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    Unsatisfied ≠ Ungrateful

    (Originally published Jan. 2014 over on Medium)

    Bidding adieu to another holiday season, I was struck recently by a series of conversations I had with friends and family, both young and old. They all centered on the usual exchanges of how everyone was doing and what their plans for the future might be. When it came my turn to sound off on my current status and hopes and dreams for the future, the upshot was remarkably the same — “You should be more grateful for what you have.”

    Now aside from the fact that every single discussion centered on the general well-being of my family (wife and two kids), and I prefaced each answer with my thankfulness for their health and happiness, I answered as honestly as possible with regard to the hoping/dreaming bit.

    “…at least you don’t have to deal with traffic.”

    While I expected this candor to be met with the usual well-wishing and encouragement, the most common refrains went something like, “…at least you don’t have to deal with traffic,” or “…at least you’ve got a good marriage”, or “…at least you have a job.” At this point, I’d like to pause and advocate 100% for daily meditation on those people and circumstances you’re thankful for. In my case, I do this as part of my morning routine and can say confidently that it is a major reason for my success in the areas of life continually referenced by those close friends and relations above. With that said, I’m still left wondering why some of the greatest people I know seemed so put off when I told them that I was unsatisfied with my current station. Don’t we all continually strive to achieve our goals? Isn’t that what so many dogmatic inspirational posters plastered across the waiting rooms and classrooms of our youth told us to do? It’s the journey, not the destination, right?

    All jokes and memes notwithstanding, I think the answer is wholeheartedly yes. Never be satisfied so much to the point that treading water seems like a nice place to end up. I’m all for continual reflection on the gifts our lives provide, but not at the expense of ambition and aspirations. Remaining curious and open to all avenues should be celebrated. “What if?” is a powerful motivator.

    Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it also crowns the kings.


    The Necessity of Women

    Count me among those sounding the drumbeat of the demonstrable need for female leadership, not only in tech, but in every other industry of modern society lately. I've been a vocal proponent for a while now, but a number of recent experiences have left me absolutely dumbfounded.

    How, in this day and age, could we (yes all of us) be doing such a poor job of eliminating the ridiculous stereotypical female conventions of yesteryear? Some of the most brilliant young men I've met lately, among their many talents, nonetheless fail to see how their gender stereotypes and microslights against women will only disadvantage them in their future endeavors. The problem, as I see it, is not necessarily that a young man would engage in legacy sexism, but would do so so willingly without any afterthought. Perhaps I'm judging too harshly from the perspective of a happily married and supportive husband and father, but, seriously, where is the disconnect among those who should know better - namely the next generation of aspiring leaders in typically male dominated STEM fields?

    You, gentlemen, are only hurting yourselves when you fail to realize the true significance of those intellects that match, and likely exceed, your own among your female cohorts. Women provide a distinctly unique point of view that will inform and temper your own insights with brilliant results. The best among them are no different than you - they will respect you as deserved and call out your shortsights as needed. Data has clearly shown that the most effective business teams are those who forgo assumed or calculated hegemony, whether it be race, gender, socioeconomics, or otherwise. Those that willingly embrace variety among excellence with a common goal produce outsized results.

    The magic is in the mix. Respect it.



    The Top 6 Things Young Employees Want You to Know Now


    We all know corporate executives today are faced with more uncertainty than ever before. Daily they battle the difficult, ever-changing challenges, both internally and externally, that could result in the life or death of any organization in our lightening fast economy.

    "...corporate executives today are faced with more uncertainty than ever before."

    The following list was the basis for a speaking engagement I had with another good friend and executive leadership trainer last spring, in which he played devil's advocate to my points. The points he made were excellent, but I'd like to save those rebuttals for a future guest post. This also gives me a chance to hear from any readers who would like to weigh in. At this point, suffice it to say that we weren't arguing so much as we were both advocating for excellence in communication throughout the employer/employee relationship.

    Without further ado, I give you "The Top 6 Things Young Employees Want You to Know Now":

    "I know everything is changing. Do you?"

