My Career, Sans Ladder

October 08, 2006

The future of business?

The manager of the future is going to do actual work. Single skills just won't hack it much longer.

Agreed...makes me nervous, excited, and generally indecisive.

September 10, 2006

Practicing Practice

Ever since moving into an apartment right next to a basketball hoop I've been a little obsessed with improving my jumpshot. It's gotten to the point where I almost enjoy practicing more than playing in actual games (maybe cause my bum ankle doesn't come into play as much just shooting around)...I've really tried to embrace the simple pleasures of shooting - the flick of the wrist, the sound of the net, the feeling of the ball on your finger tips. So far results have been positive, setting up a nice feedback loop - the more I practice, the better I get. The better I get, the more I want to stay that way, which leads back to more practice and wanting to practice more effectively/efficiently.

In reading this post on Kottke on creating talent there are multiple interesting points raised on the purpose and expectations around practice:

Expert performers -- whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming -- are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect.

Deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task...Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

The immediate feedback is something that basketball lends itself to - you know instantly if your technique is working or not. However, it hasn't been as easy to focus on technique as I find it hard to watch/feel my form improving/degrading. I also haven't done a very good job of baselining my performance - early on my shot was so bad it was easy to tell if more jumpers were dropping, but lately I seem to focus more on the misses than the makes so it's getting harder to tell if my overall percentage is improving.

Not sure where else I wanted to take this, except for that this is the first time I've ever really noticed enjoying practice. I've enjoyed learning new things in the past, but this is different. And I like it...and I want to keep it up.

Other miscellany thoughts pulled from the comments on the above thread:

I believe you can get good at anything by working at it. But not world-class good. Sometimes you have to just get lucky at the genetic level.

Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Practice doesn't make perfect: Practice makes permanent. You can learn bad habits as well as good ones.

This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was.

So as I see it, the less effort it costs you to achieve a particular goal, the more talent you have.

Where I don't want to be in 7 years


September 09, 2006

Why I eventually want to work at/create a startup

So I can spend more time thinking about stuff like this.

It just seems that when you're working with a small team it's more important to step back at contemplate the big picture instead of getting lost in all the details - which I happen to be having an issue with lately - too many details, not enough thinking.

I'm really stuck on dealing with the importantance of attention to detail - having a very hard time moving between the big and small and mostly just doing a crappy job of dealing with both.

Right after I finished this rant, what do I go and do?? Leave a comment on Biz's site about how Twitter's success lies in getting people to share what matters.

September 02, 2006

Relaxing vs. Climbing the ladder

From Niniane's blog:

It is surprising how many of our classmates turned their back on the fields they studied at Caltech. Imagine it: you work passionately throughout your teen years, culminating in four years of rigorous study at Caltech. You put in long hours to get a degree from one of the highest ranked science and engineering universities.

Then you turn your back on it, to pursue a life that takes no advantage of those talents.

As far as I can tell, all these people are very happy.

She ends with a quote about how power in a relationship is given to whoever needs less, but career wise I would say what these people need is something different, not less. One path isn't necessarily more valuable then the next, it just all depends on the individual.

July 10, 2006

Dear CEO

Came across a nice piece in Worthwhile Mag, Dear CEO:

Many of my peers are seeking out jobs where they can be challenged to grow. What they are receiving instead is the challenge of having more to do – a growing workload made up of mundane tasks.

As a CEO, I urge you to understand this: Twentysomethings are not afraid to work...But we are not interested in giving our heart and soul to an organization unless there is something in it for our heart and soul.

And here's the author's blog.

May 03, 2006

Beyond the summary - thoughts & observations from startup school

Rather than rewrite summaries of the presentations I saw (which are covered nicely here) figured I'd try to take a step back and look at the weekend as a whole. What was the overall message of startup school?

Just because startup costs are lower than ever that doesn't mean it's any easier to start "a business". You still have to have a well-timed and well-executed idea - and even then, there's still going to be lots of change, near disasters, near successes, and just a lot of unexpected surprises along the way.

The most important thing when building a web company is users....obsess about making them happy, because the second they're not happy, they're gone. Happy <> giving them everything they want all at once - it means making it clear to them what your doing, and then consistently making progress on that promise. Listen to your users as many ways as possible - thru metrics, usability testing, chat rooms, blogs, etc...

When trying to get users - speed matters: page load times, days between your last blog post, frequency of updates made to your site, handling any errors.

Everything you do in the early days is marketing...features offered (and not offered), how you communicate to users, who you commnunicate to, how you respond to feedback.

