Tag Archives: thought

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done: How I Changed My Name to Saul of Hearts


Most of you can probably guess that Saul of Hearts isn’t the name I was born with. I’m not going to tell you what that name is, but I’m sure you can figure it out, either by asking someone who knows or Googling it.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with my birth name — it just wasn’t for me.

It’s the name that I wrote on the top of my reports when I was a straight-A student. It’s the name that my teachers called out during roll call, at school plays, at science fairs.

It’s a name that other people gave me. And I’ve never been OK with letting people define me from the outside.

I knew from early on that someday I would change it. But still, it was an uphill battle against conventional thinking, societal expectations, and 20 years of momentum.

The biggest obstacles came from those whom I thought would support me the most — my close friends and confidantes, who thought they knew the real me.

The more I fought to assert my identity — my right to define myself as I saw fit — the more important it became to me, even more than the name itself.

It was scary, frustrating, and deeply rewarding, all at once.

I learned how a name — that most personal of things — can hold so much meaning for so many different people.

What I thought would be a simple process took years.

And yet, even if the name I had chosen meant nothing to me, the process of changing it taught me everything.

It challenged people to look at me differently and rethink their assumptions about who I was.

I could finally start the process of defining myself, word by word.

****

The first time I went by the name Saul was around my junior year of college. Everyone already knew me by my birth name, so I wasn’t trying to “change” it yet.

It was a pen name, an alter-ego — the first four letters of my last name, in fact, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.

I had a few friends who went by other names — who’d had one nickname in college, and another in high school, or who took on a stage name when they performed with their band. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me.

After college, I started hanging out with even more unconventional people.

I went to Burning Man, where everyone had a “playa name.” If someone introduced themselves as Fuckwad Sparklepony, then by God, you would call them Fuckwad Sparklepony.

You would never ask someone their real name. What was a real name, after all? Why was your playa name less real than your name in the default world?

It was exciting to meet someone who went by “Lucifer,” or “Lt. Disaster.” It would be a letdown to find out their name was really Dr. Jacob Smith.

After a few years of going to Burning Man, and traveling the country, and hanging out with hippies and couchsurfers and anarchists, I ended up with two groups of friends: those who knew me as Saul, and those friends from college who still called me by my birth name.

Eventually, those two worlds were going to clash.

****

A few years after college, I decided to go all in.

I looked down the list of possible surnames I’d come up with over the years. None of them worked.

Finally, in a burst of inspiration, I settled on “Of-Hearts”. It was so absurd, so obviously not my birth name, that it just might work.

I changed my Facebook name, my online dating profiles, my resume. This was it.

And then I hit the wall of resistance. My friends just didn’t get it.

I’d ask my friends to call me by my new name at parties and game nights, and they’d just shrug and forget. I’d send out e-mails signed “Saul,” and they’d come back, “Hey _______.”

Scott and Jenny, who had been to Burning Man with me, and knew other people who called me Saul, were more understanding than others.

They’d often slip and use my birth name, but would quickly correct themselves. It meant a lot to me to know that they were trying.

But my friend Drake took it personally. He seemed to think that because he’d known me so long, he knew the “real” me.

That changing my name was a personal affront to him — that it infringed upon his right to call me as he saw fit.

Or, worst of all, that I was trying to be something that I’m not.

Occasionally, we’d host guests from Airbnb at our house, with whom I was the contact person. They knew me from our conversations as “Saul,” and they would show up asking for me.

But when I introduced myself, Drake would step in, rolling his eyes: “That’s not Saul,” he said, “that’s ________.”

And I had to explain the whole story. A story that, frankly, I didn’t want to explain. I didn’t think it was my responsibility to explain away a name I’d never chosen in the first place.

I became afraid of bringing new friends over to the house. If I went on a date with a girl from OKCupid, I would hesitate to bring her home.

I didn’t want her to think that I was lying to her. I didn’t want her to think I had something to hide. She could Google “Saul of Hearts” and find my life poured out on blogs and social networking profiles. I was as transparent as could be.

I just didn’t want to make love to her as ________. It wasn’t me any more.

So Drake and I began to fight. We had long conversations about it. He didn’t think it was his responsibility to “remember” what to call me. He thought I was trying to run from my old identity.

I just wanted him to accept my new identity, to give me the space and freedom to be myself.

Eventually, I fell in with a new group of friends, a bunch of artists and Burners who lived in an intentional community called Synchronicity.

I went over for dinner one evening and introduced myself as Saul of Hearts, waiting for the inevitable skepticism. What’s your real name? someone was bound to say.

It never came. Weeks passed, and no one asked.

I had never been so grateful.

Over the next few months, the pressure eased. Suddenly, I didn’t have to be on edge anymore, waiting for one word from Drake to start the inevitable landslide back to my birth name.

