Looking through boxes.

Recently, in homes across the U.S., people spent their Sunday morning walking around holding little cardboard boxes over their eyes. This was the result of a collaboration between Google and the New York Times introducing the broader world to virtual-reality (VR) technology.

It is one of those days that I will remember for years to come.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t paid much attention to the VR space since Jaron Lanier founded VPL back in the 1980s. Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR for $2b caught my eye, but mainly for the price of the acquisition.

Like many others, my assumption has been that while VR may have applicability in other limited areas, it is first and foremost a technology for video gamers; a community of which I am not a member.

My experience on Sunday morning changed all that.

I sat down at the table enjoying my multiple cups of coffee, while navigating through the Sunday Times (a weekend ritual in my household for years). Occasionally, I would take a look at the strange box that was included in a plastic bag with the paper, but I disregarded it as some kind of marketing giveaway, like a free bar of soap or laundry detergent.

After I finished the paper, my curiosity got the best of me and I opened the bag and discovered a pair of cardboard VR googles along with instructions for downloading a related VR app from the NY Times. Within minutes I had everything completed and was experiencing a new form of journalism, in this case an article called “The Displaced” about three children driven from their homes by war and other events.


In the Times Editor’s Letter, Jake Silverstein introduced the value of this new journalistic experience: “By breaking free from the rectangular editorial frame of a traditional documentary film, VR invests the viewer with an uncanny feeling of agency, a sense of being able to look around for yourself.” Although the googles were rudimentary, I understood what he meant as I was immediately transported into the story — this was true immersive journalism. I could hear children walking behind me and turn my head to see them or raise my eyes skyward to look at a descending food drop, all as if I was part of the scene. The effect was electrifying and other family members had the same experience. My wife, for example, “watched” (I’m not sure that is the appropriate word) the story and was moved to tears during one scene, something that rarely occurs when reading the written word.

Our lifetime has been one of technology advances. For me this began with my parent’s gift of an IBM PC XT in the early 1990s (with a sweet 10MB hard drive and 128k of RAM!). A few years later it was walking through Rome with a business partner and having him call California using a Motorola StarTAC mobile phone. Then it was having “1,000 songs in my pocket” courtesy of the first generation iPod, followed closely by my introduction to the Mosaic browser.

Now, I’m adding to this list Sunday’s introduction to VR courtesy of the NY Times.


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Five Things from October

  1. Type in your location and let out a “ruh roh”.
  2. Anticipating that LaPierre will use this as another example of the need for guns in U.S. schools.
  3. Interestingly, I make the same face with light beer.
  4. When art meets law. Love this on so many levels.
  5. And, this still cracks me up. Great job by the Adobe Marketing team.

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Algorithm of Sadness

It’s 1996. I’m early in my career as an attorney and working for Sun Microsystems. An opportunity opened up supporting Dave Walker, who was the vice president of sales for the company’s software division. With my manager’s encouragement, I interviewed for the job.

When I returned from the interview, my manager asked me how it went. I had no idea. It was the strangest interview of my career. It took place over lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant. I don’t recall Dave even once asking me a question about my legal or business experience. Instead, we talked about where I grew up, my family, favorite places I had traveled, and books I enjoyed. Mostly, I remember Dave’s voice. He had one of those baritones that shifted frequently in modulation from booming to confidential whisper, but always interspersed with one of the most genuine, heartiest laughs of anyone on the planet. Stranger still, when the waiter came to take our order, Dave spoke to him in fluent Vietnamese. It was something odd to hear coming from a big Irish looking guy with thinning hair.

Somehow I got the job and for the next three years I supported Dave and his global sales team. They turned out to be formative years in my growth as a manager and a leader because I had the opportunity to work with Dave.

A few weeks after I started, Dave held a team planning offsite at a hotel in Laguna Beach, California. I was surprised to be invited, because I was not part of the sales team, but only their attorney. For four full days we were closeted in operational reviews taking only a break each night for dinner. It was an intense, long and tiring few days and after our meal on the last evening, Dave suggested that we all adjourn to the bar for a drink. When I politely declined because I was going to visit a friend who lived in the area, Dave gave me a strange look, and then a grin, but I thought nothing of it.

The next morning, when I reviewed my bill at check out, I noticed that there was a charge for liquor and cigars from the previous night. The amount was for more than the cost of my entire stay. After questioning the clerk, I determined that Dave had somehow obtained my room number and forged my signature on the bill.

I spent the weekend feeling very anxious about explaining this expense to my parsimonious manager, but when I came into work on Monday, I discovered that Dave had let my manager in on the joke. It was a great example of Dave’s sense of humor. It was also his way of teaching me that if you want to be part of the team – be part of the team.

