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Preview: i got so much trouble on my mind

i got so much trouble on my mind

metaphysically bold

Updated: 2017-09-11T13:38:35.787-04:00


With Great Marketing, Comes Great Responsibility


Last week at ANA's Annual Conference, the theme was clearly on "doing good."  Big brands were all on the socially responsible and ethical bandwagon -- P&G sponsoring moms, J&J advocating nursing, Unilever touting sustainability, the examples were endless.

The ANA always picks a small upstart brand as a counterpoint to the big brands and Luke Dowdney, the CEO of Luta (an amazing brand that makes high-end combat sportswear with 50% profits being donated) filled that role and did so amazingly.

He acknowledged that everyone is on the "ethical cleansing" of brands, and then dropped this bomb that I have been thinking in the days since, and I am sure for many days to come:
"Before we start cleaning brands, let's make sure that they are clean." 
As a comic book junkie, I immediately thought of old Uncle Ben's advice to Peter Parker, "With great power comes great responsibility."

My take: Marketers need to take ownership of their ethical claims.

Marketers, not consumers to sift through the crap.  Marketers.

Now, marketers have always been able to say things that they don't mean or truly do. But the market for ethical products has become downright frothy.  And believe it or not, I don't blame the consumer.  It is too hard to catch up with everything and stay up on all your brands.  The exploitation has created such a voluminous amount of noise it is a metaphysical impossibility to catch up.

I rather call upon all of us as a guild of marketers to self-police and protect our craft.  Said another way,  if you are making work moving down the social path, you better feel it in your gut and be able to sleep at night.

And if you see another marketer skirting the truth, we need to (privately and respectfully) call them out.  We cannot ruin our name in what we do.

With digital and social media, globalization, and many other innovations, marketers today have greater reach with greater speed than any other time in history.  To channel all that energy down the social path is wonderful, but like Luke said, "Before we start cleansing brands, let's make sure they're worth cleaning."

Let's not lose our Uncle Ben before we learn our lesson.

It's budget season, are you revealing who you are?


I am an unashamed political junkie, and a few words from Michelle Obama have rung in my brain for the last few weeks, not as a Democrat, but rather as a Marketer in the middle of planning season.(Republican friends, don't turn off this isn't a partisan point -- it's a marketing point!) allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560">I took some liberties with a passage of her speech (at 10:10) that have stayed with me.I have seen firsthand that being Marketer doesn’t change who you are – it reveals who you are. You see, I’ve gotten to see up close and personal what being a Marketer really looks like. And I’ve seen how the issues that come across a Marketer’s desk are always the hard ones – the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer…the judgment calls where the stakes are so high, and there is no margin for error. And as Marketer, you can get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. But at the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, as Marketer, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are.First, I grant this is a bit of a melodramatic analogy.  Humor me.  Second, let's set aside which side of the aisle you sit on, this speech has permeated my thoughts as I have entered into budget and strategic planning this upcoming season.  Three things I keep with me, and wanted to share in hopes that my colleagues are doing the same:1.  "No amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer" -- Lesson: Take data to the limit -- In making your decisions this year, you need to take data, modeling, statistics, etc to the point where you reach the end of its aid to you.  With the advent of "big data" (a term I loathe), the job will be harder and harder for us to come up with things that are no longer obvious conclusions of a regression line.2.  "The judgement calls where the stakes are so high, and there is no margin for error." -- Lesson: Only tackle the big problems.  Answer the big questions that you, your company, your industry, (or your world!) needs you to solve.  Don't pick the KPI that everyone gloms on to.  (e.g. "Well, let's just do 8% better than last year.  Cool?")Find the problem that needs solving.  Better yet, find the problem that no one has found yet.  There is a snowboarding saying that applies here -- only DO EPIC S#%@!3.  "Being Marketer ... reveals who you are, .... your values, and your vision" -- Lesson: Your plan should have a meaningful "signature." At risk of megalomania, your plan should reflect you and your point of view on the world.  I always want my work to have a particular signature that is all my own, such that when someone reads it they should have a feeling that "This feels like a Mike Ma presentation."I don't shy away from that.  I lean into it, albeit humbly.  I always strive for the right tonal combination of big picture storytelling, analytical rigor, and operational pragmatism and that is my standard. I have been challenging myself and my team to "reveal" themselves through this end of year process many of us are in right now.Where are your bets?What are you prepared to do?How are you revealing yourself?Go slay 2013, everyone![...]

Scrambled Eggs and Great Marketing 


Gordon Ramsay has said that the best way to test a chef’s skill is to see how they cook eggs, specifically scrambled eggs.  In his MasterChef scrambled egg test, Ramsay’s co-judge, Graham Elliot, called one MasterChef contestant’s scrambled eggs  “sex on a plate.” The simple ingredient, in the hands of a master, can reach the sublime.  Perhaps the divine. I’ve been sitting in focus groups this whole week and listening to many wonderful people opine on advertising. All wonderful, many incredibly intelligent and successful. Despite how one may think they have capacity for compexity, they still don't care about it, nor your cleverness.What I am struck by is how much people desire and crave the simple.  Things I hear: ·        “People look happy in the ad, I want to be happy. I like that.” ·        “That person is young, I am old, isn’t for me.” ·        “That word makes me feel good.” No matter how much we appreciate constructing the complex, it’s the simple that wins.  That said, you don’t pass on your craft.  It isn’t enough to put shiny happy people on an ad, and call it a day.   You are still obliged to provide the divine. Scramble those eggs.[...]

