Monday, December 14, 2009

Update on my new blog address

Well I finally figured it out!

The URL of my new blog is now:

I look forward to sharing my thoughts and engaging in discussion with you over there. I do not intend to post anymore on this site.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New blog address


If you've been reading my blog, first of all thank you! I hope you enjoy it.

Now the news: I am switching to a new blogging platform (URL is at the bottom of this post). I don't really have a clue what I'm doing but the new platform will allow for a more professional and high quality look and feel. It will also allow me to edit and add features more easily.

Now because I am learning this as I go, I'm not sure if/how it will work. If you've been subscribing via email or RSS, I hope you will continue to get my posts sent to you. If you don't, there are tools on the new blog that will allow you to sign up again. (And hopefully they will work!)

And now just because I've criticized the whole new look without new benefits marketing tactic, let me explain a bit more why I'm doing this and why I'm not a hypocrite for it :)

New packaging on potato chips does not change the functional benefit I receive from my chips. They taste the same. They clog my arteries the same... But the look and feel of a blog directly impacts reader experience. I want people who read my blog to get a certain experience that is consistent with the way I would like to present myself and makes their reading more enjoyable. I felt that my current blog made that difficult for me. I also want to be able to add more features without having to find workarounds for everything.

Anyway, I want to thank you again for your attention and hope that you enjoy the new blog. Please share any feedback with me. This is very much a work in progress. I will be adding new features, changing the color scheme and generally messing around with it for a while until I and you are happy with it.

Check it out at:

Oh and BTW, I will probably change the URL to just once I figure out how :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Network not netjerk

I just got an email from a guy I knew years ago. I have had zero contact with this person in more than two years and possibly as much as six. And even when we had contact, we were not close. We socialized a handful of times a year and he was friends with my brother in law. Between the time I last had contact with him and now, I have been in the process of getting divorced. It's been nearly two years since that process started. And not a peep from this guy. Well, that's OK. We weren't close anyway.

But now he sends me an email. The subject line of his email is: "q for u".

And the text of his email is:
"Hi Adam,

I’ve got a q for you that is possibly business-related, or maybe you’ll have some advice - when is a good time to talk, and what is your number?


Note how unfriendly he is. Note how he does not acknowledge that we have not been in contact for years. Note how he has no comment on the fact that I'm getting divorced. And note how he simply assumes I will give him my time.

Well, my inclination is to help. That's a natural human inclination. But this is just bad behavior. And I'm not going to reward bad behavior. The polite thing for him to do would have been to say a proper hello, acknowledge my life circumstances in some way and ask if he could get a few minutes of my time.

I was going to simply ignore his email but why should I be the guy that ignores emails? Instead, I sent him the following email which is a bit testy but I think he deserved it:
"No "Hi, how are you? It's been a few years and I hope things are well for you." No "Hey, I hear you've been going through a divorce. I hope you're doing well."


Do you typically find that method of networking to be effective? If so, I recommend you send your question to those people with whom that approach works. I generally prefer a bit of humanity with my networking."

And just a few minutes later he responded with:
"Sorry, u r right - jerky of me. Am using a pda and just went quickly. Lesson learned."

Yes, it was jerky of him. It just didn't meet the basic standards of human decency. Now could a good friend send me an email like that? Absolutely! That good friend would have built a reservoir of good will with me. I would know that he or she would be there for me. They would know I'm there for them. That's a big part of what friendship is. But if you're not a good friend then you have to be a bit more polite. Be human.

If you walked through my front door, how would you act? Would you just barge in and start demanding things? Or would you announce yourself, be nice and then make your request only after having (re) established the relational right to do so? Look. I may not be able to call the cops on you for spamming me the way I can if you walk into my home without permission. But just because you can send me an email and just because it is legal to send me an email does not mean it is wise to send me an email. And if you're going to send one, think about what you should say. Yes, it is very easy to hit send. But it is just as easy for me to hit delete.

Can this guy repair things with me? Probably. But now it will take more effort than had he simply taken an extra minute to be friendly. Now instead of just overcoming years of a dormant relationship, he has to overcome years of that dormancy plus today's jerkiness.

Do you think it was worth it for him?

Don't scratch that itch

Years ago when I was a kid practicing martial arts I remember one of my teachers telling me, as I interrupted a technique to scratch my leg, that it was important I stay focused on what I was doing and that if I focused properly then I would not feel my leg itch at all. That it was in the power of my mind to feel or not feel the itch.

Last week a dear friend told me about something she had learned in yoga. It was all about not scratching an itch. And it was meant to include physical itches but also metaphorical itches. The point was to reject the reflex to scratch the itch and make it go away and, instead, to live with it and see what came of it.

I thought this was very interesting and it holds some lessons for those of us that seek innovation.

So let's think about itches for a minute. Our bodies and minds throw all sorts of itches our way. Hunger is an itch to eat. Sexual desire is an itch. Parents often have an itch to see their kids when they are away. (Or not to see them when they are!) We have itches to study a particular topic or visit a certain place. And we have itches to avoid things as well. For every itch we get that tells us to go do something, there can be a corresponding itch to not do something. There is a hunger itch, but there is also an itch not to eat if you have eaten too much. You might really not like someone and get an itch whenever you're in their presence to get away as fast as possible. Maybe you don't like being in crowds and you get an itch to find open space...

It occurs to me that these itches are mechanisms of stasis. They are designed to maintain you the way you are. Hunger is your body telling you that in order to keep going, you need fuel. Sexual desire tells you that you need release because if you don't get it, you will find yourself in an uncomfortable state. All of our itches are signals from inside telling us that something is not going according to plan and that we need to adjust our course to stay on track.

We also have various variety-seeking mechanisms. People cannot eat the same things, see the same things, do the same things day in and day out without getting bored. We crave variety and novelty. Now I would argue that these variety-seeking mechanisms are also mechanisms of stasis. Because we have been constructed to require variety and novelty, when we don't get them, we get an itch. Our bodies and minds tell us that if we don't get some new input, we will find ourselves in an uncomfortable state. Variety-seeking is really just a way to maintain. It's that old expression about running just to stay in place.

Now think about what we do when we get an itch. That's right, just shout it out when you know it. Yes! We scratch the itch. As quickly as we can. We are good little soldiers and follow the instructions from inside that tell us to get back on track right away.

That's wonderful if maintaining ourselves is our goal. But it's not so good if we want to innovate. Stasis is the enemy of innovation. Stasis is about keeping everything constant. It's about the safety of the familiar. Old routines. Old habits. Changing only enough to maintain. Stasis does not help you see wonderful new vistas or create inspiring new ideas.

The solution is to not scratch the itch. Let it ride a bit. See what frame of mind it puts you in. Find some new experiences. These will be uncomfortable. Certainly at first. Maybe forever. If they turn out to have negative consequences then scratch the itch and make it go away. But some of them may open you up to new ways of thinking and feeling. You may find yourself changed for the better by allowing yourself an opportunity to see what lies just beyond the itch.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More kudos to NB Web Express

I have written about these guys before. They are just amazing.

I recently redeemed a very generous coupon they sent me. I bought another pair of their 1011 running shoes. I love these shoes. They are unbelievably comfortable. Anyway, I just got an email from them. It's a really nice, warm human email. The text is below. My one minor complaint is that they call me by my first and last name. It sounds a little weird. But otherwise, I really like getting emails from them.

I buy my shoes at Nordstrom. I buy my sneakers at NB Web Express. Nobody else has a chance to sell me shoes or sneakers. I am totally loyal to these guys.

So here's their email:

Dear Adam Schorr,

I wanted to follow up regarding your recent purchase from us.
I sincerely hope you are enjoying the comfort and fit of your
New Balance gear.

Understanding you have many choices, we truly appreciate your
business. NB Web Express is committed to earning your loyal
patronage by surpassing your expectations and being open to
suggestions for improvement.

You can contact us directly via email or by calling
1-800-595-9138(Toll Free) with any comments or suggestions.
We welcome your feedback!

Kerstin B.
Customer Care Specialist
(800) 595-9138

Friday, November 20, 2009

Everything you know is wrong

There. Feel better? I bet you do.

Because I know that you so badly want to change. You want to improve. You want to try new things. And you still think the word "innovation" is cool and if you can put it on your resume you know you'll get invited to cool parties.

But there's this really big problem. The problem is that you know so much. You're an expert in your field. You've seen it all and you know what works and what does not work. So if you're going to change, improve, innovate and hobnob with the A-listers, you've got to find something that fits in with what you know to be true.

