Reflection: A Decade of Challenges & Transformations

I hardly put myself out there on a personal level, my essay is a reflection of technological change, perils of the environment, mindset shifts, creative realities, quantum philosophy, society, communities, and people. I experienced joy, sadness, purpose, challenges, and transformations throughout these last ten years.

As I set forth into this new decade, I look upon my dedication to solving problems. I find joy in understanding the human condition, identifying needs, and explaining solutions that bring forth ideas that create a better life experience. I am grateful for the teams of people I work with, those who pushed me to explore, think more openly, and those that take what I learned to bring these ideas to the world.

There were dramatic shifts in the way we communicate, consume, use technology, relate to each other, work, and live life. I’m astonished by all the external forces that caused chaos and influenced alterations to my path, your path, and our paths. The unstable economy generated much uncertainty. I learned to pivot, be flexible, mindful, ask for help, and move quickly. Controversies created opportunities, and I celebrate the discoveries and transitions of my experiences from the past ten years. This is a summary of my journey to convey purpose, change, challenges, leadership, and collaboration.

New York City was my home for many years. I said good-bye in 2009, and I was sent to Chicago, where I continued to provide communication research, strategy, and leadership. Most agencies, Burson among them and whom I worked for, were going through challenges. The comforting words from leaders brought hope during the Great Recession when layoffs were the norm. Gone were the days of big teams, large budgets, promotions, and raises. This time taught me to be resourceful with less while uncovering the truth and direction that would bring forth digital transformation to the brands and businesses I worked with.

Businesses needed convincing and evidence that the digital forms of communication would ensure adoption and acceptance by their consumers. I worked with extraordinary colleagues and teams at Burson, exploring and inventing many new types of communications brought to life through digital and technology. For instance, one app offered meal planning and coupons. Other purposes transformed websites giving consumers an omnichannel experience. My team and I questioned the definition of brand communications and public relations. We considered individual human behavior, and the influence of the community in the strategy, and used observational research to learn and engaged new-found ways of measuring key performance indicators.

For one client, their consumer community’s relayed on grocery shopping. I became fascinated with grocery stores and spent time observing shoppers, asking why and how they experienced this task. I wondered about the store displays, shelving, category departments, point of purchase, and wayfinding. Confident digital will revolutionize the grocery shopping experience.

I sought to uncover more insights, to help my team empathize with the grocery shoppers so concepts can be relatable, having a greater acceptance. I used a survey to gather shopper insights and launched it organically through social media channels. There was one specific group of shoppers with the most significant pain points: Mothers. Their attitude toward grocery shopping was one of drudgery. Their challenges included restocking pantries, meal planning, limited time, busy lives taking children to and from school and activities, maintaining the home, and working full-time. They behaved like economists, considering every detail of the grocery store excursion including travel, gas, least crowded times to shop, bring children with or go alone then pick up their children from school, and other stops along the way. The process between my team and the client was collaborative. Together we took the findings and created an extraordinary innovative way to ease the frustration for shoppers, devise an accessible shopping list, meal planning tools to save mothers time. Grocery shopping apps created a connection between brand and consumer, literally keeping the brand in the palm of the consumers’ hands and serving their needs.

I enjoyed my time at Burson, though I admit I spent most of my time working and free time exploring digital technology and creativity concepts. I needed an outlet, I used my creative talents to explore new ways of imagining. Many years prior, I got interested in quantum philosophy. Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe was among the books I read. Talbot’s descriptions of quantum philosophy captivated me so much, so I authored and illustrated The Other Side of the Box using Erwin Schrodinger’s famous cat in the box thought experiment. Schrodinger’s thought experiment taught me about subjective and objective perception and observation. My illustrated guide is about thinking more openly, looking at insights from many angles, understanding, and challenging attitudes.

In 2010, I left Chicago for Boulder. The Boulder culture is legendary for the enterprising, energetic, tech entrepreneurial community, and I met and I learned from many people living in the community and helped those who asked for my advice and guidance. The Rocky Mountains made a refreshing welcome with the wildlife and nature abound. I cherished the vast and delicate ecological system.

