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Happiness is: potential


Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make me happy. A new, blank field notes notebook, and a new pen. So much potential, so much opportunity. I’m almost sad it’s Friday…

Steve Jobs: lessons learned

Photo by Diana Walker in 1982

  • There is beauty in simplicity, in products and in life
  • Have some taste
  • Don’t move on until you get the small stuff right
  • Don’t chase the focus groups, choose your own path
  • Study deeply and study widely
  • The key is knowing when to say “no”, not “yes”
  • don’t speak until you have something to say
  • removing things can free a product to go new places
  • technology is about humanity

obstacles were made to be overcome

”If you base your workout schedule on the weather, you’ll never build a habit of exercise.”

Chris Guillebeau

This is especially true for those of us in the pacific northwest. On more than one occasion I’ve thought to myself “If only I lived in California, it would be so much easier to work out”. Or “if only the gym was closer, then I could work out more regularly”. These are real problems. There is no getting around the fact that it is more difficult to motivate yourself to go running when it’s 36 degrees and raining.

When I was living on Bainbridge Island the closest crossfit gym was a good 30 minute drive away. So instead of going my usual 3-4 times a week, I could only make the trip up 2 times a week.

The problem was I had committed to a personal goal of doing 3 workouts a week “no matter what”. I had to get more creative about how I got my workouts done. In response I joined the local health club across the street so I would have access to their weights, and I found a list of workouts that I could do with very little equipment. When I couldn’t make it to the gym, I worked out across the street, or in the park, or in my living room.

Was it ideal? No. But did it work? Yes. And it allowed me to reach my goal, and thus maintain my habit.

Luckily for me after a few months new gym opened up about a mile from my house. Since I had been committed to going 3 times a week and had to put a lot of extra energy into the process, when the new gym became available I was able to easily go 4-5 times a week.

When we overcome obstacles we build resiliency in ourselves. Many times we can get so wrapped up in trying to make the goal attainable that we forget that the benefit comes from the work of achieving the goal, not the goal itself. Interesting goals are not easy to achieve, they take work.

— image courtesy amandabhslater

TV Ownership in Decline: A eulogy

Nielsen predicts TV ownership in the US will be down going into next year, from nearly 99 percent in 2011 to just 96.7 percent in 2012.

via Ars Technica

It took me nearly a year and a half after cutting the cable before I finally gave in and sold my TV. I had previously replaced the 37″ Sony plasma tv with the much more demure 24″ Apple Cinema display, but had yet to fully accept the finality of that decision by getting rid of the redundant rectangle.

The decision to dispose of the tv in its entirety was more difficult than I originally thought it would be. In all honesty I was raised on TV. My parents both worked when I was in middle school and high school, and the TV became a sort of baby sitter to my brother and I during those afternoon hours. After dinner we would all gather around the TV to watch America’s Funniest Home Videos or if mom had the remote, the latest adventures of Jessica Fletcher. Getting rid of the felt like a betrayal to those positive memories. But faced in an inevitable move across Puget Sound in the spring I knew it was time to get serious.

I suppose life hasn’t really changed much since the departure. I don’t watch any less “TV” programming now than I did before. I still watch probably 4-8 hours of TV a week. Instead the deeper significance to me was that by selling off the tv, I was acknowledging that a chapter of my life had closed. I was deciding that TV no longer help as great a significance to me now as it did in my formative years. It had become baggage in a very literal sense. The knowledge that I was going to need to move that TV into my next apartment, carefully swaddling the precious cargo in u-haul blankets to prevent any unexpected wear and tear had finally become too much of a burden.

And so on that cold winter day I watched a stranger take that most prized of American possessions, the TV, and haul it away into the bitter darkness. However, inside I was warmed by the knowledge that for this TV, the story wasn’t over. There was another family anxiously awaiting it’s arrival, ready to plug a myriad of devices into it’s ever waiting ports…

Goodbye TV. We’ll miss you…

Go out and make something

It’s much harder to create than to consume.

But it’s easier than you think.

Just write it down.

Draw it out.

It doesn’t have to be the best, or even any good.

It just needs to be yours.

Make something.

make something better.

Planning on Failure: why I hate the gym

Traditional gyms suck. I’m always anxious when I sign up for one of their plans and I think I finally understand what has rubbed me the wrong way this whole time.

Traditional gyms are built on a business model that has as its foundation, the failure of it’s members. If traditional gyms did a good job of delivering on their promises they would put themselves out of business.

To unpack this let’s look at the marketing message from a traditional gym:

“Come here and lose weight, we can help you get that six pack abs in time for bikini season. Look at these pictures of fit people as proof! Look, we know it’s hard, but if you come here 3 days a week you’ll get fit by running on this treadmill and lifting these weights!”