And that is hard. Honestly, it's damn near impossible. Because if there was something new and better out there that fit with what you know, you'd probably already have it wouldn't you?

So what is a would-be innovator to do?

Well, I'll tell you. Accept that everything you know is wrong. What you learned in school. Wrong! Your accumulated professional wisdom. Wrong! Your most sacred beliefs. Wrong! All of it is wrong. And if it isn't wrong this very minute, it'll be!

The world is not flat. The sun does not revolve around the earth. Infants are not born as tabula rasa. Our sensory perception is not driven by eidola (c'mon, look it up). The most sacred beliefs of the best minds throughout history have been shown to be wrong by the advance of wisdom and knowledge. Are you really certain that you're smarter than them all? That human knowledge has now reached its apex and that we now know all there is to know? Really?

Look. There are very few certainties in life. But here are two for which there is so much evidence that only the delusional could possibly deny them.
1) Future generations will laugh at your naivete. They will know how you were wrong. And the generations after them will do the same.
2) Your kids will laugh like crazy at the clothing you wore when you were young and most assuredly at that goofy mustache you thought made you look so cool.

But this is all good news. Well, not so much the part about your kids laughing at you. That can sting a bit. I kid you not. But the other part is good news. Because you already know the end of this movie. The end is that you were wrong.

Stop for a moment to take in the full measure of this. You are wrong. How wonderfully liberating it is to be wrong. You do not have to hold onto your orthodoxies as if they are the last piece of flotsam saving you from certain death in the stormy seas. You are not in possession of a jewel so precious that you must guard it with your very life from the hordes of envious pillagers.

Rather, what you've got now is OK. It's good enough. It's working pretty well. Maybe well enough to hang onto for a bit longer. But it is wrong. And you are free to move on. To challenge your own orthodoxies. Even to toss them away with a soupcon of cavalierness.

Go ahead. Give it a try. You know you want to.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Screw you consumer!

That's what I see and hear when I look at packaging that says "New look. Same great flavor."

What that says to me is: "I spent hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to improve this product you bought but instead of making it better for you, I made it better for me."

In a few rare instances, packaging is updated because consumers that want to find the product simply cannot amidst the clutter of a typical retail shelf. (BTW, I'm referring to packaging graphics not the structure itself.) But most of the time, the packaging is updated so it practically screams at you from the shelf. Marketers will say things like "we've got to make sure the package has stopping power" or "make the package intrusive."

Well guess what? I don't want to be stopped. And I do not want to be intruded on.

When you play with packaging this way, you've resorted to gimmickry. You're not calling on the rational faculties of a consumer to try and assist in the purchase decision. Instead, you're preying on the irrational, the built in little cognitive and cultural biases we have that, generally, help us make better decisions but often lead us astray.

I have a better idea. Try this new line on your packaging: "Same old look. New improved taste." Make the damn chips taste better. Make the soda taste better. Make your product work better. Instead of trying to trick me with flashiness, convince me with true product benefits.

Oh, and consumers. I have a message for you too. See here's the thing. As one of my favorite people pointed out, these gimmicks work. Marketers do this because notwithstanding their cynicism and lack of respect for the consumer, these tactics do work. You know why? Because you allow yourself to be seduced by shiny objects rather than demanding better products. When you stop letting yourself be taken advantage of, when you start demanding from manufacturers that they truly respect you, then you will start seeing better tasting chips.

Until then, enjoy the new bag.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why I love innovation

Innovation produces many economic benefits. It generates many new products and creature comforts. On those merits alone it ought to be greatly valued.

But the truth is that although I enjoy these benefits of innovation, they are not the primary cause of my passion for innovation.

The reason I care so much about innovation is that innovation reflects the natural state of the human soul. (I'm using "innovation" as a verb here.) The human soul seeks to understand. It seeks to improve the world based on that understanding. It craves beauty, excellence, dignity and nobility. It pursues truth.

When people are stifled in their attempts to express the natural desire of their souls, they become depressed in a way. You can see them in their robotic drone-like state in many organizations. They become listless. They go through the motions but there is no real passion behind what they do. As Thoreau said "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." These people are more predictable. They are more easily managed. But they are barely human.

Setting up organizations to allow, or even encourage, people to pursue the natural desires of their souls leads to many salutary benefits. Most immediately, it breathes life and passion back into the quietly desperate. These newly energized people are happy. Not in some superficial sense of having the material comforts they need and a lack of external pressure. They are truly happy in the profoundest sense of the term. They are fully engaged. They are maximally productive. They might not be producing exactly what you wanted them to produce but, in the aggregate, they best contribute to human progress and towards the creation, development and maintenance of the most beautiful, noble, excellent and dignified world we can possibly have.

Oh yeah, they also turn out some really cool products and generate all that economic activity that makes the bean-counters happy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

True in the soil vs. True in the heart

Some things are true because they just are. They are theoretically sound or necessary such as the proposition that 2+2=4. Or they have been shown to be true through rigorous empirical study. These things are true whether you like them or not. They are true regardless of your personal, political or sexual agenda. They are true whether you put on your socks before your shoes or you follow the sock-shoe, sock-shoe approach.

But there are other truths. There are things that are true because you believe they are. These truths start out as the glint in the soul of one individual. That glint grows and becomes a passion. Almost an obsession. And that person through sheer force of will, inspires others to believe. When that happens, this individual has created a movement. And there is very little a passionate movement cannot achieve.

Soil truths are fine. One ignores them at one's own peril. It is important to educate ourselves on these truths.

But let's not ignore heart truths. This is where the magic happens.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On hetero vs. homogeneity

How alike should the members of your organization be? This is a really tough question. On one hand, we value diversity don't we? Haven't we all been told that diversity does all sorts of wonderful things for an organization? It brings together different experiences, ideas, style of thinking, etc. so that you not only get the very best of the lot but you go beyond and achieve that magical 1+1=3.

Yet we also know that there needs to be some commonality amongst members of a group. We all know, for instance, that common values are important. I just saw a great presentation from Netflix on their corporate culture and how they insure that their employees truly share their values.

So how heterogenous or homogenous should we be? Well let's start with the ends of that spectrum.

Pure heterogeneity would mean that there is complete and total difference. No two people within the organization are alike in any way. There are no shared values, beliefs or ideas. There are no shared experiences. Heck, no two people even speak the same language! Clearly that cannot work.

Pure homogeneity would mean that everyone is completely alike. There would be absolutely no diversity whatsoever. Obviously this doesn't work either.

I think the received wisdom is true. Heterogeneity and homogeneity are both needed.

Heterogeneity is needed because much as in biology, social and intellectual diversity lead to the most favorable outcomes over the long term. Differences of opinion, of thinking styles, of experiences - when managed properly - do lead to better outcomes because the organization has a richer database from which to pull its answers. Heterogeneity is valuable because it maximizes your chances that you will survive over the long term by insuring that people from within challenge your thinking so that you don't have to be challenged as much by people from the outside. Magic and brilliance are most likely to come from an unexpected clash of ideas - the sort of clash that requires diversity.

Homogeneity is needed because without it, there is no organization. Homogeneity is the glue that holds together what would otherwise be a mass of individuals. Organizational logic allows for e pluribus unum - out of many, one.

So how much do you need of each?

I would propose two principles though I believe I have not yet thought this issue through sufficiently and would welcome your thoughts:

1) When the nature of your output is inherently creative and novel then you should favor heterogeneity over homogeneity. Organizations that are constantly solving new problems for which there is no existing template should value heterogeneity more. This could include the arts, some kinds of marketing, technology... More physical professions that literally require people to be pulling in the same direction probably should value homogeneity more. Again, I've already pointed out that there must be a balance. I'm just trying to lay out a general framework and provide some guidance here.

2) You should, in general, try and insure homogeneity on as few variables as possible. I suspect common values and a shared sense of the objective will always need to be shared. If people cannot agree on what they're trying to achieve and share the broadest sense of the rules of the road, then I fail to see how they can ever work together. Certain professions may require common experiences like certain degrees or professional accreditations. But often, companies have an unspoken sense of how people should come across. They require that people speak a certain way, dress a certain way... When this becomes part of the culture it can be very toxic. Ask yourself very carefully: do we really need homogeneity around X in order to succeed. Not whether you like it. Not whether it makes you more personally comfortable. Ask yourself whether you really need people to share X. Because if you don't, don't let your culture form an unspoken rule that requires such homogeneity.