Everyone, no matter how interested they are in building a startup, wants to work at Google, end of story. Chris Sacca's talk was one big commercial for Google (unlike all the other presentations) but everyone was drooling to work for GOOG by the end of it...except me :)

The world is indeed flat, but location still matters. Even though outsoucing is playing a bigger role in the smallest of companies, founders hacking in the same room is still something that can't easily be replicated.

The children are our future...unfortunately, 95% of them are male. Lots of < 25 yr olds in the audience, but hardly any women - even though the ratio of male to female speakers was 70/30-ish.

More quotes from the speakers:

"Commitment is a self fulfilling prophecy...determination, not intelligence is the number one key to success." - Paul Graham

"Enron happened, WorldCom happened, happened" - Om Malik

"People will come up with ingenious ways to be annoying" - Josh from

Still have plenty more notes, but I'd love to hear some feedback before I go any further...did any of you find this blog thru Sphere?

April 30, 2006

I went back to school

Only for a day, but was a pretty good day. Here's a collection of related links until I have a full post ready (took lots of notes which will hopefully lead to a lot of ideas).

General links:
Startup School Main Site
Scheduled Speakers

What is Y Combinator?

From the conference:
Tim O'Reilly's talk: How to think about the future
Paul Graham's (word for word) talk
Collection of notes from the other speakers

And for now, here are some notable quotes from the day:

"You make what you can measure" - Joe Kraus
"Find a parade and get in front on it" - Tim O' Reilly
"In a startup there's always a disaster happening" - Paul Graham
"I view money as an errand to get out of the way quickly" - PG
"Foo up fast" - Caterina Fake
"Don't hamster me" - Caterina Fake
"The, it's alright" - Caterina talking about Flickr
"If your product can change a user's behavior you got yourself a winner" - Om Malik

Lastly, my Flickr pics from Startup School.

More soon!

April 16, 2006

Jump already!

Turns out Scott Adams (Dilbert creator) writes a pretty decent blog. In particular, I liked his "Pleasure Unit Theory":

People organize their lives to get their minimum required units of pleasure. While individuals vary in terms of how many units of pleasure they need, everyone is striving to reach their personal minimum.

I think it helps explain the whole blogging/blog reading thing...if I've had a crappy day at work, then I know I can come home, read thru my favorite blogs and get a minumum amount of pleasure in for the day. The problem is when the "striving to get the minimum" becomes a habit, even when you're ready to do a bit more work to get to that next level of pleasure. Like electrons, it's not a linear increase to get to that next energy (or pleasure) level, instead it takes a big leap, and sometimes when you can't see what's on the other side you're content to stay where you're at.

Well here's a reminder...don't be afraid to jump!

Related: Seth Godin's "Understanding the Local Max"

Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.

That quote is from Lily Tomlin, found in a post from A Clear Eye For Branding's blog.

I love how the author calls BS on Forbes magazine and there top 10 list of how to reduce stress. Basically, rather than sleeping more and getting a massage the best way to reduce stress is to figure out what's causing it in the first place...

Do you not like your job? Is it unclear how you provide value? Are you lying to yourself, your customers, your loved ones? Do you have control over your current situation?

March 19, 2006

How to work smarter

This article on how to Program Yourself caught me a bit by surprise (in a good way). Although most of it's content is geared toward programmers, I think it can apply to just about anyone who's looking to work smarter.

The author discusses how less smart people go about doing their job:
They rarely do any "meta-thinking", instead they focus on the base level of how to get things done without stepping out and thinking about the plan or work itself, and it's place in the grander scheme of things.

Boy, did that ever hit home. Trying to break out of the less smart group, I've been wondering at what point can I start to do more "meta-thinking"? It seems like I constantly get hung up at the base level and I'm not sure how to get past only solution so far is to continue to try and get really good at the basics and then take a step back when the opportunity presents itself (which is another post entirely - what happens if the environment you're in isn't big-picture friendly, ie - lots of fire drills, ad-hoc requests, etc).

Other highlights from the article include:
I find that smart people are always wondering why they're doing what they're doing, and they always have a good grasp on the size, scope, goals, and direction of their efforts.

Unsmart people not only haven't ever thought about these things, they're usually quite surprised, if not openly hostile, about being asked. They evidently think of themselves as cogs in a machine, one that's being piloted by someone else.

Alright...I'm gonna go try and fight the good fight and hopefully overcome this lack of "thinking while working". Wish me luck!

Too late for New Years Resolutions?

via a post from Gumption, about living without attachments
Highlights of Steve's talk included his encouragement to establish a one-word New Year's theme rather than more elaborate resolutions (e.g., his last three themes, in chronological order, have been "flexibility", "platform" and "impact").

So, what's your theme?

Mine? I couldn't pick just one word, so here's the first few that came to mind: Engage, Focus, Purpose, Think, Control....Gonna be a busy year ;)

March 12, 2006

Do you have a personal annual report?

