The importance of face value
For so many and for so many reasons, Daniel Island is a home. To families, to businesses, to a community and as evidenced again by this year’s TEDxCharleston lineup, it is also a home to ideas. When, on Oct. 18, some of the Holy City’s best and brightest will come together for the fifth annual TEDxCharleston, an independently organized rendition of the global speakers’ series celebrating “ideas worth sharing,” Daniel Island will be well represented.
This year’s event, themed “Shake it Up,” will feature 14 speakers and four performers, each of whom were selected from hundreds of applicants to bring their own perspective to bear on the event. Joining island creative queen Kris Manning, who will, with her puppeteering team Feral Creative, be performing at this year’s symposium, is fellow Daniel Island resident Dr. Brian Sullivan.
Sullivan is a longtime practicing psychologist and professor at the College of Charleston, and, since 2013, the “Chief Evangelist” of a company he and his wife, Corley Sullivan, founded called Vizbii. Specifically, Sullivan will use his TEDx Charleston platform to introduce an idea that Vizbii has brought to life in the world of communication - a software platform called “Morphii.”
After first forming and then expanding Vizbii, the Sullivans went live with their Morphii platform, which allows customers of a wide variety of industries to express themselves with icons Sullivan describes as “emojis on steroids” because he can manipulate them to adjust the intensity of their expressions.
Sullivan developed the idea, he says, in response to a simple need: a tangible, yet nuanced way for his psychology patients to report their mental state.
“I’m a psychologist and I have to give my patients a questionnaire that is designed to assess their status, track their progress in therapy and measure their outcomes for services and they would try to use these zero to four scales to tell me what it felt like to be depressed, how intense it was, anxiety, irritability, depression...well-validated instruments, but they struggled,” says Sullivan.
“One of my patients said to me years ago ‘I don’t feel in five-point gradations,’” he continues. “I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could just hand them an iPad with icons that had facial expressions representing depression, anxiety, irritability, panic, sleeplessness, fatigue, concentration, difficulties, pain’ - and let them touch the icon and then dial in the intensity using the reflection.”
Understanding that many of us often read each other’s minds through facial expressions, Sullivan felt grading feelings through a number scale was not the most effective gauge. Utilizing visuals or “morphiis” made more sense, he thought. But when Sullivan began exploring first the medical arena then the technology industry as a whole, he couldn’t find anything that would work for his clients. It turned out such a technology didn’t yet exist. With that information in mind, Sullivan sought to create it by forming Vizbii.
And while the formation of the software company was the first step in bringing “morphiis” to life, Sullivan credits his business partner-turned-life-partner Corley with being the driving force behind bringing what was then just an idea to fruition.
Corley was first a student of Brian’s, who, after graduation, sought a letter of recommendation from her former professor for graduate school. The two ended up collaborating for the summer on another of Brian’s projects when Corley took a look at Brian’s “morphii” idea.
After sketching things out, Brian realized he had a potentially powerful ally in bringing the platform to life, and so their journey began. Corley developed a new skill-set at that point, that of a web developer capable of creating a “unicorn,” or a new web application from “soup to nuts,” as Brian explains.
“Her right hand did what my right brain had been seeing forever,” says Sullivan. “I said ‘that’s it, that’s it.’”
The seven-member team at Vizbii has now been together for 20 months, 18 of which the team spent working out of Chief Technology Officer Michael Wright’s Daniel Island garage, but their patience has paid off. According to Sullivan, the final hurdle the group had to overcome in bringing their Morphii platform to market was where to launch it, and in what industries.
In the end however it was another decision suggested by Corley that decided the company’s direction. Instead of launching their product in one particular industry or another, she suggested they launch Morphii as a suite of tools various industries could integrate into their respective markets.
That suite now is being deployed by end users in all kinds of industries, like the medical space, political polling and consumer market research by other third parties. And for Sullivan, that’s how it should be. After all, the origination of his software suite emerged from empathy that crosses industry lines.
“Someone once said that the relationship between how easily something is measured, and how important it is, is completely inverse,” says Sullivan. “Well, I have solved that a little bit because we are capturing the objective of experiences like anxiety in a way that actually feels real because we are hardwired through empathy to use and read facial expressions.”
“That’s part of the TED conversation - showing people there’s a better way for us to connect with one another,” he continues. “Whether it’s through texting or through customer satisfaction ratings for clinical health instruments or reactions to a blog…There’s a better way for us to connect through the common language of emotion and facial expressions.”
“The bottom line is because connections are so important the irony is while the internet has increased our ability to reach one another at light speed, our ability really to connect with one another digitally has been stuck in the Dark Ages and that’s what we’re changing,” adds Sullivan. “It’s past time for the internet to grow up and allow us really to connect.”
For more information on Vizbii or the Morphii platform, see the company website at www.morphii.com. Although tickets are already sold out for the upcoming TEDxCharleston event, you can have your name placed on the waitlist by following the links at the event website, www.tedxcharleston.org.