Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fate is crap

When you look at your life, do you see fate?  I used to think so.  My dad died the summer I turned 13.  His death set a series of events in motion that shape the rest of my life, fate.  My mom woke up the next morning, no education, minimal work experience (she occasionally worked as a waitress), 2 kids, a mortgage, and no life insurance or savings to speak of...  My mothers reaction to this is a defining lesson in my life.  Rather than curling up in a ball and shutting out the world she steps up.  Mom packs us up and moves us to Boulder, CO where she gets her certification for massage therapy, starts college full-time to become a psychologist.  She is now a doctorate in Psychology and runs her own private practice.  Talk about a role model.  But really fate?  Sounds like hard work to me.

The view from where we got engaged

I did not get married until I was in my mid 30s.  I dated many women but it never seemed right.  Then it seemed like fate brought Molly and I together.  I had not taalked with Dan in years but I looked him up to raise money for a charity.  My friends and I organized a cancer fund raiser, riding our bikes from Seattle to Atlanta for the Olympics.  Dan was so happy to hear from me he said I had to come to NY and join this new ecommerce start-up.  I fly to NY, interview, get the job, move to NY.  Seeing how as I knew no one in NY, the office manager, Molly, takes me under her wing.  On Thursday Molly invites me to dinner with the CEO and his wife.  I try and politely decline, too early to hang with the CEO, so I say I have too much work.  Suddenly click, clack, click, clack, these shoes are purposefully stalking me across the loft.  A woman swooshes around the corner, I look up, surprised I say, "Paige, what are you doing here?"  And she says, "Todd, you're the new guy?"  Paige and I had gone to college together including a great spring break on Lake Mead.  Of course I go to dinner with Paige, Molly and Bob.  Molly and I move in together after 2 weeks later and after 2 years I fly her to Paris to get engaged.  The spot I chose was Vaux le Vicomte happens to be the location Molly chose her her high school graduation project.  There are at least 2 handfuls of other "fate" like indicators that Molly and I are meant for each other but after 5 years and 2 kids she leaves me for my best friend.  Yeah, it was fate I was going to get my heart broken.  Love at first sight bah, humbug!

Something like this except I have aall my hair, there was no fire, and we were alone

Lisa and I met on  Her mother took one look at my picture and said "who is he?"  Well Lisa and I had a few false starts, you know how life can get in the way.  I made a couple of big mistakes, you know how guys can be idiots.  I proposed on her couch in our pajamas, is that lame?Earlier this summer we went to Cannes and Paris for our 5th anniversary and our son Slater turned 4.  We have an amazing relationship.  We work on it every day.  Contrived because we met on the Internet?  Puh-leez, just another way to meet someone.  You may want to feel it is fate that brought you together, get over it, only hard work will keep you together.

No we are not brother and sister but everyone thinks that
When I graduated from college, 1990, the economy was bad.  I still have a folder of the 80 some rejection letters I received before I got my first offer, I took it.  I was a trust officer's assistant at Bank of America (SeaFirst at the time).  Boring, repetative job kissing trustafarian ass.  In college, I spent many years figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.  I started by asking myself what I wanted my life to be like, where did I want to live, was marriage in the cards, did I want kids, etc.  Then what types of jobs held my interest, did it need to be outdoors, could it be at all repetitive, what kind of stability did I need, those types of questions.  The answers all lead me to a short list of companies and one that really stuck out, Accenture.  Sadly I did not have the grades to get in but I just kept telling everyone that was my target.  To offset my grades and have a fall back plan I signed up for the GMATs always taking positive action.  One day, at my Aunts 2nd wedding I was telling my story to the hostess of the house (it was a nice house) and she said, oh please give me your resume and maybe my husband caan help.  Well turns out he is the managing partner in the Seattle office so I get an interview, sah-weet!  I crush in the interview but in the end they decide my grades are too low, I am too big a risk.  As fate would have it, the day they are making the decision I get my GMAT scores back, 96%, good enough to get into any school in the nation at the time so I fax my score in.  They decide with that high a GMAT score, my grades do not matter and offer me the job.  Focus, perseverance, dedication, hard work got me that job and launched my tech career.

