Daily Archives: December 27, 2013

Do You Have Trust Issues?

Remote working, social media and mobile computing are just some of the management issues impacting your business today.

Two months ago we relocated to a new office. The move itself wasn’t out of the ordinary. The reasons for the move on the other hand represented what I see as a sign of the times.

We doubled our office space, replaced every piece of our perfectly adequate furniture, added sofas (red obviously), a pool table, dartboard, large screen TV, and gaming consoles.

What happened next was a fascinating social experiment.

You see when you throw these items into the mix of a normal office environment, people don’t know how to deal with them. I mean seriously, should they be playing darts at 9am? Or are they all supposed to line up to play pool during their lunch hour? There was absolutely no rule book, and no frame of reference for anyone to work within. Its been absolutely amazing to watch.

Other business owners I’ve known for years thought I was crazy. Surely productivity will nose dive. People will treat the place like a social club and work will begin to slip. Client relationships will suffer, ultimately leading to a total business collapse. Presumably followed shortly afterwards by either a zombie apocalypse or devastating meteor strike (or both).

So what prompted the move in the first place?

Typically I spend 3-4 months a year out in Northern California. I’ve witnessed first hand an evolution (some might say revolution) in the way people are working in the digital economy. I’ve spent time with people who are almost evangelical about their employers. Not only do they benefit from phenomenal working conditions, they are much more importantly lavished with trust on a scale that I’d never witnessed before.

Up to this point, tradition dictates that the employer vs employee relationship is ultimately adversarial. Owners want to make profits, and employees want benefits. Its like some giant game of seesaw. As the list of benefits increases, so profits must fall. The more the owners give, the more is expected. Where will it end? Its a pretty bleak and depressing outlook at business life.

After 17 years I needed to change.

A relationship lacking in trust, is a corrosive thing. It eats away at things over time, its unhealthy for all parties. No one wins in the long run. It becomes all about short term victories. You wouldn’t accept this in your personal relationships, so why do so many people, in their business lives?

I read somewhere (forgotten where), that its unforgivable to be miserable in your own business. The power to change everything is within your grasp. I found myself with the conflicting goals of running a business to provide freedom, and at the same time felt trapped by a status quo that was eating away at me bit by bit.

I realised that in my rush to build a business that scaled (more on that another time) I had implemented processes and procedures that would allow me to manage a much bigger organisation.

I found myself managing a team of 10 people, most of whom have been with me for 5 years or more, utilising systems and rules that were intended to manage strangers. Procedures intentionally designed to remove the need for trust.

All of this seems really obvious to me now, but back at the end of 2012 this was pretty depressing set of conclusions to reach.

So far so awesome

So in 2013 I took the leap. I systematically began breaking down walls (even physically in some cases) and opened up the business to a new way of working. An office move was inevitable as we embarked on this new chapter.

Well that brings us up to-date. So far the move has been a fantastic success. The team is working better than ever. I’ve trusted everyone to know what needs doing. In return they get to work in a great environment.

In many ways all of the above is done with a selfish agenda. I too wanted to come to work and enjoy myself. I wanted to be around happy people enjoying their work and having fun. I’m “happy” to report that part of the experiment has been a great success too.

I’m all too aware that this works for us because we have such an established business and knowledgable team. I’ve no idea how things will work as we inevitably introduce new people to our environment. What i do know is I’d rather take that gamble than embrace the status quo for the sake of avoiding risk.

This probably isn’t for everyone.

Now I’m not saying this is for everyone. I’m not so idealistic to realise that some people own businesses where this model of working simply isn’t practical. I’m guessing the people that clean our offices would love the flexibility to take a break for a game of pool now and again (yes we thought the same thing, they probably do in our office)

What I’m really saying, is that ANY business can afford the time it takes to look at what they do and how they do it. To take time out to look at the people that together make things happen in their organisation. Then find a way to show them the Trust and Respect that your relationship deserves. I guarantee everyone will be healthier for it.

If you found value in this article, it would mean a lot to me if you hit the recommend button!

Written by

#Entrepreneur #Restless #Technologist #Traveler #Husband #Father of Twins #Racer #Storyteller, #SaaS #Cloud #Founder #CEO @Serchen & @KetchellDigital


Your story has value.

My mind was immediately flooded with a wave of doubt.

There are over 100 million blogs on Tumblr. Over 60 million on WordPress. There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone.

Does this really matter? I can still stop here and pretend it never happened.

My watch ticked slower than it ever had before as time dragged along. I stared at the submit button on my computer screen while my hand rested delicately on the mouse in front of me. This was it. I had resized the pictures and reordered the sentences. I really did not know what I was doing or why, but it seemed worthwhile. I have something to say.

I closed my eyes and my finger pressed down on the mouse. “There it is,” I said to myself.

