Chuck Gose: So the last time I saw you was in Chicago at an ALI conference in the spring. Do you miss me?
Pinaki Kathiari: Yes, especially your voice. :)
I was telling someone else about you and I think you have an amazing radio voice. I also always enjoy the conversations we have regarding communications and digital.
CG: So what you’re telling me is that I have a face for radio.
What have you been working on since I last saw you that you’re most excited about?
PK: OMG, there’s so much going on.
So shortly after we met, it became official and I was appointed as CEO of Local Wisdom. Since then, I’ve been training my mindset for this new role, kicked off a re-org (one that doesn’t consist of any layoffs, but focused on uplifting and career growth), streamlined our production, marketing, and sales functions, and we’re adding a new content production service model.
And my daughter just started college. It’s been a busy few months.
CG: Explain who/what Local Wisdom is.
PK: Local Wisdom is my digital agency.
I co-founded it about 18 years ago with three friends from college. Back then, we saw that there were companies that did great design and companies that did great technology, but none that did both really well. So that’s the company that we set off to create: A company that creates and cultivates amazing digital experiences through communication, storytelling, and creativity.
"That’s the company that we set off to create: A company that creates and cultivates amazing digital experiences through communication, storytelling, and creativity."
CG: Let’s take a look at three words you listed: communication, storytelling and creativity. For internal communicators, where do you see the biggest gap or biggest area needed for improvement?
PK: That’s a toughy. Communicators at different companies are faced with different challenges.
One of the most common challenges I’ve been hearing lately is around communicating to a distributed non-desk audience, like sales reps and field-based customer service pros. These people not only need to be kept abreast of what’s going on in the company, but they also need good tools to help them do their jobs.
CG: A generation ago, employees were referred to as “white collar” and “blue collar.” Now we’ve transitioned to “desk-based” or “non-desk” workers. Some even say “wired” or “non-wired.” How do you feel about these classifications?
PK: The classifications are more descriptive of the employees work needs.
"We have a symbiotic relationship with technology. Each time we create a new tech, it changes the way we behave, which then affects the next technology."
CG: The reason I ask is that I recently heard a new term. You know how everyone’s trying to jump on the new thing. This was not white collar or blue collar, but “new” collar. It describes a worker who isn’t corporate, but is skilled.
PK: I’m not a fan of non-descriptive labels that are too ambiguous. New collar seems like a buzz-wordy thing.
CG: Oh it definitely is. No doubt. What are some buzzwords that drive you crazy?
PK: Ha! The options are plentiful. I get annoyed at myself sometimes for saying them too.
“Get on your radar.”
“We need to be innovative.”
“Parking lot that.”
The meaning of phrases and words are powerful and I’ve seen so much inefficiency stem from not fully understanding (or having two different understandings) when someone uses these buzzwords.
CG: I don’t like to give Steve Crescenzo credit for much but one thing is how he recommends that communicators and leaders need to use their “weekend words.”
"We need to communicate as human beings and not robotic business automatons."
PK: I love Steve and that statement. We need to communicate as human beings and not robotic business automatons.
One of the challenges is in the way we define words.
For example, at Local Wisdom, we will create a prototypes to test before building something out in its entirety. Some people think of ‘prototype’ as a functional minimum viable product (MVP), while others see it as a series of designed screens that do not function, but simulate functionality.
We have to make sure to use our ‘weekend words’ to make these clarifications so our clients know what they are getting.
CG: I learned a new word today - automatons. And I Googled it and it’s a real word.
CG: There are two words that people use on a regular basis that drive me crazy - transparency and authenticity. But a third one is being added to the group - transformation or one of the dozens of variations of it.
PK: If I have to tell you to be authentic, then you are not authentic. I think buzzwords like that are created when we want to “brand” a potentially scary message. Like if a company is having a re-org, they brand it by saying it's a “transformational journey”.
CG: When I hear words like “authentic” and “transparent,” I like to think the weekend word people are looking for is “honest.”
