Steve Jobs Biography was Great

I just finished the Steve Jobs book and it was probably one of the most enjoyable books i’ve read in a long long time. I might say the past 10 years.  Here’s why:

Steve Jobs really cared about his products, deeply.  He had an intuitive feel for what the consumer wanted, and what he wanted.  He truly wanted his products to be close to art.   Even though very few in the industry believed him, even after the Macintosh had been around for over 10 years, he continued to hold on to this belief.  Each button, CD tray, color, and line was important to him. There’s a great passage in the book when he found out that the CD-ROM drive of a Mac was a tray instead a slot and it brought him to tears.

It was also fascinating to hear about the infant PC industry.  I had no idea how the PC industry started. I knew there was Apple and i knew there were was IBM but i didn’t understand how it emerged.  The narrative of the hobbyists building the board in garages makes sense to me, and i now understand.

I also didn’t understand how Jobs could get kicked out of his own company by a CEO and board that he selected.  But, after reading the story, i’m surprised he didn’t get kicked out sooner.   To hear of his return and his path back towards success was riveting.  Just a great story.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s enjoys Apple even a little bit.  Most people didn’t revere Jobs that much when he was alive (except, obviously the fanboys) but looking back at his accomplishments and commitment to excellence and innovation, we have to place him in the pantheon of business and product innovators.
I do think the world is a better place for having him here and i wish more people followed his path and held on to their dreams and reached for the stars.  It’s a great thing when it happens and actually works.

How i get stuff done

A few people asked me this week how keep track of things i need to get things done.  So, let me tell you.

First, I keep an ongoing Task list. I have a big list and then i have a line in that list that i put each day of the things i want to accomplish that day.  This way i can move things up and down that list.  I actually have two lists – a personal list and a work list. I find that it’s helpful to keep them separate as i try to accomplish the work list when i’m at work and then when i leave, i consider my time to get those tasks done as over.  Then i’m on personal time.  It’s helpful to keep them separate.  How do i keep these tasks? I use Google Tasks.  It’s nicely tied into both my email and my calendar.  Also, there’s an app (I use GooTasks) that synch with the Gmail version so i can grab tasks when i’m on the go.

Second, i have a “one-touch” policy.  I’m not sure who told me about this but the idea is that you should touch things only once.  If you can read, process and reply all at one time, it’s better than filing to do later.  I do this with physical mail and i also try to do it with email.  I’m not as good as some, but i’ve found that the more you do this, the more you get done. My business partner Toby is actually a master of this.

Third, i subscribe to the “Daily Inches” mantra of consistency. This is best expressed in the Al Pacino speech in “Any Given Sunday” (listen to it here). The idea is that if you really want to make big changes – this could be your life, your work or whatever – the best way is to make progress daily.  You don’t ahve to do it all at once, but just make a little progress every day and you’ll get there.  For instance, if you want to increase your arm strength in the gym, you don’t want to go on a weekend and try to lift weights for 20 hours straight.  No, it’s better to work out a little bit each day for an extended period of time.  Make a little progress, every day.

There it is.  My three easy steps to getting things done – Lewis-style.  Most of it is common sense, but thought i’d share.  Tasks, one-touch, and daily inches.   What is your philosophy for getting things done?

Cute Denver Mailboxes and Behavior

Over the past two years, I’ve found that Colorado and Denver in particular to be filled with really nice folks.  The interactions here remind me of my childhood in Minnesota where you get a heavy dose of “Minnesota Nice” in each conversation.  While people here aren’t quite that nice, they are still extraordinarily friendly.

My first month here, i got pulled over by a Denver cop for rolling through a stop sign.  He asked me why i did it and i replied that i was lost and looking at my iPhone map.  Instead of looking at me like a moron (which i am) and writing out a ticket, he instead asked me for the address of where i was going, jumped into his car, pulled up along side me and said, “follow me, i know where it is.”  Yep, that really happened.

Today i saw these photos below of mailboxes in and around Denver. I thought they were pretty cute and a good example of the vibe you can get from this city.   Enjoy:

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The Real Deal with the Recession and Jobs

I hear a lot these days about job creation and growth and the economy.  I really do worry about people who have have been out of job for over a year.  Not working is totally destructive to a persons self-confidence and self-worth (not to mention bank account) and anyone out of the workforce for extended periods of time are in a really bad place. 