Now, if he called me ________, he would be the one in the minority. He would be the one that people would look at funny: “Who are you calling _______? Do you mean Saul?”

Occasionally, as my groups of friends mingled, my name did too. Some friends learned my birth name as others adapted to my new identity.

It didn’t feel quite as wrong to hear my old name any more. It became more and more rare for anyone to call me by it.

I still use it on my legal documents, and on my driver’s license. I might change it someday.

But it was no longer quite so threatening. It no longer had any power over me. It made for a funny anecdote when my new roommates sorted through the mail.

Maybe a time will come when this name too wears out, and I’ll have to change it all over again.

But it doesn’t matter. The transition has already happened. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and if I had to, I’d do it again.

Written by

Think you can only have one job? One home? One love? Unlock your poly-potential | Lateral Freelancing since 2013. www.saulofhearts.com @saulofhearts

 

On Courage, Vulnerability, and Just Being Human – Love removes us from our pedestal


“You have more courage than me,” he said in response.

I had just confessed to someone that I had begun to think of him as more than a friend.

The feeling was not mutual, but having courage was my consolation prize. It’s good to be courageous, but I hadn’t thought of my bold proclamation as an act of courage — I thought of it more as an act of impatience on my own part.

I didn’t want to wait and see what, if anything, would unfold with the right portions of time and space and dare-I-say destiny. I couldn’t quite muster the energy to do the socially acceptable thing, to stick it out, to drop hints and pick up on semi-subtle cues. I just wanted to know where I stood, for better or for worse. The quick way. Ripping off the Band-Aid.

For the record, you know you’re not terribly hopeful about something when you refer to getting an answer as “ripping off the Band-Aid.” You expect, it seems, that there will be pain involved.

So I didn’t think of it as courage. In fact, I thought of it as weakness. It was a white flag. A last call. A surrender of sorts, a last-minute take-it-or-leave-it deal because I am a fairly proactive person and wanted to get a head start in moving on if it wasn’t going to happen.

Not so long ago I was with friends at dinner when the topic of attraction came up. I asked them, “Why are we so ashamed, anyway? Why does ‘liking’ someone always make us feel embarrassed, like we need to hide it or treat it with kid gloves?”

I wondered this because ever since elementary school when cooties are still the resident plague, we tease our friends about their crushes and threaten to reveal their secret to the person of interest, or to the entire class if we’re feeling particularly scandalous, or to anyone for that matter, because that’s how sensitive this stuff is from the very beginning.

Love is potent, to be used carefully and wisely and only in the right doses and at the right time. We handle it with care. If it were packaged it might read, “Fragile” or “Do Not Bend.” Or perhaps we wouldn’t even need these written warnings because somehow we just know that we are dealing with something volatile, something dangerously reactive, that can change forms quickly and be harmful if exposed in the wrong set of circumstances.

So why is it considered an act of courage to express this particular emotion? Is it because it leaves us vulnerable, arms outstretched and bare, with nothing up our sleeves? Is it because we always wrestle to maintain the upper hand in life, and love is one of the only things that, when done properly, strips us of that secure sense of power and superiority that we don’t quite know how to function without? Is it because for that brief, confessional moment and possibly all the ones that follow it, we assume an essence of subordination, and subordination has always left a bad taste in our mouth, unsettled, like we must still have work to do if we aren’t yet standing at the top of an impenetrable self-made mountain of infallibility?

Love removes us from our pedestal — the one we thought we were standing on. Maybe, then, it is precisely what we needed because it is life’s way of keeping our rapidly growing ego in check, of kicking us down a peg, of reminding us that just when we thought we had it all figured out, someone might walk into our life who we are for whatever reason crazy about, and that is humbling, because it shows us that we are not the be all, end all of our own existence, or of our own completeness. We need other people. We want other people. And we are not entirely in control of whether they will want us back. Maybe, in the end, that is what keeps us human.

And maybe that is why there is a certain courage in vulnerability. If nothing else, it is a reluctance to run from our own humanity, our own imperfection. Vulnerability is looking rejection square in the face and saying, “So what? It won’t be the end of me.” And I would say anyone who can do that has at least a little bit of courage.

Written by

Writer, Photographer, Occasional Microbiologist, and Iced Chai Connoisseur; Tell me things @ andoncsecz@gmail.com — Follow me @alexadondon

 

Don’t just do one thing


Why “just do one thing” was probably the best advice I’ve received. Because I’ve totally ignored it.

A few years ago I was stuck. I’d stopped enjoying what I was working on, and I needed a change. I had several ideas that I thought could be good web businesses, and I’d prototyped a few of them.

