Friday, September 18, 2015

Dreamforce 2015, Day 3: Lightning, Tuxedos, Women, And Loud Guitars

Dreamforce is like the Super Bowl for sales technology enthusiasts. Vendors let their imaginations run wild with gimmicks and props that will get attention. The Salesforce people are the champs at pulling publicity stunts. I pull a few stunts of my own sometimes in between keynote addresses.

The latest Salesforce SaaS tool is Lightning, a reworking of the old dashboard with a cleaner layout and more customizable data feeds. I took the photo above at their big product pavilion. It is suitably dramatic and fits my energetic personality. Ordinary conference goers can look like Nikola Tesla playing with electric current. Salesforce people know their selfie special effects.

George Zimmer is applying a lifetime of retail clothing experience to his new startup, Generation Tux. I took a photo with the man himself at their booth. The emailed version came out poorly so this version next to my conference badge is the next best thing. I attended George's feature presentation and it was probably the most creative live display at Dreamforce. The guy played up his ageless pitch lines and compared himself favorably to a similar-looking . . . Most Interesting Man In The World. His marketing and tech team explained the cloud power behind their concept. I will be impressed if Salesforce's PaaS can handle logistics management for online retailers.

George is a master showman. He plans to officiate a wedding on New Year's Eve in Times Square while the big ball drops, and he finished with a flash mob dance troupe showing off his line of tuxedos. Kudos to George for accommodating gay couples who want tux rentals for their weddings. I had no idea that market research revealed how much control brides want over wedding details. Gay marriage brings a new twist on who gets to decide those details now. I also ran into the opening keynote's Hawaiian musicians at George's big pitch. My business life is full of such serendipitous moments. I don't get invited to weddings so this event was my proxy.

Speaking of business, it's my business to discuss some very important keynotes from the third day. Larry Brilliant from the Skoll Global Threats Fund described how innovators found many ways to beat biological nightmares. We can thank determined inventors for defeating smallpox and polio. The unscientific opponents of vaccinations deserve no thanks. Mindfulness advocates on Dreamforce's fourth day have a lot to chew on because alert people will innovate. Big Data makes digital disease surveillance cheaper and broader than ever for public health systems in developing countries.

Marc Benioff and Parker Harris got to tell famed tech journalist Kara Swisher about their progress in advocating for womens' careers. Marc admitted regrets for not doing more earlier in Salesforce's life, but I noticed he interrupted Kara several times when she was about to ask important questions. Male executives need to change that habit. I am dismayed to see that the term "micro-aggression" is now an acceptable description of workplace cultural traits. Men need to watch their language and bad habits, like interrupting someone, lest they be labeled micro-aggressors after they reach some unspecified threshold of unacceptable actions.

Kara's questions shed some light on how female thought leaders view controversial gender relations subjects like male privilege. White male backlash against perceived slights is increasingly evident in the rhetoric among Donald Trump's supporters. Women see The Donald's supporters as bewildering in the context of white male leadership in history. Middle class men have in fact seen stagnant real wages since the early 1970s, so perhaps we should not be surprised when the less informed among them seek scapegoats in minorities and women.

Marc mentioned Travis Kalanick's reluctance to grok Uber's need for a more public morality. Some CEOs really do need a backstage chat to frame moral images as brand-builders. Uber probably needs an intervention to prevent its culture from running off the rails. Send over Sheryl Sandberg to lead their Lean In circles. Maybe Parker could go instead; he was so proud of Salesforce's leader development programs that he mentioned it several times on stage.

It's too bad Marc gives himself a middling grade in supporting women's equality in the workplace. I'd give him a much better grade than the "F" I give myself. The bosses who treated me worst in life have all been women. I just don't like anyone, male or female, so I could never work at Salesforce.

Forrester Research had a very interesting talk on customer obsession from three of their leading folks. The age of the customer sounds like a big theme for them and I'll bet it sells a lot of consulting contracts. I would use the Forrester Customer Experience (CX) Index if I were actually selling things, but I'm not, so I read their insights just for kicks. I do not think a distinction between business technology and traditional IT is necessary to make the case for increased capex spend, as long as a smart CMO and CIO can show how it drives revenue. I have heard the term "mobile moments" at other conferences. Exploiting those moments in a simple enough context means having a buy button loaded into everything.

