Tag - work

Props from a master: sci-fi legend David Brin makes my day

I have been promoting my first science fiction novel, No Other Gods, on Twitter and Facebook and this blog. And the sales have been starting to come.

So have the positive reviews: 4.9 stars so far on Amazon, which is great.

But the best has been the result of taking a if-you-don’t-swing-you-can’t-hit attitude and approaching some big-name authors and personalities about the book. David Brin is a best-selling sci-fi author — and a scientist, by the way — with novels like Postman and Heaven’s Reach that I’ve personally read and loved. He’s such a respected author that he’s the one the Asimov people picked to write the final posthumous novel in the Foundation Series, Foundation’s Triumph.

He responded to a tweet that I directed to his attention, and then we emailed back and forth, after which I sent him a copy of No Other Gods.

This was the response:

david brin response no other gods

Brin’s schedule is crazy, and he must get a million queries from just-starting-out authors like me. But he read the first part of the book, liked it, and said I am “no amateur.”

That made my day.

Hopefully, he’ll also find the time between writing and speaking and working to read the rest, and give me some feedback on the complete novel.

Wonderful Colorful House iPad app: launched!

It’s with a great deal of pride and satisfaction that I’m able to announce that my iPad app, The Wonderful Colorful House, is now live on the Apple app store.

It’s been a long and winding journey.

The trip started about 15 years ago when I made up a bed-time story for my daughter, Gabrielle. It was about a kid in the great white North, Tullik, who hated cold and hated white, and who was looking for a better — more wonderful — home.  She loved the story, and asked me for it repeatedly, and suggested that I write it down.

Which I did.

And then, more than a decade later, I met Bas Waijers, an amazing New York artist who was the creative director for the project and painstakingly illustrated the entire app. And Nick Dalton, an accomplished technologist who has built many apps, and built the actual app. And we brought on Mark Greenberg, a Chicago-based musician and sound engineer, who created an amazing soundscape, along with many special effect sounds.

Together, we created an app more than 15 years in the making. And we offer it up to you, today.


Less free, more lance

Today is a really, really good day. I just signed a contract with VentureBeat to come on board full-time as a writer.

I’ve been writing for VentureBeat on a freelance basis since April 30th of this year, taking a contrarian opinion on why you should be using Klout when making (some) hiring decisions. Since then, I’ve written about a hundred posts.

My favourite, so far, is this one: How a 1-man cat-drawing startup won a Mark Cuban investment, the story of how a cat-drawing web geek from Chicago got on Shark’s Tank and charmed Cuban into a $25,000 investment. That was a fun interview, it was fun to write, and … I got Mark Cuban to comment, which was a highlight for me.

My most successful post so far has been Microsoft. Kicks. Ass. which I wrote at about 5:30 in the morning after Microsoft’s Surface announcements. I think the company got its mojo back there, even though I’m a Mac guy, and I applauded them for it. At this point, it’s gotten over 6300 likes and about 1600 tweets:

I’ve learned a ton so far, and I know I have a LOT more to learn yet. But I’ll be doing it with a great team of writers and editors, and I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks, Dylan!

SwitchCube: open for bidness (almost)

You’ve heard a lot from me lately about coworking in BC’s Fraser Valley.

My business partner Matt Farley and I have been working to found a space for solopreneurs, startups, telecommuters, freelancers, and other home-based knowledge workers to get together, work in a great space with community, a boardroom for client meetings, WIFI, coffee, and no worries/concerns/distractions from the home.

That place is SwitchCube.

And we’ve now launched the SwitchCube website:

We’re just about to sign a lease, but we need our coworking community to come on board. If you’re in our coworking Meetup group or on our Coworking Abbotsford landing page … now’s the time to hit our SwitchCube membership page and sign up.

Now’s the time when I remind me why I bought this print from Hugh at GapingVoid:

I would really like child’s play right now 🙂

In which I follow Steve Jobs' advice and follow my heart …

A couple of days ago I posted this video on Facebook. It’s about fear, and not letting fear drive your decisions:

Four months ago, Yellow Pages Group shut down Canpages, where I had been working to reinvent local search in Canada. That work got flushed down the toilet, and our entire team was shown the door, which started months of searching for the next thing.

Initially, it seemed to be going super-well, but leads dried up, and it got more challenging. Then a particularly juicy opportunity with a major corporation opened up, and I went through four rounds of interviews, only to get dumped at the last round because I didn’t “have enough big-company experience.” That was a bad moment.

My wife Teresa and I have never had any real financial worries; we’ve been frugal and done well, thank God. But emotionally it was taking a toll. So I refocused on my own consulting business, which I had let lapse for a few years. And that took off.

For the past month and a half, I’ve been working insane hours. I was giving 20 hours a week to Click4Time, a startup focused on the online appointment-booking industry, I was increasingly writing for VentureBeat (one of the top tech/biz/startup blogs on the internet), I was working to get a coworking space, SwitchCube, off the ground, and I was working on a variety of contracts with partners like CGA-Canada and the Trust Tour. From the stresses of the job search I moved to the stresses of too many demands on my time, and the stresses of not really being sure where I should be and what I should be doing. And the stresses of still looking for the real actual job that I dreamed was out there.

