Friday, February 28, 2014


Elliot Weissbluth on Conference Calls

Ding! “Annoying Has Joined the Meeting.”
February 23, 2014 

Let’s face it: conference calls suck.

All jokes about corporate tedium aside, conference calls are not an effective means of communication. In theory, they allow people to collaborate efficiently from multiple locations. In reality, they actively work against human nature.

Anywhere from 55 to 93 percent of all communication is non-verbal; it’s the smiles, winks, sighs, distracted texting and window-gazing that let us know what people really think—or when they’ve tuned out. Our brains are so hardwired to detect and interpret these silent signals that total strangers can pick up our moods in a manner of seconds … without us ever speaking a single word.
Simply seeing business colleagues is insufficient, as any user of Skype or video conferencing can attest. Unless you’re a phrenologist, there’s little to gain from staring at someone’s forehead during a business conversation (yes, it’s great for children saying “hi” to nana and papa). Until video technology lets us look each other squarely in the eyes, it will suck only a little less than a conference call for complex conversations.
Forget too expensive video systems that put the entire conference room in a fish-bowl perspective. They are only marginally better at facilitating group discussions. There is always a blind spot where participants can hide, they require an investment in hardware and set up, and even then, we need get over the self-consciousness of staring at ourselves. And since everyone works remotely—whether from home, a branch office, the airport or the beach—productivity declines if we can only effectively video conference when we are all in a room together.

The phone may not be perfect, but it’s a far better alternative than endless emails, or giving in to organizational attention deficit disorder.
A few tips to make conference calls more effective:
1.     Manage expectations. Don’t assume that conversation will flow naturally. In fact, don’t assume that everyone knows the agenda or expects a “conversation” in the traditional sense, with back and forth, give and take. A conference call requires more structure to be productive. Once you accept the limitations of the medium and reset expectations, you will have a more effective call.

2.      Set a clear agenda and reiterate it at the beginning of the call. It may sound like managing the minutiae, but the alternative is awkward silences, unprepared participants and a giant waste of time. On the flip side, the call is not an “open mic” for anyone to pile on their issues while everyone is assembled. An agenda will Focus the conversation, hitting that sweet spot between deep concentration and “anything goes” where creativity and problem solving happen.

3.     Go around the horn. This is my personal favorite and a tactic I use on almost every call. Take a minute partway through the conversation and invite each person—by name—to offer his or her thoughts so far.
The intention is not to put anyone on the spot. In fact, you can give ample warning that everyone will be called on to participate.
Going “around the horn” gives everyone the opportunity to contribute. End the call with the same tactic: “Mike, anything we missed or should cover before we close out this issue? Bob?” Everyone gets the ball for a minute, and can toss it to the next participant.

Finally, use your face time wisely. Yes, conference calls suck. But they are a necessary evil. If you can’t avoid them, you owe it to your team to make your more useful, valuable and infrequent in-person meetings as purposeful as possible.
Complex issues, strategic planning, sensitive conversations and even good ol’ fashioned free-ranging conversations over a good meal and perhaps infused with the fruit of the vine are all better when done in person.
HighTower sets aside two multi-day meetings every year so our advisor partners can spend time together, discuss best practices and build the culture that is a clear differentiator in our space. This year, we’ve earmarked three more days for innovation, bringing together the best minds in the industry to reimagine what financial services means for both its practitioners and their clients.
Maybe we won’t solve for toxic conference calls, but we’ll certainly get more accomplished without the incessant chime announcing every new arrival.

Elliot S. Weissbluth is the Chief Executive Officer of HighTower, an industry leading financial services firm offering a unique platform that blends objective wealth management advice with innovative technology. Our dedication to transparency in wealth management for investors and comprehensive support for independent advisors sets us apart. 

Emanuel to lead first 'coordinated' Chicago contingent at SXSW

Emanuel to lead first 'coordinated' Chicago contingent at SXSW

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will anchor the first-ever organized team of Chicago business officials and musicians to descend upon South By Southwest, the annual music, film and interactive conference and festival in Austin, Texas.
The Chicago contingent will be organized around the theme Chicago Made, focusing on Chicago's emerging prominence in new manufacturing and highlighting local music and culture.
Philip Nevels, executive director of ChicagoNext, a part of World Business Chicago, said city officials, along with Chicago companies and artists, have been attending SXSW for years, "but we haven't had a coordinated effort at this event before," he said. "We said 'Let’s all work together and focus on representing the city of Chicago in a cool way.'"
The festival runs March 7-16. Mayoral spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton confirmed that Emanuel will attend for one day. She would not specify a date but said Emanuel would "have a role on the main stage."
Chicago companies and artists will get particular attention on March 11, the last day of the interactive portion of the festival, which focuses on tech innovation. Featured speakers will include Zach Kaplan, CEO of Chicago-based Inventables. He's set to unveil a new software platform for the company’s recently released desktop milling machine.

That day also is the start of the SXSW Music Festival, a showcase for up-and-coming musical acts. Dylan Rice, director of creative industries and music for the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said the date was chosen as a focal point for the Chicago efforts, since it straddles the two conferences.
Chicago's SXSW contingent is a collaboration of Choose Chicago; World Business Chicago, a not-for-profit economic development booster; the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events; and the Illinois Tourism Council. 
"We want to promote Chicago both as a center of innovation and as a center of entertainment," said Melissa Cherry, vice president for cultural tourism and neighborhoods at Choose Chicago, the city's official tourism organization.
SXSW started as a music conference in 1987. It has emerged as an important date on the tech calendar, having hosted the unveiling of companies including Twitter andFoursquare.
Chicago Made's space at the show will feature appearances by business leaders including Kaplan and 1871 CEO Howard Tullman.