I have published my first post.

Many of us can easily recall being forced to write and share mind-numbing essays in school. We did not have to evaluate the merit of our topic or determine the importance of sharing because someone else had already provided a curriculum, complete with a grading rubric. Sometimes we were scared, but we did it.

But how often do we express our views or share our insights as young professionals? Anyone who has ever written something for fun, or for passion or simply for expression has wrestled with insecurity and doubt. Yet, there was a time when freedom of expression was truly a lofty ideal for many. Even then, billions of people still had something to say. Values, ideas and experiences that are colored by unique perspectives. We all have a story to tell.

The problem is that some people believe that their story has already been told.

That their opinion has already been conveyed. That their unique experience has lost its value with the passing of time. That their idea or program or book has already been delivered. It’s not that they haven’t thought about the reasons why. They simply choose to focus on all the reasons “why not”.

Sometimes it feels like we are merely adding fuel to the fire. Chiming in or saying me too. For a long time I struggled with feeling qualified to share. But I believe we should share our stories and ideas anyway. Here’s why.

1. Sharing your story is an opportunity to serve.

Stories have been used to capture histories and ideas and beliefs since the beginning of time. But communities have also used the power of stories to heal, uplift and renew. And the healing power of those narratives that fill library shelves and float effortlessly in the web beyond our computer screens rests in the individual stories of people. Their journey and struggles. Their growth.

People like David and Goliath. Hamlet. Sherlock Holmes. Pip. Barack Obama. Harry Potter. Harry and Sally. People like You and me.

The stories of ordinary people matter and have the power to change the way we think about the world around us. We all have a unique message to share. Our opinion and ideas are valuable. Most importantly, no one else will give your testimony. No one else will share your story. And we all know what happens if you don’t.

“If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.” ~ Tony Gaskins

2. Sharing your story humanizes your life.

The act of writing can help clarify and exposes our core values. Reaffirming deep beliefs while constantly challenging evolving values will not only provide you with encouragement when life gets tough and overwhelming, but will also help you find purpose in life and focus your activities toward achieving purpose driven goals. Personally, writing has helped me find peace with the sacrifices and changes you often have to make along that journey.

Don’t allow shame or regret or fear to marginalize your voice. Sharing your story or ideas or opinions can transform even the most shameful story into one of redemption and victory.

Writing and sharing stories helps us to build relationships with others on an emotional level as well. I have learned that by connecting with others on a personal level, it becomes easier to not only build trust, but also provide hope and inspiration along the way.

3. Sharing your story broadens perspectives.

In 2009, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a powerful TedEx talk about the danger of hearing only one story about a people or a nation. The 20 minute talk is inspiring and worth checking out. Chimamanda talks about her experience coming to America for college and dealing with stereotypes from classmates who believed in a limited story of Africa. She embraced that opportunity by writing fictional stories that highlight the diversity of her African experience.

If we don’t say anything or share anything, our story will never be heard. Our perspectives will remain thoughts. Stereotypes or ignorant beliefs are not developed because someone had “all of the facts” or weighed their views against the backdrop of a diverse outlook.

Rather, it is usually the exact opposite.

Seemingly narrow and ignorant perspectives are developed when a person takes a limited range of experiences and uses them to craft a single story. Perhaps much like individuals who express disdain for organizations that empower black women. To most, such views do not make sense. But for many, maybe they have simply been fed a single sad story.

Simply put, your story has value.

There is a reason why many people prefer to buy an Apple over a less expensive Dell. Why I prefer Starbucks over a cheaper cup of coffee at the local diner. Or why some of my friends prefer J. Crew over The Gap. Yes, quality and style matter. But I believe the underlying and key difference lies in the stories these preferred companies tell that resonate with hearts and minds, and not simply wallets. They have realized that their story has immense value and power.

If someone believes you cannot help them, you probably can’t. Many people didn’t believe in Apple at first too. But, don’t rely on others to tell you that your ideas and perspectives have value. You might mistake the treasure that you have been given for junk.

For some time, I thought that my writing did not mean anything to anyone. That was okay in my mind because, in truth, I really just wrote for me. To help me sift through the fog of work balance, career progression and spiritual growth. But when someone from another continent, hundreds of thousands of miles away, told me that something I shared inspired them in a special way, something changed. I realized that my words are one of the most powerful tools I have. That one experience has made that first decision to publish a post worth it.

I used to obsess over learning the latest strategies to obtain followers or subscribers. I chuckle now thinking about how much we seek the validation of others in everyday life. I am realizing more and more that when I use my talents to simply be a blessing for others, even just one other person, I honor the gifts that God has given me. I respect my art.

That is all the validation I need.

This is why I write.