I think it is critical to carefully manage this balance. I believe successful strong cultures will do this very well. You want an organization that gives people a sense of belonging. In order to have that sense, they must know to what they belong. It must be obvious to insiders and outsiders what you stand for. But if you take this too far, your organization can quickly become stifling. In the absence of careful management of the criteria for being "one of us," the list will grow. And before long, your organization will have all of the color and vigor of the Soviet Union.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

No shoes

Something wonderful happened to me recently. It seemed too good to be true. And so I started thinking "when will the other shoe drop?"

So many of us spend far too much time wondering about when and how life will take a turn for the worse. This isn't healthy. And it's counterproductive.

Worrying about the future degrades your ability to live in the present. And not living well in the present degrades your future opportunities. So from a purely rational standpoint, it is far more productive to live your best now than to worry about the future. Let me be clear: I am not advocating an irresponsible worry-free life. This is not about "let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die." That is simply irrational escapism. It is no more intelligent than covering your eyes while driving so as to avoid an accident. What I am saying is that living life excellently will open up many doors to you and that you can only live excellently if you focus on what you are doing now. Distracting yourself with thoughts about future possibilities pulls you away from the very excellence that will ameliorate your future.

But worrying about the future does far more damage than simply to reduce your future value. Your present experiences are not just the keys to open doors you will chance upon in the future. Your present experiences become part of your soul. More accurately, your perceptions and interpretations of those experiences become part of your soul. When you are worrying about the possibility that there may be a chance that someday something bad might happen to you, you cast a shadow on everything you experience. You make it much more difficult to see beauty. And as life rolls on, your soul becomes gray and listless.

There is an alternative. You just refuse to focus on this. You take what comes your way and deal with it. When beauty crosses your path, you enjoy it. When you have occasion for laughter you grab it and shake loose every little peal. When love comes your way, you wrap yourself in it and luxuriate. And, when hard times come your way you deal with them too. But when you deal with them, you will be armed with a strong, vibrant soul.

And so, I have adopted a policy. The no-shoe policy. I will do my best to not think about or worry about any dropping shoes. I will live my life as best I can. Enjoy what the world graciously provides, try and accept whatever real limitations inhere in me or in nature. I will try and be smart and do what I can to create a better future but I will live in the world as it stands now and not in some imaginary world that might never come to be.

I invite you to adopt the no-shoe policy as well.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bald is beautiful

Well maybe not. But if you're going bald anyway, I highly recommend shaving your head. It's more honest, it feels great and I think generally, people dig it.

I had decided about a year ago that I might want to shave my head. Which I guess means I hadn't decided a damn thing. But I at least considered considering it. So over the course of a year I slowly had my hair cut shorter and shorter. I started with the #3 clippers and worked my way finally down to zero. No, zero doesn't mean no hair. You'd think it would, but, apparently, there is a quadruple zero. And even that doesn't mean you're bald.

Anyway, about a month ago I took the plunge and shaved my head. It's the way to go. The first few times I used a regular razor. But then someone told me about an awesome device made by HeadBlade. If you're going to shave your head, you must check out HeadBlade. The device they make does a much better job than the Gillette Fusion which is an expensive premium blade.

And, as a marketer, I love their brand. It feels like their stuff is made and marketed by guys for guys. It's a very cool brand.

If you're interested, click here and check out the products. I have the HeadBlade Sport and I also use their ClearHead product after I shave. If you buy using this link, you get 20% off your order and I get a 10% credit. Please use the following referral code when you place your order: 35609

And no, I'm not shilling for these guys. I love the stuff, I use it myself, the products are great and the company seems cool.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kudos to the folks at NB Web Express

I'm a big fan of New Balance footwear and, particularly, the good folks at NB Web Express. I really enjoy shopping there. They always provide great advice, they know what will fit me based on my foot type and previous purchases.

In September 2008 they sent me a coupon code for $50. I had just spent a lot of money with them and they wanted to reward me. I was very appreciative. It felt really nice to be recognized as a good customer and treated accordingly. I kept their email with the coupon code in my inbox. I figured with a year to redeem (super generous BTW) I would have plenty of time.

But a year-long redemption period is no match for my procrastination skills. And a few days ago I realized that the coupon had expired.

I sent them an email asking if they would extend the coupon. Sure enough, they sent me an email graciously offering to do so. And, upon my request, they sent me a note with my recent purchase and some suggestions on other shoes that might work for me.

I just love these guys. And that is why when I need sneakers or hiking shoes, I go straight to NB Web Express. I don't even bother looking elsewhere. They are loyal to me. And I am loyal to them.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Just because it's shiny

It's hard to stay on track.

First of all, you have to have a track. That's not so easy. You've got to figure out what animates you, makes your heart sing. Basically, you've got to find your soul. Having found it, you need to figure out how to create a life around it. How to spend your time. With whom to associate. How to earn a living...

BTW, I'm not saying you ought to pick a track and stick with it forever. You should always re-assess what you're all about. As Emerson famously said "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..." Your track needn't have been foolish from inception but as times change (and as you change), it may become foolish and obsolete. So no, don't pick a path and stubbornly follow it forever. But you should always be on some path. Know who and what you are and have a plan for being that. [Similar to Gretchen Rubin's "Be Gretchen" rule.]

And then you have to stay on track. And staying on track is really hard. Much like holding reservations after you've taken them.

You see, shiny objects are going to appear as you move through life attempting to manifest your soul in all that you do. Those shiny objects can be large and very shiny such as beautiful women or men that look so delicious but are all wrong for you, financial opportunities or jobs that can be lucrative but which will take you further from your soul... Or, they can be small and just sparkle a little bit when you're at a moment of weakness. A brief opportunity to say something hurtful to someone you'd really like to hurt, a chance to not tell someone something they ought to hear but which will be difficult to say, even parking in a handicapped spot for just 2 minutes.

But you've got to ignore the shiny objects. They aren't good for you. They will destroy your life. Because your life is entirely about your soul. The rest of it is all about enabling the soul. And the problem is that the soul is not subject to apprehension by the senses while all of the other stuff looks so vivid, smells so delicious, tastes...oh man how it tastes! But those things are not real the way your soul is.

So find a way. Muster the courage to ignore the shiny object in an effort to burnish your soul.

Stick with your ends

Everybody I know that works at a large company decries the bureaucracy that inhibits progress. And yet it continues. The system has a life of its own. It wants. It needs. It is jealous. And it protects its own interests by torturing and killing anyone who threatens its continuity.

Let's remember how it all started. Someone had an idea. A way to help people and earn money for it. At some point he needed help. So he got some of his buddies to join him. They worked together. They had some success. The rented office space. They got a few phones and some chairs. They printed business cards. They had some more success. They hired a few more people. At some point, someone asked for their policy on bringing dogs to work. Someone else wanted to know whether they had a company holiday on Arbor Day. So they realized they needed policies. They created an HR department and hired Lucinda the HR lady. They hired a law firm to review their HR policies. They indeed decided to hold a company holiday on Arbor Day and they instituted the annual company 'visit the local forest and bang drums' event.

And so it went. One day, the founders woke up and realized they had a culture. They had an organization. It had rules. There were forms to fill out. In quadruplicate. Their efficiency consultant told them quadruplicate was 327% more effective than triplicate. Oh, they had an efficiency consultant.

And when they beheld what they had wrought, they realized it sucked. People were doing things not because they were the right things to do. Not because they would advance the company, generate the greatest benefit for its customers or community. Employees - oh yeah, now they were called employees - did things because that's just the way it was done around there. The system was in control. Not reason. Not passion. Not the human soul and its constant yearning to improve itself and its environment. No, the system was hegemon.

But wait, we're just a couple of buddies with a great idea. We wanted to help people and make some money doing what we love. We are thinkers. We are entrepreneurial. We're against everything that the "system" stands for!

No. You are the system.

We build these systems because they provide a benefit. It actually isn't smart not to know the right way to do something. Society would not advance if we didn't figure things out and keep improving. And yeah, we do need Lucinda the HR lady.

But these are all means. They are tools for translating our passion into success on a bigger scale. If we just want to make 10 widgets per year by hand and sell them at local craft fairs, we don't need a system. But if we want to expand, we do. The danger lies in letting the means become ends to themselves. And this is the natural way for things to develop. We must fight this. The means cannot be allowed to exert their own sense of destiny to become ends. As long as the benefits they deliver outweigh their costs, they should be allowed to survive. But we must be constantly vigilant to insure we always keep their natural lust for power in check.