See the full report.

Some career thoughts from Malcom Gladwell

via a Bill Simmons interview:

I really love writing, in a totally uncomplicated way. I'm happy writing anywhere and under any circumstances and in fact I'm now to the point where I'm suspicious of people who don't love what they do in the same way.

it's really risky to work hard, because then if you fail you can no longer say that you failed because you didn't work hard. It's a form of self-protection. To me, this is what Peyton Manning's problem is. He has the work habits and dedication and obsessiveness of Jordan and Tiger Woods. But he can't deal with the accompanying preparation anxiety. The Manning face is the look of someone who has just faced up to a sobering fact: I am in complete control of this offense. I prepare for games like no other quarterback in the NFL. I am in the best shape of my life. I have done everything I can to succeed -- and I'm losing.

I think I'm currently dealing with this whole "self-protection" thing right now. Previously when work got too difficult I was able to hide a bit due to some of the co-workers around me (and also the general inefficiency that is big-company life).

This time around I'm trying to face any problems head-on, and so far it's lead to a good amount of me looking (and feeling) like a complete idiot (luckily only to a select group of people). I haven't felt this stupid since college but I've decided that I'm just going to try and fight thru it until I either figure things out or re-position myself in a job that more naturally fits my strengths - which I'm still working on understanding

Conclusions are based in time

From an interview with Demetri Martin:

We live in time. So any definition of success is bound up with time. With other things you can say, “Can I yo-yo? Can I juggle?” Usually you have a pretty small window in which to get your answer....the question is - “Will I enjoy this?” Because by enjoying it enough, now I have a nice big window. You can suspend judgment and make that hole very big. If I make my window ten days for stand-up, the conclusion is that I failed and that I’m not good at stand-up. If I make it ten years—if I just wait—the conclusion might be something totally different.

Can all careers have flow?

After reading an article in Fast Company about the Art of Work I got to wondering if all careers had flow-potential. All sorts of people, from athletes to computer hackers have talked about being "in the zone" but can the same be said for marketing analysts, tax advisors, etc...

The answer depends on a few things:
1) Is your job autotelic (defn: the activity is it's own reward).
2) Do you have clear goals and a reasonable expectation of completing the task at hand?
3) Must have the ability to concentrate (and not be distracted), receive regular feedback, and oh yeah - actually possess the skills needed for that particular type of work.

on a somewhat related note - here's Pharell Williams working in the studio...definitely feeling the flow. (ps - anyone know the name of the song??)

January 28, 2006

Learning is fundamental

Just a quick note for myself on an emerging trend - the changing role of games as tools for productivity and learning.

If character development, and a bit of visual gloss can make repetitive and possibly mundane activities into an addiction, then I have the perfect application for it: the world of productivity porn...

I've never had a problem creating to-do biggest problem is to stop procrastinating and actually do the to-dos. What I need is an incentive!

So, clearly, what I need is a specialized app, where each task can be assigned a certain number of experience points. Maybe if I, say, replace the furnace air filter, I get a chance at a certain amount of gold or silver. Next, this app checks in with a server and ranks me against other users. What? That guy I work with is level 20 already? I've gotta go mow the lawn, that's worth 500 XP!

Told you it was a great idea. Not only am I getting crap done, but I'm WINNING.

Using games for learning isn't a new idea at all, but there seems to be some important new twists...First, these games are technology (and network) based - meaning that the games are coming in new/different forms and that there's an infinitely large range of competition.

ps: whoever is behind Nintendo's corporate strategy is a friggin' genius (or as the japanese might say...geenusisu)

December 02, 2005

Found elsewhere

Since I haven't dedicated much time to writing my own stuff lately I figured I'd fall back on a trusted cheat to getting a new post out...blockquotes!

From a cool (new to me) blog called Eyeteeh:

"I've been thinking about the role of art in society...keep coming back to a conversation that says, basically, because art doesn't compute, because it doesn't fit into a progress-oriented, Cartesian mindset, it has value.

That is, one of art's values is to simply be a rare alternative to achievement, forward motion, and strict logic."

That's it? Art's valuable because it's not linear, an alternative to achievment? Maybe it's because I've been a frequent visitor of downtown Chicago (great collection of public art throughout the city) but I feel like there can be so much more to art than simply being "an empty space with no function."

Maybe it's a given that art can be used for much more - to inspire, to make us wonder (in both good and bad ways...iron sun thing near the lake in Milwaukee, I'm looking in your direction), to appreciate beauty/greatness/mastery, etc...Either way, any space that allows one to be "in the moment" more often is a good one IMO.

ps: check out this other cool post from Paul @ Eyeteeh.

pps: what's any of this have to do with careers?? I don't know ;) Just a reminder that when there's a lot of work to be done to try and step back and evaluate the big picture every now and then...or something like that.

