Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wear sunscreen

My oldest son met Ernie Ells several moons ago. He (Scott) was zero (not yet one; believe he was nine months old) at the time. Doubt he remembers it, but my wife and I share a fond recollection. Ernie approached us between shots -- it was a screw-around one-day exhibition at Lahontan -- and motioned to Scott, who was passed out on my back. "Is he wearing sunscreen?" Ernie inquired about our Scandinavian-skinned son. As first-time parents we quickly bi-nodded like two bobblehead dolls or chortling hyenas. "Good," Ernie surmised.

I mused back in May about Kurt Vonnegut's erroneously attributed commencement speech, which commenced as so:

Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
Artrepreneur, a blog engaging the collision of art and business, reminded me of Kurt and Ernie this afternoon. The blog's author creatively and coolly parodies the "wear sunscreen" speech. Here's the start:
Ladies and gentlemen of the world of art and craft,


If I could offer you only one tip for the future, stretching would be it. The long-term benefits of stretching have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering career path. I will dispense this advice now.
The parody rolls from there ... here are a few good chestnuts for entrepreneurs and artrepreneurs alike:
  • Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve a design problem by throwing a tantrum, or scrubbing a toilet. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.
  • Do one thing every day that scares you.
  • Play.
  • Color outside the lines.
  • Maybe you'll prosper, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll be famous, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll be in a museum, maybe the Ugly Necklace contest is the only one you’ll ever win. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.
  • Enjoy your creativity. Use it every day, and in every way. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest tool you'll ever own.
  • Turn up the music and dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your studio space.
  • Accept certain inalienable truths. Costs will rise. Prices will fall. Some people will copy. You too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, people bought craft, nobody copied, and everyone adored artists.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


A friend of mine lost a family member recently. It reminded me of the morbid perpetuity of death. I do believe in celebrating a person’s life – especially when they’re with us – but I do not buy theological after-life, he/she’s in a better place musings. When you’re here, you’re here; when you’re gone, you’re gone. There’s no good way or good time to go.

But, when you’re here (and I presume there’s a here here, since you’re reading this), your vitality is in your hands. No excuses: You have a tabula rasa (Aristotle: What the mind thinks must be in it in the same sense as letters are on a tablet which bears no actual writing; this is just what happens in the case of the mind). How you live – what you do, who you interact with, what you create – is up to you.

Since you do have a choice, I tender you’d prefer to Live (like totally, to the max [to heist a quote from Valley Girl] with a capital, bold-faced L). To do what you want to do, to go where you want to go, with whom you’d like and when you desire.

Which saunters to my point: Play.

When I think of mentors -- people I endeavor to emulate -- there are two commonalities: They all play (do what they do because they want to, and enjoy it to boot, with little regard for how people perceive them), and they’re a little nuts. As Jimmy Buffett strums, there's a little bit of fruitcake left in everyone of us; my mentors have a lot of fruitcake in each one of them.

Mike Ziegler (CEO of Pride), Sally Edwards (founder of Fleet Feet and several dozen other athletic-centric companies), Buffett, and my late father play (and played). Life is a game they engaged with a childlike, curiously crazy, entrepreneurial enthusiasm. They are full of vitality. They are living. They proactively embrace life. Things do not happen for a reason; they happen because they make it happen.

Mark Twain opined that play and work are words used to describe the same activity under different circumstances. Play (thanks, Wikipedia) is oft defined as a frivolous and non-serious activity (think of those who prescribe such definitions; they’re working, not playing, for a living, reactively sleepwalking through life). Work is compulsive; play is natural and free, intoxicating and invigorating.

Back to Buffett for the wrap:

Oh, yesterdays are over my shoulder,
So I can't look back for too long.
There's just too much to see waiting in front of me,
and I know that I just can't go wrong
With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
Nothing remains quite the same.
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands,
If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.
Post-script (17 Jan 08): Cool post from Seth Godin ...

A workaholic lives on fear. It's fear that drives him to show up all the time. The best defense, apparently, is a good attendance record.

A new class of jobs (and workers) is creating a different sort of worker, though. This is the person who works out of passion and curiosity, not fear.