The heavily advertised women's panel featuring Jessica Alba and Susan Wojcicki was a can't miss event for yours truly. In times past I would have said something about admiring hot babes, but guess what, I really am trying to expunge bad attitudes from my life so I don't end up with Uber's branding problems or The Donald's reputation. Susan's sisters Anne Wojcicki and Janet Wojcicki are also quite accomplished. I did not know that Google started when its founders rented out Susan's garage. I noticed that these women don't mind discussing their hormones or motherhood rites with each other, even in front of large audiences. Women are different from me. No kidding.

Jessica shared one of her early adviser's lessons that if a business plan has more than 20 unanswerable questions, then it isn't ready for launch. One big unanswered question is what Jessica's venture, the Honest Company, will do about a lawsuit from a disgruntled customer. She did not discuss her company's legal challenges at all on the Dreamforce stage. The company's sunscreen left a lot of customers feeling burned. Jessica is known for her really nice skin tone and persistent tan. Her discussions of her products' development did not give me the impression that she is deeply familiar with the effects of chemistry on human skin. Contrast that with the answers Marc and Parker give to questions about how their SaaS products work. Gender equality matters, and so does technical competence.

I learned a few more things about gender relations. Paid maternity leave matters very much to working women. They are very concerned about job security in the absence of formal policy guarantees, either from employers or the federal government. I also noted the audience's very audible shocked reaction when moderator Gayle King said her post-partum physical appearance became a management concern when she returned to the newsroom. Wow, professional women are really sensitive to how others perceive their looks on the job. Wow. Men, take note. Every comment we make about a woman's physique in the workplace becomes a micro-aggression.

Talk of educating, training, and recruiting women in STEM careers was a big hit with this audience. Men in management need to take a serious look at women they can develop for advancement. Silicon Valley executives should of course advocate for diversity but that's tough to do when companies like Uber are in denial about their need for stronger morality. Jessica admits that she hires failed entrepreneurs who learned something at each failure. Her preferred strengths of hustle and common sense are fundamentally moral attributes. Moral failures are less likely to lead to introspective learning.

The third day ended with a big, loud, hard, Dreamfest music concert at Pier 70. That venue is perfect for outdoor rock and roll, plus more free food and booze than I've seen in a long time. I had my fill of hot dogs, fish and chips, and other fried comfort foods that absorbed the one glass of pinot noir I could hold. Gary Clark, Jr. gave a bluesy performance that channeled Stevie Ray Vaughan's spirit. The Killers have been on my mental playlist for a decade and I was thrilled to see them play live. "Mr. Brightside" was an awesome way to kick things off, and I wish they had played its sequel "Miss Atomic Bomb" but it was not meant to be. I was totally thrilled to hear the Killers cover Journey's "Faithfully," one of my favorite songs, even if it only lasted for one stanza.

I did not stay for the Foo Fighters although they headlined the show. I could not stomach more than one song of that group on my way out the gate to grab one more hot dog. Giant TV monitors showed Dave Grohl squatting in a chair screaming wildly. The most musically competent Foo Fighters song was "Big Me" and its parody candy commercial tells me everything about how this band parodies a real rock band. No thank you. I do not support rock bands who obnoxiously display their lack of musical skill. The Killers were harmonious, nuanced, and layered. Foo Fighters have always been monochromatic and uninspired; their entire sound is derivative of Nirvana's brief flash in the pan. The Killers are on one of my Spotify playlists. Find it and hear them yourselves.

Dreamforce's approach to planning the bus movements to and from Pier 70 showed the limits of software professionals' real world abilities. Software people have trouble understanding hardware precisely because logistics must move things around the real world that cannot be transported digitally. I made this remark to another Dreamforce guy walking into the Pier 70 gate for the show, and he high-fived me. I totally scored a "killer" observation at Dreamfest.