O.K. GLASS, GO GOOGLE!

Sonya Google Glass picSo here it is—a skeptic (me) wearing the Google Glass! Are you aware of what this newest leap into newness can do? Like your smart phone, it can take pictures and video, show your email, conduct searches, use GPS, receive phone calls, share pics with friends and more — faster than a smart phone and all on voice command. And how do you see all this? There’s a little square piece of glass connected to the frame over your right eye. But you don’t have to look up at it—you just look straight ahead and you can read and see anything you ask for!

Of course saying I’m a skeptic makes you now look for reactions: Does it really work? How does it feel? Is it comfortable, easy, fun?  What does it do to you as you wear it? Would you want one?

Well, let’s start by saying it is mind-boggling! I don’t care how sophisticated you are and how many gimmicks you’ve already played with, this one is a lulu. It really does do what I said it did. Just think about the freedom—you’re not holding anything! By just plain looking straight ahead you see whatever you requested. And what a sense of regal power you get when you summon it and say (or bellow) “OK Glass, take a picture” or “ OK Glass, who was Vercingetorix?” (bet you’ll look that one up!) Another goody is that when you take pictures, others are not aware of it, which really matters in foreign countries where there can be bad reactions to the old point and shoot style.  It feels light and totally comfortable on the face and you don’t have to fish for your phone whenever you get a call or to look something up or read emails.

Most of all- it’s such fun! It’s like playing pretend except it works. How many remember the old comics with Dick Tracy’s magic watch that he talked into? One of those is coming soon from Apple, I hear. So the Glass plays right into- actually surpasses -the games we’ve all been playing with the rush of equipment that keeps rolling toward us, topping each other , faster and faster.

OK – the negatives. In the first version you can talk but can’t hear well on phone calls (2nd version already has an ear bud to fix that.) It does get commands wrong and some things are not as easy to access as smartphones. You do have to learn how to do everything on it but some of it is counterintuitive. And of course it’s not yet available to anyone except those who won the first lottery by describing why a Google Glass would be useful, important, meaningful, helpful in their work or lives. And even those lucky winners had to pay $1500 for the privilege of being the first explorers.

But what’s really funny is to scan the internet to read what is being complained about as other negatives. Here are some quotes:

“They can make interacting with someone awkward.” WHAT? And burying your face in a smartphone is conducive to interacting with others???

More “negatives”:

“Makes you question whether the Glass wearer is focusing on you or their ever present screen” Again, have you noticed interactions at restaurant tables or between young people—are they tuned into you or tuned out and into a device??? Also “there’s an ever-present temptation to tune out the world around you.” Well, friends, that’s the daily activity everywhere now as we substitute the interaction with a device for any so- called time consuming one-on-one human contacts.

So far Google is handling the technical negatives in a most creative way. The first group of Glass Explorers is a constant source of feedback and criticism and being built into a special community. They get monthly Glass Support emails with the latest questions and what’s-news and where the Glass hangouts are in their area are.  They send new instructions about what’s now possible as they refine and add onto the systems. And Version 2 is on its way.

Bottom line: Another step away from the atavistic, old,  human systems of communicating personally – verbally, visually,  physically- and onto our next lives as carriers and progenitors of mechanical, robotic, controlled and edited forms of reaching each other. Who knows what permanent effects this will have on the future of our species… But it surely is magic, and fun.

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Wendy Davis vs. “Lean In” – Do Women Need Help to Lead?

Women’s ability and strength to lead, to take charge, and move up the ladder at work has been a much discussed issue since Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, wrote her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Ms. Sandberg’s book laments the dearth of women as visible leaders in the workplace. She wants to inspire women to emerge and become more ambitious in the roles they can play, and to assertively and aggressively reach for new goals while continuing the fight for equality so daringly and visibly begun by the women’s movement in the early 70s.

Among the many responses to Sandberg’s book that I hear in the workplace, are, “Why do women need so much help, so much instruction and support, to move into leadership positions? Leaders just plain lead! No lessons! Maybe they really just plain can’t or don’t want to!”

And then we see Texas State Senator Wendy Davis stand up and deliver a 13-hour filibuster in a hostile environment, killing a bill to close women’s clinics throughout Texas – and doing it singlehandedly! It reminds us that leadership, courage, strength, and a fighting spirit are all there – all part of women’s abilities. (It’s the lioness that hunts and kills and takes care of the cubs while the lion takes a nap…) So why is there still so much difficulty around how women are perceived – and how they feel about themselves – with regard to the issues of leadership and authority?

