The Laser-Focused Execution of Tyra Banks Proves the Exception to the Rule at the Janky Technology & Entertainment Exposition
By John Lavitt
Burbank, CA (The Hollywood Times) 06/24/19 – Did you know that Tyra Banks, the supermodel that created the America’s Next Top Model television franchise, attended the Owner/President Management extension program at Harvard Business School and teaches a class on personal branding at Stanford Business School? At the 2019 AT&T Shape Technology & Entertainment Exposition at Warner Bros. Studio, the first woman of African-American descent to be featured on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue proudly laid out her business credentials. Indeed, she took hold of the main stage and held the Comic-Con-like audience in the palm of her hand. While pitching her vision for the Modelland experiential attraction that she plans to open in late 2019 at Santa Monica Place so “all beauty can be celebrated,” Tyra Banks also detailed many relevant points that the brains behind the AT&T Shape Expo could benefit from considering moving forward.
From the beginning to the end of the hit-or-miss event, practically everything presented felt poorly executed. Most of the lines between the technology and its actual value seemed quite blurred. Although the 5G technologies being introduced often were impressive and innovative, how they were being presented was simply sloppy. From exhibit to exhibit, there was a lack of explanation of the purpose and context. As opposed to having each exhibit display a simple sign telling the attendees who they were, what they were doing, and their basic value proposition, a visitor had to dig out this information. Indeed, you had to dig deep to figure out what you were looking at and what purpose this new technology might serve. Moreover, beyond the occasional business card, the booths rarely provided a postcard-like takeaway illuminating such basic and essential information. Rather than orientation, the lasting impression too often was a vertiginous cacophony of sounds, lights, and computerized simulations.
Indeed, there is a definite argument to be made that the exhibitors should have listened to the advice provided by Tyra Banks. When describing her goals while designing Modelland, she said, “At every stage of the experience, we want to take care of your face and your body, but we also want to take care of your heart… Thus, I accept nothing less from myself and my team than laser-focused execution with true excellence. You have to avoid the janky at all costs.” Such laser-focused execution is what was needed at AT&T Shape to realize the goals of the exposition. Although many of the exhibitions were fun to experience, there was no sense of how they would be implemented, and it all came across as somewhat janky.
For example, at a booth run by Noitom, Fluffo the Red Panda proved to be more confusing than informative. Although amusing to interact with Fluffo, it also was a baffling experience. First, Fluffo the Red Panda looked a lot more like Fluffo the Red Raccoon. There was zero panda vibe. Second, Fluffo had trouble pronouncing his own name, and the audio was generally distorted. Finally, nobody could figure out the purpose of Fluffo and what the creators were trying to express. No attempt was made to provide clarity or a greater understanding. Although the booth operators were fluent in the language of technology, their ability to communicate with flesh and blood human beings proved challenging, and this difficulty had nothing to do with a language barrier or country of origin. Given their lack of orientation, Fluffo floated in this all-too-common vacuum at the AT&T Shape Expo of what the heck is the purpose of this technology? Searching online, the answer to this question could not be found, buried somewhere deep in techno mumbo-jumbo and panda overload.
In contrast to such confusion, Tyra Banks expressed herself with the clarity of someone with years of experience branding herself and selling her message. Even if her project was not up your alley, you could not help but empathize with her desire to create a lasting legacy. With a determined smile, Tyra Banks said, “My whole life is about pain to passion, Modelland is part of that story and my long-term legacy. It will be a place where you can go and have a model experience, both physical and digital. When there, I want people to experience a true transformation that expresses both their inner and outer beauty.… When you enter Modelland, you become part of the rebellion against the controllers of traditional standards of beauty. The goal is to transcend those limitations, thus changing the very definition of beauty by expanding it.”
In the same fashion, the goal of the exhibitors at a presentation event like AT&T Shape should be to transcend the limitations of technology by expanding on what it means. Such expansion provides context and visualizes the greater impact. Beyond this goal at an event, there is an argument to be made that such technologies should provide meaning by using innovation to evolve beyond the profit margin. Naturally, most business ventures will continue to be focused almost exclusively on the bottom line. Some of the more intriguing ventures at AT&T Shape, however, revealed loftier goals. A perfect example turned out to be OpenVerse, the winner of a three-way AT&T shape mini-contest that was voted on by attendees.
Launching their nonprofit educational metaverse at AT&T Shape, OpenVerse believes XR (Extended Reality) is going to radically change the nature of entertainment and communication across the board. Unlike many companies focused on the profit motive, OpenVerse believes the new technologies should first be used to expand educational opportunities. As founder Nick Marks says with passion, “Our goal is to create a free common core aligned XR curriculum for grades K to 12. Ultimately, we want to provide every teacher and student worldwide with headsets that will revolutionize how they learn and what they can access.”
Although the presentation at AT&T Shape by Nick Marks, unfortunately, reflected the same impreciseness of the presentations by almost all the other technology companies, the mission and goals of OpenVerse did prove inspiring. Indeed, by using imagination to see the potential, it’s clear that such technologies could be revolutionary in the educational arena by allowing the visitor wearing their VR goggles to move like a satellite through the solar system. Walking away, you were convinced that the goal of OpenVerse, if realized, would be a win-win for practically everyone.
The question remains, of course, whether or not the big investors and the big companies will pony up the cash to do some actual good in the world with lasting impact. I know Tyra Banks would approve of such nonprofit-oriented investment in the future of education as proposed by Nick Marks. You would hope that Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are listening. Are Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google and Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. paying attention to the needs of the next generation? Obviously, the money is there to be invested, and technology investments should focus on what is good for the kids, what bolsters educational value, and what ensures the healthy future of humanity as a whole.