54 lessons from 54 years

It was my 54th birthday last month. Inspired by Kevin Kelley’s 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice, here are my reminders to myself about what works for me, broken into 4 sections:

  • Getting the Day off to a Great Start
  • Staying on Track During the Day
  • Eating and Exercise
  • Relationships and Communication

I hope some of these are of value to you. Let me know what you think!

Getting the Day off to a Great Start

1. Get the sleep you need.

If you are tired, your chances of doing good go down, and saying bad things and making poor food choices go up.

2. Don’t use an alarm to wake up. (Unless you have some early appointment you can’t miss)

That way you’re not jolted out of bed mid-deep-sleep cycle. If you get regular on your bedtime, your body will get regular on your wake-up time. If you need to go to bed earlier to get the sleep you need, do it. If you’ve traveled across time zones, you’ll just have to do the best you can!

3. When you wake up, get up.

If you’re procrastinating about getting up, you either didn’t give yourself enough time to sleep, or you aren’t really excited about what’s going on in your life, so better to get up and start doing something to change that

4. If you’re lucky enough to have a partner, kiss them before you get out of bed.

It gets the oxytocin flowing, makes you both smile, and reminds you how lucky you are.

5. Make your bed straight away.

It gives you an easy accomplishment and at least one corner of your life is now neat and tidy. (And now you’re even less likely to go back to bed)

6. Start every day with a moment outside (ideally at sunrise).

Look, listen, smell, feel, and marvel at nature. (I spent a long year strung out trying to sleep in the front room on a busy road where the trucks would shake me awake at 4 am. I’m incredibly lucky to now live in a quiet location surrounded by trees. We need restful sleep and contact with nature to be our best selves.)

7. A cold shower or plunge is the most effective way to wake up

Even after 5 years, I’m still shocked by the cold water. But a cup of coffee is no match for the charge this gives your entire body. I believe it’s a great stimulant for autophagy as well, but I’ll leave that to the scientists to prove.

8. 10–20 minutes of daily yoga helps your body move better.

Functional movement is essential to healthy aging (and you’ll need to move after that cold shower, lol). We need core strength, flexibility, and balance. Aging starts wreaking havoc when we stop moving or fall down.

9. 5–10 minutes of meditation gets your head and heart in the right place

Days typically don’t go so well without the right attitude. And you can get amazing insights on what’s bugging you and what you need to focus on.

10. Take a moment to notice some detail every day.

Smell the roses (literally), look at all the different gardens, listen to the birds and insects. As Ferris Bueller would say, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around you might just miss it

11. Writing down things you’re grateful for reminds you how lucky you are (vs. being upset about what you don’t have and the bad things that happen).

I aim for a least three things. Sometimes it’s just the details like the smell of coffee, or putting on clean clothes. Other days it’s family, friends, having an income, or somewhere to stay.

12. If something is troubling you, journal it.

Write out the worst-case scenario, with all of your worst fears and interpretations of human nature. Then, thank your lizard brain for trying to protect you, and go back and write a draft that gives the benefit of the doubt to you and everyone else. You’ll be amazed at how this can help you re-frame an issue or get it into perspective.

13. Write down the 1–3 things you can do that will make it a good day and do them.

Don’t be unrealistic in your expectations (I’m always over-estimating what I can do in a day). Don’t make the day’s success dependent on others (that’s just setting yourself up for disappointment).

14. Do the hardest thing first. Don’t get distracted with less important things.

The day will pass quickly, and our ability to resist temptation declines as the day progresses, so do the hardest, most important things first while your willpower is still strong and hopefully before other things start competing for your attention.

Staying on Track During the Day

15. Go on a permanent diet from current affairs and daily stock prices.

When the COVID-19 shutdown happened, I only added to my anxiety by ending my news and stock price holiday. It’s almost 100% noise, very little signal. People will tell you if something really important happened anyway.

16. Prioritize spare moments for quality long-form audio and writing.

You’ll learn a ton and have a sense of actual accomplishment. It’s easy to use a couple of minutes here and there to check email or social on your phone. Instead, make Audible or Kindle your go-to at those moments.

