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Lessons in Multitasking

Busy, busy, busy winter.

  • 2013 is off to a fabulous start – I’ve transitioned into a consulting role with a super-neat startup in the Boston area to work on pushing the company to scale with an influx of multi-sided users.  It’s been a whirlwind and with quick, significant progress  – I’ve finally found the women’s restroom no less than eight weeks into the game.  There’s incredible potential for the technology they’ve developed, and we’re going to take this thing far & wide.  The visionary & strategic aspects of my role are incredible, and it’s caused a deep realization that hey maybe this is what I should have been doing — not the process-oriented roles I’ve filled in the past.
  • Timing is good too – a smart friend recently left his comfortable job for greener pastures in the world of marketing convergence.  What is this magical term I speak of?  It’s the first time anyone has linked together all marketing activities directly to business activities and directly to consumer activities. It’s a closed-loop system. Our tool is super easy to use and – best of all – doesn’t require the coffers of the Catholic Church to implement & maintain.  I’m proud of it, excited about it, and ready to introduce much much more in the coming weeks.
  • I’ve been writing, albeit slowly, working on an old/new project.  You remember Notes from the Field, right?  It’s undergoing a reboot and when I finish the intense outline, it’s hitting the publisher circuit.  (Another one you’ll be hearing much more about in the coming months.  I’ve dedicated nearly all my flying time to writing – except Superbowl Sunday and when I get jammed next to someone who insists on invading my space, brain, and consciousness with their nosy inquiries.)
  • Commercial and residential real estate is also on my radar, though I seem to spend more time kicking the tires than finding what I want. Essentially, I want to build out some decent commissary kitchens for up & coming chefs, home bakers, and those who want to break into the catering, food truck, and other food-types of business.  It needs to include a small cafe and a market (ideally), but finding the right-sized warehouse space that I can purchase & get up to code hasn’t been an easy task.  From the residential side – it’s time to put down some roots, if only so I have somewhere to come home to on the weekends.  I just don’t know where (yet).
  • And, of course, this past Saturday  marked the beginning of the soccer season!  Pictures & stories forthcoming — though I’m excited to coach another season with the girls. (They’re now 7 1/2 years old.  It’s our eighth season and going strong.)

Yep, this year is shaping up to be a game-changer.  Let’s make it happen together though — tell me what you’re up to!

Twenty-Four Hours

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more I listen to (read: dance to) Katy B’s “Louder,” the more it seeps into my day-to-day life.  The more it seeps into life, the more the underlying philosophy guides the days, weeks, and months.  Where I’ve previously described the angst of the ‘quarter-life crisis,’ it’s not the memories of my youth that I mourn, but quite the opposite: that instead it was wasted.

Listen for yourself:

(It doesn’t help that I looked like that at 16.)

It was a handful of weeks ago that I was driving to work, thinking to myself “is this what being grown-up is?”  The constant nagging feeling that I don’t really have any answers to the same questions that plagued me years ago, just a a few glimmers of insight.  I feel exactly as I did at 16, but with a few additional responsibilities and a whole lot more freedom.  I still drown out my thoughts with loud music; I still drive fast; I still escape situations where I’m awkwardly uncomfortable; I still coach (and play) soccer; I still adore the same things I did then (though the list has expanded some over the years).  And while I appreciate the present tense moments, I’ve never given in or been seduced by them, at least long-term (momentary weakness: yes; reckless addictions and compulsions: no.)  Which leads to an quirky question: did I miss out on an undefinable something called youth?  And worse yet: is that why I still feel 16?

I think this is a good thing, albeit odd.  Going through photos of friends, a handful of them have grown up – they’re married, some with kids, they have houses and mortgages, and have piled on the responsibility and sacrificed (some) freedom.  And they’re happy, happier than our parents were.  Yet it’s not about the rite of passage-style events anymore – it’s all about whether they’re still in touch, moving and shaking in some way.  It’s been made much easier to move toward and from the edge, in constant, dynamic flux with the use of social technologies.  ‘The man,’ as previous generations have declared, will get you, bogeyman-style, when you lose your cultural edge. Now, there’s no excuse.