The Big Data Implosion, Not Explosion


I hate this whole term of Big Data Explosion.  It gets written about *all the time*. You can't go to the bathroom at a marketing conference these days without someone talking about big data.Let me be the dissenting voice here and say three things:There is no such thing as a "big data explosion." It is just data implosion ... and we haven't caught up to it yet. It just looks big because our current understanding and capacity is small.The data isn't exploding, it's already there in analog and organic form.  These connections that connect Prius drivers to online coupon clippers (yes, I am guilty) already exist.  You know them and can understand them once they are explained to you.  However, we just are missing the digital ways to discover, capture, store, and link these connections.While this doesn't add anything to the field of big data itself per se, we on the business side of this equation can use this idea to add resolve and purpose to our efforts.  I was having a twitter conversation with @SteveBottoms, who is fast becoming one of my favorite people to read.  He keenly observed the lip service and organizational laziness in getting their data issues in order.Steve Bottoms ‏@SteveBottomsIf "data" is the lifeblood of an organization why do so many ignore this simple fundamental #AACMO #CMOcatalystMike Ma ‏@michaelwma@SteveBottoms because it's hard to get started. like deciding to exercise when already way out of shape. Just pass the PringlesSteve Bottoms ‏@SteveBottoms@michaelwma ... Well said, so just wait for the fat overweight marketing organization to .... View conversationI didn't have an answer for him.  Many of us view this as "optional" or "discretionary." Rubbish!Since most of us client side marketers are in budget planning season, I say get off the couch and start working with IT today to figure this out.  We cannot ignore this anymore than say, our counterparts in pharma can ignore studying the human genome.  It'd be irresponsible!If you are serious marketer, any less than your best efforts in containing this *implosion* would be equally irresponsible.[...]

Why I am blogging again


I want to say "hello" again to the all 3 readers of IGSMTOMM -- I know you've missed me.  I plan on blogging a bit more again.  Your lives now may regain their sense of purpose and direction.

I am going through a spate of desiring to blog again.  The last two years has been a bit of a whirlwind for me personally and professionally as I have transitioned from small company to large, from consulting about marketing to actually running a big marketing department and budget.

In that time, I admit I have felt a bit hesitant in blogging for a couple of reasons.   First, I have had to learn a new craft; thus, I felt that I haven't earned the right to say much. I used to write a lot when I was consulting, but now that I have moved to the client-side, I feel that the firehose that I have been drinking from for the last two years has not left enough room for me to look or think about much else.

Second, other social media have started to take blogging's place.  I try to keep my business side on twitter (@michaelwma) and my personal side at bookface (facebook dot com slash michaelwma).

But now, I have missed blogging.  I miss the long form thought of taking ideas that extend beyond a cutesy cat meme or retweeting 140 characters of someone else's content.

(And who would have thought 10 years ago that blogging would be considered the "long form" of the internet.  Isn't that ludicrous?)

I miss creating.
I miss connecting thoughts myself.
I miss the taking long swims in the mental pool that is blogging.
I miss having to think critically about what content I am consuming and forcing myself to transform it into something personal.

To that end, this blog will be primarily rededicated to marketing, advertising, content and culture.  I will try to publish at least once a week, and hope that I get in the groove of writing more again.

If I don't get those three readers back, I am quite happy just putting all my thoughts down on wax.

I'm back!

The Danger of a Single Story


My boss sent this talk around and I thought was amazing. As someone who has written and even given a lot of attention to the craft of storytelling.

While it is good to start the idea of storytelling, once we start telling them we have an obligation to tell the entire story with an open heart and a responsible mind.  With great power of storytelling comes great responsibility. 

Chimamanda Adichie's talk has many high points, but one point rang true for me."The single story robs people of dignity ... Stories can break the dignity of people, but they can also repair that dignity."

Well said ... 19 minutes well spent.

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What Snowboarding Can Teach Business Strategists


There’s a lot that I’ve wanted to blog about in the last few months but the restrictions of my new job makes content that was more typical of IGSMTOMM a bit more difficult.

However, the combination of the forthcoming winter and my need to blog about strategy primed me to be moved by this recent photograph and caption that I saw in Transworld Snowboarding (a regular goldmine of strategic insight).

Here is a quick shot of the page from my phone:


The uncredited caption reads:

On sunny, powdery days, lots of time gets used up while you’re wondering. But when it comes to figuring out speed, gap distance, and danger—or just asking your friends if they think you’ll make it—time spent thinking is not time wasted. Ultimately, all these mental minutes add up working knowledge. They transform fear into focus. They help turn a leap of faith, into a calculated risk. And whether we ride away clean or ragdoll into oblivion, we’re always a little bit smarter afterward.

Well said. Reason #2,469 why snowboarding makes me a better (business)person.

Never let the situation get bigger than you


This is what I have learned from the LeDecision incident.  It has been
a few weeks now and I am finally starting to gain perspective on the
matter and trying to learn something from this to salvage something
for myself. So here goes.

