I remember my good friend and ThoughtWorks colleague, Luke Barrett, saying: “If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” We shared numerous consulting assignments together and in all cases, he left his mark on our clients as someone who did top-notch work to the point that most of them remembered him, when anyone spoke about our firm. He set the bar.
You see, I don’t just mean that he left them with a great outcome. He did, as did so many of our consultants. What they really remembered was him, and it was due to the small stuff: the qualitative aspects of how he executed on the day to day pieces of his work. These special flourishes made him a great partner, collaborator and a professional.
Here are some of the ways that Luke did it:
His mockups were flawless.
He never left home without his essential tools. That extra projector dongle, a couple of sharpies, a stack of blank index cards — these allowed him to jump into action and turn a conversation into a design session.
When writing a simple brief to summarize a meeting or workshop he would spend a substantial amount of time in order to sort his template out: fonts, margins, colors, you name it. Once that was in place, he could generate content effortlessly without the worry that it would not be presented well. It wasn’t that form outweighed function but that they were equal partners.
Luke would walk our workshop spaces before we conducted a session to anticipate what types of supplies would be most useful for taking notes over multiple days. Have to change rooms? Bring the big post-its to lodge all of the small stickies on, and travel them to the next room.
I often think of this when someone asks if me if I can ‘throw together a few slides’ on something. Usually this is because they’ve seen me do a good piece of work and assume because I did it once, it was easy and repeatable on a whim. Like most of you, I probably need to work at making content clean and digestible. I can’t simply crank it out and expect it to be flawless.
The easiest route to neglecting the quality you know you are capable of is being too busy to care.
In my field, companies hired top-tier consulting firms for a few reasons, and quality was not one of them. It was that despite being expensive and slow, they were predictable. That said, the clients typically don’t remember their consultants names.
If you leave a mark of technical quality on everything you do, you will be the reason that clients want to hire your company.
So I would ask you: Who would you prefer your clients remember: you or your company?
I have some big news to share this week: I have finally joined the 10’s and started listening to streaming music. 😂
I have taken my music collection very seriously my entire life. Even after digital music arrived on the scene, I was precious about my ‘collection’. I can recall hours/days/weeks/months of time spent digitizing tracks; backing up drives multiple times to safeguard my digital goods. As the streaming platforms emerged I tried them but was reluctant to totally cut the cord and just “rent” my music.
We finally bit the bullet and got a Spotify family plan. What can I say? Spotify is one of the greatest apps I’ve used in my life. As a music geek it allows for endless exploration, although it almost makes it so easy to get sucked down rabbit holes that I feel like I’ll need to work hard to curate some of my long time favorites into my workspace/playlists/whatever. It’s been lots of fun.
That said, there are a bunch of things I’m still working to figure out, and I figured that if I posted my questions here, some folks might help me out in the comments.
Local Music With Spotify – It seems that Spotify found playlist files on my computer from iTunes or elsewhere, and while it seems to identify the songs and artists and track lengths on them, it does not seem to be able to play those tracks. Does that sound right? Is Spotify supposed to recognize local music collections? Or do I really have to add all my existing playlists and music back bit by bit in the Spotify UI?
Finding Friend’s Music Activity – Spotify clearly seems to be aware of some of my Facebook friends, and gives me what they’re listening to in my right hand activity bar. That said, when I ask it to find friends, it seems to hang forever but never do anything. Has anyone else experienced this?
Overall, very happy to have jumped into the Spotify pool. I have lots to say about how great of an entertainment platform I think it is, but I’ll save that until after I’ve spent a bit more time, and perhaps even after I’ve taken in Stay Free: The Story of the Clash, narrated by Chuck D!
Here’s an understatement: It’s been a year. I’m happy to say that all is overwhelmingly good. The family has health and good fortune and despite the ups and downs of daily life we have had no major difficulties to speak of. That said I thought I would put together a quick rundown of the best and worst of 2018 – this should give you and me and clean slate to work from in 2019.
This year included our first forays into youth baseball, cub scouts and a full year with our puppy Hazel. We’ve made new friends and neighbors, made great progress at work and managed to fit in a few fun family reunions this year.
Social media really has been turned on its head this year! I say this as a digital marketer and long time user of several social platforms.
Facebook has gone from being the tool of choice for businesses to one that has left brands scratching their heads.
All in all, it has provided those of us in industry with an opportunity to reevaluate how we use these platforms, what engagement is really valuable, and what ways can we differentiate our content. I think the next year will prove to be interesting and exciting, but we’ve got quite a bit of work to do.
I made a single post this year, not including this one. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I didn’t prioritize posting next to other things. I started many but broke my own commitment to finish those posts and launch them. I resolve to get over that and post regularly this year.