I no sooner finished moving into my new home, when Boulder experienced its first major fire in 100 years. I saw the massive plumb of smoke rise over Broadway. The community reacted with incredible speed, quickly organized, responded, and helped each other. Their smart use of social media mobilized the community to gather, get and give to those people displaced and in need because of the fire. I published Community During Crisis reporting on what Governments can learn from the Boulder community’s usage of social media during the Fire. Amanda Pingel, a Regis University student of mine, made smart use of Google maps and collaborative tools. Amanda made it easy to identify hotspots, evacuation areas, and emergency response zones. The community’s helpful outpouring inspired and taught me much about the society of caring.

My time in Boulder came to an end in 2011, and my journey took me back to New York City. Creative Realities sought me out to provide research and strategy for retail, consumer, and pharmaceutical brands wanting to connect the physical with the digital world. CRI had a remarkable team comprised of leaders in digital, retail, marketing, and technology. I was thrilled to be included. The CRI process incorporated design thinking to transform traditional retail, consumer, and pharmaceutical brands.

One of my favorite projects was the transformation of the traditional grocery store. The challenge was to provide freshly harvested produce, ease the strain on the environment, and give shoppers an inspiring experience. One of the requirements was putting a farm on the rooftop of the grocery store. This endeavor instilled new beliefs about using technology to solve enterprise environmental problems relating to water, energy, cooling waste, and the desire for fresh produce. I loved this idea because it brings forward environmental stewardship and leadership.

Another project I enjoyed was solving the challenges of managing day to day routine for people with a life-threatening disorder. I conducted ethnographic research and understood the psychographic consequences of teens with life-threatening complications. The team came up with brilliant concepts from using biometric bracelets, dashboards that incorporated community support and healthcare professionals, meal planning, and calorie counting applications.

CRI developed an extensive experiential strategy and using new technologies to solve business and brand problems. The experiential strategy process led me to author Reimagining the In-Store Digital Retail Experience, to help retailers create inspirational engagements and connect with their customers throughout the shopper’s journey. My timely guide endeavored to help the struggling retail economy, which suffered many closures. The digital disruption created the shift in consumer behavior from in-store shopping to preferring eCommerce.

My experience at CRI sparked a newfound interest in physical product design. I met with Yani and Jodi Deros, smart founders of ATOM innovation and product development. They gave me the opportunity of managing their research lab. The team at ATOM was very engaged, I sat among creative thinkers, researchers, designers, and engineers, using design thinking to gather ideas and collaboratively solve problems. ATOM got to exercise the full depth and breadth of my research and marketing strategy skills to uncover insights, test design theories, and collect the answers to many complex questions about product design, innovation, and utilization. ATOM’s research process is the best I have ever experienced. Their approach is deep and begins with a detailed plan, that builds exercises, synthesis data, and define insights, and use a private online community. The outcome produces prototypes that can be tested through the community.

Being involved with the research and design for physical products and spaces, including retail spaces, pharmaceutical, medical devices, and consumer products, really widen my field in attaining knowledge to explain why and how people engage with brands and products. I am enthusiastic about the technological possibilities and concerned about the consequences and impact on society and the environment that technologies make.

Exponential technologies inspired acceptance and adoption, and much eagerness generated for IoT, robots, bots, and AI. The rapid transformation and innovation of technology caused me to raise awareness of the confluence of humans, machines, and the environment. The technological change produced products that improve our lives, and harm the environment, continue to disrupt markets, jobs, and our way of life.

Acceptance of mobile, ease of information, connection, and consumerism caused a tipping point on the over-reliance and neediness of technology and will lead to eventual posthumanism. I have hopes that inventors and technologists will thoroughly examine the unintended consequences of exponential technologies from multiple perspectives including the environment, economics, society, human consumption, biology, and psychology. Technology must include the purpose of preserving the environment and human life. I remain optimistic technology can be used to solve the destructive problems it creates, and responsible design is implemented as a best practice.

I appreciate IEET, Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies, for publishing my posts and presentations.