There was a sports commentator on NPR (yes, they exist) who said
something to the effect of, I felt like was genuinely shocked up there
with Jim Gray.  As if at the last possible minute he realized the
spectacle he created was a bad idea, and how bad the advice he
received was.

Even though he had decided long before, and the interview and his
answers were scripted, the situation was out of control.

He let the situation get bigger than himself. Even for the ex-King.

Although we bemoan scripted Supreme Court justice confirmation
hearings, or wish our President would show more spontaneous passion,
these indeed would be mistakes.  All are in control of the situation.
Not to say bad things can't happen - just that they know they have are
in control of situations and not vice versa.

We can do the same in our lives.

A good salesperson knows a really important meetings outcome has been
scripted and socialized with all the stakeholders beforehand.

A good poker player will never see her chips as money, but as units.
As soon as she sees dollars, it's time to leave.

A band always keeps a few songs in its back pocket for its encore to
finish with a bang.

My wife scripted our wedding ceremony but adapted to the rain.

All of these moments have the illusion of spontaneity and fluidity,
but all require command of their respective situations with
calculation, practice and strategy.  The big moments in your life
should never been unscripted, just seem that way.

LeDecison did none of that. But we all can be better in our everyday lives.

Yes, we all can act better than Lebron.

It's Official--cleveland Is a Verb


cleve·land [kleev-luh nd]-- verb1. to be the subject of a sports-based injustice. My kid's little league team had a 1 run lead and we got clevelanded by the umpire.2. to defy statistically favorable circumstances and still yield an unfavorable result.  e.g. snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Man, you prepared all day for that presentation and still clevelanded it up. 3. to remember any single or combination of the following people or events: Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, the Shot, Jose Mesa, Art Modell, 2007 ALCS, or LeDecision. My friend and I clevelanded last night over a beer.*never to be capitalized ... ever.[...]

A Google Chrome Fail?


Does anyone else find this funny? I mean, I use Chrome, Gmail and hell this blog is on ... don't you think they should work together?

I am calling it ... Google-fail.

Should Schools Bribe Kids? Should Businesses Do It Better?


** cross-posted at my day job at the the kasina Blog.  I don't like to do this often, but I think that this really interesting in terms beyond asset management **

I know I am on this purpose and mastery-driven compensation kick in the last few months month, but it's everywhere I look.  Time's cover story this month, "Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School?" has a lot of interesting implications for our industry.

They cover the controversial work of Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist, who is testing the effects of paying kids for school performance.

Fryer ran different experiments in paying kids to learn across the in 4 cities.  The results are summarized in this graphic:

While I don't want to start a policy debate (Fryer himself has received death threats), it is very interesting to note that the classes in Dallas and Washington had more favorable results.  For instance, the Dallas kids had reading scores that went up by .4 standard deviations, the equivalent of 5 extra months of schooling.  Why? Because they are incentivizing behaviors, not results.

Kids may respond better to rewards for specific actions because there is less risk of failure. They can control their attendance; they cannot necessarily control their test scores. The key, then, may be to teach kids to control more overall -- to encourage them to act as if they can indeed control everything, and reward that effort above and beyond the actual outcome.

Or this nugget form says Joshua Zoia, who founded the much publicized KIPP Academy:

Our ultimate goal is to get kids to be intrinsically motivated. But we have to get kids hooked in. We have to meet them where they are.

In short, what if we substitute the word "kids" with "employees," can we learn something? Could we do something different in our compensation plans this year or next? To paraphrase Dan Pink, it's scary sometimes to look at what social science knows, and business ignores.

Please feel free to call/write to discuss!

The Hardened, Yet Green Fields of the Indians Fan’s Mind


… with deep love and tribute to A. Bartlett Giamatti’s “The Green Fields of the Mind” It breaks your heart. It’s designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins again, but for the last 62 years it has withered in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings with squalor and despair, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the Fall alone – only to be comforted by the idea that the Cleveland Frowns stand to take the Tribe’s place. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of pain and anguish coursing through your veins, and just then when the days are all twilight, when you can barely take the pain anymore, it thankfully stops. Today, at midnight of April 5, ending Easter Sunday, a day of filled with sun and hope, it starts, yet we know it will end quickly and the summer will soon be gone. Somehow, the spring crept up on us this time. Maybe it was due to the Olympics which inserted an extra week of sports that allowed us Indians fans a week of reprieve as we watched Shaun White sail through the air in a blaze of red, white, and blue. Or it could have been the crazy upset-ridden March Madness which left our brackets in Cleveland-like wreckage. Whatever the reason, it seems to me that I have invested less and less in baseball, making the game do more of the work that keeps me fat, slow, and lazy. I was counting on the game’s deep patterns, where the Indians would at least be in contention and picked by the gurus at Sports Illustrated to finish at the top, only disappoint at the end, but this year we are picked to finish dead last. Nothing grand, but some things, a hope of relevant competition in the AL Central, and yet that work is just time wasted. The real activity is done in the AL East – the almighty, dollar-hungry, power division that controls most of baseball. There, in that elite corner, an old poet called Inevitability faithfully dwells. And here on April 5, for Cleveland fans, where it figuratively rains all day, Dame Inevitability never loses. She was in Yankee Stadium last year with as the Bombers danced upon Yankee Stadium with arms outstretched. We traded our blue and white for Philly red to cheer on Charlie Manuel and Cliff Lee. Dame Inevitability, sensing our presence, delivered her justice swiftly after six games. The goddess looks at the hardened, yet quasi-traitorous Cleveland fans, and couldn’t help but smirk. Today, Cleveland is on its heels, half sobbing, half laughing in hysteria, again, picked to finish dead last in the AL Central. The summer will not pass fast enough this year. Sighing, they recall the evening, late and cold, in 1997, the seventh game of the World Series, they day after my 22nd birthday, perhaps the greatest baseball game that could have been played in Indians history, when Jaret Wright, loose and easy, had pitched 6 1/3 on 3 days rest. Tony Fernandez hits a single that brings Jim Thome and Marquis Grissom home, and with it all hope began to spring forth. Not only was it to erase 49 years of baseball pain – they were on the precipice of vindicating a city for all of its sins. It was 2-1, two outs, bottom of the ninth, and school will never start, rain will never come, sun will warm of your neck forever. Now Edgar Renteria, a product of the Marlins farm system, hits a soft shot over Charlie Nagy. Nagy’s glove just glancing a ball which brings Craig Counsel home and feeds the jaws of defeat – all those sins continue to rest on the shoulders of the Tribe, and grow heavier in the years to come. That is why it breaks my heart, that game – not because in Florida or New York they could win because Cleveland lost, or that we [...]

