Too Rushed To Know Where We’re Going


Job descriptions often call for individuals possessing a “strong bias for action”. Businesses almost always need more execution-focused employees.

So it is natural that we shape the way we talk and interact with co-workers according to this ideal.  One way we portray ourselves as driven by an urgency to act is to speak in simple and punchy generalizations that help summarize massive amounts of information and make it look as though the path forward, what should be done in response to the information, was almost obvious.

Sometimes the path forward is clear, but not always. At least once a year, if not once a quarter, we need to practice the discipline of self-doubt, questioning, putting it all on the table. Deconstruction is one of the most constructive things I do personally and professionally. 

Our company culture asks us to move quickly, especially during difficult times, but we also tend to make hasty generalizations and decisions simply because we’re sitting in a meeting full of puzzled looks and someone has to step forward and cast a vision for the road ahead.

And that vision usually starts with some pretty big assertions about the company, competition and the market context:

“We’re the kind of company that…and not the kind that…”
“X is what we do best, we have to stick to X…”
“Our competition is doing A, but we have to do B better and more efficiently”

But because they are so far-reaching and simple, generalizations can cover much more important and complex internal and external environmental factors that should be factored into our strategy.

It’s important we’ve thought deeply about those generalizations ahead of time and in great detail. Yes, we have to speak concisely and make blanket statements. But had better do our homework beforehand.

That’s where deconstruction comes into play.  Not everyone has the patience for it, but good leaders must thrive off of it.  The only way to refresh your strategy is to have the ability to pull it apart and see it for what it is. Without maintenance, the machine becomes obsolete, fragmented, confused and falls apart.

Action determines whether we move forward, but strategy determines where we’ll end up. So which is more urgent?

Yes, Philosophy is Practical.


The single most common question I get about my choice to study Philosophy is whether it is practical: “What do you do with that?”

My answer is – EVERYTHING.

Philosophy is a tool, but more than that, it is a more deliberate and deliberative way of using other mental faculties.

What exactly does Philosophy offer us?

  • Philosophy guides, organizes and disciplines our curiosity
  • Philosophy prompts us to ask about the nature of our world and how things work
  • Philosophy exposes our subjective bias and protects us from making hasty decisions
  • Philosophy helps us become more virtuous people (we need all the help we can get)
  • Philosophy trains us to constantly ask, “How could I approach this differently and do it better?”

With such obvious benefits, how could we not all choose to pursue Philosophy at some level?

Yes, there are those who think that perpetually playing the devil’s advocate and making snarky remarks is what philosophy is really about. There is no love of wisdom in that.

Real philosophy gets stuff done.

Pace Yourself for the New Year


The difference between patience and indifference is that patience never loses sight of its goal and never stops taking steps, however small, towards a goal.

Remaining committed and patient in the face of limitations and complications is actually liberating and invigorating. The grim light in which virtue often cast is simply the negative propaganda of people scared to take risks, to struggle, to have to fight for long-term gratification, to fail, to be let down, and to experience the inevitable penetrating self-doubt that follows.

In the new year, make ambitious and honorable goals.  But more importantly, make your immediate goal to establish a healthy but relentless pace. Failure is not typically due to lack of goals or ambition, but lack of patience with the mundane steps one must take along the way. There’s simply no attractive way to sell this reality.

Happy New Year!

I took this photo of Mt Baker in Washington, Aug 2010.

Curve Balls


Curve Ball
I always hated curve balls. I think this was primarily because I didn’t want to break out of the comfort zone of my particular habits, stance and swing, which worked wonders on fast balls, sliders, split fingers, and the rest.

You’re forced to focus and adapt quickly to respond to the precise movements of the ball as it hisses towards you.  There is this dizzy sensation the moment you realize the ball is moving in an unexpected and deceptive direction; it’s almost hypnotizing.

It was because of my dislike for the curve ball that I stopped developing my skill as a baseball player.  I struggled through the end of my sixth year playing and then quit.  Now I can be a little more understanding of my younger self. I was 13 and short for my age, forced to advance to the 16+ league, so I definitely had the odds stacked against me.

Even so, that unfortunate lesson stuck with me. I couldn’t be proud of shrinking back from a daunting challenge.

