Monday, September 11, 2023

Day 3 at INBOUND: Two Words – Reese Witherspoon


“If you want to change the stories, you need to change the storytellers.” 

— Reese Witherspoon

When we decided not to attend INBOUND 2023 in person, one of my biggest disappointments came when I learned that Reese Witherspoon would be one of the Main Stage speakers.

I love Reese Witherspoon. I saw the original “Legally Blonde” in the movie theatre like half a dozen times. (I was a paid tester for the precursor to “MoviePass,” so we saw it a LOT.) We also drove to Des Moines to see “Legally Blonde: The Musical” and then saw it again when it came to Omaha. “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde” wasn’t as good as the original, but I’ve been anxiously awaiting a rumored third sequel. I also loved this pandemic skit that Laura Bell Bundy did in character as Elle Woods.

But anyway, knowing we weren’t going to Boston this year, and hearing about Reese Witherspoon being a speaker, I was bummed. So I was thrilled when HubSpot announced that the Main Stage speakers would be live-streamed — including Reese!

But before Reese, there were sessions on Brand Building (with BeyoncĂ©’s publicist), “How to Build a $100M Community,” a panel session on “The Future of Media,” an interview with the founders of HubSpot on how they built the company, and then a session on the growth of the Angel City Football Club (I missed most of this one because I was on a client call).

One change from the first two days of INBOUND (read about them here: Day 1 and Day 2) was that it was 10:06 a.m. Central time (more than two hours in) before the first mention of artificial intelligence. (The first two days were AI intensive!)

And then it was time for Reese Witherspoon! 

Her session was titled, “Lessons on Innovation, Leadership, and Navigating Change.” The one disappointing part was that the 2023 Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) strike and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike meant that she wouldn’t be talking about her past, present, or future work, as the interviewer, Zinhle Essamuah, anchor of NBC News Daily (NBC), mentioned in her introduction of the actress, producer, and entrepreneur.

Still, there was plenty to talk about. 

Witherspoon described how she wasn’t seeing a lot of scripts with female leads, so she decided to fill that gap. “I can’t expect to make change by staying in the same circle,” she said. “I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.” So she started the first iteration of her production/media company, Hello Sunshine.

She self-funded the company. “It was high risk,” she noted. “Being famous does not equate to having business acumen.” She said she didn’t know how to be an executive, but she did know “critical life skills,” — for example: “Show up, do what you say you’re going to do, return emails, and if you tell someone you’re going to read their script, do it.”

Her experience acting helped prepare her to work collaboratively. She laughed when she noted, “10 percent of (her) job is acting; the other 90 percent is helping people get along.”

But it wasn’t easy. Witherspoon said that the award nominations flowed in, but the money did not. She said she had the proof she could create important work, but “I wasn’t paid appropriately for what I was bringing to the table.” So she retooled. She raised capital and got the company on solid financial footing. Persistence was key.

“Nobody believes as much in my dream as I do. I would wake up and do something to further my dream forward,“ she added.

Earlier in the week before INBOUND, the news broke that Witherspoon had sold a majority stake in a clothing line she had started, Draper James. It was a completely different growth path than Hello Sunshine. “Retail is hard. It’s really difficult.” But, she noted, she finally found the “right partners” and said she was excited for the company’s future growth. She will keep a seat on the board of directors, and has several family members involved in the brand’s retail presence in Nashville.

Essamuah asked Witherspoon her advice to people looking to maximize their bottom line. She responded, “It doesn’t matter where you get to in a business, you always have to be adapting.” She noted that her business has changed “again and again.” One thing that is consistent: “It’s so important that the audience is understood, spoken to correctly, and they feel seen and heard. That’s all storytelling is. That’s all media is. That’s all the relationship with your customer is,” she said. “Do you see me? Do you hear me? How do you make me feel? Do I see myself reflected in the stories you tell?”

For us as career industry professionals, this is an important message. Whether we’re telling our client’s story (in the resume) or our own story (in our own marketing), understanding our audience is critical. 

After spending three days “attending” the virtual Main Stage sessions at INBOUND, that was an important reminder. Artificial intelligence is here to stay, but AI can’t replace personal connections and relationships. 

Witherspoon ended by answering a question about the best advice she had ever received. She mentioned an Ava DuVernay quote she loves: “If your dream is only about you, it’s too small.” 

