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Failures of Kindness

Failures of Kindness

The inimitable George Saunders delivering words of wisdom and provocation at Syracuse’s 2013 commencement:

“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”

Man. For some reason that gives me goose bumps.

Read the whole thing and feel something new — perhaps. 

 

 

 

You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office. https://t.co/UbQZqubXZv

I have decided to leave the LA Weekly. It was a great experience and I was lucky to work with such talented and dedicated people. Thanks for reading the column.

Never underestimate the power of a worker with a conscience. https://t.co/Tjmu3qX93d

Ss @WesttownSchool continued exploration of physical computing & circuits w/ @littleBits .

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How many Ss can we add and still complete a circuit? @WesttownSchool #MakeyMakey #Makerspace

Massive engagement underway with the @NIH to help deepen our understanding of the nervous system. https://t.co/rHCtjsexCu

Excited to join the @ComcastVentures team and invest all stages while continuing to do seed-stage investing through @genacast https://t.co/r1wdsHdwBw

Calling all creatives! We are looking for designers across identity, web and app design https://t.co/xn62Z3Jt2P

I am a Witch. And I will hunt wrongdoers. In Hollywood, in government, in business. Stop hurting us or there will be consequence. #ROSEARMY

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How Do You Get From Point A To Point B?

Do we really know the best way forward? Are their innate — subconscious — forces deciding for us? Most definitely. The key is to be aware of them so you can jump the hell over or through them.

Here’s Paul Coelho putting it succinctly.

I Just Got ‘Warm Transferred’. It’s A Southern Thing.

I Just Got ‘Warm Transferred’. It’s A Southern Thing.

I dig language. I dig analyzing human interaction. And I dig marketing. That actually means every interaction with every business is like a moment in the lab for me.

So I hit a triple play today when I was on the phone with a State Farm customer service rep. The rep told me she wanted to get me to speak to someone from my state. She said: “Let me warm transfer you to someone in PA.”

Dingdingdingding.

My prefrontal cortex woke up with a jolt. I have honestly never heard this before.

I knew of course what it meant: to be transferred to another agent with a live agent-to-agent hand off. Of course there should be a word for that!

Shouldn’t all transfers be ‘warm’?

This is customer service gold. Use it — do it! — and your customers will be delighted.

So at the end of the call, when she asked me if I had any other questions, I checked in with her: “Did you say ‘warm transfer’?

Yes, she said bemusedly. She then politely explained what it meant and added: “It’s a Southern thing, I guess.”

Well, that makes it twice as nice.

 

We Need (And Already Have) Better Economic Indicators

Today, I asked Kathleen, my sensible dental hygienist, how the “dentist business” was going.

I honestly didn’t expect the answer I got — I assumed that folks’ teeth would be one of those “recession proof” things. At least regular check ups and cleanings.

Not the case: “It’s been different… worst recession I can remember,” she said.

According to her, my region’s dentists and their office staff are reporting “not even getting their co-pays”.

That’s not good — and for a multitude of obvious reasons — but here’s a different way to think of it:

For all the official economic stats out there, and specifically the “leading economic indicators“, those stats like the “Average weekly jobless claims for unemployment insurance” and the “The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index” that supposedly represent the trajectory of the economy, there’s probably not one that is as straight forward and tangible as the nascent one implied by my anecdote: are the folks in your town skimping on basic health maintenance?

I think it’s fair to say that it might be time to think about changing that phrase, “All politics is local”, to “All economics Is local”.

If we want folks to understand the state of the economy, why start with national, abstract measurements? Why not anchor it to the folks in your town?

Actually, I’ve been meaning to write about this concept for a while… Way back in 2009, I noticed that when I went to the bank I’d see a lot more people than normal with their change baskets at the counting machines — dumping change, waiting patiently, dumping more, waiting and then finally taking the paper print out to the counter.

I had the fleeting thought back then that it would be really interesting to see the data regarding the usage of those machines?

My thesis: you could gauge the anxiety or budget stress families were having in a region by measuring the frequency and volume of change redemption across banks.

Who ever thought the change in the couch could give you so much insight?

 

 

 

 

Tim Burton’s Mom, the Key to Artistic Genius and What’s Wrong with America

Tim Burton — you know, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman — well, there’s a great article on NYTimes.com — Tim Burton, at Home in His Own Head — that synthesizes, via a simple anecdote, a few key subjects I’m interested in:

  • Creativity
  • Child development
  • U.S. culture
  • Innovation

Tim Burton:

“If you look at children’s drawings, they’re all great. And then at a certain point, even when they’re about 7 or 8 or 9, they go, “Oh, I can’t draw.” Well, yes, you can. I went through that same thing, even when I started to go to CalArts, and a couple of teachers said: “Don’t worry about it. If you like to draw, just draw.” And that just liberated me. My mother wasn’t an artist, but she made these weird owls out of pine cones, or cat needlepoint things. There’s an outlet for everyone, you know?”

Thank you Tim Burton for making a few things prophetically clear:

  1. Don’t limit yourself. Do new stuff. Even if it’s ‘weird’ or not your typical thing. Your life depends on it.
  2. Kids do best when they get to follow their instincts.
  3. A culture that compulsively values (demands!) grandiose perfection — Lady Gaga or bust — is headed towards irrelevance.
  4. Innovation stems from having freedom to roam and having the freedom to produce “mediocre” stuff.