The following year, Dave held an operational review meeting in Paris. He had decided that his team needed to learn to make more effective presentations, so he hired  a coach to provide additional training at the meeting. When I found out that I was expected to participate, my anxiety level peaked. Public speaking was my Kryptonite. The thought of speaking in front of even a handful of people caused me to break into the sweat of a 10,000 meter Olympic runner. I tried every excuse to get out of it, including honesty. “Dave, I hate public speaking and I’m terrible at it.” But, Dave was relentless and made me participate.

After a couple of hours of training, we were given an exercise in extemporaneous speaking. My turn came right before lunch and I was asked to speak about something like my favorite meal or movie. I froze. My throat constricted, my lips felt like parchment, and then I mumbled nonsense for five minutes before we adjourned for lunch.

I walked out of the room feeling complete humiliation. Then I noticed Dave walking besides me. He flung one of his big arms around my shoulders and said: “Wow, you were right. You really sucked.” Then he let out one of his wonderful laughs. To make matters worse, over lunch he made a point of teasing me at every opportunity. Turning to others on his staff he would say things like: “Nice speech by our lawyer” or “Hope we don’t need him to argue a case for us.”

But that evening at dinner he leaned over to me and quietly said: “ Hey, don’t worry about this morning. Public speaking is an acquired skill. I was terrible when I started. Well, not as terrible as you, but just keep at it. You’ll get better.” That’s was pure Dave. He’d tease the hell out of you, but it was in fun and you always knew he cared – cared about you as a professional and as a person.

There are many different types of leaders. Some are removed and aloft; some are only focused on business; and others manage by fear. Dave was none of these. Instead, he had a style that I like to refer to as “professional intimacy”. He had a way of letting you know the pressure he was facing – whether it be in hitting sales targets or navigating internal company politics – in a way that galvanized your support. You wanted to do your best not just for the company or organization, but for Dave.  As a result, Dave’s teams always tended to “punch over their weight.” He always got the most out of us.

From Dave I learned that it was not just acceptable to have fun at work, but that it was an important ingredient of success. No one enjoyed humor or a joke as much as Dave. Yet as I grew to know him, I realized that it was also a deliberate and thoughtful mechanism that he used to help reduce organizational stress. And when it came to this, Dave would stop at nothing including convincing his team to dress at as the band Kiss and perform in front of his entire organization. The vision of Dave channeling his inner Gene Simmons and strutting around the stage in platform heels and black and white makeup still brings a smile to my face even now.

In that same vein, it was at Dave’s prodding that I performed at a sales leadership event on stage at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria. My part of the performance was to dress in tights and a jester’s costume and juggle clubs before an audience of more than 400 people. I was absolutely terrified, but Dave had a way of getting you to do things you never thought possible. That was one of his greatest attributes as a leader.

Over the last fifteen years, Dave and I lost touch. He called me once or twice to ask a question about one of his business ventures, but slowly we drifted apart. Despite this, several times a year something would bring him to mind and I would imagine us grabbing a beer and me thanking him for all that he had taught me. I knew how he would respond – with self-deprecating humor punctuated with a big laugh; however, it was something I really wanted to tell him. So, I would pledge to drop in to visit the next time my travels took me closer to his home in Atlanta. But they never did.

Sometime, perhaps a few years ago, a product manager at LinkedIn came up with an idea for a new product feature. The thought was to create an algorithm that would provide LinkedIn members with news related to other members who shared similar career experiences, for example, having worked at the same company during the same time. She probably handed this idea off to her programming team and they spent weeks coding and testing the algorithm before releasing it as a new feature that would provide value and happiness to LinkedIn customers.

Last week, the algorithm didn’t work that way for me. Instead, it brought me great sadness because when I logged on to LinkedIn I saw a message from a former colleague.

It said that Dave Walker had passed away.


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Get an Internship!


It seems like every few weeks someone asks me to meet with a college or law school student to discuss career paths. While I enjoy these mentoring opportunities, the conversations inevitably rekindle some of the anxiety I experienced at that stage in my life. I think most of us, when we first embark on our career journey, imagine it as a progression along a straight line. It’s only years later that we realize that things have evolved far differently. For me, whenever I look back on my career, David Byrne is singing in the background: “And you may ask yourself – Well…How did I get here?.”

The truth is that most of us wander as we travel through our careers. It’s normal and it’s healthy just as long it is mindful and not aimless wandering. (Please pay particular attention to that last sentence, Dillon children.) That’s why whenever I meet with students I encourage them to take advantage of internships. And, I’m fortunate because I work for a company that mirrors my enthusiasm by funding and supporting hundreds of internships globally each year.

