Transforming Meetings & Management, The New Bit Set By Apple For The Immersive Era, & The Great Refactor Of Creativity
Let’s discuss how AI may be a better manager of every company’s most precious assets (us). We’ll also explore early implications of Apple’s VisionOS, and the great refactor of creativity.
Edition #7 of Implications.
This edition explores forecasts and implications around: (1) the transformation of meetings and management as we know them, (2) the new bit Apple has set for engagement and commerce in the immersive era with the launch of VisionOS and Vision Pro, and (3) the great refactor of creativity (and sustainable advantage of story!). And then, as always, a list of other things/start-ups/spaces i’ve been thinking about…
If you’re new, here’s the download on what to expect. This ~monthly analysis is written for founders + investors I work with, and a small group of subscribers.
If you missed the big annual analysis (shared more broadly), or more recent private editions of Implications, check out recent analysis and archives here. The last edition covering the wave of hyper-personalization and impending surge of wildly human-intensive non-scalable experiences prompted more discussion and inbound ideas than any other edition. OK, now let’s dive in…
As the initial period of novelty for new tech gives way to tangible utility, we’ll discover unexpected transformations. Meetings and management will be reimagined as drastically more efficient, shorter, evaluated for ROI, and AI-driven. Management will also be reimagined from the ground up in the age of AI giving rise to “intelligent organizations.”
The “intelligent organization” is a modern construct for how we should spend and manage our most precious resource - human energy - in the pursuit of progress and advancing our respective industries. Since the earliest incarnations of businesses, we have clung to a structure of management that scales by adding layers, and an operating model that brings us together (and takes us away from actual “doing” work) to learn and share information and make decisions slowly. We spend too much time getting aligned in lieu of making decisions. We all know how expensive and inefficient meetings are, and we all know how unprepared and ineffective managers can be. How might new technology transform the way we meet and manage?
“Meetings” will be deconstructed from the hot random mess they typically are, liberating time and vastly improving the productivity of gathering people offline. If you believe that time is the most valuable asset in a company, then meetings are every company’s most expensive activity. I often do the math of the cost of a meeting with large groups of leaders; it isn’t pretty. The most worthwhile meetings are either super small and focused on solving a specific problem, or are incredibly contentious. Passionate debate representing very different approaches to tough problems is humans at their best. So, imagine a world where the problems to be solved are 10x more clear, where peoples’ ideas and positions are clearly classified and presented upfront, and meetings are only scheduled to debate as opposed to commentate and summarize. In such a world, what types of collaborative work should be synchronous or asynchronous? What new products, platforms, and company norms emerge as a result? Some companies have attempted new approaches to meetings, like Murmur, that help teams define policies, norms and roles up front, and offer an asynchronous way for people to engage before all getting together. With the rise of automatic transcription and AI analysis, some other startups are attempting to measure and score meetings (and participants) to offer an audit and feedback loop.
New alternatives to traditional meetings will emerge that unbundle the many elements, objectives, and expectations of meetings. If you unbundle a meeting, you’ll see a number of distinct parts like bringing people up to speed, sharing strategy and inspiring the group, getting alignment from colleagues, getting approvals from leaders, framing a problem, and debating a problem. There are also the less quantifiable outcomes like socializing new ideas, building rapport with a team, and spontaneous fun. Instead of trying to accomplish all of this in a room, where are the point solutions that make parts of this 10x better? Take Roam, described by CEO and Founder (and former YEXT CEO and co-founder) Howard Lerman as “an all-in-one Cloud HQ designed to bring a whole distributed company together in one headquarters.” Roam offers a visual layout of a virtual office filled with rooms and our little avatars moving around and accessible via audio (depending on the “room” you’re in). Early adopters are raving about shorter meetings, the sensation of working together, and the benefits of an emptier calendar. It turns out that a visual presence of your team’s availability coupled with spontaneous chats replaces a lot of scheduled (and expensive) meetings. As always, great new tech brings us back to the way things once were, but with more scale and efficiency. I’ve seen a few other startups developing an AI layer for the period before a meeting happens. Imagine an artificially intelligent filter that helps us determine who should (and shouldn’t) be in a meeting, what the agenda should be, and what actions are required? I think we will find that computers are much better at allocating human time than humans.
