Author Archives: Christin Parcerisa

A Googler’s fight against the “model minority” myth

Editor's note: Charlene Wang, an associate product manager for Google Play Ads, recently published a book on combating Asian American stereotypes. We sat down with Charlene to talk about her book.

Three years ago, Charlene Wang drafted a letter to her brother Warren in Taipei. He was preparing to move to the United States for college, and she wanted to give him advice. Specifically, she wanted him to know what to expect about the stereotypes that Asian people face in America, and her suggestions for how to navigate those harmful expectations while staying true to himself. “I wanted to share all the things I wish someone had told me when I first came here,” she says.  

Eventually, her letter became a book: “Model Breakers: Breaking Through Stereotypes and Embracing Your Authenticity,” which was published in April of this year. 

The title is a reference to the pervasive and harmful myth of the “model minority” — the stereotype that Asian American people are naturally smart, studious, successful and docile. While that might sound positive on its surface, the myth is damaging in numerous ways. It pigeonholes Asian people into the stereotype of being hardworking, but lacking the people skills necessary to be good leaders. It groups all Asian people — people from diverse backgrounds and cultures from more than 50 countries — into a monolithic, homogenous group under the assumption that all Asian people have the same advantages or face the same challenges. And the model minority myth also acts as a racial wedge, perpetuating inequality by pitting people of color against one another. “That's why we used ‘Model breaker,’ since it's basically breaking up that model minority myth and turning it into something positive,” Charlene says.

In the book, Charlene explores the challenges she encountered as an Asian immigrant facing racist stereotypes upon moving to the U.S., as well as how she healed from these experiences and found her voice in spite of it all. 

One example: After she founded a company in 2016, she had an opportunity to pitch to an investor. But when it was her turn to pitch, he shut her down before she finished. “I introduced myself and I didn't even get to say what I was working on,” she recalls. He told her to take an ESL course and learn to speak English. “He didn't even let me finish. And then I didn't say anything because I didn't know I could. I didn’t know how.”

Over time she says she learned how to speak up for herself when she faced similar situations. A year later, she was invited to attend a conference to help entrepreneurs craft their pitches. She noticed that the person who had invited her seemed to doubt her qualifications. “I knew I needed to do something different,” she recalls. “I knew that if I didn't speak up this time I would be repeating the story, so I wanted to stop the pattern.” She called him out, explained why he was wrong to doubt her — and then she became the most popular speaker at the conference. She says he sent her a long apology email after, acknowledging his error. “He apologized for how he made me feel, and he acknowledged that he has his biases, and he underestimated how much age, or sex, or even other biases hurt you,” she says. The experience was eye-opening for her. “I think that moment really changed the way I think about my voice and my story,” Charlene says. It further motivated her to help others understand the power of their voice and story as well.

Charlene Wang's author photo — she's standing with her arms crossed wearing a white sleeveless shirt.

“The book is the toolkit for how to know yourself, be yourself, tell your own story and take some risks,” she says. The intended audience is young people — high school students, or people just entering the workforce. And her goal is to reach the Asian American community, as well as to raise awareness about challenges that the Asian American community faces.

She originally focused the book on her own personal perspective, but throughout the writing process it evolved to include the voices of other people who have gone through similar things. For research purposes she interviewed nearly 100 people, including Asian immigrants,  refugees and Asian Americans representing a variety of ethnicities, as well as non-Asian allies. Interviewing other people helped her to identify common patterns, particularly in how some people may experience and respond to trauma. For instance, roughly 15% of people in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community struggle with mental health, and her interviews reflected that. So she devoted some chapters to family dynamics and caring for your mental health. Another theme she discovered had to do with risk: Some people she spoke with were afraid to take risks, she says. So she devoted some of the book to the benefits of risk-taking.