Thank god for this or I would be living in a van down by the river

Fate is crap, my dad died because he was riding without a helmet, stupidity not fate.  My mom was successful because she worked hard to achieve her goals.  My marriages either lived or died on hard work and respect, fate had nothing to do with it.  My career is based on skill and focus, no luck involved. You want a fairytale marriage and life?  Its easy, there are only 4 things you have to do...

My dad thought he was Dennis Hopper

Everything good that has ever happened to me in life was the result of  these 4 things:
  1. Be happy and see the best in everything and everyone.  Its called good energy, effuse it at all times.
  2. Never blame someone else, you are not a victim, if something bad happens figure out how you could have done something different to avoid it.  A man gets mugged in central park at 1am is not a victim, he is an idiot.
  3. Have a target in mind, if you don't then you are wondering aimlessly.  I am not saying fill your life with goals and use those as happiness milestones I am just saying know where you want to head so you do things that are consistent with that direction, you will actually get there one day.
  4. Ask for help, always ask for help from everyone even if you think they could not possible help, they can trust me.  If nothing else, they can tell other people and maybe those people can help you.  You have to recognize you cannot make it on your own, we all need help in the form of introductions, suggestions, money, whatever, and if you don't ask you wont get any of it.

Fate my ass, life it what you make of it.  Mine rocks, I hope yours does too or if not, take action and make it rock soon.

So make it count

Friday, July 29, 2011

I got in trouble

How is it that at 46 I can still get in trouble?  I thought I had grown out of that.  I mean when I was a kid I did stupid things like throwng the ball through the window but 40 years later, really?  Isn't there some line you cross where, short of taking an axe to someone, you can basically do what you think is right and not worry about getting in trouble?  Apparently not because I get in trouble a lot.  At my kids school, I forget to turn in paper work, at the office, I forget to turn in paper work (hmm does two points make a pattern or only a line?  And is a line a pattern?) and at home but that rarely has anything to do with paper work, fortunately Lisa takes care of most of that in trade for my sizable manskills.

I got in trouble today for my blog, with Lisa.  I expect this is going to be a long running point of contention.  First, writing my blog takes something like an hour out of an already crammed day so that is an hour where I am not using my valuable manskills for things like killing spiders.  Second, the quality of my posts, apparently yesterdays is confusing and lacks flow which is what she said about my first post so apparently it takes more than writing an hour a day for 18 days to get better.  Given I have not written significant text, as in anything besides emails, for years I should expect it takes at least 20 days of writing before I will improve but I hold myself to a high bar.  Third, Lisa does not like the content in my blogs.  She is afraid people at work will read these, they do by the way, and it will negatively affect, or is that effect, hell I never know, my job.

I have a very distinct style in life, I make very strong emotional connections with the people in my life.  Everyday I try my hardest to help everyone I come in contact with by understanding what they want out of life and seeing if I can provide some perspective, some anecdote, some introduction, some encouragement, some feedback, really anything I can offer to help.  Often this can mean shining a light in places people don't want to look.  This can make people uncomfortable, particularly when they first meet me.

I learned my style from my manager at Accenture, Dan.  He was this amazing larger than life character that brought his teams together in tight knit friendship.  He developed a personal connection in a different way than me, he spent lots of time at bars and restaurants with his team but did not develop deep relationships.  My current manager, Derek, also a phenomenal larger than life manager, is the type of manager who lets you know he cares about you but always maintains a distance that allows him to seem super human, more like Superman.  I suspect he would say something like familiarity breeds contempt.  Me, I am more like Oprah only less intelligent, successful, or attractive, for me it is all about the connection.  In my career I had few managers that helped me with my most challenging areas of interpersonal growth.  I vowed as a manager I would help people grow interpersonally since emotional intelligence has been shown as the best indicator of success.  It seems each of these managerial styles makes some people uncomfortable.  I wonder if it is impossible to be a great manager and not make some people uncomfortable?

Just like a 1-1 with me, perhaps I should get a couch.

