Impeccable

03/31/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

It’s impossible to control what happens to your work once it’s shipped. It’s subject to criticism, misinterpretation, and praise alike—this just comes with the territory.

What we can control is what people come to expect from us based on the quality and nature of our art. Setting an expectation of excellence is perhaps our best ally in this regard.

A creaky door hinge on a Kia is going to elicit a different reaction than the same thing on a Rolls-Royce.

Quote by Dag Hammarskjold

03/14/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

For all that has been: thanks. For all that will be: yes.

And we’re back

03/06/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

I took a break from the gym for a couple weeks, and decided to make my return this evening. It was great.

And by great, I mean pitiful and humbling.

I felt weak and uncoordinated, which reminded me of how it feels to get out of the habit of writing.

“Man, this sucks.”

“Whatever, let me just get it out there.”

There doesn’t appear to be any correlation between my satisfaction with a post and the impact that it has, so I generally ignore the voice in my head criticizing the work.

The next step in the evolution of Resistance-conquering is overcoming the force that drives me from doing the things I set out to do.

Right now a still, small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times before, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you.

And unless I’m crazy, you’re no closer to taking action on it than you were yesterday or you will be tomorrow. You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you.

—Steven Pressfield

Indeed.

P.S. Listen to this, it’s great.

The truth about software

01/05/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

Most software is really bad.

I’m not being a software engineering snob when I say this (after all, I’m not a programmer myself), we just have an extraordinarily low bar when it comes to acceptable software quality. Apple probably makes software that’s 20% better than everyone else’s, so it’s praised by critics. [And for reference, the best software in the world is probably written by NASA engineers.]

One of the applications I’ve been enjoying a lot recently is called Wunderlist. I’ve used Omnifocus and Things for task management and was a bit underwhelmed in both cases, so I gave Wunderlist a try with a healthy bit of skepticism.

Well, I love it. In addition to being beautiful, the key features I need are implemented intuitively. I’ve been using it for everything from grocery lists to personal todos to project scheduling for work.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t have a suggestion for Windows users wanting to get in on the world of great software. Here you are.

When you know better

01/04/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

One of the main reasons I spend time investing in and working on myself is because it helps me get better at getting better. I’ve been learning more about NLP recently (thanks Peter) and what I’m noticing is that it’s been providing me with clarity into what was previously just a cloudy mass of Resistance.

For example, I recently realized that I have a routine that I go into when I’m avoiding the routine that I set out for myself (which is designed to help foster winning habits). This isn’t ground-breaking information (and the NLP world is full of a lot of things that make me uncomfortable…), but making small improvements on a regular basis adds up.

Talk about it

01/03/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

I make a living supporting and delivering services around open-source software. I run paid support for a WordPress plugin that allows webmasters to optimize their site against web performance best practices (which matter for various reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Google announced page speed as a ranking factor in 2009). You could call me a web performance engineer or hosting engineer if you wanted to be technical.

Zooming out a bit, I’m a Partner at a SaaS company and we spend a lot of time thinking about how to add the maximum amount of value to a non-technical user base while empowering engineers and developers to solve problems for their clients.

When someone asks me what I do, I typically explain that I make websites faster (along with a couple supplementary sentences that I tweak based on my understanding of the listener’s technical background, if any). On several occasions, the reaction I get is about how I explain what I do rather than my actual job.

This is interesting to me because I’ve spent a lot of time refining how to explain what it is that I do for a living. And I have a lot of practice, since I’ve been the only “technical” person in my peer group for quite some time.

Let me explain.

My first job out of college was as a Consulting Analyst with Accenture. Most people think this means that I was a spreadsheet jockey (management/strategy consultant) so I explain that I was an IT-flavored Consultant. I further unpack that by saying that I customized and implemented content management systems for large companies. If I was talking to someone within the company, I’d let them know that I was aligned to the Systems Integration and Technology division in the Information Management group. Madness.

If I had to explain this job today, I’d just ask if someone had seen Up in the Air or if they watch House of Lies and be done with it.