It was easily 60-80 hours a week, and it was too much. Something had to give. And that something was almost me.

However, after a lot of soul-searching, that something turned out to be Click4Time. The startup is in a hot space and there’s a lot of potential, but there’s a ton of work to be done on the product itself. As acting director of online marketing, I was spending most of my time actually working on the basics of the company website and core product. Last Sunday I pretty much made up my mind to “fire the client.” But I didn’t act on it until Tuesday, when I told Lance, the CEO (who was great about it).

And it was a very tough decision. It was guaranteed money – not tons, but some, and 5000 shares a month, which are currently being sold for $1 apiece. In addition, it was the guarantee of a 6-figure salary if and when the company closed a significant investment – which seems to be getting closer, by the way.

That was the fear part: the fear of losing out … the fear of not having income … the fear of a certain lack of status. That’s why the video above spoke to me so deeply.

I’m a Christian. I believe in God. And I finally agreed, kicking and screaming, to take a leap of faith. Because my passion was VentureBeat.

It’s a funny thing. I always wanted to be a journalist when I was a kid. And I thought I would be one while I was going through university too. Then work came as a staff writer, then marketer, then technologist, then minor-league executive and management. And the dream faded, I guess. But never really died.

The work I was doing for VentureBeat was the best part of my day. At night I was writing, and it wasn’t work, in a sense. It was fun. It was enjoyable. So I decided to follow Steve Jobs’s advice: to follow my heart. To stay hungry. To stay foolish. To have faith that everything would work out if I just did the thing that felt right, even if it was financially stupid, even insane.

So I did it. I quit Click4Time. And I mentally committed to VentureBeat. And everything changed.

This week has been just unbelievably amazing, with good news packed on top of good news:

  • I got great news – my stories had done better than I thought they had and I had a bigger traffic bonus ($$$) than I expected.
  • I got great feedback – super encouraging words from Heather Kelly, senior editor, and Dylan Tweney, executive editor, and others at VentureBeat – that I was doing well. As Heather put it: “kicking ass and taking names!”
  • I very serendipitously did a couple stories that hit excellent traffic numbers
  • I was – even as a freelancer – the top writer on the site on Wednesday. (Of course, a bunch of our all-stars were on vacation or not posting that day. Still!)
  • I picked up an amazing story based on a Shark Tank episode that Teresa, my wife, had PVRed. It was a great feature story about a guy who created a startup based on drawing cats and scored an investment from Mark Cuban.
  • I got an email from Mark Cuban (!) adding comments to that story.
  • I got more great feedback from VentureBeat staffers, and I had two stories featured at the same time on the home page. And I had the main feature story yesterday morning. And all three of my latest posts have been selected as Editors Picks!!!
  • Then Dylan, who brought me on at VentureBeat as a freelancer in the first place, added me to the writers’ email list and the shared doc which is all the stories that VentureBeat staffers are working on … bringing me more into the fold.
  • And there was some more good news as well, which I can’t share yet.

In other words, a complete avalanche of good news. Unexpected, undeserved, unexplained. And a lot of clarity and faith and evidence that this is the right direction, that this is where I should be going, that this is what I should be doing. I haven’t had that in a long time, it feels like.

I’m super-thankful, and super-humbled.

And I remember Steve Jobs’ words at the Stanford Commencement speech in 2005. In somewhat random order, here are a few bits that especially impacted me:

You’ve got to find what you love
The only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work
And the only way to do great work is to do what you love

Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid thinking you have something to lose.

You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

I’m following! And I’m selling out for what I know I should be doing.

Welcome CGA-Canada!

It’s been in the works for some time now, but I’m pleased to be able to announce that the contracts are now signed: I’ll be doing a series of social media seminars for the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada.

We’ll be digging into what social means for CGAs in their organizations, how social media can help both CGAs and their companies, and how to utilize social technologies to both learn and connect with colleagues.

Thanks for the vote of confidence, and I look forward to delivering them soon!

CGAs do, in fact, see more than numbers 🙂


Bow down before my words

I was working on my novel this morning in the ungodly predawn hours when I saw this quote from about 4 millennia ago:

Now, I swear by the sun god Utu on this very day — and my younger brothers shall be witness of it in foreign lands where the sons of Sumer are not known, where people do not have the use of paved roads, where they have no access to the written word — that I, the firstborn son, am a fashioner of words, a composer of songs, a composer of words, and that they will recite my songs as heavenly writings, and that they will bow down before my words……

King Shulgi (c. 2100 BC)

Is that awesome or is that awesome? Kinda I-am-poet-hear-me-roar.

I’m doing a lot of writing lately. Writing at VentureBeat. Writing my novel. Writing for clients like Click4Time, where I’m helping them transform their site into one that converts surfers into customers.