Make Them Right


Like a crazy person, I have been training for my Level III Certification of snowboarding instruction and just recently completed a two-day preparation at the luxuriously posh Blue Knob Resort in Central PA.

While I was told I was not ready for the exam, I did pick up a nugget that I have been thinking a lot about.

During my teaching segment (where I had to teach about 9 other experienced instructors something to improve their riding), I asked an open question to the group, and one instructor gave me an unexpected response. I thought it was wrong, and I said, "I am still looking for an answer."

My examiner, Ted, would have failed my personal riding (boo), but passed my teaching segment. However, in my debrief, Ted gave me a bit of advice that has hung with me for the past week:

One part I didn't like is when you shut Evan down in your teaching segment. You need to find a way to make him right. You asked a question, and though he gave you a different answer than you expected, you need to find a way to build on what he said if you want him to improve during your segment. Otherwise, he will just shut down. He is a Level II instructor with 10 years of experience, so his answer makes sense to him. You need to make him right.

What great advice. If I have to do this in my $12/hour job, why can I do it in my regular job more often? In fact, why can't we all make those around us right more than we tell them they are wrong.

Still noodling on it ... good stuff, I say.

20 Things About Me...


OK, so I am a year late to this post ... I was cleaning out my email and I found a draft of the 20 things about me that I was responding to on Facebook. It never got published, so for all 2 of you who read this blog and might care, here goes: 1) I am a pretty hardcore ENTJ. 2) Despite a Kantian philosophy education at “that school in Cambridge” I am changing from a rationalist to an empiricist. It bothers me and keeps me up at night. 3) I was pretty active in the New York underground poker scene about 5 years ago. I actually was allowed to play rake-free at the infamous, but now defunct Playstation (While on poker, I believe that the true World Series of Poker should be determined by a game of pot-limit SHOE rotation. The luck-skill ratio in no limit hold’em is just too slanted toward the luck side of the equation. For more on this see, Mason Malmuth’s work.) 4) I am a natural lefty, but I have Chinese parents – so I am a righty. That’s just how Asians roll. 5) I first hit on my wife at a dance she was putting on for Chinatown teens in Phillips Brooks House while she was a camp counselor. I am shameless. 6) She is pretty much the only person that can get me *really mad* -- but that’s because I love her. Consequently, we are huge fans of marriage therapy, and we’d recommend it to anyone. While I don’t know if it “saved” us, it surely has made our lives much better. 7) At this point in my career, I would totally be cool with being Mr. Mom. I love my kids so much that it sometimes paralyzes me. I am saddened by the truism that my boss, Steven, shared with me: “You will never love your parents as much as they love you.” I do believe that that it is a very poignant axiom. It has shaped my views on life and fatherhood immensely. 8) Despite now being a hardcore Democrat, I blindly worked for Martin Hoke’s campaign (a former Republican congressman) in high school. Why? Because everyone else did. It gets me mad that I didn’t have more of a spine to figure out what I believed in high school for issues ranging from politics to religion. I look back sometimes and see myself as such a lemming. 9) I wish I found Unitarian Universalism earlier in my life. It has filled a spiritual void for me in a way that I am better able to understand other religions, and has made my life richer. It is *so* not for everyone, but it totally works for me and makes me a more curious person … and it is nice to find other people who drive Subarus. 10) I wish I found snowboarding earlier in my life. I love being on the snow, but I have feet like a duck (wide/flat) and ski boots are a killer. 11) The two closest moments I have ever come to Heaven is waking up with my whole family in the same bed, and snowboarding on a clear day with nothing but you, a sheet of clean powpow, and an iPod full of tunes. 12) Despite Cleveland being an ex-steel football town that has LeBron James (for now), baseball is my first love as a fan. I was catatonic for a week after the ‘97 series and I still cry at the end of Major League (Harry Doyle: “The Indians win it … oh my god, the Indians win it.”) I don’t even play the damn sport … in fact, I suck at it. Weird. 13) I am conflicted because I love to box, but I am a huge supporter of Peace Games. 14) Despite flying over a million miles (literally), I still stare out of the window like a 7 year old schoolboy every approach into New York with wide-eyed wonderment. No really, how do they do it? 15) I credit my grandfather with my love of music. I will never forget when I was 8, he told me: “If you listen to 1 hour of music every day, you will be a hap[...]