I was invited to speak at an event, and on the panel with me was a prominent person in the London tech scene. After the event we chatted over sushi, and I told him about all of my ideas. He was patient, he asked good questions, and at the end I asked “so what do you think?”. His answer was blunt…

Just do one thing

It’s the classic piece of advice to give to someone looking around for their next thing, who clearly has an opportunity to go in many different directions. I nodded, accepted the point and I’ve not stopped thinking about it since.

A couple of weeks ago in an interview I was asked “what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?”

My answer was that this one piece of advice—“just do one thing”—was probably the best advice I’ve received. Because I’ve totally ignored it.

Put out feelers

I often hear people describing themselves as being in the mode of “putting out feelers”, perhaps thinking of leaving your job to do something else. It’s a liminal state where you’ve decided that you’re open to opportunities that will enable you to move from one period of focus to another.

In the past, that would have involved having conversations, writing to people who you respect, and searching for job listings. Recently, I’ve also seen a new trend—people making prototypes in their spare time, and trying to find a way to turn a prototype into their next thing.

Let a thousand flowers bloom

It’s the dream of many—that they come up with an idea in their spare time, make a prototype, show someone, raise investment and turn their spare time project into their main-time work.

My approach, looking back at having been in that liminal putting-out-feelers state a few times now, is to let a thousand flowers bloom. In the past, rather than looking for a single opportunity to fully commit to, I’ve started off with several ideas with several people, with a huge variety in scale. I remember when I decided to move away from agency life, I had a proposal in the final stages for a £25m innovation lab, a handful of prototypes, a citizen journalism project that had users, and a diagram on a piece of paper for how you might make a TV and film workflow in a web browser.

The lab didn’t happen, the prototypes were interesting but didn’t grow, the citizen journalism project had no revenue, but that piece of paper, well, we raised some angel funds and it became my next focus.

Dither strategically

It sounds great, when I put it that way, but the risk of spending too long in that “feelers period” is that you may start getting involved in too many early stage opportunities and end up dithering. Not picking one, committing to it and following it through to its logical conclusion—a new venture, a new job, a contract of some kind, and on into building a successful business, product or organisation.

Yet I’ve become unconcerned about that risk. I’ve been in that “opportunity dithering” mode a few times and I have come to look at the process in a more positive light.

Rather than just having one idea, I go for several small ideas, do hacks, have conversations, and, if you’ll forgive the flowery language, sow a seed. Each could have potential to grow into something big (the little big idea), but there’s often no knowing at an early stage which one is the right one to focus on. Like the one that was just an idea on a piece of paper.

Hedge your opportunities

If prototypes and hacks are cheap, a good strategy in my view is to hedge your bets by doing many prototypes. Do that until the last possible moment to maximise the opportunities you have. You do perhaps run the risk that opportunities may pass you by, so there’s a “Goldilocks zone” of increasing-to-decreasing opportunity to be considered.

At some point you have to quit your job and commit to something, and that’s what I decided to do after my conversation with the investor I mentioned at the beginning of this article. But by going wide, I’d given myself options.

Look for signals

Focus, focus, focus. I guess that’s the point of the “just do one thing” advice. Once you’ve spotted something, and you’ve got a good signal, that this is the thing you should be doing, then it’s all about getting laser-focussed to make it happen. Spotting it though is really hard. And when you’re interested by lots of things, how can you decide where to put your efforts? For me, it’s about looking for signals.

Depending on what it is that you’re doing, a signal to invest your time in something is going to differ from a signal that I am looking for in my work. It might be a third party getting in touch out of the blue, saying they’d heard about what you’re working on; it might be early revenue or sign-ups; or someone you respect saying that they have a huge pain that would be solved; or it might be more mathematical—15% month-on-month user growth on a prototype. Have a think about what signal you’re looking for in the things that you’re working on.

Kill your darlings

And when you get your signal, kill everything except the one you’re going to commit to. To focus on a single idea is to remove your focus from all other ideas. You’re killing your darlings: Ideas, projects, people that you care about will fall by the wayside as you focus yourself on one single path. For anyone who has many opportunities that can be a hard thing to do. What potential future doors are you closing?

Yet feeding your darlings could be a worse proposition. By taking on too many things, and I’m sure there are many like me who are guilty of this, your ability to focus on each of those things diminishes as they grow in number. For me, before I realised how to do this more effectively, it got to the point where I was giving half an hour a week to each idea. And in so doing, really giving nothing to any of them.

If you’re not putting in enough time, you’re killing the idea. Or even worse, gaining ill-will from the people who really are putting in the effort.

The main thing

Steven Covey is often quoted with his advice to “keep the main thing the main thing”. It’s a sensible idea once you move past the confusing language—it’s important to keep your focus on a singular effort rather than being distracted with side-projects and too many responsibilities. Michael Acton-Smith, founder of Moshi Monsters talked about this at the Do Lectures this year, and it was this piece of advice that helped him to find a vehicle for all of the things that he wanted to do, so that they built upon each-other, rather than conflicted or interfered with each-other.