_ _ _ _

Etienne Toussaint is a writer and lawyer who resides in Washington D.C. He writes frequently about social innovation, education and finding the sweet balance between professional development and personal growth on his blog.

Written by

“I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream.” ~ Vincent van Gogh www.etiennetoussaint.com


Why We Need Humanities Majors

Cambridge graduation day

Cambridge graduation day

It’s getting close to Thanksgiving, which means family members will descend on you like Hitchcock’s black crows, peppering you with questions about your life, your relationships, and, of course, your career. For those of us who studied English or history, French or Mediterranean studies, these types of questions will no doubt spiral into lectures on “the real world” and “marketable skills.”

You will perhaps try to explain how literature is what you love, that Milton and Safran Foer make your world go ‘round, and that when your parents were going through a divorce or you lost your best friend or you waved goodbye to your family as you left to college, it was Rumi or Keats that kept you emotionally afloat — it was the humanities that gave you perspective and propelled you to see the world as a place worth living in. And while you may feel as much connection with statistics, finance, or engineering as you do with your estranged auntie who’s gorging herself across the table, somehow these are subjects that nearly everyone now pursues.

At Pomona College, one of the foremost liberal arts schools in the U.S., less than 1% of students graduated with an English degree last May. In 1991, the top two majors at Yale were history and English. In 2013, they were economics and political science. There is a rather depressing, albeit growing belief that college is “about the degree” — the same excuse that justifies skipping class or exerting only a minimum effort on assignments and exams, where students do just enough to get the grade, but little more. Many now view college as, at its essence, only a conduit to a good job, and if you say you’re studying painting or photography, someone is bound to roll their eyes, certain that you’re only biding your time until you’re allowed access to your trust fund.

One of the key arguments in favor of studying the humanities is that it fundamentally improves people. These apologists cite the studies that show reading fiction builds empathy, and they’ll push the idea that a literary or artistic savvy makes one more understanding and compassionate. The other claim is that the humanities bestow certain intangible, future benefits. Verlyn Klinkenborg writes in The New York Times, the gift of studying the humanities “is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature.” These arguments are rather weak though and both strike me as a touch saccharine, as a little too feel-good-y and not at all useful when sitting at the dinner table attempting to defend your life.

But reflect on what the wealthy do after they’ve made their fortune. They go to the opera and ballet. They build themselves libraries. They read their children poetry and hire governesses to speak to them in French. The eventual life goal of so many people — after the banking business has succeeded, after the stock values have skyrocketed, after the retirement fund has hit the magic number — is to enjoy books, theater, art, history, to tap into their very humanity.

Think of all the people who have always wanted to write a novel, but they haven’t had the time. You could fill the Library of Congress one thousand times over with those who’ve said they were just going to work for a little bit, save some money, then do what they really loved. But, almost invariably, they end up waiting until they’ve retired, and while their bank account might be fuller because of it they are lacking in vitality — too many years of doing something of little interest for its purported stability and respectability always takes its toll. The humanities major has merely chosen to reorder his life, so that what he is passionate about comes first. Majoring in English or fine art or creative writing has no end goal; rather, it is about finding one’s one humanity. It is about realizing that you’ve only one life to live and that to put off your interests until your time is about to expire is to order things rather poorly.

Now many might say that eating your dessert first is bad form. There are many writers and anthropologists and historians who have lived with little money and great ardor because they craved interestingness first and stability second. But few have lived pathetically. Few have woken up each morning to pursue that which is boring, that which is disastrously uninteresting, that which is done to grind together the gears of industry with little eventual satisfaction outside of a paycheck.

So it is therefore wrong to even ask why we should study the humanities. There are no whys, no explanations needed. Not everything should have a finite end goal. We cannot always be production-oriented. There must be some semblance of satisfaction in our lives. Sometimes we must be pleasure-oriented, and so much of that distinctly human contentment is derived from culture, from books, from the arts.

Someone at the dinner table might shrug, saying something subtly condescending like, “I guess you could teach with that degree.” But hopefully you’ve learned that doing things purely for the sake of money, for some perverse sense of prestige, for a life in which you pursue the things that do not interest you, would be a life lost. Euphoria is found when the bowlines of expectations are cast off and a sea of passion, while tumultuous and unstable, is taken on with excitement and wide eyes. A seemingly stable outer shell too often equates with emptiness on the inside, and while we’re constantly pushed to robotically crunch numbers for corporations and sit through courses we’ve little care about, there must be some imperative to pursue pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Amidst a production-over-pleasure world, the humanities let us feel, well, human again.

Further Reading

Why the Rich Romanticize the Working Class

 — “Even the poor have something very chic about them.”

The Invisible People Living Among Us

 — “Sorry to interrupt” is how they always begin. The most dejected of New York’s homeless population take to the city’s subway system…

Why Americans Fetishize Paris

 — “I envy anyone who gets to go to Paris for the first time because there’s nothing like the first time” – Marc Jacobs “[France means] great…

Written by

social and political historian. nyc. paris.

