t really life. And you know what I did? I tweeted that. It’s the definition of an oxymoron!

My husband went backpacking recently, and left our fancy camera at home. I was shocked, and quite frankly, so was he. But, he made an amazing point, “Yeah, I’ll probably be bored, but that’s a good thing.” Yes, cameras capture so much beauty, but they are far inferior to the human eye. Twitter makes information digestible in bite-sized tidbits, but nothing satisfies quite like reading Ayn Rand or Agatha Christie in paperback form by a river. A photo of a steak is enticing, but man, enjoying that first hot bite is truly delicious. My mom planned amazing birthday parties long before Pinterest made us all feel inferior and lacking in creativity (Aladdin castle made from recycled fabric bolts? AMAZING!)

So, life: will you choose to live it or capture it?

How to Explain SXSW to Your Grandparents

I returned from SXSW about two weeks ago, and I tweeted about explaining the conference to my grandparents. My team had an amazing time at SXSW, and we did a ton of social media around our time at the conference. You can check out the Twitter hashtag #whatsyourstory or @Duarte on Twitter to see some of the insights we gained while attending sessions, trekking the tradeshow floor, and going to events in the evenings. We made quite a few videos to document the experience, and you can check out my contribution here!

But, what you REALLY want to know is, “how did you explain SXSW to your grandparents?” So, here’s the conversation:

GP: Now, I thought I heard that SXSW is a music festival, so why would they send a business person to Austin?

Me: Well, it started as a music festival, but now it’s a hub for interactive, music, and film. The “interactive” portion is all about the digital world.

GP: The digital world? What is that?

Me: Um, it’s for apps… applications… um, you know how you have a phone? Ok, well, on your phone, you can access the internet. So there’s all these programs on your phone called apps, and they help you do all sorts of things. You can look up reviews on restaurants, or convert different currencies. The other big thing this year was 3D printing. Basically, they put a picture into a computer program and then load up a special little printer with plastic, and it goes around and builds the picture. There’s also a lot of bloggers, you know how I have a blog that I send links to? Well, lots of people are trying to tell their story on their blog or their company website, and so they go to SXSW to meet up with other people who are trying to tell their story.

GP: So how do you know if you did well at SXSW?

Me: One of our big metrics was around a service called Twitter. So, Twitter is kind of like Facebook, where you can have friends… except, they’re called followers. And, you can post updates, kind of like a Facebook status, and people can respond or share your status. We had lots of people sharing our status and responding, so that was successful.

GP: *Confused look*

Me: Ok, you know when your sons were in high school, and when they returned home from school, you’d ask how their day went? And they’d respond with like one sentence? Twitter is kind of like that… except more informative.

GP: OOOHHHHHH, that makes sense now.

I learned a lot during my time at SXSW, and I’ll be posting a few of those insights in separate posts. But for now, enjoy the conversation and videos 🙂

A Little “Thank You” Goes a Long Way

It’s been an intense week at work, as we’ve been fully focused on watching and visualizing the TED talks. (Side note: you can see the awesome deliverables and insights from this event on the Duarte blog! Check it out, you won’t be disappointed 🙂 )

One of the core components of this culture is appreciation. People here love to say, “thanks” to their co-workers and clients, and it yields a positive atmosphere. Here’s the thing: it’s not some forced behavior, like when your parents made you apologize after you took your sibling’s toy (and, let’s be honest, who was REALLY sorry they took the toy?), but genuine appreciation for the hard work and skill that others bring to the table. Those two little words make such a difference in employee morale, and I would argue, productivity.

When people notice the hard work, it makes you want to work harder. When someone says, “Thanks for a job well done”, it makes you want to keep doing your job well. It’s this loop that goes round and round to create good work that creates a positive environment that leads to more good work. Sometimes we think that it’s silly or superficial to tell a colleague that you appreciate their time, effort, and talent, but who doesn’t like a pat on the back every so often?

So, next time someone does a great job on a project, let ’em know. It might feel a little forced or awkward at first, but as people start recognizing and appreciating each other, it will naturally spread, leading to increased morale and productivity.

Blacked Out Love Poems

My new workplace has a gallery area where we feature art of all shapes and sizes. We had a gallery opening today with a new exhibit, a Valentine’s Day-themed poetry wall… with a small twist. The premise is to create poems about love by blacking out words that you don’t want to use in a magazine, newspaper, or print-out from a novel. The remaining words create a poem. I wrote two:
Irresistibly Invisible

Time is foolish
Time to continue that letter which is never finished
Love warms the interior
Love, erratic exuberant games without any apparent practical function

A distinctive song,
invisible but invariably present
Irresistibly separated souls to restore a lost communion

It’s foolish and also lurking in the vicinity, origins obscure
I don’t know how, but welcome
These are puzzling matters I am not prepared to resolve.