Internships are the best way for a student to get hands on experience as a supplement to the theory learned in school. It’s also the chance to learn about the intangibles – the pace of the company, the culture, commonly used business acronyms (gasp), organizational structure and design, and corporate communications.  And, you get a paycheck. (Dillon children, please also pay attention to that last sentence.)

But the benefits go both ways. Some are obvious. For example, internships are a great way for us to identify talent for our organization. Even if the internship is for just a few months, we can assess whether someone will be a good fit for a future opportunity. Spending time with our interns (and we have some great ones this summer), also helps us understand how our organization needs to evolve to support our next generation of employees. How do they communicate? What tools do they use most frequently? Do they like to work collaboratively or autonomously? In an open space environment or an office? Do they value flexibility over regular working hours? The answers to these questions help us ensure that we are designing a scalable organization for the future.

And, sometimes, interns teach you other interesting things as well. For example, the above was diagrammed by one of our current interns on a white board in our office.

I’m only hoping she will next diagram Game of Thrones.

I still can’t understand that show.


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Taking the Legal Out of Legalese

“The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer. ”― Will Rogers

The famed American humorist, Will Rogers, was almost certainly going for the laugh when he uttered those words. But they ring true. The fact is that for centuries, the legal profession has been known for its redundant and ambiguous style of writing. For example, in Cervantes’ 17th century novel, Don Quixote cautions, “But do not give it to a lawyer’s clerk to write, for they use a legal hand that Satan himself will not understand.”

The criticism is well-placed. Frequently, I find myself reading a legal document in my personal life — a mortgage, a car lease, a waiver for a child’s school activity — and thinking: “I’m an experienced attorney, and I have no idea what this means.”

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Mumbo jumbo concept.

In the Adobe legal department, we spend a lot of time discussing our brand. This may sound like a strange area of focus for an in-house legal function; however, having a positive brand is not just a reflection of success — it enables success.
Unfortunately, the brand of the legal profession is tainted by the perception that our inkwells are filled with obfuscation. A few years ago, our legal team at Adobe recognized that we have been part of the problem and decided to change things. It has been no small undertaking. As you might expect for a global company with more than three decades of history, we have a great deal of work to do. But, we are making real progress in rewriting our agreements, policies and training materials to ensure that they are models of clarity and simplicity.

We started this undertaking by identifying a small team of attorneys who are passionate about effective writing. (We identified them by whispering the word “shall” and noting whether they responded with an involuntary twitch.) We then asked them to work collaboratively to create a document that would reflect our collective agreement on how we write. The result is something we call the Adobe Legal Department Style Guide (super sexy title, I know). It’s become the core of how we communicate and is integrated in regular trainings and department communications, as well as being part of the process for new hires.

The result of these efforts have been documents that are much more understandable with improved formats that are easier to digest and provide consistency in format and style regardless of who drafted the documents. Better yet, this work has helped us save money — shorter contracts mean less money spent on translation. For global companies these savings can be significant. But, perhaps, the biggest benefit of this work has been a much more positive brand in the eyes of our customers and internal clients.

Now we’d like to help others do the same thing within their organizations. To this end, we are releasing the Adobe Legal Department Style Guide under a Creative Commons license so that other legal professionals can use it as the basis of similar efforts. It’s free and you are welcome to enhance and change it to best suit your department or organization’s needs (but please provide attribution — it’s a small way of showing thanks to the team that created it).

You can go to the Adobe Legal home page to download your PDF of the Guide. Take a look at it and let us know what you think.

Hopefully, it can be a start to ensuring that the Will Rogers of the future run out of material.


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Takin’ a Detour

Before traveling to a new destination I always try to find a book about the place so that I can learn something about its history, culture and environment to  make my visit less superficial. A trip to Turkey was preceded by “A Fez of the Heart”, a vacation in Australia with “A Fatal Shore”, and while canoeing on the Missouri I found myself traveling with Lewis and Clark through the pages of “Undaunted Courage”.

But reading takes time and it’s a challenge finding the right book for a location. It’s also almost impossible to read a book and explore your surroundings simultaneously. Wouldn’t it be better if you had your own personal guide? Not just a person that you hired by the hour, but something that could help you explore a location in depth, but at your own pace.

That’s the idea behind a new app called “Detour“.

My wife and I and a group of friends gave Detour a try on a recent visit to Austin. We downloaded the app and walked to the starting point for the tour – in this case it was about  Austin in the 1880s and a series of murders during that period. Using the phone’s bluetooth capability, our phones quickly synced so that we could all hear the same audio narration. Then we put in our ear buds and began walking as the narrator – an actress portraying a woman from that period – began to describe Austin at the time of the gruesome killings.

The tour guided us through side streets, alleys and along the river as the narrator chronicled the events that unfolded in these locations almost 140 years ago. At one point, we were directed to walk into a store that displayed an original newspaper from the night of the first murder. Later the narrator led us into the Austin Historical Society where a librarian provided us with the original police blotters for the crimes. And, along the way, we saw parts of the city that we would never have visited otherwise.

