Walt Stinson (00:00): 

To think that nothing's going to change as the composition of the planet changes is naive. I think that we're a little behind the curve. I think that we've got a little bit of catching up to do as an industry. We've got catching up to do as companies if we want to continue to be relevant in the future. 

James Kotecki (00:29): 

This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki. CES 2023 is January 5th through 8th in Las Vegas. We are here to get you hyped and get you smart about the world's most influential tech event. 


This year, CES has partnered with the World Academy of Art and Science to focus on human security, a United Nations concept that includes food access, healthcare, environmental protection, and more. 


Here to explore why this matters and what it all means for you as a CES attendee is Walt Stinson who directs the human security for all initiative. Walt, we're so glad you're here and you're going to be asking CES attendees to kind of look at the whole world differently. But before we dive into all that, I want to start with your story. Tell us about your background and how you're related to the consumer technology industry? 

Walt Stinson (01:24): 

I almost feel like I was born into this industry. I got my first exposure to tech when I was 10 years old, and I made a decision, before I was even in high school, that I was going to make a career in electronics. 

James Kotecki (01:38): 

And then what did that career look like for you? 

Walt Stinson (01:40): 

When I was 23, 50 years ago this year, I started ListenUp and I'm the CEO of ListenUp in Denver, Colorado, and we've grown into a player in the consumer electronics space. 


In 1979, I co-founded PARA, which grew into a trade organization with about 200 audio specialty retailers and about 50 manufacturers. Right now I'm chairman of ProSource, which is a 600 dealer trade organization and buying group with about 6 billion dollars in revenues. I love the industry. It's my home. This is my 50th time going to CES this year. So I think I've seen as much of CES as anybody. 

James Kotecki (02:28): 

The industry obviously is associated with change. In a minute, we're going to be exploring how companies and how individuals can see technology through this lens of human security for all, and that might require a shift and a change in people's perspectives. And you've seen changes in perspective in the industry before. So I'd love to have you tell us a story of the emergence of digital audio from your perspective and maybe what that says about people's ability to perceive and engage in big changes in the industry. 

Walt Stinson (02:56): 

One of the keys to survival in this industry is adapting to change. One of the things that I realized early on was that whenever there's an innovation, there's a lot of resistance. 


One of the most exciting periods in my career was when the industry shifted from an analog platform to a digital platform. And that happened in 1982, 10 years after my founding of ListenUp. So here we were just kind of floating along as a high-end audio company, and then we got slammed with this new technology, digital. 


I made a conscious decision to jump on it. I have an engineering background and I read the white papers and decided this is the direction that things are headed and I better get on it and ride it. As I tried to lead PARA, the Association of Specialty Dealers in the direction of digital audio, I was surprised to find that there was a lot of resistance, a lot of dealers that really didn't agree with it and wanted to stop it and prevent it from happening. 


And that happened again in 2000 when the E-commerce Revolution started, and it was necessary for people to develop an E-commerce orientation. And I remember being on stage talking to 500 people about E-commerce and thinking that I was doing a great service to my industry segment at that point in time. And the response was to kick me out, or try to kick me out of the organization that I co-founded. 


So change isn't necessarily something that people want. We invest in our way of doing things and change requires us to invest in new ways of thinking and invest in new product categories and new types of employees. And not everyone has the skills to do that, the money to do that, or the desire to do that. 

James Kotecki (05:00): 

So of course, if we look back at those two examples, digital audio and E-commerce, you were right about those changes, right? You were correct in assessing that that was the way the industry was going or needed to go. And we can look back and say that you were right about that. And there's this new change that I believe this is the first time that CES has ever had this kind of overall theme of human security for all asking folks who attend CES to maybe think more expansively about their role that the industry and their companies play in this concept. So how did you get involved in Human Security for All and why are you leading this effort here at CES 2023? 

Walt Stinson (05:37): 

Well, the Human Security for All is a campaign of the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security and the World Academy of Art and Science. Gary Jacobs, the president and CEO of the World Academy of Art and Science got me involved in this human security campaign last year when he was developing the proposal. He had been invited to develop the proposal by the UN and wanted some advice from a business person, a different perspective. So he invited me to get involved in it. 

James Kotecki (06:13): 

So we teased it at the beginning of this show. Human security is a very broad concept, includes food access, healthcare, environmental protection, all different forms of what security could mean. How do you define human security, especially in a way that will be interesting and meaningful to CES attendees? 

Walt Stinson (06:30): 

I describe it as a new paradigm of security. I describe it as a definition of security that's people centered. It compliments other concepts of security like military security and national security. But I feel that human security has been neglected, perhaps underinvested in. I think that it deserves more focus than it has been getting. And the UN feels the same way. 


Human security concept builds on the sustainable development goals that were developed by the UN and Agenda 2030, it builds on all that, ties it all together and compliments it, and it has a specific meaning in the civil society and the world of governance. And I'm attempting to bring the concept of human security into the tech space and make people aware of its importance, what it means. Not just the technical definition of it in the context of the United Nations, but what it should mean to any CEO or company that's doing business in our space. 

