How to Become a Digital Leader in 2021
(logo swooshing) - So take a look at this incredible panel that we have here today. I am so thrilled to be welcomed by these incredible partners and thought leaders. I want to give a warm welcome to Sharmeen Browarek Chapp, she's the Vice President of Community at Twitch, Sandy Carter, Vice President WWPS Partners and Programs, Keith McLeod, Vice President Marketing Operations at the New York Times, and Arjun Gopalratnam, Director of Product Memberships at Peloton. I was telling them all earlier, I'm a fangirl of each and one of these platforms and companies.
So I'm also personally really excited for this conversation. So with that said, let's take a minute to learn a little bit more about the panelists and what they do before we get into the discussion. We will start off with you, Sharmeen, welcome. - Hi everybody, it's so nice to be here this morning.
My name is Sharmeen and I'm the Vice President of Community Products at Twitch. So as a leader at Twitch, I manage our Product Managers, engineering, design, data, teams that come together and help our creators build thriving communities. And there's really two parts to that strategy to fulfill that mission. The first one is that we enable positive interactions between streamers and their communities and then we also help prevent negative interactions.
So it's very much two sides of a coin that both come together to make healthy and thriving communities across our website. - I love it, welcome Really excited to be learning more about that. And when we were preparing, you talked about user delight. So we're going to talk about that as well. Sandy Carter, we'd love to hear more from you, welcome.
- Thank you, Joe, and thanks for having me. My name is Sandy Carter and I am the Vice President for Amazon Web Services for our WWPS Partners and Programs. Now, what does that mean? Well, this is how I have to describe it to my mom. I help all the partners who build on top of AWS technology especially in public sector add value to our customers. AWS is customer obsessed.
We do everything on behalf of our customers. So when a customer needs a solution or help with a great certification or authorization around cybersecurity, my partners come to the rescue and help them out and really add a lot of value. So I have a lot of fun working with them on great new technologies like AI, ML, IOT, even virtual reality and AI, and as well, I get to help them out with missions, and missions for public sector is so important. It's like digitizing a hospital or helping to get mass to the right place or revamping the way we learn and remote learning. So I always say I have the best job at Amazon because my partners deliver for purpose.
Thanks for having me, Joe. Really appreciate it. - Thank you so much.
Next up, we have Keith from the New York Times. Welcome, Keith. - Hey, good afternoon, everyone.
Pleasure actually to be here. So yeah, let me introduce myself. Keith McLeod, Vice President of Working Operations at the New York Times. Basically, what that means is really it's a broad spectrum group that serves as thought and execution partner across a broad spectrum of marketing efforts. Operations, generally speaking, is the key driver on brand and acquisition campaigns, process optimization and really initiatives to leverage new marketing capabilities across all of our workstreams and properties. Since really leading this team for the last two years, I've really been trying to help the company stay at pace with all of our high priority initiatives because marketing operations is really not the same in any place.
Give you a brief landscape, of what it looks like, it's creative operations where our Project Managers were really driving the execution of our brand campaigns and acquisition campaigns program and project management really focused on our internal marketing, strategic initiatives, email operations, marketing solutions, working with our media team in different capabilities, campaign operations, making sure the right people get the right message, digital trafficking, marketing compliance, and digital and print production. So it's a really broad scope, but really, really important. - Sounds very dynamic, looking forward to getting into that. Thank you for being here, Keith.
And then we have Arjun of Peloton, Arjun. - Hi Joe, and hello everyone. Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here to speak about our topics today. Specifically, I'll tell you a little bit about what our team does. The membership team within Peloton is responsible for member retention, customer service, community engagement and music.
And specifically my team within that handles software that's homegrown software that we write to facilitate all these functions. So that would include subscriptions, customer service and some things around warranties and service plans. So specifically, I'm super excited to be here.
I think we're going to have a really great conversation, but thank you for having me. - Great to have you here. And I know Arjun was recently down here in Miami so I've been working in the green room to get him back down to Miami sometime soon. Great, so as you can tell, we have an incredible panel. It's going to be a great conversation.
We can have all of you turn your cameras on and be ready to unmute for these questions that are coming your way. And I want to start with you Sharmeeen. Twitch, pretty cool. World's leading live streaming platform for gamers and so much more.
You all have excelled at building a community of millions around the globe. You delight your users, as I was alluding to earlier, and as Vice President of Community with millions of community members, that must be a pretty big job. So I'm curious, a lot has changed in the last year. And I'm wondering what that change has looked like and what past initiatives have allowed your community to grow and what have you been doing to keep everyone engaged? - Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Joe.
So I would say the biggest thing we learned from last year is that the work we do has been ever more important than before. At a time when people couldn't meet in person and had to quarantine, they looked to the internet to find connection, belonging and their communities. And this was something that Twitch had already providing for millions of people around the world, and we were able to expand that to many new users in 2020. I would say what has helped us succeed that from the beginning of Twitch, we have always focused on helping creators build thriving communities.
