Skip to main content

Press & Awards

Check back here often for the latest news on our new product releases, awards, recognitions, and other exciting achievements.

Press & Awards

Check back here often for the latest news on our new product releases, awards, recognitions, and other exciting achievements.

Home Automation Podcast Episode #160: An Industry Q&A With Mark Coxon

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Mark Coxon, Sales Director at Tangram Technology, shares his approach to human-centric design and how the modern office will look like in the years to come.

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Mark Coxon. Recorded live on Wednesday, March 10th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About Mark Coxon

As a proclaimed accidental technologist, Mark was set to pursue a career as a zoo veterinarian before discovering the technology space in 2000 when he took a position at IBM as a direct sales representative.

Today, Mark uses his interest in zoology and love for behavioral psychology to approach technology and human-centered design from a unique perspective at Tangram Technology.

Interview Recap

  • What led Mark from pursuing veterinary school to working at a residential integration company
  • The future of work as companies begin to bring employees back to the office.
  • Mark's approach to human-centric design and how the modern office will look like in the years to come
  • Mark's creative endeavors, including a book he's currently writing and his podcasts, Daybreak and Selling AV.

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #159 A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Shawn Lemay


Ron:  Our guest is the one and only Mark Coxon, currently Sales Director at Tangram Technology. Mark's a super interesting guy. I've known Mark for many years, going back many moons. And frankly, I've been trying to get Mark on. Mark's a well-known podcast personality in our industry. He stood on many a stage, and I was super excited to find that he made some time for us and joined us here on the show. Without further ado, let me go ahead and bring in Mark. Mark, how are you, sir?

Mark: I'm doing awesome. I love the red, nobody can see this, but I love my red live window. In commercial AV, sometimes people get confused. They think the red is mute. But from the broadcast, red is life. You have to know that.

Ron:  Do you come from broadcasting? How do you know that? Because I don't even think I knew that.

Mark: Oh, really? Yeah. I actually learned that when I was at Vaddio because I was at Vaddio, a camera like a video conferencing camera manufacturer. We would go to shows as a lot of our integrators were commercial integrators. They were doing like conference rooms and things like that. And red is bright red. If your speaker is in red, it's mute. But when we go to broadcast shows like NAB National Association of Broadcasters, you notice that all the video switches and things that do this, green is a preview. Green isn't live. Green is what you might be doing up on the green, and red is what's in the window. If you remember, the on-air light in a studio is the red light on air. Right. We have two completely different versions of what people think red means. Some people think that means stop, and some people think it means to go.

Ron:  That is funny. That's so accurate. Thanks for pointing that out, Mark. What I want to learn about, first of all, let's you're the Sales Director at a company called Tangram Technology. Who and what is Tangram Technology?

Mark: Tangram Technology is a division of a larger company called Tangram Interiors. And the long and short, Tangram Interiors is a workplace furniture company. They do custom furniture. They are a Steelcase dealer. I am the Sales Director for the technology group within that company. Obviously, if somebody's building a workplace, they need a tech to go on top of that furniture. And that's what we do.

Ron:  Awesome, I am going to go completely tangential here. I have a problem with my email at One Firefly in that I have an absolutely uncontrolled inbox. Over the last several weeks, I've been mindful of tackling it on the weekends, actually, to try to reduce my inbox down to something less than 40,000 emails in my inbox. I'm now at 38,000. I'm very proud of myself and what I was going through. I filter it by time. And I actually went way back and actually found some emails this weekend from you from like 10 years ago. You and I have known each other a little while, and I've envisioned or kind of seen you as more of a commercial audio video guy. And I've always been kind of a more residential audio video guy. Why don't you share with our audience just your background? You have a very diverse background, and it's brought you to a lot of fun places around the world and many different roles. Fill us in. Help us understand how you where you started and how you landed, where you're at today.

Mark: Yeah, it's such a weird thing. I always tell people I never thought I would be in technology. I wasn't the kid who took apart his radio or rebuilt the TV set for his parents, like on the weekend or something like that. I always wanted to be a veterinarian, and specifically, I wanted to be a veterinarian in a zoo. I was going to school for zoology. And in fact, I started biomedical engineering. I went into the zoology program and was on track to do that. I met my wife, and I needed to get a real job. At the time, I was waiting tables through college, and I needed to get a real job to support my wife and pay for our wedding? I ended up working at IBM. They put me on the phone talking to IT managers, and why they hired a waiter who had never worked on a computer to talk to its managers, I'll never know. I don't know the logic in that hiring process, but they did. And within a couple of months, I was the lead on my team. And this was before Google.

This is when you actually had to use AltaVista or some of those old browsers that were out there. I was going to what is .com and typing in what is RAM? Because I didn't know, the training at IBM didn't teach us that. It taught us how to search the inventory system for part numbers. That's what the training was about. But then, when you're talking to I.T., managers are asking you all sorts of questions. Luckily, I was innately curious, and I liked to know the answers to questions. The first time I would say, I don't know, but I'll find out, and then I would go find out. And interestingly enough, one of my friends who went training with me left a couple of years in and went to an audiovisual company. A couple of months after that, they needed somebody new, and he called me. That was my foray into audiovisual, was one of my friends pulled me out of IBM into a residential integrator. I started where you're at Ron, I started in Arizona in 2001 through 2009 through the housing boom and then the housing bust. I did residentially, and I worked for a company that did Arizona D.R Horton and a lot of Shea Homes. At peak, I think we were doing two thousand homes a year in that company, with structured cabling and security and central vacuum and all of those things.