It’s very cool in a way to see a quote from an individual right at the dawn of the written word speaking about the power of language. Specifically, recorded language. Language is powerful. Language changes perceptions and minds. And language enables us to create stories though which we interpret and understand and enrich our world.

But, no, don’t bow down before my words. Just enjoy 🙂

. . .
. . .

In case you’re wondering, the story is sort of military science fiction, but it takes place in different historical milieux. One of those is ancient Sumer … hence the research.

PayPal story hitting Techmeme

OK, very silly of me, I know. But I’m kinda pumped.

I’ve been writing for VentureBeat for closing in on a month now, writing 14 stories so far. Some may have made it to Techmeme, the barometer of who is doing well in technology news, but if so I haven’t seen it.

So I was a little chuffed today when I saw that my latest story, Paypal handles 60% of web transactions, leaves Google in the dust on Techmeme in the “Newest” section when I dropped by for my morning cup of tech coffee, so to speak:

And a little below on the page itself:

I’ve been on Techmeme before for stories posted here on Sparkplug9. But this is the first that I’ve noticed for my work on VentureBeat. That put a bit of a smile on my face this morning.

SwitchCube Coworking

And it’s out in the wild!

SwitchCube is the name that Matt and I have chosen for our coworking space in Abbotsford BC.

We’re touring a few spaces tomorrow, and look like we’ll be ready to start making some offers on places as soon as next week. At the meetup we held last week, a lot of people were eager to get going soon 🙂

We also settled on our corporate color: purple. (Or some shade thereof …) Thanks to Kuler, we have a palette as well:

First post @ VentureBeat

I’m a little pumped. I managed to connect with VentureBeat over the past couple of weeks and just wrote my first post: 5 Reasons Mobile Fragmentation is Actually Good for App Developers.

In it, I argue that a very competitive mobile landscape with Windows Phone and BlackBerry in addition to (of course) Android and iOS is a good thing for mobile app developers … even if it makes life more complicated in some ways.

As I check it now, a few hours after posting, it’s not doing too badly:

  • 73 tweets
  • 46 shares on LinkedIN
  • 2 +1s (this is not good for Google+ marketing!)

Writing the post was fun, as was finding and interviewing 3-4 experts in mobile computing. I’m hoping to do more 🙂

Introducing Bobby Lenarduzzi @ the Cultural Diversity Awards

DiverseCity’s 17th annual Cultural Diversity Awards are next week Tuesday at the Four Seasons in Vancouver, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Not only do we get to recognize great lower mainland companies who embody the ethic of diversity, we’re going to hear from Bobby Lenarduzzi, the great Canadian soccer player, coach, and executive. With 47 caps for Canada for international play, including going to the quarterfinals at the 1984 summer Olympics, Bobby is a legend. We’re super-happy to have him as our keynote speaker.

In addition, I’m pretty excited: I’ll have the privilege of introducing Bobby to the crowd. He’s the prototypical “the-next-speaker-needs-no-introduction” type of speaker, but I’m sure I’ll find something to say.

If you’re not already coming, please register online to attend. The awards are Tuesday, April 17th, at 6PM, and will be at the Vancouver Four Seasons at 791 West Georgia Street.

See you there!

The ONE thing you absolutely MUST have when networking

Most people hate networking.

It’s too hard, it’s too boring, it’s too forward. Or, they’re too shy, they’re too stuck in a comfort zone, or just not very outgoing.

Here’s the good news
There is a secret for good networking. And it has nothing to do with how you shake hands or maintain eye contact. It’s not about psyching yourself up, or ensuring you meet X number of people. It’s not about figuring out your story in advance, or scripting your elevator pitch, although those can be good ideas.

Here’s the bad news
Unfortunately, it’s not something everyone can do, either. Only some of us can do it … not because we’re better than anyone else, or smarter, or more outgoing, or more attractive. But it is something that we possess. And maybe you do too. And if you don’t? There are ways to get it.

Here’s the secret
The secret is passion.

Is there something that you’re doing that you are absolutely passionate about? Excited about? Engaged with? Vitally interested in?

Then you can network well. It’s as simple as that.

It IS about others … but also YOU
To be sure, you can’t network by spouting off at every opportunity. If you only use your mouth, forget it. You’re boring, and rude to boot.

But it is ALSO about you.

If you just listen when networking, you’re going to hear a lot, and you’ll make some connections. But those connections won’t be strong ones, and won’t be beneficial, because the people you’re connecting with have no clue who you are, what you’re doing, and why you get out of bed in the morning.

In other words, you don’t fit into a box in their head. And that means you don’t fit in their heads at all. Not good.

Passion is infectious
When a passionate person who listens and asks questions and gets interested in others starts to speak, people pay attention. And they remember.

Now you’ve got a connection. And now you’re networking.

Lessons in life and adventure

I follow Chris Guillebeau, an author whose mission is to visit every country in the world. Every. Single. One.

He posted 34 things I’ve learned about life and adventure today – on his 34th birthday. Here’s the ones that resonate most with me … any my own thoughts on each of them.