17. If you happen to catch yourself surfing online mindlessly, stop. Remind yourself what you wanted to be doing and get back to doing that.

The internet is an amazingly seductive and infinite treasure trove. It’s best to ration your social and email to specific time blocks 1–2 times a day.

18. If you’re frustrated with how the day is going, take 5.

Stand up and stretch, do some squats or pushups, get a glass of water, pet the dogs, and/or go outside for a walk. Give yourself a little mental break to work out how to take the next little step forward on what matters most. Then come back to your workspace and do it.

19. If you need energy, call a high-energy friend to say hi.

The conversation will brighten the day and recharge you better than any cup of coffee, or hit of sugar. Work out who those positive people are and keep a list handy for when your energy flags.

20. Do your best to do things well

Find contentment with honest dedication and process, not the outcome (you can only control your inputs, not the outcome)

21. Aim high, but be ready to adapt to whatever happens.

It’s great to dream big and have high hopes for every day but expect that things can and will go wrong. So be ready to course-correct as necessary.

22. You really only learn by doing

You can intellectually get something, but the only way to internalize it is by doing it.

Eating and Exercise

23. If you’ve got a headache, have a glass of water.

If it goes away, you were probably dehydrated. If your skin is dry or your urine is anything more than pale yellow, you’re definitely dehydrated. If your urine is red (and you haven’t been eating beetroot, lol) go see your doctor!

24. If you think you’re hungry, have a glass of water.

Most times if you forget about it, the hunger will go away again.

25. Wash your hands before preparing and eating anything.

Thank you COVID-19 for reminding us about good hygiene lessons our parents tried to teach us!

26. It’s almost always better to share food with others than eat alone.

We are social beings. Most times a conversation over food will brighten your day.

27. Taste it before you serve it, and fix it if it’s not right.

If it tastes right to you, it’s probably going to taste right for most other people. You can’t fix it once it’s on the table. The right balance of salt, sweet, fat, and acid is the key to delicious for almost any food that’s not a bakery item. The more you practice tasting and adjusting with one or more of these the better you’ll get.

28. If it’s not great and you’re not starving, don’t keep eating it.

You’ve only got room for the good stuff, so don’t waste that room filling up on mediocre.

29. Eat slow, savor, and stop when you’re full.

Otherwise, you’ll just be uncomfortable for the next couple of hours. If you feel compelled to finish everything on the plate, try just leaving a last bite on the plate each time to break the compulsion. If you catch yourself eating too quickly, and faster than others at the table, slow down and savor the remaining bites. If you’ve finished, and you still think you’re hungry go floss and brush your teeth (you’re less likely to want to snack once you’ve invested those couple of minutes)

30. You don’t need to save all the leftovers from a party or meal.

Give them to someone hungry, or throw them out if you can’t.

31. If it’s not in the house, you’re less likely to eat it.

This is remarkably effective. And really difficult if you’ve got kids or you don’t get rid of the party leftovers.

32. Coffee and dark chocolate are delicious, but too much too late in the day and they’ll just mess with your sleep.

Some folks are definitely more sensitive than others. Learn how your body responds. For me around noon is the cut-off. I usually fall sound asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. If I have any trouble it’s either coffee, dark chocolate, or stress.

33. Good beer, wine, and spirits are delicious, but alcohol always borrows some happiness from tomorrow

Even if it only impacts sleep quality. More alcohol equals more food and feeling worse about yourself the next day. It’s almost sacrilegious for an Aussie to say this, but you don’t need to finish the bottle, you can actually just pour it out.

34. Yes/no rules take less effort to stick to.

It’s much easier to not drink 2 days in a row than to stop at two drinks. Or don’t drink coffee after 2 pm, or don’t eat at children’s birthday parties, than to decide at the moment if you should or shouldn’t because willpower is not reliable and runs out as the day progresses

35. Self-discipline creates self-respect

It might not be the most fun choice, but you’ll always feel better later. Cold showers and exercise, or getting something finished for work are a case-in-point.

