Create More, Consume Less

Has there ever been a better time in human history to be a curious person? Everything you could ever want to learn is right at your fingertips, a click away. It’s amazing to have the resources to find, learn, understand and connect to experts, especially when you really need them. And, of course, our brains love the stimulation and the spark that comes when we lock into a new concept.

So much to learn, so little time. Getting smarter every day.

But, we need balance in our lives. In all things. The risk in all the stuff out there – videos, apps, stories, tweets, reels, snaps, etc – is that “learning”, “research” turns into consumption, pure and simple. We can fill our heads with ideas and mental models and theories, but unless we’re doing something with the knowledge, we’re just letting it wash over us. “Learning” turns into distraction.

The flipside of consumption is creation. Making something new out of the materials we’ve found is a generative act that, when done adequately, results in a helpful contribution.

We have to put that knowledge into action, put it to work. Certainly, we can apply it in our daily jobs to sharpen our own abilities and improve the quality of the work we do. Better is to share the insights and ideas to make things better, easier, smarter, more rewarding for the folks around us. Ideally, we’re adding to the knowledge base by contributing insights, new methods and genuinely new ideas.

2022 is still just getting started. This year, I want to create more than I consume. Making music and art at home will keep me creative and engaged in the world. Creating for work – writing, podcasts, webinars, coaching – will give us a chance to push the ball of knowledge forward, and, hopefully, put us in touch with others who are trying to do the same thing.

Time is of the Essence

Tempus fugit. Every knows that in their head, but for some of us it creates a distinct, deep feeling. It’s January 1, 2022. Another year. Another clean slate, in a lot of ways. I can feel it in my body and in my gut that I’m not getting younger, that time is slipping away. I’m proud of what i’ve done with the time I’ve been given, but I want to make sure I make the most of the time I have left.

2021 was a shitshow in a lot of ways. People I love who died way too early, people i know and admire dealing with significant mental health issues, planetary crisis, democracy in peril, etc. I don’t have to list it out. We all experienced it.

I’ve got no new insight into time, but I do have a newfound sense of urgency, a new mindfulness about potential distractions.

Resolution #1 for 2021: Avoid distractions that take my time away from me.

Fable: The Book Club App for Social Reading

Really interesting funding story yesterday Fable: The Book Club App raised 20MM to build a platform for “book club” discussions. We shouldn’t be surprised, but there’s a whole phenomenon of “social reading” and a gaggle of booktokers (book-focused TikTokers). I was with a group of buddies talking wishing there was something like this for music.

Originally, i thought it was designed for existing book clubs, like the ones that happen in the real world over wine and not actually reading the book.

But, for Fable, you can see the product strategy:

  • Find engaging “hosts” – Leverage existing audiences (or their ability to build an audience) and incent them (revshare?) to build the platform
  • Engagement – Drive deeper engagement through prompts, questions, notifications
  • Repeat – Create milestones and “events” to create repeat usage
  • Revenue – Affiliate links via product sales and a premium experience

The promo materials on the homepage are weird, though: Sean Astin and Levar Burton mainly talking about reading and their love of books. How many shares did they get for that?

In Search of A Leadership Capability Stack

I just completed a project for a client that included a review of their digital marketing capabilities. Our job was to support the leadership team in developing a roadmap to improve a couple key marketing capabilities so they could go from “good” to “great” over the next couple years. It’s work every marketing leader should do.

As I met with leaders inside the org and as I tapped other folks I know outside the org for input, i realized the classic consultants dilemma: the roadmap is only the map. You might have the best plan in the world, but you need good drivers to reach the destination.

After we wrapped up the project, I knew the real work would come down to leadership: Decision making, maintaining prioritization, supporting the team, advising “up” and “around” all while delivering the “good manager” behaviors. Luckily, the folks we worked with were skilled, experienced leaders who were committed to their team and building the teams’ skills, first. (It was inspiring to hear them talk about growing the team’s abilities while rebuilding the capabilities). They are pros. They know how to do the job of leading a team inside a complex org.

But, i think leading the team is only half the battle. They also have to manage themselves.

I wish our work would have addressed need all leaders have today to build (or rebuild) their own personal leadership skills. Like any leaders of change, they’re going to need the “traditional” competencies a good manager/director/vp needs – Develop a vision, communicate the vision, create strategies, guide the team, build a plan, deliver results, etc – but they’re also going to need to be high performing at some personal leadership (or personal management) skills to maintain effectiveness. How do you fight politics? How do you recognize when someone else’s skills are getting in your way? How do you sustain the energy and effort to make real change happen?