I suppose my blog could negatively impact my job but I hope not.  My blog is about, in this order:
  1. Making people think/ask questions about life, theirs and those around them.
  2. Adding humor to peoples day, not as in stand up comedian, my blogs would look different then, as in wow, sounds like my life, that's funny.
  3. Showing people my mistakes and the lessons I learned from them in hopes they uncover their own lessons, making their life better.
  4. Putting my thoughts to pen so they are better formed, given my lack of flow perhaps this is not working.
  5. Learning to write better, developing a style, practicing grammar, etc.
  6. Having fun
  7. Oh and the pictures, I love finding semi-sequitur pictures to add entertainment to my blog

My blog is not about:
  1. It's not about being safe, as you can tell reading my blog I put some very hard core feelings out there often looking at my failings in life. Many would judge me for these failings but the smart ones judge me by the lessons I have learned.
  2. It's not about being politically correct, you do not have to read my blog, I give no kudos for reading it, if you like it cool if you don't cool.
  3. It's not about my opinion, this may seem funny but I rarely know my opinion other than for today.  I change my mind often as I learn more stuff every day.  I prefer to say my opinion evolves but that would only make you laugh at me.

If you must hold my blog against me well I have no control over that so I am not going to worry about it but I hope my blog brings some joy or at least value to your life.  James Altucher always says, "ignore the haters" so I guess that is what I will do.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A girl among men

Scariest villainess EVER, well except for perhaps Kathy Bates

I have a cousin Tenny, she is crazy.  Not as in 1 flew over the Cookoos Nest, as in performance art crazy.  You know these kinds of people, they stare at you in the elevator to disarm you, she will take stuff out of your shopping basket just to see your reaction.  She is fearless and completely self-confident, that is what allows her to be different in such a centered way.  She grew one of 8 cousins, all boys except for her.  For some this would have pushed them to an extreme, masculine, doing what boys do or feminine just to show they are not one of the boys.  Tenny was always just herself regardless of the people surrounding her not pushed in any direction.

Life growing up with a gaggle of cousins is a life of games.  You make them up.  We all went camping with grandpa Chuck, coolest grandpa ever, in his camper.  It was a great trip.  Camping with all us cousins had to be exhausting so grandpa decided he was going to take a nap and he instructed us to stay in camp, BORING.  So we all sat around kicking rocks getting more and more bored until we came up with the game, Hit the Light.  You know how it works, the kids come up with a game that interrupts the one thing you want to do particularly if that thing is nap.  Hit the light was basically kick the can but since we did not have a can you slapped the tail light of the camper and that mean all those prisoners got off scott free.  I think this lasted 3 minutes before Chuck was hollering out the door of the trailer for us to stop making all that racket.  Fine, how about Hide and Seek?  As long as you only whisper he says.

It was this scary to me, the thought of it still freaks me out.

OK, Tenny is it.  Youngest and the only girl.  So we all scatter and hide.  I find the coolest hiding place in these bushes that are somehow both opaque from the outside and transparent from the inside.  Tenny is knocking off the other boys 1 by 1 but she is not going to find me.  As I am sitting there (queue scary music) I look to my right and there is a dead body.  Its a partially decayed teenager, about 15 I would guess, wearing a football shirt, #70.  I screamed like a little girl and bolted out of the bushes much to the humor of my insensitive cousins.  They all decided I lost and the game was over and now we could go find that body!  We gather flashlights, bear mace, sticks, pocket knives, all the good camping protection stuff, and head off into the bushes, nothing.  To this day I swear I saw it, Tenny just says I  made up the story so I could say I was never found.

What, this is a professional sport?

As I said, life with the cousins is a life of games, mostly made up games.  This time we are at grandpa's house and we decide we are going to commandeer his croquet set for a game of Polo.  And since we did not have any polo ponies we would simply use our feet for transportation.  within 30 seconds there is a crowd of cousins around the ball swinging wildly.  Tenny is smart enough to stand back and say someone is going to get hurt.  As was often the case, I was going to get hurt.  I decide there is no way to break the impasse unless a new tactic is applied so I lay on my belly and work to hook the ball out from the crowd.  Why I think this will do anything more than move the crowd to a new ball location is unclear but I never get the chance to find out.  My cousin Attila takes a huge swing and his me right in the mouth with his mallet.  breaks my front tooth off right at the gum line.  All I have left is the raw nerve just hanging there out in the open.  It was crappy.  Note the tooth is no where to be found.  So I am in excruciating pain and it is a Sunday.  luckily my dad is a hippie and he has some cocaine on him which he rubs on my nerve.  I know many of you are aghast at this but I have to say I was grateful for the numbing agent.  Next day they finally get me to a dentist and he is poking around trying to figure out what to do and he says "where is the tooth, maybe we can reconnect it".  No tooth to be found.  He says I will probably pass it in a couple of days, keep our eye out for it.  Well back then I did not poop that often so we never found it.  Until 2 weeks later.  I had such a HUGE swollen lip and it was just not going down then slowly it started to subside at which time there was this scab like piece on the outside of my lip.  Of course  I am 9 so I cannot stop touching it.  Pretty soon the skin breaks away and the end of my tooth is poking through my lip.  Yep, it had been stuck in my lip for 2 weeks.  Back to the dentist where he slices me open and extracts the perfectly intact tooth from my lip.