“Every single person in this room as the ability to change another person’s life, and I think you’re going to go out and do it,” Witherspoon said.

Did you miss yesterday’s blog post? Read it here:

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Day 2 at INBOUND: I Took 24 Pages of Notes (and Someday, AI Will Take Those Notes For Me)


What was the big takeaway from today (Day 2) at INBOUND 23?

That someday (probably today, actually), I won’t have to type furiously to capture everything I want to remember from a day’s worth of conference sessions. 

Mentioned prominently by several speakers today was how generative AI can eliminate the drudgery of work, allowing creative professionals to focus on the work that matters.

We already know that AI can transcribe videos pretty accurately — Teachable added that functionality to its course platform recently — so the fact that I spent most of my day watching sessions and virtually transcribing the speakers as they talked about how AI could take notes for us in the future and even — with “digital twins” — represent us in meetings … well, let’s just say the irony wasn’t lost on me.

But I’ve learned over the years that I learn best when I’m typing the information myself. So I’m not sure how that will work in the future, but for today, I got a LOT out of the sessions by watching the videos myself and doing the transcribing personally.

There were three sessions today that I found particularly impactful. I’ll try to give you a couple of key takeaways from each.

The Captain’s Playbook: Strategies for Success

The second day of INBOUND started an hour earlier than yesterday, but I didn’t want to miss this session, so I was up early. One of the neat things about INBOUND is the Spotlight sessions that bring in some big names to speak. In 2019, we got to hear from Jennifer Garner. Last year, former President Obama did the closing keynote.

This morning, Derek Jeter was the first speaker. Jeter isn’t just a former baseball player (and a good one, at that!). He’s a businessman, founder of a nonprofit, and father. His talk wove in elements of each of these. One of his key messages was about failure — and the resiliency required to survive it. “I played a sport where, if you fail for long enough, you go to the Hall of Fame. Baseball and the weatherman are the only two jobs where you can fail that much and still have a job,” Jeter said. “You have to get used to failure and try to find a positive in anytime you’ve done something wrong.”

He talked about creating a “winning culture.” He said, “You always hear people say they want ‘Everyone on the same page.’’ He said you need enough people on the same page, pulling in the same direction. “You have to make people feel they are part of the same team, that they are valuable.”

Listening to him made me want to watch his documentary, “The Captain” (which Jon looked up and it’s on ESPN+. We’ll definitely be checking it out.

Getting Candid: Lessons in Workplace Culture and Feedback

I had never heard of the concept of “Radical Candor” before this session, but I learned a lot about it — including that I want to try it in real life.

“Radical Candor is about caring and changing. It helps organizations become more collaborative,” says the book’s author, Kim Scott. Scott told the origin story of the concept. She and her dog were out for a walk and the dog was almost hit by a car. A man nearby said, “I can tell you really love that dog.” But, he added, you’re going to kill that dog if you don’t get her to sit. He pointed to the ground said “SIT” and the dog sat. He added, “It’s not mean, it’s clear.”

I like that: It’s not mean, it’s clear.

I got a sense of the Radical Candor framework from Scott’s presentation, but I’m looking forward to reading the book

One of the most important pieces of the concept was “It’s difficult to change personality vs. behavior.” Focus on what you observe.

Scott noted that “Some people have used Radical Candor to be obnoxious.” Someone told her, “It’s not a superpower if it can’t be used for evil.”

Preparing for the AI Boom: The Perspective of a Futurist

I’ve been in sessions with futurists before, but never one talking about the future of AI. This one was interesting. Sinead Bovell, the founder of Waye, first took us back to 1993. “The World Wide Web has just dropped. People are talking about it. They don’t fully understand it. We don’t know the industries that will be invented,” she said. “Explain to people from then how we live today: social media, apps, the creator economy. Imagine what has yet to be invented in a world where we co-exist with smart machines.”

With that in mind, where we are today with AI makes more sense. Bovell says we really haven’t seen anything yet when it comes to AI. She said right now, people are treating AI as a gadget. But, she adds, we haven’t invented the things that will exist on top of AI. She said it’s like the camera has been invented, but movies haven’t.

When it comes to the workforce, Bovell says employers are asking the wrong questions. They are asking “What roles can I replace with AI? Where can I leverage this for the bottom line?” She said they should be thinking about, “How can I add value with these systems?” She encourages attendees to be thinking “3, 5, 10 years down the road. If you’re only thinking 3-5 years down the road, things will look very different. If you were completely caught off guard by the breakthroughs in AI this year, you’re not looking far enough ahead.”