    • I know everything is changing. Do you?
      • This ain’t your father’s world…or mine, for that matter. Have you accepted that every facet of your business will eventually be disrupted by better practices and new service industries, and sooner rather than later?
      • I’m used to constant contact/change/etc. I live and breathe it as naturally as you took to TV and radio. “Always ON” isn’t a burden to me, it’s expected.
      • The days of me “not seeing the big picture” are gone. I am information. Get over it.
      • Your business will only progress as fast as you can keep ahead of the commoditization of your services. How will you differentiate in the new normal of globalization and shorter and shorter innovation cycles and talent deficits?
      • The days of me not knowing my worth are gone.
      • Expect me to jump ship. You can see by my resume, that this is not uncommon.
      • You are here to serve me in my professional chase, be grateful.
      • Big bets on young talent are worth it to keep up. Hopefully, someone capable is keeping track.

    "You should trust me."

    • You should trust me.
      • Typical American workplace psychology is poisoned. Do us all a favor and trust me. You’ll find out soon enough who has what it takes, and who doesn’t.
      • You probably do trust me on paper if I’ve lived up to your recruiting standards, but what about in the day to day operations of the business? Challenge my ass. Push the learning curve. Take a calculated risk. If you are in middle management and can’t, then ask for more flexibility in punching the tickets of the deserved from your superiors. I’m counting on you for that – and not just at annual review time.
      • Outside of industry regs, wouldn’t you suppose that I have something interesting to say about your internal best practices? What about client expectations? What would happen if you involved me in the full stack of project negotiation through delivery? I’m not going to make us look bad if you let me hang around during client sessions. Sure, you might take a UT hit, but what is the ROI for that time at depth? Negligible if you look at my lifetime value as an employee.
      • What if I’m a non-traditional grad/intern/what-have-you that doesn’t fit the typical employee mold? Do you have the objectivity to recognize talent when it’s on your doorstep, or already within your ranks, and act appropriately? This type of worker case will become more and more common in the wake of The Great Recession and continued industrial disruption. Get used to it, and have a plan.

    "Show me the metrics."

    • Show me the metrics.
      • Transparency builds trust. It’s as simple as that. If you involve me from the outset in the necessary performance metrics that truly allow people to impact the bottom line, climb the ranks, and respect them, I will follow you to the gates of Hell.
      • If you tell me “that information is available to people who want it”, but don’t make it readily so and commonplace, then I don’t believe you. I will believe it’s a conspiracy and make fun of you during happy hours.
      • If you adhere to the above and I can’t cut it among my peers, then it will be entirely clear why. There will be no lingering doubts about whether so-and-so was close with Manager X, or that promotion was only based on their lucky involvement in Project X when it comes to reviews.
      • Make it absolutely clear how to get from here to there.

    "Intrinsic rewards could mean as much, or more than typical extrinsic motivation."

    • Intrinsic rewards could mean as much, or more than typical extrinsic motivation.
      • Know your team. The days of bigger carrots and stay in your box are over. Sure, there will always be a number of us who are influenced by the payday, but more often, we are finding that the “why” behind the “what” or “who” matters more than all of the above.  
      • Younger workers could be motivated as much by the social gratification of what they do for a living, as by the paycheck they collect every couple weeks…you should know what matters to me.

    "Management isn’t for the weak."

    • Management isn’t for the weak.
      • Don’t put half-ass managers in charge of me. 
      • It doesn’t take years in any industry to recognize ineffective people, so don’t bullshit me. 
      • If this person is responsible for me and my career trajectory, then their position shouldn’t be a place where lifers go to die. 
      • Managing people is one of the hardest tasks to conduct effectively in any company, and definitely shouldn’t be relegated to the domain of unremarkable, long term employees that you can’t figure out what to do with. If you think I’m too green to realize my manager’s capacity in this respect, then I might redirect you to the “trust” directive above. 
      • Managing is a skill where, in my case, I might use the infamous line about “…I’m not sure what it looks like, but I’ll know it when I see it,” works just fine. 
      • This might be the single biggest strategic decision in helping you develop, influence, mentor, and hopefully keep me.