For me, I met a ton of people. I got to talk a lot across a wide demographic, from active adults to brand new first-time homebuyers, about what they wanted to do in homes and how they use technology, and how it affected their life. After the housing market collapsed, I stayed indoors for a couple more years. But in 2010, I had a chance to move to California and start with an AV company that did museums and visitor centers and very experiential AV. For a few years, I did that ended up on the manufacturing side with Chief Daylight Vaddio, which was milestone AV, which some of your resi people know as well. I ended up at Barco, which is projectors and wireless sharing. I pulled out of Barco to be back here on the integration side now in commercial and workplace. I've been through that residential experiential manufacturer and now more straight commercial. I guess if there had to be the next iteration, I'd have to be like a roadie on a live event or something like the side of AV I haven't worked yet.

Ron:  They get the full perspective, get the full thing. Who is a typical customer for you? You're running sales. I'm assuming that means sales and design for the systems you guys are speaking out. Who are your customers today, or what are the types of entities that would be your customer?

Mark: Our main customers are private, higher education, biomedical companies, a couple of hospitals like mission-driven hospitals, those type of clients. I boil down the people that I work with. They usually have a couple of different theories or design-centric. They have a look and a feel and a culture, and they want their technology and their space to mirror that and stuff out of the box. It just won't fit the bill, for they are growth-minded, meaning they're just going so fast that they're not going to take on in-house projects. They're not going to take the I.T. manager and turn him into a team, Microsoft team's expert because they don't have the time for that. They're growing very quickly, or they're innovation-minded, meaning they could do that. Maybe they're not going so fast and furious that it couldn't purpose. But the main core of their company is innovating somewhere else. Why would they take their eyes off the prize of that innovation towards the Human Genome Project or something like that? They're not going to retrain their people to do AV, and so they're people that are looking for an expert to help them accomplish some of those goals within those.

Ron:  It would be helpful if you described it in your own words. What's the difference if I say I'm using these generic terms that I know I throw out all the time residential integration versus commercial integration at a high level? How are those two spaces different? Or are they the same and it's just two different types of customers, what are the differences that are obvious to you?

Mark: There are a couple of things. I would say on a human level. Residential integration is much more personal. It's somebody's home. It's the largest investment they've ever made. It's something that's very personal to them. They know exactly how they want to use it. They're the people who are going to be living in it. And they know what they do. They know how they entertain. They know what kind of music they like to listen to. They know what their kids do in the house. They know how many TVs they're going to need. They know that stuff. They know the environment intimately, and they're looking for a high level of touch, someone they are comfortable with in-home. All of these things come into play. If there was anyone skill set, that commercial could learn greatly for residential, it's that interpersonal communication.

And that very personal touch to something that's there on the commercial side, you know, systems sometimes have to be much more scalable, right? Obviously, if you're going to do this a hundred times, how do I now manage that? Do I need networking skills to have to network things to get there? I mean, there are a lot of things that start to come into play, scalability, and support. You know, what's the service level agreement? How do I get a technician to 18 different offices within a two-hour period as opposed to just to someone's home if they need some help on the weekend? I think those are the main business level differences in the piece, and I think that maybe is one thing that residential could learn from commercial is how do I make something that's scalable, maybe on the weekend? I think we're seeing that a little more with how they manage multiple homes or manage systems through some type of back-end platform through their automation provider or whatever. But I think those are the main two things. The technology, honestly, we've talked about this in the past. Technology is technology. Is there a difference between the really high-end speakers and QSC architectural speakers that go on the ceiling? Of course, there's the technical difference between those two things you have that think those things are easy to learn.

The harder thing is making those switches because what I see a lot is you'll have a residential integrator with a really good client who owns a business. Then that client asked the residential integrator to do their business for them because they did their home. But the needs of the business from an IT perspective and things may be different than what that person is used to providing. On the same opposite level, these guys did my conference rooms come to my house, they come to the house, and they do it to a good enough standard and not to that very personalized approach to how do I design this to really make them happy? Purchasing sometimes takes the joy out of AV. The purchasing department can suck all the relative, all that kind of subjective value we sell in residential like this sounds better because to your ears, you like the sound. You like warm-sounding speakers.

Ron:  I have a question. This week, I was listening to the CEDIA podcast, and they did a special on speakers. There were a bunch of thought leaders around speakers, and I don't know a lot about speakers. I was tuning in to learn about speakers. I was a little disappointed. I'm not going to lie. It was not speakers. They were only talking about home theater speakers. I was thinking more about, well, what about two channels? I didn't get what I thought I was being sold as the subject matter. But let's put that aside. I learned that one of the speakers was talking about in the pro world or commercial speakers, for example, are very specification driven, the detail, the room, and I don't know if this is true. I'm posing this to you. Does this seem accurate? Is that the selection of gear, and I'm using speakers as an example of gear broadly has a set of specifications. The engineer, the designer will be meeting a specification, and they will make their selection of hardware based on the parameters, the ones and zeros, and the details of that particular piece of gear.