36. You finish running 100 miles by making one step at a time.

If you can take another step without endangering your long-term health, you just keep going. Big accomplishments are the sum of lots of small efforts.

37. Exercising in nature is always better than indoors.

An hour a day in nature is much better for you mentally and emotionally and goes by a lot faster than an hour on the treadmill or stationary bike.

38. If it’s later in the day and you don’t feel like exercising, just try starting.

You’ll probably end up getting it done, and you’ll almost certainly feel better

39. Try taking a different trail or street on your next run or ride or drive.

Another benefit of COVID-19 was exploring all the streets in my neighborhood that I’d never been down. Variety and surprises just make life more interesting.

Relationships and Communication

40. Strangers welcome conversations. People like to be asked.

You’ll be surprised how often that turns out better than you expected. People are distracted or scared. If you want to connect with others, make the first move. Don’t ever expect anyone to return the favor (most people are doing their best just to get by). Be delighted when they do.

41. Be brave and start a conversation

Say something nice and/or ask a question. You’ll probably brighten your day and theirs.

42. If that text, message, or email is getting too long, it’s time to talk.

If there’s room for misinterpretation and it matters, go see them, get on a video call or just call them. It’ll save time in the long run.

43. You reap what you sow. Giving is better than receiving. Showing you care makes such a difference.

Good turns are rewards in themselves. Make breakfast or a cup of tea. Give someone a hug or asking how they are doing. Sending an article or a podcast to someone you think it would be relevant for. Introducing people with shared interests. Using Facebook to remember birthdays (and even old friends). Using LinkedIn to recognize promotions (and old colleagues and connections).

44. Attention is the most precious thing you can give

Spend it wisely on the people and things that matter to you (vs. giving it away to marketers and the endless distractions of the internet). If you can find 10 minutes to really listen to someone and give them your undivided attention, that is a lot better than an hour of partial attention.

45. If you have the faintest inkling you did something wrong, you probably did

So you better do what you can to make amends!

46. Usually, you are the only person that can and will fix the situation

So you better start fixing it!

47. The sooner you act on fixing things, the sooner you’ll start feeling better.

Come up with a plan and then act on it. Every tiny step forward will make you feel better. Sitting around feeling bad won’t help anyone.

48. Learn to love yourself for your sake and everyone else’s

Self-loathing has a nasty way of impacting the way you judge others. If you learn how to be nice to yourself, it’ll help you to be much nicer to everyone else.

49. If you’re getting annoyed, work out what’s triggering you.

You’re probably being triggered/reacting to something you don’t like about yourself. Find kindness by reminding yourself that another person is being like you on another day

50. 99 times out of 100 the other person is trying to do the right thing

No matter how much it doesn’t make sense to you, it probably does to them, so find out what they were thinking before you pass judgment

51. Mirroring and empathy work better than problem-solving

Most of the time we just want to be heard first. No matter how much you want to help others avoid mistakes, or tell them our brilliant way to fix whatever challenges they’re facing, they’re only going to listen to advice when they tell us they’re ready to hear it.

52. Your kids are meant to be who they are, not who you wanted to be.

They’re not your second chance to be who you wanted to be, so stop expecting that from them. Help them to find and be their best selves.

53. Use prompts and your environment to mitigate mistakes when you’re tired or cranky

It sucks that judgment errors (whether those are using the wrong words or losing your temper or eating or surfing mindlessly) can add up to outweigh all the good work you’ve done earlier in the day and that those mistakes are most likely when you have the least willpower to manage them. Set up your environment to help you succeed (e.g. making sure there aren’t undesirable snacks in the kitchen), and prepare yourself mentally for the desired behavior (when x triggers me, I will do y). Don’t plan hard mental activity for the afternoons if that’s when you get tired, instead reserve that time for calls, admin activities, cleaning the house, and exercise.