I’m aware with Makeshift that I’m building a similar environment. Everything we build is for startup people, because we are startup people, and evey product supports and shares code with the others. It’s my Main Thing and I’m keeping it that way.

Yet when you’re first starting out, the distraction of multiple opportunities can appear to an outsider that you as a person are not thinking strategically, that you’re unfocused (and therefore uninvestable). It’s the opposite. At an early pre-startup stage, it’s important to scout around, to experiment and to do many small things so that you’re able to find what will become your main thing.

Things came full circle recently, and I met the person who’d given me the just do one thing advice. It was at an event where companies with similar business models to Makeshift (startup studios?) get together to share notes. We laughed, because we’d clearly both come to the conclusion that parallelism might be a very sensible way to build valuable startup businesses.

So, to update the principle:

Try many things to find the main thing, and once you do, keep the main thing the main thing.


If you’ve enjoyed this, please press “Recommend”, it’s a mini serendipity accelerator! Join my newsletter to be hear when I write.

Written by

I’m @stef on Twitter. Sketching with code and making things that give a leg up to the little guy. Cofounder of @makeshift. http://makeshift.io

 

Create Yours – An Evolving Manifesto!


Don’t hurry to finish; instead hurry to start.
Restart if you want, but just start.

Remove the pressure to get it right the first time, no one does.
Remove the pressure to start big. Start small. Take one step.

Recognize this is part of the journey, and the journey is all there is.

Life is not what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, life only exists right now.

Don’t make plans to (fill in the blank), when (fill in the blank).
Now is the only perfect time.

Create your definition of success.
Create your definition of failure.

Goals, plans, ideas, jobs, are all moving targets.
Accept that they may change or that you may change.

Something else may become more meaningful to you.
This is healthy. This is growth, not indecision, or being irresponsible.
Give yourself a chance to see where that new path may take you.

Pay attention to yourself; that’s right, yourself.
What brings you joy? What energizes you? What drains you? Create your days around that.

Create your space, physically and mentally.
This is not selfish, this is crucial; it’s the starting point to truly loving and helping others.

There is literally no one else in the world like you; so amplify that, don’t bury it or cover it up with someone else’s idea of what they think you should be.

If you don’t create your moments, they won’t be your moments, and it won’t be your life.

You have one shot at life, Create Yours.

Further Reading

You are missed

 — Something feels missing and you can’t put your finger on it? This is for you.

Written by

Prior: Google Creative Lab, ‘End Malaria’ contributor, Anomaly, Landor. Now: Collaborating and making my side projects and passions my full-time projects.

 

Some Productivity Hacks for a Better 2014


To start off the year on the right foot.

“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”
M. Scott Peck


Every year, during the holiday season, I think I’m not the only one reflecting on the year that’s ending, wishing I was a bit more productive in order to get a little more time to spend with my friends and loved ones, or simply get more things done.

So I thought it would be interesting to give you this lightweight list of 10 of the best productivity hacks I know and try to apply every day:


  1. Do not get sucked into unnecessary meetings.
    We all know that time is the most important asset in life. It is very tempting to meet as many people as possible for networking purposes but you risk to loose sight on what really needs to get done. Learn to prioritize and to choose what meetings to refuse. Spending more time on the most important meetings is one of the keys to success.
  2. Create to-do lists.
    Write down everything important that goes through your mind. Don’t believe you can remember everything. You can forget crucial elements that could have been translated into an enormous success. This only takes a few minutes a day and helps you understand what’s really important or not and create your game plan.
  3. Forget conventional wisdom if something else works better for you.
    Make your own rules and processes. You are the one who knows yourself the best. This has significantly increased my own productivity. You should try it.
  4. Delete emails without fear.
    And classify the rest as soon as you read them. You will save a lot of precious time.
  5. Simplify your information stream.
    Spend some time going through your twitter account, newsletter subscriptions etc…and edit aggressively. Think about what really matters and delete the rest. You can always go back if you really miss something.
  6. Put your phone/tablet away when you really need to get things done.
    Unless you are working on them of course. In this case, turn off notifications. This is one of the rules that work best for me.
  7. Don’t overestimate what you can achieve.
    It often leads to disappointment and bad time management. Every evening, think about the three most important things you need to get done the next day and prioritize accordingly.
  8. Choose and stick to a recreational activity.
    And make it a routine, preferably at the same time each day. Of course, going to the gym or a daily jog are great activities that will also keep you healthy but it can be anything: writing, arts, learning a new language…this will help you refocus and be more productive. The best ideas or solutions to problems often come up during those recreational moments.
  9. Work on one thing at a time.
    You may feel better about yourself and more productive while multitasking but avoid it as much as possible. Focus on one thing at a time and do it well. You will achieve much more that way.
  10. Outsource everything you can.
    Look into solutions like Fancy Hands for example. Focus your time on what really matters and delegate the rest.

