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Schulich students look for ways to use Google Glass in business

Jai lakhani, left, and Sydney Walsh were among the first Schulich students to experiment with Google Glass in the classroom.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Google Glass, that wearable Web technology still in its infancy, will inevitably become as outdated as brick-sized cellphones. But cast your mind back to not so long ago.

Think how vaguely intimidating it would have been to sit in a business negotiation with someone who wielded the brick (and could justify the expense) and could immediately call the office to check on a contract line item or an account balance.

Okay, it may be hard to remember, but laughably basic cellphones once had a certain intimidation effect in business deal-making. York University's Schulich School of Business has taken early steps in testing that effect in the case of Google Glass.

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Although wearing the small Web device on the corner of eyeglass frames shouts Star Trek geekdom, its usefulness in business negotiations is obvious – from instantly looking up documents and price comparisons on the Internet out of the corner of one's eye to recording the negotiations (even broadcasting them) in high-definition.

But will it, as with any other wearable technology, go down as an enhancement or an unwelcome intrusion?

"If someone has it, and the other one doesn't, it's the fear that the person [wearing Google Glass] has more access to information. In a negotiation, access to information, and quick access, is quite important," said Kevin Tasa, an associate professor of organization studies at Schulich.

The devices are used during practice deal-making exercises in Dr. Tasa's class in negotiation skills for MBA students. So far, the students have used the glasses only to record the negotiations to study how well they did. They didn't use the Web function. That may come later.

But that may be a moot point. Simply wearing the device may be intimidating enough.

"One of the things we are going to be exploring down the road is whether or not the use of Google Glass actually curtails deception," Dr. Tasa said. "Because if a person has the ability to verify information quickly – and even the perception that the other person has the ability to verify information quickly – we wonder if that is actually going to have an impact" on the outcome of negotiations.

The point is that wearable technology, even if not allowed in the actual negotiating room, could provide new means to access information en route to the meeting or during breaks in negotiations. Ultimately, it's a question of unlevelling the playing field.

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In negotiations, competing parties try to get the best deal by coaxing the others based on how much or how little they know. Yet, even the perception that the other party has more easy access to information could conceivably act as a deterrent to deceive. "I do think it will serve as a barrier to one's own temptation to deceive in the context of negotiations," Dr. Tasa said.

Some of the students told him they found facing someone with the glasses disconcerting. "I don't want to use the word intimidating. But it was a little like they were being monitored," the professor said. "Because they were being monitored! They were being filmed. So they had to be cautious about what they said, because they had to be upfront and more honest."

He found that the students' mock negotiations using the devices tended to result in business agreements that benefited both parties more. "Because in negotiation, it's not just about harming the other person, but creating value between both sides," and in that sense the outcomes were better, Dr. Tasa said.

MBA student Fahad Syed said he would have liked to have done more with Google Glass than simply using them as a recording tool. But what was interesting was how people's behaviour could change if they knew they are being recorded, he added.

Schulich obtained the devices through the Google program Glass For Higher Education, in which the tech giant gave the school a two-for-one deal for the $1,500-a-piece (U.S.) devices, so long as the school paid for five pairs. So, for the price of five, Schulich got 10.

Mark Orlan, the school's executive director of information services and technology, put a call out to teachers, asking how they might use the units in their classes. "It's an experimental piece of hardware, and really I had no preconceived ways of using it," Mr. Orlan said.

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So far, Schulich has only dipped a toe into the water with its first use of the devices. For in the business world outside academia, Dr. Tasa said, "I can't imagine someone being given permission in a labour-relations context or an important business negotiation to keep the technology on their head while they're negotiating." But during the time surrounding the actual negotiations, the Glass or any wearable technology could come in handy.

Or you may not even have to turn on the device. Just arriving at a negotiation wearing Google Glass (even if you then take them off during the actual talks) gives the semblance of having fast access to information. Maybe that little dollop of intimidation could be enough.

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About the Author

Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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