Whereas in the consumer world, a lot of times, the speakers are beautiful. They're physically beautiful, attractive. There's tension from a design and marketing standpoint to how the speaker looks, and if you look at the speaker specs, often there are minimal specs compared to what you'd see in the pro world. And I thought that was a really neat example of how more of the commercial world, the specification, and engineering-driven versus the residential world, but I don't know that that's the case. I'm lobbying that to you. Does any of that jive with your experience in both worlds?

Mark: Yeah, I do believe that is is somewhat the case. Let's say you're doing an audio system in a banquet hall. You're just looking at these speakers that are going to be five feet away from people's ears. They have a 90-degree coverage pattern. And I want to do center-to-center coverage. I need 15 speakers, and they need to cover this frequency range. OK, I've done that. Maybe you go as far as doing some type of model of the space and E's model or something that'll show you the difference in sound pressure level from point to point right within the room and make sure it's even. And then, we also talk about a spec called STI in Commercial, which is the Speech Intelligibility Index. This is their speech transmission index. Sorry, but it's intelligibility. If somebody speaks, can I understand what they're saying? Because in a church big space, you could speakers there, but you might, with the echo, not be able to hear exactly what's being said. They have a way to measure that as well. You go through all this. Here's my problem with that. If you want me to say, I say yes, I think you're right. But here's my problem with that: we have taken something subjective, which is how people hear.

Now, anybody in home theater, anybody who's done residential in here knows I could show 15 different people, 15 different speakers in there, and they're all going to pick different ones or fits. Objectively, they all have different specifications, and if you're putting them down on a piece of paper, you may be able to rate them and rank them and say, well, everybody should think this one is the best based on what it is. But there is something very psychosomatic about the way we hear things. Everybody has a different preference, different sound range, et cetera. Here's the thing. I go in, and I tell a client. "I've done all this beautiful math on your space, and these are the speakers you need. And this is the kind of coverage pattern you need." And we do a lot, and we come in, and the client comes in. It receives space and says, I can't hear it, and I don't like the way it sounds. Now, did we do our job? This is where I get into a very weird commercial.

Ron:  What's normal and I'm hoping or thinking you would have to at some point have included the customer into a discussion around what they want to hear or educating them. If we do it this way, it sounds this way. And if we do it that way, it sounds that way because that's definitely what you're going to do in the residential world. Does that happen less in the commercial world? I don't want anyone to throw tomatoes at you or for you to get any nasty tweets after this interview. Be careful what you say.

"I'm somewhat of the mindset that says the customer doesn't know what the spec means. They bought a system that they thought was loud enough to hear and to understand. Some people don't like my subjective view on that, but that's my very people-centric side of it. This is why I'm a firm believer in demoing as much stuff as I can for people."

Mark: You have that decision, right? Sometimes it depends on how involved the customer is. The customer has often bought the specification from a consultant or somebody they believe it's the right thing to get. We don't know as an integrator where that's been dropped, and you fill out the spreadsheet, and you win the job, and you install it, and they don't like it. Or if you're even on the design-build site, maybe you don't have access to the people, or maybe you have access to the wrong people. Suppose you have access to the I.T. Manager, then great. And he says, "Well, that sounds good to me." OK, well, when the CEO comes in and says he doesn't like it, then that's the conversation. I'm always in this gray area. Some folks say, "Well, we met the spec, and because we met the spec and installed what we said, we should get paid, and we did our job." And I'm somewhat of the mindset that says the customer doesn't know what the spec means. When they bought, they didn't buy 89DB in a speech, intelligibility of point eight. They bought a system that they thought was loud enough to hear and to understand. And if you don't think it's loud enough to hear and understand, I think we failed. And some people don't like my subjective view on that, but that's my very people-centric side of it. This is why I'm a firm believer in demoing as much stuff as I can for people. It costs me extra money. It cost me extra time. It costs me coordination with manufacturers.

But as many times as I can, get equipment in my hand, get it into a customer space, and let them experience things better. And I think we've all had that experience. You buy something on Amazon that you think's awesome, get it out, and it's terrible. Sometimes you have to see it before you know it's good. For something as subjective as sound, you might want to let somebody hear it before going forward with your design.

Ron:  That makes a lot of sense. I'm going to give a few shout-outs. Jason says, "Welcome to the show. Where in. SoCal, do you reside? I'm a local LBC guy here." Is that like Long Beach?

Mark: Yeah, last night having dinner actually at Sunset Beach at Fish Camp. So yeah, I know that area over there. I live in Rancho Santa Margarita, so I live in South Orange County, a little more towards San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano. But I know exactly where Jason's at.

Ron:  Awesome. We've got Allen. He says, "Awesome show. How can I not put that on screen? Thank you. Love that.

Mark: Yeah. I'll take it.

Ron:  The show's over, Mark. We've got to conclude it there. There's nowhere to go but down.

Mark: Don't ruin it.

