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If We Can Automate Asleepness, Can We Automate Awakeness?

For Venture Beat / June 2020

This is the unedited, original version

It feels senseless to talk about the latest tech gadget or tech startup when we consider how the world has been rightfully ignited by instant exposure to recent tragic acts of violence on Black humanity. But when faced with the opportunity to speak to a tech audience, I find it hard to turn down. Why? Because the tech world represents a relatively small community of people who know how to speak machine. And because we are digitally privileged, we embody the potential to automate more harm than good — or to automate more good than harm.



Back in 2016 I launched a project to collect stories on the topic of inclusion on — it was to mark my joining Automattic as the “Global Head of Computational Design and Inclusion.” That site appears to have closed down after I left. But I am so 🙏 grateful to the waybackmachine for the archive that is still up there! The stories that have stayed with me over the years are included below — they continue to make me think. Enjoy these powerful writings by:

Jules Walter, Cassidy Blackwell, Kevin Bethune, Kat Holmes, Mitch Resnick, Jewel Burks, Caroline Sinders, Saron Yitbarek, John Palfrey, Ash Huang, Samantha Hankins, Alisha Ramos

New to thinking and acting inclusively?


Shortform: The 2020 CX Report

The CX Report gathers trends on how business happens in the computational era by examining the tech stacks for marketing and products in the context of digital transformation.

2020 CX Report in 13½ Minutes
This version is a super-condensed summary of the CX Report. You can watch the 82-minute extended version delivered LIVE over here.
  • The Internet has become exactly what Bowie predicted in 1999.
  • Computational thinking is the new systems thinking for business.
  • Digital marketing loops spin way faster than digital product loops can spin.
  • The 4th Industrial Revolution has invisible smoke stacks everywhere.
  • Silicon Valley is people and not just robots. We tire. Machines don’t.
  • Nobody’s in charge of customer experience because everyone is.
  • Your Employee Experience (EX) is what makes your CX human. Literally.
  • What’s experience? It’s a try-out, an experiment, and it can be perilous.
  • If we all speak machine, then we can all avoid Big Tech’s blunders.
  • Computational experiences are made by those who know how to speak machine.

Related #creport20 Info

Blue Pill?
Red Pill?
The Earth
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1000 Perspectives On Who Should Really Own Customer Experience

In 140-chars or less, in your organization who really should be accountable for “customer experience”?

2020 CX Report Participation Survey Write-in Question

I’ve gathered close to a thousand samples of points of view on customer experience that distill a bunch of thoughts across many voices from around the world. Keep in mind that the collection of voices below is heavily biased towards a “designer or researcher” point of view in the rough ratio of:

  • 71% design or researcher
  • 20% product or biz owner
  • 9% engineer or tech

The new CX Report will be released on May 22. My mailing list subscribers will be the first to receive the report in their inbox.

Sign up for the CX Briefing with no more than 2020 characters, zero images, and all in plain-text.


How To Light Yourself When On A Video Call While Remote

Key things to keep in mind when on a video call are:

  • Daytime calls are best because they’re easiest to light.
  • But even when they’re daytime, it’s easy to be poorly lit.
  • When at night, or if you have no windows, lighting is hard.
  • With one lamp at night, it’s possible to look okay.
  • And with two lamps used “in stereo,” you can look great.

Rechargeable LED light sticks ($15/each) are incredibly versatile. And an LED ring lamp with USB port ($45) or less-nerdy and with color ($50) delivers a nice feeling when you’re working late at night.

You can watch a 5-minute quick overview of these ideas, or browse the image/text version below.

With just one lamp and one window, it’s possible to look great on video. It means you may need to move your furniture around in your house. But that’s okay because you’re expecting to be stuck at home for a long time. Unfortunately.

When you have a window behind you, it makes it hard for your audience to see you. But if you have a lamp that can light your face, it can look quite nice — and it makes your video feel literally “daytime.”

The professional scenario on the right (below) is called “Three-point lighting” and it’s how most interviews are lit. An extra bit of magic happens if you put a not-too-bright lights behind you in frame to create more dimensionality.

Two common nighttime (or if you have no windows) lighting scenarios while on Zoom, etc. for giving more of a professional impression (versus a less professional one) are presented below. With just two lamps it’s possible to look great on video. It means you may need to move your furniture around in your house. But that’s okay because you’re expecting to be stuck at home for a long time. Unfortunately.

The further away you position a light, the less impact it has on brightness. So placing your lamps is a way to more carefully light your frames. Be sure to use LED lighting to be safe when tweaking how you are lit.

Note that in the “professional” case it’s possible to do get the multi-point lighting effect with just two lamps by crafting a reflector out of foil and a used packing envelope (larger is better). Just bounce the main light off of your reflector.

This presentation as a pre-release PDF is now available 👇. The appendix on Remote and Distributed Work comes with the mailing list signup further down.

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Distributed Work / Remote Work / Work as Computational Experiences

Third time’s a charm — this is a 30-minute walk through of the appendix to the 2020 CX Report. The full report will be out at the end of May 2020.