Otherwise we will wake up and realize that we serve the system rather than ensuring that the system serves us.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where are you hiding yourself?

There are so many interesting people out there. People who don't seem like other people. Who are just themselves. I'm not talking about wacky nutjobs who look like Jesus or wear hats made of tinfoil to prevent the aliens from recording their thoughts. I'm talking about "mainstream" people who are just themselves. Who bring a twist to whatever they do that comes from within and reflects what and who they are.

And then there are so many others - most people - who seem so desperate to prove that they are not themselves. These people want to be the average of everyone else. They won't use the word "average" to describe their aspirations. They'll tell you they want to be the best. They want to win. But they behave in ways guaranteed to snuff out anything interesting or novel.

These conformists are human. They have a soul, an essence. Try as they might to cram it down deep beneath their skin, I know it is there.

Let it out people. Please. You're not helping anybody - including yourself - by filing down every interesting facet of your personality. You're just making the world dull and less capable of producing the diverse ideas that we all need to thrive.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Are you an 80 year old virgin?

If you've had some success in your life, you've probably built a good reputation in one or more areas and acquired for yourself some measure of influence. Influence is the ability to get other people to do things that they would not do in the absence of your actions.

This is good right?

Well, it can be. But too often I see people with influence using it to maintain the status quo. This is really nothing other than an effort to maintain the world in which their influence was grown so that it might continue to survive in the only petri dish it has ever known. This is hoarding influence rather than using it to effect positive change in the world.

But why hoard it? Why try to hold on to influence? Like any other asset, it only has value if it is used.

What are you saving yourself for? At some point you will have squandered your opportunities for improving the world. If you've already got influence, use it. It isn't going to get any better than it is right now.

In the end, you are going to be a dried up old hag. There's no avoiding that. The only question is whether you will look back with fondness on your struggles and successes as you tried to make your mark on the world or with regret at your having waited for just the right time.

Now is the right time. Don't let it pass you by. We need you!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Of souls and society

How does one reconcile the need for the soul to find its purest expression with the need for society to effectively function? This is perhaps the most difficult question for one who places unlimited value on the beauty and nobility of the human soul but who also admits of the need for people to assemble and march forward together.

And it is a thornier issue than some might think. This is not simply the conflict between individual and society. It is that and more. Sure, we can point to the importance for the individual of having the opportunity to self-express, an opportunity without which there might not be anything to express. But one can make a case that the needs of the soul are also the needs of society. That society cannot function without the robust and diverse development and expression of individual human souls. Much as we require biological diversity on our planet, we require the diversity of thought and behavior to help us refine our knowledge and our methods of living. John Stuart Mill expressed this same position in On Liberty:

"In the case of any person whose judgement is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so?... Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind."

This is as true for the small adjustments we must make to move from legitimate expertise to even greater levels of accuracy and Truth as it is for the major leaps forward that require truly divergent thinking.

So if both individuals and societies need a diversity of expression of the soul, how can we insure this diversity while also respecting the more mundane needs of society?

I'm not going to offer any good answers here. I don't have any yet. But perhaps I can offer a few thoughts that may prove useful.

To start with, I think it important to acknowledge that some souls are just screwed up. Whether nature created them that way or they became so by dint of a malformed nurture, some people have evil at their core. Allowing them an opportunity to explore, develop and express their souls will accord them and society no benefit. They must, somehow, be prevented from doing so. And whether we conceptualize this as a necessary infringement on the rights of the soul based on Mill's greatest liberty formula or we argue that an evil soul is really no soul at all and that its restraint is actually a nod of respect to the human soul, most reasonable people agree that the restraint of an evil soul is good.

But this is almost easy. What of souls that are not evil but which are only non-conformist? The most extreme case might be where an individual rejects formal laws on moral grounds. The American Revolution would be one such example. Socrates' behavior in Athens another. The recent Iranian demonstrations another. And so on. What behavior should we support? In this case it seems hard to me to support maintaining the formal law and looking down on an individual that follows his soul in an effort to dismantle an unjust law. On the other hand, what if he is wrong? Do we want anarchy?

A less extreme case would be where an individual, in the search for a pure expression of soul, violates not a formal legal rule but an informal social more. Say he burps at a table where such behavior is considered impolite. In this case, it seems difficult to argue that individuals should restrain themselves. Sure, a loud burp might be unpleasant, but would we really want to stifle all thought and behavior that upsets social mores and prevailing opinions?

So it seems to me that there is a continuum along which we can place the various types of situations. At one end, lie situations where the pursuit of individual aims and the expression of the soul can only damage society. This is the case of the evil person bent on wreaking havoc. At the other end lie cases where the individual cannot meaningfully damage society. In the middle lie the difficult cases. The violation of law on purportedly moral grounds. The extreme business risk in pursuit of success. And the like.

From the perspective of society, I suppose we can talk about the expected value to society of pursuing the individual expression of the soul versus blindly maintaining the prevailing system. At least here we have a grounds for comparison in the common unit of value (though in practice it may be difficult or, even, impossible to measure).

But how can we ever decide between the value of letting souls pursue their beauty and nobility and the need to maintain societal harmony?

Which brings me back to my opening question. None the wiser but considerably more tired!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Yeah, it's that fast

I got a message from Twitter on Sunday at 12:15AM that some entity was now following me (I'll leave the name out but it sounded like some marketing agency). Ten seconds ago (so that's almost 24 hours to the minute), I got a direct message from them with a "special offer" to their new "Twitter friends" for their internet marketing training program.

Don't I feel special.

They have already been blocked and unfollowed.

It didn't have to be this way at all. They could have let me read their stuff for a while. They could have sent me a message telling me who they are, what they do and the kind of content I could expect from them. Over time, I might have been receptive to a pitch about their internet training. Now they will never know. They apparently wanted to skip the introductions, avoid buying me dinner and just hop right into bed. All without the benefit of me seeing how hot they are.

My friend Jeremy Epstein writes about this all the time. The world has changed. If you try to get in my face with your selling as opposed to engaging me respectfully in a relationship, you're done. You're done because it's just that easy to block you.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Is courage worth it?

WARNING: For this post, I am going to conflate non-conformity and courage. I recognize that they are not the same thing. But they do share certain features and I am in the mood to conflate. If you are allergic to conflation, please consult your philosophy professional before reading this post.

The question posed in the title of this post is something I have been grappling with personally and professionally for some months now. In my life I have seen ample evidence of Emerson's comment that "for nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure." I have felt the sting of that whip many times. And lately it has got me wondering whether it's worth it.

After my two recent posts about change (see the most recent one here), I wanted to write about courage. Specifically, I wanted to exhort and encourage my tiny readership to act with courage in their lives.

But now I'm not so sure. I wonder if it's worth it.

On the one hand, courage is so badly needed in order to produce the revolutionary change I discussed in my last post on change. Someone must have the ability and willingness to challenge the prevailing order and produce the ideas that will illuminate the future.

On the other hand, there is that whipping.

So I don't know.

But it seems to me that those who are non-conformists, who are courageous just don't have a choice. I would imagine that the soldier that jumps on a grenade does so not out of a careful consideration of the relative merits of maintaining his own life versus preserving the lives of others, but simply because he cannot help himself. The thought of not saving the lives of his comrades is just not part of the package for him.

In a much smaller way, I think about myself. I feel that my life would be so much easier if I just went along. If I thought as others did, felt what they felt and acted as they act. But then I think about that life. It feels very much akin to what Thoreau meant when he wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I cannot really imagine living that life. I cannot imagine being happy without the ability to imagine a different world and attempting to bring it into existence.

What scares me about that is that I see a lifetime of whipping. It was much easier to take as a 20 year old. It's starting to hurt as a soon to be 40 year old.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

This is priceless!

It almost doesn't get any better than this.

a recent post, I included a video from There's Something About Mary. The video was of the scene where Ben Stiller picks up the hitchhiker whose brilliant business idea is a 7 minute abs workout program to compete with the market leader, the 8 minute abs program.

Stiller points out that the idea is all well and good until someone else comes out with a 6 minute abs program.

Well today, my friends, I have found the 6 minute abs program!

This is just cracking me up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A guide to change Part II

A few weeks ago I wrote about change. I identified two types of change: evolutionary and revolutionary. I focused that post on evolutionary change and promised to come back with my thoughts on revolutionary change.