Ron:  Yeah, leave it to me, give me a few minutes. Mark, what's changed? I'm going to ask maybe a question. You could take many directions, but I know that we have an integration generally in North America is doing really well. And I want to say generally commercial, certainly in 2020 was pretty thoroughly depressed. I don't know exactly how it's actually doing now. Is it rebounding here in 2021, and what's changed? And how's the outlook? What's the future, let's say, the rest of this year, the next couple of years look like? And then I want to get into some of the changes in the workplace, but I want to talk just kind of high-level business first.

Mark: Yeah, I mean, obviously, everybody got thrown into work from home last year, and if they weren't used to doing that, that was a little bit of a transition. We've been preparing for this world for 10 years. You know, the soft Kodak platforms have been around for quite a while. I was telling you earlier that I was using Zoom in 2013 to record a podcast. Although Zoom may have been something somebody used for the first time last year, it's been around eight years. It was doing well over that time, but not on the ramp that it was obviously after everybody had to go home. The only surprise for me was how well all the platforms were able to get server space to run calls. I think Zoom had a two hundred X increase in traffic. If you just put a two hundred X increase on your network traffic at work, what happens? It crashes. Somehow, they avoided that. They were able to scale that in a really cool way. I'm sure somebody in the background was really scrambling to make sure they had access to bits and bytes to move phone calls and video calls. But that worked relatively well.

Honestly, I think most companies were surprised how well their transition went into remote as they had to. Most commercial integrators were down in that twenty-five to thirty percent last year, which makes sense from what I heard. We lost a good three months, which is twenty-five percent of the year. Nobody was really doing anything. Of course, companies like Logitech and Zoom, some of those companies had really good months in those three months. Right. Like the supply chain broke. That was the biggest thing that happened in our industry. You couldn't find a $100 webcam anymore. They were selling $99 Logitech webcams on eBay for 500 bucks because that's what people want.

Ron:  I almost entered that market, I'm not going to lie. I dug in my closet over here, and I saw my whole array of cameras and was like, "Do I put these on eBay?" I actually refrained from doing it because maybe my team, we have over 50 people now, they actually might need cameras and might not be able to get them so let me just keep the cameras and send them out to my team. The entrepreneur in me said, "I might be able to make a buck here on these cameras.

Mark: Yeah, you probably could have, too. We are seeing some return now. The kind of play that we saw business start to pick up right away was education, honestly, because everybody had to get ready for remote learning. Schools had to make sure that they were ready to teach remotely because they weren't going to go back full time, universities really started investing in remote learning in every classroom or even some higher-end systems every third. Businesses started to build studios. Because if you're not going to have people in the showroom, you may need to broadcast all the things you used to do in person. We saw some of those short-term solutions pop. And then things kind of slowed down a little bit.

I think people are looking for somebody to lead and when you hear Google or somebody say, "Well, we're not going to bring people back until September of 2021 into the office space," then other companies hesitate. Depending on their business. Some companies are very manpower intensive. Part of our company is delivering furniture, right. Those people who deliver furniture really need to be in the warehouse loading trucks, receiving shipments, doing things, so those people have to go to work. I think businesses have returned to the extent that they have to. But we've seen a pause still. On the areal, I'd say, I think I think according to NSCA, the National Systems Contractor Association, I think they said they're supposed to be a 17% increase in construction this year over last year. But that still doesn't get us back to 2019. Still going to be depressed under 2019 on the commercial side this year, although we'll have a better year than last year that's what it looks like. Hey, it's on the upslope. What else can you ask for? That's on a positive grade.

"I've heard from a lot of the content I've consumed that COVID was the great accelerator, accelerating patterns that were already underway and it took what might have normally was going to take 10 years, and now it took a year."

Ron:   I think we'll take that all day long. What's changed? What is your prediction? And I know you have a strong conviction around this, around the way humans interact with technology and around technology in the workplace. I've heard from a lot of the content I've consumed that COVID was the great accelerator, accelerating patterns that were already underway. And it took what might have normally was going to take 10 years, and now it took a year or some version of that. What does that mean to you and what you see in the workplace? And I'll maybe take it from the first path, which is the work from home. When you go back to the office, do you use the office differently now? What are you seeing?

Mark: I agree with you. There was no pivot. Somebody from the passenger seat reached over, and they placed their foot on top of yours on the gas pedal? Right. That's what happened to the business, has somebody accelerated your car without your consent. That's just what happened. But you're right. The direction didn't change. Now, when we talk about work from home, are people going to use the office differently? One hundred percent. In fact, I've been talking a lot about this, and it's this thing that what work from home showed us is that we can do certain things remotely. It should have done for small businesses to illustrate what that gap is between the work in the office and work from home experience. Certain things worked really well, and there were likely certain things that didn't work as well. And so, if you're a business owner or an executive at a company, what you really should be doing right now is a gap analysis. What worked really well from home, what actually may have even gone better, what was more efficient? Where did we start to suffer? And now, how do we actually use the office bridge to get there? For example, we work with many Ernst and Young companies, and we sponsor Entrepreneur of the Year. We're working with a lot of these small, innovative companies. They noticed it took them four Zoom meetings to decide that they used to make in-person in one meeting because not everybody speaks up. Everybody has different ideas. The way the calendar may work or how they feel when they're in the room makes it hard to raise your hand or get a word. And sometimes people are walking a virtual or if you're in the room, you might see Bob shift in his chair or try to get eye contact with the CEO. Like I got something to say.