Every leader today needs to build their own capacity to drive change and sustain their teams, otherwise the org and the work will suck the energy out of them.

What are the critical personal leadership capabilities a Director or VP needs to have today, to keep moving forward and not get crushed by change? What’s in your “stack” for leading yourself? Are you working on:

  • Staying centered – Intellectually, emotionally, in the present; When change and a dynamic life/work balance try to throw you off. Can you bring yourself back to the moment, in the present, and find “level”?
  • Staying committed – When there are reasons and pressure to change your mind; when politics or social dynamics may create the wrong sort of influence, do you have the ability to stay committed to your vision, to your decisions
  • Staying responsive – Knowing when to change direction, make a fast decision, pursue an emergent opportunity. Sometimes it means changing priorities. Sometimes it means stopping what’s not working
  • Creating Clarity – Having the ability to create a clear picture of the situation, to cut through ambiguity and “could be” or “Should be” to get at “what is”, and then create action. The ability to bring yourself (and possibly your team) back to focus.
  • Executive Functioning – Are you aware of how you make decisions and how you’re processing and acting on information. Are you responding intuitively all the time? Are you pre-processing and over- analyzing all the time? Do you know how your brain is or isn’t helping you over time?
  • Growing – Do you have the ability to add new skills, build new insights into your own abilities, take in feedback and modify what you’re doing to get better at it? Are you actively developing yourself? Making time to practice and review and reflect in an effort to build and grow?

I’m working on understanding my own “capabilities” stack as a leader/manager/individual. It’s definitely one of those “the more you know the less you know” situations. So, i’m trying to connect with more leaders to see how they are, in effect, managing themselves. I’m not looking for “hacks” or shortcuts, but i am looking for the ways these leaders are building a practice around their own development.

Ultimately, i wonder if I need my own Capability Maturity Model and my own roadmap, to get me from “current state” to my desired “future state”. Who do i hire to help me with that?

Beyond these skills, it’s also clear that every leader needs to have, for themselves, some assets to help them in their work. It’s the sort of obvious stuff – A clear vision for themselves, a trusted set of advisors, tools to help them learn and develop their skills, a sense of their own history, an actual plan to grow and develop – but that’s for another post.

Starbucks Doesn’t Need a DAO, It’s Employees Do

Sort of riffing on a thoughtful, provocative thread by @magdalenakala who makes an argument for a Starbucks DAO to augment or replace their super successful loyalty program.

I like her points a lot, but the hope and hype of DAOs will run into the reality of: Starbucks doesn’t need to complexify something that works extremely well right now.

I do think there’s an argument to be made that Starbucks should have their own $star or $bucks or whatever, to evolve points to a genuine currency. Lots of interesting cross-brand ideas there.

The folks at Starbucks that do need a DAO are the employees. Should/could a DAO replace the employee union? Hypothetically:

  • There might be an employee DAO, with a token whose value is pegged to either the shareprice or some other long term business performance metric. The value of the tokens rises as the performance of the company improves
  • For hours worked, employees could be granted tokens that represent votes/governance in the employee DAO
  • Workers could also get tokens based on tenure or other milestones.
  • Workers could grant tokens based on skills, experiences gained, etc. as they become, essentially, more valuable to their co-workers and to the company.

The DAO could represent the interest of employees/workers on issues of safety, privacy, enviromental issues, etc.

Would Starbucks ownership prefer to deal with a DAO vs. an employee union? Probably. Especially if the incentives are fully aligned.

Would a token system be an alternative to to other long term interest-driving tools like profit sharing or 401Ks? Probably, but I’d almost see this as a complement to a the traditional ones. In fact, the token system actually creates real-world value for the experience and tenure and skills of a long-term employee.

Obviously haven’t thought this all the way through, but i do believe DAO’s for employees would ultimately deliver more value to the company than a crypto-CRM loyalty program.

What if Performance Advertising is Just an Analytics Scam? – SparkToro

This is a helluva way to open an article about ad scams:

In 2020, AirBnB cut $542 million of performance advertising spend and saw no measurable falloff in attributable sales. They continued this ad-slashing practice in 2021, with similarly eye-popping numbers. Could it be that all those ads did nothing?

Source: What if Performance Advertising is Just an Analytics Scam? – SparkToro

Really interesting and thoughtful take on the fast changing digital ad landscape.