The passionate worker doesn't show up because she's afraid of getting in trouble, she shows up because it's a hobby that pays.
Post-script (14 Feb 08): A morbidly humorous Dilbert take, Death by Frozen Poop, about mortality from Scott Adams. In its entirety:

I know there is something wrong with me because I enjoy reading stories about frozen waste from airplane bathrooms that falls to Earth and almost kills people.

When I think of the ways I could die, almost all of them are better than being killed by flying poop. That’s the sort of thing that could erase a lifetime of accomplishment. I would instantly stop being the guy who created Dilbert and forever be known as the cartoonist whose head was crushed by a turd. If I die from frozen restroom waste, my friends and family would have trouble stifling a laugh. And who could blame them, really?

“How did he die?” someone might ask. “I guess you could say he got pissed off,” one of my ex-friends would reply, before laughing heartily.

It seems unlikely I would be killed by airplane waste, but it also seems unlikely a bird would crap exactly in the middle of my bald spot, and that happened. I don’t rule anything out. When I hear jet sounds, I stand under a doorway.

Imagine what would happen if I were doing a book signing, and the frozen waste from the plane missed me, but killed the guy standing in line waiting for my autograph. When telling the story later, would I be able to resist saying “The shit hit the fan”? I think not. And that is why I probably deserve to be killed by frozen poop.

No assholes

I’ve never met Bob Sutton, but I think I like him. Dr. Sutton is a prof at Stanford, cofounder in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and a cofounder and active member of the new “,” a multi-disciplinary program that teaches and spreads “design thinking.” He is also an IDEO Fellow and author of several (have yet to read any of them) books, including The No Asshole Rule. (If I had the talent and ambition to author a like book, it probably would be entitled The No Scallywag/Ferret/Fathead/Bozo/Eyeore Rule; that said, “asshole” is an apt label.) Sutton’s my kind of guy.

Sutton’s blog is bountiful and provocative. Dig around and you’ll quickly kill an enjoyable half-hour or three … a recent post, Realists vs. Idealists: Thoughts about Creativity and Innovation, is tremendous. Quick excerpt: … in innovation, the people who precisely quantify – or try to quantify – the risks of any new idea can often come up with excellent reasons why a particular idea is likely to fail (Eyeores!), and indeed, since most new ideas have a high failure rate, they are usually right when their logic – whatever numbers they assign – is applied to any particular new idea.

Sutton’s thinking is encapsulated in “15 Things I Believe,” a terse treatise for creators, entrepreneurs, innovators, and anti-assholes:

1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all -- first do no harm!
2. Indifference is as important as passion.
3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can't have both at the same time.
4. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.
5. Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held.
6. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.
7. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.
8. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.
9. The best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power.
10. The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?
11. The best people and organizations have the attitude of wisdom: The courage to act on what they know right now and the humility to change course when they find better evidence.
12. The quest for management magic and breakthrough ideas is overrated; being a master of the obvious is underrated.
13. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.
14. It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power, prestige, or stuff?
15. Jim Maloney is right: Work is an overrated activity.
Reminds me a little of (paraphrased) Dr. Kilgore Trout (Vonnegut): Our purpose in life is to fart around.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Breezed through Vonnegut’s Timequake this weekend, a whimsical, esoteric, moralistic and funny page-turner. Two relevant (to this blog) morsels to share:

First, Vonnegut’s recap of an interaction with his alter ego (Kilgore Trout):

The first story Trout had to rewrite after the timequake zapped him back to 1991, he told me, was called “Dog’s Breakfast.” It was about a mad scientist named Fleon Sunoco, who was doing research at the NIH. Dr. Sunoco believed really smart people had little radio receivers in their heads, and were getting their bright ideas from somewhere else.

“The smarties had to be getting outside help,” Trout said to me at Xanadu. While impersonating the mad Sunoco, Trout himself seemd convinced that there was a great big computer somewhere, which, by means of radio, had told Pythagoras about right triangles, and Newton about gravity, and Darwin about evolution, and Pasteur about germs, and Einstein about relativity, and on and on.