Happy Christina Day


I was at WTC today for work ironically, and felt incredibly sad.

Rather than dither on with an unncessarily long post, I will just say, Happy Christina Day.

Be good to each other.

A Sermon (really) on Storytelling


Many, including myself, may find it hard to believe that I go to church. Moreover, it may be even more shocking that I gave a service earlier this month. There have been a few people from the society who have asked for the text of the service, so I am putting it up here on the blog. -------The Lost Art of Storytelling Mike Ma August 9, 2009 First Unitarian Society of Rockland County Good morning! Since today’s service is about storytelling, I’d like to tell share with you a story told by my barber. Not sure any of you have caught NYT’s One in 8 Million series, but I was shocked to see that my barber, Joe, was featured a few months ago. Have a listen to his story as he tells it. Isn’t that a great story? In about 2 minutes you learn all you need to know about Joe Manniello. For me, his fascinating story transforms the mundane experience of a haircut (in Port Authority of all places!) to the remarkable. And in a nutshell, that is the power of stories. About 3 years ago I read a book by a guy named Dan Pink called A Whole New Mind. In it, he argues that to be successful today in business or in any other field, you need to be right brain oriented. From there he describes the skills of the right brain – play, empathy, meaning, design, symphony, and my favorite of the lot – story. Much of what I am going to say is openly plagiarized from his book. I’ve bought his book several times for myself and others. I have hired him in the past as a conference speaker and paid him handsomely, so I will assume that I am welcome to an hour of indulgence to share with you. If you haven’t read it, you should. So, I’d like to spend the next hour exploring storytelling with you in a few parts. In the first part, I’d like to frame how ubiquitous and universal storytelling is. In the second, I’d like to explore some of the forms of story telling and how they are changing. In the third, if I get there, I’d like to talk about why I think that this is important to us Unitarian Universalists. I. Story as necessary and universal As children, and even as parents, we aren’t really taught the value of stories. Rather we are taught to esteem facts as knowledge. That Pi is 3.14592… (whatever). That there are 5280 feet in a yard, that the lake in Walden pond was 100.1 feet deep at its deepest point. I was forced to memorize all these things as they were deemed valuable things for me to know. Stories; however, we view as distraction from this. They daydreamer is considered to lazy, distracted, and unserious about her studies. However, in the days of Google and the internet, facts are of little use or differentiation. You can be a Nobel laureate or a beggar in an internet café and basically have access to the same bit of information. Stories however, are the map that makes sense of fact – and as we get access to more facts I question if we have really ramped our story telling and listening ability to help make sense of all we can avail ourselves to. Looking back, true learning was tied to story. I got a philosophy degree, and all the great thinkers used story to make their difficult analytical claims. Know Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and you can probably figure out why he thinks the Philosopher King should rule the Republic. Know Descartes’ schizophrenic talk with his Evil Deceiver, and you can trace how he gets to cogito ergo sum. The use of story didn’t just stay with me during my academic life. In my business, strategy consulting, “hypothesis-driven a[...]

Told You, Not All Philosophers Starve: Liz Coleman's views on Liberal Education


The title of this post is my six word memior of my life to date. It is a tounge in cheek rejoinder to my parents who thought I was nuts to drop Biology to become a Philosophy major.

It runs in contrast to many of the conversations I have been having with my cousins and younger people who have their whole life mapped out in high school straight through to the degree that they are going to get to the job they hope to have. They are just "executing the plan."

Similarly, I have many personal friends who are quite successful in life who may understand all the nuances of purchasing commodities pricing and how it affects basic materials valuations, but may care or know little about healthcare reform.

This talk makes me sad.

Luckily, Liz Coleman, president of Bennington College, makes an incredibly compelling argument that we need to recast our view of liberal arts education at the TED conference earlier this year. She argues that it as a waystation to professional expertise, but rather a practicum to undertand how to connect to the civic good.

It evoked the feelings from my Orientation Week at the University of Chicago more than 15 years ago. There is a relatively odd tradition -- the Aims of Education Address during Orientation Week. Imagine the first or second night of a realtively socially awkward, and inebriated week. Nine hundred first-years, are carted into Rockefeller Chapel where we had to listen to some guy use the death of Socrates as the backdrop of why we were here and what the point of a truly liberal education was.

While the details of the talk escape me and I recollect hating have to have summer reading, I am thankful that this idea was impressed upon me so early in college. It was the first of many indellible marks on my life that came from my schooling: I was taught that education was there to make you a good citizen. To teach you to think for yourself as a human being. To inspire you to belive that you are not a nameless cog. To admonish you if you every become one, or think you are one.

There's hope, and I don't think you'll starve by commiting yourself (not too late as adults) and your loved ones to a liberal education.

This is worth a few minutes to listen to what the lady has to say.