I’d like to talk about how come women who surely can and have led – judging by all the famous female pioneers and iconoclasts in our history – are still having a such a hard time being seen and recognized in the workplace today.

Let’s start by just looking at the commonly accepted adjectives that define leadership in the workplace: strong, assertive, aggressive, commanding, decisive, powerful, dominant, take-charge. Do these automatically call forth a woman’s “image” in our society?

What adjectives does a woman’s image call up, from time immemorial? Pretty, feminine, charming, well-dressed, soft-spoken, sexy, nurturing, care-taking, supportive, understanding, emotional.

What comes to mind even when you think of the words Masculine and Feminine? Don’t they still bring forth deeply ingrained stereotypes that surely don’t reflect women’s new 21st century accomplishments as leaders or even men’s newly minted, expressive roles as nurturing, care-giving dads?

So let’s take an atavistic look back at where all this came from – a look at the intrinsic qualities we all carry forward from when our species started – in order to see what expectations we always had about each other and ourselves. And please consider how those characteristics that defined us through the centuries still affect us today.

I’ll paint the picture, in simple primary colors, of what roles were carved out for us given our physical makeup. Roles were created based on where we were most needed and suited. Men, who had the larger shoulder girdles and bigger muscles, had to leave the cave and become the providers – the ones who could kill the dangerous game, pull the plows, and build the shelters. So they learned about the outside world and what it took to survive and make things happen.

And women? Being the “birthers,” they needed to stay indoors, to tend to their offspring, to wait and hope with other women that their men would come home to the communal cave. And to learn nothing about the kind of survival the world “out there” demanded, let alone how to take command and “make it happen.” They passively accepted the events that happened and just carried on.

Millennia came and went but the roles stayed essentially the same, because the basic needs didn’t change. Moving into recorded history, it’s little wonder that the visible male roles that implied strength and courage should make men the leaders, as governing bodies began to be formed. After all, the women’s experience was so much smaller and more limited. Even with their strengths and talents, they were essentially invisible, not public.

But, from their earliest cave days, what did women get good at? Relating to others, nurturing, listening, sharing, and working together with other women whose lives were so similar and who shared common problems. Sure, some women always emerged as leaders in the group – keeping peace, solving problems, being courageous or wise or outgoing – but they all learned to find friends they could count on and talk with, who understood them, and would respond when needed.

So we have men in the outside world, who needed to learn to be soloists, to compete for position – skill or power – to visibly continue as heads of families or societies and forge ahead, successfully or not.  And that lasted till the last two generations began to rethink their roles and make up their own rules about what they would and should do.

And women? Over the centuries women’s roles depended on men. Their lives and futures needed a man to select them and bestow upon them the title of legitimate, recognizable woman – qualified as desirable, as wife, mother, caretaker and visible prize. Otherwise they were the leftovers, the maiden aunts, the teachers, librarians, and governesses that had failed in the earlier competition for men to give them their key roles.

And who believed in these predictable assignments, in the implied descriptions of what to expect – even demand – from men and women? We all did!

To this day little boys are asked to “be strong and take it like a man” and little girls are admired for being “so sweet, graceful, and pretty” (and I know there are enlightened parents whose parenting is much broader, but it’s still the general attitude).

So here we are now, with women breaking out of their traditional roles in visible numbers. Little wonder at the reception we’re getting from men – no, not all, of course, but enough to create the general unease that still causes them to turn laws and expectations against us.

What is this unease about? “Well, if women change their roles, what is now demanded of us?” men are asking.

And women are saying, “Move over, we’ll play in your yard too, now.” Unnerved and challenged – since it’s an old habit to keep the roles clear – men still imagine us women as the decorative, softer, more compliant nurturers. But bosses? Ugh. This invasion not only challenges them to move over and adjust but to also rethink their roles. It makes men wonder, “Who will I be now? What role does this create for me? And hmmm… what else might I like to do?”

Now consider how much it challenges women. They still need to fight the ingrained traditions, not only in their quest for some new turf but also against their own feelings, that genetic, physical draw to still be both a traditional nurturer and homemaker.

What about younger women, those who now have so many opportunities carved out by the women’s movement? They still need to learn the how-tos, the skills and techniques for moving into leadership and feeling like they belong there. Let’s not forget that their role models in that exalted leaders’ territory are still relatively few.

