Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"Passionate" vs. "Professional"

Creating Passionate Users: "Dignity is deadly." - Paul Graham

Kathy Sierra has started an interesting conversation about what happens when startups try to "grow up." I wrote about this a while ago (OK, "ranted" is probably a more accurate term). To save my reader the trouble of looking, here's what I had to say before:

I Won't Grow Up!

What the heck: I'll just paste the whole thing here (who says padding your posts can't be fun?) Put on your satirical hat, gentle reader:

I have to say, I am so grateful for the grownups in the business world. They have taught me so much and helped me to mend my foolish, childish ways. You see, I used to actually think that people were supposed to enjoy their work: imagine that! What did I think this was, college? As it turns out, to be a successful, mature company, you must put such silly notions out of your head and realize what business is really all about: obligations, responsibility, and the burden of respectability.

Young companies and entrepreneurs are allowed to play for a while, but the grownups demand their due in the end. After a while, the press and the other experienced business leaders start saying the things that all grownups say to young adults: "You can't keep playing around like this forever, you know. Eventually, you'll have to start recognizing your responsibilities. You have a duty to the board, to your shareholders, and to the market that must be shouldered. There are bills to pay, reports to deliver, five-year plans to assemble. You've had your fun, but now it's time to start acting like an adult."

Adulthood, according to our wise gray mentors, is a collection of obligations: to family, to country, to employer. There is no room for fun, because that implies that we have some energy left to spend on ourselves. Grownups live a life of dull daily sacrifice, and are glad, in their gray way, to do it. They protect what they have, risk little, and ensure that their obligations will always be met. If they have a little extra time, they pull weeds.

If this is adulthood, then I'm with Peter Pan:

I won't grow up,
I don't want to wear a tie.
And a serious expression
In the middle of July.

And if it means I must prepare
To shoulder burdens with a worried air,

I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!

I will cling to the belief that work can be fun, and fulfilling, and profitable, all at the same time. I will refuse to accept that a happy employee is an inefficient one, or that money spent on quality of work life is wasted. I will continue to expect that, if I challenge people to rise beyond what they have done before, to push their boundaries and to push each other, that they will rise to the challenge and smile while doing so.

I will not accept the belief that in order to get the most out of people you must beat them down first. I will never allow the frowning grownups with their clucking about "obligation" to convince me that life is only meant to be survived. I may have to spend the rest of my life as an adult, but I refuse to spend it as a grownup! And,

If growing up means
It would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!

I still believe that it's possible to make money and even grow a company without sacrificing the creativity that made you successful and drew all those intelligent people to work for you in the first place. I just wish that there were more real-life examples to bear that out.

File under: ,

Save gas, save money, or make a statement: pick two

CNN Money has several articles on saving gas and/or money, starting with another article on the questionable savings on some hybrid vehicles. Could hybrids be the Macs of the car world: a more expensive way to do the same job, but with style? Is it a car or a lifestyle choice? I have a vision of the Earth Day 2007 buyback event, when all of the liberal/progressive people in America turn in their Subaru Outbacks for the new Toyota Prius wagon, complete with mudflaps so that you can pretend that you like to go hiking on the weekends.

Hybrids: Don't buy the hype

Gas Savings Tips Put to the Test

Fuel-Saving Tech is All Around Us

Or should we just go back to diesel?

I remember driving a VW Vanagon from Oregon all the way to central California when I was 18. It started throwing oil if you got above 60 mph, so we just put it in neutral all the way down the mountain passes. Oh, and it smelled like the inside of a used oil filter. I understand that they have found a way to make diesel engines quieter and less obnoxiously smoky, but I'm not sure that's the right way to go. I mean, how else are you going to let everyone else on the road know that you care about the environment? I guess you could put some stickers on the back, like "Bush for Lawn Gnome" and "Don't blame me: I tried to vote for Perot," or "No blood for oil, unless it's diesel." That will have to do.

Of course, I suppose you could just bike everywhere. Then the only oil you use is on your chain.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Dear Fellow Alums, I'm Awesome!!!