Tenny says I am such a wimp for not climbing out and getting them.  Well I will not be called a wimp so out I go and crack.  I fall and git my head on the handle of the wheel barrow, broke it clean off.  Not my head the handle.  Grandpa hears me crying and comes out.  "What is all the commotion?"  "Whoa, who the hell broke my wheel barrow?"  Like it was not obvious it was my head that broke it since I am holding my head sitting right nest to the wheelbarrow.  "Tarnation, you ungrateful kids, can't even pick a few apples with out ruining my stuff"  and he storms off into the house.  Tenny says, "why did you go and climb out there anyway?"

A life as the only girl and youngest of 8 cousins added up to acting and film making.  She was part of the ESPN 30 for 30 award winning film, Run Ricky Run, and is now working on a follow up, The Truth Cabin.  Given the success of the previous efforts, ESPN won the Peabody award for the 30 for 30 program they are trying something new this time around, small ticket, $25 donations, with a large number of donors to drive awareness of the effort.  This is part of the Kickstarter arts funding platform, it is COOL.

As I have said many times before, I grew up a dork, as I have also said, I probably still am but less dorky than I was.  Tenny gifted me much of what ever small amount of coolness I now have.  She introduced me to MTV back in the 80s, she introduced me to some cool girls so I was less of a scaredy pants around them, but I am most grateful for her being a great cousin and friend, that helped increase my cool factor in my eyes and that's all that matters.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

They drive on the left, idiots

Remember when you first graduated from college and got a real job?  It was so cool, you actually had money to go out with your friends and not argue about who had the expensive beer.  Ohh, and no roommates, I do not mean sharing a house with cool friends, I mean sharing your bedroom so that the "system" is required to let each other know when you could use your bedroom or not.  When I started college our system was simple, one of those meeting room signs on the door that says, "Meeting in progress".  I don't ever remember getting to use the sign but I sure liked the idea and it annoyed the crap out of me how much my roommate, Rob, got to use the sign.  I think he slept with some of the girls just to rub it in my face.  So when I got my first house with my own bedroom it was excellent.

He scored so often I felt like the little brother, too short to ride this ride. (BTW that is an 8" ruler)

I started my computer career at Accenture.  Well really it was called Andersen Consulting when I started but a nasty bit of scandal on the part of Arthur Andersen caused them to change their name.  In truth I started my computer career before college working for Burroughs when I was 19 but that is another story...  When you work for a consulting company travel becomes your life, there was one stretch where I flew over 200k miles a year for 3 consecutive years, trust me, the warm nuts in first class are not worth it.  When you just graduated from college though, the thought of traveling for work was oh so glamorous.  My first day at Andersen, Melissa, the exceedingly cool Seattle HR manager, was showing myself and Jeff (brown dog) Brown around the office where she introduced us to Erin. Erin has the coolest assignment on the planet, she was staffed at Microsoft deploying accounting systems around the world.  She had lived in Sydney for a year and was about to head off to London for another year.  Jeff and I looked at each other and said how do we get that job.  Melissa laughed and said  yeah, all 200 Seattle employees say that.

Jeff and I spend the nest 3 weeks in Chicago training followed by 2 weeks of twiddling our thumbs in the office copying proposals for various potential clients.  Finally we get the call, guys, come and meet Dan your new project manager.  Dan turns out to be the coolest manager one could ever ask for, he is an amazing mentor, leader, and friend.  He says, guys, how soon can you be ready to move to London for a year.  No f*&#in' way!  "When do you need us?"  To which he replies, "2 weeks".  Jeff and I caucus and counter, can we leave on Friday and vacation in Europe for 10 days? It was Wednesday but what the hell.  "If you can pull it off then sure", he says.