and don’t forget :

Written by

Tech entrepreneur / Kilimanjaro climber / Enjoying life in crazy Moscow with @theshaginian

 

Everything You Say Will Speak to Someone


We are always looking for that new perspective

Everything you say will speak to somebody, somewhere. We are out there searching for love, for happiness, for the golden ticket that will take our worries away and grant us a life of pervasive pleasure, of smoothly-learned lessons, of constant self-improvement. We are always looking for that new perspective, the one that will make all the difference in the way we see and perceive the world. We are hanging on by a thread that somewhere there are a few short lines of rhetoric that, once we come in contact with them, will remove the struggles and the burdens and the dead ends and transform them into something that strengthens us rather than draining us.

Why do we read quotes from people whose lives were deemed “inspiring”? Why do we seek advice from the older and the wiser, the ones we think will know better, who have been here, who can shed a light on our path of darkness that we wouldn’t find without their help? Why do we read article after article of people’s arbitrary thoughts — their lists on how to live a better life and how to live a worse life and how to wake up and realize that you’re life as it is just might be better than you’ve been giving it credit for? We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t looking for something.

The thing about reading people’s thoughts, though, is that it isn’t actually arbitrary. It is relevant. It is close to home. Their experience from yesterday is something we will encounter days or weeks or years down the road. Or, at best, they may have gotten over something we are going through now. They see the light at the end of the tunnel while we are just beginning to realize that we have entered a tunnel, that there will be a lot of narrow space and darkness, that there is only one way out at the end of a long, recurrent road. They can help us. They can advise us. They can show us a new perspective, one that was not our own, but one that is better and that we can willingly take on. One that will make this easier, more rewarding in the end.

My favorite poem is The Road Not Taken. It’s the one you might remember from middle school english class. There are two roads. You can take one and not the other. It is implied that one of the two is the preferred route of many people and that the person in question decided to take the other, and that it made a big difference. Presumably a positive difference.

The other road. The #2 door. We all wonder from time to time what lies on the other side of it.

What if it is the same? What if the two roads connect at the end, overlap, leading ultimately to the same destination? You are standing there at the divergence where the one road ceases to be only one and becomes two alternate, mutually-exclusive journeys. You are standing there, at the precipice, and you are the same person regardless of which direction your next step favors.

You are a person of certain values, certain preferences, a set of experiences shared with you in their entirety by no other individual, and all of that combined is what brings you to this point in your life. You can choose one path or the other, but with every step along that path you will still be you, you will choose each step of your journey as it comes. Based on which road you selected, the view might be different. The location may change. The physical surroundings might vary depending on that one initial choice.

You will meet different people, naturally, as a product of where in the world you are. You will have different resources available to you. But the one calling the shots is still you. It’s not to say you don’t change throughout your journey, not to say that our experiences have no power to shape us and mold us and a little at a time alter us, but no matter how far you travel down that road you will still be the person who stood at the beginning of the journey. Hopeful. Scared. Waiting for the next thing.

We are all on that journey. Every morning when you wake up, you have two roads in front of you. Pick one. Keep walking. And do all the good that you can along the way, “for you shall not pass this way again.” Your words, once you form them, will speak to someone. Because everything you say will speak to someone.

Originally published on Thought Catalog.

Written by

Writer, Photographer, Occasional Microbiologist, and Iced Chai Connoisseur; Tell me things @ andoncsecz@gmail.com — Follow me @alexadondon

 

5 Behaviors to Win at Content Marketing Arms Races


Google Trends For “Content Marketing” July 2011- November 2013

Google Trends For “Content Marketing” July 2011- November 2013

Learn how to outsmart, rather than outspend, your competitors

I didn’t expect a simple blog comment to change my thinking about how to win at content marketing, but it did.

As I was catching up on my Internet reading, I found Chris Brogan’s “Stop Making Content Just to Make It.” Since I was swimming with content deliverables for multiple clients at that moment, I clicked. And read. And thought. And then I commented.

My comment lamented that industry practices run counter to Chris’ excellent advice. Increasingly, large marketing organizations are using simplistic content marketing measures like volume over meaningful measures like conversions. And customer helpfulness—that isn’t even in the discussion. What’s worse, the flawed strategies are inspiring similarly flawed responses from competitors, hence the arms race analogy.

I wasn’t alone in my feeling. Tema Frank (‏@temafrank) and Capital Ideas (@CapitalIdeasYEG) joined in. So I studied content marketing strategies further in search for a winning solution that avoids an arms race. Here’s what I learned.