James Kotecki (07:41): 

Well let's get right into that. This is the core of the issue. So you've got a CES attendee who's maybe a CEO or a tech executive and they say, "Look, I care about the world. I care about these problems that you're talking about. But it's hard enough for me just to convince people to buy my own product. As a tech executive I'm just one company, how am I supposed to be solving all these great global problems of the world? What am I supposed to do about that?" 

Walt Stinson (08:04): 

Well, we can all make our contribution, right? But let's back up to what we were talking about earlier, the technological revolutions that have swept over our industry from time to time and caused us to dramatically adjust our business models. I would argue that right now we're facing not a technological revolution, but a revolution in society's aspirations. A revolution in terms of people's attitudes about, not just society, but about the workplace in general that is driven by the pandemic, by the war in Ukraine, by climate change, all issues that can't be addressed by any one particular nation but require multilateral approach for a solution. 


When you examine each one of those existential crisis, I would call them, they all are dramatically affecting people at the individual level. They're not just affecting the security of nation states, they're affecting the security of individuals. 


Now you and I live in the United States, developed countries are somewhat insulated from these issues and the United States perhaps more than any other country is, but we're not completely insulated from them. 


We've been affected by the pandemic. We're affected by climate change just like other countries are. It's important for companies to understand that these issues are driving consumer aspirations and they're driving the regulatory environment in a way that it can't be ignored. 


When I presented this concept to Gary Shapiro and asked him to theme the '23 CES show around the concept of human security, his response was, "That's not a big leap for us because our companies are already concerned about these issues. They're already dealing with them, and we're already theming events, sessions, and so on around some of the topics that you've described. We just don't have an overarching theme or concept that pulls it all together." And that's what human security does, it pulls it all together. 

James Kotecki (10:25): 

And let's talk about some of the specific ways that this is going to actually show up at CES. When I come to CES 2023, where is human security for all going to show up for me? 

Walt Stinson (10:34): 

Well, it'll show up in the branding and the overall theme of the event. It'll be up there in front of everybody. It'll say "Human Security for All." Now hopefully people who see that will want to learn exactly what that means. But it all starts with branding. And then we get into the Innovation Awards, which is one of the premier events at CES. It attracts a tremendous amount of traffic and a tremendous amount of interest, not just from the CES attendees, but from the manufacturing community that displays at CES, because being able to stamp your product with an Innovation Award stamp is really a crowning achievement for a lot of companies that submit products to be judged. 


So this year, for the first time, there will be another tier of awards for products that address human security pillars. We early on sent out invitations for companies to submit products to the human security award judges who are all members of the academy and who will be evaluating the products based on how they support the human security pillars. 


They're broad and they're all encompassing, but basically all you have to do to understand those pillars is to think about how people live their lives and the security issues that people face in their daily lives, not just in the United States, but around the world. And you can imagine what those pillars are. 


So we're looking for products that, in some way, contribute to human security and in particular products that might be applicable to the underdeveloped world and not just to the developed world. 

James Kotecki (12:25): 

And if someone's listening to this podcast and say, "Hey, I've got a product that fits into one of those categories," is it too late for them to submit for the awards? 

Walt Stinson (12:34): 

It is, unfortunately, but I think we're going to keep this going. It's popular and it's important. So I think we'll keep it going. So they should really think about it for next year. 

James Kotecki (12:45): 

What are some of the products? Can you talk about some of the products that are in the mix to give us some specific examples of the kind of product that might win these awards? 

Walt Stinson (12:52): 

I can. Their basically products that would address community security. So it would be technology that enables access to education or information or provides services that can keep a community safe. So that would include things like products that provide better emergency services or the deployment of broadband into remote areas. That's a real biggie. We need to close the last mile. 


There are many, many areas of the world that don't have internet access still. And closing that last mile is really the key to providing so many different types of services, including education for children in parts of the world that are now underserved in that area. 


But we're going to be looking at mobility. Technology that gives individuals independence to move and transport themselves. We're going to be looking at health security, which would be technologies that improve patient care and health outcomes. And we're going to be looking at food security, which will be technology that aids in keeping food nutritious, preventing it from spoiling, perhaps water, pure water access and that sort of thing. 


So those are a few of the product categories that we're going to be looking for, but we're also going to keep an open mind. Hopefully somebody's going to surprise us with something out of left field. That's what innovation is really all about. You don't want to go in with an attitude that you already know what to expect. I really am expecting the unexpected. 

James Kotecki (14:35): 

Let me play devil's advocate from the perspective of just a cold-hearted, numbers-minded capitalist and say this, if this technology was profitable, it would already exist. So the reason that some of these technologies are emerging in some of these human security areas that you mentioned is that it's cost-prohibitive to, for example, provide broadband to the last mile for everybody who needs it. 


And so what would be your counter-argument to someone like that to say, "Look, this is all well and good. It's about doing good. I understand that I want to do that as much as I can, but we as companies just have to make the numbers work to make this work." 

Walt Stinson (15:10): 

Human security isn't just for other people. It isn't just for the developing world or for people in the United States that are suffering or North America that are suffering. 