Jeff and I manage to break our leases, pack up our houses and move our crap into storage, and pack for 12 months all in 22 hours. Then we hop on BA direct to London. We get off in London, store our stuff at the Microsoft office in Reading, and hop a train south with no destination in mind other than sunshine but that too is another story.

Sadly not London, a house in Winnersh

Living in London is quite an experience, well I cheat because we did not live in London we lived in Wokingham, well actually even worse Winnersh, which is west of London on the M4, just a short train ride in as they say.  This is a bit like learning thy are sending you to NY but then you learn its really in Yonkers.  Not living in London proper meant we had to drive cars, the company rented us Audi A4s for the duration.  While they were gutless wonders that probably saved our lives.  You see driving on the left requires significant additional mental processing time to decide which way to go or more precisely which lane to choose.  It is also a good idea to have an underpowered car when in London because you end up at a pub 4 nights a week after work.  Our pub was The Ship.

On this one particular night about 3 months after we arrived we were at the pub and ready to head home.  When we got to the car there was a short debate about who should drive.  Jeff definitively says he is the one to handle the job.  We all pile in.  2 blocks from the pub is the B3270<>Reading road roundabout, see above.  Jeff is apparently not the right person to be driving since he heads right around the roundabout. Erin yells, "wrong way, LEFT" (sadly she fails to throw in "you idiot") to which Jeff swings it around to the left.  Well he fails to turn tight enough, drives up on the curb in the middle of the round about and takes out a traffic light.  The traffic light breaks free of its moorings and swings on the cable and smashes the front Window.  We get out and survey the damage, it is spectacular.  I take one look at Jeff and it is clear he is now completely inebriated. I would have sworn this was not the case 2 blocks back but he is now so...

Yeah, the policeman looked nothing like this except the radio

After 2 minutes the police drive up.  I tell everyone to say I was driving because if Jeff gets arrested he is going to get deported.  And if they talk to him he is going to get arrested.  It seems I have a knack for talking to policemen, as you will find in future posts, and I tell him I have not been in England for long so I made the mistake of thinking I was supposed to go right when I needed to go left.  He bought it and let us get a cab home.

Those of you who follow me know my friends call me Butthead.  I pondered in that post why I have friends at all given my propensity for dickish behavior.  Telling this story reminds me why.  One of the values my parents instilled in me is loyalty.  I may be a little raw from time to time but when the chips are down I will be there for you and do all I can.  I have a sign on the door of my office that says it all, a good friend will come and bail you out of jail but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying "damn that was fun".  Which are you?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They call me Butthead

I think my friend Jon coined my nickname 20 years ago, Butthead.  I never had the guts to ask him why he called me that so I don't know the impetus, but it fit so it stuck.  I wish I could say that nick name did not hurt but for all my bravado I have self-confidence issues.  After the fact the basis for the name was obvious, I can be righteous, self-centered, blunt, insensitive, and downright mean sometimes.  Thinking about it makes me wonder how I have any friends at all.

One of my sons, Jay, the 9 year old has a disorder on the Autism spectrum, its called Sensory Integration Disorder.  I suspect his case is middle of the road to mild as far as these things go but it is terribly hard to see the pain it causes him.  This disorder means that at times Jay's sensory filters fail and his brain receives all the information from his nervous system unfiltered.  For most of us this feels like finger nails on a chalk board, for Jay it feels like that all the time and then sometimes when an episode gets triggered its like a whole classroom of finger nails on the chalk board.  Times of stress are most likely to trigger these episodes, often stress from simple things like rushing him out of the house so he is not late for school.  When this happens, the seam on his socks drives him crazy, the tag in his shirts is unbearable, the smell of his brothers breath gags him, the dog whining makes him cover his ears and run, it is tough to watch him in such duress.  Thinking back on how I raised Jay I wonder how much of his disorder I have caused.  I am certain my complete lack of sympathy for his struggles early on amplified his disorder in some way.