We put them first and give them the tools that they need to succeed across our website. And a big part of that is fostering connection and belonging with their loyal community members. So a product that we happen to ship right before the pandemic kicked off was a feature called Channel Points which launched in January of 2020.
And it's a free loyalty point system on Twitch that enables loyal viewers of a community to earn points that they spend on that creators' channel. And so the more time that you spend, you accumulate more points, then you can trade them in for really fun and exciting rewards. And what also happens is that creators will build customer rewards for their channels that only people who are loyal to their channel can engage with and this product was a perfect example of how we fostered a lot more connection between loyal viewers and the communities that they were spending time with. And then when they claimed those unique rewards on those channels, they were able to build their belonging to that channel. And that's just a perfect example of something that we built right in time when we had an influx of new users who wanted to understand how Twitch works and find their place across our website and then have this way to welcome them that was really delightful and fun and also building loyalty over time.
- I love that, points, gamify networks too, particularly with that audience. - Oh, yes. - (chuckles) Yeah, totally, right? And I think also connection and belonging in a digital age, it happens digitally. So super important to be a leader in that space. That's so interesting.
Sandy, Amazon Web Services. Who doesn't know AWS, world's most comprehensive cloud computing platform. You offer tons of services, over hundreds of services. You're working with emerging technologies like machine learning, AI, data lakes, just to name a few. And I think in your role, you get to intersect with a lot of people. You help governments, nonprofits, healthcare organizations tackle some huge challenges particularly digital challenges.
So I'm curious, as things have been evolving, what are the leading challenges that organizations are facing digitally? And is there a gap that they're missing? - That's a great question. I'm going to build on Sharmeen's point. If you think about Twitch data, data, data.
They're creating all of this data that's out there today. And data during COVID has become a more important strategic asset. We all know that data gives insight to businesses but I was amazed at how much more data we are now generating because of COVID.
So for example, if you look at IDC, data coming out of IOT or internet of things sensors, so that could be a sensor on your tire or on a traffic light or on a boat in the ocean. The data that's coming in there has now increased 400% in the last year. That means that 56 billion connected devices will generate 79 zettabytes of data. And so companies now are seeing that they focus so much on their applications or on machine learning. Machine learning was so hot but machine learning feeds on data.
It's got to have data to have the machine learning models trained and be taught just like we do. So we are seeing a gap but a resurgent in the focus on data. And in fact, in particular, we're seeing more and more organizations try to utilize data in the cloud to make better business decisions. So I'll just give you a couple of examples really quickly. We had a country during COVID looking to get food to the right locations.
They were sure tomatoes in one region, potatoes at another region. It sounds kind of funny, but the data was all in silos and they needed access so quickly, they couldn't do it on premises. So we had to help them get all that data move to the cloud and then apply analytics to that data.
We're also, right now, seeing a resurgence in hospitals. Hospitals leveraged IOT data or again those sensors to handle some of those frontline emergencies. So there's one hospital that has this little robot and the robot comes in as you enter like let's say an emergency room or waiting room, takes your temperature, how you're breathing, how you're feeling, all that data now needs to be processed. And then machine learning applied to know where to triage that person. So there are so many incredible new examples that are popping up because of all this data.
So whether an organization is a large enterprise or a small business, this data-led approach especially as you're digitizing will turn out to be more and more and more important. And I think if you couple that, that's kind of the tech gap that we're seeing with how are you managing your workforce, developing our employees, inspiring others? All of that data can be used to guide changes in the marketplace today that are just so needed as we're still dealing with what COVID has on the table. - That's so interesting as well. We're definitely going to dive into the discussion of data and being data-driven and using data, that's been a hot topic.
It's a buzz term. I'm sure everyone tuning in has thought about it, talked about it, engaged in it but to really understand that and leverage it for yourself as an individual or your company in a responsible manner, that's going to be something very interesting to learn and see how that unfolds. So Keith, moving on to the New York Times, one of the world's great media outlets, we all love and read the New York Times.
It's been quite a digital transformation for journalism and media as a whole, something the New York Times has led. As VP of Marketing Operations, you already alluded to how dynamic and broad your role is in order to be driving the continued growth of the New York Times. And I'm wondering if you could expand on some of the ways that you have innovated and that the New York Times had been innovated in the past year to ensure that the Times continues to be efficient, effective, and to provide capabilities to enable marketing to meet its objectives because that's a lot, right? So curious to hear a little bit more about that. - Yeah, no, I think that's a great question. Look, let me just set the table probably for everyone who might remember the New York Times as the old, gray lady, right? At this point, it's more than just a core newspaper or digital asset. We have products in cooking, games, we also have ventures in TV, like "Modern Love" working with Amazon, (giggles) those types of things.
So it's a huge entity, right? So it's a media company now with over seven million subscribers. And as it really pertains to innovating over the last 12 months, if I think really deeply about it, it's more than just tech, it's more than just technology and innovation. It's really like three ways that I kind of think about it and they're all equally important.