Alright, sounds like a good message. We can see people in the gym, doing their workout routine, and they are often fitter than we are. So we ask about the price. Turns out that we need to pay an upfront fee to join their gym… and that we need to sign up for full year ahead of time… and they want our credit card on file so they can automatically bill us afterwards… hmmm… that’s curious, but you can’t put a price on your health, so we’ll sign up and chances are, 3 weeks later you’re never going to set foot in that gym again.

Most of us consider that a personal failure. We signed up to get fit, we committed to 3 times a week, and we didn’t make it, and we feel bad. Here’s where it gets interesting though. That gym expects that to happen. They have even built it into their business model.

The reason they ask you to pay an up front fee, and sign up for a years worth of membership dues is because they know, you aren’t coming back. That seems counter intuitive but it makes perfect sense for them. You see they don’t have nearly enough space and equipment to service all of their members. They don’t have enough elliptical runners for every one of their members to use 30 minutes a day 3 days a week. There aren’t enough nautilus machines for everyone to get through the circuit in 45 minutes every morning. If every member of their gym came to the gym 3 times a week you would packed in there like sardines.

Why don’t they have enough space for everyone? Because they can’t afford it. Not at the rates they are charging you.

For example: A typical gym will have somewhere between 15-20 elliptical cross-training machines. Each gym member spends on average 30 minutes on each elliptical machine. Because of their work schedules, most gym members come to the gym between 5-8 in the morning between 11:30am-1pm during lunch and 5-7 at night. That equals about 6.5 hours of elliptical time, times 20 machines equals 130 hours of peak elliptical time per day. Divided by 30 minutes means that only 65 people per day can use the elliptical cross trainers in a small gym. Since we only need to go 3 days a week, if members always go to the gym on alternating days, that means the elliptical cross trainers can support 130 people per month. (sunday is usually a pretty slow day)

130 people per month paying a somewhat typical 70 dollars per month equals $9,100 dollars in income per month.

Let’s factor in just one expense… 12 dollars an hour for the guy at the front desk (gym needs to be open from 5am-9pm) times 16 hours = 192 dollars a day, 7 days a week = $5952 dollars per month.

Even if you double or quadruple the number of members that equipment can support (add in treadmills, the nautilus circuit, etc…) you don’t come close to covering the services you are offering, let along recouping your initial investment (each one of those machines costs in excess of 2000 dollars). The interesting thing though, is that gyms aren’t double or quadrupling that number. They are reaching membership roles that are 10-20 times that number. A small gym I once attended would typically have 30-40 people in the gym every evening, with a membership role of over 2000 people. (6.5 * 40 = 260 regular attendees per day)

So here is what I mean when I say that traditional gyms’ business models are predicated on failure. If that gym in questions had all of their members actively achieving their own personal goals (going to the gym 3 times a week and getting fit) the gym would have almost 200 people there every night. This gym occupied about 2000 square feet giving each individual member 10 square feet in which to exercise.

This is what I find so irritating about these gyms. They sign you up, and they hope you don’t show up, just keep paying your bill, and go home straight after work to watch TV and feel guilty enough to continue paying your membership dues.

More on leadership: From the Cliff

Mike knew he had made a mistake. You could read it in his posture. He was responsible for us. Learning that the cliff was there meant that a mistake that was likely have resulted in serious injury now would end in death. No slips allowed. No mistakes.”

Read more at Frog Blog

Leading is risky business…

The man in front is the first to get shot

The concept of “leadership” is something of a foundational principal in business circles. People within a company look to be seen as a leader in order to help advance their career. Companies look to be “leaders” of their market as a way to amass profit. Politicians seek to be leaders of movements. Military officers to be leaders of men.

Organisations talk a lot about leadership. Quite rightly, as without it organisations get submerged in the trivial many (usually encapsulated on the latest slide-deck) instead of staying super-focused on the vital few. However, leadership is not something which can be rolled out at a conference. Leadership is not a job title. Leadership is not something which dictates who pays for the lattes at Starbucks. Leadership is a mindset. It is doing what is necessary. Aged 24 or 42. Liked or disliked. It is identifying appropriate actions. It is owning the consequences of those actions. It is striding through the melodrama about the broken espresso machine. It is saying this is not a management model, guys: this is a real life business with customers and employees dependent upon us. That’s leadership.?

via Nicholas Bate

In my time following Mr. Bate’s blog, I’ve never found him to be overly verbose. But what he lacks in verbosity he makes up for in thought provocation.