“That computer, wherever it is, whatever it is, while pretending to help us, may actually be trying to kill us dummies with too much to think about,” said Kilgore Trout.
Next, more Trout:
Only after he had completed his own absorbing business, the story, was Trout at liberty to notice what the outside world, or, indeed, the Universe, might be doing now, if anything. And as a man without a culture or a society, he was uniquely free to apply Occam’s Razor, or, if you like, the Law of Parsimony, to virtually any situation, to wit: The simplest explanation of a phenomenon is, nine times out of ten, say, truer than a really fancy one.
Reminded me of Blink, along with myriad rants herein about simplicity. Intrigued by the nonfiction of Vonnegut’s creative nonfiction, I Wiki’d deeper:
Occam's razor (sometimes spelled Ockham's razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae ("law of parsimony" or "law of succinctness"): "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem", or "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity".

This is often paraphrased as "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best." In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities. It is in this sense that Occam's razor is usually understood.

Originally a tenet of the reductionist philosophy of nominalism, it is more often taken today as a heuristic maxim (rule of thumb) that advises economy, parsimony, or simplicity …

The Octopus

I wrote last week about why, the imperative of focusing – personally and entrepreneurially – on the root, not the obvious activities, of your doing. It’s lazy and perhaps overly philosophical to offer such a thought, but I continue forth.

Beyond, or perhaps inherent within, the why are forces that drive activity. (Back in July we explored the virtue of opportune [obvious?] scenarios where demand > supply.) A primary example is demand: Once such a force, to whatever degree it may catalyze a person’s decisions or a company’s progress, emerges, grab its tail. Or, in tonight’s blog-a-blah blah, its eight legs.

Thumbing through The Literary Book of Economics tonight, I thumbed upon Frank Norris’s 1901 opine, The Octopus: A Story of California. Norris asserts individuals decide what they will buy and produce, but in many ways market forces for goods and services operate automatically and impersonally. My take: The what and how are less relevant; the why -- the forces -- count (i.e., drive market activities). His take:

You are dealing with forces, young man, when you speak of Wheat and Railroads, not with men. There is Wheat, the supply. It must be carried to feed the People. There is the demand. The Wheat is one force, the Railroad, another, and there is the law that governs them – supply and demand. Men have only little to do in the whole business. Complications may arise, conditions that bear hard on the individual – crush him maybe – but the Wheat will be carried to feed the people as inevitably as it will grow.

Friday, November 23, 2007

POTW: ScreenWritEntrepreneurs

You may recall our buzz-buzz post about Mark Cuban's drive to democratize movie production and distribution. And, if you've enjoyed The Long Tail, you may savor the water torture-esque death of major movie studios (nothing like the amusement of listening to an arrogant industry/balloon whistle and deflate its way to limpness!).

Our post of the week amplifies, courtesy of the LA Times, Marc Andreessen's ongoing communique about the writers' strike ... here are a few quick takes (read the whole post; it's good):

Hollywood is a town awash in hyphenates. TV is loaded with writer-producers. The movie biz is full of writer-directors. There's even a legion of actor-filmmakers like Clint Eastwood and George Clooney. But as the writers strike enters its third week, I think the future belongs to a tantalizing new hyphenate: the writer-entrepreneur.

... "Writers who create something rare -- a story with great, original characters that movie stars will cut their price to play -- have a real value," says Mandate production chief Nathan Kahane. "But that value doesn't get unlocked in the studio system. If writers are willing to share our risk, then we're willing to give them a lot of control and share in the profits too."

This kind of entrepreneurial formula couldn't have existed in the era when the studios had a stranglehold on every facet of the business, notably talent, money and distribution. But those days are gone. The stars became free agents long ago. In the last few years, with billions of private-equity dollars flooding the business, the studios have lost their lock on financing too.

... "The world is about to change," Frank says. "Anyone with an Apple computer can make a movie now -- it's never been a more democratic medium. The studios should be very afraid. Once the independent financiers start going directly to writers, things could change really fast. I ask myself every week -- why aren't we all working with them? Look at the movies they've made. They are the new Medicis."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tell me why

I’ve had a collection of experiences of late – pitch meetings with entrepreneurs, strategy sessions with executives, daily conversations with my five-year-old – harkening back to my infancy as a journalism student. One of the first things you learn in copywriting courses is to dissect and construct a story, particularly in your creation of the lead, based on the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why) and one H (how). Articulate these and the remainder of your composition is blocking and tackling verbiage.