It’s not second nature to all women to roar to the front. It depends on personal drive, desire, background, and intention, as well as courage and feeling legitimate as they stride forth. So they need to learn some new approaches to withstanding the hostility and disbelief, to becoming dexterous and comfortable as leaders, and how to create a new space for fulfilling themselves in the world. Women kicking over a millennia of role demarcations is a tough assignment. The stereotypical slots they’re climbing out of cause deep, internal, personal battles to be fought across the board – and in the boardroom.

Can woman do this? Hah! Just look at Wendy Davis, for one. And we can now also do the hard “outside” physical jobs since no strength and big muscles are required to run our newly formed techie world, just brainpower, creativity, and the ability to relate to people as a perceptive executive. And we’ve always been great at that.

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The Travyon Martin Case and the Media

Let me begin by telling you that I’m a long-time jury consultant who’s studied and interviewed juries, worked on many cases and written three books about what makes jurors listen and how they decide. Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years as a commentator on the media discussing famous cases (including the whole O.J. Simpson case live on daily TV) and analyzing how jurors would see the developments in the case, what the issues are for lay people in these cases, what they believe and understand and so on.

So I’ve been watching the Trayvon Martin case and how it has advanced with a practiced eye. And although I’m pleased to see that it has now finally moved into the courts and the judicial system, where it belongs, I shake my head about how it got it there and what’s happening to the original intentions of how American law is supposed to be practiced.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “to be tried by a jury of their peers,” yes? When our system of laws was formed, “a jury of their peers” was indeed possible and made lots of sense. It meant that not only would most people in any town know the accused and his family but that the jurors thus chosen (though I must decry the fact that it was then only men who were asked to serve… ) all lived in the same environment, understood the efforts of life in that place and shared a number of the common burdens as well as benefits they lived with. They were part of one community and would therefore understand the problems people faced as well as share conclusions about what was a mutually beneficial way to live together and what was out of bounds. And they did utilize the laws of the land as they were created and given.

Well, we have surely grown from those days. Juries today don’t often reflect or share the lives of those accused and may have come to vastly different conclusions about how life should be lived in their community. But I’ll tell you something that is very encouraging. Jurors generally take their work very seriously and really do want to do a good job. And, by and large, the jury system of 12 lay people listening, discussing and deciding is still the best way to bring justice to the analysis and conclusion of any case compared with the other narrow possibilities — a single judge or a panel of three judges or a military tribunal deciding on civilian cases. It’s what has worked for us Americans since we began and speaks of the same intrinsic faith in us as human beings that democracy and voting itself represents.

So what’s happened to that old idealistic system as our country has morphed into a 24-hour news-hungry electronic loudspeaker-with-pictures that rushes to bring us every detail of any event in our daily lives as soon as it happens?

Trial law insists that only the facts and evidence presented in court, during the trial, as sworn testimony heard equally by the jury and all concerned and allowed by the judge according to the rules can be used to analyze and decide on a fair and just verdict. And how is this jury chosen? What is the big goal? To find people who are questioned by the lawyers and/or the judge to be sure they do not have prior knowledge of or prejudice about the case so they can hear what will be said and shown with an open mind… That they haven’t already made up their minds until they hear the evidence.

And what have we got now in the Trayvon Martin case? What hope of finding an open-minded jury of his peers to judge the defendant as we have absorbed the media frenzy for over a month?

We must look at the two sides of this effort — the powerful role the media played to spread the news and get a defendant to even stand trial. But at the same time what evidence was being discovered and described and shown in infinite detail by this same media process? To everyone in this country and beyond? And now that we’re here, what effect has all this information — untested, unexamined from both sides as prescribed by law — had on our hopes of proceeding with a fair trial as prescribed by law? So along with our instant access to everything media wants to send us, I’m ruminating about what basic principles and carefully nurtured systems of our democracy are maybe falling by the wayside?

How Easily We Forget

Well, the International Women’s Day was recently celebrated  amid  some press and fanfare and I sat there remembering the first ever Women’s Day declared in the U.S. in the 70’s — what the world was like then for women, how we felt and what’s come out of those fervent days..

