Elements of Inspiration - Perspectives on TEDx Peachtree 2017


This fall, Helpfully asked our friends & followers to nominate women in technology who could benefit from attending the TedX Peachtree conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

We had dozens of wonderful nominations, and it was hard to narrow it down to just two winners - but we’re so glad we chose Samantha Maida (GE Digital) and Natalie Gauvin (Home Depot) - two very deserving bright stars in the technology world.

This was the inaugural TED event for both Gauvin and Maida.  We asked them to share a little bit about themselves and their individual experiences at TED.

Natalie Gauvin

Gauvin is new to the Atlanta area this year - her interesting journey brings her to the South, from Canada, by way of Hawaii!  (We have to admit, we’re anticipating the day when we get to hear her utter a sentence that starts with “y’all” and ends with “eh”.)  She’s an experienced consultant and lecturer on Design & Research, and is currently working on her PhD in Learning Design and Technology (LTEC) remotely, until returning to Honolulu for graduation ceremonies in 2018.

Gauvin’s PhD work focuses on how personas impact perceptions of empathy for users in the UX and instructional design communities.  So it’s no surprise that her most positive impressions of the TEDx event were around the connections she made with other attendees.  (We’re thrilled to give you a taste of that Southern Hospitality, Natalie!)

The range and diversity of speaking topics at the event also dazzled Gauvin.  She told Helpfully that she felt each speaker brought a unique and much-needed voice to the stage.  However, Dr. Krzysztof Czaja’s talk on sugar’s impact to our diets and bodies was a particularly memorable part of the day, because that message is relevant each time we make food and drink choices throughout the day.  (Learn more about Czaja’s research HERE).

“A huge thank you to Zach Pousman and the team at Helpfully for making my attendance at TEDxPeachtree possible, also for my friend Havana Nguyen, who nominated me for this great opportunity in the first place.  I have found that people in the UX community in Atlanta to be very helpful, and it’s people like Zach and Havana who help to promote and uplift others so that we can all share resources, and networks to reach our goals together.” - Natalie Gauvin

Samantha Maida

Contrary to Gauvin, Samantha Maida is not new to the South.  She’s a (rare) Atlanta native and (not-so-rare) passionate Georgia Tech alumna and fan.  Maida has spent several years in product development and management in several industries, and is currently focused on security initiatives at GE Digital.  Because of that current role, Maida was excited to hear from Justin Daniels at this event; she recapped his talk on Cybersecurity with us:  “He talks about how businesses are so motivated by bringing new products to market to increase revenue, but security is an afterthought. Innovation is happening so quickly, that security can’t keep up. He challenges society to slow down, and re-focus – as a group. With proactive collaboration, we can limit the threat.”  Well said, Samantha!

As Maida continues to grow in her career, she shared that she’ll also be applying a critical skill presented by Dana Kanze in her talk about gender bias in venture financing.  Kanze shared her research findings that ideas are more readily supported when a presenter or requestor utilizes “promotional” speech (proactive/positive focus) versus “prevention” speech (defensive/what if focus).

Common Inspiration

“I just wish we could take the positive energy and enthusiasm for change from TEDxPeachtree and live it daily outside the walls of the auditorium.” - Natalie Gauvin

Although our TEDx winners attended the event separately, we found some commonalities when comparing feedback on their respective experiences.

Both were astounded by the first speech of the day from Tejas Athni, a high school student who made a discovery about plant extracts’ ability to shrink brain tumors.

And both women love calling Atlanta their home, but each is headed out west in 2018 for some exciting adventures - Gauvin for her PhD graduation celebration, and Maida hopes to return to her new favorite part of the US, Sedona Arizona, for more hiking.

Here at Helpfully, we loved giving these driven, accomplished, impressive women in technology a chance to hear from others who are passionate about having a positive impact on the world.  If you’re interested in more from TED, check out their site HERE.  And we’d love to discuss your favorite talks at our next Helpfully lunch in Atlanta - if interested, fill out our form HERE.


2016 Election Aftermath - Information Visualization (and uncertainty)

From the New York Times. November 8, 2016.

One chart is burned into my mind from election night.

The chart above — from the New York Times election night coverage — is a gauge chart, a display that information visualization practitioners rail against frequently. This is partly because they waste a lot of space (and more at the Tableau Blog too) If designers choose to represent data with a gauge, they spend a considerable amount of screen real estate to represent a single datapoint. Infovis practitioners and researchers love economy. Edward Tufte calls this the 'chart to junk ratio'... and gauges have a lot of junk.

But the design team at the NYT also chose to "wiggle" the data, using a jitter algorithm that randomly repositioned the needle. Or at least semi-randomly repositions it.

There went all of my finger nails.

But now, in the aftermath of the election, I just got to read the rationale for choosing jitter, which I hadn't considered too deeply, thinking it a cruel trick and not a considered choice. Gregor Aisch wrote up a nice little piece that outlines their thinking. Some highlights:

  • Jitter is good for showing visitors the data is "live" and that any changes would not require a page refresh
  • The jitter had a purpose - it captured the uncertainty of the forecast. As the confidence in the forecast went up, the jitter went down. I recall that the jitter was very pronounced at 8 and 9 PM and shrunk to almost no wiggle by 11 or 11:30 PM. I noticed this on the night of the election, I think. Though it's really subtle and now I'm not sure if I did remember it on election night or I'm just projecting some rationality of my reading of the gauge.
  • The designers added noise to the jitter. Which I'd argue makes it more "fun" and dynamic. You could imagine jitter that just monotonously and smoothly swung between the two end points of the forecast. This part seems more contentious to me, but if your goal is eyeballs glued to the site, then this was a good choice.