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St. John in London - My first real restaurant review


So, I never do the food porn/restaurant review thing, but I was eating alone tonight and I had to keep myself occupied.  So tonight, I kept tasting notes at the legendary St. John in Smithfield,  touted as the #16 Best Restaurant in the World.  I am bummed to report that it failed those expectations by a solid margin.Here is what I thought:Ambiance/Scence -- The first thing you notice is the smell.  It envelopes you, a well- pampered pig bathing in butter.  Decorwise, St. John is the epitome of a "Clean, Well-Lit Place" -- in fact, I could see Hemmingway's short story being set there .  It bathes in austerity -- the walls are white, The floor is gray, and you aren't sure if the white-clad servers are servers or were just butchering a pig in the back before saying hello.  There is no art to speak of.  Chairs are hard and uncomfortable.  Tables are covered in butcher paper, as if to indict you as an accomplice to murdering meat. Service --  is competent and perfunctory, but certainly nothing special.  The place was continually busy, but my server's actions made her intentions clear -- she was there to put meat on the table, not even expeditiously.  I agreed with this review that said it was "friendly, but slightly awkward."Food -- OK, so here we go ... on to the show.Appetizer -- Bone Marrow and Parsley SaladI loved this dish. amittedly, I am biased since I have been dreaming about this since I saw it featured on A Cook's Tour.  I think that this could be the appetizer to my last meal. I mean, so simple.  Bone marrow? Just oven roast for 25 minutes and spread over perfectly toasted bread.  So delicious, so elegant.  The richness of this with the bitter parsley and the salty capers in the salad was just a wonderful combination of textures and tastes. My only (minor) criticism is that you really have to watch how much of the sea salt and the parsley salad you add to the bread since it can get really too salty quickly.  Ration it properly!Main -- Middlewhite and Chard w/ side of Sprout TopsFirst, let me say I love pork fat.  I think it's wonderful.  However, this peice of meat needed instructions.  You needed to eat the pig in radians out from the center such that you get a piece of succulent lean meat with a piece of fat.  In my hunger I accidentally ate an enormous peice of fat by itself, which just ruined the rest of my meal on a texture and taste basis.  I learned the hard way. The bits of meat that I did get once I learned to layer my bites were wonderfully cooked, but again underseasoned.In addition, the chard was overcooked and had a slightly burnt taste to the carmelization (too high heat?) while the Sprout Tops were basically an afterthought -- unevenly cooked with varying degrees of softness and bitterness and also underseasoned.Not a good showing overall.Dessert -- Apple Sorbet and Polish VodkaMany of you may be asking, "Why would you ever order something like this? I mean, what are you some sort of daisy?"  That's a fair question.  My answer is that a) I felt the pork fat coming out of my pores after the entree and b) I thought the apple would go nicely with the pig taste in my mouth.Wrong.   The sorbet just doesn't stand up to the chilled vodka.  I eneded up shooting the vodka (hey you can take the boy out of Cleveland, but ...) and then enjoying the sorbet, which was wonderful.  Nice layers of cinammon and ginger to accent the apple, but not enough to save the dish.   In sum: A Respectful MehSo in all, I treat it as a pilgrimage to the place that started the hole nose to tail movement, which I can respect and get with.  [...]

Learning About My Own Learning: A Hearty Thank You to Rita Koklauner


Usually, a facebook reconnect involves getting in touch with friends, but I had a recent friend who was able to reconnect me with ... well, me. At least my learning. A distant friend that I vaguely remember, Chris Sanyk, wrote an incredibly detailed account of what it was like at Forest Elementary School in North Olmsted, Ohio. Through his words, I realize how lucky I was to receive the education that I did as a first and second grader. I really am so truly lucky. I don't know how Chris remembered everything with such vivid detail, but it created an internal awakening of a time many years ago. He came from another school and described what we had described in the first time at Forest:Our teacher, Mrs. Koklauner, was a nice old gray-haired grandma type, and had a very calm and wise air about her. On one of the first days of classes, we set up the rules for the class. At Pine, we had had a list of a dozen or fifteen rules such as "always raise your hand and wait to be called on before talking" and "don't chew gum" "don't fight" etc. Instead of making us memorize a bunch of dumb rules like that, we held a class discussion and worked out our own moral/ethical principles which we all agreed we should abide by. Our classroom had only three rules: Respect yourself, respect others, and respect that which does not belong to you.Compared to the way things were at Forest school, Pine was a like a petty military dictatorship, and Forest virtually a Utopia. As students, even the youngest of us, we governed ourselves as we saw fit. If we felt that we needed permission for something, we asked for it. Those of us who were more independent were accorded that bit of self-authority that we needed. If absolutely necessary, we sometimes might have to get permission to do something retroactively. Requirements were only made of us in terms of doing our work, being prepared when our study groups had their meetings, and conducting ourselves in a manner which enabled everyone to get along and do what they needed to get done. And this part made me laugh:"Mike Ma was my chess playing nemesis. Out of all the kids in the class who played chess regularly, he was the only one who I could never seem to beat. Other than that, we didn't really do much. He was a year younger than me, and I think moved away or something because after I went to third grade I don't remember hearing anything about him."A few things I take from this:1. I am reaffirmed in the fact that I am sending Sean to a Montessori School. I basically think what I was doing was a Montessori school on steroids now.2. Traditional classrooms suck. I moved away from North Olmsted to Westlake. My new school system didn't know what to do with a 3rd grade kid who was doing 6th grade math and 5th grade english ... so they just made me repeat everything. I remember being bored from 3rd grade to high school, with the exception of all four years of honors english at Westlake. I think perhaps this is where my intellectual impatience stems from ... so many years of being bored.3. Thank your teachers now ... today. Yesterday. This stroll down memory lane promted me to google stalk Mrs. Koklauner, but unfortunately, all I found was that she passed just 11 months ago. Damn.[...]