Here’s how the aforementioned experiences evolve: The discussions (an entrepreneur’s pitch is the most cardinal example) jump immediately to the what (they’re doing: their product, service, approach), how (they will do it), when (their plan), and the where and who (their market/customer segmentation; the team that will make it happen). All antes, particularly if you’re a get-shit-done entrepreneur; but, something’s missing.

Tell me why, I engaged my comrades, echoing a bad 80s pop band, Bronski Beat. Whadya mean, why, they asked. If my five-year-old son was present, he would have beat me to the punch: Why (fill in the blanks), daddy? he posits daily. (The what, when, where, who, and how have little relevance to inquisitive kindergarten pupils.)

I harkened back again, this time to the late Harvard marketing sage Theodore Levitt, who I wrote about back in May. Levitt: People do not want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole. It’s the result, the experience, the utility consumers desire. It’s your unique ability – your reason for existence – in generating such results/experiences/utility/holes that matters. At the end of the day, customers are ambivalent regarding the what, when, where, who, and how of your business; they do business with you because of the why.

Back to my contemporaneous experiences: The entrepreneurs and executives were, rightly so, donning blinders, intensely focused on doing it. They could smell and see the barn, soldiering forth on plan. After all, that’s what creators do: They create. Philosophers (and bloggers?) live in the land of contemplation, of theoretical why thinking.

But, execution is irrelevant – a waste of time/senseless opportunity cost – if you have not clearly defined and acutely focused on the why of your business, as viewed and valued through the lens of your customers. Makes it a lot easier to pitch a product or plan, let alone communicate with a five-year-old.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ode to Arco

We took the boys to see the Globetrotters Thursday night at Arco Arena. The kids (and we) loved it, but something was missing. Not in the on-the-court performance, but the arena. Acro is an aging, charter-less, stale venue. It oozes – from the banged-up plastic seats to the 80s-era concessions to the stale beer aroma to the ambivalent employees – an apathetic malaise. It’s a tired place.

Why and how do things and stuff tire? Think of a book that’s remorsefully halfway read on your nightstand. Or a relationship that drags. Or an environment that lacks spark, intrigue or energy.

When people sincerely care about something, someone, or some place, you can tell. There’s a there there, a genuine dose of helium. It’s the book to read, the person to interact with, or the restaurant to visit. It’s the job that doesn’t feel like work. When it’s missing, it’s obvious.

Companies – collaborations of people focused on accomplishing a mission and making a buck – are cardinal candidates too. When you encounter or help propel a company that has “it,” hop aboard. People are intrigued … they want to be involved, as a team member, investor, customer, supplier, distributor, partner, or advocate.

Flip the coin. Though it’s not binary, you can spot (sense?) a company that is tired. Work is, well, work. Stakeholders float through the motions, artificially pedaling the company’s day-to-day actions. The atmosphere is stale, the people emotionless. To quote Don Nelson, there comes a point where potential becomes notential.

When people care about anything – a book they’ve read and thereby share, a person they meet and want to introduce to others, or an establishment that is cool – shit happens. There’s a certain energy that’s contagious. When the energy erodes, move on. Life is too short to invest your time in tired stuff.

Post-script (23 Nov. 07): The Great Andreessen shares an interview with one of his entrepreneurial heroes, Stephen Wolfram ... scroll down for a relevant thoughtbite:

People have different motivations, of course. A lot of people think the big thing with companies is money.

Yes, if you luck out, you can make a lot of money. But it's really rare that money carries people as a motivation.

You have to actually care about what you're doing.

For some people, like me, it's the actual creative content that they care most about. For other people, it's the act of building the company. For others, it's making deals. Or winning against competition.

But there has to be something you really care about.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

POTW II: MyFootballClub

Here goes the first violation of my Post of the Week policy: A second post of this week. Couldn't resist this one: MyFootballClub Agrees to Buy Team. Take a quick peek ... it's a wonderful democratization of an affinity, part Wisdom of the Crowds, part heretofore unthinkable micro-capitalism, part emotive-string-striking brilliance.