54. Reflect on the day and prep for tomorrow

Take a few moments to reflect on the best things that happened. Note a couple of things you could have done better. Sketch out a plan for tomorrow. Layout your clothes for the next morning. Go to bed in time to be ready for another great day.

What some true badasses taught me about leadership

This book is truly hardcore and yet surprisingly helpful from a leadership perspective.  We imagine Navy SEALS pulling off Mission Impossible style activities.  Who would have thought that Navy SEALS would have to deal with PowerPoint slides and face similar frustrations manaextreme-ownership-coverging up and down that the rest of us do in a business environment? I immediately recognized challenges with my own leadership style and used the perspectives in the book to change my attitude to great effect.

The key concept is in the title and aligns closely with the Stoic writings of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations – stop blaming others for what happens, look in the mirror, accept the blame and take ownership.  This is the only way to build true trust that is the most effective way to make teams work together.  Google comprehensively studied what makes teams effective and discovered that psychological safety was the single most important metric for determining how well a team would work together.

When you hear lines like “corporate doesn’t understand what’s happening in the field”, “management doesn’t get it”, you know trust is not present.  Jocko and Leif make the argument that the best way to fix this is to ask “Do they want us to fail? Are they trying to sabotage our efforts?” Of course not.  If they don’t get it then you’ve failed to explain it to them.  So own the communication, invite them out to the field, learn why they are asking the questions they are, build the relationship and the trust.

Navy SEALS are true badasses.  The audiobook is fantastic because Jocko and Leif read with their intense deep gravelly voices recounting stories from Iraq with a deeply measured intensity that transports you to the urban battlefield. It can get a little repetitive with the stories, details and acronyms (I got tired of hearing M1 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley fighting vehicle spelt out every time they were featured) but at the same time there’s an important lesson from this precision and attention on details, the cost of a mistake can be the death of a close team mate, so checking and double checking when the stakes are high is absolutely critical, even if it get’s annoying.  There are two examples in the book of avoiding blue on blue incidents (aka shooting your own guys) that were averted by having the courage in the heat of battle to stop and confirm the details before acting.

If you remember nothing else, remember there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.  They tell a great story of 6 boat crews competing in SEAL training.  Boat 2 is crushing it, all working together.  Boat 6 is losing every race.  The leader is blaming his crew and thinking he had the bad luck of getting a weak crew.  They swap the leaders and suddenly Boat 6 starts coming in first or second with Boat 2.  The successful leader did not assume he would lose, and focused the team on pushing to the next immediate obstacle in the race.  This small shift in approach coupled with belief in the team (which made everyone on the team believe in themselves) made all the difference to their performance.  So have faith in your teams, look in the mirror and ask are you truly owning the outcome no matter the result.

If someone on your team is causing you frustration, seek first to understand the behavior and the motivation.  Ask them, hey I noticed you seem to be having trouble with doing x, are you not sure where to start or why we’re doing it, or something else? By realizing that you are responsible for their success you’re now on the same team and working together to be successful.  If you both understand and believe in the mission (the why) and your own personal whys, the motivation will be there and you can focus on the execution.

The Icarus Deception: Seth Godin wants you to fly closer to the sun

icarusdeceptionIf you haven’t made your New Years resolutions yet (as Seth would say “NOW is the time to start”), maybe you should give yourself a prod by picking up a copy of The Icarus Deception and seeing if the prodigious Seth Godin can exhort you to go make some art.

Since writing Linchpin in 2010 (my review), Seth has been on a campaign to get us out of our comfort zones and creating the art that is within each and everyone of us, but we are just to scared to let it free.

Seth is on top of a major movement here – according to the Census Bureau about 3/4 of US firms have no payroll (21.4 million vs 5.9 million with a payroll).  If you add in small businesses with less than 10 employees (77% of 3.6 million of the 5.9 million) the segment is even bigger.  At 21.4 million the self-employed sector is nearly 2x the employment size of  largest industry segment (education at about 12 million).  The change appears to be accelerating too (as a proxy, those working from home grew 41% in the last decade to 13.5 million)

It’s a spin on the old follow your passion line – it’s better to love and lose than to never have loved at all. He argues passionately and persuasively that the people wrongly assume they are taking the low risk path in a “safe” corporate career that they don’t care about.

