The “Voices In Our Ears”

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I have to confess a weakness to spy/thriller movies. They are great Saturday evening fun. On “date night,” I try to encourage my wife we should see one, she usually finds something else .

The cool/high tech spies, often, have an earpiece. There is always someone at “control,” telling them what’s happening, advising there is a bad guy around the corner and help will be 5 minutes to late. Where would Tom Cruise be without Ving Rhames whispering into his ear?

At the same time, I also think, “Isn’t that voice in the spy’s ear annoying, doesn’t it distract him from what’s going on?” I think “Control” senses that, so they tend to minimize the idle chatter.



Those voices intrude on our everyday world, my car GPS keeps trying to tell me what to do, it’s annoying and distracting, so I’ve turned “her” off. My mobile, keeps prompting me with alerts and other things to distract me, my office phone announces who is calling. Today, I was on a video conference, while simultaneously getting prompts from my office phone and mobile on two different calls. These distracted me for only a couple of seconds, but it was enough that the people on the other end of the video call noticed and asked if something was wrong. Fortunately, it was with a long time client, not a prospecting call, I apologized, muted everything and we continued.

Sorry for the long preamble, setting up this discussion. Increasingly, we are seeing technology that enables “voices in our heads,” or “prompts on our screens.” These are real time suggestions on what we might say next, in the conversation we are currently conducting.

I think the technology is very powerful, offering great promise, but I worry about the current implementation as a “voice in our heads.”

I have two key concerns:

The first is the distraction factor: How do we pay attention, being present, with the prospect, or customer, if we are also paying attention to the voice in our head or the prompt on our screens? We already experience the impact of distractions on calls all the time. We know when someone is not really paying attention to us, that they are answering emails as they talk, cruising the web, or looking at texts. We do it ourselves, often, embarrassingly asking, “Uh, I’m sorry, I missed that, can you repeat yourself?”

We experience this in meetings daily, where people are physically present, but not there.

There is endless data about how stunningly unproductive we are when we pay attention to the voices in our heads, or the prompts on our screens.



My own personal experience is amazing. I’ve stopped, completely, all other distractions (OK, I slip up every once in a while). It’s amazing what happens, and how much more engaging the conversation is when one isn’t distracted. We actually get real work done–imagine that!

While this is a hugely important issue, there’s something more important.

We know, as coaches, that our coaching is far more effective and long lasting when we help our people learn and discover the best way of doing things themselves. We know that “telling” them what to do is stunningly ineffective. They don’t learn, they don’t grow, they don’t improve. We end up having to constantly be telling them what to do. (This has been known for millennia–“Feed a person a fish……”) And there is a huge amount of science supporting this.

The implementation of many of these technologies, combines these two devastating things–distracting our sales people with the “voices in their heads,” and suggesting what they should do, rather than helping the person discover them for themselves.

I’m really trying to be open minded and not let the fact that I’m one of those “old guys,” impact my thinking. After all, I did co-found, grow, and successfully sell one of the earliest AI based enterprise analytics companies. I, also, sit on the boards of a couple of companies doing very exciting things in AI/ML. So I think I get the technology, and can begin to grasp some of the potential.

But I struggle with much of the implementation we are seeing, particularly in platforms to “help” SDRs and other inside/phone based sale professionals. I wonder if the “voices in the head” or “prompts on the screen” approaches are really the most effective, or if there is a better implementation of the technology that can drive the performance and productivity of people.

I have to confess to being frustrated and venting. Over the last couple of days, I’ve been participating in an online chat, promoting “voices in the head.” They even cite scientific evidence that says you can be productive when distracted–though they admit it is still less than the productivity achieved when not being distracted.



I don’t mean to be rude or impolite, I actually quite like the technology. I just think the implementation is way off, and there is a much better way to implement these technologies, for greater and more enduring effect.

Of course, that’s not as cool and sexy as a spy with and earpiece and the voices in his head……

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