Have you ever actually read the Alumni Notes that people post in their college allumni magazines? I haven't seen such puffery and blatant self-promotion outside of Senate press conferences. Well, I decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Putting my recently honed satirical skills to work, I wrote an alumni note of my own. Let's see if they publish it.

(All names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Hi Fellow Alums!

Sorry I haven’t written in a while, but it’s been a busy few years. Let’s see: where to begin?

Let’s start with the kids. Both Buffy and Johann are in school full-time now and seem to love it. We’re committed to the public school system, but we do supplement their normal curricula just to keep them sharp. You know, the usual: dictionary memorization or biology before breakfast, number theory in the evenings. They can’t get enough of irrational numbers! We expect Buffy to finish college by age 13 (14 if she double majors) but we plan to let Johann go through school at the normal pace so that he can get that football scholarship. Some dreams just have to be pursued, you know?

My wife Roberta figured out the answer to the question, “What do you do with a BA in English?” You write Jewish pop music, of course! After finding decent international success with her first two CDs, she is now entertaining offers from several major record labels. The real deal-breaker – besides royalties and distribution, of course – is getting one of them to commit to a concert tour slate that fits in with the kids’ vacation schedules. She’ll work it out perfectly, of course. She always does!

That leaves me, I suppose. It’s been several years since I struck out on my own, but my company is doing well. We were a little disappointed at only moving up 43 places in the Inc. 500 this year, but my sales guys have promised to do better this year, and I believe them! The IPO plans are still on track for some time next spring, so I’m not worried. The business slowdown had a beneficial side effect, though, since it enabled me to finish my third book, If I Can Do It, Anyone Can! Look for it in the business/self-help section of your local Barnes & Noble this spring!

With such a busy life, I need to find ways to relax. For me, that means bicycling. I finished my third 100-mile ride of the year over Labor Day weekend, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to get in another one before the weather turns. That ride up Mt. Washington sure looks tempting, though!

If any college friends out there want to reconnect and get the real inside scoop, you can contact me at wickedsmaht1@yahoo.com. Hope to hear from you soon!

Class of ‘92

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Katrina: Still more ways to help in Boston

Saint Katrina Event
"Sounds like a tea dance at the neighborhood Catholic church. Unfortunately for the plight of our Southern countrymen these days, life is anything but. While heading down to the Gulf Coast may not be a realistic option for many, heading out to one of Boston’s hottest nightspots and raising money while having a good time, well, there’s really just no good excuse to stay home."

$25 minimum ticket donation.
$20 gets you an arm's length of raffle tickets, for the chance to win a grand prize trip for two to Cancun or Aruba, generously donated by GWV Travel, along with many other items.

100% of proceeds benefits the American Red Cross

Monday, September 12, 2005
6-10 PM
90 Exeter Street
Click here to make a secure reservation today

Bake Sale Benefit at UpStairs on the Square
September 11, 1-3 p.m.
Winthrop Park, at the corner of JFK and Winthrop Streets, Cambridge, 617-864-1933.

Jazz fundraiser for the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Fund
featuring New Orleans' own Terence Blanchard
September 15, 8 and 10 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, 400 Soldiers Field Rd., Boston, 617.562.4111.
Cost: $20

Donate your vacation days

Treasury, IRS Announce Special Relief to Encourage Leave-Donation Programs for Victims of Hurricane Katrina

Come on, you know that you're not really going to take 3 weeks off between now and the end of the year. Do some good with those days, especially if you're on a use-it-or-lose-it plan!

Talk to your employer about putting this plan into action in your company.