That’s the clever and unexpected component of the title of this book – the part no one ever talks about is that Daedalus told his son not to fly to low either – because being too close to sea there would be no lift.

There’s a lot of repetition, but there are also some handy ideas and lists and a few (albeit brief) case studies.  Seth works hard to make sure you get what art is and requires:  being vulnerable and honest, relentless persistency (grit), putting your best work out there, realizing those who value your art will find it, and learning to live with the inevitable trolls who won’t value what you do.

Like most of Seth’s books it’s a quick and easy read.  If you’re still procrastinating, this might get you moving.

The one critical flaw that turned my Nike+ SportWatch GPS into a non-functional piece of jewelry

I was so excited to get the Nike+ SportWatch GPS a couple of years ago for Christmas. It was stripped down to key functionality (distance and pace, time, backlight, upload results to cloud), offered some nice options (add a foot pod and a HR strap) and looks cool (one of the few watches I’ve ever owned to receive multiple compliments)

20130127-110659.jpg

All show, no go!

The watch has worked well, with one critical and debilitating flaw that has turned it into a piece of jewelry. In technical gear Nike has exhibited the “all show, no go” syndrome (for example, the Nike Running cloud software looks fantastic but has limited useful functionality when it comes to reporting) and this watch has ultimately suffered from this.

Critical Lesson: Design for partial failure conditions (aka, always provide a workaround)

The watch relies on what appeared to be a very clever USB connection hidden in the strap buckle (see photos).

20130127-110815.jpg

Now you see it

Now you don't

Now you don’t

This is the only way to recharge the device, and to upload runs, clear memory, update watch firmware and settings via the Nike Connect software on PC and Mac.

Unfortunately the wires between the USB plug and the watch itself are not robust and partially failed (of course about 3 months after the one year warranty) and despite numerous calls to the nice folks at Nike Support and multiple attempts the watch is no longer recognized as connected by the Nike Connect software. It can still be recharged however.

Doesn’t sound too bad right? Can still use it to record runs and manually record the distance and time, right? Well yes, until the memory fills up and one discovers there is no way to delete what is in memory, either through a simple erase capability on the watch (best) a device reset (ok), or running down the power (painful, but doable), and the watch will not record new runs once the memory is full.

Final injustice? Watch is not repairable or serviceable in any way.

20130127-110832.jpg

Where the band meets the watch is where the connection failure occurred

So I’m left with a chunky piece of jewelry that tells the time. Another failed piece of running technology (more reviews on more devices to come)

My plea to product designers: think about failure conditions and how your device will work (or not) once those occur and always provide a workaround! Even if that means just making it repairable.

Ever owned a piece of technology with the same flaw? I’d love to hear your stories.

TSA Pre – The best gift of the holiday season

tsa_preIf you’re a frequent traveller, airport security is a constant pain if for no other reason than the uncertain duration.   Even with premier access lines for frequent fliers, at airports like SFO, EWR and ORD the premier access lines can take 15+ minutes.  For most of last year, I used to head up to the premier line at International to avoid the monster premier access security lines at United Domestic (and the United Club is better there too).

Life before TSA Pre

Along comes TSA Pre.  Suddenly the barcode on your boarding pass grants access to a lane with no one in it.  You leave everything on except bulky winter jackets (no need to take off shoes, belts and sweaters),  laptop and liquids stay in the bag, and no full-body scanner.  It’s just so civilized.   And so quick.

Life after TSA Pre

Flying out of SFO on New Year’s Day my morning looked grim with another monster queue, when all of a sudden I spy the TSA Pre lane, my hopes are raised, and the lady scans my boarding pass and waves me through.  And I’m through in barely a minute, without having to go through the whole uncomfortable undress and unpack business.  Leaving Chicago on Thursday, same fabulous experience. It really does feel like Christmas.  I guess I’ll be annoyed at any airports that don’t have it now…

Very easy to sign up.  Just Google TSA Pre + [Name of your airline] to find the sign up page.  For United, all I had to do was tick a box saying I wanted in and press submit.

