Category Archives: Inspiration

What I’ve learned in 3 1/2 weeks off

I just had 3 1/2 weeks off work for the birth of my son. This is the longest vacation I’ve had since I was in grad school (back in the late 90’s), and I’ve found it to be good opportunity to engage in some introspective thinking.  I’m deeply grateful to my employer and my team to allow me to take such an extended amount of time off during this important time in my family’s life.

Below are a few things I’ve learned. Not that I didn’t know these already, but they certainly were re-emphasized.

Facebook is a great tool, but it’s possible to be on it too much. At least with my network of friends, not that much happens such that it needs to be checked every few minutes.  If I’m clicking refresh on the page, odds are I could be spending my time better elsewhere.

Work goes on without me. I check my e-mail occasionally, and my team continues to get work done. Life goes on without me. That’s good; it means the team is built to a point where it can run for extended periods of time. It’s also a bit scary in that it can run without me.

Routines take a long time to create. After more than 3 weeks off, I’m just starting to get into a routine with my day with my family.  It’s going to be another period of time to get into a routine once I’m back at the office.

There’s far less free time at home than I expected. With a toddler and a newborn, free time is scarce, and when it does happen, all I want to do is nothing.  My ambitious list of career-oriented items to do during my time off barely was touched, though I did make some progress.  I also spent far less time with my camera than I expected, given that I have a newborn in the house. On the other hand, he doesn’t do much yet, so there aren’t a lot of expressions to capture.

Time off provides perspective. Without the daily grind, I was able to disengage from the wheel-spinning activities of life and concentrate on the bigger picture in life and work (in between toddler-created messes and diaper changes, of course).


N-1, N+1, and how I’m learning to thrive in a world of excess

Seth Godin had a post today called N-1 where he asks what would happen if you did N-1 things (i.e. eliminated one thing at a time) until you could do a world class job on what’s left.  He’s contrasting that to the philosophy of Fred Wilson’s N+1 theory which says there is always room for one more of anything. One more task, one more hobby, one more area I should master, a thousand irons in a thousand fires.  Both seem correct, but seem mutually exclusive.

These contrasting viewpoints are particularly relevant to me recently, as I’ve been working on eliminating excess distractions from my work and life. I’ve found that I have a commitment limit, over which things spin out of control and little gets done. In computer-speak, I start thrashing. The previous few years of my life largely consisted of adding more, more, more. More work, more stuff, more hassle, but unexpectedly, less value.  Now, my focus is on delegating, outsourcing or systematizing that which can be done by others or automated systems and concentrating my rather limited amount of time on what adds the most value.

Back to N-1 and N+1.  Perhaps why both seem correct is that a blended approach is best, pursuing N-1 until comfortable that I’m no longer project-thrashing, then applying N+1 to what’s left. That’s what I think Seth is saying, but this redefines N+1 as a valid, complementary strategy within the confines of N-1. In other words, instead of grazing the surface of countless projects, we deep dive into a limited number of specific areas and projects to achieve stellar results. I call this theory N±1.

Business of Software 2010 Retrospective

Last year, I wrote up a lengthy post summarizing my notes from the 2009 Business of Software conference, along with links to some archived tweets.  This year, I’m taking a completely different approach: a summation of what I’ve felt during and after the conference.  Others have already provided detailed notes about the topics of each speaker and photos of many of the speakers, so I won’t bother with any of that since I’m trying to embody the “be different” mantra espoused by Youngme Moon.

The 2010 Business of Software conference was inspiring, practical, thoughtful, and soul-searching.  This was the year of the deeply transparent personal story.  I somehow felt connected to many of these speakers after they shared these parts of their lives that so many of us experience but few will acknowledge to others: fears of not being able to be a sales person, leaving a job, running out of money, and many more private but common business phobias. (My favorite humorous, yet practical work tip was Peldi‘s from Balsamiq: work while your family is sleeping so they don’t know they are ignoring you — I’m doing that as I write this!)  The speakers presented insightful stories that made me think long and hard about me. There is little so powerful as self-examination. There are so many different stories out there, so many ways to weave paths through business and life.  Reflecting on where others have been and how that relates to where I want to be was a notable outcome of BoS this year.  Being true to yourself, not leading if you’re not passionate, failing everything once, and embracing your strengths are several ideas that stood out for me this year.  It could have just been me and my unusual state of mind this year, but so much of the conference was about alignment of personal issues with professional goals, and of course, passion.

Although I didn’t get to participate in the breakout sessions due to some other meetings with other people in my company, I still had a solid sense of camaraderie with the group.  I especially enjoyed the meals; every one was a chance to meet with others who have a fundamental understanding of the issues involved in running a software business.  One breakfast, I was able to engage with Scott Farquhar from Atlassian about the topic of walls, obstacles standing in the way of getting something done, and how there isn’t really any magic to breaking through these walls other than to persevere with hard work. Hearing that from someone who’s younger than me and running a company that just raised $60mm in funding is validation that my struggles are not unique, but outcomes are.  Scott lead a few conversations at my table with “what’s your biggest challenge facing you today” — a great dialogue starter.

I haven’t spoken much about the practical side of the conference I noted earlier. Much like Seth illuminated the new reality that the business of software is less about brilliant programmers and software than creating and maintaining tribes, the practical side of the conference is less important to me at the moment.  There were discussions of how to build e-mail lists, how to get people to come back to your site, how to calculate particular metrics that drive customer retention, building a cluster immune system, M&A tips, and other useful information, and I’ll be able to use some of that. It’s just less engaging to me than the rest.

So, thanks to all of those who shared their personal stories, spurring deep thinking on my part. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have heard them all speak and the resultant contemplation of the past, present and future of my own personal story.

(Also, a special thank-you to the person who thanked me for the notes I wrote up last year as you were heading out of the elevator; I didn’t realize someone was talking to me until after you left.)

I’m Thankful

The Thanksgiving holiday makes my mind wander to thoughts of what is good in my life. It’s so easy to be negative and critical, even with the best intentions, and forget all of the good things in life.  Louis C.K.’s skit highlights this tendency in human nature in a very humorous way.

I’m not going to list everything I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving (does my hosting provider have enough disk space to list it all? 😉 ) but just thinking about what’s good in my life makes me feel great (my wife and daughter, my family, my co-workers, the many friends I have across the globe, and more). This Thanksgiving and this holiday season, I’m going to share that sentiment with those in my life and perpetuate the happiness. After all, it’s way more contagious than the swine flu; it can be spread with a smile and a compliment.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Reaching your goals

On my way to San Francisco last week, I was watching a football game while eating at the Denver airport. I’m not much of a football fan generally, but it was on, and there was some time to pass until my next flight.

The announcer said one of the players was only 5 yards away form breaking the all time rushing record.  This made me think.  At this moment in time, it wasn’t about the player, or the game. It was much bigger than that. How did this player get to be within 5 yards of breaking a record?

By starting.

What haven’t you done yet that you’ve been wanting to do?  If you don’t start, you won’t be the equivalent of 5 yards away from your goal in the future.  What’s the first step?