If you've been waiting for the Part II (and you know who you are) then your dreams are about to become reality.

I should tell you that I have a greater personal affinity for revolutionary change. It's not that I don't think both types are equally necessary. They absolutely are. It's just that my heart lies more with revolutionary change. You may see that affinity in the way I write about change but please don't take this as an intellectual position that one is more important than the other.

I do hope you will go back and read the post on evolutionary change. But here's a quick synopsis: Evolutionary change is about making stuff work and work better. It takes early form ideas and their early implementations and slowly makes them better to the point where they work really well. Evolutionary change is what makes society work.

So what about revolutionary change? We'll come to that in a moment. But first I feel a responsibility to point out that revolutionary change is not, necessarily, an armed insurrection. Armed insurrections are, certainly, one form of revolutionary change but I will speak more generally about revolutionary change. Furthermore, please do not mistake my passion for revolutionary change as support for armed insurrection. I am not one of those who likes to literally storm barricades. Please contact your local law enforcement agency for any details on the legality of armed insurrection in your jurisdiction.

And now we can talk revolutionary change.

1) What is it?
This is the rapid progress that constitutes major shifts in thinking and, therefore, behavior. This takes society from a belief that the answer is 3 to a belief that the answer is Q. Or guacamole.

Revolutionary change is a change in a significant paradigm, framework, perspective, mental model. Use whatever bit of jargon you like. The point is that it is a major qualitative change in thinking.

When I say that revolutionary change is rapid, I do not mean to indicate chronological rapidity. Revolutionary change may happen very slowly over time. Ideas ferment. They are discussed and debated. This can take centuries. Instead, I mean logical rapidity. Revolutionary change is discontinuous. The intellectual activity that led to the American Revolution stretched very far back in time from 1775. One could make a case that it stretched back at least 560 years to the Magna Carta. Still, to people not involved in the intellectual or creative activity behind the scenes, there is often a single moment in time that delineates the old world from the new. At one point there was a shot heard round the world and the colonies were in rebellion.

Great! After having disassociated myself from armed insurrection, I give you an example of armed insurrection to describe revolutionary change. Here's another example: gay marriage. The arguments in favor of legalizing gay marriage in the U.S. are decades old. But today, Vermont started legally marrying gays. Yesterday they didn't. Today they do. See?

2) What is it used for?
Revolutionary change is designed to replace foundational ideas (whether for an individual, a business, a state, a society...) that are either wrong or that simply have run their course as means of guiding or inspiring behavior. Newtonian Physics worked well for a while. It wasn't useless. But Einsteinian Physics was found to be a much better theory.

As I pointed out in the other post, evolutionary change is designed to increase functional performance. It makes things better. But at some point the evolution runs out of steam because the guiding principles behind it have produced all of the improvements that they possibly can. When that happens, a revolution is needed. A new idea. Something to inspire continued progress.

3) What does it contribute?
New ideas and the massive shifts in thinking that lead to great new behaviors, policies and products. Revolutionary change is the engine that drives progress in the world. Even though, as I pointed out earlier, evolutionary change is critical, evolutionary change needs something upon which to exercise its evolutionary powers. Something has to create the new ideas and the prototypes that will serve as fodder for the processes of evolutionary change. And that something, my friends, is revolutionary change.

4) What are its flaws?
The biggest flaw is that it's messy. The qualities that make it so valuable also, unavoidably, make it messy. Because it brings about significant change and we are rarely ready to completely absorb that change and deal with its implications and effects.

This messiness is also manifest in the behind-the-scenes intellectual and political ferment leading up to the discontinuous effects. Revolutionary change can cause significant discord because not all people agree. Not everyone agrees that a fundamental change is needed. And even those who agree will often disagree on which revolutionary path to follow. Revolution demands quite a bit of faith precisely because it is so new and untested. And it is difficult to get everyone to agree on matters of faith. This sort of messiness sometimes ends up in actual armed insurrections which may be necessary at times but certainly impose a significant cost on everyone involved.

Another flaw is that revolutionary change is so inspiring that it can pull people away from taking the time to evolve ideas and make them better. The prospect of new ideas, new behaviors, new products can be so sultry and alluring that people may too hastily discard the existing ideas. Revolutionary change may cause people to treat everything as a fad and make it more difficult for them to respect the sort or stability that most people need to live healthy well-adjusted lives.

5) How do you create revolutionary change?
You ask lots of "why" and "what if" questions. You fantasize. You challenge the most sacred laws. Of religion, society, culture and, yes, nature.

BTW, when I say that you challenge these laws I do not mean that you go around acting rude or pissing people off. I mean that you challenge them in your mind. You play with them mentally to see whether they are really true and necessary. You discuss with others.

6) What kind of people are good at revolutionary change?

People who can hold two opposing thoughts in their mind at once. People who can acknowledge that objects fall when dropped but also imagine a world where objects can fly.

People who just have an ability to look at the world and see it as it could be rather than as it is. People who can see past (or through) the structures that have been created and understand the underlying principles behind them. And then destroy those principles.

People who are more comfortable than others being laughed at. People who are more inspired by their ideas than they are by the opinions that others have of them. Because let's face it. The Wright Brothers probably took a lot of shit. As Emerson said, "for non-conformity the world whips you with its displeasure." So true. You've got to be able to tolerate the whipping. This is not masochism. I'm not talking about people who just like being whipped. This would actually be very conformist. I'm talking about people who can tolerate the whipping. Who either don't feel it because they are so wrapped up in the inspirational content of their ideas or who feel it but can live with it because they value truth and progress more than the feeling of not being whipped.

Leaders of revolutionary change must have lots of courage. Which is a topic I hope to address in an upcoming post.

To quickly sum up both of my recent posts on change, evolutionary change makes society work better today. Revolutionary change allows it to continue working tomorrow. Balancing the two types of change and the need for some modicum of stability is a tricky task. Leaders must consciously plan for this lest their institution sway too far to an extreme, sacrificing today for tomorrow, tomorrow for today or simply whipsawing back and forth so quickly that people can never feel settled in their lives.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Will you please love me?

There. Do you love me now? No?

Well of course not.

You can't love a person on command. Love, respect, admiration... all of these must be earned. They are organic involuntary responses to stimulus. (Not that your attitude going-in doesn't make it more or less easy.) If I want you to love me, I can't just ask you to because you can't just agree to. Instead, I have to inspire you to love me. I have to engage in the behaviors that will make you love me (if the underlying conditions are favorable).

So if this is true for love, why do you think that asking me to be your fan on Facebook is going to work? I may like you. I may love you. But I cannot be your fan unless...well, I'm your fan. So don't put the onus on me by asking. Put the onus on yourself to inspire me to identify as your fan, by engaging in the sorts of inspirational behaviors that will automatically produce fan-ness in me.

Asking me to be your fan is like a lawyer simply admitting that he doesn't have a case and just falling on the mercy of the court. It's like telling me that there is no good reason I should be your fan but asking me to please ignore that and do it anyway.

Is that how you think you can succeed?

C'mon. You can do better. Show me your greatness. Share your excellence with me. Inspire me. If you don't have any greatness, excellence or inspiration then you do not deserve fans. If you do, you will not need to ask for them.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How to kill shareholder value

In my last post, I wrote about the search for precious things as requiring somewhat of a hands off approach. I wrote that the search for beauty cannot be successful because beauty is inside of you and until you stop searching you can never find it.

I think this idea applies to business as well. I think that the path to profit and shareholder value has to come from a focus within rather than on a search for shareholder value.

In fact, I think just saying "shareholder value" - as impressive as it might sound to the Harvard Business Review crowd - destroys value.

The search for shareholder value makes you look for operational efficiencies. It turns your attention to maximizing your IP - brands, technologies, etc. It calls on you to look out there for acquisitions that can round out your portfolio... All well and good.

But I think it is the wrong frame.

And so I'd like to propose an alternate frame. I'll call it "Employee Value" for the HBR crowd. I could call it "love" for you hippies. Call it whatever you like. But the idea is that if you want to make lots of money, focus on your people. Now, of course, every company dribbles out the corporate pablum about "our people are our best assets." I'd love to see a study on the companies that say things like this. I suspect you'd find them to be the least pleasant places to work. The least inspiring.

I'm not talking about your slogan. I'm talking about whether you really understand what you have in those people. Whether you really understand that in the hearts, minds and souls lies the jackpot you want to hand over to those shareholders.