Content Marketing as Arms Race

Arms races begin when rivals seek advantage from investing in a new “weapon,” or to drop the military-speak, “tactic.” The idea of divesting the tactic while your rival continues to invest would lead to inferiority and possible annihilation. The result: both rivals invest at levels that ensure neither side gains an advantage. This is what game theorists call the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.”

Content marketing fits this pattern for two reasons. Content Marketing drives down cost of sales. According to DemandMetric, Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and generates about 3 times as many leads. Second, competitive spend levels for online content creation, digital marketing and social media is increasing. Forbes reported on why 5 organizations increased spending on content marketing, but many other sources confirm the trend.

Whether content marketing escalation is good or bad is the wrong question. Game theorists confirm the behavior is rational as a way to avoid annihilation.

5 Behaviors That Will Help you Win at Content Marketing

So what is a savvy-marketer to do? Compete smarter. Here are five content marketing behaviors that are currently winning across the Internet:

  1. Set Meaningful Success Metrics — Keep your eye on corporate goals like revenue or new customer acquisition rather than dozens of content-marketing-focused key performance indicators.
  2. Understand your Audience — Knowing your audience makes it easier to focus creation efforts on meaningful, helpful and trust-building content. It also helps you invest wisely in qualified media buys.
  3. Help, Empathize and Listen — Success may start with content, but it grows from follow-up communications. Whenever possible, follow up with people who consume your content.
  4. Generate Content You Can Produce Well — Avoid the risk of undermining helpful content with poor production quality. Get good at writing, graphics and video production, if that’s what’s needed.
  5. Invest for Success — Content isn’t free. Invest wisely at levels to achieve objectives. Strive to meet business goals, execution quality and effective follow-up to avoid losing on budget size.

My thinking, and perhaps others’ thinking, is still evolving on this subject. Please add to discussion by adding your comments below.

Written by

Enterprise software and marketing start-up exec with a passion for strategy, content and automation. Turning innovation into predictable revenue since 1988.

Published November 26, 2013

 

To Feel Stupid is to Feel Inspired. A Thank You Note to Everyone Better Than Me


Cancer research sucks. Genetic engineering is an annoying black box and nothing ever works the first time.

Or the second time.

Or the third.

But I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

No one ever told me that trying to “save the world” would be easy. It’s filled with stress, frustration, and failure. Sometimes it feels like I’m drinking water from a fire hose and I’ve felt like quitting more times than I can remember, but the people I’ve met along the journey are the reason I’m still thirsty.

They’re just kids. A lot of them are even younger than I am. But they’re building fusion reactors, developing cancer therapeutics, and selling their tech companies for millions. Despite how different each of them are, they’ve all said the same thing about themselves:

“I don’t think I’m smarter than anyone else out there.”

The simultaneously best and worst feeling that comes with meeting someone “better” than you is the way you feel about yourself right afterwards.

It’s a complicated mixture of self-loathing and unbridled inspiration.

Here’s why you should only consider the latter.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”—Albert Einstein.

The people creating some of the world’s greatest innovations aren’t any different from everyone else, they’ve admitted that themselves.

They’re just hungrier.

They’re thinking bigger. There’s no such thing as “good enough”. They’re looking for moonshot ideas. They’re not satisfied with the way the world works and never will be.

The world’s greatest challenges are like a million-piece puzzle and the people doing amazing things are the ones insane enough to try to piece it together.

A (better than me) friend once said:

“Every hour I put into what I do is an hour that goes into making someone else’s life better.”

This isn’t a mindset unique to child prodigies or people with Ivy League educations. The only difference between wanting more and being more is doing more. There’s an inexplicable strength in the power of inspiration and the sudden desire to be as extraordinary as the person you just met.

You can’t do everything, but you can do anything.

The leaders of tomorrow are changing the world today, they’re doing it together, and everyone’s invited to join the movement.

Be warned:

There’s no satisfaction in always being hungry. There more you know; the more you’ll realize you don’t know. Nothing is ever good enough because there’s always one more thing that needs to be better. One more thing to help push the world forward with no guarantee of success. It’s the most awful, yet exhilarating, feeling in the world and it’s impossible to shake off.

I hate that I’m always hungry.

I hate that I want to learn anything and everything.

I hate that I want to make my own dent in the world.

I hate that I can’t see myself thinking any other way.

But I love the incredible people that made me this way.

The only things that matter in this world are the relationships you build with people and the amazing things you do together.

Maybe it’s better to be a small fish in a big pond after all.

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Keep it Small. Keep it Simple…


Let it Happen.