My millennial generation has grown up in a period of unraveling and fragmentation in the cultural sphere, yet we’ve always been cared for and protected through this instability.  It’s said that we were the generation who elected Obama; it’s said that we can’t function alone, but only in teams.  We’re coming of age, not necessarily into adulthood, but into a larger role as we become the dominant power in this sphere. And given our predilection for optimism and energy, we’ll be the generation to redefine, fight, and expand our cultural power.

Certainly I’m part of that.

I’ve been working on a couple proposals for two serious – and high-minded – projects that can and will change the face of education, utilizing technology and the social space.  These projects address the continued fragmentation of education and the crisis of insurmountable debt (and the uneven impact to show for it).  I’ll be the first to say that my undergraduate education gave me the skills and abilities I needed – and the network to back it up.  My graduate education gave me the clout and discipline of responsibility.  I use none of my degrees in their narrow fields; it was never my intention to do so as none of them are vocational-level degrees.  I want to share this freedom with the world; I want the world to have the same opportunities I do and to be able to take these opportunities at any point in life.  Friedman and his disciples call this principle “flattening” – I call this necessity for a world soon (if not already) in the midst of cultural crisis.  Education isn’t a magic bullet, yet it is a stepping stone in the right direction.  The ability to think, to read, to write, to create, to analyze – these skills are priceless as the foundations of any existence.  A government is only as effective as its citizens; a culture only as pervasive as its citizens; an economic system is only as strong as its citizens.

And I have the heroic impulse (and 16 year-old indefatigable, youthful optimism) to take on the challenge.

My voice is getting louder.

A Funny Thing Happened Today at Cartier

Or at least it will be funny when the new watch I ordered comes in and is fitted to my left wrist and highly satisfying to take a hammer to the one I’m currently wearing because god help me if I’m ever that mortified again.

And in the same vein,

I love that I’m independent.  I love that I have the ability and fortitude to rectify this and any other situation.  That no matter what I can take care of myself – and do so without pretense or fabrication.  I love that I can spend Saturday running errands, then indulging in a little bit of retail therapy without buying things as a salve for a deeper emotional issue.  I love that I can come home late Saturday afternoon, strip to my skin, and throw myself a mini-spa hour (and a half) – and I love that I can then order a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, canadian bacon, meatballs, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, sun dried tomatoes and spinach — with extra garlic.  I love that it’s Saturday and I can stay home, curl up with a book – or I can go out and have a glass of wine alone – or I can wander the aisles at Whole Foods and come home with a odd mish-mash of really good food.  That I live by myself in an apartment I really love (even if I don’t love the management company) and that I can provide fully for myself and my family and those I love unconditionally.

Maybe it’s just been awhile since I’ve been in a good mood.

Maybe it’s just that I’m settling into a good groove and I’m optimistic about what’s coming next.

Maybe I’ve let go of the hidden worry and fear that I won’t be loved again – because I will.

And I’ll even tell you why: because there was a moment yesterday afternoon when I (finally) saw how important it is to love myself, if only because I’ve made others suffer because I haven’t.  I’m not the enemy of myself, though I’ve sure as hell waged a damn good twenty-something year battle of self v. self.

Cliff’s Notes version: I’m the problem.

And because I’m the problem, I’m the only person who can change it or fix it or do something about it, whether it’s straight up abatement or temporary injunction or imperfect compromise.

Which brings me to a related issue:

I’m a creative person who likes – no, needs – to be immersed in collaborative work.  Simply, I need to work with smart, creative people.  Who are not like me — who are more than me.  More visionary.  More creative.  Smarter.  Faster.  More more more to combat the collective weaknesses (my own included) and enhance the collective strengths (my own included) and achieve the common goal.  This isn’t a lofty abstract desire; this is a need.

The problem with collaboration is that it requires true commitment.  Discipline.  Passion.  Attention.  Even habit.  And the emotional, personal connection with collaboration is crucial – you gotta be a believer or it all falls apart.  You take make anyone play on a team, but if a single member’s heart isn’t in it, the whole collaborative process is a sham, a ruse, a shell of false idolatry.  Add in an inability to effectively communicate (ahem, honestly and openly), add in a layer of politics, and add in a disaffected attitude, and welcome to disaster.