The Chicago contingent will host an invitation-only networking event Saturday evening, led by Tullman, "Obama 2012" chief technology officer Harper Reed and others.

That will be followed by a musical showcase that will highlight several local musical artists, including Chance the Rapper; Wilco bassist John Stirratt's side project, The Autumn Defense; The Hood Internet; Archie Powell & the Exports; My Gold Mask; Bonzie; ShowYouSuck; and ProbCause.
Rice said his sales pitch to SXSW attendees will focus on Chicago's music scene as well as its startup scene — and will emphasize a cost of living that's attractive compared with tech centers on both coasts. Rice said he wants people to leave Austin thinking about Chicago not just as a good place to visit but as a good place to live and perhaps even start a business.
"I want them to walk away thinking that Chicago is a really innovative place," he said. "This (Chicago) is a taste-making place in the world. We want to keep Chicago in mind as a place to invest in, as well as a place to travel to."
Tribune reporter Melissa Harris contributed.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Women in Tech: The Male Perspective

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The conversation about attracting, retaining, and advancing women in technology is not one that can be had in isolation, especially when organizations large and small are feeling the effect of talent shortages. During this panel, male leaders from different facets of the Chicago technology community, will share their perspective on what is necessary for women to play a more significant role—both in volume and influence—in the tech industry both in the near- and long-term.
Panelists include:

A tech panel of all men, aimed at women. So how did that go?

If there’s one thing missing from the conversation about women in tech, it’s men. Wait, did we hear that right?
A crowd of 250 — nearly all women — filled the auditorium at 1871 on Wednesday night for "Women in Tech: The Male Perspective" to hear 1871 CEO Howard Tullman, Orbitz CTO Roger Liew, Harvey Nash CEO Bob Miano and Chicago Tech Academy High School executive director Matt Hancock.
“People were surprised that we would have an all-male panel at a women’s event,” said Leslie Vickrey, co-founder of event host ARA, a mentorship network for women in IT. She is also the founder and CEO of ClearEdge Marketing. “The men who we selected have a strong voice on the behalf of women and they’re trying to help them grow their careers.”
Since men usually make hiring decisions, Vickrey said, it’s important for women to understand them and consider them as mentors. In fact, men outnumber women in nearly all tech roles, regardless of level. Women hold just over one-quarter of American computer or math jobs, according to a 2013 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The panelists fielded questions from moderator Sandee Kastrul, president and co-founder of i.c. stars, a non-profit that prepares inner city adults for careers in technology, and from the crowd. Kastrul says women are “good at setting the table for everybody else to sup.” She hoped the event would encourage them to claim their own seats.
Many attendees said they appreciated the opportunity for discourse on a frustrating and controversial subject, but the panel reflected efforts from men who are committed to supporting women in tech — that is, men who aren’t necessarily the problem.
The crowd offered mixed reactions. Guest speaker and City of Chicago chief innovation officer Brenna Berman, sitting in the audience later, noted several times that panelists were giving answers that didn’t fit the questions. That's not uncommon on panels, perhaps, but underlined the inherent issues of having men answer questions most relevant to women.
“It would've been helpful to have men and women address the question at the same time to see those differences,” Berman said. “I don’t know that they heard the questions the same way the women in the audience did.”
One example was a question on changing the way people praise men for being workaholics, while deriding women for the same.
Liew said Orbitz emphasizes results, not how much time goes into them, and encourages a 40-hour work week. “I think that is a great thing for us because it doesn’t force people to drop out,” Liew said.  
Miano said he believes the women in his company work harder than men in terms of hours and effort. Hancock said hours don’t equal success and that quality is the most important factor. Tullman mentioned Wikiwork, the idea that work is no longer place or time restricted so that results are free of such constraints.
None got at the heart of the original question, which was about the way driven workers are perceived, depending on their gender.
Some audience members appreciated the disagreement that arose when Tullman suggested design roles would be better entry points for women than development. Kastrul fired back, “It sounds like you’re saying that the path for women in IT is a softer path.” Tullman said, no, it’s just that he believes “deep geeky stuff” is over.
Liew and Miano were quick to chime in, saying there’s not only demand for coding skills but that telling women to take “shortcuts” into the industry is dangerous advice.
As the panel wrapped up, Hancock said, “I’d like to encourage everybody to take the risk of showing up as who you are.”
That message resonated with Deb Krupinski, an executive director of business operations at WMS Gaming, who attended the event on behalf of a women’s networking group at her office. She believed the panel’s insights were valuable but that those speaking didn’t represent the average perspective.
“I would love to have...someone that was so different from their perspectives,” Krupinski said. “Someone who didn’t embrace the diversity of women or the uniqueness of women because I think that’s more, unfortunately, the norm.”
Like Berman, some believed a female presence would have accomplished even more.
“You want to see in the panel the contrast between the men’s interpretation and the women’s interpretation of the same thing,” said Jean-Marc Reynauld, a data scientist at Thoughtworks. 

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