So it's like one A, one B, one C. The first part, we really spent, I would probably frame it as this simplifying and investing in our technology stack meaning we spent a good part of the year surely essentially just doing addition by subtraction, meaning we were decommissioning various tools and platforms that really no longer met our strategic initiatives. And in parallel, we also invested in new capabilities from our CDP to our email platforms, really to provide, to help provide marketing and get our users the right message at the right time to the right people, right? So that was really one important aspect.
The second part was really about full-time on how we work. And specifically, I think about working with a work management platforms. One of the best decisions we probably made was investing in a truly a modern work management platform. When we did a couple RFPs, I used to think, oh, I want the one with all the bells and whistles, just give me the litany of things. And it turns out the one that got the highest rate of adoption was the one where collaboration was at its core. And it just so happens we all had to go remote.
And that was the main thing that allowed us to continue to drive our business, drive our marketing campaigns. And frankly, we're actually delivering and getting products and assets out the door faster than we were when actually we're in person. So having the right tools to facilitate and promote work, could be around collaboration. Creating this undisruptive environment has been critical to our success.
And then the last part, which is like still one C 'cause they're all equally important is really our commitment and dedication to process and process re-engineering is part of our DNA now, right? We literally wake up every day and every member of my team is thinking about where can we move unnecessary steps, creating and document product life cycles, adding additional quality checks. Truly, this is on an automobile basis and we continue to improve and revisit processes and just validate that, does it still make sense? The industry is moving so quickly now. We have to react to that question every time and we're not married to anything at this point. So in this digital error, I really want to encourage everyone and part of our success is just really being open to evolving your processes. So those three things and I can probably go on for more are really about sort of the primary ways we're helping marketing do a special work. - I'm all about process, evolution and documentation.
I love it, that's great. And collaboration internally within a team and the service you provide to your customers, it's all about collaboration. Just going back to what Sharmeen said, collaboration means connection and belonging.
So really interesting to see that thread coming through. Arjun, Peloton, who doesn't love Peloton. I love Peloton and compete with the, I have a community there, I'm engaged and it's one of the largest interactive fitness platforms in the world, not surprised at all. Huge community of over four million members.
It's you have combined cutting-edge technology with great design to connect the world through fitness. So congratulations, what a feat and great accomplishment that is. And as Director of Product Memberships, I'm wondering how has Peloton and how do you continue to stay at the forefront of the interactive fitness industry which looks to be growing immensely right now and how are you continuing to ensure that great user experience? - Absolutely, I think the best part about being a direct to consumer brand is that customers feel very comfortable with talking to you and telling you exactly what they want and what they don't want. To take it one step further, when you have a brand that has such obsessive loyalty as ours does, people really feel that you are a part of their family and they won't hesitate to tell you their feedback, positive or negative.
And we use every bit of that to improve the product. So from us at all levels of the company, people are paying attention to what our members are saying, often privately, we're all customers ourselves, but I'm also from friends and family or people on the internet. And then we take that feedback and we both use it to improve our own work as well as distribute it to other people within the organization so that they can use that feedback to improve what they're doing.
That's the qualitative component of our feedback loop. But then there's also the quantitative part. We take all of those insights, and we don't really know how strong any one of them may be unless we've experienced them ourselves but we want to figure out the magnitude of them. So we hand them to our data science team which is amazing at trying to figure out how common is this kind of this through-line? Is it something that is being experienced by lots of people all over the world on different products or does it tend to be segmented to a specific product in a specific geography? That won't necessarily determine whether something becomes a higher priority or a lower priority but we use that kind of information to figure out which direction we're going to go. And then we test all things all the time. We often launch software to a small subset of the population.
We determine if it's hitting our KPI whatever we were trying to move. And if it isn't, we're not shy about pulling it back, maybe canceling that and regenerating it internally and then pushing it forward again. Obviously, a lot of people joined Peloton as during the pandemic.
And people have noticed that a class went from a couple of hundred people taking it live to many thousands of people taking it live at the same time. So in doing that, what we've determined is that a large group of people wanted a smaller subset. They wanted to feel like, hey, I'm really in a room with just 100 people. And so innovating on the leaderboard and the concept of who is live with you is something that we were able to do in the last year using customer feedback.
Now all of this of course applies to the member facing experience, what we put out externally but it's just as important internally. So the teams that I work on, for example, we work on subscription billing is one of our tenants. And we can use a lot of the same logic to try to push forward and innovate on those things that are completely invisible to our members. - I love it, and for anyone who hasn't been on Peloton, it's like they are always collecting feedback. It's so interesting. It feels a part of the whole experience.
It's just thumbs up, thumbs down and the rating. So it's really interesting to see that not only is it awesome UI, but it's also really ingrained in the data management side to digest the data and see how you're evolving. And I get super competitive when I see who's in the room with me, when I click that leaderboard, I'm like, oh, I got to beat this person.
So that's awesome. So a question for all of you, and anyone can jump in to take this versus it's the big one which is what does the term digital leadership mean to you? What is digital leadership as an individual, as a company? Sharmeen, go for it? - Yeah, I can jump in. So to me, digital leadership means being conscious of the responsibility that we carry. In a world where our online products reach people across the world, across country borders, we have to take a global perspective of how we design our products for our customers and have that be at the heart of everything that we do. - Keith.
