Friday, August 17, 2007

Meeting Interruptus: The Popularity Dialer

It looks like it started out as a joke, but something called the Popularity Dialer has taken legs, however wobbly.

Their service is pretty straightforward.

If you know you're going to be in a boring meeting, or on a potentially lethal date, or just want people to think that you're popular, you can sign up to have your phone called at whatever time you want. In their own words: is a service meant for alleviating awkward social situations and creating confidence in its users.

At the time specified, you get a call and a prerecorded voice engages you in a conversation. Of sorts. At least it's a good enough conversation to fool who ever's listening in on your end.

You can pick your fake conversation from a list that includes a generic "popularity" call - male or female voice, a boss call, and a "cousin in need" call.

The service is free, but they do limit you. And they're looking for donations. They also have an abuse policy: no harassment, nothing illegal, etc.

The existence of this service got me thinking about a few of the business situations I've been in when I could have used a call from the Popularity Dialer.

  • Thinking-outside-the-box seminar (3 days) in which I got into an argument with the leader because I wouldn't acknowledge that he loved me, or that I "knew" that he was a person who could be trusted. Yuck. I wouldn't have taken a Kleenex from this guy if my nose had been running. If I'd had access to Popularity Dialer, I would have signed up for the "call from the boss". Which would have worked, except for the fact that participating in the Thinking-outside-the-box session was the boss's idea, and he was sitting right beside me during it.
  • Sales call where the "prospect" started out by telling me that he had no idea why the sales guy had "dragged" someone down from the home office to talk to him, because there was no way in hell he was ever going to buy from us. This charm school grad then told an off-color joke. (This was very early on in my career. As time went on, I wouldn't have waited for the sales guy - or needed the Popularlity Dialer -  to end this call.)
  • Strategy meeting at which I was the only woman, and at which one of the senior "leaders" announced that the market was waiting with spread legs for us to penetrate it. I just told him he was disgusting, but a call enabling me to make a full exit would have come in handy.
  • 6 a.m. flight to the West Coast where a guy plunked down next to me and announced "This is your lucky day". It wasn't, but I'm pretty good at feigning sleep.
  • Sales event at something called the Medieval Manor, where you eat bad food with your hands, listen to a lute player strum madrigals, and have to seek permission from "the king" to use the rest room. Actually, that's not quite right: I am proof positive that you really don't have to ask the king permission to do anything. However, a boring evening got worse when one of the sales guys started racing around waving a big loaf of French bread between his legs. Let the games begin! Just let them begin without me. An opportune time for a call from the cousin in need.

Now that I start thinking about it, there have to have been dozens of business situations at which the PD would have been useful. But the real truth of the matter is that, in boring, unpleasant, miserable, ridiculous business situations, sometimes you have to "self-actualize" and just extricate yourself from them. (E.g., sales call gone wrong.) And sometime, business being business, you just need to suck it up.


I also have more social situations than I can think of when the "cousin in need" call would have come in handy, but that's a post for another day.

It also put me in mind of a date I saw "go wrong" years ago at The Ritz Bar in Boston. A guy sitting near us was on what was clearly a blind date. The guy was conducting a non-stop, braggart dialogue about how much money he made, his important friends, sailing off Nantucket, skiing in Vail, etc. The woman appeared bored and not particularly impressed. It was a case study in how not to act on a date.

After about a half hour of her date's bore-a-logue, the woman excused herself to go to the ladies room. I looked out the window and saw her hop in a cab and speed away.

Now, as bad as I felt for her for having to put up with the boring boor's behavior, I also felt bad for him as he kept glancing at his watch, looking at the Bar's entrance, etc. I can't remember if we told him that she'd left the premises, but eventually he got the point.

Here was a clear case where the social lie - or even the out-and-out truth - on her part would have improved the situation immeasurably. And if the social lie (a.k.a., I'm not feeling well) or the out-and-out truth (e.g., this isn't quite what I had in mind) was beyond the woman, here's where the Popularity Dialer would have come in handy in extracting the woman from an unpleasant social situation, and saving face for the poor schnook she left in her wake.  Although he was so self-absorbed, it may not even have registered with him that his date's abrupt and unexplained departure might have been caused by his behavior.

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