Google's Head Of Strategic Planning: "I Don't Watch Silicon Valley"


At the C2MTL "creativity + commerce" conference last week in Montreal, I chatted with Abigail Posner, Google's head of strategic planning, about Google Glass, Silicon Valley, and the deeper meaning of memes. Our conversation, below:

Val: At the conference yesterday, Tony Hsieh of described a great brand or company as a story that never stops evolving.

Abigail: At Google, we believe the same thing. We ask, "How does the story evolve, and naturally, organically reshape in different spaces and places?" In my lecture today, I'm going to talk about how our team is trying to humanize the ever-evolving digital space. I ask the "little whys," like why small, seemingly inconsequential ridonculous things, like screaming goats and Doge memes, are so revealing about who we are. What is the social, anthropological importance of the visual web? When we share a crazy stupid-ass meme or clip, we're tightening the bonds with other people. We're hardwired to make others feel effervescent and share laugh-out-loud moments. Memes give us clues about what's coming next, how people think, feel and communicate. When you listen to Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] talk about the future of Google, it's about elevating society and humanity. Not to sound cliché, but they talk a lot about solving problems and issues in the digital space. Decoding memes to better understand humanity is part of it.

You must have heard stories about Google Glass wearers being targeted wherever they go. How to change the general opinion that people who wear Google Glass are assholes?

Over the course of human history, we've had to adapt to the negatives, fears and issues with any new tech. These days, it happens quickly. It wasn't too long ago, that people who walked around with their cell phones talking to themselves looked completely crazy. Now we all do it, and it's a universally accepted behavior. People get used to everything.

One of the funniest parts of Mike Judge's Silicon Valley on HBO was the running joke about how there are hardly any women in tech. How well does the parody reflect the truth?

I love HBO, but I don't watch Silicon Valley. Because I live in this world, I don't like to see other people turned into something farcical. I worked in advertising for the longest time, and elements of truth in Mad Men still exist today. The worst parts are overly dramatized and the nuances aren't always recognized. So I'm staying away from that show.