Go on, give yourself the gift that will keep on giving.

Safe travels, all!

Success = Luck + 10,000 Hours

Blatantly obvious when you put it like that. No doubt there are some examples of success with only one, but one of Gladwell’s objectives is finding how to help more people be successful with more certainty.

Luck is hard to generate, but understanding how culture affects aptitude is not (in other words you don’t get to choose where you were born or how you were brought up, but you can understand the unique strengths that set of circumstances will bring).

In Outliers, Gladwell does a brilliant job of breaking down the American obsession with the myth of the self-made man. I can’t decide if I’m thrilled or not with this conclusion.

On the glass half-empty side, if you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time and it takes 10,000 hours of hard work to be successful, why bother? Accept your fate.

On the other hand, from the optimist’s viewpoint, what could you excel at given your background and what you love doing. This is an extremely insightful way to review your life. It’s remarkable how seemingly small events can add up to powerful determinants of future success. For  Bill Gates, Gladwell recounts how it was being at a school which had one of the first  computers in the world that allowed online processing enabling him to rack up 10,000 hours while still in his teens.  For the Beatles, their extensive live stage time in Germany is also cited as a key driver of success.  The biggest determinant of which kids makes it to the elite in classical music?  Practice time.  If you’ve got kids, now is a good time to think about whether you’re helping them to really practice the things they love.

BTW, the book is very entertaining, because Gladwell is such a great storyteller. I recently had the misfortune of picking up The Town the Food Saved which could have been full of wonderful stories about country characters and how they turned a dead mining town into a thriving local food community. Instead it was an extremely dull history where you got all you needed to know from the jacket – artisanal, local food is good for the planet, profits, and the local community. At least reading something like this makes you realize how good authors like Gladwell are.

If you look back at your life, you’ll discover unique twists and turns that have set you up for success in a number of areas. Why do some people lose that trail, while others keep the passion alive? Is it parental intervention, the influence of peers, just wanting to fit in, or chasing a pot of gold? Discovering what helps people stay on track would be a great companion to this book.  For me, retrospection revealed product and process design, reviewing, cooking, and trail running as opportunities.  What would it help you to see in your own life?

Finding the time to Crush It!

photo courtesy of IanL

If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to the audio version of Gray Vaynerchuk’s Crush It!, do yourself a favor.  As Gary admits, during one of his many ad libs, he dictated the book to a ghost writer anyway, so this is actually the format it was meant to be heard in.  Scrap that, you need the video-cast, to get the full “gary vee” experience (like his awesome Wine Library TV video blog).

For those not familiar, Gary is another of the social media celebrities, who helped grow his family’s wine business from $4M to $60M in 5 years, who has a ridiculous number of followers on twitter and fans on facebook. He brought passion and a raw approachability to demystifying the enjoyment of wine, which the industry sorely needed.

If you need to get pumped up about whatever it is you are passionate about doing, the audio version of this book  could get just about anybody excited.  The passion and excitement in his voice is palpable and infectious. And for most of us, finding time to listen in the car or working out is a lot easier than finding time to read.

Now this takes us to the crux of the problem – finding the time.

Unlike Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week, Gary is not suggesting creating a “muse” that will earn big dollars for you with minimum time investment, so you can life the life of your dreams now.  He’s actually suggesting a LOT of hard work.  Your priorities are family, health and then your passion.  Kiss the wife and kids good night and get to work 9pm-2am.  Every night. Repeat.  Don’t worry about the stats, if you’re the best in your narrowly-defined field (finding a niche small enough that you can be best in the world at it is key), and passionate about it, the rabid fans will come and stay, and, over time, you’ll be able to monetize your passion, and give up your day job.  We’re not talking crazy wealth here, just $50-100K which is good enough for a decent life, and at least your spending your waking hours doing something you give a damn about.