Deadlines & quotas are your friends
There is nothing that focuses your brain like a deadline. Set ’em if you don’t have them, and use their peculiar psychological power to prod you to greater achievement.

My quota for writing is at least 33 minutes a day, usually first thing in the day. I can do more, but that’s minimum. And that gives me the discipline to be 124 pages into my first novel, No Other Gods.

Helping others makes your own life better
It’s why I coach two baseball teams. It’s how any bad day can be made at least somewhat better. You can’t stay miserable when you’re helping other people – it’s almost impossible.

Love the process
The product – the end goal of any project – is a tiny fraction of the totality of your life. Enjoy the road, the means, the path, if you want to enjoy your life.

Be a believer, not a cynic
This is huge. Just huge. Being a believer might sometimes result in disappointment or misadventure. But the reward is the kind of person you become: warmer, nicer, more positive. The world is full of negativity. Focusing on the positive is your best defence.

I’ll take some disappointments for the privilege. It’s the cost of doing business – living life – happily.

Choose active over passive whenever possible
Also super-important. Doing something – almost anything – is usually better than doing nothing. It feels better, it accomplishes something, it goes somewhere, and, even if only psychologically, puts you in a better position for the future.

Ask a lot of questions
This is the most interesting part about other people: they know stuff you don’t. Learning from others is fun and easy … especially when they’re passionate. Someone who is passionate about what they do has a hard time being boring when talking about it.

Say yes more often than no
I know that design requires choices, and business needs focus. And that Steve Jobs is famous for praising the power of no. But personally, saying yes to experiences, options, opportunities opens you up to so much more. No is the word of stasis, seclusion, retreat. Yes is wanting more of life.

That’s only 7 of the 34. I strongly suggest you follow that link and read all of them.

"You Prepare" … one of the keys to success in life and work

It was early 2007 – I was working as a product manager in Bellingham WA … mostly focused on education and technology projects.

My current boss, Larry, was taking a different role – he would become my peer – and a new VP had just been hired. I’d just had the first meeting with the man who would be my new boss: Joel Zucker.

Larry wandered into my office and asked how it went with Joel. (First meetings with new bosses are, obviously, a big deal.)

So I told him: went well. I showed him the cheat sheets I had prepared for Joel overviewing all major products and projects at a high level: financials, units, progress, plans. Larry looked at my sheets, smiled.

“That’s the difference with you. You prepare.”

I went on to have a great relationship with Joel. I worked closely with him for two years until he left the company for another role. He promoted me to Director of Product Development. And I stayed close with him as he died of cancer. I’m still connected with his wife on Facebook.

And it all started with a great meeting – for which I had prepared.

Most meetings you go to, people just show up. They come from whatever work they’ve been doing, and they come in without context, without opinion, without position.

When you prepare, you have all those, and you have the opportunity to contribute … and contribute publicly. Both are important. You’ve got just as much if not more work than they do. But even a few minutes reviewing the agenda so you don’t come in cold is huge in your ability to influence the meeting and present yourself positively.

I was just reminded of this recently in another meeting. With another boss. With another cheat sheet.

And now I’m reminding myself again: prepare!

And the fat lady sings again …

I’m leaving the EasyBits Group and EdSys Educational Systems (a subsidiary of the EasyBits Group).

I joined a little over 2 years ago … a fairly short time … but have packed an amazing amount of experience into those 25 months. That includes over 160,000 kilometres of air travel to destinations as diverse as Cairo and Shanghai, contacts and great relationships with people at companies such as Intel, ASUS, HP, and Smart. And it includes countless hours of individual and group work as we slaved away at all the things you need to do at a startup to get off the ground.

I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would, had amazing opportunities to build and grow partnerships with major international corporations, participated in too many late night calls with Asian partners to remember …

It’s been a fun, wild ride, and here are some of my favorite memories:

  • Landing the position in the first place and getting the opportunity to make a real difference in a software start-up as COO.
  • Presenting our future plans at an Intel QBR (quarterly business review) in Portland in early 2009 and getting a great response.
  • Working with Ellis Wang (pretty much the inventor of the netbook) and others at ASUS to create a great new product category.
  • Visiting Disney HQ in Glendale, CA to work with Jieun and others in their consumer products group and create a Disney specific laptop, the Disney Netpal: email, browser, desktop, UI … all Disney, Disney, Disney.
  • Meeting Bob Gregory and Luke Donnelly at Intel HQ in Santa Clara, CA to pitch them on a digital publishing vision in education and beyond that started a year-long engagement in which EasyBits tried to define the future of educational publishing (the jury’s still out on this one).
  • Launching EdSys.com as a culmination of all our efforts in creating a great suite of products for tech-centric schools.
  • Speaking at an Intel conference in Cairo … I arrived from Amsterdam at 3AM, made it to the hotel by 5AM, slept for 2 hours, hired a car and driver, drove to the pyramids, rented a camel and guide, and explored for half a day. We came to the pyramids from the Sahara side, not the Cairo side, and early in the morning there was no-one there … it was as if a thousand years had just disappeared from the calendar and we were alone in the desert and with the pyramids. The speech went very well, too!
  • Taking half a day later at that same Cairo conference and exploring Giza, Sakara, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with Paulo and Marcello from MetaSys in Brazil, and Frank from Monaco. We got lost in a souk, cheated by a taxi driver, stunned by Tutankhamun’s mask, grossed out by Cleopatra’s entrails in an alabaster box, and chilled out eating lunch by the pool. Amazing day and a half!
  • Presenting at another Intel conference in Porto, Portugal. I flew into Lisbon at midnight, obeyed the GPS, promptly spent an hour bombing around the backstreets of the capital before getting on the expressway and arriving in Porto at about 3AM. The conference was amazing, in the old Alfandega, and we met political and educational leaders from Macedonia, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, and many other countries. Later I took a day in Lisbon and explored that amazing city … the Castillo San Jorge, the Lisbon Cathedral (built in 1147!), and the amazing Baixa or downtown area.
  • Starting a conference call at 11:30 PM. Before this role, I had mostly done business in North America … so the biggest time changes were generally 3 hours. However, with EasyBits our key partners were in Europe, North America, and Asia … so the time differences were huge. Calls with Chinese and Taiwanese partners generally started at 5PM and got worse, with 7PM being the most common. However, 11:30PM was the latest conference call start time I can recall.
  • Seeing our software on millions of CMPCs (classmate PCs – Intel’s reference computing platform for schools) … both Blue Dolphin and Inspirus Desktop. Our software was included as part of Intel’s core stack for both education and retail units – a major accomplishment.
  • Creating multiple great marketing and training presentations in Flash for our partners … consisting of screencasts, images, text, audio (in multiple languages), and animation. We produced a suite of software with 5 components working in concert for multiple parties, including a server process that tied everything together, so presenting it in a simple, effective way was essential.
  • Working with a remote development team, mostly in the Ukraine. This presented serious challenges of language and time zones, not to mention cultural differences in work and communication styles, but in spite of the problems, enabled us to create very significant software solutions in far less time, and with a fairly advantageous cost structure as well.
  • Meeting Patrick from Smart in Santa Clara at another Intel QBR, and going with him, Meghan Desai and Bob Gregory of Intel to 3-4 different restaurants in Cupertino, including one right at 1 Infinite Loop, where we ordered a tiny Belgian beer with a dragon on the lable … 20% alcohol by volume.
  • Learning to work with Ilya Kruglenko, our CEO/CTO, and my Russian boss. At the beginning of our relationship, I really did not understand what made him tick. Initially devoting perhaps 30% of my personal CPU cycles to just deciphering the words he was saying didn’t help. But, learning Ilya’s style and personality over the years … and getting better at understanding his accent … was critical to communicating and working well together.
  • Meeting Lars, our co-founder and VP of marketing, in Houston, Texas for meetings with HP. We had amazing meetings with great reception to our thoughts and ideas, and then went to an incredible steakhouse. The bill for the two of us was almost $350 … but it was a meal to remember.
  • Thinking about food, a meal in Porto, Portugal with Lars, Tiago, and Tito from EasyBits, and Sabine from Intel, as well as an Austrian judge (don’t ask!). We were in the restaurant by the river Douro for probably 4 hours, and they just kept bringing more courses, more food, more cheeses, more meats, more wine, more deserts, more everything. It was probably the most amazing meal of my life … and there was great company and conversation, as well.
  • Visiting our Intel partners in Shanghai. We worked for days in their mammoth campus, building a mountain of Diet Coke cans in the conference room (some Chinese didn’t drink, because cold drinks cause ill health) and then went to dinner together where I ate snake as well as Chairman Mao’s favorite food: red braised pork. There’s a reason he was a little porky himself …
  • Working at home in basement office … and not commuting. Commuting is something I’ll have to get used to again in my new role (more on that later). Working at home has definite upside … but also a downside: you never leave the office.
  • Finally … one of the last days, the day I told Ilya I was leaving. We were at the Intel Developer Forum conference, and spent an hour and half walking the streets of San Francisco, talking it over. That night, we had a great dinner and polished off a bottle of wine together. It was a great, amiable, wonderful end to an excellent business relationship.

It has been a very busy couple of years with EasyBits, and I’m grateful for all the memories. Here’s to all of my colleagues there – Ilya, Lars, Tiago, Tito, Kate, Simone, Nick, Alex, Ivan, Igor, Andrey … I wish you the very best of everything in the future.

. . .
. . .

BTW, I’ll be announcing my new role shortly, but generally, it’s in the mobile/social/local search space. This is the hottest place to be in technology right now, and I’m looking forward to it with a LOT of excitement.

. . .
. . .

UPDATE October 14, 2010:
I’ve already updated my LinkedIn status, but here’s the on-blog announcement of my new position

Standing out in an organization

I’ve just started following Chris Guillebeau’s Art of Noncomfority blog, about his non-traditional work/jobs/career, and his travel around the world.