The post I did make was one out of frustration with the growing amount of anti-semitism in the world today. Pittsburgh was a wake up call that it is still alive and well here at home in the US, but recent news shows it starting to manifest itself in many other places ranging from the writings of Alice Walker to Belgian soccer matches. Turns out this trend has been visible for the last several years, particularly across Europe as noted in this recent report on antisemitism in Europe.
Greats that we lost this year were many, but I was especially touched by the losses of Stan Lee, Stephen Hawking, and Johann Johannsson. Stan started the comic book universe that was so foundational to my youth. Hawking taught me to unlock my love for hard science through application and imagination. Johannsson was an artist I only discovered in recent years for his incredibly powerful film scores that left me searching for the composer. Such giants in their respective fields.
TV Winners: Game of Thrones (S7), Westworld (S2), Better Call Saul, Narcos, Homecoming and Ozark.
TV Losers: House of Cards and Homeland final seasons
Podcast Favorites: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, The Daily, Song Explorer, How I Built This, Love Your Work and Westworld: The Recappables,
Books I Enjoyed This Year
I read and listened to a ton of books this year, which was great. That said, here are a few of my favorites.
It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work – A very poignant new volume from DHH and Jason Fried over at Basecamp. A reassuring manifesto that you can do good, smart work in a civilized fashion and know that you can thrive at work and at home and be satisfied while doing so. This has influenced many of my interactions with colleagues this year.
The Strange Death of Europe – I’m a couple of years late on this book, but it’s been an unexpected treat in how provocative its been to my own thoughts on the global challenges with immigration and what it means to current nation states now and in the future. The book has had some harsh reviews, given its politics can be interpreted to be very conservative, but I think its a very powerful review of recent history.
The Sirens of Titan – I was inspired to read this Kurt Vonnegut classic after seeing it on the coffee table in Westworld. The book is a sometimes silly and other times horrifying adventure through our solar system, pairing ordinary people with extraordinary beings. The ultimate conclusion is a powerful sentiment about the meaning of human life, that is to love and be loved.
Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic – A meaty and somewhat heady tome on the philosophies and writings that inspired the American revolution. Highly recommended but this one takes some time to work through, particularly given how many other references it makes that you may wind up checking out.
Turtles All The Way Down – Great young adult fiction. I stumbled upon this and was intrigued by the title. After learning it was written by the writer of a number of really popular YA books/films, I thought I would give it a try. Turned out to be a fantastic look into mental illness in teens that was a page turner all the way down (err.. through). Highly recommended.
Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI – Probably the greatest piece of content marketing I’ve read in years. This text by the CTO of Accenture, is effectively a pattern language for businesses exploring automation at enterprise scale. Starting with a primer on basic machine learning concepts, it expands to talk about how human resources and organizational design will change to account for these new technology paradigms. A must if you ponder the future of work. Also great if you are trying to figure out how to make your business’ content educational and relevant to your customers.
When Breath Becomes Air – Heartbreaking true story of a surgeon gripped by cancer. The book tracks his discovery of the disease, his fight against it, and relationships with coworkers, friends and family during the period. It approaches head on the idea of preparing one’s self to die.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things – In recent years, this became one of those business books that you’re expected to read if you follow the startup technology scene. Written by one of the founders of the leading VC firms, Ben Horowitz, this is an easy to read and honest transfer of lessons from someone who has been a part of growing or helping to grow some very significant companies of our time.
This year was one to be proud of for our digital and demand generation team at ICF. We successfully implemented and launched Marketo across our organization and made some key hires on our demand generation team. Our web team has really started to come into its own, with a new leader and solid contributors on all fronts from content and design to SEO to analytics and optimization. The organization also successfully completed four acquisitions in which our team played a major role of integrating sites into our experience. We also worked on launching a new brand for our marketing services agency, ICF Next – expect more on that in the coming few weeks.
Health and Fitness
This year, Yoga continued to be my go-to method. I’ve become stronger and improved my balance overall, but I’m starting to feel that I need to diversify my workouts to stay fit. While I’m happy that I could recently get into my wedding suit comfortably, my goal is to get myself back into the shape I was when I felt best in my life. More to come in the next couple of weeks as I put my program together.
I’ve been deep into family tree research over the last two years, and this year led to some huge discoveries on both sides of my family. I managed to meet a few of my third and fourth cousins around the country, that I had never met and developed some great new online relationships with others. I also have managed to trace back a few of my family lines further back than I thought would be possible through DNA and document research. I’m very excited to see what I can learn in 2019!
Thanks for reading!
Please comment or contact me directly to let me know what you have been up to. I promise to keep up my writing this year, but look forward to hearing from you and what posts you have enjoyed.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.