Front Stage to Backstage

Photo credit, Seabass Creatives https://unsplash.com/@sebbb?photo=U3m4_cKbUfc
During the last several years of my career, I have played a series of internal operations roles. This was a nice change after so many years being a client-facing consultant. 
 
You have a different view of constraints when you come out of a client-delivery context.
 
Client constraints help you focus.  In the backstage world, there are less boundaries to keep you corralled: as a result, you can spend too much on supplies or take too long planning.  It’s important to remember to deliver.
 
Then there’s ego. You don’t get the glory.  Sales get glory. New deals in the pipeline get glory.  You don’t get glory for streamlining messaging, no matter how it goes. 
 
Many internal employees like things to stay the same.   I am spoiled. Being a traveling consultant for so many years, I learned to get bored if I’m not looking to improve my work.   
 
I always loved working with customers. Still do. The only downside of consulting was not being around long enough to understand how your work would survive without you. Now I can get the best of both worlds.
 
I’m finding it refreshing to bring a client delivery mentality to an in-house role these days. I’m also lucky to have a team that is sinking their teeth into a more agile style of working. 
 
Love what you do. Find something you can improve tomorrow. Make it better. Keep going.

Almost Paradise: Musings On Leaving California

I wrote this in October 2016 only to leave it unfinished.  During the last week, I received a notification of a post from Facebook a year ago when we were on a house hunt in Virginia. When I re-read the post, it still rang true for me, so I’ve decided to post it.

Those of us who have had the privilege of living in Northern California for a portion of our lives have at one time or another thought that they could not leave “paradise”. After all, we had sublime weather, the greatest sunsets, and the greenest hills. We were fifteen minutes from wine country and 20 minutes from downtown SF.  I can say with conviction that California has some great things, but while its almost paradise, it’s not the end-game for me.

D8ijGd3CSGq4BxJ9EzTf_13976945916_fa0ce84ee3_o

Now that I’ve moved away, it’s amazing to realize that its the one place I’ve actually spent the most substantial portion of my life outside of NY/NJ.  We had a great run there, learning the city without really knowing anyone. We ate at some of the country’s best restaurants, drank the best wines, saw the greatest landscapes.  Experienced sailing in SF Bay, learned to properly mountain bike in the hills of San Anselmo and discovered the practice of yoga.  We got married, got my first dog, and had two amazing kids. I put my first dog to sleep, lost co-workers to horrible accidents and experienced numerous earthquakes (luckily not the “big one”).

Ultimately, I was ready to go. You know there is something missing when you make a great salary but you’re always feeling like you are scraping by.  We were having annual (if not more frequent) conversations about how many things we missed back east.  Every trip home was a reminder of what we were missing. After all, what good is paradise when you can’t share it with everyone you love.  Paradise is relative.

For a while I thought that if I changed my job, I might be happier. As I started exploring companies, it was clear that there were lots of incredible opportunities abound.

So we moved back east.  It’s been an adventure to say the least.  We’ve had some curveballs thrown at us, but we’ve kept on truckin’.  We see family all of the time, the kids love school, and we’ve become part of a great community.  

Do I miss California? There are definitely some aspects of it that I think about often:

  • Wearing shorts practically year round.  
  • The gardens around my home that I created with my own sweat.  
  • The Plano, the friends we made there, our annual block parties and our large assortment of fruit trees.
  • It’s Its. In and Out. Fish in Sausalito. Central Market in Petaluma. 
  • Living near waterfall hikes.
  • Taking the ferry to work.

Are there things I don’t miss? Absolutely:

  • Horrible public transportation.
  • Bad startup ideas. (I was once approached by a company that failed making a television show recommendation app that they “pivoted” into an email marketing tool.)
  • Endless hoards of hipsters. Ironic beards.  Civilians in cycling gear.
  • The fact that I lived in an upper middle class neighborhood but still would have my car pillaged in the middle of the night.
  • Day care that was three times as expensive as it was in New Jersey where I grew up.
  • Not having seasons. Especially Fall.
  • Being away from family during times of crisis.
  • My kids not getting to grow up near cousins and old family friends.

Was California paradise? Almost, but not quite. 