Ultimately, her research helped her see the necessity of reframing and reclaiming the narrative of what it means to be Asian in America as a way to dispel the model minority trope while valuing your own authentic self.  “The first step is to really know what makes you you, what makes you excited, what values you have — from you, not your family or your parents, but what you love to do,” she says. “And then once you’ve found that, how can you see that in your family, in your work, in your passion. And that requires a lot of experimentation. Everyone is different.” 

The book is coming out amid the tragic backdrop of a horrifying increase in anti-Asian violence. But racism and anti-Asian sentiment isn’t new. “People didn’t know these things happened before,” Charlene says. She says she wants to encourage Asian Americans to feel brave enough to continue being themselves, and sharing their stories, in spite of the risks: “How can we help everyone feel secure?” she asks. “How can we help everyone see that they’re already good, that they have value? How do you find things about yourself that are so loveable that you just want to share them with other people?”

Charlene believes that recognizing, accepting and embracing your core values is a key first step to living authentically, in spite of stereotypes or pressure to act or behave a certain way. And she also thinks that celebrating your values and your culture can be deeply inspirational for others in your community. “The stereotype is the backstory,” she says. “You have to tell a better story that inspires you to wake up every day, so you can speak up for yourself. It’s hard and it takes a lot of courage, but know that you're also speaking out for thousands of people.”

Tips from Google’s resilience expert on avoiding burnout

A college soccer player, Lauren Whitt was sidelined by two knee injuries that took her off the field during her sophomore and junior year. This was incredibly frustrating — she'd played soccer most of her life and had even won a Pan-American gold medal with the U.S. Youth National Soccer team. She realized she was going to need to find a way to cope. 

“I began to study the idea of resilience more,” Lauren says. “How it changes your body and your life. It sort of became my personal mission.” A few years later, it became the subject for her doctoral dissertation — today, it’s the focus of her work. 

Lauren is the head of global resilience at Google, a job that’s been crucial this last year. Even as vaccines become available, so many stressors remain: Searches for the term “pandemic fatigue” increased more than 300% during the past month in the U.S., and “job burnout quiz” was a breakout search over the past three months. These things are exactly what Lauren hopes to alleviate through her programs that help Googlers build resilience, deal with stress and develop skills to tackle new challenges. 

But resilience isn’t only about helping people cope with the negative; it’s also about giving them more room to experience the positive. Lauren wants to help Googlers feel creative and productive so they can thrive at work. “I’m so passionate about this work because I think that while I’m not personally making something that launches us all into the future, I can help the people at Google who are doing that be their best.”

First, though, it’s important to know what resilience truly means. Lauren describes it as the capacity to bounce back. “Resilience is the ability to respond and recover from stress. To feel successful it's important to be able to take on intense challenges, and then pause to reflect on what went well and what didn't, so we can go into the next project,” she explains. 

Being resilient on the job doesn’t mean working nonstop, but working smarter. She says it’s not a matter of endurance, but of focusing on a task and then taking a break to tackle the next challenge in your best physical and mental shape. “All of us are constantly in a position where we can cultivate resilience and strive to be mentally stronger, especially during those moments when we have to perform at our best, like a big work presentation or a sensitive meeting,” Lauren adds. “Showing up and being present is a challenge for everyone, so by cultivating resilience we get new tools, behaviors and mindsets to take on challenges in different ways.” 

At Google, Lauren says we’ve even seen that people with higher resilience have lower possibilities of burnout. Fortunately, resilience is something anyone can develop. Here are six tips Lauren uses in her work here at Google:

1. Establish a morning routine.Starting the day consistently grounds you and gives you certainty and security.“Whether you're working from home or from an office, it’s that consistent routine of how you start your day that prepares you for what’s to come,” Lauren says.

2. Take mental recovery breaks throughout the day.Choose moments to reset instead of jumping to the next task or issue immediately. “Whether it’s ending a meeting five minutes early or taking a 10-minute walk, these intentional breaks are important to help you reconnect and recover,” Lauren says.  