Oh, go ahead, Sandy. - No, it's okay, go ahead, Keith. - Okay, yeah, I'm going to probably build a little bit upon what she was saying next. The way I think about it is digital leadership might as well meet digital partnership in today's industry where it really understanding that this is a team effort, right? This is a sport that we're really in and everyone needs to participate in order to be successful to especially to hit our strategic initiatives. And it really requires in our case working with our partners in product technology engineering as well as marketing to really leverage all those skill sets to meet immuno-goals right now. But I think we're all realizing that digital leadership really means understanding and having empathy for other roles and realizing that they're all required in order to hit that strategic objective.
- I would just add in that I think digital leadership also means that you create a culture of innovation. And a digital culture means that, well, maybe different businesses will have different tools to use for their digital assets. Overall, the spirit is one of innovation, coming up with something different. And we saw that so well during COVID with people innovating in really terrific ways. I'll just give an example. It doesn't have to do with technology but one of my favorite restaurants in Downtown Seattle, they're a very fine restaurant.
They have white tablecloths, real silverware that you eat with. And of course, COVID shut them down. And so they actually became a digital business, the digital leader. They decided they would do takeout which is interesting.
And they had beautiful white tablecloths that you got with your takeout, but they also set up like concerts through Zoom. So instead of hearing the violin play, you heard it over Zoom. So they themselves created a digital culture. And I look at it because from businesses like that small business who transformed to hospitals, governments, and countries, a successful digital leader understands what their customer wants they're customer-centric. At Amazon, we call that customer obsessed. They understand the importance of data that I talked about and that process that was talked about earlier too.
And then they place high value on communication, being creative, scrappy, thinking out of the box, how can I use technology to assist my customers, not make me more competitive but how do I use that technology to assist my customer? All about customer obsession. - Yeah, if I can add onto that, I love Sandy's example. I think that a lot of people think that to be working in digital leadership means you have to be incorporating the latest technology and into your company or into your organization, but not all of us are going to be working on NFTs or ghost kitchens or whatever else is the hot new craze. But as the company that Sandy was mentioning, if you can think about what is the customer looking to do and try to bring that into your organization, what people missed about the fine dining environment could have been the white linen.
It could have been the music, in our case, I would think that something that people missed was the community of being in a gym environment and even just spending time with friends. And so we try to bring those kinds of core concepts into the digital experience. And anyone can do that at any level of any company.
I don't think it's specific to being on the cutting edge of the new and latest craze. - And just to ask a little bit more, you all are, by title, digital leaders but do you think of yourself as a digital leader and how do you stay up to speed on those skills? And do you think of yourself in that manner? Keith. - How would I think of it? The way I think about it is it's important for us to stay up to speed and we embrace that type of work. Look, I think we're kind of all witnessing kind of in real time the impact of people in organizations, really feeling the disruption of kind of this work that's going on right now. And whether it's Peloton, Amazon, Twitch, New York Times, right? Some companies have to do a lot better than others as far as navigating this kind of environment itself. So some of the stuff I'd probably recommend is really like lean into this stuff.
I believe that new ideas can come from anywhere in the building and really suggest that professionals and organizations really focus on trying to build an emerging market or testing environment because you just don't really know at one point when things are going to go really well for you or when you might be forced to pivot. - And maybe just to ask a little bit more in the same kind of topic is in addition to thinking whether or not you think about yourself as a digital leader, I'm also curious what are the skills, as leaders, what do you do you think are the skills that leaders need to possess in 2021 and beyond to become a digital leader? I'm really proud to say at BrainStation, we actually have a digital leadership and innovation course which introduces passionate professionals in the digital sector and beyond to these skills and very excited to say Arjun is an instructor in that program which is amazing to see that caliber of instructor there. But curious to hear from you all, what are some of the skills you think leaders or upcoming leaders need to possess? We teach things like AI, for example, do you think that's essential? So maybe Sharmeen if you could kick us off and then Arjun? - Yeah, absolutely.
So I think there's a couple of angles that you have to consider for leadership, right? Which we've already seen these games come up. One of them is from a product perspective and really just staying on top of the times. As new apps and technologies emerge, using them, understanding them and really trying to figure out what is the customer value that these are adding? And the more you get familiar with that, then the more you'll be able to pick up on these trends and look around the corner to think about how you need to innovate within your own business. And then the other side is actually from a leadership perspective, right? So we're all trying to figure out in this new world of digital leadership, we have to be flexible. The pandemic put us in a situation that nobody would have anticipated, but it's also taught us that we can work remotely and we can still be successful companies driving change across the world. And so I really encourage everybody to think about in a future where things might be going back to normal, it's going to be a new normal, it's not the one that was before.
And so how do we want to adapt the way our teams work together to build great products for customers? And what does that look like moving forward? - Yeah, I love that answer. Adaptation is so key if we intend to be innovative going forward. Joe, you had asked about whether AI in particular is a skill that I would fit in there.