The bottom line for me is that paradise is a myth.  There are beautiful places all over this country. What’s important is that you have a chance to live in them.  I feel like these days I am enjoying a better life. Next time I go back to the Bay, it will be nice to be a visitor again.

I’ve Been Busy Doing The Work

I am a digital marketer that likes to help others be better marketers.  In order to do that well, it means that I’ve got to sometimes just skip that blog post or presentation idea and “do the work“.  That’s where I’ve been.

journeyman-been-doing-the-work-adammonago
It’s been a journey.

 

About two months ago, I joined ICF, an organization with amazing talent, ambition and some very unique client opportunities. My charter is to develop and lead our brand’s digital marketing strategy. Its an exciting mission because of the complex domains that the company engages in. Renewable energy, digital government, healthcare modernization. We’ve got awesome challenges ahead of us. Content strategy challenges, marketing and communications challenges, and the mission to build out our team to take us into the future.

That said, I needed to keep my expectations tempered because there was a big project already waiting for me:  as I joined, our new brand identity and website were nearing deadline for launch.  The company wouldn’t need a strategist on day one: it needed to make sure we delivered.  

Fast forward two months.  We shipped the new site.

everything-illuminated-been-doing-the-work-adammonago
Everything is illuminated

It’s far from done (news flash: websites never are).  That said, it’s been a good reminder of the positives about actually finishing things.

  • Finishing is good for a team. It reinforces their belief in their own capabilities.
  • Finishing lets stakeholders know you’ll deliver in the future.
  • Finishing gives you time to think about building the next great thing.

I’m thrilled to be part of a team building something great again.  Now and again, I’ll be taking a break to tell the stories here. 

 

The Smell of Smoke After Fireworks

I hope everyone enjoyed a safe and relaxing 4th of July weekend. We had a great time visiting with friends and family and getting recharged. This is not so much a full post; I’m just sharing a few thoughts and a handful of links to interesting reads and bits of news from the last few days.

Independence Day Weekend

My boys and I watched the fireworks in our neighbors’ yard on Saturday night from their bedroom window. What amazed them most was not the fireworks themselves, but the thick plumes of smoke that rose up and wafted through the tall forest that surrounds our home. Later that evening, as I took the trash out to the curb, I could smell the heavy smell of gunpowder mixed with rain. It’s a smell that you get perhaps once a year, but it takes you back to the last time as soon as you notice it.  I still think that smell might be the most powerful sense of all.

 

Washington, D.C. July 4th fireworks
Washington, D.C. July 4th fireworks

Last night we were home before any fireworks began, but a proper barrage started as they lay in their beds getting ready for sleep. They thought it was a thunderstorm, and Jen and I were happy to let them think as much in order to get some rest.

Afterwords from The Future of Podcasting is You 

  • If like me, you’re into podcasts and where the medium is going, you may be interested in this new development from the folks at Podbean. Their new advertising program allows brands to get placements on Podbean hosted shows that are read by the show hosts themselves.  Select shows offered this before, but this is a nice benefit for a network.  

  • The latest issue of the Hotpod Newsletter from Neiman Journalism Labs is out. Particularly fun is the included profile of the Relay.FM podcast network.

  • I was featured on a fun live interview last week with the team at Carpool Talk Show.  Stay tuned for the replay link.

Reminders of Unspeakable Acts

  • Legendary author and holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, passed away this weekend at the age of 87. What amazes me is that he actually wrote 57 books; something which seems to be glossed over given his most famous recounts his experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Check out these powerful recaps of his life from the New Yorker and New York Times and get a sense of what is lost now that one of the few remaining witnesses passes away.

  • In a bizarre twist today, the leader of the KKK, David Duke responded to (and seemingly condoned) an antisemitic tweet from Donald Trump.  

  • I’m listening to one of my favorite all-time albums, the HELP charity album for the war in Bosnia.  It’s a fantastic collection of music, pulled together to support aid for a particularly dark time in recent history. This article from the Guardian recaps the history of the project fairly well, 15 years on

 

Pastures New

Today I’m breaking from my typical routine of writing about digital marketing and strategy trends to talk a bit about a big personal milestone.  It is with much excitement that I share the news of some big changes for me and my family: I have left ThoughtWorks to head for new pastures.

