Menage A Trois—Crystal, Me and You

In doing research on Job Security in the Techno Age, I stumbled upon a new technology known as Crystal.

Crystal was just launched in its beta format and purports to give you a better way to communicate through email and other methods. Coincidentally, last week I came across a Note to Self podcast about Crystal, where Crystal’s founder, Drew D ‘Agostino, shared some interesting insights on the tool and his goals with it.

Crystal scours the internet for information on you and then produces a personality profile on you with a percentage of accuracy. Since I have a decent web presence my profile was deemed 95% accurate. The profile of my wife who is nowhere to be found on the web, came in with a 54% accuracy… which makes me wonder how it could be labeled as “accurate” at all. Even she asked me, “How did they know this about me?”.

Crystal has produced an algorithm which feeds data scoured off the web into the 64 personality profile types produced by DISC and similar programs. My guess is I’ve taken probably a half dozen DISC profiles since graduating college. On average I found them to be fairly accurate. You can look at something and say “that’s not me”… but is that true? How well do we really know ourselves anyway?

Crystal says it can help you to communicate with someone else based on their profile. How to send a more effective email, how to talk to them on the phone, how to write a note. It all seems creepy, but are you really surprised? In short order every customer service representative and eventually every AI robot will have a profile on you that shapes how they communicate with you.

We all want to communicate better whether we trying to land a big deal or a first date.

Challenge is when we use these tools we want them to narrow our view of someone. We want to pigeon hole them because it will make our lives simpler. We’ll produce better results. Be happier. But, we have to watch the overreliance on these tools. We have to watch the losing what is left of the human touch.

Check Crystal out. First on yourself, then on your friends and family. See how accurate you think it is. Notice where you feel comfortable about the results—60% accuracy, 80% accuracy, 90%? What’s your standard for validity? You might even order a DISC profile and then compare it to Crystal to see how good a job it did in assessing you. You can also register on Crystal and “clean up” your profile, and ask other to contribute to that effort.

You can expect that in the near future most every customer service representative, whether human or a robot, will look up your Crystal profile before contacting you. It may be to upsell you on internet services, collect a bill, or follow up on an order. Before you know it, the whole world will be speaking to you just one way….based on your profile. How horrible will that be? There will be no variety in the buttons we get to push or the opportunities we try to sell you. We are all becoming an algorithm.

So now let’s talk about my profile for a minute. I looked at a few of the previous Disc profiles I’ve taken over the years and compared it with the Crystal results. It was accurate much of the time. But so are horoscopes—aren’t they? What if their usability is no greater than reading the horoscope of that loved one or friend? What if these tools, like a horoscope, mislead us?

My profile and feedback on it [in brackets]

When speaking to Don…

  • Emphasize the future [Definitely. The past is so yesterday]
  • Tell a few jokes [Good ones please or it backfires]
  • Talk about abstract philosophies or ideas [I was a philosophy minor and enjoy a good thought session but only for about 30 min.]
  • Use self-deprecating humor (don’t take act like you take yourself too seriously) [Please don’t take yourself too seriously]

When emailing Don…

  • Use emotionally expressive language [ OK I guess]
  • Appeal to his feelings to drive him to action [But please not just that. This profile missed a big part of me- the logical lawyer guy. I use both sides of my brain. So state a case!]
  • Use an emoticon :) [Not really. Seems stupid usually]
  • Write with short casual language and abbreviations [My time is all I’ve got so please use as few words to express a thought as possible]

When working with Don…

  • Recognize his achievements verbally [Yup]
  • Express criticism in person or on the phone [Never in an email]
  • Send a reminder the day before a meeting [ I can’t stand being late for anything]
  • Schedule meetings casually (i.e. tomorrow afternoon) [Only works when my calendar is wide open]

It comes naturally to Don to…

  • Exaggerate details when telling a story [Heck, I’m a professional story teller]
  • Feel sad if an accomplishment goes unrecognized [For a moment and then I get over it fast]
  • Openly discuss emotions [I can handle that…many can’t]
  • Enjoy a story more than a list of facts [I make a ton of checklists but love a good story]

It does not come naturally to Don to…

  • Feel annoyed by an exaggeration [Not so sure about that. I can’t stand B.S.and call people on it.]
  • Pause a conversation to correct something inaccurate [ I’ve learned not to interrupt others but will correct myself immediately]
  • Approach problems cautiously and methodically [I wonder how I ever managed to litigate all those cases.]
  • Cut a conversation short to get something done [There’s a fine line between being urgent and rude]

Final thoughts…

Most of us show the world who we want to be, but not necessarily who we are. As on any dating or career website, we’re more attractive, confident, experienced, and likeable than could ever be true. The great communicator, whether they be a customer service rep, sales executive or a lawyer, can speak to our deepest needs, not just the phony surface ones.

It will be interesting to see if some company flat out says: Why don’t we beat Crystal, Facebook, Google, and everybody else to the punch? Why don’t you fill out this extensive questionnaire so you can tell everybody exactly who you think you are, what you want and every advertiser can have at it. It’s what Amazon is doing with your purchase history taken to the extreme.

This is just the beginning. It only gets stranger, scarier and more interesting from here.

So where does Crystal pull its data from—the answer is every place it can. And that will always be the answer. Unless it’s been protected by a password, the information is fair game. And data collection is only getting better and the algorithms are only getting tighter. As one commentator, Alex from Texas stated, “Life according to Google search”. He was saying that depending on who you are, Google…and everyone else… will provide different search results to the same query. Framing your world according to the internet presence you created. Living in your own private Matrix.

These algorithms seek to simplify our lives in a very or Orwellian way.

Imagine this: In the future your brand will be co-opted by an algorithm. You are what the algorithm says you are. Your perception of who you are doesn’t matter. How scary is that?

Is there something inherently evil in technology? I don’t believe so. Technology is a tool and like any tool it can be used for both good and bad reasons. However some of our tools have become powerful. Whether it’s the ability to steal identities or to mold them or to intrude on them or to ridicule them, the weaponry is easily available. In this heightened game of spy vs. spy there are sure to be a whole new class of winners and losers.

Part of the human response will be to break out of the digital box. Read a good paperback. Do something outdoors with your family and leave all the gadgets behind. Meditate. Have conversations that last longer than five minutes. Get more sleep. Prepare healthy food. Exercise. Ask how you can simplify your life.

PS Crystal says I’d have a good old time with President Obama!