Another way for Boston residents to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The Greater Boston Food Bank is gathering food and shipping it to wherever it is needed most. Of course, they will also need to replenish their supplies to help the needy in Boston this fall, so the more donations they receive, the better.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: It's Put Up or Shut Up Time

I realized something yesterday after a week of watching news coverage and reading the anymore list: it’s very comfortable to look for someone to blame when a catastrophe of this magnitude occurs. We feel powerless in the face of this much destruction and misery, but we feel that someone should have the power to make it better or, better yet, should have kept it from happening in the first place. So we blame the government, we blame the people who stayed in harm’s way, we blame God. It doesn’t change what happened, but we feel better because now we know whose fault it is. More importantly, we know it isn’t our fault, so we can look at those sad faces on TV and safely get mad about the whole thing. It’s a natural response, and we’ve all seen it happen several times in the past four years.

Here’s the deal, though: no matter whose fault it is, the reality is that we are facing the biggest human catastrophe in our nation’s history, and our fellow Americans need our help. The scope of the destruction, in terms of property, infrastructure, economic impact, and human life, is beyond the capacity of our government and the major relief organizations to handle, and people continue to suffer. Clearly, this requires a grassroots response at the local, regional, and national level.

Rather than asking, “Who’s to blame?” I would love to see this country focus our efforts on asking, “What can we do to make it better?” There’s a lot of brain power here, not to mention some small amount of resources. Let’s put it to use and show these people that someone cares about their plight.

Jesse Jackson said that the response to this tragedy will have to move in stages: Rescue, Relief, Recovery, and Rebuilding. The rescue effort is (finally) well under way, and there is little that we can do to accelerate it. Right now, the focus is on relief:

  • We can give money. I have already given as much as I can afford right now, and will figure out how much more I can give in the coming months. Logistically speaking, that is probably the best way to help right now. It’s a lot easier for organizations to leverage the existing distribution networks of the major store chains and buy what they need locally than it is to ship used goods from here. Maybe they’ll run out later, but for now, money moves faster. If you don’t trust the Red Cross or the Salvation Army with your money, then find one of the local organizations that are housing people or trying to set up long-term shelters. It seems that just about every church and synagogue in Louisiana and Mississippi is doing something. Maybe we can get a list of those local organizations so that we know our money is making a direct impact.

  • We can offer space. There are a lot of landlords out there. Does anyone have some extra space where they could house someone? I know that several churches in the Boston area are coordinating efforts to house evacuees here, complete with background checks on both the landlords and the evacuees to try to keep people safe.

  • We can offer prayers. I don’t care what your religious leanings are and, frankly, I don’t care to hear them right now. If you are on speaking terms with a higher power, start asking for relief, for some miraculous rescues, and for people’s hearts to open up to help. It costs you nothing more than a few moments of your time, and if there’s a remote chance it can help then it’s better than sitting in front of the TV and stewing.

  • We can ask others to help. I asked my company to help, and even though we don’t have a formal contribution matching program, they have now offered to match every employee donation to the relief effort. You can ask your HR department if the company will make a special contribution, too.

  • We can keep thinking. There are all kinds of other relief efforts springing up and looking for donations beyond money. We can keep watching for opportunities to help in the weeks and months to come.

It will take years for the region to recover from this and for people to put their lives back together. Right now, the needs are dramatic and immediate. As time goes on, the stories will fade from the headlines, but the needs will remain. How can we help in the long term? Can we help them rebuild? If we care enough about these poor people to get angry that the government failed them, do we care enough to help them get their lives back? If so, then we need to look beyond today and think about the long term:

  • I’ll bet that Habitat for Humanity will be down there rebuilding houses. Can you take a week off from work to go help?

  • Do you belong to an organization that could coordinate a rebuilding effort in a Gulf Coast community? A lot of the people who lost homes were uninsured, so the only way a lot of houses will be rebuilt is if someone volunteers to do it.

  • Can you budget money for the long term to keep supporting the organizations that will keep helping people? The economy will take a while to recover, and the housing market even longer, so it’s unrealistic to expect people to just go get a job and find a new place to live next month.

Let’s leave the smug finger-pointing to the politicians and the newspaper columnists. Instead, let’s see what we can do to make the situation better for our fellow citizens have seen their lives destroyed and who desperately need to know that someone cares.

PS - Here are some sites I have found where we can give money and goods now. If anyone else comes across more organizations, please post them.