Published November 11, 2013


As Marketplaces Evolve, Greylock Places Its Bets


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The idea of marketplaces as a business model for technology startups isn’t new. We saw some marketplaces go belly up in the bubble, and saw a few, like eBay, grow into massive businesses. However, the marketplace model has experienced a renaissance of sorts lately, with companies like Airbnb, Uber and others gaining serious traction and becoming billion-dollar-plus businesses.

Greylock Partners held a conference in mid-November devoted to talking about design, product development, the economics and more around marketplaces, spearheaded in part by the firm’s newest partner and former eBay Motors creator, Simon Rothman.

4363v3-max-250x250As part of its new $100 million commitment to investing in marketplaces, Greylock assembled Reid Hoffman, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, eBay CEO John Donahoe, Nobel Prize Laureate and marketplace expert Alvin Roth, and many others to discuss the rise of marketplaces and much more. I was able to sit down with some of the speakers to talk about their thoughts on why marketplaces are hot right now.

Hoffman, who founded LinkedIn and was an early investor in Facebook, sees many parallels between networks and marketplaces. On the similarities in both models, he says: “There’s a question of how do you identify people? What reputational systems underlie it? What kinds of information and signaling? What kind of transactions go public? There’s some differences, too, but it’s essentially a similar brain activity.”

As for why marketplaces are getting more attention now, Hoffman believes that it’s in part due to mobile and the progression in human behavior. “Now everyone is comfortable with the notion of, ‘Oh, I could actually find someone I don’t know and transact with them, either as travelers, hosts, sellers, buyer.’ Those that can actually work mean that I have some trust in these mechanisms,” he explains further.

Rothman agrees with Hoffman, and told me that trust is a huge element of why marketplaces have evolved, as well as the biggest challenge for these marketplaces. “They’re really selling trust. And until the web adds social identity, I think creating trust at scale is really hard. As we’ve heard, marketplace is about influence, and if you can’t control the experience, if you can’t control the product, you can’t control the fulfillment. All you can control is trust and you need to have that. And then mobile is an accelerant to that. If you are a local market, or a local business, you have to have mobile. There’s just no way Uber works without mobile,” he says.

Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman

So how do marketplaces add trust? Hoffman advises to look at mechanisms by which you can essentially borrow some trust and add it to the product, such as using social networks or identities. He recalled a product development from his PayPal days, where an engineer developed a better way to authenticate bank accounts.

For years, in order to authenticate a bank account you had to send in a voided check, and a copy of your drivers license. PayPal realized that if they wanted to get to scale, the company would have to make it easier to create accounts. “If we can’t solve this problem, we basically don’t have an interesting business model,” he said. One of the early engineers developed a way to send two sub-dollar transactions to the account, to create a PIN of sorts for instant verification.

While friction is something most marketplaces want to remove, Rothman argues that some should consider “the concept of strategic friction” when it comes to trust and safety. He thinks it’s one of the only places where friction is not only tolerable but kind of desirable.

Of course, one of the marketplaces where trust and safety have been of the utmost importance is Airbnb. Hoffman recalled when he heard Airbnb’s pitch, he was in immediately. “When Brian and his cofounders pitched me, I stopped them a couple of minutes in, I said look I’m interested in investing. I want to hear the rest of the pitch and talk about it, but I get this already.”

Hoffman says that Airbnb was creating liquidity out of space. Even if the hosts didn’t own their real estate, the liquidity involved is “hugely valuable and motivating to them.” So, they’ll adopt mobile products, and go through hoops to make that happen. “There was no question that this is going to work,” he says.

But Hoffman recognized that there have been bumps in the road when it came to trust and safety–but he said that what made the difference was Chesky and his team’s hard work is setting things right. “Brian motivated the entire company within six weeks, and said We are revamping trust and safety, in the same kind of pattern he was talking about in terms of developing for mobile,” Hoffman recalls.

Separately at the conference, Chesky talked a bit about design, and how he approaches designs at the company. Airbnb launched a complete redesign of its mobile app in November, and Chesky was involved in every part of the three months it took to implement and create the new design, even forgoing hiring efforts. While it took three months end to end to launch a new version of the app, the actual design took place in a matter of three weeks.

Brian Chesky

Brian Chesky

When doing the design, the company put up a huge wall where they printed every single screen in the app and placed it on the wall. It amounted to around three hundred separate pages. Chesky learned at art school that you need to draw the whole canvas before rendering because you lose perspective. People tend to get stuck on one page in a design or redesign, and I didn’t want that to happen.

