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Hearing The Future

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Well, in the last few weeks I found out that you can hear a lot just by listening.

I don’t have to tell anyone who is reading TWICE that things can be tough out there in the consumer electronics landscape these days. Competition is broad and cut-throat. Budgets are tight. Margins are razor thin. Consumers are better educated, better equipped and therefore more apt to comparison shop. Boards of directors and shareholders are more impatient than ever. Income disparity is growing and day to day civility is being tested: by crass politicians and talking heads, Internet trolls and opinionated provocateurs. It’s a jungle out there, and sometimes it’s hard to see any positives.

Thankfully, I am blessed to work in an industry that also boasts its fair share of wonderful, intelligent, creative, positive, hard-working people, and when I get a chance to be in a room full of them I do what my grandfather told me to do 25 years ago when I told him I was moving to New York to find a job. He said, “Meet as many smart people as you can, and then shut up and listen.”

I was at the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) Digital Patriot’s dinner last week in one of the most spectacular settings I’ve ever been in, the main atrium of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The surroundings were aweinspiring and set the stage nicely for the gathering of innovators, statesmen, legends and entrepreneurs who CEA gathers annually to pay tribute to.

AOL founder Steve Case, one of the evening’s honorees, made a strong case for entrepreneurship and laid out the steps the country needs to take to continue to lead the world in innovation, including immigration reform and diversity in the ranks of technology workers.

He painted an inspiring picture of what he called “the third wave of the Internet,” which he sees as a game-changer in dozens of sectors, such as education, transportation, health care, entertainment, agriculture, emergency preparedness even parenting. He also pointed out the need for partnership: between companies, with government, with educational institutions, where each is using its resources to advance the cause of innovation and better outcomes.

Case’s case was simple: We all know what needs to be done; let’s stop fighting and start doing.

Class of the class

CEA president Gary Shapiro revealed the 2015 inductees into the CE Hall of Fame last week, and I am lucky enough to have worked with three of the new inductees over the years — three more examples of smart people who I like to shut up around and listen. The late Bob Borchardt was a legend in the accessories business when I was a cub reporter and I looked forward to every interview. He was witty, warm and accessible and I will always remember the kindness he showed to me. Noel Lee has kept me entertained over the years with some of the most creative and star-studded press conferences I’ve ever attended. And Tom Campbell is one of the most passionate retail and CE evangelists I’ve ever met, and when I hear his familiar dulcet tones, still intact from his radio days, on the other end of my phone, I know I will learn something in the next few minutes. Every time. Congratulations to all three.