On Zoom, you don't know who he's looking at, who he's trying to get the attention of, what made him uncomfortable. Did his kid walk by, or did those words caused him to stiffen up a little bit in his chair? Is it time to ask for his opinion on something? Those things are much easier to read in person. At two o'clock today, Ron, come to a meeting and be ready with all your creative ideas being creative mode at two o'clock today, and from two to three, your brain is in creative mode. OK, well, you just came out of an accounting meeting on Zoom. Are you in creative mode at 2 when you come into that brainstorm session? No, you're not. And you probably had a two-minute transition between meetings because people schedule you back to back. Right. When you start to look at this stuff, you go, OK, now, where were the gaps? And I think that's really why we have the chance to innovate is. If we're going to come back to the office, we need to return to the office to reinforce teams. We need to come back to the office. The office needs to be a place that inspires creativity. The office needs to be a place that allows us to make decisions in a quick and meaningful way so that the rest of the week, when we're at home, we're driving all towards the same goal. The office needs to be a place to reconnect people, the purpose of the company, and what you're actually doing. Because you kind of forget when I'm sitting at my kitchen table, you tend to forget what's going on with the other 15 people you see scrambling around when you're in the workplace. Right. Or you forget there are 40 trucks outside trying to get loaded right now to go places.

But when I park in the parking lot, I can't find a place to park. I realize 100 people are working here, and 40 trucks are trying to get out the gate. Those levels of consciousness around what other people's jobs are around, the organization's intent in those kinds of collaborative moments, a lot of that happens well in person. We need a space where people go. You know what, I'm stuck creatively. I need to go to the office for two hours. Or we can't get this decision done, we need to get all together for half a day, and we're going to do this. We're going to look at this piece. We're going to do that. And when we leave, we're going to have a decision made, and we're not going to schedule another Zoom call for next week. And I think that's where we're going to find some really cool creative ideas that start to happen.

Ron:  Do offices of the future or maybe offices that you and the team are designing now look different today than they would have if you had taken that project on? I don't want to say a year ago because COVID started going nuts around March 9th of last year. Let's say 18 months ago versus what you're doing today. Are you finding architects, interior designers, technology designers? Is the product on paper different than it would have been a year and a half ago?

Mark: I think so. I think it's becoming a lot different. I think there are some short-term things that people are reacting to still. Once we have a vaccinated population and a vaccine and all those things for the short-term COVID concerns, think some of these things about touchless and proximity to people in the office and things like that will start to fade. I think that's always going to fade. But the way that they are designing spaces, really thinking about me and we space now in the office. When I go to the office, is there a space that I can do heads down, vote work and there's a space that I can meet with a team or create a team environment to accomplish one of these goals, make a decision, build a team, create a forum. The people I've been talking to, the architects, and things are really starting to think about neurodiversity. How do I create different places in the office where people can do different tasks based on their brain works? And then how do I create these places that really reinforce team, reinforce innovation, or I guess purpose and common purpose with the company? It's funny because Silicon Valley got a bad rap for doing some of this stuff. And companies like, well, yeah, that's a luxury.

Ron:  The foosball table room. The pool table room.

Mark: Yeah, it's cool. It's for millennials. It's for GenZ. It's for whatever. We don't need that here. Well, guess what? If you have a workforce that you're trying to get back in the office, you may start rethinking what you need here because the office needs to be a destination. It needs to be someplace somebody goes for a reason. Otherwise, we're just going to do this. If there's no difference between working at home and working in the office, why do you have an office? There's a question right there, why even have it if you're doing exactly the if you're doing nothing different, providing nothing different than you're providing it, the work at the work from the home selection? Why would you have it? People really have to start thinking about that because companies are thinking about that. They're thinking about their real estate footprints. They're expensive. What are you using it for? Do we need four, or do we need one of them? I think you're going to see some of that too.

Ron:  Mark, I know that you're writing a book. I don't know if you're willing to talk about what you're writing about. I don't even know if I'm supposed to say that. I know you're writing a book. Do I just move on to the next subject or?

Mark: No, we can talk about that. For me, I'm a human behavior guy. I love animal behavior. My favorite class was primatology and watching videos of baboons in their social interactions and creating the hierarchy. I loved that kind of stuff as a zoology kid. People are animals on a basic level. One of the cool podcasts I listened to last week was Jane Goodall talking about how chimpanzees may unlock interpersonal communication in the office. Right. It was just really cool. You should look it up if you can find it.

Ron:  What podcast was that? I know she was a guest on Guy Kawasaki's podcast.