The scoop: MyFootballClub (in less than three months) signed up 50,000 people willing to pay a GBP 35 membership fee (quick math: 1.75mm pounds; $3.6mm) to buy and manage a soccer team with a crowd of other dedicated fans. MyFootballClub members will vote on player selection, transfers and all other major decisions.

Amazing. The crowd (the little guys) now own and control, with their 1/35,000th say, a soccer team. As shareholders, they voted on which club to acquire. As the crowd swells, the company/team can acquire better players and boost its probability of success: on the field, on the balance sheet. Or, they can acquire additional clubs. Or, buy the whole enchilada (the league).

Assuming you can bypass U.S. securities laws -- and presuming you're parked in the States; apparently it flies across the pond -- think of the possibilities: A mass of people with an affinity for (and a few bucks to back) anything, be it a Zoo, a professional sports team (think minor league baseball), a band or performing arts groups, a now-public golf course ... it's endless.

Have fun, be a fanatic, and -- perhaps -- make money.

Post-script (04 Feb 08): Crowdfunding's all the rage, and new derivatives are popping up everywhere. The latest: A professional Bulgarian basketball team is now looking for sponsorship from a crowd of fans.

Springwise: While MyFootballClub first collected enough money from its members and then selected a team to buy, ten-year-old Start is taking a pro-active approach by asking basketball fans to fund an existing team. Start is seeking a minimum of 10,000 people—in Bulgaria and elsewhere—who are willing to sign up before May 1st, 2008, pledging to pay BGN 40 (EUR 20 / USD 30) each if enough other members register to do the same.

Once the money has been collected, the team will organize a basketball camp and try-outs. Training sessions will be filmed and broadcast on, allowing crowdfunders to help spot and vote for talented new players. Akin to MyFootballClub's setup, members will virtually manage the team, voting online on key decisions concerning players and coaches.

POTW: Cycle of a Fan

Inspired by my Gator experience in Gainesville two Saturdays ago, I'm on a quest to enjoy, in person, a major college football rivalry or two each year. Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama, Texas-Oklahoma, Notre Dame-SC and a half-dozen others populate my itinerary. I'm hooked.

Or, more aptly, I'm a fan. "Fan," of course, is a derivative of "fanatic":

fa·nat·ic (fə-nāt'ĭk)
n. A person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm, as for a cause.

Which brings me to our Post of the Week, courtesy of Brains on Fire. Cycle of a Fan engages a person's emotional involvement -- the crescendo of extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm -- for a cause. Could be a football team or a sport. Could be a product or a company. Might be a philanthropy or university. Or, a person's advocacy for a cause.

Regardless, it's a provocative look at the logical steps an individual takes in their involvement with most anything. For me, it's a play-by-play CRC (customer relationship cultivation) guide -- the practice of ushering people through introduction, participation, adoption, evangelism, community, and ownership is invaluable. All companies have constituents in each of the six camps. The goal, of course, is to mature their involvement through the lifecycle -- ensuring your engagement moves beyond transient participation and simple adoption. As their involvement matures, so too does the likelihood and viability of their self-referencing.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Who are you?

I’m stuck on a Delta flight listening to The Who on my iPhone. Roger Daltrey: Who are you? Apparently, he really wants to know.

I’ve never thought about it before and if someone posed the question – so, Chris, who are you? – I would probably smirk and take the Fifth. But, since you asked I would spit out demographic vitals, talk about my wife and our two boys, share that we live in Davis, confide that I went to Cal Poly as an undergrad and UC Davis for grad school, express that I love to start companies, exercise, attend sporting events, listen to music and read, and confess my soft spot for pretzels (Bavarian’s are the best), mini carrots, sashimi, Hot Tamales, and Coors Light. Whew. I guess that’s how I would self-reference.

