Widgets Magazine

Mission Complete

Chris Backus – of Harman on his passion for the podcasts

167 and 14. These two numbers represent roughly 180 hours of seat time in my daily drive or on a plane. They also represent the end of a journey I started in January of
2014 to listen to each episode of AVWeek and A State of Control from the team at AVNation. Before diving into what I learned, I want to start with how I got there.
One of the roles I hold at Harman is to manage the Valued Independent Partner (VIP) program for AMX. This group is a collection of independent service providers around the globe who offer services like installation and programming for AMX Channel Partners and end users. Steve Greenblatt, the host of A State of Control, is one of
our members.
Soon after I took the reins of the VIP program in February of 2013, Steve asked me to be a guest on the show. At the time, scheduling conflicts prevented me from accepting the invitation. However, my interest was piqued and I tuned in to see what Steve had been working on and what the show I was being asked to participate in was all about.
Almost immediately I found myself in a perpetual head nod while listening to the panelists on the podcast. In a world where most of us do not get to engage with like-minded people on a daily basis, I stumbled upon a group of professionals who not only had shared interests and beliefs, but also had similar challenges. Their discussions were wide ranging and touched on hot button issues like who owns the code (episode 3) and defining the scope of work for programming projects (episode 4). These are discussions we all have within our own walls and I found it refreshing to hear their take on the issues.
It wasn’t long before I was hooked. Like many of us in this industry, I love to cram a lot into any given day and regardless of what my wife might say, I don’t like to waste time. For years, I have listened to sports talk radio during my drive time as opposed to listening to the same four songs on repeat you typically find on modern music airwaves. My thinking was that music was mindless and I could actually learn something from talk radio, thus, making better use of the time. The lineup at AVNation became the perfect fit for me. The length of most shows is an hour and, for me, that’s perfect because my commute is roughly 30 minutes each way allowing me to consume an episode, or more, per day.  Heading into January 2014, I decided to make a New Year’s Resolution to consume every episode of AVNation content from their start to present day.
Why start from the beginning and not just jump in mid-stream? Early on in my listening, I recognized two key elements that helped in this decision. First, there are many repeat guests. Rather than constantly hearing them refer to previous discussions from earlier episodes, I decided to bite the bullet and go back in time to fully understand the back stories and see how we got to where we are today. Second, there are higher level concepts about the industry and technology that may be initiated by a new product, but have larger value in terms of the concepts they represent. In reflecting on the topics covered in the various podcasts, it became clear there are concepts and trends in our industry that are general and not necessarily product or date specific.
Initially, I wanted to listen to everything and I expect that I eventually will, but math (and time) began to catch up to me along the way. As I was consuming, AVNation was (and still is) creating more and more content. New shows started coming online and it was no longer just two or three shows to keep up with. Things like EdTech, DIY, Live Life, AVSocial, the App Show, Pico Perspective, and the Lighting Guy all began to compete for my time.
I subscribed to the AVNation podcast channel and was getting all of the content in a single feed. As one episode would finish, another show subject would start – one after another. Over time, I learned that each show could be subscribed to on an individual basis and I moved towards that model to better organize and focus my consumption into one show (and topic area) at a time rather than jumping around in the order that shows were produced; as an achievement oriented person, the per subject subscription model works better for me. This approach allows me to get caught up on one series and then jump to the next while waiting for more content to be produced by the team of volunteers. Without rehashing the specifics of every episode, I did want to share a few things I learned along the way.

  1. It’s a small world after all.
    AVNation is a community and the people are great. We share more in common than we know from victories, to trends, to interests, to challenges. A quick example of how I have benefitted from the group is when news broke that Harman acquired AMX in May of 2014. I was working on a major project at the time the news was announced. Before I pulled the trigger and signed a contractual agreement, I needed an immediate answer that only someone on the inside of Harman could provide. At the time, I didn’t know anyone inside Harman or have a clue as to where to begin looking. However, I knew that Bradford Benn worked inside Harman and he was a regular guest on AVWeek. I reached out, he answered my question – problem solved. He is an example of a critical industry contact I would not have had without listening to the show. Recently, Bradford called out members of my team in what I’ve coined “Ham-Gate” in episode 167. As I shake my head in reflection, this was a fitting end to the journey. Of course… during the last show I needed to consume to finish the goal, I am called out on it. We’re working on it – sorry for the mix-up.
  2. Get social or miss out
    The AVSocial show convinced me to get on Twitter (@AVControlGuy). I don’t really post, but I do consume. With TweetDeck, Twitter has become my only source of industry news. The TweetDeck dashboard has provided me with the filtered view that provides me the quick glance that I need throughout the day. Before listening, I thought Twitter was not for me and wasn’t some place I should be looking. Now, I think it is essential to not only understand the industry, but to understand what people are saying about your brand.
  3. You are not alone.
    At this point, it feels like the panelists are family members. They have been daily companions with me in the car for close to a year now. I have learned a tremendous amount about our industry and it is refreshing to know that others have the same challenges. In some cases, these online relationships have turned into personal relationships as we have crossed paths in business, at shows, and on projects. Everyone is just as professional and fun in person as they are on my car stereo — and yes, George really is almost 5ft tall. *( George’s note: humph, 5’6″ without boots actually! I do sound bigger on radio though!)
  4. Customer Insight
    I highly encourage sales professionals in this industry to subscribe to EdTech. This show is a great use of your time. Not for product discussions, but for buyer personas. I found this end user show to be very insightful. What matters to this buyer? What are their pain points? If you listen, they will tell you. I found this show series to be gold in terms of understanding this type of buyer. Yes, it is focused on the education market, but it is quite interesting to be a fly on the wall as these users discuss their challenges. You will find that many customers in our industry share their challenges. As a manufacturer, I found it interesting to see how they are evaluating the dealer channel, independent service providers, and product.
  5. 3D is the devil.

In short, as Duffy Wilbert from InfoComm stated in AVWeek episode 161, “We are a passionate industry.” I agree. Most of us have a thirst for knowledge and the offering from the volunteers at AVNation truly meets this need. The team at AVNation has created a community for like-minded people to discuss, jab at, and have fun with subjects that deeply impact our personal and professional lives.
As I look back on this journey, it has been a tremendous amount of fun. Looking ahead, I am excited about getting caught up on some of the shows I set to the side to knock out my AVWeek backlog. Ultimately, I challenge you to tune-in, learn something new, and find out what’s going on outside of your bubble – I know I did.

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