November 08, 2005

Too busy to think

I apologize if what I'm about to type doesn't make perfect sense...just gonna go with a stream of consciousness approach and see how it turns out.

So I got a new job. It is good. The environment is awesome, there's a ton of opportunity, lots to explore and lots to learn. It just means I'm pretty damn busy. Busy enough that I'm having a hard time stepping back and thinking "do I like what I'm doing?" During these first few weeks my main sense of excitement has come from doing something right, not necessarily doing something I enjoy - wonder how long these feelings will last.

I remember as an undergrad studying engineering having a discussion with my liberal arts roommate about the problem with the engineering program - there was no time to think about whether you actually wanted to be an engineer...instead you were just trying to keep up with all the academic demands to make sure someone else didn't decide for you.

What I'm trying to say is that I have to remind myself to step back and take a look at the big picture. Just don't know when I'll have time to do it.

October 28, 2005

What have I done?

Man, it's a good thing I started this blog...without it (or more accurately, without the feedback) I might not have made a recent career move.

Why not? Mostly because when I quit my last job I kept telling myself I wouldn't ever go back to the same type of role, as I didn't think it was good long-term fit for me. But when I asked the question - Can the same path lead to a new destination I got some excellent advice from Jordan Rule:

Pick a location where you can appreciate the local culture and meet lots of people you trust. They will probably get you your next job.

And well, as of a week ago today I followed Jordan's advice. As an added bonus, my new location happens to come with a new job :) but instead of it being a final destination, I'm looking at it as more of a layover (can you tell I've been traveling a bunch lately?). I can't wait to get into this new environment, learn as much as I can, make a bunch of new friends, and see what it leads to next.

October 24, 2005

I thought I said no more quotes

As I mentioned earlier, I've been reading thru Evhead's archives tonight...and came across this great one-liner:

Sometimes I can't stop making things.*
- circa July '99

The quote makes me wonder - what things can't I stop from doing? Tonight it's been reading thru a bunch of different blogs (although I've been able to reduce the width of my wanderings somewhat). Most of the time I'll just collect a few links, pull a few quotes, make a random connection or two, etc...The most polite way I've heard this behavior summed up is "listens to the world - people, trends, etc..." but at the same time, it can be viewed as mostly sucumbing to distractions. So how can I best translate this tendency (passion?) into something "value-added"?

ps: Hey Ev, any chance I could score an invite to next year's Fleet Week party? Looks like it was a great time.

*For those that don't know, Ev played a part behind the creation of both Blogger and Odeo - and I think this quote came before either one was created (although Blogger might have been under development at the time).

Web sites are like disposable razors

"Very sharp for a while until they grow so dull they're painful and it's time to toss them out and get a new one."

via the Evhead archives, via Glassdog.

Speaking of dull, sick of the quotes yet?? Big news soon...

ps: much belated thanks to Hugh, Evelyn, Rajan, Worthwhile, and Millionaire Socialite for the links...appreciate all the traffic you guys have helped generate 'round here. Special thanks to MS as he helped this blog become the #1 Google result for "wayward twenty-something" parents (if they read blogs) would be so proud.

October 17, 2005

JP Morgan's secret to success

via Alarmless:

1. Every morning, write a list of the
things that need to be done that day.

2. Do them.

ps: for those of you who are still Alarmfull, here's an alarm clock hack that supposedly helps you wake up at the right time.

October 14, 2005

"If you know where it's going, it's not worth doing."

What I'm trying to say is...I think this blog is worth doing (ie: I have no idea where it's going).

Although it's only been up for a couple of months, I'm encouraged by the initial response. It seems to be connecting with people, I've already received a ton of valuable feedback, some interesting conversations have been started (and I've received a better than expected amount of traffic)...what more can you ask from a blog? (besides Haughey-esque Google Ads returns :)

ps: can anybody guess who provided the quote that was used in this post's title? here's a hint, it was in an NYT article discussing celebrities who are involved with design.

update: see the comments for the answer.

October 13, 2005

Drop the ladder, pick up a brand

Some interesting (and exciting) discussion going on over at Gaping Void today. Hugh was explaining the benefits of creating a Global Micro Brand (GMB) and in the comments section, Evelyn replied with a discovery she had made: almost all the people in my "Ladder-less Careers" list (right column, right above the Google Ad) are also known to have their own Global Micro Brand...interesting. So, if you don't know, now you know.

ps: thanks for the digital shout-out Evelyn, you made it sound like this blog was a lot more established than it currently is :)

pps: Who else out there has a Ladder-less (and Brand-full) career?