When we say we want “authentic and transparent” leaders, we really want honest ones.
PK: Yes. And everyone should be honest. So do we need to tell that to other adults? Like, when did we become not-honest?
"We have an obligation and responsibility to build tech to better lives."
CG: This is where communicators have the opportunity to be true business advisors to leaders. If you can get a leader to admit that they don’t know the answer or, even better, that they have information but just can’t share it yet, that’s honest. Rather than hiding behind some buzzword-filled crap statement. “We’re aligning synergies and shifting paradigms…”
PK: I’ll toast to that.
I think it is a tough job for communicators to do that, but it is necessary. It does takes guts, discipline, and confidence to stand up to a leader and say that. But I’m also hopeful that the leader mindset is changing and so I feel that future leaders will be more honest, human, and relatable. ** Knock on wood.**
CG: Would you say you’re a fan of technology?
CG: I read a quote recently that I want to get your thoughts on. It was from Melinda Gates, Abraham Lincoln or Einstein - I’ll let you decide, but the quote went something like this… “Technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs.”
Do you agree? Or is this just how business is now?
PK: I think it is true. Technology has made us capable of working at any time. Just like you and I were trying to schedule this Chuck Chat at like 9pm over LinkedIn messaging.
Our behaviour impacts technology and technology impacts behaviour. We have a symbiotic relationship with technology. Each time we create a new tech, it changes the way we behave, which then affects the next technology. It’s an ongoing cycle.
CG: Yes. And yes. It’s funny to think about a conversation my parents probably had 30+ years ago. I remember my dad came from his job at GM and laid a beeper down on the kitchen table. My mom thought their lives were over.
My son was 7 when a neighbor gave him an audiobook on cassette tape. I found a tape player, showed him how to load the cassette, and told him to hit play. He did, and then he turned to look at the TV as if a video was going to play. My wife and I had a good laugh.
CG: Do you think there is such a thing as too much technology?
PK: We have an obligation and responsibility to build tech to better lives. Not just for the means of getting people “hooked” on our products and never taking their eyes off the screen.
Have you read Hooked by Nir Eyal?
I like the concepts in the book and the psychology behind the movement. But the end-game should be the betterment of humanity, not solely profits.
CG: Chris Wagner, one of the co-founders of Bananatag, is a huge fan of the book “Hooked.”
PK: As a product owner there is a part of me that thinks about how I can make people hooked on my products. But I want to be careful and not go down a shady path. Digital products help us in real life. The best way I can get people hooked is by providing real value.
What I like about Chris and the Bananatag team is how they are focused on providing a real value to communicators who use their product.
CG: You should join their sales team.
PK: I love them and their story. They have a simple and solid product.
CG: Do you think chatbots have a place in internal communication?
PK: Definitely. I think they will make lives easier. We experimented with some chatbots and they are tricky to create and get right.
But it’s such a time saver for simple queries. I can go on my Slack and ask, “How many vacation days do I have left?” and get a quick answer. That’s much easier than logging onto my HR Intranet and looking up that info.
CG: And what about AI?
PK: Ok, beware another tangent.
I think that anything we use in the realms of marketing or communicating to the outside world will be helpful in communicating to our inside world.
AI is very powerful and we’re seeing it complement internal tools. For example, Salesforce Einstein (powered by IBM Watson) pinpoints things that I should be paying attention to, based on our past data.
Our next Local Wisdom Labs endeavor looks like it’s going to be in machine learning and AI. I’ll let you know the results of our experiments.
CG: Please do. Ready for a pop quiz to wrap this up?
PK: Yes. Shoot.
CG: What is the best 80s movie all of time?
PK: Omg, Ferris Bueller's Day off just popped in my mind.
CG: That is correct! And the final question, describe your feelings toward internal communication via emoji.
PK: With great emojis comes great responsibility. 😃
CG: Thanks for being a part of Chuck Chats!
PK: Thank you so much Chuck! I really appreciate what you are doing for internal communications and I’m honored to be on a Chuck Chat episode.