And because the design has to cater to two groups, the host and the guest, one team would design the pages from the guest point of view and another from the host point of view. Chesky also met with the designers every couple of days or even every day and that was really, really critical to the speed of design and overall success of the project, in his opinion.

One speed bump that many of these marketplaces hit is regulatory pushback. Every large marketplace of late, including Uber and Airbnb, have had challenges dealing with local regulatory agencies. In fact, Rothman says that “any interesting marketplace will hit regulatory issues…largely, if you’re not hitting a regulation issue, the likelihood that the marketplace is interesting is very low. Not zero, but very low.”

Hoffman is familiar with this, as even networks hit regulatory challenges. He explains:

“I think the simplest way to understand regulation is, there’s a bomb, there’s a fuse, you’ve lit the fuse. And you have to figure out how long the fuse is and how fast it’s burning. And you have to pay attention to that. And then depending on what you think the dynamics are, and there’s certain things you think that can accelerate this fuse or not.”

He advises that in the early stages of any marketplace that may hit regulatory snags, founders should figure out what their engagement strategy is. “You don’t want to pre-sell [regulators] on the benefits. You want to get to where they just look around at host sipping coffee and say, “Oh, how was it being a host? How was it being a traveler. Oh, great.” He says you shouldn’t stick your head in the sand, and ignore regulators but also going to them early may be futile as most regulators don’t want change.

“So you want to keep that in play to the point where you can build it out and make them go, “Oh, I get this.” And by the way, then, at that point you have a large constituency, if you’re being successful, that also is arguing in your favor and then that allows for regulation change. The regulators, legislators, other people need to figure out what the thing should be.”

Now that Greylock is allocating some of its new $1 billion in funding toward the marketplace model, we’ll be looking to see where the firm will be placing its bets. Rothman thinks that in the next five years there will be more $1 billion dollar marketplaces than there were in the past 20 years, and we already have quite a few that are rising fast. Stay tuned.



Rdio Shuts Down Video-Streaming Site Vdio, Offers Amazon Credits As Reimbursement For Purchases

Posted 2 hours ago by (@ryanlawler)
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It’s only been six months since Rdio launched its video-streaming platform Vdio to the world, but it appears that the company has already decided to give up on that experiment. In an email sent to customers today, the streaming media startup announced that it has decided to discontinue the service.

While Vdio was only just introduced over the summer, it followed nearly two years of speculation that Rdio would compete against Netflix and Amazon with a streaming video product. When it finally launched, Vdio was less of a Netflix clone, and more of a competitor to traditional on-demand video rental services like iTunes or Google Play.

The shutdown of the service follows a layoff that affected 35 people at the company. At the time, Rdio didn’t comment on how the layoff would affect the video service.

vdio shutdown

In an email sent out to customers, the Vdio team said it was not able to “deliver a differentiated customer experience,” and is offering users Amazon gift cards as reimbursement for purchases made on the platform.

According to several reports on Twitter, Vdio sent the following statement:

Hi [NAME],

We are writing to inform you that we have decided to discontinue the Vdio beta service.

Despite our efforts, we were not able to deliver the differentiated customer experience we had hoped for, and so Vdio is now closed. For more information, please read the Vdio FAQ.

As reimbursement for any content you purchased and any rental content that has yet to expire, we’d like to give you an Amazon gift card. To redeem your gift card, please visit Amazon.com/redeemgift and enter the following gift card claim code:

We want to thank you for trying Vdio, and we wish you a very happy New Year.

The Vdio Team

We’ve reached out to Rdio for comment and will follow up once we learn more.



Asia’s Richest Man Invests In BitPay

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After some serious drubbing in two of the world’s largest countries during past few weeks, the Bitcoin ecosystem may have found its biggest individual backer yet in Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man.

Li is now an investor in Atlanta-based BitPay, the startup with ambitions to become the PayPal for the virtual currency world. He has made this investment through his venture capital company, Horizons Ventures, an early investor in companies such as Facebook, Waze, Skype and Summly, which manages $150 million in 3 different funds.

A BitPay spokeswoman told me that Horizons Ventures and the Founders Fund are among a group of investors including Shakil Khan, Barry Silbert, Jimmy Furland, Roger Ver and Ben Davenport, who have put around $2.7 million in the startup so far. Founders Fund is the VC group run by people who founded and were early employees at PayPal. In May this year, BitPay raised $2 million from the Founders Fund.

The South China Morning Post reported earlier today that Li has invested in BitPay through Horizons Ventures, but didn’t give any specific details on the amount invested.

Li’s investment in BitPay comes at a time, when regulators in India and the People’s Bank of China, have issued advisories against the virtual currency, and even questioned the legitimacy of Bitcoin.

Overall, the environment for Bitcoin seems more conducive the in U.S. where Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently said that despite risks, there are areas where virtual currencies hold long-term promise.