The Detour team has produced a very refined and engaging experience. Both from the quality of the audio narration, music and sound effects to the technology itself. These “location-aware audio walks” use your phone’s GPS to deliver the audio relevant for your location on the tour. If you want to stop and look in a window, the tour pauses until you begin moving again. The combination creates an altogether immersive way to travel; bringing new insights to your surroundings.

The tour we enjoyed in Austin is the first outside of six that have been released in San Francisco. But Detour will be expanding into other cities.

Location-aware stories present so many possibilities. How about location-aware audio tours for those long drives in your car? Or, listening to a geologist describe the land rolling by below when you are stuck in a window seat on a plane? Or listening to a narrative about the flora and fauna of your surroundings on a long bicycle ride. What about easily enabling local communities to create their own tours similar to Story Corps? After all, every place has a story.

It will be interesting to see where it goes; however, it’s clear that travel is about to get much more compelling.


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Finally, Less Time with Paper, More Time with Clients


Today Adobe is releasing something that will make all of our lives a bit easier, and in the legal profession, that goes a long way. But first, a walk down memory lane.

I began my career with blue fingers. You may have as well.

Copiers were not in widespread use at that time and in my first job as an attorney we typed everything using carbon paper. It worked well unless you made a mistake and then it was back to scratch with blue ink marking your hands and clothing as you fed the paper into the typewriter. It made me fantasize about the paperless office, a concept that was then in its infancy.

A few years later, I joined a firm that had invested in a Wang minicomputer. For many of us in the legal profession, it was our first entrée into the digital realm. But it was painfully slow. So slow that I would go out for lunch while the system checked the spelling of a document.

Often, I had time for a very, very long lunch.

In the late 1980s, the proliferation of word processing programs created a professional Tower of Babel. Anyone remember Volkswriter, Easywriter or Word Star?

Market acceptance of Microsoft Word and the PDF standard (On behalf of attorneys everywhere let me say “thank you”, John) helped us improve productivity, but since then efficiency gains in the legal world have been slow. In part this is because of the profession’s often antediluvian acceptance of technology. But, more importantly, it’s because there haven’t been any compelling solutions that free us to spend more time where we add value to clients – instead of on paperwork.

Until today.

This morning Adobe released Adobe Document Cloud creating the next major advance in the way legal and other knowledge professionals more effectively support their clients by working more efficiently with critical documents. Adobe has a 30 year history of innovation, but as an attorney this is the one product that excites me the most. Here’s why.

Where earlier in my career, I battled with blue fingers, with Acrobat DC and Document Cloud services I can actually use my fingers to comment, edit and sign documents across touch enabled mobile devices like tablets and phones. Not only does it provide these capabilities, but when making changes or completing document fields the Adobe technology will identify and recreate the font used in the document and insert your changes using the same font!

And, how about this – with Adobe Document Cloud you can take a photo of a document and using Adobe’s Photoshop technology, resize it, adjust the shading, convert it to a PDF document and sign and share it with others. Board consents, agreement signature pages, and government filings are but a few examples of where this feature will increase our efficiency and responsiveness.  (And, this is to say nothing of personal use – how I wish this product was available when my child forgot to bring home a field trip permission slip. Today, they could just send it to me as a photo and the Adobe Document Cloud would allow me to quickly sign it and return it to the school.)

We’ve all seen this happen. You’re working on a document on your desktop at work. You go home and receive a message that the document needs to be edited and finalized earlier than expected. Because your documents reside in Adobe Document Cloud, you will be able to use your mobile device to access the document remotely and make the final changes.

Here’s another prolific pain point that Adobe Document Cloud also solves. For decades, companies and law firms have employed legions of people to walk around with manila folders circulating documents with signature tabs. Endless delay is caused by this archaic process, with documents frequently lost or forgotten on someone’s desk while they are on vacation.  Adobe Document Cloud avoids this with capabilities that enable documents to be managed, tracked and securely controlled providing visibility into where documents are in the routing process, including who has opened them and when.

With Adobe Document Cloud getting signatures from multiple parties on time sensitive documents has never been easier. Instead of faxing signature pages back and forth, Adobe’s eSign service will allow multiple parties to sign a document simultaneously. And, the sender can get real time updates on who has received, opened and signed and the document.

While some of these features and services have been available before, now they are integrated in a single platform with a beautiful, intuitive interface that reflects Adobe’s history of design and focus on innovating with the customer in mind. I encourage you to give it a try.

At last we can finally spend more time focusing on providing value to our clients – rather than paperwork.

Blue fingers are becoming a distant memory.

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