Which is of no relevance to today’s conversation, except to reference the utility of understanding how people self-reference. If you seek to communicate with or sell to someone – anyone – you need to understand how and when and why and to what degree they self-reference. You’ve gotta understand the context of their personal, professional and social networks. I am like him is a great path to understand how the person will behave. After chirping about this – the power of self-referencing -- for more than a decade in my dissection and attack of markets, I experienced an ah-ha while reading Six Degrees, The Science of a Connected Age:

… people know each other because of the things they do, or more generally the contexts they inhibit. Being a university professor is a context, as is being a naval officer. Flying frequently for business is a context. Teaching climbing is a context. Living in New York is a context. All the things we do, all the features that define us, and all the activities we pursue that lead us to meet and interact with each other are contexts. So the set of contexts in which each of us participates is an extremely important determinant of the network structure that we subsequently create.
In the aisle seat to my left – got stuck; I’m the monkey in the middle – is a large man, a specimen who should pay double for a seat (two seats!). Thirty seconds in to our seatmanship I learned he’s a diehard Ohio State Buckeye fan. Sixty seconds later he volunteered that he’s from Canton, Ohio, and takes immense pride in Canton’s housing of the Football Hall of Fame, particularly that 15,000 folks pack the joint for a high school game. He just inhaled a two-pound chocolate bar (no joke) slobbered down with a can of Coke. His right bicep boasts a Fred Flintstone caricature tattoo. Personal hygiene is not a priority; he hasn’t showered for a few days (weeks?). And, he’s reading one of the Narnia books. Not sure what he does for a living, if he goes to church or bowls in a league, or if he’s in to NASCAR or Harleys or whatever. But I bet he relates well to people like him.

Who are you? Lots of people really wanna know.


My friend Redwood can get a little red between the ears. He’s an excitable sort who’s furrowed brow comes with a sprinkle of a smile and a chortle or two, which makes it all the more amusing. Several moons ago, he tipped his pint and commenced a diatribe about a colleague, culminating in an eyebrow-crunching oration: Whatta scallywag, I’ll tell ya!

I froze. Not because of his emotion, but due to my discovery of a new take: Scallywag. Engaged, I dug deeper:

Scal-ly-wag [skal-ee-wag] – noun: a deceitful and unreliable scoundrel

Wood’s vent conjured a few similar personifications.

Ferret, for one. (I bump heads with a local, anything-but-allocentric character who half-lovingly reminds me of mustela putorius furo [a weasellike, usually albino mammal].)

Fathead is another. In the 70s, Fatheads were Grateful Dead-dancing listeners of KFAT in the Bay Area. Today, they’re egotists who have a supreme sense of professional being, shielding an insecurity of social interaction.

Bozo’s a good one too, with credit to Guy Kawasaki’s credo: Don’t let the bozos grind you down. Kawasaki contends there are two kinds of bozos:
  • The slovenly bozo with no credibility.
  • The successful bozo, which is the most dangerous since people tend to believe them.
Scallywag, ferret, fathead, and bozo thinking can be harmful if you employ an Eyeore mindset or if you lose site – through your engrossment with the said character – of the big picture. Think Scott McNealy and his Microsoft must perish quest that nearly killed Sun. (Not sure if McNealy ever referred to Gates as a scallywag, ferret, fathead, or bozo.)

But, I can think of numerous bury-the-scallywag, catch-the-ferret, deflate-the-fathead, or pop-the-bozo scenarios where such thinking was healthy (though, perhaps, too testosterone-ridden tribal?). A common rallying point is created, a target identified, collective motivation corralled. Which works if, in trying to prove the scallywag/ferret/fathead/bozo wrong, you accomplish your objective. And, most importantly, share a chortle or two along the way.

Post-script (18 Nov. 07): Dug up the below from historian Ted Tunnell on the origins of scally/scalaway:
Reference works such as Joseph E. Worcester's 1860 Dictionary of the English Language defined scalawag as "A low worthless fellow; a scapegrace." Scalawag was also a word for low-grade farm animals. In early 1868 a Mississippi editor observed that scalawag "has been used from time immemorial to designate inferior milch cows in the cattle markets of Virginia and Kentucky." That June the Richmond Enquirer concurred; scalawag had heretofore "applied to all of the mean, lean, mangy, hidebound skiny [sic], worthless cattle in every particular drove."