To receive a copy of the report as a PDF, sign up for my mailing list so I know you’re out there. Thanks! —JM

Sign up for the CX Briefing with no more than 2020 characters, zero images, and all in plain-text.

Key takeaways:

  • Remote work isn’t the same as distributed work.
  • Placemaking forms the grounds for work-making. 
  • Ch-ch-change is always an emotional journey.
  • Collaboration is better than just cooperation.
  • Future’s so bright. Gotta wear XR/AR/VR shades?

Business ownership of Experience is by COO, CFO, CIO, or CMO. Also the CPO, CGO, CDO have arrived in larger organizations and that’s creating ownership questions as well …

The idea of a CXO isn’t tenable when everyone owns the experience. And because everyone “owns” or uses technology in some shape or form, it’s unclear who is accountable versus who is in charge.

As for who should own CX, it’s clear that everyone does and by that token nobody does. And that’s both a good thing and an unfortunate thing as well — esp. for the customer.

Erika Hall’s made me sufficiently skeptical of surveys but nonetheless with what I’ve gathered from the 2020 CX Report Survey so far this year has been helpful when reading the free-response entries. They’re incredible!

The 2020 CX Report is delayed to May 2020, but the one unchanged conclusion is the shift to intrinsically “Computational Experiences” as the root cause for confusion today.

In How To Speak Machine, I lay the foundations for understanding how computer science works in practice today. And when armed with that computational mindset, then the products that you make will become fundamentally different.

Contrary to Gibson’s point on the future as not being evenly distributed …

“Distributed reality is here. #dr is the new #vr.”

—Wendy Johansson / GVP Publicis Sapient

Working remote-ly isn’t the same as working distributed-ly. 

It’s easy to confuse remote work with distributed work. The former means working remotely; the latter means getting work done in a distributed fashion. You can be working alone, remotely; but need to work in a group to be distributed.

The Notion of “Place” Has Changed

The definition of “same place” was once limited to only a few means of connecting, but now we’re faced with many options — especially with modern technologies.

Automattic CEO and WordPress pioneer Matt Mullenweg in “Coronavirus and the Remote Experiment No One Asked For”: “If you can minimize the number of real-time meetings, do so. Embrace asynchronous communications.”

Creating a sense of place is the starting point for work to happen. Built upon a stable foundation, it becomes possible to make that work become much more than just a “job.”

Wendy Johansson: “Without psychological safety, no matter what conditions and tools are set for working together, not a lot will get done. Consider the people first.”

Design thinking and rapid illustration expert Dan Roam refers to three kinds of people that anyone can draw. These three archetypes embody three classes of experiences.
There’s three human contexts for the “place” where an experience happens to you: where your mind is, where your body is, where your tribe is — and some combination thereof.

These three modes are now blended because of the way that smartphones, AR/VR, IoT, and other connected paradigms are blurring how an experience hits your mind, body, and tribe. Or, “Alone together,” as Sherry Turtle says.

Change has happened! You’re now stuck at home! And you need to get work done, while also balancing your family, roommates, and/or mental health. WFH = Work From Hell?

Change is something that we all talk about as “exciting” but the way it can actually feel will differ — because it usually starts out somewhere in between “wow” and “oh no!” And sometimes it can turn out really great. There are 5 steps for managing organizational change that I’ve found useful over here.

Mind The Emotions

Different people manage changes differently. Management Coach Maria Giudice describes the process of experiencing change as similar to how we manage and process grief.

The way we handle grief is not dissimilar to how we manage through changes that happen in our environment. Taking a model from Kübler-Ross and Jobcentre Plus results in a figure where you can point to how you feel.

Cooperation is about working with another party at arm’s length, whereas collaboration is about having arms hugged around each other.”

The practices utilized in this distributed reality will determine whether companies will evolve to “distributed collaboration” instead of being stuck in “distributed cooperation.”

The tools we use are levers for leaders and followers to shape, preserve, or break culture. There is a deep connection between tools and culture, so be sure that they both align with your organization’s values.

When considering collaboration tools, the question is one of solving problems by exploring for information versus exploring for solutions and the way we use networks and place.

Jesse Shore et al in “Facts and Figuring: An Experimental Investigation of Network Structure and Performance in Information and Solution Spaces” shared research on how dense clustering can be superior to network clustering.

Part of the reason why the density of a surrounding network will matter is because of the degree of psychological safety that is often more possible in a sparse one. 

Interpreting Jesse Shore et al in “Facts and Figuring: An Experimental Investigation of Network Structure and Performance in Information and Solution Spaces” in the context of how trust forms and matters within networks.

Don’t forget that by limiting your contacts through highly optimized distributed work environments, the opportunity for serendipity also decreases. Focus isn’t always good.

Ian Wharton: “When you remove serendipity, you remove the opportunity for by-chance encounters.” Digital presence lets you drop into many different tribes with low friction, but it’s still a concerted effort to do so.

When you start working in a fully distributed environment, you quickly realize how easy it is to get distracted on your computer from all the notifications that come at you.