Also known as my personal hell.  The wide-eyed promise of collaboration for an amazingly awesome goal torn apart because the discipline, attention, and passion of one single team member rings hollow.  To see the house this team has built is a case study for the gods – yet this house will be bulldozed because we didn’t choose the perfect wallpaper in the living room and there’s a leaky faucet in the bathroom, that…it destroys me.  It disrupts the collaborative process – that discipline, that habit, that passion – and for what?  Something trivial.

Maybe it should be seen from another perspective – that I allow the destruction of this one house to distract me from the neighborhood of houses previously constructed.  That I’m the disruption on the team rather than the guy sitting in the ‘dozer.

Problem is, the guy sitting in the ‘dozer doesn’t know how to operate heavy equipment…and probably doesn’t realize what’s going on or what he’s about to do.  Yet another sign something is in rotten in Denmark, another indication of poor communication and inadequate leadership.

And here we come to another rampant weakness of mine: reason and precision.  Always tell me why.  If only because it’s the only thing that will convince me that at minimum you understand what it is you’re doing and see the scope of things as something slightly larger (at minimum) than yourself.  Or you don’t, but are still okay with things not being larger than yourself.

And another weakness: trust.  I’ll trust you until you give me reason not to.  You can earn trust back after that point, but not without a considerable amount of effort and energy, at least to partially compensate for the time, effort, energy I expended in cleaning up the mess I trusted you not to make.  (An honest “I’m sorry” typically does the trick.)

Despite the weaknesses, I don’t know what to do about the breakdown of collaboration.  Smear a layer of frustration and disappointment on as well; it brings out the troubling flavor from the overmasticated texture.  Some say go to the mattresses; others say mercy; still others wonder if there’s a trusted resource able to do anything.  I fear the die has been cast and only now are the implications of betting everything peaking through the veil of a hasty, backed-in-a-corner decision.

A Question Answered

On a fairly regular basis, I’m asked about the nature of ideas.  More specifically: where do your ideas come from?

Typically I laugh and make a snide-to-snarky comment and lop-sided grin about the birth of ideas akin to the birth of babies – one more titillating, one more compelling than the other.

But seriously.  Like babies and boyfriends, they come when you least expect them.

I’ve killed weeks and months at a time in a reverie and daydream, just drifting out in the doldrums.

And I’ve murdered weeks and months at a time drowning in anxious-yet-mundane tasks guaranteed to kill the spirit and livelihood of creativity.

I’ve slaughtered time reading, observing, hearing, watching others’ great (and not-so-great) works, studying their miscues and brilliance.

Time was never really the difference to my great surprise.  No matter how I spend my time, the rate or quality of creativity doesn’t change.

And then, while talking, I launch into a monologue proudly proclaiming that it’s different for everyone.  That everyone has their ‘ah-ha’ moment no matter what they’re in the middle or beginning or ending or purgatory of.

And then I pause,

And say,

But for me,

it’s the welling up of an emotion deep inside me, to the point that if I don’t stop myself, I’ll scream or cry or demons will burst from my abdomen or angels sing from my head and I think I don’t/can’t take another breath – it’s that moment right there I look for because

then,

right then,

if I step out of the catharsis, lean back in my chair, close my eyes for a long, slow blink,

that’s when it happens.

It’s simply that ability to purely reflect on what you know and what’s going on around you- all together instantly and without any self-interest other than to get to just one more breath — and shazam, there it is.

it’s then I approach a theory, perhaps as selfish validation:

Nabokov described inspiration as two parts (though he didn’t assign ratios) – the first half as rapture:

“a combined sensation of having the whole universe entering you and of yourself wholly dissolving in the universe surrounding you.  It is the prison wall of ego suddenly melting away and the non-eogo rushing in from the outside to save the prisoner – who is already dancing in the open.”

The moment where time ceases to exist.  Where there’s no conscious purpose in existence.  The idea.  The moment lightening strikes shock through the air.

The second half he describes as the recapture – the conscious work of construction.  The idea in practice.  The thunder following the lightening.  As you blurt it aloud and start to reflect on what it is you’re saying and continue in a babbling way trying your damnest to position the idea, put boundaries – it’s always with sparkling eyes and increased tempo (in a gentlemanly fashion – others I’ve known fancy more toward crazy eyes and irregular tremor through the body).