I woke up this morning thinking about change, creative consciousness, & something I’m not exactly sure I think of often enough, emergence. This morning’s thought pattern was not only in terms of my life, but in terms of the many projects I am currently involved with and even about one particular that has everything to do with building sustainable communities. I want to use my life as an example of how emergence can sometimes be blocked, change controlled, and creativity used more of as a buzzword than a set of actions or way of being. In building creative communities in sometimes difficult environments, emergence is the magical key that unlocks sustainability, and the right model is imperative to its formation and growth. Before I move on, here’s Andy Hunt with a few thoughts on the subject of emergence in models and systems…

Emergence is one of the founding principles of agility, and is the closest one to pure magic. Emergent properties aren’t designed or built in, they simply happen as a dynamic result of the rest of the system. “Emergence” comes from middle 17th century Latin in the sense of an “unforeseen occurrence.” You can’t plan for it or schedule it, but you can cultivate an environment where you can let it happen and benefit from it.

A classic example of emergence lies in the flocking behavior of birds. A computer simulation can use as few as three simple rules (along the lines of “don’t run into each other”) and suddenly you get very complex behavior as the flock wends and wafts its way gracefully through the sky, reforming around obstacles, and so on. None of this advanced behavior (such as reforming the same shape around an obstacle) is specified by the rules; it emerges from the dynamics of the system.

Simple rules, as with the birds simulation, lead to complex behavior. Complex rules, as with the tax law in most countries, lead to stupid behavior.

Many common software development practices have the unfortunate side effect of eliminating any chance for emergent behavior. Most attempts at optimization — tying something down very explicitly — reduces the breadth and scope of interactions and relationships, which is the very source of emergence. In the flocking birds example, as with a well-designed system, it’s the interactions and relationships that create the interesting behavior.

The harder we tighten things down, the less room there is for a creative, emergent solution. Whether it’s locking down requirements before they are well understood or prematurely optimizing code, or inventing complex navigation and workflow scenarios before letting end users play with the system, the result is the same: an overly complicated, stupid system instead of a clean, elegant system that harnesses emergence.

Keep it small. Keep it simple. Let it happen. —Andy Hunt, The Pragmatic Programmers

Photo by Mark Lehigh

Do we wait for unforeseen occurrence? Or, do we tie things down very explicitly in order to control outcome, circumstance, and behavior? How would a flock of birds do if we tried to control their flying pattern with over-complicated rules, without allowing emergence in their own individual patterns that result in an emergence of the flock? Poor birds, I say.

If we look with a mindful eye, we can catch ourselves (and others) blocking emergence, simply by projecting controlling behavior in the name of a predefined result. Even though we may have thought or knew the best way to an outcome, blocking emergence in these situations is simply what we are doing. If we are not allowing, letting go, and trusting that the desired outcome can come to its own conclusion, emergence, that special magic, cannot bubble up. This does not mean that we disown or remove ourselves completely, but it calls for taking much smaller steps, much quicker, in the most simple way possible — instead of trying to own the whole thing all at once.

All good things take time to form, to emerge, and to happen. No situation is the same. Everyone and everything is its own unique experience. By simply letting it happen we can use much less energy, emotion, & effort in working toward the desired outcome. We can use our skills & experience in smaller, more specific ways. We can learn how to apply simplicity to complex problems & situations by letting go, paying attention, and not being attached to the result. We can offer our advice, our help, our experience, our time, our skills, our resources, but we really cannot control outcome or result and expect it to look the way that we want it to.

Photo by BK

The art of letting go has as much meaning in our personal lives as it does in our professional lives. In community building, technology development, record albums, movie production, and startup projects around the world, I have seen that not letting go of the end result in the beginning can change the entire outcome all together, and very rarely with a more positive spin or value proposition. As people, we love to control, and everyone has a different life experience and thus their view of the end result is different. Managers are best at control, experts are great at agility, and creators (innovators and artists) are best at emergence. Managers try to control behavior, pattern, and result for a desired outcome. Experts, through their experience, have come to understand the value of agility and how to apply it by taking smaller steps and pacing themselves. Creators have found that emergence happens only in the absence of something. These three personas can be found in any community, any project, any relationship, and any walk of life.

When we have two or more people who see the same thing through shared experience or through compassion and humility or out of a desire to let it happen, great things surely will happen. Great communities are formed. Great products are built. Great companies are born. And, most importantly, great relationships are forged and flourish. Today’s lesson for me is to continue to detach myself from the result. To continue to keep things small (one step at a time). To continue to be agile and flexible as life moves and changes. And, to let things happen. This is, after all, how great things emerge.

We are surrounded by situations that we cannot control. Many of which we know could be done differently or even better. At home, at work, on projects or products or in companies…we are surrounded by the lack of control. However, how we influence them is dependent very much on our ability to let go. We know when to walk away from something, and sometime that is what it takes…to listen to ourselves. But when that something is not something we can or want to walk away from…a change in approach is necessary.