AI-powered management tools will isolate problems and decisions, and then streamline decisiveness. I’ve talked about the notion of “organizational debt” for years, which I define as the accumulation of decisions in an organization that should have been made but weren’t. As a result, teams (and entire companies) show signs of atrophy as ambitious people move forward without alignment while other people “wait” for answers and get out of sync, and careers falter. Organizational debt is not reduced by having more meetings. It is only reduced through better management and decisiveness. I’ve seen at least two companies reimagining management practices to be AI driven. And while it sounds crazy at first that we might “work for a computer,” I firmly believe that management will become a hybrid (human-machine) discipline. One thing the startup and corporate worlds have in common is being plagued by inexperienced and bad managers who have no idea how to monitor and measure performance, have no idea how to lead without micromanaging, no idea how to run a 1:1 or manage careers responsibly, and struggle to figure these mechanics out. Why not assist these managers with AI that crunches the data and suggests what to ask and do when? (and yes, I could use some of this support as well!) Imagine an AI assistant that partners with you throughout every management experience - from giving feedback to your team, identifying red flags in performance, suggesting goals to set and motivational advice to share, and making decisions about rewards. Such an AI assistant would help remove cognitive bias and inform such management practices with real data. Perhaps we’re still enduring the painful days of “manual management” and desperately need to take this leap?
Humans will do more leadership and less management in the age of AI. While I am forecasting a transformation in management, leadership remains critical and human. Bold and counterintuitive visions are what sustain progress. “More of the same” (aka everyday management) always fails organizations over time. The flag planting, ethics setting, charismatic choreographers of an organization will be more essential than ever before. One might say that AI will liberate managers from all the process stuff to focus more leadership. And perhaps we’ll have fewer managers and more leaders as a result? Let us make it so.
Key interface decisions and technology breakthroughs in Apple’s launch of VisionOS help set a new bit for the future of immersive experiences when it comes to engagement, identity, and creativity.
While the promise and possibilities of augmented and immersive digital experiences have long been discussed, Apple’s latest release adds resolution to how our everyday experiences will evolve. I try NOT to cover trendy tech news in these editions, but some of these have been brewing for a while and are worth sharing now that this news is finally released and I can share some of the (very early) implications I am thinking about. I have long asserted that the ultimate interface will be one inch from your retinas.
Privacy & Readiness for Persistent Real-time Authenticated Commerce: Apple shared some detail on the benefits of iris recognition for security (preventing unauthorized access to your content…and world), and alluded to the ability to buy things with your eyes. If you think about the prospects of knowing EXACTLY who is using a device (not just who authenticated or gave access with a passcode, but literally the person who is using the device with 100% accuracy), you can imagine a literal frictionless experiences for commerce. If you go into a virtual store (and someday a physical store store when the form factor get smaller and lighter) wearing one of these devices, you should be able to just grab stuff and walk out without any check-out process. Truly being able to “buy with your eyes” with persistent real-time identity verification unlocks all sorts of capabilities like paying by the minute to watch movies or play games, and commerce funnels could become a step-function more efficient. Side note, one of the ex-members of this team recently shared a bit about the tech that tracks your eyes, “One of the coolest results involved predicting a user was going to click on something before they actually did. That was a ton of work and something I’m proud of. Your pupil reacts before you click in part because you expect something will happen after you click. So you can create biofeedback with a user's brain by monitoring their eye behavior, and redesigning the UI in real time to create more of this anticipatory pupil response. It’s a crude brain computer interface via the eyes, but very cool.” I think we’ll see many more implications of this.
No accessories required, just gestures. I was impressed by the design constraints of gesture-based controls, and believe these natural controls will unlock a level of simplicity by helping people succeed with the new technology just by acting natural.
Virtual representation of you, perhaps accessorizable if not portable. Mike Rockwell, who leads the technology group developing the Vision device and is someone i’ve gotten to know over the years, talked about the depth mapping performed by new devices for a user’s face. This scan creates a three-dimensional version of you that represents your identity to others that you may encounter in FaceTime, games, or other third-party applications. This is very significant because Apple will ultimately own the avatars that represent us in immersive experiences, and will have the opportunity to accessorize these avatars with sanctioned objects to amp up our digital fashion (perhaps NFTs if they want to foster an open portable ecosystem, or perhaps not…). I have long been excited about the prospects of portable avatars for digital experiences, so this is a very promising step.
Advanced texture, material, and 3D creation applications will become widely adopted for the immersive era. Every company in the world will need to have their product catalog if not their entire once-2D experience available to current and prospective customers within 3D immersive experiences. Just look at Disney, for starters. They now face an era where they seek to bring their theme park experiences, media streaming applications, and entirely new forms of engagement into every customer’s home - and field of view. Every furniture company will want to have virtual immersive showrooms where customers can browse and inspect every inch of their merchandise before a purchase (with their eyes!). To make all of this happen, every object needs to be captured or sculpted, made photo-realistic with textures and materials, rendered, animated for engagement, and possibly even personalized. At Adobe, the Substance 3D collection is one of our fastest growing businesses (all started from an acquisition we did over four years ago of a company called Allegorithmic), and we’ve seen some early pick-up of these products by leading e-commerce and media companies that “get it.” But I expect we are still in the very early days.