I actually lean more heavily on the soft skills than the technical skills. I think empathy and experimentation and like understanding of other people is so important in order to push any of our organizations forward. Along with that, I would ascribe curiosity as being really key and kind of indicative of whether someone's going to succeed or not.
For example, in New York, the city I live in, they're rolling out a new payment system in the Metro to encourage everyone to move to a more digital form of payment. And one thing that I like to think about just going through it is why are they doing it in this way, right? Why did they do subways before buses? Or why did they do a card before they're doing it on your phone or things like that? You can think about just simple examples where if you can break those down into the core elements of trying to figure out who are they for? What were the questions that the organizers were thinking about when they decided, when they made these decisions, then you become a lot more powerful and a lot more versatile in your own jobs at your own organizations. - If I could jump in there on what Arjun said, sorry, first of all, I do consider myself a digital leader. And I do agree with both of you. I do think that digital literacy is really important. So understanding AI or data or IOT, I think, is really important.
There was a recent study from Harvard Business Review and they looked at 1,000 CEOs and 90% said they wanted to be a digital leader. They wanted to do something around digital business, but 70% of them did not believe their own company had the right digital skills or that digital leadership literacy. So I do believe that that's really important, but I also agree with Arjun that some of the soft skills will also come into play.
And I want it to build on your point about curiosity, a friend of mine is a professor at Stanford and she wrote a book called the "Creator's Code." If you haven't read it, you should grab it. One of the things she looked at is if I look at all the people in the world today who are considered digital leaders, what do they have in common? So she did this research with Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, when he was alive, Jeff Bezos, of course. And what she found out is that on average, we as adults only ask about 10 questions a day, but all of these digital leaders ask hundreds of questions a day. And if you've ever been in a narrative review with Jeff Bezos, you know that's true, right? He wants to know everything. He's curious, it's not to trip you up.
It's to find out more and learn more. And in her book, she said that kids already have that. They were asking 100 questions. If you have a kid, you know like why is the sky blue? Why is the clouds doing that? So I do believe that a digital leader needs to have digital literacy and the soft skills of curiosity to really break through what those new disruptions that digital enables you to do. - I love that, so for all of us, I'm taking some good gym so I'm going to summarize it later, but tapping into our inner playfulness and child and curiosity, key, key takeaway here.
So we talked a little bit about what it takes as an individual to be and become a digital leader. But what about companies? At the rate of technology change that we're seeing right now, how are you all ensuring that your brand is always innovating, always staying on cutting edge? What are some of the things that you're doing? Are there examples that you can expand on? Keith, if you want to kick it off again, go for it. - Yeah, sure, I can talk about that. Look, I think when I think about innovating as being on cutting edge, I'm really encouraging my team and others around me to really actively position ourselves as partners, right? Getting closer to the strategy.
And I don't really mean just seeing a finished strategy deck and they're reacting. I mean trying to get involved early and contributing to the formation of that strategy because look, if I'm really being honest with ourselves right now, the times where we've had the most success, trying to stay up to speed with all the cutting edge is when we're participating in inception of an idea and a strategy. And our biggest misses when we came later on in the process. So that's one of the main things that we're trying to use right now to stay up to speed on the cutting edge because the strategy and execution have to go hand in hand and they all have to kind of move in the same direction.
- Sharmeen, if you'd want to jump in on how Twitch's staying innovative ahead of the curve? - Yeah, I think I want to touch on two sides of this again. So one way to really stay innovative and ahead of the curve is to embrace machine learning and AI, the way that we touched on with Arjun a little bit. I think as a service that has grown and scaled so quickly, you have to embrace that kind of a technology otherwise it will get ahead of you. And then the other side that I want to highlight that we haven't talked about too much is that as we develop these emerging technologies, we also have to make sure that we're putting trust and safety at the forefront of everything we build. It's so easy to accidentally build something with an unconscious bias, and you really have to go above and beyond to do the hard work to be conscious of those things from the early design phases of your product. And I think that's a critical design shift and like a mental mindset shift that Twitch has made in the last few years to make sure that we, as we depend on technology to make human decisions, we're doing it thoughtfully.
We're doing it without bias, and we're really putting trust in safety at the heart of everything that we do. - And if I build on that unconscious bias, the only way that you can really figure out if you do have unconscious bias is to listen to your customers and have a diverse audience of leaders and of people that you're talking to. One of the things that we just did, Joe, you asked about what are we doing to stay ahead of the curve? Since we're in COVID and since we couldn't travel, I had traveled to 87 different countries and done business in 87 different countries. So I was going stir crazy, but more importantly, I couldn't listen to my customers as well because I couldn't go visit them. So I decided to do 100 by 100 day tour. So I wanted to visit 100 partners and customers in 100 days.