Mark: Yeah, this was the Taken for Granted podcast, which is by Adam Grant. It's a Ted X product, I think, but it's Jane Goodall on the work. It was really cool to listen to her talk about it. I'm always trying to think about how do I get technically minded people? Many designers, especially technology design, very technically, like to think of things in rules and processes. The soft, squishy science of people is a little hard sometimes to try to think about. Is there a way to explain the soft, squishy science of people in some terms that would relate more to more left-brained people? I came up with this idea of the physics of the workplace or the size of the workforce, and I'd say that any group of people has inertia. I took Newton's laws. Any workplace or any group of people has inertia. They have skills and habits, and ways of doing things that already exist. How do we see what that inertia is and how do we best leverage it to get the result we want? The law of acceleration. It's much easier I talk about curling in the book. This is the stone out on a path with some spin on it. And the people go along, and they either scrub the ice to reduce their friction or let it go to keep the friction increased. As it slows down, it starts to curl. How do we go along that path, getting the stone to go the exact opposite direction? It's going to be really hard. I got to bring it to a full stop and get it to go somewhere else. How much friction does that create, or are there ways to do some little polishing and things to create acceleration and create a different movement based on what's already existing there?

We talk about equal and opposite, one of the biggest complaints about the open workplace, the open workplace was made to help with collaboration and help with innovation and help people that maybe wouldn't have met before bump into each other because they have to sit next to each other in an open space. But the big equal opposite of that is now nobody can do focus work. How do you sit down and have a private phone call when you're two feet away from the person on the bench next to you? You always have this push and pull-off when I do one thing, an opposite effect, these opposite reactions, and how I mitigate them the best way. Then the last piece I talk about is gravity. It wasn't really one of Newton's three laws, but it's his other piece, the universal law of gravitation, that every man, everything that has mass, has gravity. Our work needs to be a place that attracts our people. I just talked about employees. How do we get them? How is this the center? How do people revolve around the office or the workplace, or the company?

It has its own gravity employee and create that momentum, but also in attracting talent? How are we getting the best and brightest minds to want to work in this place? How can the workplace tell a story, reinforce a feeling, build a culture in a play so that people are continually reenergized or attracted to be there?

Ron:  I was going to give you this comment. Maggies, she says, "I can already tell. I've read this book, so thank you."

Mark: That's good. Somebody is reinforcing my little goal in my head. And I'm trying to write it in a way. This is the thing. I don't want it to be professorial. And I'm not a professor. I don't have an advanced degree in human psychology or animal. I'm not Jane Goodall. I didn't spend 20 years watching chimpanzees in the jungle. But what I do have I've worked with thousands of people. I've built home systems for thousands of people with time. I've done systems for residential. I've done experientially. I've worked with a museum docent who wants to tell a story about an artifact and get that artifact to inspire the next generation of archaeologists. How do we tell a story around that to create gravity around that artifact, to get people to want to do something different in their life? I have these varied experiences. You start to together all these stories, these that you've seen or ways that you've helped people unlock something in their life or their house or the system. I'm really trying to bridge those anecdotes with studies that have been out there about human psychology and things and then this general theory. I'm really trying to weave those three things together and something that's very conversational, hopefully to the reader, instead of something like a class. Anyways, that's the hardest part. It's the voice, right?

Ron:  What's your timeline? I've heard that different writers have different practices or habits that help them get into their writing to meet a goal ultimately. I think having a goal I've heard also helps. I want to have it done by this date. Do you have some of those habits, perhaps, that are leading towards this thing being done by some particular time frame?

"I'm not good at having a deadline, just to have a deadline. There has to be some purpose behind what the deadline is. I don't know that setting a deadline for me creates the impetus to get it done."

Mark: Yeah, I think this is where the thing I sell becomes greatly into play for me. I'm not good at having a deadline, just to have a deadline. There has to be some purpose behind what the deadline is. I don't know that setting a deadline for me creates the impetus to get it done. I'd like to get it done. I wanted to get it done by now, actually. But for me, what I've had to do is just work. Maybe even give some insight into the way I work in a way maybe other people work too. But for me, the easiest thing to get down is the stories. These are my personal stories. Instead of writing something for me to say, hey, these are all the personal stories that I want to tell in the book about things that have happened in my life or people I've worked with or things I know firsthand. Then the second thing I started to do was write down all the analogies I want to use. I talked about curling. I've got one about the Panama Canal there. A bunch of things that people can relate to isn't to your workplace but lead some insight. Get all those down. Those are really easy things to get down on paper, then cross-reference all the stuff I want to reference from other places and then weave it together.

The last thing I want to do is start copying down word for word. Some of these are paraphrasing some of these resources that I have. To me, that's the cataloging. For me, that's probably the most boring work. I want to include it because it provides third-party support or concepts that are there that I know are rooted in truth and study that I know some people want in the book.

Ron:  Through scientific principle.

Mark: Yeah, exactly. I like to bring those in, but that's probably the I know the ones I want to use, and I know where they're applicable. It's just getting those down is actually kind of the hardest. I think my problem has been when I started. I wanted to do it from the introduction page to the end page. But that seems really hard too. What I'm finding is it's much easier just to get all the pieces down, lay them all out on the table like a big puzzle, and then start to assemble them. That's where I'm at right now. I think it's going to go faster now.