The very thing I had in mind,
No mistaking, a living target
It would be, among other things, a sanctuary
to protect, preserve and defend ideals.

Perplexity of Marriage

Marriage, romantic in nature,
inspired by complex building

Love, bright and healthy
There would be no end

On your wedding day, your spouse
that you will look at him
exchanging a word with him
a ring and bodily fluids.

Your life, happiness.
Celebrate getting married
or finding a partner whom we will want to spend our lives with
and have children by
a winning lottery ticket
Enter these partnerships and be happy

Perhaps I am getting things out of proportion.
Maybe all this contemplation is an inappropriate response to our wedding day.
One’s thoughts, ideas, and suggestions are worthy of respect.

Form a party
After the event, a couple

This was an interesting exercise. I’m not a poet by any means, and I definitely don’t go around word-smithing from random articles. I read several other poems, and during our creation session, we joked that we all need marriage counseling. So many of the poems turned out to be very sad, and I think that says a lot about what our society does to love. We created these poems using someone else’s words, and I think it speaks volumes about the kinds of words we have to choose from. I know that’s pretty meta and emotional, but seriously, why did so many poems take a turn toward regret? Of course, there were plenty of really touching, uplifting poems, but the amount of sadness really struck me. I made it my mission to find the happiness in my selections to work with. The second poem on marriage was created by blacking out two pages of a novel about a couple going through a divorce, and I decided that there was a way to salvage the goodness, in spite of words like “regret”, “sick feeling”, and “bleach-drinking”.

It was also interesting that many of the poems included the word “love”. Clearly, we were looking for it, but again, I think it says something about what our society claims to value. We “love” nail polish, we “love” the stock market numbers, we “love” a new gadget. Do we really know what “love” actually means? There were also plenty of tangential words, like “fantasy”, “passion”, and “exuberance” in every day articles. Society throws around this depth of emotion to get people to buy the product, service, or idea, yet many times, we are scared to actually dive into these emotions when it comes to personal decisions.

So, I find it interesting that we can be so laid back about using the word “love”, and yet, at the same time, choose to see the dark side of love. I also find it interesting that you can have so much beauty and complexity if you just look beyond what’s right in front of you. Sometimes, you have to strip things down to find the true meaning for you.

Whoa. Wait. You’re Back in the Bay Area?

So, it’s been a while since I’ve been on my blog, and clearly, a lot has happened since I was churning out 3-5 posts each week. Let’s take a quick post to play catch up, shall we?

First, to confirm, my husband and I have moved back to the Bay Area. We chose to keep this move off the social platforms for a variety of reasons, but I’m about to be doing some business stuff that will reveal the secrets (get excited, my job has me doing some cool stuff in the next couple of weeks, and I’m gonna share it with YOU!).

Second, I started a new position in October, and I LOVE it. I’m incredibly busy all day every day, tackling strategic and tactical issues related to a variety of projects. I’m in my wheelhouse with branding, social media and a website overhaul, and branching out with projects related to TED, South by Southwest, and video. I’ve got some direct reports, and phenomenal leaders as my immediate boss and skip-level boss. I’m learning so much, and I feel that I’m contributing so much more now that I’m in my element at work. I’ve talked about being the best version of myself several times on this blog, and now that I’ve found my niche, I have this sensation more often than not these days. Satisfaction in my professional life bleeds over into my personal life, and I feel compelled to push myself harder in all aspects of my life.

Third, I’m chipping away at the last 15 hours of my MBA degree. I ended up dropping all 9 hours last semester because of the family crisis, professional promotion, and cross-country move. I’m taking 9 hours this spring, and 6 hours this summer, which allows me to graduate in August 2013! So. Freakin’. Ready. The MBA is the one place where my motivation is lagging. My current position is basically the “MBA job”, and I’m having to finish up my classes online, so it’s more painful than it’s been previously.

Finally, my writing is still being directed elsewhere, mostly toward work projects. I’m still contributing to The Daily Muse on occasion (I’ll have a great article coming out in the next week or two), and of course, I get back to my blog occassionally. Last year, I made some pretty hefty goals related to my blog and writing in general, but this year, I’m just not feeling compelled to put that kind of focus on my personal writing. I’ve had a ton of inspiration that’s made me say, “Man, I should write a blog post about that”, but I’ve yet to sit down and bang out the content. However, my cool work projects are about to take off, and I am going to commit to blogging about the non-confidential aspects.

All that to say, it’s been a crazy 4 months, and life is AMAZING. I’m clear, I’m energized, and I’m productive. I may not be writing as frequently, but it’s only because the passion is being directed elsewhere for a while 🙂 I’m excited to share my new projects when I’m able, and of course, I’ll have some handy MBA, markeitng, and corporate content along the way.