Indeed, BitPay said earlier this month that it has processed over $100 million in transactions this year, and has increased its merchant base to over 15,500.

It’s been a very busy month for Bitcoin, mostly filled with bad news in two of the world’s biggest countries. While China’s biggest Bitcoin exchange, BTCChina, stopped accepting deposits in Chinese Yuan earlier this month, exchanges dealing with the virtual currency in India are shutting down after a warning from the country’s banking regulator, RBI.

The 85-years old Hong Kong-based billionaire, who is also the chairman of Hutchison Whampoa, is buying into Bitcoin growth in the U.S. amid uncertainties in Asia.

John Greenwood, the chief economist of London-based Invesco, told the South China Morning Post that Li’s strategy of investing in a startup that provides enabling infrastructure for the virtual currency, offers lessons for investors looking to make money from Bitcoin.

This is what Greenwood told the newspaper:

“Just like investors in days gone by made more money out of selling shovels and picks to gold-diggers than anyone ever made out of the gold mine, he is investing in the peripheral activity that bitcoin has generated.”

Clearly, Li seems to have made a smart move by avoiding any direct investments in Bitcoin.

[Image: Flickr/Stanford EdTech]



In the Shower

Thoughts in the shower

In the shower solitude is my companion. Here I savor the beauty in the mundane, and unplug my mind from all distraction: the computer, the cell phone, the intrusive vehicles of communication. I let the sweet water bring its protean personality to my senses as my body acclimates to the ambient heat. I track the sprawl and movement of the beads of water.

Here my breathing becomes slower, and with each breath, my mind becomes more aware of the rise and fall of my lungs. I inhale steam like oxygen, and let the water pool on my chest, feeling the repetitive warm touch against my skin. Concealed in a thick fog, and in a state of momentary zen, I am neither here nor there, both within and without. I am only temporarily afar and in a sort of shower-induced contemplation.

I’ll glance at the small hexagons of white and black tile on the floor, simply to admire the neutrality between the black and white, the seamless repetition of the hexagon tiles that spread like the leaves of a fern. I admire the utilitarian order; the fractal-like porcelain structure completely dependent on each single member piece.

Costly water bills aside, the shower provides me with a sense of myself. In the shower I can live life in the present. It is my sacred ritual—one that is cleansing—yes literally—and one that is spiritually fulfilling. I am not a hermit, but I do hold stock in the idea that in order to remind myself of the world, I must every so often take a step back.

Written by

Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?

Published December 26, 2013


The life of a newly-wed entrepreneur

I’ll preface by saying I’m only 26, I’ve only been married for 3 months, and I’m only 1 year into my first venture. And by venture, I mean it’s something I do part time and from which I generate no income.

My speech teacher used to tell my classmates and I that you should start any presentation by establishing your credibility. I have a feeling I just did the opposite of that, but hopefully it at least frames my perspective.

Despite only having limited experiences, there are some very important life lessons I’ve learned over the last few months. The most important of which is having boundaries around your work for the betterment of your relationships.

As an aspiring entrepreneur it’s hard for me to think about boundaries. I’m young, I’m hungry, and I desperately want to create something “cool.” You have to be working all the time to do that, right? Wrong.

I also have a wife (and a life) and I have a terrible tendency to put them second to my work.

A few weeks back my wife broke down one night when we were going to bed. I had been on my computer all night, doing nothing terribly important and she said, “Why can’t you give me the same attention you give everything else?”

My first inclination was to say “What? No. You’re wrong.” But, actually she was 100% right: I had replaced her presence with superficial work all because I thought it was what I was supposed to do. And she was, understandably, veryhurt by it.

After that night, I realized I’m rarely doing things that actually matter when I’m “working.” In these moments, I care more about saying “I worked all day then I worked all night” for prosperity’s sake than I do for showing real productivity. What I’m really doing is pushing my wife to the side and telling her I have more important things to do. (Not good)

This made me realize how important it is to set boundaries in your work, and to create those behaviors early on. As a person who tends to over-focus, I easily get lost in my computer and am constantly stumbling on new things to do with no real purpose. This is great for when I want to waste time, but not so great when I’m trying to figure out what it means to be a husband.

Previously I would rely on my memory when I had an idea and I would try to recall it when it was time to work. That’s what ultimately got me into trouble. Rather than siting down and being intentional about my work, I found myself jumping from one thing to the next while never really doing or finishing anything. Before I knew it, it was 1am and I had nothing to show for.

You can see why my wife said what she did.

In an effort to change this I’ve started setting up a framework to help me be more efficient with my time. Instead of relying on memory, I’m forcing myself to write stuff down. I’ve been using and enjoying Flow to create and manage tasks. It helps me prioritize things that need to get done and limit the amount of time wasted. It also helps me put my ideas into action: rather than creating tasks that say “figure this out” or “think about this,” all of my tasks are action oriented (“do this,” “finish these,” “order this”).