One thing that stuck out for me in today’s post is this quote on The Heart of the Matter:

The way you stand out in a non-profit organization isn’t that different from what you do in any group or company. You show up, give more than expected, and try to make other people look good.

Unbelievably true.

90% of success might be showing up, according to some, but it makes a big difference how you how up. Are you just there, or are you really all there? Do you do the minimum, or the maximum that you can contribute? Do you make others look good, or are you just focused on your own goals.

Love the quote, love the reality.

Now: to focus on making it come true for me.

Can I have a lying-down keyboard, please?

It’s now 8:26 PM. Most of the work of the day is finished … except, of course, the work for my current course.

I’m currently taking the seventh of ten courses that will bestow upon my bedazzled ego the title of Master (hah!) of Educational (double hah!) Technology. The challenge is finishing all ten before they finish me.

So, naturally, I’m lying down on the job.

More specifically, I’m lying on our wonderful 3-seater leather sofa, propping my MacBook against my knees, and typing with all the grace of a drunken penguin climbing Mt. Everest. My arms are curled like pretzels, and my wrists burn from keybordian curvitis.

But at least my back feels good.

What I really need is a keyboard for lying down on the sofa. I think it would look like a USB cable that plugs into your right temple. Direct brain-to-computer interface … no other interrupting medium needed, and no clack, clack, clack of keys either. The best keyboard ever invented – no keyboard at all.

Steve, Bill, anyone? I’ll pay up to 10 bucks. 15, tops.

Japan? America? Europe? Who's working the hardest?

There’s been a very interesting little “discussion” going around what we used to call the blogosphere.

TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington spent the previous week at LeWeb, in Paris, where in response to some questions, he said that Europeans love life too much to generate the biggest technology success stories. They have too many 2-hour lunches and too few late-night coding sessions. LeWeb’s organizer Loic Le Meur responded by asking – on his blog – whether Arrington should be invited back.

Meanwhile, Zoho Office blogger Sridhar reflects that Japanese work even harder … often 12 or more hours daily.

This issue is bulls-eye topical for me, as I’ve been working 12 to 14 hour days lately in my new job.

But … let’s be honest.

There can be times when you go way overboard and work mega-hours to pass critical checkpoints. But 99% of people will not be long-term successful (or happy) being out of balance all the time. The old saw about no-one wishing on their deathbed that they’d spent more time at the office is true. And realistically, almost no-one is actually effective spending that many hours for very many days.

As I mentioned on the Zoho Office blog …

I’ve also read first-hand accounts from ex-pat workers in Japan who said that a LOT of the office time was actually just face time … there was not a lot more work actually getting done. But people couldn’t leave, because that would have been see as slacking. So they stayed at their desks, doing a little online shopping, doing a little of this and a little of that.

Here’s the deal: I’d much rather work smart than work hard. That is where you’re actually going to make the major difference – where you’re going to leap-frog the competition.

But to succeed, often you have to do both.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

Today is the day.

While I’m on-call for another week, and will return to the office next Friday for a cake&coffee with the team, I’m leaving the company that I’ve been with for 15 years (give or take a month).

That’s 15 years through 7 different jobs:

  1. Research Assistant
  2. Staff Writer
  3. Marketing Project Manager
  4. Technology Solutions Manager
  5. Director of Home & Family markets
  6. Product Manager
  7. Director of Product Development

And 15 years through 3 different ownership stages:

  1. Premier (small, closely held company)
  2. FranklinCovey (medium-sized public company)
  3. SchoolSpecialty (largish public company)

And 15 years through 8 different bosses:

  1. Harold Ludwig
  2. Theodore Kingma
  3. Patricia Loeppky (now Newbold)
  4. Jim Gibson
  5. Kevin Moore
  6. Larry Renooy
  7. Joel Zucker
  8. Bob Lynch

What a wild ride it’s been, from a company that did about $40 million in annual business to a company that does over $130 million yearly. From a small family-run operation to a cog in a billion-dollar public corporation. From a small, cramped office in a leaky Abbotsford building to the former President’s (Henk Berends) corner office in Langley, and then to Bellingham, WA.

The opportunities I’ve had have been incredible. Just one of them is the travel, which has enabled me to go to San Francisco multiple times, Silicon Valley, Salt Lake City multiple times, Seatle, Portland, Wisconsin, Asheville North Carolina, San Diego multiple times, New Orleans, Virginia Beach, Texas multiple times, Florida multiple times, Quebec, Phoenix, Whistler, Winnipeg multiple (multiple multiple) times, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Moose Jaw (!?!), and many more places. Business travel is not always all it’s cracked up to be, but I always made a point of seeing or doing something at each place that I could not have seen or done at home … and so it has enriched my life.

Other opportunities have been career development. I started with Premier almost right out of Simon Fraser University. I had some previous experience managing a retail sports store … but Research Assistant was my first real career job. From that beginning people and experiences at Premier taught me product development, marketing, and basic business realities. My interest in technology grew significantly while at Premier, and the company had an opportunity for me to start and lead a web development department. From that, I moved on to other interesting and challenging jobs, including the one I’m currently leaving from: Director of Product Development. What a blessing! I feel truly fortunate and blessed to have had the career opportunities that I’ve already had.