Value of collapsed categories of technology, and willingness to disrupt yourself. I was struck by Mike Rockwell’s comparison of the Vision Pro device to buying a massive 4K television, top of the line Mac, and top of the line sound system - all wrapped into one, prior to sharing the starting price point of $3,499. Of course, the price doesn’t matter at this point as we’re just getting started and future versions will likely make the product more accessible. But the point is true: we’re not going to need to buy as many flat screen televisions and sound systems and computers as these devices become more ubiquitous. Much like many of us no longer have a land line at home, I suspect we’ll stop putting flat screens in future bedrooms and offices. We may not even take our laptops on trips anymore. Kudos to Apple for the willingness to dive in.
Human empathy-driven features drive mainstream comfort - and ultimately adoption. It’s early days, and most hot takes right now are “wow, nice pair of goggles, Apple!,” but there were some very deliberate and technologically challenging decisions made in both the hardware and software design that should engender a positive relationship between people and this new device. These decisions will ultimately drive adoption. For example, being able to see a representation of a person’s eyes when they are in an augmented reality mode (and a different animation when not), or being able to see and manually adjust the edges of your real-world peripheral vision when in a virtual space. There are a few other nuances that will break down some barriers of isolation and discomfort from removing yourself from the real world.
The Great Refactor Of Creativity & The Sustainable Advantage of Story, Process, & Ingenuity
A week ago or so, our team launched the first round of GenerativeAI-powered capabilities in Photoshop, powered by Firefly (Adobe’s family of Generative AI models that we built entirely in-house). Here’s a tweet from the early morning of launch. As someone who has studied the creative industry and workflows for many years, it’s inspiring and always somewhat surprising to see how new technology unlocks new possibilities and conjures up new questions. I believe Generative AI will make humans more creatively confident and simultaneously raise the bar for what creative professionals are able to accomplish. Here are a few specific implications of this new technology I am thinking about:
Less Work, More Flow: We’ve known for years, based on customer research, that our creative professional customer base spends upwards of 50% of their time on self-reported mundane, repetitive work (think meticulously resizing assets for different marketing and social formats, carefully selecting strands of hair when retouching, etc). The question is how (and if) creative professionals will use all this newfound time and energy in ways that may surprise us. The Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, best known for coining the mental state of “flow” that spawns creativity, talks about ways of achieving mental focus and how to clear obstacles that inhibit optimal creativity. With proper implementation, Generative AI can offer a powerful boost to the “flow” state that should ultimately improve creative discoveries and outcomes.
Process Shifts: One potential consequence of AI significantly refactoring the creative process is losing the seemingly mindless “process” time doing the mundane stuff that ultimately triggers new ideas and thought patterns consciously or subconsciously. I firmly believe that time spent on process remains important, but should be spent on higher-order processes. The key here is to not just reduce process but shift it. Imagine spending that extra newfound time meticulously building or organizing your mood boards - or doing more research, or sketching? There are undeniable intangible benefits to the process part of creativity, but we would be naive to think that it is perfectly optimal as it is. AI gives us a chance to refactor AND shift process time elsewhere.
More surface area of discovery, more possibilities, better outcomes. Any great designer will tell you that “time” is among the greatest constraints in finding the best solution to a problem. Why? Because time is the factor that determines just how much surface area of possibility can be explored to find the best solution. Time is what allows us (or prohibits us) from more cycles of iteration to discover something truly great. Ultimately, the bar and possibility for creativity will go up across segments as a result of this new technology.
More accessibility for all. And for everyone who has ever come into a tool like Photoshop for the first time intimidated by the cockpit of controls and never returned, this era of AI-assisted creativity is for you. With our amplified sense of creative confidence, paired with more accessible tools, we will all be able to do more of what humans can only do - share our human stories. Ultimately, effective creativity is creativity that moves us. We are moved by emotion, by craft and consideration, and by human stories. Refactored creativity should allow all of us to use these tools to do more of what only humans can do - and what humans will crave more than ever before in the years to come: craft, story, and meaning.
Finally, here’s a set of ideas and worthwhile mentions (and stuff I want to keep out of web-scraper reach!) intended for those I work with and a smaller group of subscribers. We’ll cover a few things that caught my eye and have stayed on my mind, as well as my latest areas of interest as an angel investor. Thanks again for following along, and to those who have reached out with ideas and feedback.