It seems that there are two recessions going on:  (1) the usually cyclical one and (2) the loss of factory jobs to the internet and overseas workers.   #1 will return, but #2 is gone forever for the US.  It’s not coming back.

Instead we should focus on the future.  I read a good post today by Seth Godin where he writes about this very topic.  He states:

When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.

Stressful? Of course it is. No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver. Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a ‘real’ job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level playing field in which owning a factory isn’t a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.

Gears are going to be shifted regardless. In one direction is lowered expectations and plenty of burger flipping. In the other is a race to the top, in which individuals who are awaiting instructions begin to give them instead.

The future feels a lot more like marketing–it’s impromptu, it’s based on innovation and inspiration, and it involves connections between and among people–and a lot less like factory work, in which you do what you did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.

This means we may need to change our expecations, change our training and change how we engage with the future. Still, it’s better than fighting for a status quo that is no longer. The good news is clear: every forever recession is followed by a lifetime of growth from the next thing…

Job creation is a false idol. The future is about gigs and assets and art and an ever-shifting series of partnerships and projects. It will change the fabric of our society along the way. No one is demanding that we like the change, but the sooner we see it and set out to become an irreplaceable linchpin, the faster the pain will fade, as we get down to the work that needs to be (and now can be) done.

This revolution is at least as big as the last one, and the last one changed everything.

 I like that. Let’s move forward rather than trying to bring back the past. 

We Are What We Choose

I didn’t post this last year but it has stayed with me.  It’s a great speech by CEO/Founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.  It’s the commencement speech to Princeton’s Class of 2010, delivered on May 30, 2010.   Choices are incredibly important and now, at the beginning of 2011, it’s good to step back and think about what choices we’ll make this upcoming year.  Here’s to you and me, building a great story also.  Read on….

As a kid, I spent my summers with my grandparents on their ranch in Texas. I helped fix windmills, vaccinate cattle, and do other chores. We also watched soap operas every afternoon, especially “Days of our Lives.” My grandparents belonged to a Caravan Club, a group of Airstream trailer owners who travel together around the U.S. and Canada. And every few summers, we’d join the caravan. We’d hitch up the Airstream trailer to my grandfather’s car, and off we’d go, in a line with 300 other Airstream adventurers. I loved and worshipped my grandparents and I really looked forward to these trips. On one particular trip, I was about 10 years old. I was rolling around in the big bench seat in the back of the car. My grandfather was driving. And my grandmother had the passenger seat. She smoked throughout these trips, and I hated the smell.

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Big Day for US Soccer

The score was 0-0.  The ref raised the sign indicating 4 min of extra time.  The US team has wasted chances all day and all tournament. They played both sloppy defense and potent attacking.  But it was all over.  The US had blown its chance.  It was the easiest group in its history.  I could hear all the naysayers talking on ESPN’s PTI  and other radio shows.  We just suck at soccer.  You couldn’t advance ahead of Slovenia – it’s the size of New Jersey!? You couldn’t beat Algeria?.  The ref system is stupid, when’s the NFL start?.  Tim Howard recalls his though when the 90th minute came, saying:

I just thought the crazy thing is we could be on a plane tomorrow. It didn’t mean anything in the game, but I didn’t want to go home. I was kind of apprehensive about losing.

All the progress US Soccer had made over the past 8 to 20 years with the introduction of an MLS team, a quarterfinal finish in 2002 and the beginning of players playing successfully in Europe would all be for naught with a loss and elimination.  It would be the ultimate disappointment and I could tell the American public would once again sour on the sport.  I would dredding hearing Chuck Klosterman and Tony Kornheiser talk about how we suck and will forever suck at the world’s game.

But then the exact opposite happens.  Three minutes from going home, we score.  A fraction from elimination and we become champions setting a record for the fewest total minutes that a World Cup group winner had been leading in its first three games: a grand total of two minutes.

Not only am i happy to watch the US play this Saturday in the 2nd round but i’m happy for soccer in America.  For the first time since i can remember am i hearing people talk about what an exciting and fun sport it is.  People are beginning to understand why the rest of the world loves it.  This game will directly lead to future successes on the pitch in future World Cups.  There’s an 8 year old right now who wants to score the next huge goal in 2032 and because of today’s victory he’s much more likely to stick with soccer than go to football or basketball.  I couldn’t happier about all of it.  As Landon Donvan said after the game,

I used to see this game we play as just a game,” said Donovan, “and I think I’ve realized particularly during this tournament that it’s more than that. It’s an opportunity to inspire. And not only inspire other people but inspire yourself and your teammates. I think tonight is going to do a lot more for me and other people than maybe we’ll realize.