But probably the best opportunity at Premier has been the people. Meeting and working with the amazing people at Premier … the David Leoppky’s, the Henk Berends, the Joel Zuckers … and so many more. I can’t – really can’t – name them all, but ones that really stand out are Pat Graham, Brandon Bird, Foeke van de Poel, Kelly DeVries, Bruce Morris, Sibrand Stulp, Andrew Westrink, Raymond Kenny, Teresa Alexander, Brad Kuik, Kevin Moore, Jane Hix, John Flokstra, Jonathan Catherman, Harold Ludwig, Wim Kanis, Natalie Critchley, Ronnie Zindorf, Larry Huinker, John Wesselius, Steve Misenhimer, Rastin Mehr, Arie Veenendaal, Ray Kuik, Dave Shoots, Bob Goodman, Diego Rodriguez, Sheldon Atkinson, Dominique Fugere, Francois Lupien, David Boone, Larry Renooy, Tom Osborn, Mike Skovgaard, Bernie Van Spronsen, Lisa Peumsang, Brian Koning, Steven Leyenhorst, Anita Lofgren, Phil Minderhoud, Tyler VanVliet, Bram Vegter, and Cheryl Vandeburgt. There’s more … I know there’s more, and I apologize if your name isn’t there. But those are the ones that came to mind. We had a great run together, and I wish you all the very best of everything.

Some of my favorite memories of these 15 years are:

  • Running the annual convention in ’98 or ’99 in Victoria, BC – the first convention that we made a huge splash with a major show-biz type presentation. That was a blast!
  • Bringing out the Discover Zone … an online learning, edutainment, productivity, and groupware environment in 2002-2003. What an application it was, and what excitement it generated!
  • The convention we held in Quebec, about 3 hours North of Quebec City along the banks of the St. Lawrence. 35 or so of us stayed in the hotel lobby/bar until 1 or 2 AM, singing around the piano and generally enjoying each others’ company.
  • Visiting our partners The FaQtory in Winnipeg in the winter and playing outdoor ice hockey at Ray Kuik’s house in -20 degrees Celcius … in shirtsleeves because we were so hot from the exercise.
  • Building out a new department when I became Technology Solutions Manager. Finding space, painting, furnishing, hiring, and managing … tons of fun!
  • A lunch with Henk Berends when he pointed out a serious error in judgement that I was making in a very gentle, tactful way, and saved me from a major, major disaster.
  • Playing hockey with the Canadian sales team at their regional meeting this year.
  • Giving a presentation on Royal Dutch Shell-like scenario planning at one of our company’s top meetings in ’97 when I was still young and green, and hearing via the grapevine that Chuck Farnesworth said “that kid made more sense than all the rest of them put together!”
  • Getting to write for audiences of tens of millions when I was a staff writer. Our product goes out to over 20 million students internationally, and their parents and teachers view it as well.
  • Pulling an all-nighter with David Boone to get the Premier website ready on-time in ’98.
  • Boogy-boarding in 10-foot San Diego waves in ’96, dislocating my shoulder in the surf, and swimming 100 feet back to shore one-handed.
  • Working for a month on a Discover Agenda presentation to executive in 2007, presenting it, and getting an unbelievable reception.
  • Getting the 3-day training sessions on 7 Habits as well as the Organizational Effectiveness Model when we joined FranklinCovey.
  • Going to San Antonio for a conference and staying at the Emily Morgan hotel in a suite looking directly down into the Alamo.
  • Getting a massive one-day raise in 2001.
  • Jim Gibson’s last day, when he came to me at our north campus. We found an available office; he told me he was leaving; and we prayed together before he walked out the door.
  • Imitating Henk Berends’ speech style in a send-off at his retirement banquet, and managing to do it well.
  • Winning the company-wide crud tournament with Loren VanCorbach and Sheldon Atkinson at the Portland conference in 2007 while playing the last few games on a severely sprained ankle.
  • Taking off from the Phoenix conference with a colleague (Mike Suto) in a van, not knowing where we were going, and finding the most amazing still quiet desert spaces where we stood still and silent for minutes just to hear nothing, and then continuing on to find a deep, cold desert lake.
  • Climbing the foothills of the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City during a visit to FranklinCovey.
  • Setting up a ping-pong net on my Technology Solutions department “boardroom” table to knock away the tensions of long, busy days.
  • And far more than I can list …

I have been very blessed, and very happy to have been a part of Premier from December of 1994 to November of 2008. And while I’m eagerly looking forward to new challenges, I’ll remember these times and people with fondness and some nostalgia.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu!

Working out for success @ work

I feel good. Really good.

Reason? I worked out last night … even though it was a crazy, crazy day with a full 9 or so hours at work, an hour coaching baseball for my son’s team, and a coffee with friends.

