Momentum Report—The Bounce Back Edition

Last week’s detour through New York, London, and Reykjavik had me a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to get back on track. There was still the need to book accommodations, ground transportation, keep the kids on track, and, of course, the temptation to hit Google Maps and Images to waste time dreaming.

Screenshot of Abundantly Provided
I was able to get a niche site set-up and find a sponsor.

I did all of those things, but not just those things.  (more…)

Momentum Report — The Freelancing Edition

At the beginning of the year, as I was contemplating my monetary goals for the year, I thought back to Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Cal describes a transactional view of career management in which we build career capital and then trade that for more money, more freedom, or whatever it is we are after.

This made a lot of sense, so I made a list of my career capital assets. It looked something like this:

  • Blogging experience—the Bike to Work Blog, email management, this blog
  • Knowledge of effective meetings and documentation
  • First-hand experience with late life self improvement
  • App development experience
  • Work on contact management
  • Experience getting my kids to code
  • Radio and sound background
  • Experience with video production
  • Presentation and teaching skills
  • Lead generation experience

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Starting Late

In exactly two weeks I will turn 49, which means I have only one year left as a young man. (Turning 50 officially makes you an “old man.”)

So, what is a the life of a young man for? As far as I can tell, it can be boiled down to building the momentum that will carry you through old-manhood.

Jet Car
Speed doesn’t mean a frenetic pace, and it is only one component of momentum.

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Another Way the Internet Makes Art Possible

By now, we are all familiar with Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans and how the internet allows us to find financial support for our art. But there is another benefit to having fans: recruiting people to you help you create that work in the first place.

Check out this art project by Chris Martin and Larkin Poynton.

Many, if not all of us, have created something with a group for the sheer joy of creating and spending time with friends. But these projects, while memorable and fun, rarely rise to the level of art. That’s because art requires the harnessing of talent, it requires editing and rehearsal and dedication. Those are really hard to do without the potential payoff of an audience to appreciate our work.

Some individuals can pull off art for art’s sake—Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickenson, for instance—but group projects are almost never done in a vacuum. To create this video above, Martin and Poynton had to enlist dancers, video people, sound people, lighting people, and others.

Artist: come work on my project, it is going to be really cool and take hours of rehearsal.
Potential collaborator: Who’s going to see it?
Artist: I’m gonna send a copy to my mom.
Potential collaborator: I already made plans that day.
Artist: Um…I didn’t tell you the day.

And this is another way the internet allows art to happen. It’s not just the finances, it’s the enthusiasm.

Artist: come work on my project, it is going to be really cool and take hours of rehearsal.
Potential collaborator: Who’s going to see it?
Artist: 313,000 from all over the world.
Potential collaborator: I’m in.

Rules are Bad

“Cool is a rule, but sometimes bad is bad.” — Huey Lewis

In my junior high days of desperately trying to figure out this language thing, the word “bad” started being by many tastemakers (I’m talking to you Michael Jackson) to mean “not bad.” I had no idea why this was happening, but it was a cause of consternation. So Huey Lewis’ rule provided great relief: I could use “cool” for good things and “sucks” for not good things.

Have you ever watched a toddler testing limits, constantly turning back to mom to see where the rule begins? We want rules, but rules are bad (see what I did there?).

Rules are bad (in the sense of not bad) because they give us structure and certainty. When a rule is in place, we can count on others to act a certain way and to understand our intent. Rules give us security. They also take some of the cognitive burden, allowing us to make decisions once and use categories to apply rules to similar decisions.

Rules are bad (in the sense of actually bad) when they are based on whim, or vengeance, or fear, or don’t reflect reality—all desks must be empty at the end of the workday; 10% of employees must be annually judged as incompetent, etc.

Bureaucrats and HR departments and MBAs love rules because they make the world predictable and manageable. When rules are in place, you can make decisions based on a flowchart, machinelike. But the day is fast coming when anything that can be done in a machinelike way will be done by a machine.

The next time you decide to make a rule remember, being replaced by a machine is bad.

Batching and Bingeing

Doing a certain thing exclusively for a set period of time or until a certain point is reached is called batching.

Or it’s called bingeing.

Batching has a positive connotations:

  • We batch our email to increase productivity.
  • We batch certain tasks to off peak hours to better utilize computing resources.
  • Grandma’s cookies come in batches.

Bingeing has negative connotations:

  • College students binge drink.
  • Cheat days turn into carb binges.
  • We shyly admit to co-workers that we spent the weekend binge watching The Great British Baking Show.

There’s a reason for these connotations. Batching takes self-control—requiring focus, and (it sometimes seems) superhuman willpower to keep going. Bingeing is all about self-indulgence, and once you start a binge it doesn’t end until the package of Oreos is gone.

Success requires that we batch more than we binge and that we recognize the difference between the two.

Three Ways Daily Blogging has Changed Me

Two and a half weeks ago, I heard Seth Godin offer what, to me, sounded like a challenge: blog publicly for two weeks; it will change your life. 14 posts later I can report that he was right. Here are the top three ways my life has changed over the last two weeks.

1. My days are profoundly more productive

Prior to starting the challenge, I had a morning routine that began at 5:30 and was intended to be completed by the time I left the house. But it rarely was. Knowing that I had only about 45 minutes at a certain time each morning to accomplish my writing instilled an urgency and purpose to my morning that had been lacking. The momentum and the early morning win carried me through the day in an astonishing way. The last two weeks have been remarkably productive, especially the Saturdays, which had languished under the lack of demands.

2. I am way more thoughtful

Knowing that I am going to have to wrangle some electrons into a cohesive set of words has really turned me on to noticing and thinking more deeply about the stuff going on around me. My morning commutes have been much richer, my conversations have had more depth, and even TV commercials have become fodder for philosophic discussions.

3. I am more trusting

There have been a few days over the last two weeks, when I either didn’t know what I was going to write until five minutes before I began or I began one thing and ended up with something much better. Two weeks I ago, I would not have believed that there were 14 topics I could even BS verbally on, much less write about. I now believe that I can trust the universe to help me find something interesting if I’m willing to do something with it.

This has been a fascinating exercise, but I’m struggling with the application of the results. Clearly daily blogging has been good, but is it good enough or good for anything? Looking back over the posts, there is nothing I’m particularly proud of. I enjoy the writing on this one, and I think there are the seeds of something interesting here, but it’s not quality work.

And I want quality.

For the next two weeks, I’m going to maintain the discipline of spending the first hour of my day writing, but I’m going to attempt something better by turning that daily writing into something I can be proud of. Without the public accountability piece, it may all fall apart. I’ll know in two weeks, if not sooner.

Advertising as Distraction

Ad agencies tout their awards: “Look at all the Addys and Clios we picked up this year.” Awards are their accreditation; their mark of quality. Having been raised around advertising agencies, I accepted this as gospel truth.

Until I noticed that the campaigns getting the awards and accolades were for products that I don’t actually use: beer, soft drinks, lottery tickets, etc.

Lottery ads always show people doing ridiculous things with ridiculous amounts of money. The reality of using the product is going to a dingy convenience store for a cheap piece of paper and then disappointedly throwing that paper in the garbage on Saturday night. Beer ads show beautiful people in exciting places, but the reality is that most beer is drunk on a couch.

I pointed this out to an ad exec once, and to his credit, he admitted the truth: Sometimes we have to distract people from the product.

Rule of thumb: the better a product’s creative, the less remarkable the product actually is.