Also, instead of thinking everything needs to get done at the time it arises, I’ve been doing what’s most important first and saving the rest for later. I give myself an hour each day and do whatever it takes to get the pressing items done. Everything else is pushed to the next day. I’ve actually found that the things I previously spent the most time on where among the least important, and that the important things, while few in number, were being put off because I had no action items around them.

These simple changes have helped me tremendously both in my relationship with my wife and in my general productivity. For a newly wed (or for anyone in any kind of relationship), I couldn’t stress the importance setting these kinds of boundaries at a very early stage. As an entrepreneur it’s very easy to ignore what’s most important in exchange for things that don’t matter. In the end, it’s not about looking busy, it’s about getting stuff done and enjoying the life with which you have been blessed, with the people you love most.

Written by

My name is Matt but one time I introduced myself as Math. Co-founder of @vinylmeplease

View story at Medium.com


Build a Trustworthy Design Process

“The Seattle Boys”

“The Seattle Boys”

About four years ago, the arrival of three new grads from the University of Washington—Drew Hamlin, Francis Luu, and Joey Flynn—changed the DNA of the Facebook design team forever.

It wasn’t the fact that they brought flavors of sitcom life into the office (though they did all work and live together in an apartment called Cloud City) or that they were heavyweights in the boxing ring of design (as talented as they were), or even that they were really really ridiculously good…er at puns (Drew today: “honor roll” to describe something that was, well, on a roll).

No, what the Seattle boys brought to the team was the rigor of design critique, deeply instilled after four years in the visual design program. And what I learned from them is that if you place your trust in a good process, then the end result will probably be pretty good. It’s that simple.

Oh, there are caveats, to be sure. The results of any process are only as good as the strength of the team, so if your team isn’t strong, you shouldn’t expect magical unicorns to suddenly start leaping out of the work. But the key here is the strength of the team, not the strength of a single individual. Teams are generally stronger and more well-rounded than any one person, so the power of a rigorous design process is that it elevates the work of everyone—even the most junior members—to take advantage of the collective talents of the whole.

For me, a rigorous design process has the following characteristics:

  1. You have gotten feedback from enough people such that you understand at a deep level all the reasonable perspectives one could have.
  2. You have thoroughly explored the solution set of the problem.

#1 is why design critique is so important, and that in turn helps reinforce #2. Every time you show your work to a room of designers, questions spring up like geysers at Yellowstone. “Did you consider using a visual to explain what’s going on instead of a paragraph of text?” “How come you decided to go with a segmented control instead of a preview of each section?” “Why does this pane slide in from the side instead of from the bottom?” “Have you seen App X? It does something similar and feels better/worse.”

The goal of critique is not to say that something either does or does not pass the bar. It’s not about gatekeeping. It’s not even about making sure everyone’s concerns are addressed, because honestly, if you try and make everyone happy, you’re probably going to end up with a camel. It’s about recognizing that the set of choices in any design problem is enormous, and the more that all of us can help each other anticipate the pros and cons of these choices, the more considered the decision we will make, and therefore the better the decision we will make.

I repeat, the goal of critique is to help the designer make intentional decisions.

I consider it a night-and-day difference between arriving at a solution on the first try and arriving at a solution having gone through rounds and rounds of iteration. The latter tends to produce better results, and even if it doesn’t (maybe because you just so happened to design a great solution right off the bat) the process matters.

It’s like the difference between going on a nice vacation because you just won the lottery versus going on a nice vacation because you’ve worked hard at your job and built up a solid career. Sure, the end result may be the same, but one of those paths is more reliable and repeatable. One of these paths is going to help you when you’re at a high-stakes review and somebody asks “why is this thing you’re proposing better than [some alternative design]?” If the solution is your first and only attempt, you’ll go “uhhhh” because [some alternative design] will have never crossed your mind until now. But if your process was air-tight, you’ll smile as you make eye contact and deliver a buttery-smooth reply: “Well, I tried [some alternative design] and it’s better at [X] but worse at [Y]. Here, let me show you what that looks like…”

Nothing should be done at random; ignorance is the enemy of good design. To make a subpar decision because you didn’t get enough context or feedback is to fail. But to make a subpar decision when you considered all the angles but ultimately made the wrong tradeoff—that kind of mistake is honest, and far easier to learn from. When you put in that much careful thought, you don’t fall for the same trap twice.

So rely on the wisdom of the Seattle boys. Utilize the hell out of tools like critique. Build up a trustworthy process.

After that—for pretty much whatever what you’re selling—I’m buying.