People naturally seek excellence, beauty, greatness. Their natural propensity to search for it knows very few bounds. It does not respect your brand strategy. Your customer segmentation. Your portfolio. It just wants to create greatness. Your people will have great ideas. Let them run with these ideas. I'm not saying go execute every idea. I'm saying take off the P&L / shareholder value lenses and put on the "employee value" lenses. Give your people every opportunity to pursue their passions. Help them. Respect them. Encourage them. Yes, make sure they adhere to societal standards and your business values. But if you truly encourage them to find their greatness and then you provide the tools to commercialize that greatness (with as little editing as possible), you will succeed wildly.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Of socks and the sublime

If you need your glasses or that missing sock, your best bet is to look for them.

But many of the most precious things in the world cannot be found by looking for them. In fact, looking for them almost guarantees that you will never find them.

You cannot write a beautiful poem by sitting down and searching for beautiful words and sentiments. You do not create beautiful music by looking for beautiful combinations of sounds. You cannot produce a beautiful photograph by looking for beautiful scenery. You do not experience transcendent moments of love, wisdom or the divine by carving out time and setting your mind to it.

These precious things flee from your efforts as fast as you try to catch them. While you are trying to hunt them down out there, they lodge themselves ever deeper in your soul - where they resided all along.

The poem, the music, the photo... they are not out there. You will expend your life in the search for this beauty if you look outside. They are inside of you. If you wish to find them you have to stop trying. You have to let go of your goals and objectives. You have to abandon your plans. You have to stop feeling so proud or confident in your skills. You have to take off the lenses that have helped you see so clearly the specks of dust that are on your eyes at the expense of the majesty of the world that lies just one inch in front of your face and stretches out forever within your grasp.

Yes, you have to prepare yourself for this beauty. To write a beautiful poem you must have a vocabulary. To produce a beautiful photo you must have a camera and know how to use it. But you do not find the scene that will become your beautiful photo. It finds you. It finds you if you are not looking. It finds you when your heart is open to it and your mind is clear.

When you quiet the voices inside your head that tell you this and that path to success, that encourage you to make your mark, that point out to you all of those people and circumstances that have robbed you of what should have been yours... Only then in the peace of not wanting or needing, of not looking for greatness and beauty, will beauty and greatness reveal themselves to you. It will come from within. You will know it right away. And whether you choose to share it with others in the form of a poem, a symphony or a photograph, it will be your beauty that they see.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A guide to change Part I

Change. It's been a favorite topic of discussion for some time now. The election of our first black President. Massive shifts in the economy. The impact on society of the internet. Heck, it's even a favorite topic of the folks who hang out on street corners.

So I thought I'd write a bit about change.

It seems to me there are two kinds of change: evolutionary change and revolutionary change. This post will focus on evolutionary change. I'll take up revolutionary change in my next blog post. Partly because I want to create a bit of suspense for both of my readers. And partly because I'm most of the way through a Westmalle Tripel and I want to enjoy the buzz by lounging around and watching some TV.

OK. Evolutionary change. Here goes.

1) What is it?
This is the slow progress that is the most common form of change. This is the form of change that takes you from a rough draft to a solid and functional first draft, a first draft to a finished work and a finished work to version 2, 3, etc. Evolutionary change ceases to have utility when the object it changes already offers as much value to its users as they need.

2) What is it used for?
Evolutionary change is designed to increase the functional performance of an institution be it a business, a state, a social group, etc. It makes things work better. And we need things to work better. Garbage bags still rip too damn often. That's got to stop.

3) What does it contribute?
Well, better garbage bags didn't you read what I just wrote?! Evolutionary change improves our quality of life, expands our ability to influence our environment and gives jobs to politicians who generally are unsuited for honest jobs. It also gave us opposable thumbs.

4) What are its flaws?
The principle flaw is that it hypnotizes people so they don't know when to quit. Evolutionary change is so absorbing that it makes its practitioners want to keep going and making whatever they focus on better and better. But, you see, at some point, my garbage bag is going to be really good. It won't rip ever. It will have a nice fragrance and absolutely prevent any bad odor from getting out. It will have a cushiony handle and be easy to carry... Then I'll be happy.

But the practitioners of evolutionary change won't quit. They will keep looking for additional ways to improve my garbage bags even though I'm done with the whole garbage bag evolution thing. Why? Because they will have told themselves a story about how goddamn important garbage bags are and how they, alone, are the experts in garbage bags. And how there are "unmet needs." They will forget that, although they spend all day thinking about garbage bags, the people for whom they make the garbage bags don't.

Evolutionary change lulls us into a trance because it is continuous. You can always be just a little bit better. And we all want to be better. So we walk down that path. Bit by bit. We like the accolades we get. It feels good. If we take one more step we know we'll get another Scooby snack. We won't realize that the nutritional value we derive from those Scooby snacks decreases with each additional one we ingest. We won't realize that seven minute abs is about as good as we need it to be.

5) How do you create evolutionary change?
You find annoyances in your life. Like leaky garbage bags. You ask lots of "how" questions. You observe the minutiae of life. How things work. You dive really deep into a given area. You experiment. A lot.

6) What kind of people are good at evolutionary change?
People who have a very high attention to detail. People who are patient. After all, my ultimate garbage bag is not going to be built in a day. [BTW, I did not start writing this post with the intention of mentioning garbage bags at all. I certainly didn't intend to use them as a running example. But this is how it goes. For whatever reason, I'm fixated on garbage bags now. It's weird. Really.] People who like to see fast results. Yes, I also said that they are patient. What I mean is that they are patient to get it right. But they like to see steady improvement.

Alright. That's pretty much all I have to say about evolutionary change. I'll just sum up by pointing out how critically important evolutionary change is. This is what makes stuff work well in society. Whether that stuff is a government program, a car, our televisions or, yes, you guessed it: the goddamn garbage bag.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Motor oil ain't indulgent!

There's a new Starbucks near my house on Rt. 4 just west of the George Washington Bridge. They've got a sign out front advertising the fact that they are open 24 hours / day and that they have drive-thru service.

Great. I'm sure that's convenient for lots of folks.

But Starbucks isn't about convenience. Not that they are about inconvenience, but they are not a convenience store.

Starbucks is an indulgence. It's an experience that goes beyond the coffee. Or at least that is what propelled its growth for so long. Before they lost their way and found out what happens to brands that lose their way.

Starbucks has always been about re-creating that Italian coffee experience in a way that American consumers could enjoy. It's the third place away from home and office where you can enjoy seeing your coffee made and even sit down to enjoy the beverage with some measure of tranquility.

What about 24 hour drive-thru tells you this will be an indulgent experience? 24 hour drive-thru is for fuel. Actual fuel or oil for your car. Or just crappy junk food like Twinkies that you pick up at the little store at the rest stop to fuel your road trip.

24 hour drive-thru does not at all fit the Starbucks brand. If this is how they choose to compete, they will have their ass handed to them by McDonald's.

Instead, they need to stick to their mission. And if they need to grow and have an opportunity to acquire valuable real estate on key highways, go ahead and start a new brand that's all about convenience with high quality. You cannot be all things to all people.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Maybe it's you

Recently, I was involved in a somewhat heated discussion on Facebook of a contentious political issue. Heated, but not at all disrespectful. Actually, in many ways it was a model of what a discussion should look like. Ideas were clashing, there was disagreement (why talk if you already agree?) and mutual respect.

Right at the end of the discussion, a new party jumped in and said something like "some people just don't get it." I think this person was referring to me but it doesn't matter much.

That kind of comment is, to me, the epitome of an un or anti-intellectual perspective. The comment did not articulate a POV. It did not advance an argument. It did not create a new idea. It does not have the power to inspire or change minds. It does not lead to further discussion. Instead, it attempts to shut down a discussion by unilaterally declaring an individual or a group of people as simply unfit for inclusion in any discussion of the issue. In a way, it even says that no discussion is necessary. You either "get it" or you don't. Sort of a Calvinism for ideas and discussion.

If you find yourself thinking that some folks just don't get it, and certainly before you ever say such words, you might want to pause and think a bit more. Because no matter what issue is at hand and no matter what side you take, you will find that there are smart and well-intentioned people on the other side. Some of them will be even smarter and more well-intentioned than you.

It's not that they just don't get it. It might be that they don't understand your position. If so, explain it to them. It might be that they understand perfectly well but just don't agree with you. In that case, agree to disagree.

