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The Canary in the Coal Mine and Leaving Dysfunctional Groups

The expression “canary in a coal mine” originates from coal miners using canaries as a kind of early warning system. The miners would take the birds into the mine and periodically check-in on their status. The delicate canaries were more susceptible to gases like carbon monoxide, so if they suddenly stopped moving, miners would be alerted of dangerous air conditions.

Hence, the expression “canary in a coal mine” is an idiomatic way of talking about events that portend negative things to come.

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Casey Neistat and Success by Doing (Plus Stochasticity)

If you aren’t familiar with Casey Neistat, allow me to remedy the situation.

Casey Neistat is likely the most burgeoning YouTube star of 2016. Here’s his channel. I’m approaching a year having subscribed to his daily vlog videos and to my eye what Neistat is doing on YouTube is a testament to the democraticization of video content.

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Questioning daily defaults: what’s the job I need done?

Channeling Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done frame, I’ve started thinking about my daily default decisions. What is the job I need done by [fill-in the blank]?

It’s a useful exercise.

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Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done Theory

I have written much more about Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-done framework over at the FullStory blog:


Clayton Christensen (along with a few other co-authors) is soon releasing a book called Competing Against Luck that will go more in-depth on Christensen’s “Jobs-to-be-done theory,” which is a way to reframe product design and product selling away from fallacious, post ergo hoc propter hoc data and towards first principles.

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Digitally Isolated

I keep thinking about being digitally isolated.  What is “digital isolation?” In a nutshell: today we are more connected to anyone/everyone than at any point in history yet (paradoxically) we feel ever more alone. Stranger still, it seems we have chosen this as our preferred mode of existence.  There’s even a joke about it: there are nine ways to reach me on my phone without talking to me; pick one of those.

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Failure to Move is the State of Paralysis

I keep returning to the idea of action (doing) over inaction (thinking). I also have been likening doing vs. thinking as similar to producing vs. consuming.   The problem with the consumption/production dichotomy is that the lines aren’t always clear as to which is which.  Sometimes you have to consume to produce.

Things I consume:

  • food/energy/time (necessary consumption)
  • blogs/books/tweets/email (some necessary, some unnecessary)
  • television (almost entirely unnecessary)

Things I produce:

  • blog posts/emails/ideas (derivative of consumption)
  • work/research/analysis (requires consumption)
  • art
  • well-being

What I mean by producing “well being” is that I create satisfaction through expending effort.  It seems that production takes effort.  I have to push my body through the mild discomforts of squatting 275 lbs. to have the satisfaction (as strange as it is) of a fatigued body.  I have to work through the mental gymnastics of writing out my thoughts to create a blog post.  I have to gather data and cajole understanding to create analysis.  It takes work.

Production has costs.

But perhaps the greatest cost of production is breaking the inertia of not doing anything at all.  Or worse still, imagining all the things you could (should) be doing but never doing any of them.  Not only does all of this low-grade effort fail to produce anything at all, it also reinforces thinking over doing.  It habitualizes inaction.  It amplifies the inertia.

This is why failure to move is the state of paralysis.  It’s a tautology, but it also boils down inaction to it’s most basic component: not doing.

I’ve  been thinking about this lately because I have so many ideas bubbling around in my head, most of which could be “big.”  And it’s that notion that these ideas have huge potential that makes me fear screwing them up.  Meanwhile, by nature of being “big,” they also have explicit costs.  I can very easily envision how much work they will take to make them succeed.  And wouldn’t you know it?  The more I think about them, the harder it becomes to act on them.

And like all productive efforts, all I have to do to break the state of paralysis is to move.

It is that simple.

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How We Get Good at Something

It takes mundane, often boring, always repetitive practice. And often a whole lot of it. We learn by doing and not by thinking.

Watch this short creative take about Ira Glass’s advice on storytelling:

This strikes me as relevant to mastering any skill, and reminds me of George Leonard’s “Mastery” (a bit of a summary of Mastery can be found by Todd Becker, who prompted me to read Mastery in the first place — it’s a quick, inspiring/challenging book).

Watching that video reminds me of how I “became an artist.” I did a lot of art/cartooning as a kid and people would say to me, “You’re talented.” Being an artist was then, and still is today, looked at as some sort of “gift” bestowed from the heavens (and or my genetics). I’ve never believed this personally though.

