What's interesting about "My Life"?

It has been awhile since I posted on a book that I’ve read. A couple of months ago, I finished My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme. I enjoyed living through Julia’s words from the 40s through the 60s, a time when both the world and her life changed greatly. My friends know that I’m an active reader, and often write in books, as well as turn pages over to mark interesting passages. So, what did I find interesting in Julia’s book?

  • “The word is not the thing.” Borrowed from semanticist Alfred Korzybski, this was one of Julia’s husband’s favorite sayings. I’m a word geek, so this resonated with me. (As I typed that I used my OED subscription to make sure I knew the etymology of resonance.) This is a great saying to remind us that words aren’t sufficient often times in communication. One of the best things we did in the Innovation Lab was hire Anna Simmons to help us visualize our words, as an additional way of communicating between ourselves and with customers. I think designers are so lucky that they have this additional outlet to help express themselves!
  • Ta-Da. When Julia finished her first book, she declared a “ta-da”. I’m a believer in “ta-das”. Just before I left Intuit, we had started using them in the Innovation Lab. One challenge working with high achievers is that they often forget to step back and realize their accomplishments. Usually when they solve a problem, rather than feeling proud, they are annoyed that it took them so long to figure it out… it all seems so clear once you know the answer. Our “ta-da” effort in the Lab was meant to make sure that we realized when we solved problems… and besides that it was fun!
  • “I just walk away from it–fin!” When Julia decided to stop going to her house in France, her niece was having a tough time leaving the place. Her niece asked Julia if she was going to miss the house. Julia said, “I’ve always felt when I’m done with something, I just walk away from it–fin!” I have this same feeling as Julia. I have such an appreciation for my memories and how I’ve lived my life. From experience, I know things end; I don’t feel the need to dwell on their ending, but rather always celebrate their happening. As Julia said, “I will always have such wonderful memories of the [house];” I agree with her… I’ll always have the memories!

My thanks to Julia and Alex for a fun read… letting me share in some of those memories, and for giving me some examples and experiences for use in my life.

So, what is on my shirt today? Evan and I checked out, Cafe Indigo, a Vegan bakery in Concord, NH. We aren’t vegans, but we do try to eat healthy. Since we were going to the vegan cafe, I decided to wear the shirt I made for the launch of our organic shirts at Spreadshirt:

     I’m organic!
(and so is my shirt)

The shirt was a hit!

On my way to PBR, I bought three things

What is PBR you ask? Well, Professional Bull Riding, of course. Yes, you can take the girl out of Arkansas, but she still likes to watch those cowboys riding bulls! We went to see the top-level tour “Built Ford Tough” in Worcester this weekend with our friends, Peter and Christine. Went to shoot guns at the gun range before that. (Thanks to Peter!)

And what does one wear to a PBR event? Jeans, of course, and that’s the subject of my #1 most recent purchase:

  1. Adjustable-hem Radcliffe jeans. I can say this because it isn’t me, but the jeans… everyone who sees me in these jeans says they look awesome… not just polite “you look great”, but “W-O-W, you look great”. Again, definitely the jeans, not me. All of that aside, what I really love about them… they have an adjustable hem! Flats to heels to capris with a simple little cufflink-like innovation. My hat is off to Suzy. On the sizing if you want to order online, I read the charts and recommendations and whatever they said, I did. No problem at all.
  2. On Target: How the World’s Hottest Retailer Hit a Bull’s-Eye. I’ll likely be blogging a bit more on Target and include some info from this book, but I did buy it when I saw it recently. I’ve always liked Target, as I remember them featuring kids in wheelchairs just like regular models in their ads years ago. I liked that about them. I’m enjoying learning more of the history and culture. One clear indication on their culture: Corporate “jetiquette” is for the most senior executive to serve everyone else, “taking orders, setting up, handing out trays, cleaning up”.
  3. Mayan Chile Chocolate cake from Chocolate Maven in Santa Fe. Woah, this cake is amazing! I got to chose a cake recently while visiting Santa Fe… and as soon as I read about this one, it was mine. It has a wonderful chocolate flavor with just enough chile that you notice the hot and smoke, but then kind of wonder what that taste was… as you smile pleasantly and take another bite. You can’t get their cakes shipped, so I’m going to have to keep dreaming about it for awhile. You can hold off the urge a bit by ordering their Mayan Chile Hot Chocolate online!