A wall that prevents you from learning isn’t good; but a wall to protect you from too many distractions is not a bad thing when you absolutely need to focus to get work done. You are the one who controls your wall’s permeability.

Remote employee managers’ top concerns are their employees’ productivity, focus, and getting work done. They’re least concerned with their loneliness, overworking, and careers.

“We found that 38% of remote workers and 15% of remote managers received no training on how to work remotely.”

State of Remote Work Report 2019
As Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky famously wrote in 2014, “Whatever you do. Don’t F up the culture.” Making a regular workplace culture hum is one thing; a distributed one is another.

Wendy Johansson advocates for “the efficiency triad” to be used in advancing distributed collaboration. “Each bit of effort to remain at the intersection of the efficiency triad enables your organization’s machinery to gain momentum.”

Emotions are the means by which we prepare ourselves to manage events around us, that depending upon the predictability versus volatility of our surrounds, will differ.

“Emotions are discrete, automatic responses to universally shared, culture-specific and individual-specific events. …These affective responses are preprogrammed and involuntary, but are also shaped by life experiences.” —Ekman (2011)

When going online at scale, the training wheels you need are often not just the shiny new digital tools. Instead, how you show up in distributed reality as a human matters more. Use the Publicis Sapient Community Code of Conduct to start.

Benedikt Lehnert at Microsoft has open-sourced his guide entitled, “OMG I’m working remotely. Now what?” which is eminently useful for folks who are looking for a soup to nuts guide. Zapier has the best-in-class guide on the topic.

Tools For Time

Time becomes a place for you. And as a result you need to learn how to manage what works well across timezones and different cultures — which is usually NOT synchronous meetings.

Time is like a place that needs different rooms where you do different things. It needs a door and window curtains for you to function well in your house of time. Check out Raanan Bar-Cohen’s: “Make time for light stuff.

Like anything in life, it’s not perfect. If you think you’ve discovered a new paradigm that beats everything else in the past by working distributedly, in some cases you’re right.

Proponents of working in a distributed fashion are understandably proud of their way of life. If you’ve ever seen the impact on a young parent and their ability to spend more time with their children, then you get it in a heartbeat. 

What about VR/AR/XR and this moment where telepresence has now become a mandatory aspect of surviving our distributed reality? Is 3d collaboration within “our grasp”?

In the 2016 Design in Tech Report, VR was approaching its 50th birthday: “Almost 25 years ago, Ivan Sutherland developed, with support from ARPA, the first surprisingly advanced VR system.” —Nicholas Negroponte (1993)

The acronym CSCW stands for Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and was coined in 1984 by Irene Greif and Paul Cashman. As a branch of research, its roots are in … email.

Professor Hiroshi Ishii is the Douglas Engelbart of our times. While at NTT, Ishii long foresaw an era when realtime video communication combined with the ability to annotate and collaborate would someday become a reality.

What’s happening right now is that the accountability for operational leadership and customer leadership is separated, and now needs to become more integrated.

The Publicis Sapient approach to Digital Business Transformation integrates operational leadership with customer leadership to drive high efficiencies and customer happiness via strategic application of technology and design.


The 12-question survey remains open to May 12, 2020. If you participate there’s an option to put your name into the final report.


Five Days Before CX Report Initial Launch

I’m way behind on getting the CX Report done but the entire world’s been COVID-19-ized so that’s ooooookay. Because it’s quite minor when considering how the world’s managing a global pandemic at a major scale.

This year I’ve commissioned Tony Ruth to provide a few Public Service Announcements on behalf of the earth and democracy — as encouraged by my mentor Joan Shigekawa. Those will be coming as you can see in sketch form on one of the starting slides labeled as “EARTH.”

The theme of the CX Report 2020 is centered around the infinity symbol — which is something I’ve long been fascinated with, for all too long to remember. It was the theme for my new book How To Speak Machine, which lays out three alien-like properties of computation that transform how products get made today in three ways.

On this upcoming Thursday I plan to drop the section marked in red towards the end. It’s an appendix themed around Remote Work — which you can see is something I’m not really too far on yet. So my evenings will definitely be all-nighter-y as I head towards this Thursday. Here goes! —JM


The 12-question survey remains open to May 12, 2020. If you participate there’s an option to put your name into the final report.

Related Tweets


CX versus UX via Jared Spool

Design guru Jared Spool has an excellent post on the subject of the difference between CX (Customer Experience) and UX (User Experience) over here. He argues along the same lines as I’ve ascertained (Jared’s always a few years ahead of me!!!) that the root discipline of Marketing owns CX and traditionally advocated on behalf of “the voice of the customer”; whereas the technology industry gave rise to its own human-centered take as “UX” — originally grounded in making computers “user friendly” and then later segued into making “computational products valuable” to more kinds of users beyond just techies.


Is the X of CX = “Customer Expectation” instead of Customer Experience?

I had a convo with an incredible CMO today about the difference between delight and effort, and she rephrased it as the difference between “experience” and “expectation.” A customer expects the effort to be low — as tablestakes. In that case, the customer equates this with the “design.”