3. Stick to a sleep schedule. Sleep isn’t just about recharging, but also gives you consistency every night. “Our sleep routines are the best opportunity to reach into our minds and be able to recover from any of the stressors of the day.”

4. Be intentional with the stories you tell yourself. “Consider what you tell yourself and the meaning you give to your activities. Stop listening to things that aren’t intentional, because our thoughts are not always helpful or true. Instead, start talking to yourself with thoughts of positivity, optimism, hope or gratitude.”

Illustration explaining the "T.E.A." check-in.

5. Plan ahead.“Plan that things are going to go well, but have contingency plans in place in case they don't,” Lauren says. Instead of being surprised by a problem, thinking about things that could go wrong helps manage stress better if you need to react.

6. T.E.A. Check.At Google we use a daily exercise to be aware of our thoughts, energy and attention. Notice how your resilience is changing over the course of the day, and turn your focus where it needs to be.

Use Google TV to create your perfect holiday movie queue

As it starts to get colder outside, there’s nothing better than snuggling under a blanket with a warm cup of peppermint hot chocolate and enjoying a holiday movie marathon. That’s my recipe for a perfect December evening. 

Every year, I watch as many holiday movies as I can—and in the age of streaming, that can be a challenge. With so many options and so many places to discover them, the only problem is figuring out what to watch and in what order. This year, though, I have the solution: creating a Watchlist on Google TV. 

Whether you’re using the Google TV app on Android (in the U.S.) or watching on the new Chromecast with Google TV, you can use Google TV to find and make your movie list. It’s designed to make it easier to find what you’re looking for, so you don’t get all grinchy trying to figure out what to watch or what app something is available on. So, whether you're watching solo or with your loved ones, here’s a guide to building your perfect holiday Watchlist and making your movie night (or month) tradition even better. 

Step 1. Start with search. On Google TV, you can find what to watch by searching for “holiday movies” and see a list of results from your favorite apps or what’s available for rent and purchase in Google Play. With Chromecast with Google TV, you can also ask Google with the voice remote to help show me “romantic holiday comedies” or “movies with reindeer.” 

Step 2. If you need some inspiration, check out this list of the top 15 most-searched holiday movie titles: 

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 

  2. The Grinch

  3. Die Hard

  4. Jingle All the Way

  5. Home Alone

  6. Love Actually

  7. It’s a Wonderful Life

  8. A Christmas Story 

  9. Miracle on 34th

  10. This Christmas

  11. Happiest Season

  12. Elf

  13. The Holiday

  14. Scrooged

  15. Gremlins

You can search for the specific title or even find a handy row with these movies, called “Most-Searched Holiday Movies 2020” on your For You tab.

Step 3. Once you have a title picked out, you can either watch right away or save it for later. To build your Watchlist for the holidays, just pick the titles you want and open the details page, you can add them to your Watchlist from there. As easy as that, you’ll have the movie saved to your Watchlist. The best part is that if you feel suddenly inspired and you’re not at home or your phone isn’t nearby, you can add movies to your Watchlist from Google Search (you'll need to check for availability) on your other devices, and they’ll be in one place when you’re ready to binge.

Step 4. When settled on your couch and ready to press play, you can access your queue of holiday movies on your Google TV devices. On the TV, you can find your Watchlist in the Library tab whenever you need it; in the Google TV app on Android, look for the Watchlist tab.

So grab the remote, hit the couch and settle in for a holiday movie marathon. 

Meet the Googlers breaking down language barriers for migrants

Googler Ariel Koren was at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018 when more than 7,000 people from Central America were arriving in the area. Ariel, who speaks nine languages, was there serving as an interpreter for asylum seekers fighting their cases.  