Hope you enjoyed this list. I’m thinking of making “I bought three things” a series based on nice response from my first “3 things” post. What do you think?

Besides spilled hot chocolate, what’s on my shirt today? I imagine I’ve surprised a few of you with the whole PBR and gun toting thing. No, I don’t own my own guns; I don’t actually even feel comfortable in a house with them. But, yes, I do like to experience different things; and as long as they are handled safely, I don’t object to guns.

And, while I enjoyed watching rodeo and bull riding as a kid, it wasn’t until I read Josh Peter’s Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders: A Year Inside the Professional Bull Riders Tour that I was really hoppin’ to go. This book is well written and really covered the people and business of the PBR. A fascinating life.

So, for the “out of character” info I shared with you today, on my shirt is what I say to Evan whenever I surprise him by doing something odd… shoulders shrugging, I say:

I’m diverse

Experience: The good, the bad, the ugly

Experience is a hot topic around Spreadshirt. Over the past few years, Lukasz, Michael, and Matthias have built a terrific team that exemplifies the Gen Y workforce described by Jay Adelson in Business Week’s “Digg This: Talking to Gen Y”. A few weeks after I joined, I wrote to Harry Nellis, “our” partner at Accel, and told him that I could feel at Spreadshirt what Adelson describes as the ideal for Gen Y:

“…create an excitement about the company’s achievements, but more important, help employees recognize their role in accomplishing that mission.”

I love seeing and feeling this at the company. So, what’s the hot point? Well, Gen Y also means younger, which means fewer years of experience. Since we have a great, motivated team… why do we need experience? Our discussions have led me to these thoughts:

We know the good:

Experience brings us the possibility of learning… from mistakes, from success… mostly from mistakes. Mistakes can give us that “hand on a hot stove” imprint in our brains… you remember not to do it again from the OUCH. The important thing is that you step back to learn from your experiences, and [Alert: hard part here] do your best to — without bias — understand why something failed. It is only then that you can actually apply your experience… and not be doomed to repeat history.

We know the bad:

A fun example of the curse of knowledge is given by Stanford professor Chip Heath in Made to Stick (which gets an A++ rating from me… I’ve followed Chip’s work for a few years and am a believer). In a Stanford study, participants were assigned either a “tapper” or “listener” role. The tapper would tap out a very well-known song and the listener would have to guess the tune. Before the answer was revealed the tapper had to say whether the person would guess the song or not. The tappers said that the listener would get it right 50% of the time… reality… the listeners got it 2.5% of the time. The reason: The tappers had the curse of knowledge; they heard the full song in their head with complete accompaniment, while the listener heard some form of Morse code. When you are applying your experience, remember that you are hearing the full symphony, while others could likely be hearing you tap on the table… or it gets bad.

I’ve recently discovered the ugly:

Closely related to the good and the bad is my recent discovery of the ugly. With the Spreadshirt exec team, you are rarely lacking in critical analysis, which is awesome 95% of the time. The ugly is the 5% of the time when you just can’t explain why something is wrong. But, you have seen it so many times in so many different ways that you know what will happen — and, you don’t want to stick your hand on that stove or see others go through it. Ugh. While your gut (which, IMHO, is your inner self expressing your experience) tells you it is wrong, you can’t justify why. And, the arguments contrary to your gut are compelling. When this happens for me, I try to get to what experience is driving my gut. When that doesn’t work… call it ugly, decide whether you can live with the decision either way, make your case, and move on.

Along with my intro story, another story goes well with what’s on my shirt today. Harry recruited me for this position. As I talked to him more about the opportunity, I admit to being surprised when I realized that they were recruiting me as the gray hair for the org. I did think that I had a couple more positions (not just a couple of years, but a couple of positions!!) before I was the gray hair. But, alas… here I sit as a:

gen X geezer

Fun words… emotive words

Over the holidays, I read Phil Dusenberry’s One Great Insight Is Worth a Thousand Good Ideas. If you are a brand/ad geek, you’ll enjoy this book. I’ll likely do a few posts with lessons and examples from it.