Human security is something that any business executive can apply in their own company. It basically is a prevention-oriented, context-specific concept that can start, and should start, in your own company. And I think if you look around at what's happening today in the workforce, if you are really open-minded about it and honest with yourself, I think that you'll realize, and admit, that employees are demanding a more secure workplace on a lot of different levels. They want more economic security. They don't want to be subjected to arbitrary corporate actions that perhaps ignore their personal situation. 


I think people want to be treated as people. They don't want to be treated as numbers. And I think that all of us, no matter how far along our companies have come in that regard, we can do a lot more. And I think it will help us attract employees. I think it'll help us keep employees. It will help us become more profitable companies. 


I also want to circle back on what I said earlier, and that is if you ignore big societal trends, societal aspirations, you do so at your peril. It's a lot easier, a lot better, from a business standpoint to decide that digital audio is the thing that's going to happen and not clinging to your analog outlook. It's also better as a business person to look a little bit around the corner and see what the future holds as far as the workplace is concerned, or perhaps even the way you're handling your customers and to try to adapt the company to what people aspire to rather than to the way you've been doing things for the last 10 years. 


I think that if you do that, you might be around for 10 more years. And if you don't do that, you might not be around 10 years from now. 

James Kotecki (17:26): 

And I suppose that's one way of framing what human security for all really means. It's a framework for predicting the future with a reasonable degree of certainty. When you say, okay, let's take climate change for example. Are there going to be more people affected by climate change or less people affected by climate change in the next 10, 20 years? And the answer's probably obvious. Are there going to be more people who need access to healthcare or less? Are there going to be more people who want a secure food supply or less? And I suppose that's just a way of framing up how to think about the future for your company's decisions? 

Walt Stinson (17:55): 

Yes, and I think it's important for all companies to realize that change is constant. When I was born, there were two and a half billion people on the planet and we're approaching 9 billion people. That's a major shift in the composition of our planet. And to think that nothing's going to change as the composition of the planet changes is naive. I think that we're a little behind the curve. I think that we've got a little bit of catching up to do as an industry. We've got catching up to do as companies if we want to continue to be relevant in the future to our customers and to our employees. 

James Kotecki (18:38): 

You mentioned that this is an initiative of the World Academy of Art and Science, and you're a business person in that group, but the group is also filled with scientists and artists and other thinkers. What have you learned from the perspective of a business leader about how business science, the arts, how can these things best work together and support each other? 

Walt Stinson (19:00): 

I always thought of business as being kind of a part and unto itself, and I think that government and civil society often looks at us that way as well, because we are consumed by our work and we're profit motivated and don't have a lot of spare time. But what I've found is that when business people do apply their skills to projects that involve government and civil society, that we're welcomed because we have a perspective that's needed and can make a meaningful contribution to the outcome. 


So that was the most surprising aspect to me. When I was invited to join the World Academy, when I was working with them initially, I felt that what does a businessman really have to contribute here? These are the brightest people in the world. Certainly they know more than I do about all of these issues. And in many cases that turned out to be true, but they don't know more about certain key aspects of how to turn ideas into results. That's what we do in the business world. We take ideas and we have to turn them into something, right? We have to turn them into revenue or some measurable, quantitative product that measures our output and that discipline is welcomed in civil society and in government as well. 

James Kotecki (20:31): 

It sounds like what you are encouraging folks who come to CES 2023 to think about is human security for all, but not even just within the context of the industry or the business world at large, which can seem very huge when you're at CES 2023 and all those folks are around. But to think even more broadly to the concept of how businesses and industry reaches out into other parts of society and truly looking at a collaborative way of addressing these human security problems. 

Walt Stinson (20:59): 

I am. That's true. I think that we have a responsibility to engage with our communities. I think that community involvement is a key component to ListenUp success, for example. We've always had that component. I think we've also always had, certainly, I've always had the idea that I need to be engaged with the industry. I need to be engaged with CTA. I need to be engaged with my buying group, my trade, my niche, and I need to be continually educating myself. 


Yeah, I think that engagement is very important. I think that if you look at any successful company in our industry that you'll find if you scratch the surface a little bit beneath the surface is a company that is doing all those things. And I think it's naive to think that you can stick your head in the sand and ignore the big picture that is going on around you and be successful in the long run. 

James Kotecki (22:09): 

Walt Stinson is a director of the Human Security for All initiative. Thank you so much for joining us. 

Walt Stinson (22:15): 

Thank you, James. 

James Kotecki (22:16): 

Well, that's our show for now, but there's always more tech to talk about. Here's a preview of the next CES Tech Talk. 

Speaker 3 (22:24): 

AI actually is becoming a catalyst for some of the innovation and change that we're bringing into the platforms of today. 


Our devices that we're using and the solutions we're putting into market are becoming more aware of how they're being used, what they're being used for, where they're being used, and they can change dynamically based on your needs. 

James Kotecki (22:45): 

Please subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss a moment and get more CES at CES.tech. That's CES.tech. Our show is produced by Nicole Vidovich with Kristen Miller and Mason Manuel, recorded by Andrew Lynn and edited by Third Spoon. I'm James Kotecki, talking tech on CES Tech Talk.