Ariel, who leads Marketing for Google for Education in Latin America, knew language skills would continue to be an essential resource for migrants and refugees. She decided to team up with fellow Googler Fernanda Montes de Oca, who is also multilingual and speaks four languages. “We knew that our language skills are only valuable to the extent that we are using them actively to mobilize for others, ” says Fernanda. The two began working to create a network of volunteer translators, which they eventually called Respond Crisis Translation

In addition to her job leading Google for Education Ecosystems in Google Mexico, Fernanda is responsible for recruiting and training Respond’s volunteer translators. Originally, the group saw an average of five new volunteers sign up each week; now, they sometimes receive more than 20 applications a day. Fernanda thinks the increased time at home may be driving the numbers. “Many of them are looking to do something that can have a social impact while they're staying at home,” she says. Today, Respond consists of about 1,400 volunteers and offers services in 53 languages.

Fernanda says she looks for people who are passionate about the cause, have experience in legal translations and have a commitment to building out a strong  emotional support network. “Volunteers have to fight against family separation and support folks who have experienced disparate types of violence and abuse,” she says. “It’s also important to have a support network and be able to take care of yourself.” Volunteers have access to a therapist should they need it.

In January 2020, the group officially became an NGO and to date, Respond Crisis Translation has worked on about 1,600 cases, some of which have helped asylum seekers to win their cases. Respond Crisis Translation largely works on cases at the Mexico-U.S. border, but is also increasingly lending their efforts in Southern Mexico and Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic also prompted the group to explore more ways to help. Volunteers have created translated medical resources, supported domestic violence hotlines and have translated educational materials for migrant parents who are now helping their children with distance learning.  

One challenge for the team is meeting increasing demand. “We weren’t just concerned about growing, but ensuring the quality of our work as we grew,” says Ariel. “Small language details like a typo or misspelled word are frequently used to disqualify an entire asylum case. The quality of our translation work is very important because it can impact whether a case is won or lost, which can literally mean the difference between life and death or a deportation. Every time there’s a story about someone who won their case we feel a sense of relief. That’s what motivates us to keep going.” 

Ariel and Fernanda also hope Respond Crisis Translation can become an income source for indigenous language translators. Whenever they work with indigenous language speakers, Respond  asks the NGO they’re working with to provide compensation to the translator for their labor. 

Although Ariel and Fernanda didn’t expect their project to grow as quickly as it has, they’re thrilled to see the progress they’ve made. “Being a multilingual person is a very important part of my identity, so when I see that language is being used as a tool to systematically limit the fundamental right to freedom of mobility,” says Ariel. “I feel a responsibility to resist, and work alongside the language community to find solutions.” 

This Googler isn’t afraid to swim with the sharks

As a 12-year-old on a family snorkeling trip, Fabiana Fregonesi was surrounded by fish when the boat owner threw food into the water. “All the fish came at me and they were in such a frenzy that I was terrified. After that I was so afraid that I couldn’t swim without having someone holding my hand,” she says. 

Today, Fabiana is the Head of Digital Agency for Google Customer Solutions in the Sao Paulo office. During the weekends and holidays, though, she’s an underwater photographer—and a prestigious one at that: Fabiana has photographed marine life all over the world, in places like the Bahamas and the Galapagos.

While her underwater adventures had a rocky start, years later as an adult, a friend convinced her to take a scuba diving lesson for a trip. That’s when she fell in love with the ocean. Now, she scuba dives once a month and travels at least three times a year to swim among sharks and photograph them. “It’s the little things I discover underwater that make me connect with nature,” Fabiana says. She shares her photos with her massive social media following as well as with Divemag, where she’s a featured photographer. Some of her work has even been shared by National Geographic.

“I think that images have a lot of power. Everytime I post a photograph, I also try to give information about marine life,” she says. “I share how they need us to protect them.” Her favorite underwater creature to advocate for is the shark. “I was on a trip in Australia when I first dove with sharks,” she says. “I was very afraid at the beginning, but then I realized that we’re afraid of sharks because we don't know enough about them.” 

“It’s the most powerful experience somebody can have. It’s a relationship of respect, admiration and curiosity,” says Fabiana, who’s swam with two of the world’s three most aggressive sharks: the Tiger Shark and the Bull Shark. She hopes to add the third, the Great White, to her list someday, but only when she can do so without a cage so she can get better photos. “Once you swim with sharks, it seems like a whole new world just opens for you.”