For entrepreneurs, it's a new, old day


While I woke up this morning with a large helping of disbelief, wonderment, and tears at what I saw last night, I now find myself sitting at my desk. It's like any other morning. I am here to do work. To help build a great company.

For entrepreneurs, it is indeed a new, old day.

For entrepreneurs, be you red or blue, I bet your day, today, looks a lot like mine. Trying to figure out your cash flow or secure capital. Retaining your customers. Keeping your troops motivated.

I was reminded of this flying back from Las Vegas last week and the man sitting next to me saw the image of McCain on my laptop as I was watching his appearance on Meet the Press. He interrupted me with a light tap on the shoulder. With misplaced trust, he asked me with a clear Texas drawl, "He doesn't have a chance, does he?"

"I don't think so. But you really never know," I replied.

From there, we began to trade stories of building businesses. We had totally different businesses (me in consulting and hi-tech, him in marinas and boats), and I am convinced we shared vastly different political views.

However, we shared shockingly similar stories about how we were both down on luck at times with our backs against the wall. How it affected your self-esteem. How it affected our family lives. How we cared about winning, more than money. How business was the best game we ever played.

Like the ongoing war between skiers and snowboarders, I realize that for entrepreneurs, the differences are, writ large, petty. That we may have different views of the mountain, but we both love the mountain.

As I wrote on the kasina blog and to quote the new president-elect, we are not as divided as our politics suggest.

Time to get the lead out, entrepreneurs.


Why I Like David Brooks


My college roommate Sam has asked me why I like David Brooks. His comment to my last post was this: But I can't believe that Brooks is your idol. My dad said this about him the other day: "All his columns are the same. They go right...then left...then right...then left...then RIGHT!!!" Picture my dad moving his hands back and forth and shouting on that last one. You should do another post on why he's your idol.First, Sam's dad is a very prominent academic. And I mean very with a capital VERY ... so let me tread lightly. For my money, if David Brooks has written something, I almost always think that it's worth 10 minutes of my time. As far as his politcs go, he is to the right of me, but I will always read his columns ... people don't have to be Keith Olbermann for me to like them.Hell, I read the Drudge Report.Back to Brooks, and why...1. He places a premium on ideas -- In his columns, I can see the internal discourse that is happening. While I may end up a partisan, I do not go there unreflectively. A lot of my thoughts and feelings are developed through dialogue, and that to me, is a good thing. I go to him to satisfy that philosopher in me, and I am happy about that.For instance, you can look at this column "The Class War Before Palin," and you can see how while he values the intellectual inquiry more than the output.On a non-partisan issue, I thought his post on China, "Harmony and the Dream," was one of the most insightful pieces on China that I have ever read.2. He does take stands -- I mean ... read "Hoping It's Biden." or "Why Experience Matters". for instance, he writes:I would have more sympathy for this view [of the everyman in public office] if I hadn’t just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice. 3. You don't know where he's going ... and he's insightful without being preachy - Contrary to Sam's dad's views, I don't think he is so predictable. He can do 1) and 2) and do it in an accesible way for everyone. He makes me laugh and think at the same time. See "Suprise Me Most":The candidates probably won’t take this kind of advice. But remember: Weirdness wins. Surprise me most.I have no problem with people being centrists. These are hard issues that people are calling, and there is an internal dialogue that needs to be asked for a thorough examination. For me, he is the intellectual conscience of democratic liberty. If you want to follow what I think you can check me out on to say another way, I think of David Brooks on my shoulder whispering, "Yeah you all can vote, but you have to really think to earn it ... let me help." That's worth 10 minutes for me. I mean, who's better?[...]

Prediction: The Right Brained Person Will Win Tonight's Debate


I actually don't know who it will be tonight, but I had a feeling who it has been.

During last week's second debate, I posted on Facebook that I was shocked how often I felt McCain focused on saying "I" a lot, and how much Obama focused on "you."

I wanted to check this, and did a quick word count on the 2nd debate transcript and here is the breakdown:

I You
Obama 127 107
McCain 153 106

This is a very narrow test, but it confirms my gut feeling and I think the larger political critique of McCain's seeming disconnected with voters, especially in a town hall meeting.

This was supported by my columnist idol, David Brooks, surely no liberal, who explained this about Obama's right brained empathic abilities:
And the other thing that does separate Obama from just a pure intellectual: he has tremendous powers of social perception. And this is why he's a politician, not an academic. A couple of years ago, I was writing columns attacking the Republican congress for spending too much money. And I throw in a few sentences attacking the Democrats to make myself feel better. And one morning I get an email from Obama saying, 'David, if you wanna attack us, fine, but you're only throwing in those sentences to make yourself feel better.' And it was a perfect description of what was going through my mind. And everybody who knows Obama all have these stories to tell about his capacity for social perception.
Casting my personal politics aside (I am admittedly in the bag for "That One"), I would caution against the idea that the financial crisis has moved this debate and election is really about hard core left-brained pocketbook policy ideas.