The issue, I pointedly say, is finding your ratio – balancing the lightening and the thunder to fit you.  I’ve seen too many taken down by rush for one direction or another, whether by drugs or alcohol, by gluttony or avarice, by talent or lack thereof.  All in the hopes of finding something they thought they needed, even though it was there all the time.

In all, I believe, the storm will come.  No matter the singing or dancing, the lollygagging or grind.  Just be open to more than rain.

Breakthrough: 2010

My brother sent me an article from the Harvard Business Review on the Breakthrough Ideas for 2010.  In all, they’re about prevention via innovation.  (An aside: the Hollander children are always reading a quirky collection of articles and reviews.  If you’re up on Google Buzz – or even Google Reader or Delicious, lemme know.  I’d love to see what you’re reading these days!)

In short, here are the top 10 ideas:

1) Getting to the Bottom of Worker Motivation

(Hint: it’s not about recognition – it’s about progress.  Head’s up to managers everywhere: if your workers don’t think they’re getting anywhere in their day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, or year-to-year, they will leave.  I speak from tremendous experience on this concept.  It’s time to abandon the autocratic time barriers to promotion!)

2) Technology to Revolutionize Health Care

(Hint: improving care – and medical records – via remote monitoring, whether through kiosks or through wireless updating.  Think about it.  If our mothers and fathers wore a personal health device that could update daily, or in some cases hourly, and communicated with medical professionals, we may reach the pinnacles of preventative medicine.  Imagine warnings generated to your doctor or practitioner – who can then follow-up with a phone call or office visit?  Certainly there are significant privacy concerns to address, but these technologies have an opportunity to (finally) revolutionize cheaper and more effective preventative care.)

3) Research & Development Centers for the Financial Sector

(Hint: The overwhelming complexity of our financial systems have come to light in the recent meltdowns of lending and spending.  The author here advocates for a system similar to military R&D where research, development and spending are overseen by the government with little intervention.  I hesitate on this one to ask the simple question: how much good are the national security centers doing?  Certainly, what comes out of the centers is relevant and intriguing, but how much of the information is practical as it filters into bullet point policies and procedures?  To me, both systems are nuanced and complex – if anything, the breakthrough idea should be interdisciplinary in all regards, but the increased pressure to ‘see everything’ also lands us to where we see nothing.)

4) Changes to the Big Pharma Business Model

(Hint: business models are a’changing.  Finally.  In just a few years, there will be no need for an alphabet of the same type of drug (at least those in which we understand the mechanism).  By standardizing drug assets – that is, what types of drugs are in the pipeline across partnerships – not only can drugs hit the market faster and cheaper, but more medical conditions can be addressed, innovative developments can be researched and developed, and smaller, advantageous markets can be reached.  One caveat: regulations for intellectual property must be developed.  Sharing is one thing; stealing another.  Whether it be carrot or stick-based, innovation starts with regulation.  Then allow the partnerships to nourish themselves in free-for-all standardization.)

5) Capitalizing Green Technology

(Hint: Much ado in finance and investments is how to capitalize green technologies.  The promises of these technology hold no bounds, but first, as with everything, those with the money to finance such technology development and implementation need to figure out how to get their own ROI.  Enter green bonds, green credits, and a variety of other newfangled investment mechanisms.  This snippet addresses only municipal opt-in bonds, affecting only those who invest in the technologies and implementations.  But the idea is much much larger.  My own idea is larger than this, extending to a new sort of “stock,”  one held at a near constant number and available for purchase/sale on the open market (one location, however) only once a year.  No daily fluctuations in price; steady long-term investment instead, designed particularly for research, development and implementation of green tech.  This idea is already in the oven, the recipe from savvier financial experts.  But this is one of many potential markets for a wholly new investment mechanism.)

6) Lab to Market – Re-thinking Technology Licensing

(Hint: Allowing a monopolistic university technology licensing office has been sub-optimal with dreary results.  This idea allows for inventor-professors to step out and find their own licensor for their inventions, rather than allow them to languish on the shelf.  I find a hybrid system more beneficial than a free-for-all market, a situation to not only improve the university’s licensing process, but also manage a professor’s time to her actual duties – educating and research.  What this looks like precisely, I’m not sure, but certainly it would address the negatives from the university’s monopoly while regulating a capitalistic time-suck from university educators across the US.)