It was like the best thing that I did. First of all, it kind of caught on in my teams. They're like, oh, if she can do 100 by 100, I'll do 15 and 15 or 30 and 30. But the real power was I did these virtual trips. So like for a while, I'd be sleeping and the US time zone 'cause I would be doing a trip to APJ, and listening to the customers and our partners really enabled that kind of rate and change and still being able to get insight from your customers.
So you're not just being biased to the ones you've talked to in the US, you can get a global view, you get a view of big, small, medium, the whole nine yards. One of the cool things that came out of that is we just announced a space accelerator. And you're like a space accelerator? That's outer space. It's not really relevant. But if you think about it, most of our great new technological outbreaks came from space somewhere, right? GPS systems or so many different things. And so anyway, I think that some of the process that you go through or the things that you look at, that was one of the ways that I stay ahead of the curve.
Joe, I'm now doing it, and now it's kind of gone viral within Amazon. I now have people doing 90 and 90 or 50 and 50. I just think being able to get out there and talk directly to customers, not using a surrogate of a focus group or a report or hearing it third or fourth hand is really important in the digital age. - Absolutely. Arjun, I don't know if you want to chime in on that or we can move to the next question? I want to make sure we're giving everyone a chance here.
- Let's move on. I'm curious to hear the next one. - Great, so I do want to move on to data which you all have mentioned. Arjun, you gave a great example of having iterated based on customer feedback. So maybe Arjun, you can kick us off on that is diving a little bit deeper on the examples of data, data, data. How do you use it? How do you know that the data is good? What are you doing to make sure that you're asking the right questions, that it's producing the right outcomes? How do you build a digital product roadmap using data? So we'd love to hear from all of you on this one and Arjun, you can kick it off.
- Yeah, absolutely. We talk about this a lot actually in the digital leadership and innovation course that you mentioned, the BrainStation course and we kind of came up with a framework together the first time I taught the course. We said, the first step of what you do basically is record absolutely everything you can. Ideally, you record it in a structured way, but if you don't really know how to do that yet, you record it in a raw format and then you hope to structure it later. Then the second step you do is you try to structure it if you haven't done that already, and you try to pull out some basic observations from there.
And then from there, you come up with an experiment that you want to run that's going to try to change something. So you might say that, hey, this data indicates to us that this is happening and we're going to run an experiment that's going to try to change the outcome by changing the underlying data. And it might take time but after you implement that experiment and you sort of get a sense of if that data pipeline, one, if it's true, if a did, in fact, lead to B. And second of all, if you were able to affect a change in B by making a change in A, then you're able to see, do we have control over this sort of variable and can we move it forward? It's a bit of a rudimentary system but I think it's something that's applicable to people even a at a more entry level layer within their companies.
And if you start to use data in that format, then the chances are, if your company does it overall, then you have a whole bunch of people who are thinking in that data first way. And it's more likely that you'll be able to make much larger advancements in the future. - Love that. Sandy. - Well, yeah, I am all about the data. So I do think that data really makes a difference.
And the way that I really illustrate this is that if you don't have enough data, you can't make good decisions. Or if you have, you kind of mentioned quality of data, quantity of data and your data source. I'm an Adjunct Professor at Carnegie Mellon, Silicon Valley. And we pulled together 11 million lines of romance novels.
And we use that as our data. Arjun's already laughing 'cause he see where this is going. And so to illustrate this to corporate executives because they weren't getting that their data may not be the right data or not enough data, we then showed that the machine learning model a picture of two Sumo wrestlers and it is hilarious because you've only trained the machine learning model on romance novels. So what's going to come out? It's going to be romance novels, right? And so you'll see these two guys in there fighting and the computer says, oh, he leaned over to kiss me gently on the cheek. And everybody laughs, right? They're like, oh, how could this be? Well, of course you're like, yeah, they use the wrong data. They use romance novels, they didn't have enough data.
And so it really makes the point that to really have a successful data strategy, you really need to have the right data quality, quantity and source. And this is why I think we see the rise of IOT, people looking for more data sources on whatever it happens to be. I'm sure you use them in Peloton. I don't know for sure.
But I'm just seeing a lot of growth in data and it is that source of data that goes back to Sharmeen's really important point about unconscious bias especially feeding that into machine learning models. We've seen people try to train a machine learning model and then they're surprised about the answers. I'm Chairman of the Board of Girls in Tech and we just saw an application that was supposed to advise young girls on careers.
And you ask this voice-enabled bot, what should be my next career? How about how about marketing and that and the bot comes back and says, yeah, marketing's a great choice. And then you say, what about technology? And they're like, how about fashion modeling? Because it was not trained correctly to say, yes, women can be great technologists too. Anyway, I'm really passionate about this. I believe that businesses must have a data strategy. Data strategy must be linked to business strategy. And you must have that before you even think about machine learning or doing anything else.
- Yeah, so interesting and so important to review the data, sanitize it, ask more questions to make sure that you're looking at the right things, having the best, right quality and quantity. So super interesting. Something that leverages data a lot is digital marketing. Digital economy thrives on digital marketing, telling our story. And no one knows that better than Keith. So I'm wondering what do you believe is key to the New York Times' digital marketing success moving forward as an example for how others can learn from that as well? - That's a good question.
