Whatever will I do without TV?

So I gave up TV about 3 years ago. And I get a lot of different responses when I tell people that. Some think I’m crazy. Some think I’m making a political statement. Most, I suspect, think that I am posturing myself as a bohemian hipster of some sort. A poet.

But it really didn’t start as much. I moved into a building with no cable. And I wasn’t going to live there long. So I silently protested the purchase of a $500 Satellite box, by having nothing at all.

It was uncomfortable at first. I was used to just…having it there. The familiar "bum-bum" of Law and Order keeping me company in the background. Casually perusing through the channels stumbling upon a Seinfeld rerun, or a Hitler documentary. Sometimes watching really excellent stuff too, like Battelestar, or Discovery. But in truth, I rarely sought out content, even with Tivo. I would just….have it on.

So when I moved into my new place, I figured I had gone a year without TV, and that I should get me some cable. But I had changed. I had found other things to do. I interact with the world differently. I just never watched it, and so I cut it off 3 months later.

I still watch shows sometimes. Either on AppleTV, or from Netflix. But there is something about the…deliberate… nature of my consumption now that reduces it by a factor of ten. I never have anything on in the background. TV does not keep me company.

I didn’t fully understand the meaning of it all until I stumbled upon this article. The author makes a great point- a societal-changing point about the meaning TV has had in the world since it became popular. That is was our response to something we had never really had much of before the 20th century. Free time.

I don’t know if it’s true or not. But it sure is an interesting read.

For me? Much happier. Much more productive. A political, bohemian, crazy poet.

Getting more from work

Seth Godin had this post this morning. It’s about getting more from school, work, whatever.

It’s an interesting thing to mull as an employer. People often think that their employer has a plan for them. And while we might well have some sort of a plan, it’s not nearly as fleshed out as it could ( maybe should) be.

So what’s the best way to get more from work? More fulfillment, more experience, or – the real currency of the new economy – more learning experiences?

Initiative.

Initiative is really the only way. Even the best, most well-meaning employer can only give so many opportunities. And in the absence of initiative, I feel like instead of giving someone an opportunity, I am loading them up with work. Because I just don’t know the difference. Maybe you’re excited to help with the newsletter – or maybe you think it’s a drag. Maybe you are dying to grow the company and be a leader! Or maybe you’re looking for more family time. And without initiative… well, I have to be a really good mind-reader. And I think I am about as good at that as any employer. Which is to say – marginal.

So how does one go from waiting, to taking? I think it’s pretty easy actually. You walk into your employer’s office, and say "I have an idea."

Then you volunteer to help make that idea a reality. That’s the hard part.

The hardest work thing I have ever done – Part II

"We have got to get them to understand that this is important."

Someone said this in a managers meeting once, not too long ago. Well, actually, we had all said it at one point in time over the previous 14 months. About how we – The Managers – needed the get them – The Employees, to do something or other.

"When did they become ‘them’?" someone asked.

My heart actually stopped. I knew right then that something was awry. We were not lean enough. Lean organizations are too busy fighting for The Cause to have a them.

And when I came upon the decision to make a management change (that’s a euphemism for firing your friends) a few weeks later, I knew what Ripple 3.0 had to look like. It had to look like Ripple 1.0.

There is no them.

The hardest work thing I have ever done – Part I

For those of you who are really in the know about Ripple, you know that I laid off three members of my management team about five weeks ago. Which is to say – almost all of my management team. Why?

Why would I let three people of their caliber get away? All three – passionate, smart, driven and loyal. Really the kind of folks you dream of hiring. All three great friends. All three the kind of person most aspire to be like.

The short version was cost, and the balance of producers with managers. We simply could not support so many managers, so many "departments" with so few people reporting to them. Everyone understood that at some level, and everyone was supportive of the decision, albeit sad  – including the three folks on the losing end of the choice.

But the bigger question I ask is: How did I get here? How did I get to place where I had three people on my team that I could let go? Because we had no particular catastrophe; no big loss in revenues, no big jump in expenses, no one had screwed something up. We just got to an unsustainable place very slowly.

And upon reflection, it was the slowness. Ripple has been around a long time. Those folks had mostly worked here a very long time. And I tend to see people for what they deserve first, and what suits the company second (martyr alert!). That is the part of me that wants to develop people, which is, of course, the really fun part of the job.