My next career challenge:  I am joining TrackMaven in Washington, DC, as their Senior Director of Professional Services and Customer Success.  I am starting this month and soon after, I will also be looking into moving the family back east as well.

What I Am Most Looking Forward To

I am excited to be joining my fellow Mavens on many levels, but I’ll elaborate on a few specific reasons here.

  1. TrackMaven has a great product that fills a universal need for omni-channel marketers: the benchmarking, monitoring and trending of competitive analytics across all digital channels.   I’ve been a customer/user for a couple of years now, and we continue to find new ways to use the data that the service provides. I cannot wait to help build new levels of awareness around the product, help our customers get better insights into its use and potentially craft new forms of marketing education and services using it as a platform.
  2. A fun-loving culture. There is a love of the craft of marketing, and that of helping customers solve problems that comes from every member of the team.  This spills onto customers as well, not solely through Corgi photos and cupcakes, but also by creating unique quality content.
  3. Building relationships with marketing leaders. If you know me well, you also know that I am a connector, and lover of people. As a part of my role, I will be able to forge new bonds with marketers in organizations of many different shapes and sizes.

The Extra Benefits

  1. Proximity to friends and family. Being based in DC, I’ll now get to visit many more of our closest friends within a few hour drive.
  2. DC is such a  great city.  Filled with so many amazing free things to do and see and eat, I cannot wait to share it with the boys.

What’s Next?

During the last several weeks, I’ve had a chance to reflect on many life themes from the last decade. Specifically, these include life in northern California, product management, health and wellness and career changes.  I’ll be sharing some of those thoughts here, in addition to my typical areas of focus, digital marketing and strategy. I would be very thankful if you subscribed and offered feedback on anything that resonates with you.

 

Zen Retreat at Green Gulch

Green Dragon Temple at Green Gulch Farm
Green Dragon Temple at Green Gulch Farm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things that I was interested in doing on my sabbatical was a meditation retreat. Over the last few years I had read a number of things on mindfulness, including the great . I was hoping to use the time off to find a location where I could get immersed in the practice of meditation as a total novice.

Luckily where we live, there are many options. There is the legendary Spirit Rock center just a few miles away, and for those looking to drive a couple hours to Big Sur, the beautiful Esalen.  In the last week, I learned there is actually a center that offers vipassana retreats right in town.  In any case, I found a really nice option in the San Francisco Zen Center at Green Gulch Farms. What sold me on this center was the combination of proximity, cost and sheer beauty.  If you have ever driven to Muir Beach you will have driven past the entrance.

Full disclaimer: I did not really know a great deal about formal meditation before going, so everything that I am writing about was based on this one experience.

Scenery

 

From the moment you drive down off the main road you feel completely immersed in another world with towering redwoods and eucalyptus, ferns of all shapes and sizes and the cool, clean smell of the ocean in the distance. The temperature was consistently cool, even in the hottest hours of the day when the sun was able to penetrate the canopy over the farm.

I arrived in the early morning and as I ambled down the path towards the main grounds, an owl swooped overhead and perched on the tree next to me. Throughout the day I would see many different types of birds throughout.

The main grounds consisted of the Japenese style Zendo (or meditation hall) surrounded by a number of modern buildings that contained the dining hall, some offices and dormitories. Everything was surrounded by freshly tended native flower gardens.  Beyond the main buildings it was possible to enter the actual farm, which is communally worked for the subsistence of the community. It appears that in addition to supplying food for residents and students, there are also plant sales that occur on-site.

About the practice

 

The practice at Green Gulch was based upon the Vipassana and Zen traditions, the distinctions of both being new to me.  For those that are also not familiar, I would summarize them by saying that the Vipassana tradition uses silent meditation and is based on the notion that ‘what happens is what happens’, meaning that there is not necessarily a specific end you are pursuing in your meditation. Rather, you focus on keeping the form and practice and allowing your mind and emotions to go where they will. As far as I can tell, the Zen tradition was based upon Vipassana but has built up quite a bit more in the way of ritual and formality in terms of the postures and forms of the meditation.