Bovell provided several “use cases” for how AI might impact us in the future. She talked about a chatbot as a part of a team — you can converse with it and it can answer your questions, create A/B tests, and execute a project. It’s still up to you to make the decision about how to move forward, but AI can add value and transform your team.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Day 1 blog post, “change” and “artificial intelligence” are the two themes of this year’s conference. Today’s sessions really focused on both.

I can’t wait for day 3. Two words: “Reese Witherspoon.”

Did you miss yesterday’s blog post? Read it here:

Insights From Day 1 of INBOUND 23: An AI Drinking Game and How Technology Let Me Down

Read Day 3’s blog post here:

Day 3 at INBOUND: Two Words – Reese Witherspoon

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Insights From Day 1 of INBOUND 23: An AI Drinking Game and How Technology Let Me Down

As I mentioned in my email last week to Resume Writers’ Digest subscribers, Jon and I decided not to attend HubSpot’s marketing conference, INBOUND 2023, this year. It’s an awesome conference, and we will miss being in Boston in September for the third time!

But we aren’t completely missing out, because HubSpot is live-streaming some of the daily sessions. Today was Day 1, and I wanted to share some key insights from the keynote session, and my thoughts.

There are approximately 12,000 in-person attendees in Boston, and Jon and I were among the estimated 100,000 people watching online.

First of all, looking at the livestream session descriptions, you’ll see it’s heavy on artificial intelligence (AI)-related topics. That was initially a little off-putting to me — but I was pleasantly surprised by the actual sessions themselves. I joked on a group text with our friend Jason (who is attending INBOUND in person) that we could make an AI “drinking game” where you have to take a drink every time they say, "AI."

His response was: “I’m not sure even I can survive that drinking game. Just reading the agenda for today is 14 shots.”

Since I drink Cherry Cokes, I’d survive … but to say that AI is THE topic of conversation this year would be an understatement.

And a nod to the “How Technology Let Me Down” part of the headline of this blog post: As I mentioned, the sessions are live-streamed. So I was taking notes as it went along. I’ve mentioned before that I absolutely LOVE Evernote … but today, Evernote failed me. In the opening session, there were three separate speakers. As I started to write the notes for the third speaker, I noticed that half of my notes from the second speaker had disappeared. I pay for the Premium version of Evernote, so I thought maybe I had overwritten part of the note accidentally, so I went back to check my version history to restore the note.

Nope. No luck. That wasn’t the issue. The content had just disappeared. 

Fortunately, it appears that I can go back and re-watch the second speaker of the first session and re-capture my notes. But UGH! After realizing that, I took the remainder of the day’s notes in Microsoft Word. Jon mentioned that there is an update for Evernote, and we’ll be updating it tonight to see if that fixes it. (In pasting in my notes from Microsoft Word after the last session, part of it didn't paste into Evernote either. So yeah, we’ll be doing the update to the app.)

One of my favorite things about attending conferences — whether that’s a resume writing conference or a marketing conference — is the inspiration. The content (especially actionable content) is important, but the ability to just step back from daily activities is such a critical thing for me.

Now, unfortunately for me, I couldn’t completely unplug from daily life. We’re getting new siding put on the house after a June 2022 hailstorm and I had to take my Honda Pilot in for an oil change (it was supposed to be yesterday, but my mechanic had to reschedule).

Ok, onto the highlights from the keynote session.

HubSpot Keynote

The first of the three speakers during the keynote was Yamini Rangan, CEO of HubSpot. 

Change is the theme. Technology is changing. The way customers buy is changing. How we connect with customers needs to change.

Artificial intelligence isn’t new — it’s been around for decades. But predictive AI — which predicts the future based on past data — has the potential to transform knowledge and creative work.

If you put the word “artificial” aside, focus on “intelligence.” That’s the shift happening with AI — going from acquiring information to acting on intelligence. What’s the best way to use this intelligence? Rangan says, “The intelligent way to use intelligence is to drive customer connection.” The power of acting on intelligence is to “connect deeply” with customers. That connection matters, she says, “because it drives growth.” She added that customers who focus on customer connection saw five times more growth than the average company. Companies who consistently connect with customers through every stage of the customer journey saw 19% more growth.