I think it was Penelope Trunk who said it a few months ago … something along the lines of: you should work out if you want to be successful in your profession? Why? Most successful people work out.

That’s a correlational as opposed to a causal relationship. But it’s still significant.

Feeling better, feeling stronger, feeling more alert, just generally feeling physically better is going to translate, most of the time, to acting better, performing better, and simply being better.

I haven’t been able to work out regularly lately due to a crazy sports schedule (I signed up for two ice hockey teams – big mistake) and a neck injury (probably unrelated but its hard to tell). But in the past 5 days I’ve worked out twice, and I feel incredible already.

Here’s to the gym!

Light and color in St. Louis Cathedral

I’m in New Orleans for the week for a conference.

The big easy is an amazing place, to say the least. It’s my first time, and I’m enjoying it immensely.

Any city that prioritizes walkers over drivers can’t be all bad, and New Orleans is a great walking city. The art galleries are many, varied, and wonderful, as are the antiques stores.

New Orleans has distinctive smells, too. The ripe musk of the bayou nearby, the cooking spilling out from multiple restaurants in the French Quarter, the alcohol in a thousand hands on Bourbon street … and yes, the vomit on the sidewalk outside on of the thousand bars.

I’ve only started exploring the city in some of the hours not allocated to the conference, and I look forward to more over the next couple of days.

Our student agenda in Today's Parent

Just found out today that the November 2007 Today’s Parent had a story by Helaine Becker on one of my company’s products.

Today's ParentI’m the director of product development at Premier, and we make student agendas – planners for kids in K-12 and higher education.

It’s always cool when people are talking about you, and the article was a lot of fun to read … I can totally relate to the challenges of being organized enough to model great behavior for your kids.

I just wish I had seen it earlier!

One day left

Tomorrow is my last day of work before the holidays – we’ve got a two-week company shut-down period, which is VERY welcome.

It’s been an intense last third of the year … two courses for my master’s program, a promotion (and subsequently doing both my new job and old job for some time), and all the typical family and home things.

Two weeks off is just what I need – if I can only get all my Christmas shopping done!

Unbelievably busy

Well, I haven’t gotten around to doing anything at all on my new combined blog in the past week or so.  Part of the problem is the new job and the tremendous workload as I transition out of the old and squeeze into the new. Another part is the two courses I’m taking for my masters program. (That was a huge mistake: two courses plus a full-time demanding job plus a family plus some friends equals absolutely no time for numero uno.) I’m looking forward to December, because on December 1 I will have (God willing) completely all my papers and assignments for my courses, and I’ll be able to slow down a bit. I just submitted my last assignment for ETEC 522 – a education venture capital course – last night at midnight … and I have one last paper due for my ETEC 511.

It’s a 3000-word paper, though, so it’s not a minor project. Such is life: intentional imbalance for short periods of time to accomplish set goals. But I hope to regain some semblance of balance soon! 

Marketing: snail versus email

I’m looking at some interesting education marketing reports right now and found this interesting comment:

“We have tried combo programs, encouraging folks to go to our website and answer questions if they get the direct mail piece, and/or the e-mail to test which works better – and the e-mail always does!”

The reason, I’m sure, is context. When you get the email, you’re on your computer, and you’re just a click away from the website. But when you get the mail, you’re not … and it’s too much hassle to save the piece until you are.

Leadership @ work

I recently received a promotion, and I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a manager versus a leader, what kind of leadership I want to provide, and what kind of a leader do I want to grow to be …This is tough stuff, and I’m pretty sure I have a long way to go. But I think the critical piece is summed up in this advice that I found on PositiveSharing (the chief happiness officer’s blog):

A leader is best when the people are hardly aware of his existence,not so good when people stand in fear,worse, when people are contemptuous.Fail to honour people, and they will fail to honour you.But a good leader who speaks little,when his task is accomplished, his work done,the people say “We did it ourselves.”

The person who said that lived 2500 years ago in China: Lao Tzu.[tags] leadership, office, work, lao tzu, john koetsier [/tags]

Selling yourself

Pickthebrain has a post on selling yourself. I can personally attest that, after getting the qualifications and knowledge you need to succeed in your chosen field, being able to “sell yourself” is the most critical part of professional success. The highlights:

  • Be Sold on Yourself
  • Have a Saleable Package
  • Be Positive and Enthusiastic
  • Be Real and Authentic

I’d have to say the most important one, though, is not there. To me, it’s that day in and day out, you have to work hard, put your best foot forward, make those around you look good, and not care (too much) about who gets the credit.

Google has much better …

. . . Excel help than Excel.Every single time I need to find out how to do something in Excel, I try to figure it out from Excel help. Search usually gets me nowhere, but sometimes gives me a clue what I should actually be searching on. But the help I usually get is not very helpful.So I turn to Google, and usually on the first page of results, using the search terms that make sense to me (an admitted Excel weenie, and proud of it) I find the answer.Isn’t that bass-ackwards? Shouldn’t the best source of information about your product come from your company?