Without having a strategy there about how we will operate in the future without using cookies, you really can't talk to your customers in the future in the way that we know it today. - Love that. And I'd like to turn it over a little bit, possibly to the soft skills, I guess, or a little bit of advice here since I know a lot of people tuning in are aspiring leaders.
And I'm wondering Sharmeen if you kick us off on this one, what advice would you give to businesses and to professionals looking to boost their digital skills and capabilities? Where do they start? - Take a BrainStation course. (laughing) - (laughing) That's great, rigid. - Yeah, but seriously though, I think there's so many ways to get involved online and start learning.
BrainStation is one of the many awesome things out there. Attend panels, take courses, and like I was saying earlier, just download these apps and start taking part with them, right? Join a Clubhouse group and talk to people and see how it feels and see what kind of interactions that you have with other people. I think you just have to really like don't be scared to, don't hesitate, just dive in and start enjoying these things. And the more you do that, the more you'll learn about these customers and what they're looking for, what their needs are and how they'll be able to develop. I also want to quickly mention about digital leadership, more from leading a digital team and a virtual team.
Something thing that was really important at Twitch and within my organization was building on our EQ, right? So increasing the empathy of Managers to be checking in with their employees, we were surviving a pandemic. We were operating in a time of the anxiety of, the floor of anxiety was much higher than ever before. And you just kind of get used to it but that doesn't mean it's healthy.
And so making sure you check in with people regularly, finding ways to allow them to connect virtually and really focusing on mental health and allowing for mental health days off when necessary was really critical for us. A classic example is that nobody wanted to take vacation because they couldn't travel anywhere. And all of a sudden, you had people who'd been working for almost 365 days straight without taking a break. And so Twitch actually put in a change where we forced people to take days off. We had entire business shutdown.
So it made people take days off and it's easier to unplug when you're on a vacation. So even if you took time off, you would get sucked back into work. So I think having company-wide holidays was really something that allowed people to truly shut off and get a mental health break and focus on themselves. And I don't want us to lose sight that all of these companies, all of these leaders, there's humans behind them and we need them to be thriving too. - Yeah, I can imagine as we are in this ever-growing digital space, that it's so important as leaders to be so intentional about when we're on and when we're off because we are plugged in all of the time.
What about trends? I would love to hear from you, what you feel also are the trends that you think we can expect to see develop or see more of in 2021 and beyond? So what are some of the trends that you all think are going to emerge that we need to be aware of so we can continue building our capabilities and our skills? - SO I'll quickly jump in. My favorite one here is Clubhouse, right? I think the rise of Clubhouse through VC's and then everybody beyond has been really fascinating. And it's also been really interesting to see all of the different social media companies try to build their own version of Clubhouse within their own platforms. And so I kind of enjoy watching those kinds of trends take the world by storm.
And each company has a slightly different spin on how they're trying to adapt it to their platform. And I think it's interesting, like it's not just about copying someone else, but really thinking about, again, what is the customer value being offered here and how does that fit into your business or your company and really making sure you tune it to your customers and their needs? - Love that. What else, any other trends? Tell us all your secrets, Arjun, Sandy and Keith, don't hold back. (laughs) - Sure. (chuckles) - I'm happy to jump in here.
A trend that's not as much a technology trend but just something that I think is happening that I'm paying a lot of attention to is how recruiting is changing in 2021 and going forward. It used to be that if you're a large company, maybe you have a dozen offices around the country in big hub cities. And if you're an SMB, a smaller company, you need to be in the headquarter city and everyone needs to come into the office every day. I think we've seen in the last year, that's pretty unnecessary. And this is really going to open up a lot of opportunity for big companies to recruit and for smaller companies to also compete. There's a ton of talent in places in the country that are more rural or outside of these big hub cities, not just in Silicon Valley, Seattle and New York.
And I'm really curious to see how does recruiting improve and how do we get more opportunity to the people in the rest of the country and around the world? - I would add in that I think data science and that as a skill will be a trend but I think we all know that. One of the new things that I am seeing which is built on data are micro-communities and I'm really interested. And Arjun and Sharmeen are seeing this too. I was just invited to a Mango Salsa community. Like Mango Salsa? That's like as micro as you can get, right? The other day I was invited to, who loves "Shawshank Redemption?" If you're a "Shawshank Redemption" fan, join our community. Yeah, but think about it.
Before I used to be invited to big groups, right? Like a marketing group or an American banking group, but now I'm being invited to Mango Salsa groups. So I find that as an interesting trend that the world, I guess, because of digital, is trying to get into really niche communities so that they can focus and really pay attention and be more of that promise of one-on-one marketing than they had seen before. I'm even noticing with our partners becoming more and more and more focused instead of broader and broader and broader in their skills. So I think this micro-community is really a trend that I'm seeing. Are you guys seeing that or not? You guys both deal with communities all day or am I just the weird person that gets invited to this strange communities? - It's definitely happening. Even on the ecosystem, we have this concept of tags where people can create a hashtag for themselves or for their group and then other people can join them and those people can work out together and you see some very niche tags coming up, which is fascinating.