“No matter the segment or industry, the more you engage with your customers, the more you can grow,” Rangan said. “Customer connection drives growth. AI can drive connection at scale. Always start with the customer. Get deeply curious about your customer’s journey.” Getting to know customers on a granular level — understanding the whole person — is the key.

“Customer expectations are changing. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers to understand this change — from how they discover and consider the product to how they buy and use these products,” she added.

The customer journey:

Discover. This is changing from search to social. You use to be able to search and get links from all over the Internet. Now, customers are discovering products before they search — on social media. “Customers don’t want to search — they want to get social.”

Consider. Customers want to learn more. How they learn is changing from “clicks” to “conversations.” Before, when your customer wanted information, they went to your website. They would click, filter, and sort through information. All that clicking is time-consuming and inefficient, especially in the world of ChatGPT. Now, they want to go to your website and chat. They want a one-to-one helpful conversation to find out exactly what they need. “They don’t want to convert on your website; they want to converse on your website.” Their expectations are going from being okay getting personalized information to getting personal insights. 

Buy. Make it easy to buy. Don’t make them give you information they’ve already provided. Customers expect you to give them insights every time they connect with them, regardless of the channel. Personal is tailored. They expect insights that are specific to them.

Use. “This is where the real work begins.” Rangan says that customer expectations have changed from being okay with reactive help to getting proactive help. They submit a ticket or call in or follow up with an email to get the answer they need — but, most of the time, they don’t get the answers they are looking for. She says 98% of customers find service interactions frustrating, but you can use AI to “delight them proactively.”

She ended by saying, “AI can be the most profound change to transform marketing, sales, and service.”

Next up in the keynote was Andy Pitre, Executive Vice President of the Product Team. He also talked about change, and how it can be hard.

“This is the age of intelligence,” he noted. “Work smarter, not harder.” He talked about how the HubSpot CRM centralizes your customer data in a connected ecosystem, giving you the tools to customize the customer experience.

His part of the presentation focused more on the integration of AI into the HubSpot product itself. (And this was the part of my notes that Evernote lost, so I’ll have to go back and rewatch his section.)

The final part of the keynote was Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot and current Chief Technology Officer (CTO). He’s famous for his “dad jokes” in his speeches, and he didn’t disappoint. 

He started the presentation talking about how his son has been using GPT for the past couple of years. His son is now an advanced user, and built a role-play game that uses GPT. Shah said that English will become “the most popular programming language in the world” thanks to GPT. (Users will be able to program using English instead of code.)

He said advances in AI will address the frustrations that his son has experienced. 

Frustration 1: Static language models --> dynamic

Currently, GPT uses historical information. It doesn't know what has happened since September 2021. Shah said we will see learning models being augmented by real-time data.

Frustration 2: Text input --> Multi-Modal inputs

Currently, we use text as an input. In the future, we’ll be able to add images, audio, and code as prompts.

Frustration 3: Passive --> Active

Right now, GPT waits for you to enter a prompt. In the future, it will make suggestions. 

All of this will create to create “the next big wave in generative AI: AgentAI.”

Shah sees a future where AI-powered software will work mostly autonomously to pursue goals by working as an expert (working with large language models and other agents). He sees different “agents” tailored to your needs – search agent, web crawling agent, pricing analysis agent.

Shah asked the audience to consider two questions.

First, “How should I now be thinking about data in the age of AI?”

He said AI models are increasingly common, and data is the common denominator. The first generation of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software was increased more than 30 years ago. Cloud CRM came about 20 years ago. The new thing is “Smart CRM” — CRM with AI included.

Second, “Will AI take my job?”

Shah said that “AI will take your job…”

But then he added “…and give you one that’s better.”

He said it offers the promise of “less grind and more growth.”

He introduced the AIAIO framework:

Awareness – discover what AI can do

Investigation – explore use cases

Adoption – get things done

Integration – weave AI into workflows

Optimization – look for leverage

He then shared a dad joke:
“I want to thank my wife for introducing me to the word ‘plethora’ — it means a lot.”

Okay, I thought that was funny.

He seemed pleased that the crowd laughed and thanked the crowd. He added, "When I try these jokes on Zoom, people don’t laugh. Maybe they’re not remotely funny.” 

He ended on a more philosophical note: “It’s not about believing in AI; it’s about believing in yourself.” 

The keynote started the day — and the conference — out on the right note. Change is inevitable.