Fabiana also spends her free time studying sharks and debunking popular myths about them. “If people gave themselves a chance to dive with these animals they would be surprised to see that they aren’t aggressive. They are very shy, even loving, and they’re actually afraid of humans.”

A few months ago, Fabiana and a group of scuba divers started contacting restaurants in Brazil that sold shark fin as food to explain how fins are acquired, which is a very cruel process. “We’ve started seeing some results. In Sao Paulo there’s still one or two who officially still sell it, and we’re trying to change that,” she says. “I believe I have the obligation to protect nature and the ocean. Someone has to speak on its behalf.” 

Fabiana hopes to publish a book featuring her photos that focuses on the protection of sharks and other marine life. She plans to visit places where their habitat has been destroyed, some that are recovering and others where shark finning is still happening to share the complete story of what’s going on at sea. At the moment, her plans to travel have stalled—though she sometimes uses the Augmented Reality feature on her Android to cast 3D sharks into her living room and recreate the bottom of the ocean in her home. 

And she also knows there is a silver lining to this delay. “This is a moment for nature to breathe again and have some space to recover. We’re not that conscious about how we can protect nature, so we should embrace this time to respect it while we stay home.”

Lead image by Carlos Grillo.

In Mexico, one Googler gives girls their “tümü” moment

When a butterfly comes out of its cocoon, it uses the most fragile part of its body—its wings— to break free. In the Otomi dialect, which is spoken in the central region of Mexico, this magical moment is called Tümü. So when Paoloa Escalante and her co-founder decided to create an organization to help support young women, they decided that Tümü was a fitting name for it.  

“The idea was to create content that promotes determination, self-esteem and assertiveness during a moment in girls’ lives that's constantly changing,” Paola Escalante, Head of Google Mexico’s creative consulting branch, called the Zoo, says. The pre-teen and teen years are challenging, and in recent years, social media has made this time even more complicated. “Adolescence has always been the same, what has changed is technology,” says Paola. “With so much access to information, decision making can be overwhelming and social media is setting new standards not just regarding beauty, but also lifestyle and accomplishments. There’s a new layer of vulnerability that grows at a very fast pace.”  

Tümü began as an after-work project that Paola started about two years ago. She and her co-founder, Zarina Rivera, had noticed that instead of reaching out to family and friends with their questions or problems, more and more often girls turn to internet communities. So they created a platform where girls can find content as well as ask questions and get answers from experts in a friendly way, and hopefully navigate what can be a complicated time more smoothly. 

Paola never imagined how big Tümü would become or how much responsibility she’d feel for the girls using it. Some of them ask questions about eating disorders, or about being pressured into sex or into sending intimate photos. Some girls ask about depression. Sometimes, their mothers even turn to Tümü’s experts for answers. 

Tümü has become more than just an online resource. The organization also hosts workshops and small events, which Paola hopes they’ll be able to offer to more communities in the country, and bring in more speakers to talk to the girls. At Tümü’s first offline event, Paola invited 19-year-old astronaut Alyssa Carson to speak. “That day I cried so much. I couldn’t believe that more than a thousand girls had gathered to hear her speak. And then I couldn’t believe that they had stayed for all the activities,” Paola says. “We gave them a journal and the girls were filling it willingly, writing down their reflections, how they saw themselves in five years, what they wanted to learn.”     

The way Paola sees it, what girls need has less to do with empowerment and everything to do with being given the space to get to know themselves and their self-worth. “As grown-up women, we have different movements focused on women empowerment, and we need them because we are a generation of women who need to regain the power that culture has taken away,” she explains. “But younger generations have that power. They don’t need to be empowered—they need to be pushed to believe in themselves and figure out how to become the best version of themselves.” And, she says, young women should be given the opportunity to realize what they want before being pushed to get it. “I also don’t think that the message for them should be achieving their dreams. Very few girls know what their dreams are, and they don’t need the added pressure to have one and go after it. In order to figure out what they want they need to be happy with who they are now and understand themselves.” 