There I was, in Boston, being the first woman to host her own talk show without the help of a male host, tackling the tough subjects of the day, and there were many —the women’s movement, the Vietnam War, Nixon and Watergate, the new consciousness-raising movements for both men and women. The Sonya Hamlin Show presented the first-ever birth of a child with natural childbirth on TV. We tackled the issues of homosexuality with gay men and women who dared, for the first time, to come forth and speak their names. We dealt with the school desegregation of Boston – a very bitter struggle – by my hosting members of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizen’s Council to show Boston whom they were really dealing with. I interviewed all the leaders of the new young women’s movement, promoted their books, even launched every aspect of Ms magazine for a week on our air before it ever came out for the public on newsstands. And my station, WBZ, supported us and didn’t lay a hand on our programming. Truly groundbreaking broadcasting.

And then came the announcement of the first ever U.S. Women’s Day.

It meant “Stand Up and Be Counted”.  March down the streets of downtown, link arms, sing Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman, Hear me Roar”. It meant being open  and visible to each other as a group — not just as individual letter-writers to the editor or phone campaigns or passing petitions around.  What a feeling!

Our personal passions were suddenly multiplied and shared with so many others – we were live and visible. It was a little intimidating but so exhilarating. And so new… But then, as we marched, I saw and heard a bunch of hard-hat workers hanging out of an unfinished building, cracking the usual cracks, whistling  the usual whistles, telling us to go home and get in the kitchen, in the bed etc. and I was reminded again of the uphill climb before us.

What’s sad to me today is that the newest generation of women have no idea what that fight was like. They never think about how come they now have so many opportunities that didn’t exist for us, the first wave of women trying to enter the big world as equal participants. They have no idea how it felt to be the first women into the various jobs that seems commonplace. We needed to fight so hard to even get heard or taken seriously, to even be allowed to apply for and enter the new possibilities we were making happen. I remember having experts on my show talking about new work modes to accommodate women, like flex-time and shared jobs and the four- day work week –all now quite commonplace. We were ridiculed, especially by the established workplace.

So as I read about plans for the newest International Women’s Day I reflected on how social change happens—how hard it is, how exposed the early proponents are—and how quickly that painful struggle gets absorbed into the mainstream and never even thought of—the changes simply becoming part of what’s expected.

Wouldn’t really knowing the history of the women’s movement strengthen today’s young women? Not just to surprise them but also to deepen their understanding of what issues they still face and inspire them that it’s possible to make social change. And to discover the joy of finding each other and join again in pursuing common goals.

A come-uppance

There I was, facing a really busy October – traveling for seminars and keynote speeches,  performing in a play, a birthday coming up. All my plans made and intact. Running my life as usual — or so I thought..

Shows you what I know. On the day I was to leave for my acting in MA and my traveling to Canada for the seminar, I ended up in a surgeon’s office with an emergency operation scheduled for a birthday present! What? Whaddya mean? What about all my plans? People are depending on me! I promised!

What a come-uppance. There I was, assuming that all I ever need to do was say yes or no to what came along and start making plans. And it really did work that way. That was my life. Why would I ever stop to realize that this process I so took for granted was pretty remarkable? After all,  I did my daily TV talk show live for 11 years and never missed a show! I turned up and turned out for everything I set my mind to.  I was in charge, right?

Well, I became acquainted with some forces that put me in my place  in the humble corner pretty fast. My body had such different plans.  Not only introducing me to its own forces like pain but also with immovable schedules that overruled mine…

Oh, and the operation? Painful as hell. Much slower recovery than I expected (I’ve always been a very fast healer but this one had a mind of it’s own..) But I’m well on my way to mending and moving on. Even going to act in a play in NY on the 12th and 14th of Nov. and looking forward to the family descending for Thanksgiving.

But still – I did have to cancel the keynoter and the seminar and the play and all the promises I’d made and that still has me in a state of shock. I was stopped dead in my tracks. And it made me think.

Have you ever thought about all we take for granted as we proceed through life’s dizzying pace? What we count on? What we never consider? Wow-  I won’t forget this one for a while, I hope,  but I am afraid that as soon as I’m all well, I’ll probably go back to forgetting this life-lesson, too. And most of all—not stopping and noticing and being grateful for all the good luck I’ve had. And knowing that I’m not nearly in charge as I thought I was…

The Stumbles in Changing Careers

Well, I’ve been so busy with my new career – acting – that I keep being surprised that my old career—lecturing and consulting as a communication specialist and jury consultant – still keeps calling.

Suddenly I have a whole raft of speaking engagements coming up—talking to the East Coast’s  appellate and federal judges and lawyers, to executives at the National League of Cities conference, and to other conferences in  Miami and California  as well as also consulting on cases with one of my long-time clients.