Ron:  I'm excited for you and proud of you that you've gotten this far. And I have not even the first word down for the book that I one day will write. You're miles ahead of me for the two pennies that that's worth. I want to jump subjects here. I'm just mindful of time, but there's a form of media you are a consumer of and a practitioner of. In fact, you're joining me here on this podcast. The subject is podcasting. Just to put this out there, I'm going to share this with our audience for those listening. What I'm putting on the screen will be the web pages where people can see the podcasts that Mark actually puts on. Maybe we'll start there. Mark, what are the podcasts you currently run? And then I'd like to get in just the high-level subject of podcasting and kind of what do you think it means and where do you think it's going?

Mark: Yeah, so I've done a few over time. I think I catalog this on Twitter one time, all the different projects I've tried over time. I guess the moral of that story is to try a leanings and find what find one. Selling AV is one that I do rather regularly. That's on Rave Publications. If anybody Selling AV is a five-minute or less podcast. And it really just takes one concept from a sales perspective and throws out a piece of advice and a couple of little anecdotes about how the advice may work in your business. If you have four or five minutes, it's super digestible, or if you're looking for something to throw in a sales training at your company or things like that. I'm super open. I did a whole series on cold calling. I've done them on value propositions, on handling objections, all those kinds of things. It's just real quick, four or five minutes here and there. But that one's fun to do. It's really easy for me at a stream of consciousness. I recorded it on my iPhone, on voice recorder in one take, and I send it to Rave, and they put some bumpers on it and go from there.

That's one that I do. And the second one I do is right now, as one called Daybreak, which started as AV Daybreak actually because I thought everything I did had to have AV in it. I found out it really doesn't. And what I found out was Jared Hilman is a business owner. He owns an integration, a commercial audiovisual company in Canada, in Regina, Saskatchewan, and he just opened an office in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He and I sit down, and we talk about this. I'm a sales director. He's a business owner. Really what we talk about is just general business kind of practices, how you build teams, how we create vision, more of those types of things. Every once while, we bring on a guest. We've had guests anywhere from a Director of Change and an Architect to somebody who runs adult learning at a vocational school all the way through AV Engineers or people like that. That one's fun too. That one is weekly, bi-weekly depending on the month.

Ron:  How did you discover podcasting? Did you discover it first as a consumer of content? Because you're pretty well connected throughout the industry. Did you just get invited on, and that's how you discovered the format?

Mark: It's the latter. Yeah, I did just get invited on a podcast. I think the first podcast I was invited to was in 2013. It was my first Infocom, and I do the commercial side. And I was working for Milestone AV, and I went to Infocom, and yeah. That was the first one. I'll tell you, though, how I got introduced into social communities in general if people want to know how to build kind of that presence; honestly, it was just contributing. I think it's a really funny story. For anybody out there that listens to you, that's on the side. CE Pro is a residential magazine through NewBay Media, and I read CE Pro a lot. And CE Pro used to have something called "The Ask a Pro" forum online, and people say, "Hey, I'm doing this new home thing, how do I get Roku to work through this bar or whatever?" And I would go on there and just answer questions. I was answering questions and ask a pro forum. And then I was commenting on articles. So I read an article and put. And what I found out was eventually like I had more to say than two lines in a comment, and so at the time, I started a blogger account that's before Google bought Blogger.

This was back in 2009, 2008, somewhere around then. What I would do as if I had an extended thought, I would write it down. I'd write 400, 500 words down in a blog format, and I would just link it in the comments like, hey, little too much for me to get into here. But if anybody wants to know my thoughts, I posted them here because it wasn't a commercial link. The magazines didn't delete them because it wasn't like go here for Jimmy Choo shoes. It was just Mark's take on the article. And I would provide the backlink and do all those things that helped their SEO. They reciprocated. They left it there. Finally, in 2000, I'd say in 2009 or 2010, CE Pro, owned by NewBay, they were going to start Commercial Integrator, and they had gone to Commercial Integrator. And Jason Knott, who is one of the editors there, came to me and said, hey, you're already writing all this stuff. Do you want to get paid for it? And he approached me as being a paid contributor for Commercial Integrator. So I did two pieces a month for Commercial Integrator on their content map, one technical piece, and one more sales-centric piece or industry ariel. After doing that for about two years, Rave came to me and wanted me to come over there and started doing stuff. I've done over 300 pieces on Rave writing from there.

And then, because I was involved in the social community promoting things, I was writing and doing things like that. That's where I started to get opportunities to speak. That's where I started, get opportunities to come on podcasts, give Infocom education, and all those things. I guess the long the short version of that story is to get involved in the community. Got some comments and clubhouse now. The chat room that they did out with yesterday or whatever just gets involved. Most of us think we don't have a lot to say. But it's funny, we all learn a lot and Ron and I talked about this earlier. Our experience is so iterative. We've learned the things we've learned over such a long period of time, and in such small chunks, we don't realize that we have this unique and valuable perspective to share with people they may have never heard before. I don't know how many times I've said something where I feel like I just said the most basic thing ever, and somebody goes, 'Wow, I never really thought about it that way before.' We all have pieces of us that have that. Just be confident in what you've learned over time and get involved in the community, and people will start to tell you where they think you have this unique perspective and then lean into it. That's what's really worked for me.

Ron:  I think that's tremendous. And sage advice. For those outside podcasts, are you going to be on stage in a virtual stage in the coming year that you're aware of anything planned?