Paola is proud of the work she’s doing through Tümü because she knows how important these kinds of resources are for young women. “I would’ve liked to have a helping hand when I was that age. It took me a while to have my ‘tümü moment’ as I call it, I don’t think I had it until I was 30,” says Paola. “I want to help build a better world for future generations.”

How one Googler creates more than music at Carnival

While many Brazilians grow up celebrating Carnival, this wasn’t true for Christiane Silva Pinto. It wasn’t until college when she joined her first bateria that it became an incredibly important tradition to her. “When I was playing in college, I loved the music and practicing with the band, but I also loved that I got to know more about that culture I hadn’t been in touch with when I was a kid,” says Christiane, who played the drums in her college bateria, which is a Brazilian percussion band. 

“Some of the people who played with us had experience playing in the Carnival parades, and those stories were contagious.” Today, in addition to working as an Associate Product Marketing Manager for Google helping small and medium-sized businesses in Brazil, Christiane is part of a band that plays every year during the iconic Carnival in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where a sea of spectators gather every year. 

Carnival lasts for four days, and much of the celebration happens in the streets. While there are different traditions in different cities in Brazil, people in Sao Paulo enjoy parades, food and most importantly, music. Bands called blocos or bloquinhos (which include the traditional baterias along with other instruments as well as singing and dancing) set up temporary stages or hire trucks and offer free, wandering concerts.

In 2013, Christiane and her friends founded their first Carnival bloquinho and she was excited to see 30 people had turned up for their show. She would’ve never imagined that her band would become so popular that around 10,000 people would gather to watch them play, like they did for last year’s Carnival. In her bloco, where Christiane plays a kind of tambourine called tamborim and the snare drum; they play traditional Carnival songs, original pieces they’ve written and even reinterpret contemporary songs with Carnival rhythms from bands like Pink Floyd or Rage Against The Machine.

Aside from making music, Christiane sees carnival as an opportunity to unite Brazilians  and generate equality awareness, as well as connect with her African heritage. “We have a lot of inequality in Brazil. Most people are poor, and most of the poor people are Black. Race is very related to economy, and unfortunately you will probably see that during Carnival the white people are having fun and the Black people are working,” she says. 

In fact, in her bloquinho there are only two Black women, including Christiane. While the majority of Brazilians are Black, they’re hugely underrepresented, and she’s proud to bring her perspective to the celebration and give visibility to her culture and ancestors. 

Christiane also wants to empower women through Carnival. She recently joined a second bloquinho dedicated to empowering women through music and body positiveness. This bloco is exclusively for women, which is unusual; it was formed in 2015 by one of her friends after she was harassed during Carnival. “We founded a feminist bloco where women could come together to celebrate freedom, to be safe and to be able to express their bodies.” She’s also helping campaign local government to pass initiatives that protect women against harassment.   

Christiane’s dedication to Carnival began with her love of music, but through it she’s found a way to make underrepresented voices heard. “Many people say that things are so bad that they don’t understand how some people can still enjoy Carnival and forget about the country’s problems. But that’s the way people who don’t live Carnival think, because they don’t understand its culture. For me, it’s a way of cultural resistance.” she says. 

“Music is a powerful way to express your ideas and your values. Being able to create music is very beautiful and powerful. And for me, it’s priceless to keep my culture and my ancestors alive through Carnival.” 

When will Santa be here? Find out for yourself!

His boots are on, his coat is well-pressed and his reindeer are ready. Santa is about to start his annual worldwide tour—and you can follow along.

Take off time!

Have you ever wondered what happens right before Santa’s hybrid sleigh takes off? This year, you’ll get to see an exclusive video of the behind-the-scenes preparations. Join the elves while they mark the last lists, the reindeer as they warm up before the long flight, and Mrs. Claus as she helps Santa get ready for the big day!

