COMPFERENCE19 DAY TWO WRAP UP: Powerful Portraits, Comp Data Panel, Future of Work is Jazz

Following last night’s festive customer appreciation party at the Nicollet Island Pavilion, featuring a live band, a lumberjack show and hand-made smores, the day started bright and early for PayScale compers. After a hearty breakfast, everyone assembled in the ballroom of the Minneapolis Hilton to start the second day of informative and inspirational presentations. Here are some highlights of today’s sessions. 


First on the agenda was Platon. One would expect a mononymously monikered individual to effuse a certain cachet or star power. Luckily for those in the audience, Platon did not disappoint. 

Starting his career with the famed British Vogue magazine, the London-born photographer has captured images of people from all walks of life: politicians on all sides of the political spectrum, accomplished athletes, celebrities and entertainers, as well as military veterans (and their widows), entrepreneurs and human rights leaders.

Smartly dressed in a three piece suit, Platon took the audience on a journey with him around the world. He regaled us with tales of adventure and intrigue while showing a curated selection of his photos that evoked intense feelings of awe, wonder, inspiration and at times even grief and anguish.

In this day and age, cell phone cameras are omnipresent. We’ll pay painstaking attention to detail, taking infinite amounts of time finding just the right angle to commemorate our morning latte art or our gourmet dinner. Then, we’ll share it instantaneously across our social networks far and wide. 

However, when the photographic subjects are people, they can be notoriously impatient – expecting inexplicably instant yet perfect results. Two or three clicks and they’re done. Alternatively there’s the DIY approach of taking a selfie (or 10), hoping that one of them comes out worthy enough to be shared with discerning friends.

In the era before cell phones, the process of taking a photograph was slow and deliberate. These days, even the mere action of sustained eye contact with another person for more than a few seconds can cause extreme anxiety. Imagine doing this for minutes or hours. That’s the norm when shooting with a medium format, manual focus Hasselblad film camera.

It may seem ironic that Platon employs this old-fashioned, artisanal approach to photograph individuals like the elite titans of technology like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. However, that’s precisely one of the points Platon is trying to make. 

While technology gives us 24/7 access (or at least the perception of it), technology can sometimes be a barrier to authentic human connection. Slowing down facilitates that connection. Deceleration promotes calm amidst chaos. It enables him to build rapport with his subjects, to uncover and reveal their desires and fears, as well as their soul and humanity. Such proximity and intimacy can reveal the subject’s flaws and insecurities, causing them to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. However, the process requires a certain level of trust that Platon will achieve the best result for them. The same thoughtful process can be applied to almost any customer interaction. 

If you’ve ever seen a body of Platon’s work, you’ll notice that a distinct quality and aesthetic are inherent throughout. Yet, at the same time, because of the time and effort invested, and the focus on quality over quantity, each photograph is uniquely different and customized for each individual. 


Heather Taylor, Business Product Manager at PayScale led an informative panel discussion with five industry leaders, representing six market survey companies. 

At the top of the presentation, Heather recounted PayScale’s progressive path with data, explaining that in the early days, PayScale only had crowdsourced data, then eventually added company sourced data, and most recently welcomed the other market data providers. 

She also reaffirmed the company’s philosophy regarding data. “At PayScale, we believe that all data is good, and more data is better. But the strength comes in really knowing when to use which datasets.” 

That being said, all datasets have biases. In the real world, the word ‘bias’ often conjures up an understandably negative connotation – particularly when used in reference to injustices inflicted upon individuals based on race or gender. However, in the data science world, bias simply refers to an understanding that everything comes through a different lens. 

In the media, the same news story will be reported by different outlets in different ways. Some might focus more on one set of details, while others will focus on yet a different set of details. That doesn’t mean one is right or wrong. Similarly, there are multiple market survey data providers. One is not necessarily better than another. Nor should you rely on just one. 

The Future of Work is Jazz

Dr. Natalie Nixon is a creativity strategist with a background in two seemingly disparate fields: anthropology and fashion. 

Whereas social sciences such as economics, sociology and political science offer a “bird’s eye view” her anthropology background gave her a “worm’s eye view” of society. Having a grounding in anthropology provided her with a foundation in human centered innovation and the foundation of design thinking. It honed her skills in observation, deep listening, as well as learning how to frame and reframe questions. 

Her interest in fashion began in childhood when her mother taught her and her siblings how to sew. As a college student with limited funds, she excelled at making her own clothes. She eventually started a hat making business, which led to a job in global fashion sourcing for Victoria’s Secret. For her, fashion is a merging of aesthetics, consumer insight, logistics, and supply chain management. This combination is what guides her uniquely hybrid approach to her work. 

Her presentation provided a number of inspirational stories to help boost creativity in the workplace. Here are just two of the main ideas she presented.

Innovation Fatigue

Ironically, the word ‘innovation’ is becoming a trite expression. Many companies are beginning to experience “innovation fatigue”. 

The word gets used a lot because people feel like it’s the right thing to focus on because it sounds impressive. But instead of working together, we end up talking around and over and under each other, as if we’re trying “out-innovate” one another. 

Often companies will want to create a dedicated innovation center, or an innovation lab. This is a great start. However, if you aren’t redesigning the underlying processes and systems upon which our work is built, you run the risk of creating innovation ghettos, or isolated silos.  

Because fundamentally, you’re talking about culture change, which starts with a shift in mindsets. Which then becomes changes in behavior. Eventually that leads to culture change. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. 

Jazz Music as a Heuristic to Design Adaptive Experiences 

While doing PhD research behind the scenes at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, she began to notice a pattern in her research data. Regardless of their role or department, from maintenance to front of house management, employees routinely referenced the concept of flow. This prompted her PhD advisor to steer her toward research in improvisational organization. 

Thus, she began to understand jazz music as a heuristic to better design adaptive experiences for clients.

This framework is based on the work of Frank Barrett, a musician and academic. These are the seven parallels between the ways jazz musicians work, and the way innovative, adaptive organizations work. 

  1. Provoke Competence

Jazz musicians will often start a solo then invite another musician to top that. As a parallel, Google at one point had a program that allowed employees to take 20% of their time to work on solo projects. While it’s no longer an active program at Google, one of the greatest successes to come of it was Gmail.

  1. Embrace Errors

In jazz, there are constant shifts between keys and rhythms. While seemingly discordant, it’s part of a larger piece. Every team at the Ritz Carlton has a daily line up where they talk about errors from the previous day. It’s about building a culture of being transparent about problem solving, not fear of making mistakes. 

  1. Value the Design of Minimal Structures

Things should have a beginning, middle and end. The middle is where the magic happens. Don’t get bogged down in too many details. In the business world, pop ups are a great example of launching something with a minimal infrastructure. 

  1. Value Distributed Tasks

In a jazz trio or quartet, the task of leader of a piece gets switched up on a regular basis to keep things fresh. In at work environment, you can easily switch who will lead meetings. 

  1. Have Retrospective Sense Making

Jazz is about the legacy of embracing different solos and new interpretations. Similarly, in businesses involving production, like fashion, if something is too far in the past, customers will no longer want it, too futuristic, then people won’t get it. 

  1. Value Hanging Out

A lot of great connections happen backstage, or in the hallways. Office design company, Steelcase is designing spaces for employees to hang out more with each other. 

  1. Soloing and Supporting

Art Blakey, a drummer, was one of her father’s favorite jazz musicians. Even though percussionists normally set the pace, he had a way of being able to recede to allow others to take the lead. Natalie encouraged us to ponder, “What would it look like if we let others lead? What would the signal be to the leadership of a company?”

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