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Fuzzy Tail

I unearthed a terse, enjoyable post and slideshare presentation from David Armano, VP of Experience Design with Critical Mass. His takes:

  • Left brain? Right brain? Neither. Fuzzy people are "light-brainers" ... they are agile, inquisitive, adaptable, flexible, and pliable.
  • To bolster your fuzziness, forget you were ever an expert. At anything.
  • Unlearn. So you can learn again.
Armano continues in his poignant argument against the binary siloing of (my comparisons, not his) generalists and specialists, hedgehogs and foxes, right-brainers v. left-brainers, and scientists v. artists:
We can no longer afford to over-analyze our challenges. We must try to get things launched—learn from these experiences and refine. We must define ourselves and what we do more broadly while retaining the potency of our our crafts. It's about going from left brain to right brain and ending up on "light brain". We must become "fuzzy".

Being fuzzy as I outline in the deck is about unlearning everything we think we know—so we can actually learn and adapt. It's about less focus on rigid tasks and job descriptions and more focus on bringing our efforts together in the overlaps—where our skills compliment each other. It's about being more nimble and adopting "fuzzy" processes to compliment our tried and true methods that have served us well in the past.

The Fuzzy Tail is my way of saying "we won't become the blacksmiths of our time". It's about pushing past the commodity—the end product or service which can be outsourced. It's about putting aside egos, getting out of silos and mixing it up with each other—I mean really mixing it up. Planners who think like designers—designers who obsess about business—information architects who write—writers who act like strategists—project managers who can direct creative and creative directors who are willing to let them. People who are willing to let others play in their sandbox.


Karen and I enjoyed an event on campus last night honoring the “Chancellor’s Laureates,” individuals and institutions – several hundred benevolent entrepreneurs! – that have given $1mm+ to UCD. The vibe was terrific, hitting a high note when Margrit Mondavi stepped to the podium. Five-feet tall on her tip toes and in heels, she has the grace of a queen and a charm that’s contagious, amplified by a can-we-take-you-home-to-read-goodnight-stories-to-us Swiss accent. Margrit and her husband, Robert, catalyzed a significant transformation of the campus with their $50mm donation to create the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and the equally jaw-dropping and physically adjacent Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

Margrit graced the crowd with an extemporaneous talk about creating, giving, doing, making, enjoying, and being. As she said something worth saying, visions of ings danced through my head. Whether you’re a baker who bakes, a candlestick maker who makes, an entrepreneur who creates, or an artist who relates, six maxims (personal challenges?) come to mind:

  • Be something worth being
  • Enjoy something worth enjoying.
  • Play something worth playing.
  • Give something worth giving.
  • Create something worth creating.
  • Do something worth doing.
While “something” and “worth” are subjective, the act of being, enjoying, playing, giving, creating and doing is the essence. It (the ing) is what counts; without it there is no something or worth of your ing-ing. It reminded me of three “as you embark of your walkabout and regenerate” morsels of advice shared by my brother James earlier this year:
Life’s too short to:
  • Do something you don’t enjoy, or
  • Work with people you don’t enjoy, or
  • Work in a location you don’t enjoy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

POTW: The Long Tailpipe

I've been musing and prosing lately about the virtues of batteries (versus biofuels) and the when, not if (10 years? 20?), ubiquity of battery-powered vehicles. This week's POTW courtesy of FutureLab: Radically re-thinking the automotive business model.

[Former SAP executive] Shai Agassi’s new gig is called Project Better Place and its mission is to create a new platform and ecosystem for electric cars, and Agassi has raised $200 million to get it off the ground.

What Agassi’s Better Place wants to do is to separate the battery from the car, get automakers to standardize on a single battery type, and then set up a network of charging sites (run by Better Place) where cars can drive through and have their batteries changed. Agassi says that current technology allows for batteries that can power cars for 100 miles.

Under the model that Agassi is proposing, cars would be sold without batteries by the car makers (potentially bundled with batteries by the car dealers) and Agassi’s company would sell monthly subscriptions to consumers for swapping out their batteries at charging sites.

Bottle this

It’s recycling day in south-northern Davis. I just discovered this completely useless factoid during a run, and I have evidence to prove it: I hurdled seven discarded plastic water bottles surrounding their former homes (recycling bins).

The bottles conjured two What ifs?