In the last half of the decade, I headed up innovation and research for a boutique consulting firm. I dedicated the practice to helping banks and financial institutes understand bank customers. I conducted and produced reports from seven studies on bank customers, bank mergers, mobile banking, the future of banking, and omnichannel. I learned much about the fears and anxieties bank customers cope with their decisions over their financial situation. A common psychosocial theme is their lack of trust in banks. Customers expressed negative comments especially about the banking crisis and an overwhelming feeling of being cheated out of help. Business and brands take note in the strategy for loyalty, creating trust are essential to loyalty, and equally important in putting into practice a trustworthy culture.

I found satisfaction in explaining the connection between community banks and their customers. This led to an opportunity to create a design thinking lab for community banks to explore innovation possibilities and opportunities to connect with their customers. At the same time, BAI accepted a piece I wrote about innovation strategies for community banks.

Over this period, I had tough decisions and sacrifices to make in my personal life. My father’s cancer worsened, and I did not want my mother to go through this journey alone. Caring for my parents was the priority. I was brokenhearted and saddened there is no relief for suffering and loss. Through this intensely personal experience of pain and anguish, I realized the complexities and obstacles of caregiving. I searched for support solutions. On my quest, I met Debashis Chowdhury, founder of the nonprofit, ServicePlace to provide solutions for eldercare concerns. I volunteered my research skills to uncover insights. ServicePlace team and I interviewed seniors, elders, healthcare professionals, and caregivers. The findings validated theories, identified the need to create an innovative product design to help with eldercare and caregiving. The ServicePlace prototype is in the testing phase.

My experiences with the communities and people I studied helped me understand Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation. But I wanted to understand more. An ongoing project of mine is Generations: Evolving Life Stages. I investigate the life stages, transitions, and effects on behavior and mindset across generations. I explore their present use of technology and discover their future needs. I began my study in 2018 and presented my preliminary findings at DigSouth. My goal is the continue gathering generational insights, offer a dashboard to inventors and entrepreneurs so that they can visualize transitions, opportunities, and possibilities.

As it seems of late, generational differences are used to divide and conquer. Rather than celebrating our transitions, learnings, and experiences as we change and grow through life’s transitions, we admonish generational differences and faults — adding another layer of hatred between humans. An observation of mine: it is easier to control disgruntled alienated people than is it to influence people who are content and well balanced. A new goal I added to my research is to prove we are more alike and accepting of each other and debunk the combative generational stereotyping.

I learned hard lessons without human-centric research when I only relied on assumptions, which are not enough to validate strategies for brand and product and put the business at risk. Over the past ten years, I conducted, analyzed, and provided findings from 58 human-centric studies to help companies and brands transform. My approach to research combines quantitative to measure demography, identify features, functions, and test concepts and qualitative to get to the heart of the human condition, express psychosocial consequences, attitudes, motivations, and behaviors.

I developed a method to uncover deep insights so that a brand could empathize with their community and learn about their consumers’ desires and wants. I envisioned and created an exciting research method using engaging experiential focus groups (EFG) that combine consumers, customers, business, and brand stakeholders in exploratory experiences. I developed EFG programs and conducted 31 studies, of which the findings helped businesses and brands grow and develop communication strategies that are meaningful, media placement on target, packaging design that is usable, and product design that adds meaning to the life of the consumer and gets the job done.

The last ten years bring cautionary tales and awareness to the substantial detrimental changes to the environment brought about by humans and explosive industry growth. This next decade I am optimistic that environmental problems will be solved. I have taken my stewardship of the environment seriously and lessened my carbon footprint. Automation, robotics, AI, and technology will be designed to help humanity rather than contribute to our loss of humanity and eventual posthumanism. Humans are still evolving and learning, and there are behavioral trends in mindfulness, collaboration, compassion, trustworthiness, and empathy that foster new mindsets. Let’s not get pulled into the contentious rhetoric, used to deter and divide, and focus on putting humans at the confluence of the environment and technology to take control of our present and future.

I learned to pivot, make sacrifices, give, and receive over this decade of challenges and transformations. I changed my mindset every time I added something new to the vast knowledge I acquired on the human condition. I continue to enjoy and collaborate with teams, to solve problems to improve lives.

Thank you for reading my post and getting to know me a little better.