No matter how many times you’ve seen them, curve balls look a little unique every time.  An unexpected budget cut, a project for which you lack essential skills, an aggressive up-and-coming competitor, or a seemingly unattainable goal imposed by senior management.  With each curve ball, there’s the terrible feeling of the unfamiliar, the unknown.

But after a while you gain a paradoxical confidence that is able to exist alongside the feeling of unpreparedness and anxiety.  Thanks to the great example of many leaders, friends and family in my life, I’ve gradually changed my perspective.  I can now welcome curve balls because they break my mental habits of maintaining the status quo, contradict my inflated sense of expertise, and challenge me to take risks. 

When you approach the plate eager for a new challenge, I think there comes a really healthy sense of pride.  This attitude is good for career development, but really, it’s also practice for life, for virtue and for conquering the deeper personal challenges we all face, both externally and internally.  That’s something to take pride in.

So next time you see an over-eager, slightly hubris-driven achiever leaping at a chance to be thrown in the middle of a project for which they are obviously under-qualified, don’t simply write him or her off as mere opportunists looking to advance their career.  Chances are, they’d love it if you jumped in with them.  You’ll be glad you did.

Living the Ethos of Customer Experience


I design user interfaces & workflows, communications, perform marketing analysis, and I work on developing brand identity.  It is easy to get disconnected from your customers when you’re interacting over a virtual medium of a website.

And when I ask friends in my field questions about the specific pain points, desires & needs of their customers (as they relate to the website), I almost always get a blank stare.  So it appears I am not alone in seeing the potential disconnect.

So, through mistakes and successes, I’ve jotted down a few things I’ve learned about the ethos of customer experience management:

  • Get Your Hands Dirty with Deep Customer Analysis – Without acute segment analysis, you might not even notice you have a customer retention issue. The inflow of new customer revenue sometimes covers up the loss of revenue from recently departed veteran customers.
  • Welcome Feedback – Provide ongoing platforms for direct customer feedback within your inbound channels of communication. Encourage honest feedback and continually reiterate and demonstrate a commitment to acting on customer feedback.  It builds trust, reduces customer frustration and feelings of alienation, demonstrates transparency and seriously contains issues from exploding into PR disasters so you don’t need to worry about reputation management on communication channels over which you have very little control.
  • Initiate One-to-One Contact  – Marketers shouldn’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk to individual customers.   To improve customer retention, throwing out blanket apology emails can help, surveys can help, offering refunds through customer service channels can help, but it means a lot more to customers when marketers and other managers of customer experience proactively contact them with the express purpose of fixing their pain.
  • Create a Culture of Perpetually Re-evaluating Customer Experience – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the antithesis of a customer-centric mindset.  There is always room for improvement in customer experience, so build a culture of ongoing revision and enhancement.  You’ll do a much better job of preempting customer service, satisfaction & retention issues. Rain or shine, evaluate retention.  Just because customers stopped complaining doesn’t mean the problem is fixed – it might mean they’ve given up and left already.

Business Leadership: The Art of Thinking Big & Acting Small


Many people are technically proficient in performing a skill.  There are just as many who easily grasp that skill’s strategic value and tactical purpose.

But you rarely meet both traits in the same person. 

When you do, it’s usually someone doing a curiously excellent job in their work area.  Learn to imitate the intellectual veracity and discipline for execution you observed.  From personal experience, it is easy to imitate one trait; painful to imitate both, but good for you.

It is good for you because it forces you to make better decisions.  Strategists err by not knowing how to actually get the job done; technicians err by not understanding the broader context and long-term implications of their work, so they don’t learn how to do excellently.

Business leaders, responsible for strategic direction, also need to be able to execute, perhaps as well as anyone beneath them.  It’s true that no one can do everything, but everyone can maintain a practice of constantly specializing in at least one skill area.

Imitating good examples keeps you sharp, but it also keeps you humble.  Nothing reminds me how much room for growth I have like trying to be well-rounded.  Leaders get lazy and sometimes become full of themselves when they have others below them to do their bidding.  Getting your hands dirty and honing a technical skill reminds you how much you depend on others to get the job done.

Mastering the art of balancing both conceptual and technical excellence doesn’t make you a good leader, but, stay honest, and it is fairly likely you’ll become one.  Think big, act small, and it’s difficult to avoid becoming an effective business leader.