When my kids (5 and 3) say “I’m going to be an artist when I grow up!” I say proudly: “Well, that would be the finest thing one could ever be.”

To be clear: it’s not that I envision them in an art gallery or behind a drum kit. It’s not the profession that I care about — it’s the mindset… the mindset that looks through boundaries — or doesn’t even see them at all.

So, let’s make some weird owls out of pine cones, shall we?

Follow Tim on Twitter.

 

 

RIP Hillman Curtis

RIP Hillman Curtis

If you’ve ever gotten to the bottom of my blog you’d have seen this quote:

“Find the theme, communicate it clearly, honor consistency, eat the audience.”

That’s Hillman Curtis.

 

He was inspirational. He’ll continue to be.

On the Factors Which Define A Good Cup of Coffee

I’m not really a coffee aficionado—dare I say the word “addict”—but I do think there are some basic things that you HAVE TO DO to fully enjoy the cup that you have. The one right there in front of you. The one that you’re drinking!

1. Take the lid off

Coffee is meant to be smelled first and then drunk. So please take off the plastic lid.

2. Drink it out of ceramic

Paper? Ugh. Plastic? Ugh and dangerous. Heating plastics is just not good for your health. Ceramic is just built to pour coffee and leave not weird aftertaste or textural sensation.

3. Don’t you dare put cream and sugar in there!

Black is best in this case. If you’re going to drink coffee, then drink coffee. If you want a cookie or a bowl of ice cream then eat a cookie or a bowl of ice cream.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s good to point out that October 10th, somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic region of United States is probably the best time to drink a cup of coffee.

Happy Monday folks.

Some Awesome Steve Jobs Quotes

Ok, so there are a lot of things about Steve that are great, but here are a few quotes that really resonate with me (all from the WSJ):

“We weren’t going to go out and do market research.”

It’s just liberating to know that you don’t have to focus group everything–or even listen to your audience! Sometimes you just know what to do–your instinct just hollers at you loud and clear. At that point you’d just better do what it says. I often think that it’s our instincts that really make us who we are–our judgement–and we have to hold on to that like gold.

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

 Amen, brother. Diversity of experience is the key to creative problem solving. Creativity or bust! It’s so refreshing to meet people who have had a wide variety of jobs.

“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”

No explanation necessary.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

This is probably my most favorite. Actually, there’s an ending here that’s not part of the quote. This is from a Standford commencement speech by the way. He ends by referencing the last issue of the Whole Earth catalog. On the back cover it said: “Stay hungry, Stay foolish.” Words to live by.

Do You Prefer Knowing or Thinking?

If this excerpt rankles you then read the whole darn thing.

We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort. Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward. Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information, usually personal information. Where are you going? What are you doing? Whom are you seeing? These are today’s big questions.

It’s from Neal Gabler, senior fellow at the Annenberg Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California.

UPDATE

Loves all these comments!

Four Marketing Principles I Learned From My Kids

Having kids is like being on Jeopardy for, like, 20 years: they give you the answers, you just have to figure out the questions they’re asking!

And they’ve taught me a lot about marketing. Here’s their insight:

Positioning matters. Ask a 4 year old girl if she wants a pony tail = no! Ask the same girl if she wants ‘super-high, flowing pony hair’ and you’ve got a pretty excited kid standing in line at your feet.

Make it special–novelty matters. If you’re having trouble feeding your kids the same ol’ thing just try cutting things into funky shapes. I keep cookie cutters handy–makes turning a pedestrian pancake into a butterfly easy. All of a sudden they wanna get some. With marketing, every so often, just change course. Keeps clients and prospects on their toes.

Slow down–be sincere. Ever try to read a book on fast forward? My kids called me out on that on the quick. It really made me think: life is about the here and now–if you’re not gonna do it right, don’t do it at all. Your audience isn’t schooled in your products like you are, so slow down a bit–let folks d i g e s t…

Too many choices is counter productive. Kids love choices–and if you stay disciplined, you can get your kids to do a lot of things if you avoid overdoing it. Same with clients, colleagues, direct reports. A or B? that’s a 15-minute decision. A, B, C, Ca, T, R or Z? That’s a black hole.

Get the core stuff right and nothing else matters. Kids love constant change–but they really just want you to love them in a straight-forward and consistent way. Your clients and prospects too: give them something really good and be consistent. Everything else is distracting and confusing.

 

Walk the Alleys–Gain New Perspective

Walk the Alleys–Gain New Perspective

I live in semi-urbia. A big town. A very small city.

Here’s one of the things I love to do: Walk the alleys.

Here’s why: you get to see some interesting stuff.

For example, here’s a little spontaneous micro-landscape design in a veritable pot (really the end of a dormant pipe). Nature’s work is genius… you just have to keep you’re eyes open.

 

Or how about this crazy paint job. Seriously, can you imagine watching this person flub this project?

 

Or this plane crash. Shot with Instagram, but without the retro look, it was a pretty wild find.

 

Or this cat.

 

So next time you’re walkin’ the streets–take the alleys and find something new.