When I wanted to secure more speaking engagements, I spent some time thinking about how to describe myself and the things that I spoke about. I emailed a dozen or so of my trusted advisors and got some great feedback on how to talk about the value that I provide and the nature of my work. Clay went so far as to share his template for a short, medium-length, and full-length bio which was super useful. [This is not surprising if you know Clay, he's a mensch of the highest order.]

I iterated on this feedback and produced a bio that I was happy with. I actually locked in two speaking gigs on the same day following this work. [Insert joke about The Secret] This work also made it easy to do a content overhaul on the key pages of this site since there was a narrative and focus that I could build on top of.

What I’ve learned is that there’s value in spending time talking about the things you want people to understand. Ultimately we have little control over how we’re perceived in the mind of others, but we do have control over how clear the signal is that we’re sending out.

Authors serious about making an impact will share versions of their stories with others. Marketers focused on making online sales will A/B test ads and run small campaigns to gather data. Guys trying to pick up women in bars and clubs will gauge women’s reactions to the fanciful tales they tell and make adjustments accordingly.

If you want to be better understood and received, don’t live in a vacuum.

Let’s hear it.

Quote by Helen Keller

01/03/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Quote by Abraham Lincoln

01/02/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Long-term optimization

01/02/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

One of my key takeaways from last year was that focusing on maximum work output was a fruitless endeavor. Any fool can work until they pass out on their keyboard, but this is a great way of burning out and developing a resentment for your responsibilities.

Far better is it to build a sustainable pattern of behaviors that help you reach your desired end without requiring superhuman bouts of output. This means (for me, at least) that some deadlines will be missed. Some projects won’t be completed as quickly. And some expectations will need to be reset. Ultimately it’s worth it for me.

I recently started reading about how some of the most prolific writers and artists in history structured their days. I haven’t completed this research, but my understanding thus far is that I need to develop a substance abuse problem.

Stay tuned.

Cultivating skepticism

01/01/2014 | Follow me on Twitterhere

I’m disappointed in myself.

I posted two stories on Facebook in the last week that turned out to be untrue, and were debunked in the comments (with Snopes articles, no less). I can typically spot misinformation propagating through my news feed from a mile away, but I suppose my skills of detection were taking an extended holiday vacation. Anyway, it got me to thinking about the skepticism required by participants in this crazy online world that we live in, and the role it plays in our day to day lives.

I’ve been wasting time on the Internet for all of my adult life, which means that I’ve got a solid handle on how to categorize the mass of information that reaches me every day. And something that seems to persist regardless of the social network (or medium) of the day is the irresistibly share-able story, full of misinformation, that spreads like wildfire — I’m sure we all remember the “Bill Gates Is Sharing His Fortune!” emails that our relatives dutifully passed along.

Cultivating skepticism is important because 1) it keeps misinformation from spreading and disrupts the clarity of the signal, and 2) it trains others to be more informed digital citizens when we tactfully help others learn when they’re on the wrong side of the equation. [I've long since resorted to messaging people privately if there's a particularly egregious tale being shared, I don't know anyone who enjoys being corrected in front of others.]

Doing research is as easy as running a quick Google search for a few key terms from your story (if not the title of the post, which can often be found verbatim on a post debunking the story), so there’s no excuse for the enlightened among us to do some research.

Misinformation is everywhere and doesn’t just enter our consciousness through the Internet, though. I actually can’t think of a single medium (television, radio…) that’s not chock full of stories that are embellished at best and outright lies at worst. And instead of trying to develop a subject matter expertise on the topics to which we’re exposed (impossible), I think it might only be necessary to think critically about human nature.

One universal truth is that everyone wants to feel important and like their life has meaning and impact. Some might accomplish this through writing important books and creating art that spreads, and others might take the bargain basement route an simply try to engineer a fictitious story that makes its way into our relatives’ inboxes.

I don’t have a rule of thumb that I follow about this, but I think a healthy dose of skepticism should be applied before blindly sharing stories that are too good to be true, stories that makes us feel good, stories that have a strong political bias for or against the current President, and unverifiable stories that reveal some juicy tidbit about a celebrity’s personal life.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have to delete the post I shared about Bradgelina’s marriage…