Or, it might be that you're the one that just doesn't get it.

If you're reading this blog, I hope you have points of view. I hope you think, explore, consider. I hope you engage in robust discussion and debate. I hope you advocate on behalf of your opinions and convictions.

But please, do it in a manner that is consistent with a respect for the value of ideas and intellectual activity. The (free) exchange of ideas is all that we have to prevent us from behaving like savages fighting over a hunk of meat. When you are discussing an idea, you are not only working towards a resolution of a particular issue, you are contributing to the legacy of intellectual exchange. You will either weaken or strengthen the institution of intellectual discourse. That contribution will likely have a greater and more lasting impact on the world than the particular issue you're discussing at the moment.

Please use your gift of words wisely. (And please help me make sure that I use mine in that spirit as well.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When your message is better than your product

I was sitting in the steam room after my workout this evening. Was not in a great mood. Had one of those de-inspiring days.

My workout was pretty good. The steam was doing its trick. I was feeling tired, but the good kind of tired. And when that happens - particularly when I'm feeling down - I get to thinking "it's Miller time."

I really thought that. In those words.

But here's the thing. I don't really drink Miller. It is basically not in my consideration set at all. Miller to me is cheap tasteless American beer. Don't get me wrong. There are times when I really want a cheap American beer. Hot summer days are a good example. And on those occasions if someone offers me a Miller, I will accept. But for the most part, Miller doesn't have a shot with me.

So I'm sitting in the steam room thinking "it's Miller time" and knowing damn well that I would either be drinking the Kasteel Rouge, Westmalle or Rogue Hazelnut that I had in the fridge.

Miller owns that little part of my mind that articulates the need for beer on certain occasions. But other brands have a lock on my palate and, therefore, my wallet.

If you like winning advertising awards, spend your time and energy on slogans and jingles. You can create an iconic line that will reverberate from the lips of consumers for decades. But if you have a need to make some money, better to spend your time developing a kick ass product.

A nice experience at the Apple store

I picked up a Macbook Pro for my Dad tonight at the Apple Store. On the way to my car, I'm carrying his old PC and the box with the Macbook Pro. It's about 9PM and the store was pretty much closing. I see one of the employees from the store in the parking lot. He was on his cellphone and headed to wherever he was going after work. I recognized this guy from the store and it seemed he recognized me. As we passed each other, we gave each other the standard guy nod.

And for a moment, it seemed that we would be but ships passing in the night. (I've always wanted to say that! Something tells me I just wasted it on a story like this that really didn't call for it.)

But then, a second after we passed each other, I hear "congratulations". I said "thanks" and that was it.

What a great little branding lesson. I doubt this is in any customer service manual for Apple employees. Maybe it is. But this guy was off the clock. Nothing was stopping him from continuing his cellphone conversation and heading home. Nobody was watching his performance. He was a free man. But he felt compelled to congratulate me for switching from a PC to Mac.

He believes in the product he sells. He stands by the brand. He welcomes customers into the family. It was a really nice warm touching little moment.

My friend Jeremy Epstein would consider this a case of
Never Stop Marketing. I wouldn't call it that because I'm not a marketing consultant and I don't need to call it anything. But I agree with Jeremy. This guy truly represented the Apple brand in a place and time when he didn't have to. And because it was optional, it meant that much more to me.

OK, I'm being a bit too maudlin. I'm not about to show up at the Apple store with flowers and a box of chocolates. But I am impressed that Apple has employees like that who go out of their way because they just feel it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Check out

My 10 year old son recently moved into his own room. He had been sharing a room with his sister pretty much his entire life. And he was a bit sad about changing that arrangement. He and his sister are very close. She - at 12 years old - was quite happy to have her privacy. But he had mixed feelings.

So his mom and I thought it would be nice for him to get some decorations that reflected his unique personality. To help him make the room his own. Well they decided he would get a sign. First they thought a stop sign. So I searched on Google and found Build A Sign has all the standard street signs and lots beyond. Very customizable. Good online tool for customizing signs. But apart from the fact that the product seemed good and the tools were useful, they didn't seem remarkable to me. I had the feeling that there were many similar sites and that this was just the one I happened to click on.

I worked with my son and he decided to get a sign that warned people not to enter his room (his "realm" as he calls it) without Chinese food. Why? Because he said so that's why. He likes Chinese food. And he thought it would be funny. I agree.

He also really likes monkeys. And he and I designed a sign that looks like a typical crossing sign but says "Monkey Crossing."

Well finally the signs arrive. Two days before they said they would. OK, that's nice. Not a huge surprise for me because I know that many companies pad these dates to be safe. But my son was pleased.

One of the signs was perfect. But the other was bent. So I sent them an email. They responded quickly and and expressed an apology. They also asked if I could send them a few photos of the damaged sign and that they would be happy to send a replacement.

It took me a few days to get around to it. I finally sent them the photos this morning and within a few hours they had shipped my replacement sign.

These guys are great! Very courteous customer service. Very nice and pleasant. I feel like they are real people trying to make their customers happy rather than just following a customer service script.

I highly recommend Build A Sign! I have had few experiences with a company that were this positive.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Read it or weep

We've had a lot of game changing legislation over the past few months. Some of these bills are massive. Both in their effect on the nation and the number of dead trees and ink they consume.

And I've got to wonder whether our legislators are reading these bills of many hundreds of pages. OK, I'm being charitable. I think many of them are not. I think many of them are reading the Cliff Notes.

This is not OK. We send our representatives to Washington to change our country for the better. How on earth can they vote for or against a bill if they have not read it. Completely.

So I'd like to propose new rules for member of Congress. Well, basically it's one rule with a few subparts. The rule is: no read, no vote. That is, if you have not read the bill in its entirety and are not fully versed in its contents and implications then you cannot vote on that bill. How would we find out? Well, there would be a test. On their way to vote, they would have to take a test. If they got less than an 85% they would be barred from voting. The test would be written by some bi-partisan panel of experts.

But wait, there's more.

Three scores in a row of less than 85% and you get kicked out of Congress. One F and you get kicked out of Congress. Statistics on the scores for all members of Congress are made public and the members have to put those scores in large type on their website and in all future campaign ads.

Presidents get tested too. And if they don't pass the test on a bill they wrote, they have to run naked through the Rose Garden. Enjoy those thorns!

We deserve better people. You can have your opinion on various issues. And you can vote for whomever you like. (Once per election please.) But no matter how you feel about an issue, don't you want to be taken seriously and respected as an individual and an American by having the people that represent you take their sacred jobs seriously?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No offense, it's just personal

"No offense, it's just business."

Why does that saying exist? Why do some people really believe that they get a pass if it's business? What happens here is that someone does something offensive in the business sphere and they try to excuse it by saying it's just business. That it has no personal content.

Would it make sense if the statement were flipped? What if people screwed others over in the personal domain and tried to eliminate their guilt by telling the aggrieved party not to worry. That it was just personal and no business issue was at play.

It seems that there's an assumption that the business domain is a special place walled off entirely from the rules of normal human behavior. Like it's some sort of parallel reality. If you hit people here it doesn't hurt...

Maybe "no offense" needs to be retired completely. If I feel offended then fix it. If you mean no offense, then behave that way. If you have to tell me that you mean no offense it's because you're doing something offensive. Why not just stop?

I'll admit that I'm guilty of this one myself. I think it's worth some more thought.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

You're way too old to believe in Santa Claus

I know, you're a risk taker. You're up for change. It's just that you want to take only the right risks. You're looking for an opportunity that is big, fast, very profitable and not too risky.

Well I'm looking for a supermodel-beautiful woman with Aristotle's mind, Bobby Flay's cooking ability, Edith Piaf's voice, who is wealthy, available and who would not be nauseated by me.

Now how about we both grow up.

It's not called risk if it looks great to you. I'm not saying you should just roll the dice or implement any damn idea that comes your way.

But stop thinking that you're going to be able to take risk and be a leader and still be comfortable. What makes most people comfortable is what they already know or have. If you want to lead, you've got to be willing to live with discomfort. And if it feels comfortable to you, it's because it isn't new or risky.