Single Use NFT’s

Now, this is the sort of NFT use i’ve been waiting for, and it’s potentially an important early signal for brands and ad people:

He’s positioned it as “five minutes of fame”, or, essentially, “you’ve got an open mic”. But, he’s really selling access to his audience via NFT. Not sure how he set up the contract, but you can see how he’d get paid every time this NFT gets resold.

Here’s his tweet on the concept:

This is the sort of thing I’m waiting to see unfold. Personally, i’m less interested in the collectible/asset appreciation side of NFTs. NFTs as access to value.

I’d love to hear about other brands leaning into tokens like this (without running their own DAO’s, but that’s gotta be right around the corner, too [imagine Patagonia setting up a DAO to allocate funds to nature/conservation causes)

Ascenders: Don’t Forget To Lead Your Team

We work with a lot of leaders who tend to be in the upper third of the management layer in their orgs. Not “C-level”, but real close. Let’s call them ascenders, the ones who have their eyes on moving up a management level relatively soon. 

The ascenders make choices every day about how to spend their time, where to focus their energies, where to invest a little attention.  A pattern I’ve seen: The larger the org, the more time these ascenders spend influencing and “leading up”, focusing on the teams above them, or worse, their peers at the “ascenders” level. While there is always a need to for communications, influencing, and gaining “alignment”, when it gets out of balance it becomes something else. Some might call it jockeying for position, others might call it politics. Either way, a manager that is preoccupied with “up”, is not prioritizing team leadership. 

The more they look at their daily and weekly activities through the lens of their own relative position in the matrix, the less time an ascender is spending making sure their team is ready and responsive. They’re making a tradeoff without really thinking too much about it, and the team suffers. 

I don’t think the ascenders are trying to mis-manage their attention and focus. We’ve all seen the way the corner offices can be a black hole of decisiveness, how the demands for more meetings and time and reports can suck the available calendar time that would have gone to their team. The worse part, these ascenders might not even know they’re doing it. They might think they are “influencing” up in order to clear the way or create “cover” for their team. They might think they are being “servant” leaders. 

Father’s Day 2021

Thinking about my own father in a different way this year. He’s getting older, frail, a little more cranky. But, still on the whole, optimistic about the time he’s got left. We joke about him being in the 4th quarter of his life, but he’ll laugh and say he’s in the last minute of the two minute warning and the fat lady is stepping to the mic. 

I’m beginning to let myself wonder what my life might be like without him, how things may be different when he’s not there to call or consult.   While I’ve never taken him for granted, he’s been a constant presence, the center of my life’s radar, the point around which the arm sweeps. No matter where my actions might show up as a little  blip on that radar, he was always there, the home coordinates around which i traveled.  

He’s one of those good 1950’s/1960’s dads, a warm, steady presence but not overly involved unless it’s a big decision: Job changes, mortgages, investing. I don’t think he gets the concept of an interior life. I wouldn’t go to him to get advice or discuss philosophical questions, or the hobbies and pursuits that I’m passionate about. His parenting model was pretty straightforward: He gave me all the space I needed to figure shit out on my own, and he offered love and faith that eventually I’d make something good happen. He’d listen all day long, but he was mainly just letting me talk it out. He’s known me by the actions I’ve taken and the friends I’ve made, not what’s in my heart or head. 

Most days I believe he’s given me the best of the tools he’s had and the wisdom he’s gained. But, as I look ahead to the next 5-10 years, I can’t help but wonder if I should be digging to find any more nuggets as the clock ticks. 

And, the clock is ticking for me, too. I feel urgency to step up my game as a dad and review the past to consider my own work as a father and what I should be doing better, differently. My boys are both at important ages, one in the critical first years of college, the other in the wide open post graduation period. They’re both good young men, grown in most ways.  But, in other ways, they are still figuring out how al the pieces fit together and, more importantly, what pieces they can put on the table. 

They’re smarter than I am, but I’ve made more mistake and thus have some hard-earned wisdom. As I get older, I get more confident that I know The Truth about certain things. I want, more than anything, to tell them everything I know (or think I know). That Paul was the most important Beatle, but I’d want to hang out with Ringo. The Who is probably overrated. The Clash might be the best band ever from England. Buffet and Munger are the ones to listen to. Ride your bike. Keep a diary. I would love the chance to lecture them on the importance of friendship, kindness, compound interest, a buy and hold strategy, etc. But, at the same time, one of the best gifts my father gave me was the space and time to do things my way without a lot of judgement or oversteering. So, my plan is to wait, with a full heart and a bottomless supply of love, for them to circle back to me when the time is right, when they need a little reorientation or to check their coordinates a bit.