    "Failure should be acceptable as long as it’s not catastrophic and you learned actionable information from it."

    • Failure should be acceptable as long as it’s not catastrophic and you learned actionable information from it.
      • This really speaks to the innovation zeitgeist and what it really takes to build a culture around it. Not that your experts aren’t completely capable of attempting innovation on their own, but I think we would be better served if you teamed me (interested young person) with one of our technical leads with implicit teaching directives. Mentorship doesn’t have to be bureaucratized, but it does have to be acted upon.
      • Experimentation in all facets of our business is the only way we are going to stay relevant as the innovation cycles shorten across the board. NEWS FLASH - I'm good at that.
      • Fast and cheap – let’s learn as much as we can…and GROW that instinct in our incoming staff.

    Hopefully that provided more introspection than feathers ruffled, but you can probably tell I hope for both in equal measure.

    The future belongs to you.



    The Best Superpower Ever

    (Note: This post originally appeared over on Medium under a slightly different title).

    With the latest reboot of the venerable Superman franchise set to hit theaters this Friday, it got me thinking about the age old question of, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” I’d like try to settle that question once and for all. Now before you bounce away to some other post thinking this is just some comic fanboy blowing smoke, hear me out. The best superpower in the world is empathy. Why empathy? Why not flight, or invincibility, or super speed? Because empathy is one of the great unifying forces of humanity that has the power to unleash not only the best in yourself, but the best in others as well.

    Empathy certainly isn’t the sexiest superpower out there. “Empathy Man” doesn’t really roll off the tongue, and I doubt that narratives about heroes gaining a deeper understanding of their conflicted nemeses while engaging in truly meaningful dialogue would move much copy. However, there really is one powerful argument as to why empathy stands above the rest: empathy is the one superpower within everyone’s grasp. It’s slightly unrealistic to expect that I will be able to shoot lasers from my eyes in my lifetime (hedging my bets there), but it is completely realistic to expect greatness in every one of life’s pursuits if I develop my empathetic superpower. is completely realistic to expect greatness in every one of life’s pursuits if I develop my empathetic superpower.

    Engaging anyone with a highly trained empathetic response allows desired outcomes to come to fruition faster. It can be disarming, charming, and make you seem downright prescient. You will have the ability to foresee needs, potential biases, roadblocks, and bridges over what might, at first blush, appear to be intractable problems. You will be a communication ninja…err superhero.

    It is the North Star by which the most talented and innovative businesses navigate, a moral compass directing all to mutual success.

    Empathy also dictates success in today’s business climate more powerfully than many would imagine. Granted, in the backwash of the Great Recession with Wall Street rising to record heights while too many still haven’t seen any hint of recovery, it’s hard to imagine such a scenario. But I would venture to say that empathy is at the very core of the world’s best companies. It is the North Star by which the most talented and innovative businesses navigate, a moral compass directing all to mutual success. Others with a deeper knowledge of global economics hold similar views. Empathy is a skill which far too few focus on in the ultra-competitive world of 21st century business. What some people might actually construe as a weakness, in reality, is just the opposite when it comes to a highly calibrated sense of empathy. These days there are even new neurological studies being performed on groups of mirror-touch synaesthetes with the sole purpose of discovering what can be learned from these “hyper-empathizers” and applied to the rest of us in our efforts to hone this skill. The empathetic among us will consistently outperform the rest in product development, sales, services, and any other aspect of business due to their sixth sense of human understanding.

    Deftly navigating the emotional landscapes of customers, coworkers, partners, investors and family will have them thinking you really are Superman(woman). And who knows, they might be right.



    You're Doing It Wrong - Of Those Damned Long Entrepreneurial Odds


    If you read my stuff regularly (aka as often as I post) and/or follow my other social feeds, you might get the impression I'm all "rah-rah," all the time. I'm not going to lie, that's calculated. Not so much that I feel positive messages are always the best way forward, but more so because that's the mindset I strive for. Anyone can sell sunshine, but if you believe it, you might as well write it that way. So there you go.

     Anyone can sell sunshine, but if you believe it, you might as well write it that way.