7) Work Hacking – Better Utilization of Tools in the Workplace

(Hint: get this!  You can’t control how your employees perform their work, especially in the name of productivity.  It’s neither practical or possible – and it’s highly likely those employees committed to the company’s higher vision recognize this also.  Should work hacking be unmitigated?  Certainly not!  Hacking comes in all forms – the innocent, the wary, and the sinfully guilty – all of which should be monitored for ethical and legal obligations.)

8) Warning Systems for Economic Bubbles

(Hint: as with anything, the ability to identify problems comes with the tools and data available to identify a problem.  This snippet suggests using current tools with different data pattern identification to find warning signs of an economic bubble – think of dot coms and housing – and prevent widespread bursts.  Combine this with the financial R&D idea from #3 and we’ll not only have more tools, but more data to interpret.  An aside: when combining these ideas, I get a mental image of a guru with a Magic 8 ball sitting in a lofty office…even if that’s what these two ideas are precisely intended to avoid.)

9) Charter Cities

(Hint: Use the Hong Kong model…of colonization?  To me, this is a half-baked idea (great in theory; misguided in practice) and requires WAY more incentive, planning, and enforcement than what’s available for countries facing issues of economic development.  It’s so economic hitman-esque.  While I agree small steps are the way to go in this regard, there are significant cultural barriers to understand and hurdle not in a sprint, but in carefully planned steps to avoid the stank (no, not stink – stank) of nineteenth century colonization.

10) Engaging Non-State Actors via Independent Diplomacy

(Hint: the world is a kindergarten sandbox, full of burgeoning and breakdown alliances.  Some kids play well together; others don’t.  Engaging those lone wolves has proved difficult, especially through the hard-line rhetoric popularized following recent American terrorist events (“with us or against us,” anyone?).  Punishing those who throw sand may not be the best way to keep them from throwing sand in the future; instead, independent engagement through established channels, rather than marginalization, may limit extreme behavior more effectively.  This idea, in a smaller nutshell: established lobbyists for independent, non-state actors, to bridge a marginalized voice with the established channels.  A compelling and fascinating idea – one which adds some shine to an otherwise tarnished profession.)

The Echo Chamber

DoOneThingTodayThe other night I couldn’t sleep.  While this isn’t an uncommon occurrence, it was bothersome: something big was on my mind, something amorphous and seductive.  Call it meta-curiosity, but I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, unpacked my laptop, and sat waiting.

I’d read Seth Godin‘s compilation of What Matters Now (if you haven’t downloaded this free inspirational ebook, go and do so, then come back) earlier in the afternoon, picking it out of the mess of my Twitter feed.  I went through at a high-level, looking through the eighty-something pages of ideas for 2010.  And on first read, I thought to myself “Self, why aren’t you putting something like this together?  This is what you do best – what’s different about you?  Why haven’t you done this?  Why haven’t you written your manifesto?  GET TO IT!”

I put it aside for a few hours, roiling with discontent – and unfortunately taking it out on the sweet boyfriend.  He went to sleep and I laid there, listening to him breathe, asking myself what I needed.  What did I need to make it all happen, to calm that ambitious voice in my head?  Am I screwing around, or is what I’m doing the right path toward what I want to do?  What do I want?  How do I get that?  I know I’m not happy right now, but is it a necessary unhappiness to realize something later?  Why put off this happiness any longer?

Then I realized I’m in the echo chamber, caught in a crowd of voices parroting the same thing over and over, louder and louder, bouncing against nonporous walls.  And oh to countervail the crowd, even if faceless, nameless, and comprised of an unknown number.  I slipped out of bed, tiptoed into my office, and sat at my desk with my head in my hands.  What to do now.  What to do now.  What to do now to stop the voices all around me crowing of instant success while I languish in apathy.

Weeks passed before I found a true answer.

Simply to take it a day at a time and make one small step forward each day toward the motley grouping of goals.

I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Powerful Idea

I’ve always believed in the power of ideas and all the dichotomy ideas provide: good/bad, love/hate, philanthropy/misanthropy, et cetera.  This just puts it in graphic form:

Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right group of people – and getting that right group of people passionate and involved.