It started out with things like people who went to the same college, which is a pretty broad and common group. And then it'll get into something much more specific like your Mango Salsa example, I think is great. It's making me hungry, actually.
- I'll invite you to the community. (Sandy and Arjun laughing) What about on Twitch? Are you seeing that too on Twitch? I'm just interested. - Yeah, absolutely. I think it's interesting 'cause earlier in Twitch, we definitely had these really big live streams like stadium style, everyone's in there and the chat is just chanting and having memes and fun and it's just very different feel. And then that shifts towards the smaller, more personal and intimate communities and seeing those really pick up and thrive more, it's definitely been fascinating to watch them evolve and they both do well in very different ways.
And so similarly we try to understand what are the customers looking for? What's driving them behind these motivations and these decisions and trying to understand, what do they get out of those big, large live streams and what do they get out of the more living room style, more personal connection? And yeah, there's a lot of that kind of evaluation going on right now. - I just got an invite while I was sitting here on Clubhouse for women who have a masters who are interested in technology and have ever done a startup. That has to be like four people in the world. But anyway, even Clubhouse is doing it as well, so anyway. - I think those are cool.
Not as cool as the Mango Salsa one there. - (laughs) Yeah, it's really great. I make a great Mango Salsa, Keith. (laughs) - Yeah, I definitely believe you. I think the thing that's not as cool as what we were just talking about now but I think it will become a trend even for big and large companies is starting to build up their own data governance, privacy legal experts, work with compliance teams within big and small companies. I think we really need that more and more because it's getting so complex.
I can't imagine always routinely going out to outside counsel. This is the muscle that I think all companies are going to have to build up because these things are happening so frequently now. You probably can't afford to keep a retired retainer going the entire time. We're seeing that certainly here. - Great, super interesting. So we are close to wrapping up here, but we got a great question from Kat Garcia who, and I'm curious to know this as well which is a personal question for each and every one of you, which is what new technology have you incorporated over the last year that you cannot live without? So what is that technology that you've incorporated? - I can jump in here with kind of an officey example.
There's this new product that we started using at the company that is basically a scheduling tool and it watches all of your meetings and moves them around for you to be more efficient. So it'll move a one-on-one such that it takes the second 1/2 of a one hour block rather than having its own hour block. And in doing so, tries to free up focus time for each person and tries to preserve everyone's ability to have a lunch which is always difficult at our company.
- That's cool. I love, it's an AI app, of course, it feeds on data. It's called Lensa. And so when you take a picture of yourself, it uses AI to make you the best version of yourself it can be.
So it's really fascinating. I like to use it because of the AI pieces but I also don't know about you guys but I haven't been able to get my hair cut as much or do as many things. So I want to be looking better than I actually am right now during COVID.
So I use that a lot for fun. And then for business, I'm using a lot of augmented analytics. So being able to show data but show it in a story fashion so that you can really understand where your business stands. - Sharmeen, Keith, anything you can't live without right now? - So mine's actually very personal and it's not a new technology.
I'm late to the game here. So I found out I was pregnant the week we all went into lockdown. So I had a full pregnancy during COVID, gave birth and now have an almost six month old at home. But I found that I could not live without Audible. I think given everything going on in the world and then all of the time spent with a baby and nursing and pumping, I needed something for my brain to engage especially while I was on maternity leave and not connecting with adults on a regular basis. And so I have been living on audio books so I can listen and learn hands free while I'm doing other things for the baby around the house.
- [Johanna] Awesome, congratulations. - Thank you. - I don't know if I have a technology thing but it may be it's the anti-technology. So since COVID, I probably had the most family time I've ever had, you could see my wonderful drawings. One of those are actually mine, but I can tell you the kids' are actually better than mine. So the unicorn is sadly mine.
I have two daughters, 11 and nine, and I got to tell you, enforcements to disconnect has been the best thing that I can live with now is the fact that I'm getting, having dinners at home, right? And very analog experiences going on that I didn't have before. So it's more of I can live without technology now is what I recently discovered that I'm really, really excited about. - I love that, I love that. That's so great and I will say living in this digital world, we've all been brought into each other's living rooms, kitchens, beyond the office, so to speak, seeing some artwork there.
Arjun's obviously a plant lover. So we get to know things about each other which we might not have known before. And that's a beautiful thing about the digital world. So just a few quick things to summarize that we heard from today, digital literacy, so, so important, soft skills being just as important as the hard tech items. Being customer-centric so far as to make sure that we are discovering and making sure that there's no unconscious bias, empathy being so important. Curiosity, ask lots of questions.
These are just a few of the gems that this amazing panel shared with us today to help us all learn how to become a digital leader in 2021 and beyond. So on behalf of BrainStation, Digital Magazine, myself, I thank you so much for being here with us. This was such a great conversation and thank you to everyone for tuning in. Have a great afternoon, and look forward to seeing you at the next event. Thank you so much.