Every one them deserved the job they had, the title they enjoyed, the salary they earned. The truth is – had I made a series of earlier hard decisions, I wouldn’t have had one big hard decision later. We never had a need for all of the positions we had, but we had people that belonged in those positions. People I care about a great deal. People I had to look in the eye and fire – for no fault of their own.

Balancing fast growth with stability is a hard thing to do. I think I always understood the challenges of growing quickly- simply that it is a difficult endeavor, and that it requires a lot of energy, planning and effort. But people rarely talk about the downside of growing slowly. That people develop in their careers – and that they deserve to. But that energy has to be absorbed somewhere. Either in smart decisions… or in hard ones.

5 steps to saving lives (or your business)

This is maybe the most important article I have ever read.

I’m not kidding. And I read a lot of articles.

This is an astonishing testimonial to the power of putting aside your pride and realizing that systems COMBINED with smarts is exponentially powerful.

The takeaway: Checklists prevent problems. Checklists for things we already think we are good at.

In this case, literally thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of
dollars were saved at just a handful of hospitals using a simple
5-point checklist – for stuff everyone already "knew."

The article is just plain interesting for it’s own sake, but it also
begs the question: What simple steps might we take that would save
untold hours of time, and make dozens of clients happier, safer, and
more productive?

Hey, I know! Change the world for the better.

This professor, Randy Pausch, is the professor I always imagined all professors would be like when I got to college. Brilliant, interested, able to bring out the best in me. Inspiring. Better than me. Approachable. The reality is that very few professors are actually like this.

This is his last lecture as a professor. It is about how to realize your childhood dreams, how to help others realize theirs, and some lessons learned over his career spent doing both. It’s 90 minutes long. I know, it seems really long. But if there were 500 more men like this in the world –  even 5 more men like this in the world, the impact would be astonishing. We should all aspire to be like this man.

Oh, did I mention? He’s going to be dead by Spring. He’s 47. Yeah. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. I will probably watch this 5 more times. Watch 9 minutes, then let me know if you were able to stop.

I had a few great professors while I was in school. But only one who
really took an interest in me, one who I got to know. It was this man, Constantine Sedikides. So a little shout-out to you CS. Thanks. I often wonder if I would have finished school without you.

Thanks to Michael Arrington for the link.

What Does Excellence Look Like?

It looks like Octane.

My friends Tony and Diane started Octane less than 4 years ago. Octane is a cool coffee shop, in an up and coming neighborhood. They had a passion for design, style, and general hipness. And they made really good coffee and espresso. And you know what? That could be the whole story. I mean Octane is, by nearly anyone’s standard, a runaway success. No one ever complained about the quality of the coffee, it was already the best in Atlanta.

But then excellence isn’t about no complaints.

Tony and Diane decided, whatever the risks, that they were going to pursue excellence. And mind you, it *is* risky. Most people don’t really know what coffee excellence entails. Coffee excellence means losing the ginormous serving sizes people have become accustomed to. It costs more money, and demands far higher standards from employees. And no one really knows if people even *want* coffee excellence. When Starbucks raised the coffee bar in the 90s, that may be as far as most people want or need it to go. It takes effort to discover what the next level is all about. People just simply might not want to expend the energy.

Of course excellence isn’t about what people want.

Excellence is a pursuit all its own. People might want it. Somebody wants it of course. But is it enough people? Is it worth the cost? Tough to say. That’s why it’s risky. And that’s why most people and companies don’t even try. Starbucks stopped pursuing excellence 8 years ago. It’s hard to say that they are not successful. Of course GM stopped pursuing excellence 40 years ago and it has brought them close to death.

Pursuing excellence isn’t about commercial or financial success.

Pursuing excellence is really about demanding more from yourself. It’s about knowing, at the end of the day, that you were able to do something few others have done, or even tried. It’s about charting new ground and the feeling that goes with it. The nice thing is: you can have commercial success either way, so why not *also* choose excellence?

Seth Godin has a great little book out called The Dip, and it’s all about excellence and what it takes to get there. Or, if you are in Atlanta, go to Octane and you can see it in person.