    To the contrary, this post is why my team and I shouldn't win, why we won't become something, why we dream only pipery, why everyone loves to hate...and why they feel righteous in doing so. I'm doing it wrong. This is as much a pep talk to any audience as is it to myself, while indulging the critics, so bear with me.

    Here's a list of reasons why we won't succeed: 

  • Non-technical?   Check.
  • Loads of School Debt?  Check.
  • Mortgage?   Check.
  • Kids?   Check.
  • Rural?   Check.
  • Noob Entrepreneur?  Check.
  • I tumble these bullets in various permutations around in my head constantly. None of the combinations amount to any more than your likely reaction to the above - "Totally screwed, bro," followed closely by, "...but good for you for trying."

    The fun part about any of this analysis is the challenge of converting each one of those liabilities to assets. Let's examine.

    I'll be the first to admit that being a "non-technical" founder is a will my other two non-technicals. Shakespeare put our situation aptly when he said:

    How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
    Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
    From seasons such as these?

    In this case, the "seasons" as I see them, are our rapidly approaching future scenarios without a relevant tech "house" to speak of. The non-technical bit is an easy fix...if you have the right mix. While my partners and I may not have the programming chops to pass 21st century muster just yet, believe me, that day is coming. I've told others that time is my only currency anymore. This has never been truer for me or my co-founders. Do I really think that all the founders will gain some significant proficiency in hard coding? No. Do I think we should all strive for that? Yes - if only to facilitate better design conversations and make better hires down the road. If this ignorance is in any way an asset at this point, then I would tell you that the beauty is in not knowing what isn't possible. (But that still feels like a cop out. Learn to code).

    Would I recommend that any ambitious soul seek to make his or her dent in the universe before they accrue mounds of relatively useless school debt and a mortgage? Of course.

    As far as the debt situation goes, I can't really creatively deal with the intractable nature of it at this point. This is, and always will be a severe liablilty to any would-be entrepreneur. Would I recommend that any ambitious soul seek to make his or her dent in the universe before they accrue mounds of relatively useless school debt and a mortgage? Of course. Anyone who says otherwise is an idiot. But, I would heartily encourage any in my situation to still consider the entrepreneurial path - it is the only way forward. And to those without the hinderance of any money owed, consider how profoundly any and all extra responsibilities will factor into your life before you embark, to give yourself the best shot at success before jumping in.

    Kids are awesome. At the risk of sounding cliche, my life took a dramatic turn for the best with the birth of our first child. I know myself and my goals infinitely better now, than I ever would have without my children. Not to say they are a necessity, but do not doubt they are generally transformative.

    Rural America is becoming less so. I don't mean that people are flocking to settle in smaller communities like mine (though I think that's coming), but I do mean that geography has never mattered less to the world of business...and the "hicks" are catching on. Having your cake and eating it too no longer seems like such an outsized request. Certainly there are more restraints on capital investment and talent for startups in a place like Montana, but that is only a temporary situation if our various economic development groups can help it. A number of successful natives (adopted and othewise) from other areas of the country have a vested interest in seeing Montana succeed in the new business sandbox of the 21st century. Quality of life begets quality of talent.

     You will and should live or die by the fires of your market.

    And so we come to the green beginner piece of this critique. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? A thousand more placations where that came from still manage to engender exactly 0% goodwill in the business market. And why should they? You will and should live or die by the fires of your market. You and your team will be salted just the same as any who have tread this path before you, and you will learn from it. And you will benefit from it. And this is pretty much the only way to truly experience the world in my opinion. Sure, nothing beats experience, but I think this goes beyond that. I think that nothing beats the soulful passionate chase through a no-holds-barred gauntlet of real world pwnage that rightfully awaits those who undertake it. It's sort of like those old commercials for the Marines (no offense intended in the analogy, just illustrating a point). If you think you've got what it takes, then go for it. Why the hell would you let anyone pretend that inexperience is a valid excuse for not trying? 

    Any good entrepreneur knows when to cut the bullshit. Consider this missive one of those moments, and consider this moment one of my sign offs.

    Good luck out there.