The book has a decent amount of tactical advice on how to do all of this, from getting a URL to setting up a blog site, to creating great content.  Where all the work comes is in engaging with the audience.  This is of course where most of us fall down.  We get obsessed with the content and forget about building the community.  They won’t appear all by themselves, you have to make them want to come, again and again.  If you want to understand the degree of this dedication, he still answers every tweet or email, despite the staggering volume he receives..  I tried this and its true.  Less than 24 hours after tweeting props about the audiobook, he @ replied back with a thank you.  Amazing.

After hearing the book, I was naturally pumped to try this out.  And that’s when it dawns on you.  You have got to want this more than anything else to make it happen.  You need the chutzpah and the hustle to self-promote.  Endlessly. I can handle a few late nights in a row, but then I run out of gas.  And I love spending time with my family.  And I have an awesome day job.  So now, I want to combine Seth’s Linchpin with Gary’s Crush It! and make this happen on my day job.  Because that’s near and present.  And that way it doesn’t have to be 9pm-2am every night.

My lizard brain wants me to stop…

But I must ship this before the publication date. Even if its not perfect.

A mother and daughter in the row in front of me start arguing over something like who paid for the DIRECTV. The argument escalates into a rehash of an apparently longstanding feud with lots of name-calling and cussing. They eventually settle back into an episode of “Keeping up with the Kalashnikovs” or whatever they call it – life imitating art I suppose. The girl next to me is whining incessantly on the phone about some injustice her father has apparently inflicted upon her. None of the flight crew is doing anything more than trying to survive this flight. I picture them all with lizard heads poking out from their shirts and retreat back to my advance copy of Linchpin, Seth Godin’s latest, desperately hoping for a little art or the opportunity of a gift in the day.

The Ritz-Carlton in Ft. Lauderdale comes to the rescue with an artful greeting (the magic is achieved with headsets relaying the guest’s name to the check-in desk) followed by the unnecessary but delightful step of helping me find my room, confirming that it is ok, and asking about the purpose of my stay. I hesitated at the conclusion (time for the tip), as Seth suggests that money cheapens the gift, but the protocol is pretty clear on tipping (unlikely many other aspects of American tipping which I continue to find baffling and embarrassing) and followed the easy path of convention. Seth suggests adding a why it was great through a “Thank you and …” construction – I guess I’ll need more practice on that one.

I love the central idea behind this book and the logic of the call-to-action. Your choice:

  • Take the apparently risky and courageous path of becoming an indispensable human, and in the meantime discover meaning and lifelong employment, or
  • Follow the indoctrination of many years of society and education and remain a faceless cog in the machine, increasingly dispensable, and at the mercy of your employer and the forces of globalization

If you accept the hypothesis that we all have this choice (and Seth argues that regardless of nature or nurture that we all have genius within us), or even that it’s better to die trying than not, it’s pretty obvious which is actually the less risky path.

Much like Dan Pink’s wonderful A Whole New Mind, which I reviewed previously, Godin passionately argues that times have changed, and a new approach is the key to success. The good news is the new approach should make you not only more successful but happier and wealthier at the same time. Bring it on!

In the last few weeks, I’ve reflected on my life and current work. There is no doubt that when I’ve put in that extra effort at work or home it’s typically yielded noticeably better outcomes, and been warmly acknowledged by the recipients, which has given back to me a sense of fulfillment far in excess of that extra effort. In the same few weeks, by actively pursuing ways to go above and beyond I’ve significantly elevated my value in what becomes a marvelous positive feedback loop – do something unexpected and great, be acknowledged, feel great, create and give more art. This concept is not new, but the imperative for action is arguably stronger than ever.

The table of contents is brilliantly presented as an executive summary with sentences describing the key ideas under each chapter title. Godin proposes that between management and workers (the cogs in the machine) there is room for a new class of indispensable workers – the linchpins. Like Ayn Rand’s heroes but more forgiving in the sense that linchpins work with the world as it is, rather than running off to form their own utopia. The book is peppered with Seth’s trademark pithy one-liners, clever observations, arguments and definitions (for example “Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient“), and fabulous quotes such as this one from artist Hugh MacLeod: “The web has made kicking ass easier to achieve, and mediocrity harder to sustain. Mediocrity now howls in protest.” Best of all are the hand-drawn charts. and Venn diagrams like the one at left from page 101.