Mark: I am giving a class at Infocomm, and it'll be in person in October. Supposedly they moved it from June to October. We'll be in Orlando. I'll be close to you, Ron. Not too far from you.

Ron:  Well, you feel pretty confident it's going to happen?

Mark: I think so. I think because vaccine seems to be ramping up, I think many people be vaccinated by summer. I think the show in Europe they're trying to do it in June. Still, I don't know that that's a great idea for European travel into Spain, but I think with US travel, I think they can do a good show. I don't think they're going to have 35,000 people there, but I think they'll do a good 10,000-20,000 person show in Florida. I think it'll be East Coast heavy and West Coast light, honestly, and more so than usual. But I'm going to be on that stage. I'm going to be with a gentleman named Chris Netto, who works for Stair Marketing, and a woman named Camille Birch, a marketing director for an OEM company that builds video extenders and things like that. We're giving a course on personal branding in the age of COVID, why it's important to be visible when so many people are out of work and how you amplify yourself in time that you maybe want to be.

Ron:  I think that's brilliant. I think those are a special set of skills and talents. And you're a good man, you and your partner in crime. They're teaching that course because those are really good things to learn and be good at. It doesn't happen overnight, you know. That's super interesting. For those that are still tuning in with us here, what is the best way that they can follow you, Mark, or learn more about you or follow and listen to you? I know I follow you on Twitter, and sometimes you'll jump on the video, and you'll be running or jogging, and you'll give a rant on something like what's Mark thinking about now? What's the best way to follow you?

Mark: The best way to follow me. I think I'm most consistent on Twitter, like you said. If you are on Twitter, my handle is @avphenom. I usually use Twitter as my broadcast network. I always say if there's a link to a blog, if there's a podcast that I'll be doing if something is going on or something I want to share, I'm always active there on Twitter. If you are on Twitter, I would say another place to catch me. At least every Sunday, there's a Twitter chat that goes on every Sunday. It's called #avintheam. It's all one word in a hashtag. Every Sunday, five questions pop up at about 8:00 Eastern Time, and about 70, 80 people go all day. There are usually anywhere from four million to eight million impressions in that group. If you're looking to grow your social network, come to #avintheam on a Sunday sometime, and you'll find probably a question or two you'll like to answer and jump in the mix. Of course, you can connect to me on LinkedIn. I'm on LinkedIn as well. Mark Coxon, I'm pretty active on there as well. If anybody wants to see me playing guitar or punching somebody, you can go to KickyNoPunchy, a funny nickname they used to give me in kickboxing. I had long legs, and I didn't like to use my hands, so I was always teased as KickyNoPunchy.

Ron:  That's now your Instagram handle?

Mark: Yes, my Instagram handle is KickyNoPunchy.

Ron:  Well, we will put all of those down in the show notes, both on our website and here on Facebook. Mark, I want to thank you, sir, for gracing us with your presence and wisdom. And I knew you're a super busy guy and wanted to have you on the show for a long time. I'm glad we finally made that happen.

"Although it's fun to have your own podcast, it's honestly a good strategy to just be a guest on a lot of other ones, too, and really widen your community."

Mark: No, this was really cool. I appreciate it. I like these opportunities to meet new folks and do new things. And although it's fun to have your own podcast, it's honestly a good strategy to just be a guest on a lot of other ones, too, and really widen your community. I encourage anybody that was talking there, especially Jason. If he's in Long Beach or something like that, let's have Crack Shack or some Babas hot chicken in Costa Mesa or something like reach out. Let's get something done. I love to meet new people in the area.

Ron:  Awesome. Thanks so much, Mark.

Mark: No worries. Take care.

Ron:  Alright, folks, there you have it, show number 160 in the books, Mark is a brilliant guy, and I love to ask. I'll reach out to Mark and just ask him a question about the state of the industry or an opinion on technology. And he never lets me down with his wisdom and the way he thinks about things. He often thinks about things very differently than I would say myself or maybe different people. He brings a different perspective is valuable. You want to keep those people close. I hope you guys enjoyed this and I will see you at the next show next week. I think our next two or three months are fully booked out with guests. That should be a lot of fun. And I will see you guys next time. I'm going to sign off. Let me remind you here. If you have not subscribed to the podcast, don't forget to go over to your favorite platform, whether that's Apple podcasts or Spotify, and just search up Automation Unplugged. You can find us there. And in the meantime, feel free to visit our website. Give us a call and if you're available, tune into the webinar tomorrow on branding. It should be a lot of fun. I will see you guys next time for show 161. Be well, everyone. Ciao.


Mark is currently Sales Director with Tangram Technology. He was set to pursue a career as a zoo veterinarian before discovering the technology space in 2000 when he took IBM as a direct sales representative. Mark uses his interest in zoology and behavioral psychology to approach technology and human-centered design from a unique perspective at Tangram Technology.

Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.

Resources and links from the interview:

To keep up with Mark and the team at Tangram Technology, visit their website at tangraminteriors. You can find Tangram Technology on social media on Facebook and LinkedIn. You can follow Mark on his personal social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram.

More Automation Unplugged

Want to stay up to date with the latest Automation Unplugged interviews? Head over to the One Firefly Facebook page and subscribe to receive a notification whenever Ron is live!