When Jay is in this state he says things and does things to his brothers that are down right mean.  He will call them stupid, he will push them, he will take their toys, often if the noise is too much for him he will scream at them.  Watching him I can see he has no idea what he is doing.  At that point he is so self-centered all he can think about is making the chaos go away.  There is only one way to bring him down when he gets like this, I have to sit him on my lap and listen to him, comfort him, help him feel in control again to the point where he can turn what minimal filters he has back on again and start interacting normally with the world.

Personally I would rather sit on my lap than Lady Gaga's but...
My counselor helped me better understand Jay and his condition.  He also helped me see it from a different perspective, rather than seeing Jay's struggles as somehow Jay's fault, seeing him as a loving boys with a disorder.  These may seem obvious but they were not for me in the heat of a meltdown.  I have to admit sometimes wanting to just disown him.  The compassion and understanding I now have for Jay allows me to slow down and sit him on my lap, exactly what he needs.  The realization Jay is not doing this to manipulate me, its simply the way he is has given me the patience to hear him.

Watching Jay I learned something else, I have sensory integration disorder.  Now that I learned to recognize these episodes in Jay I also recognize them in myself.  I've come to realize when I am having an episode I am righteous, self-centered, blunt, insensitive, and downright mean.  I am Butthead.  Learning this, I had a choice, I could throw up my hands and say well that's just the way I am and use it as an excuse to be a dick or I could take positive action and unButtheadize myself.

Turns out, every ounce of effort I put into managing my inner Butthead makes me that much more effective a dad for Jay.  Today I saw him actually recognize an episode, take charge of it, and calm his own inner Butthead.  Well he has about a 35 year head start on me, I bet it pays off.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I murdered 175 close friends

Back in the late 90s I was on fire.  I had built my personal portfolio to 3mil+. The start up I joined, Interworld, as employee #12 went public.  I snagged 15mil in VC funds to start my own company and grew it to 175 people and just shy of 50mil in revenues.  I thought I was Midas, everything I touched turned to gold.

Building my personal portfolio from negative 30k to 3mil+ had nothing to do with skill in the late 90's and everything to do with greed.  I found a company that was going up and bet all my money there, Cisco.  I margined everything I could and turned just a little money into 3mil+ on paper.  My friends and I talked about getting out of the market in '99 but I figured just one more doubling and I could retire.  I never made it.  I was a greedy idiot.

Joining an Internet startup in 1996 focused on ecommerce took a little vision and conviction but really not much.  Interworld actually made a good product, had a good vision, and were early enough in the ecommerce trend it should have been HUGE.  We were not.  The CTO Michael Donohue margined his stock to the hilt to buy cars, polo teams, houses, and the like.  He was the poster child of the dot bomb bubble.  As for me, my password for years was Sell90.  I had calculated this was the number I needed to be set for life.  When 90 came I said at 120 I can move to the lake.  The stock peaked at 93.50.  I was a greedy idiot.

I got fired from the startup because I was being political causing dissension among the development team.  It did not matter I went to customers I knew and sold them consulting services and got paid $400/hour far more than I was making before.  Since I had so much work I convinced a few good friends to join on, I paid them 100/hour and billed them at 200/hour, I was making bank.  I decided I needed to diversify beyond consulting to hosting and proprietary software so I snagged 15mil in VC funds and hired a bunch more friends.  We had built up to 175 employes and just shy of 50mil in revenue then in 2000 the bottom fell out and we started losing money.  Rather than take the fiscally responsible route I bet on my ability to sell more work.  I didn't.  We lost more money and I had to face reality, I laid off 15% of the work force, I needed to lay off 50% and kill our software group.  More money down the drain.  Then I laid off 30% of the work force when I should have cut 60% and shut down the hosting division.  We lost more money and closed the doors in 2001.  I was a greedy idiot.

When things started to go bad at my startup I looked around the room at my friends and rather than telling them to start looking I told them to have confidence, that I would pull us through.  I am not sure why, probably did not want them to think I had failed or some other equally egomaniacal thought process.  Because I failed to do the right thing for my friends, axing half and saving half, I put ALL of them out of work.  I jeopardized their homes, their families, their children's educations, their lives.  I did this because I was greedy.