Video showing a cartoon Santa getting ready for Christmas Eve with the help of Mrs. Claus, the reindeer, and other animated helpers.

Follow the map

Starting Dec. 24 at 2 AM Pacific time, when he heads to the first stop in far-eastern Russia a bit after 10 PM local time, everyone will be able to follow Santa’s route around the world and toward their city. A live map will track the magic, showing Santa’s location, moment to moment, along with photos of seasonal scenes from hundreds of Local Guides around the world. He and his reindeer will visit more than 400 locations, and the Santa Tracker will display how far they are from your town and how long it will take for them to get there. Santa is coming to town, and you’ll know exactly when!

Santa tracker map

It’s time for a bedtime story 

Need a little help winding down? Try reading our new bedtime story called “Ollie Under the Sea.” This richly illustrated rhyming story follows a narwhal named Ollie on his quest for an underwater celebration. Mary Bear, a group of elves and some helpful sea friends will join your visions of sugar plums.

Santa tracker bedtime story

Invite Santa into your home

You can invite Santa into your living room by searching for “Santa Search” on your phone and clicking “View in 3D.” He’ll magically appear, rocking around your own tree, patio, or wherever you are! You might want to take a screenshot to prove that Santa made a pit stop at your home ?.

AR Santa

The jolliest place on the internet

While you’re visiting our village and tracking Santa, scroll down to check out the clumsy penguins, make some gingerbread friends, and even meet a friendly Yeti. Keep exploring, and you’ll find some of the new surprises hidden around the village, including the newest game, Build and Bolt. Bring the family together and take turns with this new two-player game where you race to be the fastest gift wrapper. Ready, set, wrap! 

A final note… from your hosts! 

Real magic happens when we spend time together. Start the countdown with your family, read a bedtime story together, put a smile on your friend’s face with a funny video or sing some carols with your loved ones. 

We’re excited to spend a little time with you and your family as the holidays approach, and of course we also can’t wait to watch Santa as his travels begin!

Google Docs unveils one writer’s creative process to the world

When Viviana Rivero set out to write her short story “Just do it!” she decided to experiment with her process. Instead of writing alone and revealing her work to readers later, she invited thousands of people to watch her write—and comment on her writing—in real-time with Google Docs.

More than 10,000 people watched the Argentinian writer’s story come to life in real time as she wrote it. We sat down with Rivero to learn more about how she incorporated technology into her creative process, and how it changed the final product.

Tell us about using Google Docs to publicly write your story.

Believe it or not, this was my first time using Google Docs. First, I created a new document and selected “comment-only” in the share permissions. Next, I hosted a few “live sessions” where I wrote a short story in the document and invited readers  to watch and comment. To my surprise, thousands of people contributed! The short story from this session became a part of a printed book called “Zafiros en la Piel” (“Sapphires on the skin”). The book’s back cover even has a QR code that takes the reader to the story on Google Docs, bringing these worlds together. 

What was it like to write in front of other people?

It was a challenging thing to do. Usually, when a writer creates a story, they don’t find out what the reader thinks until afterward, and even then, there’s no way of gauging how people react the moment they read the words. It was different and exciting because it allowed me to see their reactions as they had them.

Did  your story change as a result of readers’ comments?

Yes! There’s a character in the story who talks with his dog. People fell in love with the dog—they wrote so many comments about it. I decided to make the dog more important to the story and gave him and his owner more dialogue.

Did using Google Docs affect your creative process?

Reading and writing can be lonely activities. While my creative process wasn’t necessarily altered (I already had the general idea for the story), the way in which we experienced the story changed. Docs helped bring the writer and reader together. These two things that are usually done in isolation were shared. It made the process much more enriching.

It also meant I showed everything that happens behind the scenes. For example, I don’t use punctuation when I write at first, just to make it faster. I typically put accents, periods and commas in after the story is written. At first I felt vulnerable because I didn’t want people to see unpolished work, but in the end, I think the readers appreciated seeing how a writer works. 