BTW, if you read carefully, you will notice that I have conflated risk-taking and leadership. Correct. I believe that leadership must always occur in situations of risk. People do not need leaders to lead them to where they have already been. They need leaders to take them where they have not yet been. Where they do not know how to go. To places they cannot even imagine. All of those are risky. If you will lead, you must risk and make yourself uncomfortable. All while comforting your followers so they don't freak out. Yeah, that's hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Don't say that

Here are some words you should never use when describing your product or service:
  1. Premium: If I don't have a sensory experience that confirms your premiumness then you telling me about it only makes you look delusional. And if I do have that experience, your telling me about it is unnecessary. If I eat premium ice cream, it has got to taste so much better than non-premium ice creams. If I attend a premium concert (sometimes they use the word premier) it has got to sound much better. The colors on that TV you're selling me have got to blow my mind. And your service better make me feel like a king. Of course, "super-premium" is even worse. Ditto for all those other modifiers: super, mega, ultra... Don't do it.
  2. Value: See above. If you've got a value offering, my reaction when looking at it and, even later, when using it has got to be: "holy &$#&! What a deal I got!" If that's not the reaction then you do not have a value offering. It may be cheap. But it is not a value.
  3. Finest ingredients: First of all, how much of the finest ingredients actually exist?? Isn't "finest" a relative term? Surely you all can't be using the finest. And seriously, let's be honest. Your $3 box of cookies sitting on a store shelf does not use the finest ingredients. The finest ingredients are used by the artisanal bakery, by the elite restaurants... You just look silly when you say these things. And just as important, see above. If your product doesn't taste out of this world, then I don't care about your ingredients. One exception: if you're talking about things like fair trade and other moral issues. Here, the result may not be perceptual. It's fine to talk about those things.
  4. Best: see #3
  5. Most preferred: This one is on it's way out. In a totally socially networked world, I won't need you to tell me this. I will know if the people I care about like your product or not. You can continue to use this now if you really need to. But think carefully about this. This is basically an admission that your product sucks. That its qualities will not be evident to me. That I need to take your word that other people like it. Or, maybe, you're just telling me that I'm an idiot. That I don't see the wondrousness of your widget but that those other, smarter, more perceptive people do. Either way, you can do better.
Basic point: Don't tell me what you're all about. Just be it. Do it. I will figure it out for myself. If I can't then either your offering isn't good or I am the wrong target for you. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well: "Don't say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary."

Friday, July 17, 2009

There's only one scorecard

I've met a few people over the past months that are very nice face to face. They have reputations as nice people. Clearly, they're doing something right.

But then, I hear of - or witness directly - things they do in the workplace that are just shockingly mean, nasty, selfish or just unhelpful. I'm talking about backstabbing, stepping over others to get ahead, remaining steadfastly apathetic about others...

And I wonder, how the hell does this happen? How can someone be so nice and sweet when you're talking to them and then turn around and callously hurt others?

It seems to me that many people think they have a work life and a personal life and never the twain shall meet. Well, you can have as many different personas as you want folks. You can be prim and proper in the workplace and risque when you go out with friends. You can be very politically involved in your personal life and maintain a Swiss policy at work. You can speak to your friends one way and your family another.

But you are still one person. And if you're an asshole at work, you're an asshole. Being nice in your personal life, helping old ladies cross the street, donating canned goods at the food drive, etc. does not earn you a free pass to be a self-serving, egotistical backstabbing jerk at work.

Your work life and your personal life are not really separate lives. They are just separate personas or roles. The twain do meet. They meet at an intersection. You are that intersection. You are the nexus of all the different roles you play. You - the real you - is the constancy that runs throughout all of these roles.

When you act in a poisonous, toxic, evil manner while playing one role it's because you are a poisonous, toxic, evil person.

So stop.

Trick yourself into being nice

Have you ever had an experience where you behaved in a not very nice manner towards someone, only to find out later that they just lost a parent, found out they had cancer, got laid off...?

Feels pretty bad doesn't it?

To flip it, don't you feel an extra motivation to treat people well when you know they are suffering or experiencing some extraordinary difficulty?

What if you knew that everyone was suffering in some way? Wouldn't you want to be nicer?

Well I think we should always just assume that everyone around us is in some sort of pain. Or is just having a really bad day. It's probably true. We all have troubles and challenges in our life. Some people bear them well and others not so well. But most people are carrying some sort of burden and could use a little help.

I'm going to try this approach. I hope it will make me more patient and kind.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

You are not a bystander!

I ran into a senior leader from my company in the men's room a few days ago. We had one of those quick urinal conversations. He asked me how I was enjoying my new role in a line marketing position. I told him what I liked about it. He then said something like "those standalone innovation groups never work in big companies" - referring to my previous role on just such a group.

We then had one of those quick washing the hands conversations and parted company.

Oh, I did zip up in case you're wondering, but that is not an important part of the story. I'm only telling you because I don't want you to think I'm one of those guys who talks about innovation at urinals and then doesn't zip. You know the type...

Anyway, it occurred to me later what an interesting thing had transpired. This senior leader had told me about what doesn't work in the company as if he was not part of the very machinery that makes things work or not work. As if what works or doesn't work is a matter of destiny and cannot be determined- or even influenced - by the will of a senior leader such as himself. How astounding!

On one hand, I would point out that this fatalistic attitude is precisely what dooms us to mediocrity. I would argue that we all need to charge forward as leaders. To take risks in line with our passions. To constantly seek out excellence in ourselves and inspire it in others. I would argue that such an approach to our careers - and, more importantly, to life - is what should determine what does and does not work. And I love James Baldwin's quote on the matter: "Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it." We too easily acquiesce to the apparent impossibility of an objective.

On the other hand, there is a certain truth to what this leader was saying. Should passion require us to entirely ignore experience? Does success require this? I don't think it does.

The fact is that people and institutions learn habits. And habits are very hard to undo. Institutional habits become notoriously difficult to disrupt. And people who try usually end up headless.

I don't know where I'm going with this train of thought. It seems to me that institutions that cannot change their basic operating model are headed for extinction. For some reason, people at big companies find that hard to believe in a way that I think folks at scrappy startups do not. Even though the business landscape is littered with very big failed companies, people always think it cannot happen to their company. But happen it can. Mmmmmm. Very powerful is the dark side.

I think most institutions will eventually destroy themselves because they cannot change. Really change. They have too many things that just "never work". We should cheer the death of these institutions. When they pass, they clear the way for progress.

Of course, it would be much better if we all could learn to adapt better - as individuals and as members of institutions. I certainly would love to see much more jumping into the breach, much more heroism, much more refusal to accept the fundamental status quo. I am inspired by such people and I hope to similarly inspire others. I feel sad for people who have accepted in their hearts that they are merely spectators.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Authenticity 201

Last night I read about an iPhone app called Trapster. See here for a review. This application is part of a bigger offering designed to help people who - purely as a hobby - like to know where there are police, red light cameras or other law enforcement tools designed to catch drivers violating the law.

As a lover of law and order, I often like to know where such bulwarks against the decay of Western civilization might be found. So I downloaded the app. I also created an account on their website. There are all sorts of options you can set. Trapster can send you SMS messages to warn you. They can push warnings to your iPhone. They can send you emails... You can select a particular geographic area that is relevant to you and the days and times that you'd like to receive warnings.

I love the concept of this service. But I found the website a bit too complex. I sent a few questions to the company and they responded pretty quickly with an answer. The response came from At the end of my followup email to them (I had more questions), I offered a bit of feedback about their website and a suggestion on how they might improve it. I got another quick response - also from - that I thought was totally cool. Here is the text of that response:

"Hi Adam, I agree our Website is a disaster, we're completely re-doing it. Luckily no-one visits it! :-) Seriously ... we have over a million mobile users and only 45K or so visits a month to the site. 5%!"

And after this, they answered my question succinctly and with a helpful link.

I was so impressed by this that I wanted to blog about it. But I didn't want to let both of the people who read my blog know that Trapster has a bad website. I didn't want to reward their authenticity and coolness by trashing them online.

So I sent a note back asking if it was OK to write about their email. This time, I got a response from which is the email address of Pete Tenereillo, Trapster's Founder and CEO. Pete's response: "Absolutely - go crazy!"

I don't know Pete. I have no idea how old he is or how experienced he is. I don't know if he's an 18 year old entrepreneur or a 50 year old seasoned exec. And I don't care. Pete is a real person. He's honest. He's responsive. He's got a good offering and doesn't feel the need to puff it up with corporate blather.

So kudos to Pete. Now go check out Trapster. It works better if more people use it because it relies on users to report the locations of these very important law enforcement tools.

Oh, and don't speed or run red lights.

Or jaywalk.

Heck, don't do anything wrong.