Greed is boring.  It's 2 dimensional, no 1 dimensional.  3 times in my life I had the opportunity to be set for life and all 3 times I failed.  If I was set for life I would have had the freedom to become a college professor and make a difference in students lives.  This type of a roller coaster, in retrospect, is not fun, it's stupid.  This is not the hardship that builds character, it's the entitlement that makes you a dick.  Worse yet, this entitlement encourages you put your friends lives at risk and when your greed steals college from your best friends children, they will feel like you just slipped a knife between their ribs.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

AC/DC made me immortal

I still remember vivid as day, Dad had just set up his new Marantz 3 piece with Technics turn table and Bose speakers.  He survived his entire life either in a teepee without electricity or with a crappy Panasonic believing you saved until you could get your dream rig rather than blowing your money on a middle of the road unit.  The day it arrived via UPS he unpacked it all and taught me how to wire it up.  When we got done, he put on Ramblin' Man, fired up a joint, and just sat in his recliner in complete rapture.  The look of satisfaction was so deep, so pure on his face I never forgot that lesson and to this day I save for the dream rig rather than compromising on some middle of the road, unsatisfying pile.

I was 11 or 12 when Dad bought his stereo.  Before then I listened to some music but I was not a big fan yet, there just was not much music in our house.  That day it all changed.  The music did not turn off for the next 10 years.  30 years later, music is still defining my life.  Today as I write I am listening to my mellow play list on with the likes of Adele, Kings of Leon, John Mayer Trio, which brings out deep emotions in my writing.  Later I will head out in the sun and put on my classic rock play list and my energy and emotions will soar.

My wife has bad hearing, background noise makes it hard for her to listen to conversation.  I whine about this all the time because I have to turn the music down.  I am one selfish bastard I know.  But I worry our boys will not have those same musical memories I had, can you say paranoia.  Whenever I think about my dad there is a sound track playing:

After my dad died, music was the only solstice for me and my brother. I remember playing hours of air guitar on our makeshift stage.  Funny as it sounds now, I remember we loved rocking out to the Bay City Rollers.  I am sure dad was rolling in his grave at our musical choice but we thought we were COOL!  That was the year I joined my first (and last) rip off record club.  I cannot remember all the albums I "selected" but in addition to the Bay City Rollers I do remember Steely Dan - Aja, Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street, Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell, and Kansas - Point of No Return.  Not as sad a list as I expected but certainly funny.  My brother and I shaped our musical tastes together throughout highschool.  We discovered Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix, Rush, AC/DC, Van Halen all while driving carpool 4 days a week to race team at Eldora.  It was 40 minutes each way, because I drove WAY too fast, so we had more than 5 hours a week just listening to music for years on end.

We should all air guitar before we walk
In college I had a roommate, Joel, and we developed an early love for CDs.  We bought a great stereo in 1987 and then spent all our free cash flow on CDs for the next 3 years.  We had more than 1000 CDs by the time we graduated.  My musical tastes diversified a bunch in college.  I discovered the blues and Stevie Ray Vaughn.  I discovered Motown and the Temptations.  Piano became a loved instrument bringing in Supertramp, Billy Joel, Elton John, and others.  I discovered the British invasion, Kinks, Stones, and The Who.  As my tastes diversified I also became more tolerant, worldly, observant, all requirements if you are going to enjoy a mix tape with Bob Marley, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, Stevie Guitar Miller, and George Thorogood all jumbled together.

Now that I have kids of my own, I find I cannot help but influence their musical tastes.  Easy stuff like Peter Frampton and Ted Nugent but if you really want to get them banging their heads you have to turn it up a little.  On the way to football games a little Welcome to the Jungle.  Teaching them to Run with the Devil in route to the ski area.  Rocking them like a Hurricane when driving them to school on rainy days.  These are all things they will remember in their soundtrack but I will be forever immortalized for cranking up Jail Break, Hells Bells, and Dirty Deeds sitting in the boat getting ready to go tubing.

Its so easy to fill our lives with stress every day, forgetting we are shaping our kids with every little action.  Its like we forget we are immortalized in our children.  There are many good things about my father immortalized in me but there is a big bunch of bad things too.  You have to ask yourself do you want to immortalize your joie de vivre or you flipping the bird?  Personally I want them to model my hair flying, head bang, while ripping air guitar Angus riffs like Sin City.  That is a soundtrack for my kids I can live with not some workaholic elevator music of a vanilla life.