At the core of the experience were about four different seated meditation sessions in the Zendo of about 40 minutes a piece.  These were alternated with 40 minute periods of walking meditation, 40 minutes of qigong as a group in the gardens (very similar to tai chi) and an hour long silent group meal consisting of soup, salad and bread from the on-site garden. There were also a couple hours of Dharma talks which I could be describe as lectures on various philosophies and practices of buddhism and how they can be interpreted.

It was during the dharma talks that we were able to really get to appreciate our practice leader, Edward Brown, as he took the time to point out to us what aspects of the practice were really important and which were less so.  He had a tremendous sense of humor and I thought his teachings were very pragmatic.

Overall Experience – What I would look for next time

 

I had few expectations going in as I really had no idea what I was in for. That said, I found the time very rewarding and exhausting.  I don’t think anyone can really explain to you how physically and mentally tired you can become by meditating all day, but it really does take quite a bit of strength. As a newbie to the practice, I can say they were incredibly friendly to new students. There was also a tremendous amount of diversity amongst our group and other attendees there.  I would highly recommend a meditation retreat here, although I might explore the one closer to my home just as a counter point to this experience.

The outdoor beauty was a bonus. I was completely in love with the farm itself and it was just such a perfect compliment for me, given my love of gardening.  I look forward to heading back just to explore the gardens some more and hopefully talk to more of their gardeners.

I think the only additional thing I would look for would be a retreat that incorporates some yoga practice. While there was nothing stopping one from practicing on their own here, I think the scenery was so fantastic that it would have been just an amazing complement to the weekend.

 

Three Month Sabbatical

This week marks the beginning of my three month sabbatical from ThoughtWorks.  One of the very special perks we have is the 12 week paid sabbatical after 10 years with the company.   I reached my 10 year milestone last August but it took until now to plan a suitable time and to prepare my team.

It’s a pretty weird thing to plan on stepping away from your job for 3 months.  Immediately I was peppered with lots of questions from friends and colleagues:  “what are you going to do,” and “where will you go?” The truth is when you have two toddlers at home, you’re not going far, but the possibility of having that much free time on my hands again was very exciting.

That said, I do have lots of plans including:

  • Eating and sleeping well
  • Daily fitness activities, namely lots of Yoga, but also hopefully taking advantage of the many hiking trails around our house
  • A meditation retreat
  • Spending lots more time on my hobbies including gardening and music
  • Returning to working on my personal blog and website which has become something I don’t make enough time for anymore. Considering starting one thats more professionally focused.
Proud to say that I’ve started off well with a great workout every day and an awesome trip with Jen and the boys to Stinson and then up the Highway 1 through the Marin hills.I don’t think I am going to live up to my original ambitions to blog daily, but I am going to set aside some time each week to work on it more, particularly some of the longer piece ideas I’ve had.

 

Stay tuned for updates!

 

Me and the family at Stinson Beach
Me and the family at Stinson Beach

The home garden harvest has begun

I’m thrilled to say that during the last couple of weeks, the garden has been exploding with fresh veggies from the winter crop. Today we pulled out a bunch of thumbelina carrots and a ton of kale (there is a great deal more where this came from)!

I am hoping to share more photos throughout the week when I harvest the second round of broccoli (which looks amazing), swiss chard, and cauliflower! I probably should share a shot of the entire bed, since I do not believe I have posted one of those.
Fingers crossed that we get a bit more lettuce and spinach out of this harvest, and I’m also looking forward to see what happens with the beets which were not ready the last time that I checked.

indirectly slashdotted

It was very cool to be quoted in today’s article on RWW about Slashdot and its relevance today.

Slashdot Struggles to Remain Relevant in The Social Web

To elaborate, I think that all of the comments in the article are pretty fair. Slashdot has definitely lost relevance; this saddens me a bit as it was one of the major forces that really helped solidify my love for the web and technology in general. I recognize that there are certainly elements to the community which are a bit exclusive and not as publicly accessible as some other sites such as digg, however, I also feel that is part of the community fabric of the site. I personally have never felt any sort of community with digg or reddit or any of the other ‘aggregation’ types of sites; I have always perceived them to be web ‘features’.
In any case, I thought this was a timely and well done piece by the RWW team. Obviously journalism is a medium that is ever evolving, but this is definitely an outlet to keep an eye on. I also Slashdotted the RWW article here.