And here I thought that was all over because I’m acting now!

I’m actually preparing to do the play I did Off Broadway in New York again  at  Shakespeare & Co.’s Studio Festival here in Lenox, MA on Labor Day. This is where they try out plays for next year’s season (!!) and you can imagine how that’s really occupying my mind.

Problem is—I am of two minds.  I had to read 700 pages of depositions to prepare for my consulting work next week while I am re-studying and memorizing my script again to be book-free for the play’s performance. And these two minds don’t sit lightly in my head.

My consulting mind is outer-directed – looking, thinking, analyzing facts as presented by an expert witness. How can I help make him clearer, more credible, more persuasive? To make his points more swiftly to a jury that doesn’t listen anymore since email and texting? To keep within the parameters of trial law and also make him not be so defensive, so obstructive, so self-aggrandizing? So I’m all involved in analyzing why he does what he does and finding ways to reach into that place and turn him in a new direction with new understanding – something I’ve done many times before, an always demanding, consuming process.

Yet my other mind – the acting one, the use-your-heart-and-soul one – is inner directed. Totally involved in my becoming another character. In my being what I want my witness to be – credible, clear, persuasive- reaching out to my audience to make them experience and identify with the woman I’m playing. To understand her, agonize with her, feel her almost be her. This work  is so internal and self-focused while the other is so other- directed, so intent on understanding someone else and affecting his behavior—making him help his jury-audience not only get his message (which is quite technical and complex) but also like and respect him.

So—career transitions are not easy. The paths are diverse and crowded with demands and issues and striving and yes, concern about how well can I do the new while I sink back down into the comfort of the old one I know. But life is full of challenges and how lucky I am to be able to choose mine and to make the uphill climb a willing one, not one that was just thrust upon me. I’m so grateful and aware of that.

What Happens When You Try a New Career

This blog-voice has been quiet for a few weeks (so unlike me!) but I was hardly silent during that time. I was acting in a wonderful new play, off- Broadway, as part of adding career number 10 – acting – to the others I’ve created in my continuous quest for self-expression and making a difference.

So this blog post is all about what happens when you launch yourself into the stratosphere of a new career. And I hope that it helps you try something new yourself.

The single most important surprise is the depth of the new territory and how much there is to learn. When was the last time you started learning something very deep and very new? Don’t you think that as we grow deeper into the years of our lives, we kind of find comfort levels in what we already know and we don’t face the challenge of new learning very often?

Well, here’s how it felt to go into new territory: I began building the character I was playing based on my small amount of past formal training, my greater amount of experience and my highly developed performer instincts. But my director confronted me with “Why does she say this here?” “What in her past created this reaction?” “ Would she really be this nice here? Why?”  So I found myself articulating answers I just had inside without ever knowing that I did, forcing myself to go into greater depths and think through so many aspects of her life in order to arrive at how I’d play each scene. And I discovered that I really could do that…

I also scared myself to death, thinking, “What have you done? Maybe you can’t memorize 48 pages of mainly you talking (I was the star of the show…) And there you’ll be, with your bare face hanging out!” That voice of self-doubt almost did me in as, true to a self-fulfilling prophecy, I did blank out totally in our first full-play rehearsal! The panic! The terror! The picture of me standing onstage with a full audience like an idiot and going blank! Did I ever reach out to friends to come and read lines with me endlessly till I convinced myself that I really DID know the whole thing. Oh, what agony!

So- taking on a new career meant conquering that self- doubt, that fear. Confronting that voice that seems to be alive and well in all of us, ready to rise up and squash our dreams at a moment’s notice. Talking back to that destructive spirit,  challenging it and finding a way to hold your own and prevail. To believe you can. That you will. And to finally allow yourself the joy of the experience. What new skills! What a new view of myself!

I’ve written this to help you all dare to stick the big toe in some new, very cold water. Although what you don’t know can scare you, you can screw up your courage to try, to dare to learn and explore. Don’t let the insecurity of being out of the old familiar comfort zones make you turn back.  Swallow hard, plant your feet  and fight! Fight for a new adventure—and what new corners of yourself you can explore and grow with. Find yourself in a whole new role, reacting and adjusting in totally new ways. Discover who else you are and can be— this is such a deeply rewarding venture. Try it! One big toe. Very cold water. See what happens…