Dang, Angus is one ugly dude, plays a mean lick though

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Goodwill Hunting

Have you measured your goodwill lately?  Have you ever taken stock of your goodwill and thought about how to build it and how to leverage it to make things happen?  Well, sit back and learn from Fortune 100 companies who have missed the boat on goodwill and then take those lessons and light the world on fire...

Since 1939, GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) rules have added much value to society by reducing corruption and dishonesty in accounting.  Of course there are still people who find loopholes and cheat people out of their money but GAAP reduced the number of cheaters.  While GAAP has been a net plus for corporate transparency it has also had some unintended consequences.  One I note is the mathmatification of corporate goodwill (brand equity).  Mathmatification looses the intrinsic nature of goodwill, the value of a companies reputation.  Using a strict math definition causes goodwill to be undervalued with companies either throwing it away too easily or not building enough.

Warren Buffet often thinks about the issue of goodwill and how to calculate it as noted in this article about See's Chocolates.  I could not find any conversation about how goodwill gets built.

Let's agree on a working definition of economic goodwill for this discussion.  I am referring to the emotional value customers place on a company's brand.  If people truly love a company, they are loyal to the death and they will build a halo around the company in the form of glowing press and recommendations.  When consumers truly love a product they demand that product in the workplace.  High goodwill causes customers to say, "I do not know how I could live without that product".  This kind of high powered, emotional energy drives the stock prices up translating goodwill to shareholder equity.

How goodwill works:
Goodwill is created when customers feel they got a good deal.  In other words selling a product for less than what could be charged.  For every dollar a customer "saves" the company will earn between 1.25 and 1.50 in goodwill.  Companies that give customers a "good deal" over the long-haul build up substantial goodwill.  Apple is a company that does this well.  Many people will say but they charge a premium for their products, how can that be a good deal?  The reality is Apple's customers feel they got a good deal for their products so Apple is building goodwill while charging a premium compared to the competition.
The inverse is also true, goodwill is destroyed by charging false profits.  False profits are every dollar extracted from a customer above what they would happily pay.  Monopolies that use their pricing power to exact a higher price, companies that use "stickiness" to force customers to buy high priced add-ons are destroying goodwill.  For example, if you buy a car and find you have to use their high priced garage for maintenance or void the warranty, false profits.  Anytime a customer feels they were forced to pay more than was fair goodwill is being destroyed.  Goodwill gets destroyed at the same or greater rate than creation.  In other words, for every additional dollar a customer is forced to pay the compaany looses 1.25 - 1.50 in goodwill.  IBM did this in the late 1970s, once you bought your first piece of IBM equipment you had to buy all IBM and boy did they make you pay more and more the more invested you were in IBM.

Companies can actually get to a point where they have negative goodwill.  When a company gets in this state customers are willing to pay a premium price for an inferior product from a competitor just to avoid business with a company they hate.  Comcast is the most glaring example of this today.  People will do almost anything to break free from Comcast including watching TV on their computer over the Internet, a far inferior experience to sitting on the couch with your clicker.

Historically goodwill was not as relevant as it is today.  In the past, the stock market was ruled by big, financially savvy investors.  Today the market does not follow standard investing guidelines.  Companies like Microsoft triple their earnings over 10 years, increase margins, penetrate new markets like xBox and STILL have a P/E lower than most utility companies.  Microsoft has squandered its goodwill.  No amount of cool product introduction, no amount of success with Bing is going to make the stock price move.  Firing Ballmer might create a blip on the radar but unless the new guy stops trying to wring every loose penny out of your average Mr and Mrs knuckle head the stock is not going to budge.  Have your doubts?  Watch this clip and then let me know...

As individuals we can measure our goodwill too.  For individuals your customers are all the people you interact with in your life.  Your "customers" feel they are getting a "good value" from your relationship if you add more to their life most people.  If you are a taker, your goodwill is getting destroyed if you are a giver you are creating goodwill.  Succeeding at anything in life requires the help and support of others and goodwill is how you "acquire" that help and support.  I graduated from college in 1990 the worst job market since the 70s.  I received more then 80 reject letters before I leveraged my goodwill for an introduction to the managing partner of Accenture's Seattle office.  And the rest of my career, as they say, is history.