How I became an artist was much simpler: I kept trying to copy the cartoon image of Super Mario over and over and over again, doing it better and better each time. I remember doing it 20-30 times one night for my classmates in maybe 1st grade. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was inadvertently practicing how to copy something I saw with my eyes and put it down onto paper. Without any prompting or structured learning from parents or teachers, I trained myself as a five or six year old to draw cartoons.

This is the lunchbox that made me an artist:

A vintage plastic Aladdin Super Mario Bros. Lunch box - this is exactly what I used for lunch in early elementary school.
A vintage plastic Aladdin Super Mario Bros. Lunch box - this is exactly what I used for lunch in early elementary school.

This is how we learn: practice, perseverance, stumbling, and trial and error.

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Back at it.

After an insanely long blogging hiatus, I’ve finally initiated a sitewide “upgrade:” I’m giving up on my old blogging platform (b2evolution, sorry buddy, we had some good times …) and have officially switched over to WordPress.  I’ve also picked up a shiny new WordPress theme via fellow Atlantan and friend John Saddington of TentBlogger.

I’m working on migrating all the old b2evo posts over to WordPress (hoping to enlist some help via a b2evo guru), so bear with me as I undergo this process.

In the meantime, here are a few things that I’m playing with:

  • BirthdayShoes.com — my overtly, bizarrely barefoot shoe fan site continues to grow as the minimalist footwear, barefoot running, and toe shoe movements ripple outward.  If I could just find the time to keep up with all the reviews I need to do!
  • Google — This is my dayjob here in the ATL.  Lately, I’ve been either researching the retail industry or playing with Google+ (Feel free to add me though if I don’t add you back, it’s probably because I’m having a hard time realizing who you are, so be sure to get my attention somehow).
  • Parenting — Do I really need to elaborate on this one?  Our youngest daughter is almost 2 and quite a handful.  Tack on the fact we recently moved into a house we bought in May and Sonal is pregnant (16 weeks today!) and life is busy.  Here’s Avi a few days ago telling me what to do!  The nerve . . . Stay right here, Daddy!
  • OEM Human (.com) This site is still extremely “beta.”  Hmm … maybe more “alpha.”  Anyway, this is a project I’ve had simmering on the backburner of my mind for at least a year now.  If you’re curious about it, be sure to sign up for the email subscription.
  • LeanGains — Been doing LeanGains for almost a year now.  Hope to post about the program soon.  Geez can’t believe it’s been almost a year.
  • Been quite interested in the impact of flavors on body set(ling)point per the works for Seth Roberts, Stephan Guyenet, and Todd Becker.
  • Recent reads include Beyond Brawn, The Brain that Changes Itself (awesome book), and most recently, Moonwalking with Einstein.
Hope to start posting more often here.  The blog needed a good reboot.  Here’s hoping this sticks.
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The Game-Changer

It’s been quiet here on the site lately as the game has changed. I’m four weeks into fatherhood, and those four weeks feel more like ten.

I’ve been trying to come up with an easy way to explain to others what being a new parent is like. It’s an emotional roller coaster. Living with a nooborn is like setting a kitchen timer on a two to three hour schedule that never stops resetting. Change a diaper, feed, comfort, put baby to sleep, knock a few things out around the house, rinse, repeat. It does not stop.

And there are the fussy times when you lose confidence in your ability to parent — can I soothe this baby? Maybe mother can try. Maybe this will work. Maybe not. These times make me realize just how little I’ve appreciated my own parents (Thank you mom and dad!).

And then there are the moments where she grins from ear to ear or unequivocally meets your eyes with hers. The pride and joy that springs from these moments is profound.

Everyone tells you “your life [as you know it] is over.” They’re right. Becoming a parent is a game changer. There are new requirements, new rules, new milestones, new joys, new sorrows, and on and on. And you learn about it all as you go along via trial and error. Googling helps, too.

Being a parent is an incredible experience.

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Aviana a.k.a. “Project Aminowings” a Success

My daughter Aviana entered the world Monday night. She was a smidge under eight pounds, and (no bias I promise) she is beautiful. She is also amazingly intelligent, wanting to stay up all night in an effort to elucidate the experience of dreaming in the womb. Unfortunately, this means that between the hours of midnight and five of six in the morning, she is doing anything but dreaming!

Needless to say, “Project Aminowings” was a huge success and I am one proud papa.