What is Nicholas saying here? I believe he is reminding us that leadership requires fortitude. It requires determination. It requires looking past the details to see the goal, and once that goal is visible, pushing towards that goal without letting the details derail the vision. All projects can get sidetracked. Schedules are harder to coordinate than we thought, funding isn’t as available as we had hoped, Bill and Nancy are arguing about the right color for the brochures, if we don’t submit something by friday we’ll lose our ad space in this month’s issue…

While each of those are important pieces of the puzzle, they are the trivial details. Each must retain it’s subordinate position to the goal. If a meeting time can’t be set then we will decide over email, money will be located or we will find a cheaper way to do it, a color will be chosen even if it upsets one of the stakeholders, if the ad doesn’t look right it doesn’t go out, no matter what…

Each of those details exists only because of the vision, they have no intrinsic value of their own. If they support the vision they are valuable, if they don’t support the vision they are unnecessary. Once we have stripped out the unnecessary and all that remains is necessary, they must be solved, otherwise they put the goal at risk. In order to succeed, the larger goal cannot be held hostage by the details. They must either be worked out, or worked around.

Not only does leadership require fortitude, but also a willingness to accept risk. Doing what is “necessary” requires defining what is necessary, and defining what is necessary is intrinsically risky. It invites debate, and it invites review, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

This process is inevitable and important. Without proper up front vetting substandard ideas could end up taking precedence over better concepts. Without a review, critical opportunities for personal and professional improvement would be missed. Throughout the entire process, the “leader” will be judged, critiqued, and criticized. Sometimes fairly, and sometimes unfairly.

Leadership is hard work.

Those darn socks

A few years ago a friend of mine introduced me to smartwool. This magical fiber has found itself nestled against my feet for a few years now. Unfortunately I’ve finally come to realize the main drawback of this fantastic foot wrap. Smartwool tends to deteriorate faster than other, more contemporary, fibers. After a few years I have more holes in my Smartwool socks than I ever did with my old cotton socks, or any newer synthetic socks. Perhaps I could be a little more aggressive with tending my toenails, but alas, the past is the past and as a result of my wool fetish and pedicure aversion I found myself in the possession of several unusable socks. Most of the wool material was still warmly warming of my occasionally chilled metatarsals, but the holes that had developed in the toe region were proving to be somewhat of an annoyance. My large toe in particular was fond of poking itself through it’s newly discovered portal at opportune times.

About this time a secondary drawback of my Smartwool fetish made its appearance. Smartwool socks can be considerably more expensive than your run of the mill cotton socks. So replacing these socks would end up cost a non-trivial amount of cash money. Rather than see my hard earned cash money going directly into those corporate coffers (the bastards!) I figured I would take a queue from my great grandmothers and learn how to darn my socks.

I did get a few eyebrow raises when I asked my family for darning supplies for Christmas, but they were game and as a result I’ve been in the possession of some high quality wool thread, a few darning needles and a darning egg. The process of darning a sock is actually quite straight-forward. It only takes a few minutes to darn a sock and the resulting extension of the life of the sock feels almost like putting money in the bank. For the cost of one pair of replacement smartwool socks, I’ve extended the life of three pairs of socks, with enough material to do the same to 100 more.

But the financial aspect was only part of what made this process enjoyable. I’m actually proud of my socks… as ridiculous as that sounds. In some small way I’ve transformed my role from being one of consumption to creation. My socks have gone from something that I passively consumed, into something that I played a small role in creating. And frankly it’s hard to put a price on that.

It’s loaded, and comes pre-aimed at your foot

We are interviewing at work again. It’s nice to be adding instead of subtracting. Business indicators are starting to swing back towards the positive and folks are hiring again. Hurrah!

Unfortunately not all interviews are enjoyable. We had to reject a candidate today based on a very common interview mistake. This particular candidate complained long and hard about the various sins of her previous employer.

Any interview coach will tell you to avoid this topic. It’s a classic mistake and one that has cost many job offers. In this situation the person interviewing you is unlikely to identify with your complaints. They are going to side with your previous employers. They are asking themselves “do I want this person to work for me”. Its very easy for the interviewer to see themselves in the future, the subject of the same criticisms you are currently leveling against your previous employer.

For this particular candidate it became clear partway through the interview that she was very intelligent and capable. She had tackled difficult projects and done them in a way that set the project up for long term success. For one reason or another though, she had been forced to deal with less competent co-workers that ended up generating additional work. Through whatever combination of management techniques and social dynamics then end result was a person that harbored a deep seated resentment of many of her co-workers. My suspicion was that she had been made to feel inferior to her less capable co-workers. In an interview we don’t have nearly the time necessary to unpack that resentment and see if it’s something that can be healed and eradicated, and so our decision has to be “no-hire” which is really a shame.

This candidate would have been a good addition to our team if she wasn’t held back by a seething bitterness. She had been fighting so hard against her less capable co-workers to prove her worth, that in the end she ended up sabotaging her own abilities. The low self confidence, bitterness and resentment grew a hard shell of arrogance to protect itself from an unfair situation.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are bad-mouthing previous employers in an interview, it might be worth some reflection time to try and unpack exactly what is making you so angry. Holding on to that frustration and bitterness does nothing to harm those you are angry with, and only serves to limit your ability to grow in your own career.