I wanted to start with one story that I think most of us can use immediately… use emotive words… words that excite. The example:

Best Cellars, a wine store near Phil’s home in Manhattan, doesn’t use regions or grape varietals to mark their sections, but rather words like juicy, smooth, big, fizzy, fresh, and soft.

I want a wine store like this in my area. I can feel these words, and I can’t feel Pinot Noir. I’ve stared at hundreds of bottles of Pinot Noir, trying to remember anything I could about the different regions where they are grown, the particular years that made them taste different ways, the vintner’s specialties, etc. I need something that helps me connect and Best Cellars words bring out more emotion for me.

This reminded me of one of my favorite shirts that Lukasz has. It is a black shirt that in silver type simple says:

focus

Again, this brings out emotion!

I’m looking forward to working with the team to think of creative ways to apply this at Spreadshirt. Easily, we can have categories in our stores, and allow categories for shop partners, that express the emotions they had when creating the shirts, the emotions that they think people will get when buying them, the emotions that folks want to evoke with a gift, etc.

Question for you… Have you seen great examples of the use of emotive words? I’d love to know what’s worked for you.

So, let’s see, what’s on my shirt today?

I’m feelin’ it!

My (business) hero

Lukasz and I had a wandering conversation as we were both working way too late Saturday night. As we talked about business goals, it intertwined with personal goals and he asked who my hero was. I said Herb Kelleher… clarifying a bit “on the business side”. My parents and grandmothers are heroes to me on the whole person side. And, many more people who have inspired me, I would add to my hero list, but before I make this a list of truly awesome people (note to self… another post idea), let me get to Herb.

In case you don’t know him, Herb is the founder of Southwest Airlines, which is the largest US carrier in terms of total system passengers, particularly remarkable considering the other major carriers have international operations included. What I find amazing is how he built the top performing business in one of the most established, heavily unionized businesses around with the industry fighting him at every step… and kept a sense a humor through it all. Now, I love Ben & Jerry’s — having a tremendous respect for what they did and how they ran their business — but they were selling premium ice cream, a nascent industry at the time they started. Southwest has the same feeling and spirit that Ben & Jerry’s did, and Southwest is an AIRLINE… stodgy, old, grumpy, set in their ways, competitive, etc.

How did Herb do it? In my opinion it actually boils down to one thing… not one simple thing, but one thing. I’ll use Herb’s own words to explain it:

I keep telling them that the intangibles are far more important than the tangibles in the competitive world because, obviously, you can replicate the tangibles. You can get the same airplane. You can get the same ticket counters. You can get the same computers. But the hardest thing for a competitor to match is your culture and the spirit of your people and their focus on customer service because that isn’t something you can do overnight and it isn’t something you can do without a great deal of attention every day in a thousand different ways.

I’ve bolded what I think is the crux of this statement. This is what I aspire to do:

  • Separate the tangible from the intangible (harder than it sounds)
  • Focus on people and customer service
  • Inspire them in accomplishing their job every day

On my shirt today:

I work for you

Reminding me that as a leader, I work for my employees, customers and stakeholders… one of whom I’m likely standing with during every minute of my work day.

Related books I recommend:

Drucker rocks

Andreas, who runs our brand evangelism, gave me The Starfish and the Spider to read. I agree with him that the book isn’t a big WOW, but has some nice points. My favorite in brief…

Peter Drucker consulted with General Motors in his early days. He suggested to the GM management that they:

Ask customers what worked for them and what didn’t; and incorporate that feedback into corporate strategy.

Note, Drucker didn’t say, “incorporate that into the product design“, but rather, “incorporate that into corporate strategy.” So, while many companies aren’t even doing the former still today, Drucker understood the power of the latter… oh so many years ago.

And, after his thoughts were rejected at GM, he took these and more thoughts to Japan. He said they embraced this theory:

Top management is a function and a responsibility, rather than a rank and privilege.

Think about this to drive understanding and actions from management-to-employees and employees-to-management.

Why are these my favs? The simplicity in both statements. Do you have any other Drucker-isms you live by? I might add it to my shirt, which on the front would say…

Drucker rocks!

P.S. If you want to read a great book with new business ideas, get Mavericks at Work by Bill Taylor and Polly LaBarre.