Written by

Product design director @ Facebook. Self-professed tyro and lover of food, games, words. Follow me as @joulee or on  www.juliezhuo.com


The Grand Delusion Of Certainty And Why I’m Giving It Up…Starting Now

Why Accepting Uncertainty Is The Key To A Meaningful Life

My therapist recently gave me a questionnaire to assess the degree to which I was intolerant of uncertainty in my life. When I first looked at it I chuckled a bit. Being a therapist myself, I’ve worked with many clients who were very uncomfortable with uncertainty. In fact, I have helped many of my clients learn to tolerate uncertainty in order to heal the anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior, or chronic procrastination and avoidance that was impairing their lives as a result. As I sat down to complete the questionnaire I thought to myself, “I know nothing in life is certain and I help people with this all the time. This is not an issue for me.” The first time I answered the questions, I answered factually from an intellectual place and those answers were total bullshit. The second time I completed it I answered from an emotional place, not what I intellectually knew, but what I actually felt. And as it turns out, I’m very intolerant of uncertainty.

Accepting Uncertainty = Less Suffering

I feverishly began scanning my life for evidence of this intolerance, and it was everywhere. I won’t take public transportation to work because I want absolute certainty that I will be able to get to the office on time and relying on a system outside of myself doesn’t give me that guarantee. Before making important decisions in life I have to seek opinions and reassurance from multiple people in my life because I am terrified of making the “wrong” choice. I spent months fantasizing about my fiancé proposing to me, something I thought would provide me with a sense of certainty about our future and our relationship, but once I had the ring on my finger I kept looking for more. I wanted total assurance that he was the “one” and that he would love me forever. And while I know that he intends to love me forever and never leave me, that plan might change some day. Not because there is something wrong with him or me, but because life is in constant flux. The only thing that is predictable is unpredictability. Life, in it’s very nature, is a glorious mishmash of hope, joy, surprises, and disappointment from moment of our birth to the inevitability of our death. Resisting this reality leads to constant struggle.

Willingness To Fail Is The Key To A Meaningful Life

What bothers me the most about all of this is that my intolerance of uncertainty doesn’t just impair my ability to take the bus, make a big decision, or feel secure in my relationship. It plagues my professional life. I’ve spent endless hours fantasizing about different directions I want to take my career — the lectures I want to give, books I want to write, podcasts I want to record, online programs I want to create. And yet, I haven’t done any of those things, largely because I’m terrified. What if no one likes what I produce? What if I fail? What if no one wants to hear what I have to say? I keep waiting for some sort of absolute certainty of success even though everyday I help other people learn how to tolerate uncertainty so they can achieve their goals. Over the past several years I have helped countless individuals clarify their aspirations and take major risks in their careers. I’ve helped these people face their fears of failure head on so they can take the steps necessary to achieve their dreams. This has often involved leaving fabulous jobs at companies that most people would give their right arm to work for so they can pursue a more authentic path for themselves. Humbled, I’ve watched my courageous clients tolerate the uncertainty of what is to come and leap off the mountain without looking back. Some have found great success with their next steps, while others have not been as fortunate. But even those who didn’t get exactly what they wanted have the eternal gift of being able to say they tried. They didn’t live their lives waiting for some mythical certainty that will never come. They won’t have to look back at life and wonder “what if?” And the failure they did experience will likely help them grow as both individuals and professionals. If nothing else they now know that they can tolerate failure, they don’t have to fear it. They jumped off the mountain and they survived.

Exposure Therapy

In general, when there is a lesson I need to learn in my own life, I teach it to others. The majority of the blogs I’ve written have really been written to myself, because they were lessons I needed to learn. I was tempted to write a blog today about how intolerance of uncertainty has a negative impact on our lives and strategies for shifting it. But instead I decided to come face to face with my fear of uncertainty and take a totally different direction with this piece. I wanted to be transparent and reveal my truth, if for no other reason than that it scares me to do so. I desperately want certainty that people will read this. And not just read it but like it, learn something from it, and share it. I want people to care about what I have to say. And I want certainty that people won’t judge me. But I guess I’ll just have to settle for knowing that I jumped off the mountain and was willing to tolerate the uncertainty of what comes next.

Join Me

So if someone out there is actually reading this I ask you this — What are you not doing right now because you are waiting for absolute certainty before you act? Who are you holding back from loving? What mistake are you afraid of making? What project are you avoiding starting? You can keep looking for guarantees or you can jump off the mountain with me and see what happens. At least you won’t have to keep asking “What If?

Share your stories about facing uncertainty with me on Twitter. Let’s support each other in taking big risks!

P.S. If you found value in this article, it would mean a lot to me if you hit the recommend button.

Written by

Psychotherapist. Coach. Animal Lover. Hummus Enthusiast. Proud Italian. Compassionate listener and teacher and fierce advocate of love.

Updated November 8, 2013

Published in

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