First, waste: Recycling plastic bottles is an example of doing less of bad. (FYI, check out this post, Coke's Message in a Bottle, assessing The Coca-Cola Company's goal "to recycle or reuse all the plastic bottles we use in the U.S. market".) Several – hundreds – of billions park in landfills and progress through recycling centers each year, let alone scour street corners and pollute oceans. What if you could create a biodegradable bottle? Or, develop a solution to satisfy the convenient, portable, at-your-lips thirst of consumers? Calling all materials scientists for a remedy.

Second, the bottled water biz. I met with two Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy grads this morning to learn more about their startup. Great concept with some tread of its tires. It beckoned bygone presentations to the Academy where I would ask students: What if, say 15-to-20 years ago, you shopped a business plan with a simple idea: We’re going to put water in bottles and sell it at price points approaching soft drinks. Imagine the chortles from fat-headed VCs; you're going to do what?

I dug up the below excerpt from Who Has Time for This?, a VC’s blog. Therein the author relays his experience with Penn Jilette (of "Penn & Teller"), specifically his “Bullshit” performance wherein he debunks superstitions of all kinds, exposing how easy it is to scam people.

... my warm sense of intellectual superiority yielded to naked shame as I saw myself in the victims of the Bottled Water craze. I watched a cast member, posing as a "water steward" in a California restaurant, present the patrons leather-bound menus from which to select waters bottled in Alaska, the Sierras, the Swiss Alps, and Antarctica. As the patrons sampled the various vintages, they readily celebrated the properties of each water--the crisp Alaskan glacier, the sweet taste of France, and the smooth Sierra rainfall. The camera then filmed the kitchen, where the steward filled all the glasses from a garden hose.

I learned that bottled water is a good idea when traveling overseas, but it's a $22 billion scam in the US. It costs anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times the cost of tap water. Unlike tap water, there is virtually no enforcement of health and cleanliness standards, nor is there flouride to prevent tooth decay. The healthiest bottled waters are bottled from tap. And the bottles themselves pose an environmental disaster.

Post-script (17 Nov. 07): Interesting post here about biodegradable milk bottles. A start?

Monday, November 5, 2007

I want MyTV

I went to a high school football game a few weeks ago. It had been 20-plus years; time froze – same splinter-beckoning bleachers, suds-soaked seventeen year olds, spiritless cheerleaders, stale popcorn, and semi-legible scoreboard. We parked on the top row, sandwiched between the band and a flock of parents, most operating hand-held digital video cameras.

As I type I’m soaring west somewhere above Kansas, returning to Sacramento after a weekend in Florida. Good: Took in my first “real” football game in Gainesville (the Gators rolled; SEC football is truly a religious experience, even for atheists [or agnostics] like me), and my brother James rolled me on the clay courts. Bad: Missed my kids’ soccer (four on Saturday; Ty’s team, the Green Gators, rolled too) and baseball (final game of the year) contests, along with the UCD-Sac State Causeway Classic and another Davis High game. The latter two are less important; missing the boys’ games stinks.

Back to the camera-toting parents and, relevantly, the three key tenets of The Long Tail. The Tail: Make it, get it out there, and, help me find it. The parents: Making it (recording the game). A parent or two at most any youth sports game – including the five I missed Saturday – or performance or birthday party: IBID. The tools of creation – video cameras – are ubiquitous.

But, it’s still tough – though technically feasible – to “get it out there” and “help me find it.” Hence, my dream: MyTV. When my niece Olivia performs in a play in Portland, when my nephew Grant plays soccer in Granite Bay, when my brother James plays in the finals of a tennis tournament in Florida, and when my kids do any and more of the above, I want to watch, share, and archive it. I want a non-commercial TV channel (a personal digital content service?) that’s about me, my family, and our interests, sprinkled with – obviously – commercial content. Mini social networks – with broadcast/streaming/storage capability – where friends and family and parents can share full-length videos.

Impediments: Gotta be bandwidth and storage, though the former is ubiquitous (and improving) and the latter gets cheaper by the day. Some day soon – perhaps it exists; I’m in the air and can’t google it -- MyTV will emerge, a personal TV channel for anyone, delivered for free and available anytime, anywhere. Can’t wait.