Were there any interesting results from the experiment?

I was surprised by the amount of new readers who participated. I expected many people to be fans already, but there were many new readers who joined the live sessions by chance. Since writing the story, we’ve seen a 170 percent increase in sales of the paper book. It was also awarded a Bronze Lion at the Cannes Lions Film Festival. 

Do you suggest other authors try using Google Docs and inviting readers to watch their process?

Many of my writer friends ask what it was like to write in front of thousands of people, something not many of them would dare to do. I tell them: Stories are something that will never die, and the way we tell them will continue to evolve. Before paper existed, people shared stories with their voices. And even if paper ceases to exist, the storyteller will remain, because people love stories. 

Being able to interact with readers so closely motivated me; I hope to be able to do it again someday.

Can mindfulness actually help you work smarter?

Mindfulness isn’t just sitting on the floor, legs crossed, and chanting mantras. It’s a tool that, when used wisely, can boost your experience at work, your relationships with others and even your overall well-being. Mindfulness is maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings and emotions, while having an attitude of kindness and curiosity.

That's the idea behind Google's mindfulness programs, which include seminars called Search Inside Yourself and Fundamentals of Mindfulness, and an internal program called gPause that promotes meditation and mindfulness practices. These initiatives have been created over the last 10 years in 64 offices around the world with more than 350 volunteers that host guided meditation practices, events and workshops. Through these programs Googlers have an opportunity to develop emotional intelligence, enhance well-being, improve team effectiveness and support a culture of respect and inclusion. 

So how can this practice actually have an impact in our jobs? To answer this question we sat with Ruchika Sikri, Well-Being Learning Strategy Lead at Google, who shared some tips we can start using in our everyday routine.

Let your thoughts settle.

Ruchika shares the analogy that our mind is like a snowglobe. We’re constantly shaking it with information overload, distractions and task switching. This results in reduced clarity of our priorities and a lack of focus. By practicing a brief meditation (as short as five minutes!)—we can let the “snow'' settle and see things more clearly and vividly. Clarity of mind can help us prioritize what’s important, solve problems better, figure out new strategies or uncover issues we may have ignored.

Be mindful of what you say. 

Mindfulness has a direct impact on our work culture and team effectiveness, Ruchika says. It helps you stay aware of what you say and what impact your words might have. It can help when you’re having difficult conversations, because you’re more present and therefore able to take your own and another party’s perspective more actively, and respond instead of react to external or internal stimuli. She cites a study done at Google, which found that most high functioning teams have psychological safety as a key element of their work environments, which means that team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. Being mindful of that sense of safety can help boost everyone around you at work. “The teams that feel safe and trust each other actually feel more accomplished and do more,” she says.

Commit to a routine.  

Ruchika says a mindfulness practice starts with making a mental commitment to it. It’s certainly helpful to take a workshop, but you can simply start the practice with an app like Headspace. The app provides bite-sized guided meditations for busy schedules. You can start the practice at home or during your commute if you use public transportation.

Have the right expectations. 

Mindfulness is not a panacea, though. Instead, it’s an important tool that can raise self-awareness and help you identify personal needs more clearly. Ruchika recommends building an intention for your practice before jumping in. What is it that you want to improve? It could be better focus and clarity at work, healthier relationships, managing stress more effectively or adopting a healthier lifestyle. Then, practice makes it perfect. To actually feel the benefits of mindfulness, you have to make it a regular practice.

Step away from your screen. 

Every 90 minutes, our mind and body need a break to rest and recover, Ruchika says. To remain alert and attentive towards what you’re doing, step away from your screen and go for a nice walk, have a glass of water or simply do something different, and really savor the moment. You may notice that you have fresh perspectives and ideas when you get back to your desk. You can also install the Mindful Break Chrome extension to go through a one-minute breathing exercise.