I would say this has always been much more about the right brained abilities. I hope my author idol/BFF, Dan Pink, would agree.

I actually don't care what the New York Times says, that's what I am watching for tonight, regardless of who "wins."

Scraping through the New Yorker veneer


When I lived in the West Village, I once knocked over a small, elderly lady in a grocery store. I turned the corner from the pasta aisle to the oil aisle and then my very large 25 lb. backpack hit knocked her over mid-turn.

Obviously, she was irate and I remember the following line, "How can you walk like that? That's like another person in there!"

I looked at her and said, "Ma'am, I am sorry. But it looks like you are going to live."

She looked at me blankly at first. And then burst in to enormous laughter. And then I joined in. I saw her later at the seafood counter, and we shared another good laugh.

It was definitely a New York moment -- one that I will never forget.

* * * * *

I was watching the Daily Show and I was reminded how much I would really like to take issue with the people that people are rude. Watch this clip of Sarah Vowell of NPR fame. (sorry for the crappy embedding)

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I realized that I felt the same way.

I too went to public schools.

I too grew up in, well not Wasilla, but in Ohio.

I too came to New York grudgingly. In short, my wife made me, or it was curtains for our relationship.

I too believed that the city was dirty, people are rude, and its cost prohibitive to have fun.

But now I am in that latter camp that Sarah mentioned, I don't understand why every dumps on New Yorkers as a bunch of arugula-eating elitists.

I think that it's just that most think that New Yorkers are rude, and I'd like to dispell that.

What my fellow Midwesterners need to realize that New Yorkers live in a paradoxical quandary of space. Basically, we have none to ourselves. So, we all have defense mechanisms .... they can be sunglasses, our iPods, or sometimes a just pretending we are talking on our cell phone.

But it is just a veneer. We don't have space of our own, so we have a natural inclination to defend. However, you can imagine one thing that New Yorkers are good at as another consequence is that we are great at sharing. I mean, how else are you going to pack 8 million people into a city (oh and by the way, make it the safest big city in America, so sayeth the FBI)?

Of course, we could reach out, and I personally do my part to try and help lost tourist souls midtown. We need to be more proactive in that end, and we are working on that.

But in the meanwhile, please don't be afraid to approach us, or ask us for help. We are some of the best sharers in the world. Yes we have our quirks, but who doesn't.

My encouragement to everyone is to just scrape through the New Yorker veneer. On the subway, in Times Square, at Ground Zero-- ask us a question. I think you too, might be suprised.

Internet Snakes on a Plane


(I admit the title has nothing to do with the post ... I've been wanting to say it for a while)

Currently flying to San Francisco, and I am heartened by the fact that I have finally been able to get wireless access on a place, and it is pretty decent via GoGo.

Bandwidth results from Speakeasy ...
Download Speed: 2792 kbps (349 KB/sec transfer rate)
Upload Speed: 216 kbps (27 KB/sec transfer rate)

Let's see how it impacts productivity ... could be up or down ...

Rest Well, Robert Hughes


Cross-posted from the kasina blog

It is with a heavy, sad heart that I am writing to inform friends of kasina that Robert Hughes has passed. We knew him as Robert Larson-Hughes, as he was a Principal of the firm and also has served on our Board of Advisors after he left us in 2005.

Anyone who has been to our office should feel his presence. In addition to a number of other things I'd like to talk about below, he designed our office space.

Larry Cecil of Van Kampen paid us one of the best compliments that makes me think of Robert. Larry said, "This is exactly what I thought kasina's offices would look like."

Of course. It was designed by my friend, Robert Hughes.

In his short tenure with us, he left an indelible mark on our firm and me personally. I credit him with a lot of what I know about consulting and business. He challenged me on improving our process across the board for our clients. I still can hear him repeat one of his favorite Robert-isms, "All we sell is a process. So it better be good."

However, if I limited his credits to that I would be doing him a great disservice.

He taught me the value of surrounding yourself with a vibrant, passionate community. He was previously Steven's boss at McGladrey and came to work for his former employee because he thought Steven would stimulate him the most. He didn't need the money. He wanted to be in New York for personal reasons and wanted to be challenged. He thought we were the best fit. I don't know of many people whose pride would take such a back seat to his commitment to passion, learning, and community.

As I mentioned earlier, he also impressed on us the value of physical space. An MIT-trained architect, Robert graced us with his ingenious eye. If you have been here, you will realize that he placed a premium on community and elegant simplicity. He was a noncomformist who was savvy enough to conform when appropriate. He was a master of working with what was there and making it better.

All the things I love about kasina in our office. All Robert.

As you may see, I always sensed a kindred connection with him and it was solidified when he chose to move to Vermont after leaving us, not more than a few miles from me. It afforded me the luxury of seeing him more often than most others here at kasina. For that, I am grateful.

Robert, we will miss you.

Please hug your loved ones extra hard tonight. I know I will.