I completely agree.  Congrats guys.  Good luck on Saturday

Into the Fire: Startup Life

There is an ancient Chinese story of an old master potter who attempted to develop a new glaze for his porcelain vases. It became the central focus of his life. Everyday he tended the flames of his kilns to a white heat, controlling the temperature to an exact degree. Every day he experimented with the chemistry of the glazes he applied, but still he could not achieve the beauty he desired and imagined was possible in a glaze. Finally, having tried everything he decided his meaningful life was over and walked into the molten heat of the fully fired kiln. When his assistants opened up the kiln and took out the vases, they found the glaze on the vases the most exquisite they had ever encountered. The master himself had disappeared into his creations.

Working within a company so long, it’s easy to see how your blood and bone can become part of the product and ultimately make something truly unique.  Giving a company your all, walking into the fire is both painful and pretty romantic.   The poet, David Whyte talks about this proverb, saying:

Work is the very fire where we are baked to perfection, and like the master of the fire itself, we add the essential ingredient and fulfillment when we walk into the flames ourselves and fuel the transformation of ordinary, everyday forms into the exquisite and the rare.

It’s an interesting analogy because in you can see that the potter, in disappearing into the kiln, he created something he loved and something truly special, but he also dies.  In doing his work he ceases to be a person that the rest of the world can interact with and relate to.

Such is the life of working on a startup

(thanks to Jerry Colonna for writing about this first)

Advice from creator/writer of Dilbert

The following advice below the image is from Scott Adams, the creator and writer of the comic strip Dilbert.  I was talking with my sister about careers the other day and this sprung to mind.  It’s not a specific roadmap but something to keep in mind as you accrue experience.

Scott says….

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:

  1. Become the best at one specific thing.
  2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.

…Get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.

Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix…

It sounds like generic advice, but you’d be hard pressed to find any successful person who didn’t have about three skills in the top 25%.

Startups: The Open Road

There’s an article in this week’s New Yorker (link) that i found on about the painter Luc Tuymans, who describes how he creates his work: “It’s like I don’t know what I’m doing but I know how to do it.” The article’s author, notes that “uncertain ends, confident means is about as good a general definition of creativity as I know.”

That quote made me thing of the activities around launching a company.  You never know what’s going to hit you but you know that you’ll be able to solve it when it comes.  It makes me think of one of my favorite quotes:

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road

– Walt Whitman

I have found that you must be both excited and confident and if you are, it’s very fulfilling.  Just some words to think about over the weekend

Do What You Want

There are a lot of times in the world where people tell me what to do. Things like, “I 0444_20innovaneed the deck by tonight.” or “Can you meet me on Sunday to talk about the deal?” Sometimes i like doing it and sometimes i don’t. Here’s what i do know though: I always like doing what i believe in and i always hate doing what i don’t think is right.

This is why i love stories about people who were told they were wrong and they persevered and proved their naysayers wrong. Three stories stick out in my head:

Steve Jobs got forced out of Apple because he had a crazy idea that hardware can be beautiful. Years later he came back to prove that he was right 20 years before.  Now he’s dominating the music industry, the largest shareholder of the largest media company (Disney) and revolutionizing the mobile technology industry

In-N-Out Burger was a fast-food joint just like all the others in the 50’s. Ray Kroc wanted to buy it and franchise it. That was the thing to do.  McDonald’s was doing it, so was Taco Bell and Wendy’s and everyone else. But Harry Synder (the founder) of In-N-Out told Ray to pound salt.  He had a different idea. Instead of “lower costs and increase sales” it was “do one thing and do it as well as you can.” That one thing was the In-N-Out burger.  He never sold. The Synder family has purchased every In-N-Out with cash.  He wanted to know every meat distributor by his first name. That’s why the #1 requested meal backstage at the Oscars is In-N-Out and why there’s over an hour wait at a place where burgers are $2.

toystory_woodyJohn Lasseter lost his job at Disney back in ‘86. He was fired by an old line animator who said there was no future in computer animation. Lasseter slept under his desk, and a decade later delivered Pixar’s first hit, “Toy Story”.  After story he and Pixar have gone for 10 for 10.  Nothing is a sure thing in media.  And John is 10 for 10.

All of these guys did it their way and the world is a better place because of it. We can only hope that we have the conviction and passion and talent of them in our own lives.

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