If you’re inspired to try to become a linchpin (and most of the readers will be), there are a few tips and guidelines but importantly no map to enlightenment. Everyone’s destination and path will be different and ever-changing. The resistance to this life of art and gift giving will be driven by the lizard brain, the primitive bits called the amygdala that “apparently takes over whenever you are angry, afraid, aroused, hungry or in search of revenge”. One key tactic is to remember that artists ship. If you procrastinate and never publish your work, you can’t succeed. With that in mind, I better stop here and press the button.

Seth, thank you for this little gem of a book – you are a constant source of wisdom and inspiration.

Dear readers, good luck out there. May you all choose wisely.

The best laid plans…

this month's cover

Happy New Year everyone! Sorry to have been out of touch – lots and lots of work in the day job, and then we kicked off the year with a family circuit of the over-hyped swine flu (comes out of nowhere, knocks you flat, then vanishes without warning – maybe they should have called it surprise flu…)

I realized today that many of us start a new year (or even more portentous) a new decade with big plans and resolutions only to see many fall by the wayside. This should in no way be discouraging. Life and work are full of unexpected twists and turns. (Imagine how dull it would be if we knew what was going to happen.) It’s how we respond that matters.

You may remember I wrote recently with much pride about finishing an ultra giving my surefire tips for success with minimal training. I was lucky – about the only thing that didn’t go my way was some salty watermelon (it almost went the wrong way).

For Christmas, my generous and lovely wife (perhaps unwisely?) bought me a subscription to “Ultrarunning” a mag for the hardcore crazies full of 50k, 50 mile, 100 miles and more race reports.  One of the articles (those mavericks, they take pride in keeping content offline) gave advice to newbies, and the most important point was something (and most likely many things) will go wrong, it’s how you respond that determines how you finish.  Various body parts will fail, you’ll get nauseous, your gear will fall apart, your support crew will get lost…  Like everything else in life, you choose if you get pissed off, and become captive to the negative reaction, or accept it and move on, deciding how best to move forward with the newly understood reality.

On a lovely morning run at  Windy Hill this morning, I finally caught up with the audio edition of Economist Christmas special and was struck by this quote on the human condition: “Ms Neiman asks people to reject the false choice between Utopia and degeneracy. Moral progress, she writes, is neither guaranteed nor is it hopeless. Instead, it is up to us.”  In other words, it is imperative that we keep trying to get better yet we should never expect to reach a destination of perfection.  So write down those resolutions, give it an honest effort and don’t beat yourself up if life gets in the way.  Now, back to work.  Big launch day tomorrow.

AT&T waves the white flag at the mobile Internet buffet

Hope you’re all enjoying the excesses of the holiday season.  AT&T appears to be suffering.  Imagine deciding to stop selling your hottest product in your second largest target market. The location with the presumably second highest concentration of bloggers and influencers after San Francisco. Apple must have been livid.

Courtest U.S. Naval Historical Center

The recent decision by AT&T to stop selling iPhones online to people with a NYC zip code was not officially promoted or explained.  An online customer service rep reportedly explained “New York City is not ready for the iPhone.” If AT&T is lucky, the quick reversal of this heinous error may prevent its complete nullification of the millions spent on national advertising campaigns for their allegedly superior 3G network.

You can pummel people over the head with old school marketing, but if you stop selling the phone, no matter what the excuse, especially after your CTO admits how challenging its been and your CEO starts talking about charging based on data use, you’ve basically proven your network can’t keep up with demand.

If its really the case that they can’t keep up with surging demand, then all carriers and users are in for hell as the mainstream discovers the joy of a mobile all-you-can-eat Internet buffet.  Enjoy the streaming video while you can 🙂