Use your energy wisely, the world needs it more than you think. Allow things to emerge. Allow users to experience. Let things happen.

Emergence:

Meaning #1: the gradual beginning or coming forth

Meaning #2: the becoming visible; the act of coming (or going) out; becoming apparent

Meaning #3: the act of emerging

Written by

Explorer, writer, backpacker, dad — also a bit startup-obsessed. Co-founder of @sproutcamp & creator at @thinq4yourself

 

How I let my startups kill my relationship


and how I will never let it happen again

I was lucky enough over a year ago to find the person I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. The relationship I developed with my partner from the day we met was the one thing that I thought I could rely on completely, without question. At the time we met, I was driven to succeed in my entrepreneurial ventures. I made some fundamental mistakes and lost the things that were actually most important to me.

At the time my partner and I met, I was growing a subsidiary for a tech company. It was a difficult time with lots of internal politics. Because our relationship was long-distance, the extra travel away from my team and away from the parent company meant frustration levels were always high. At the start of the year, the parent company entered financial trouble, my stress levels went through the roof. I double guessed every decision I had made and also blamed a lot on the relationship and the travel. When the parent company reached breaking point, offering me the opportunity to buy my subsidiary company and grow it autonomously (with the huge yoke of their own financial gain around my neck), my partner supported me wholeheartedly in my decision to decline. This forced me into unemployment. My self worth had been so intrinsically linked to my work, my achievements, that having nothing to work on for the first time in 13 years felt like the biggest failure. It was a time of major uncertainty and personal hardship. I hardly slept, I was frustrated and my anger found an outlet into our relationship that it shouldn’t have. I swore I wouldn’t do this to myself or us again.

My pride didn’t let me keep that promise.

I was determined to prove myself to everyone; previous employers, ex-colleagues, work partnerships and friends. I couldn’t let myself stay idle or jobless or unemployed. I felt that my worth could only be proved through being successful. Only, I saw my worth through what I believed others were thinking. I needed to have a successful, new project, a title behind my name. So I jumped into a project, took it over entirely. As can be in the very early stages of a startup, I worked through days and nights — at one stage, I hadn’t left my desk for 2 weeks and even moved it into my bedroom so that I wouldn’t waste any time between sleeping and waking. I became obsessed with seeing this new project flourish and be successful. I stopped taking the time to enjoy communicating with my partner. I stopped investing even a small percent of my energy into the relationship. He emphasized his concern, but wanted to support my dreams and was too busy growing his own startup to actually pull me up. I couldn’t see anything through my tunnel vision except my need for making this project succeed. I was almost hospitalized at one stage for stress, but convinced my doctor that I only needed to put in one more week’s work like this, and then I would be through to the next stage and could take it easier. I have always been good at selling a point- I almost had myself convinced.

A week later, another transatlantic flight. I was closer to investors and my partner again, but introduced to a whole new level of stress as, to secure some of the deals we needed, my startup was moving at break-neck speed and far above my comfort level. Bit by bit, I started committing one of my biggest mistakes: I overstepped the boundaries of life and work within our relationship. I stopped being able to truly separate my work from us, dragging my extremely talented partner into my work. I started demanding his support. Not only did he have to feel responsible for being there for me, I also demanded his time to help me get my projects out the door: design work, programming, proof-reading. He became my first unpaid, full-time employee. Only, he actually had a full-time, paying job and was concurrently trying to support our relationship. A week ago, he had simply had enough. It shocked me to the core. Within my little success-blinkered tunnel, I had basically put my relationship on my payroll. I had taken it for granted as the stable point in my life, without investing enough into it. I had crossed so many boundaries between work and love and, because there was so much love there, my partner had tried his best to support that. And I lost him.

Only after this occurred was I forced to reassess my motives and their consequences. I realized that I had lost sight of what the most important things were in my life, my relationship and my health. I had sacrificed them for an ideal that I had in my head of what my worth was based on. As a result, I had lost what was dear to me. I know that I could take this time now to bury myself in work, to become that successful, titled person I was striving to be, but I am starting to see that it is far too great a sacrifice. When I think about the things I like about myself, my real self-worth, my drive and passion are certainly there, but the actual work I do is not part of what makes me the person I am.

So I made the decision to turn my back on my pride and my ego, on seeing myself through my perception of other people’s ideals regarding what success should be. I walked away from everything I built. Instead, I started focusing on building myself again. And maybe sometime I will work on my own project again and maybe that will be a startup. But I will do things for the right motives and will ensure that I am investing as much into my personal relationships as I am into my work. I will be careful to see where the boundaries are and should be, and to not cross them. I will never again take something so precious to me for granted. No job, no accolade, no ideal is worth that.

Written by

writer; life-explorer; serial laugher

Published December 28, 2013