'Jibo' Home Robot Launching Soon

Jibo is a domestic robot with a sophisticated set of sensors to interact with family members. Jibo is meant to be a domestic companion, and the creators show him interacting with young kids, adults, and older people too.

But Jibo is immobile. He can't move around on his own — I guess you're supposed to pick him up and move him to different rooms for different tasks. I think the overarching technology is cool (and smartly navigates a lot of constraints), but the idea that a user would unplug something to move it to a new room gives me pause.

Also, no mention of price on the Jibo site. Which is an additional concern of mine. I'm worried he'll be stuck in an uncanny valley between a toy (max price $300) and an important family tool (max price $1000?). I hope there are ongoing ways for the company to monetize beyond the purchase. Maybe they have some kind of payment integration that will let them take a small percentage of the ongoing transactions?

Research Snapshot: Better Negotiations through Social Perspective Taking

Research Snapshot: Better Negotiations through Social Perspective Taking

We all know that negotiation — the act of getting what you want when the other side wants the opposite — breeds anxiety and stress. Negotiating is analytical but also emotional and so requires people to understand their opposition, including their desires and their beliefs about the world. But how can we get that kind of deep understanding? How can we foster empathy on both sides of a negotiation? If we can foster more understanding, will we make negotiations less stressful and more satisfying? Does it improve the outcome?

Researchers at Stanford recently studied how to deepen a person's understanding of an opposing party, and how that affects the anxiety and satisfaction of a negotiation. The researchers created a simulation that worked like a computer game and then staged different interventions to determine the best way to foster "social perspective taking" (SPT), the technical term for viewing a situation from another point of view. See a thorough background on social perspective taking here: (Davis, 1996 - Amazon link).

The authors set up their study to take a piece of canonical negotiating advice — walk a mile in another's shoes — and worked to make that a part of preparing for a negotiation.

Software is eating the world, but...

"Software is eating the world", for sure. Those are words from Marc Andreessen- the Netscape founder (and now principal at A16Z, Andreessen Horotiwtz). To unpack this statement a little bit, the claim is that software will disrupt any and all industries, and that — in some real way — all problems are software problems. This idea has a lot of sway out in Silicon Valley, and proponets use the examples of software eating the hotel industry (airbnb), or software eating the taxi industry (uber), or software eating the grocery industry (instacart).


But here's a McKinsey Report (The social economy: unlocking value and productivity through social technologies, McKinsey Global Institute, 2012) that details how disruption will unfold. It won't be linear nor spread evenly across industries. Some industries will be relatively harder to disrupt, while others will be easier. The chart above outlines who much value is in each industry and how easy it will be to capture that value. In the Andreessenian terms above, software will be much slower to eat energy, food production, retail, and construction.

Appster - Habitual Dependence™

Appster is a company that rides the line between a mobile consultancy and a VC-driven arm. They are not order takers who turn an idea you have into an app: they do a lot more. And they take a stock in all (or maybe not all... can't precisely say based on their website) of the apps they help build. And then, since they're 'on your side' as an owner, they create:

  • the ux strategy
  • the business case(?)
  • the product roadmap, including what gets deferred to later releases
  • the marketing

It's a cool idea for a company. And they also got a TM on a cadence related design principle, which they call Habitual Dependence™ I think this is a TM'd version of the toothbrush rule for VC-related user-experience design.


Talking about advice to your future (or past) self...

We were discussing an idea at work today that resonates a lot with me. There is a collection of advice you'd give to your younger self. If I — 36 year-old Zach — was going to give 25 year-old Zach, or even 15 year-old Zach advice about living, work, love or business, what would I say?

What would you say to your younger self?

I feel like there's a deep insight about advice where the advice you give (and get) is very much influenced by the age of the giver


So I'd like to create a site to allow people to give and get great advice from people of all ages and cultures. I've got the URL youwillthankyou.com (and also ywty.co, pronounced "you too"). Not sure if we'll get it off the ground in 2014. But maybe. What would my future self say? He'd almost definitely say "do it!".

Research Snapshot: Measuring Vital Signs from Radio Signals

Research Snapshot: Measuring Vital Signs from Radio Signals

Fadel Adib and his colleagues work in the Wireless Lab at MIT (under Dr. Robert Miller). Most of their research utilizes different radio waves and using their reflection to determine the presence of people in an indoor space. But this year, they produced a much higher resolution — Vital Radio — that records respiration rate and heart rate. This is a huge advance for the internet of things and smart homes. Look ma’ no wires!

"In this paper, we ask whether it’s possible for smart homes to monitor our vital signs remotely – i.e., without requiring any physical contact with our bodies.” People can just relax in their homes — note that the technology used here does require they sit or lie down — as they normally would and the system generates highly accurate respiration rate and heart rate data.

The system is highly accurate, with average accuracy rates over 98%. The researchers used consumer grade chest-strap heart rate monitors as their ‘ground truth’ measurements. And their system can measure these signals at a distance of almost 25 feet (8m)!