Category Archives: Commentary

On work/life friction and getting over it

I’ve run across a couple of fascinating — and impressively honest — recent posts from entrepreneurs who are struggling with friction between work and life. This one and this one are highly recommended.

These posts inspired me to jot down a few of my own thoughts on this work-life stuff. I’ve struggled with something similar, but I have a slightly different perspective.

(Disclaimer: What follows is what works for me. There’s no system here. I don’t have any clue if what I’ve learned has relevance to anyone else.)

Here goes …

I’m not an entrepreneur. I thought I might be for a while there. But after realizing that my timid attempts at business were defined not by passion or a deep need, but by their timidity, I did what I was always supposed to do: I acknowledged the reality.

And now I’m good with that.

See, instead of founding a business that makes ungodly sums in a buyout, the thing I want to achieve — my reason for being — is much harder and has a much larger reward. I’m pursuing it with the same rigor and vigor you’d see in a type-A “serial entrepreneur.”

What is it?

Balance. Life-long balance.

I want to see if it’s possible to find and maintain true balance throughout my existence. I don’t want to sway between work and life, divvying up chunks of time between the two sides like coins on a scale. Nope. Does anyone ever pull that off?

Instead, what I want is to have a firm understanding of what’s most important to me and make my decisions accordingly.

You know who does this well? Ralph Nader.

Seriously.

The Nader documentary “An Unreasonable Man” spends a little time looking at Nader’s seemingly non-existent social life. And there’s a line in there — I can’t remember precisely how it goes — that summed up Nader’s perspective. I think it was, “You’re either hard-core or in the wife corps.”

I respect that. The guy realized where his passions lie. He committed and made decisions accordingly. Granted, that’s the exact opposite of where I’m coming from, but you’ve got to give the guy credit. (If you’re interested, this Nader profile covers similar ground.)

Like anyone with a creative spark, I often mull big ideas and big projects. But I rarely commit to those things because I’ve already committed — wholeheartedly — to my family. I’m married. I chose to get married. I have kids. I chose to have kids. And when I made these choices, I knew deep down they were the right choices for me.

I used to struggle with the push-pull between family and work. “I should write a book,” I’d think. “I should build that business.” “I should get funding or take out a loan and pursue ‘the dream’.”

Nonsense. I didn’t have a dream. I had a fear. I was scared I wasn’t living up to my potential; that I was wasting all kinds of opportunity.

After the birth of my second kid, I was too tired and maybe too old to give a damn anymore. I finally accepted that I’m not that guy. I don’t have the burning desire to build an empire. My burning desire is to build a good, loving, fulfilling, life. To be a good husband and father. That’s my empire. That’s what drives me.

If I do end up writing a book, it’ll be because I’ve got the time to do so. If I start a company, I guarantee it’ll be a small business. Something manageable. Those types of things will only come to pass if they get in line with my real responsibilities and goals.

It was a long time coming, but I finally accepted that my perspective — the one I tried to drive down and ignore — was okay. There’s plenty of smart entrepreneurs building awesome businesses. The world will be just fine if I’m not leading a parade.


Sidenote / caveat: I love my job. It’s satisfying work and I’m incredibly lucky to be in the position I am. If I didn’t have this gig, I’m sure my perspective would be radically different. But I’ve learned (finally) to appreciate the things I have — like, right now — and at this moment I’ve got a great job working for a great company. If that ever changes, I’ll undoubtedly go through a period of doubt. That’s how life works. But this “balance” thing is my center; it’s my Weeble-Wobble core. Even when I didn’t realize it was picking me up, it was.

Today’s nugget of awesome: the iPad syncs EPUB files

iPad

I did something amazing today.

I held out for nearly four hours before pre-ordering an iPad. Seriously. That’s a huge deal for me. I mean, I own the Apple Airport Extreme, okay? I’ve got an Apple TV and a Mac Mini. My Apple fanboyism teeters on psychosis.

To reward me for my loyalty (and my recent herculean effort and inevitable cave-in), Apple continues to release details on the iPad that have nipped any lingering buyer’s remorse in the bud. For example, there’s this info delight that comes courtesy Wired’s Gadget Lab:

And for EPUB titles that are not offered through the iBooks store, you can manually add them to iTunes and then sync them to the iPad … That’s good news for iPad customers, because that means bookworms won’t be limited to the offerings in the iBooks store, which are based on partnerships that Apple inked with publishers.

This is a genius move on two fronts:

1. It makes the iPad semi-open. If you’ve already got EPUB files hanging around, you can port them to the iPad. And if you buy future EPUB-based books from smart publishers that support the format (ahem), you should be able to sync those titles with the device as well. The original iPod took off because it automatically worked with the pre-existing MP3 collections people had built up. Now, there aren’t that many people out there with EPUB stockpiles. I realize that. But if you do have those files, or you want to buy material outside the iBookstore down the road, you can read all that stuff on the iPad. Well played, Apple.

2. It puts Amazon in a bind because the Kindle doesn’t support EPUB by default. Now that the iPad does support the format natively, that makes the Kindle even more restrictive. Think about that. Apple — the poster child for a totalitarian product ecosystem — is making Amazon look like the bad guy.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say about the iPad in coming days. Lord knows I can’t stop tweeting about it. But for now, I’ll revel in the anticipated joy the weekend of April 3-4 will bring: iPad on 4/3 and Red Sox opening night on 4/4.

Heads up, traditional media! Pay very close attention to what OK Go just did

It’s rare when you see such a clear example of the Internet’s disruption: OK Go, the band best known for its clever music videos, has severed ties with its record label, EMI. The reason? The label is caught in old-think and wants to disable the embed function on the group’s web-based videos.

OK Go … God bless ’em … told EMI to politely bugger off. The band knows embedding is an absolute must-have if you want to harness the web’s power.

Speaking of which, here’s the group’s latest masterpiece:

Want to know what Google is up to? Here you go

GoogleI’ve seen lots of hand-wringing and sweaty prognosticating about Google. What will it do? What does it want? Is that don’t be evil mantra for real?

Funny thing is, Google’s strategy has always been in plain sight. There’s no obfuscation. There’s no misdirection. Heck, this New York Times piece spells it out:

Google has used a similar approach — immense computing power, heaps of data and statistics — to tackle other complex problems. In 2007, for example, it began offering 800-GOOG-411, a free directory assistance service that interprets spoken requests. It allowed Google to collect the voices of millions of people so it could get better at recognizing spoken English. A year later, Google released a search-by-voice system that was as good as those that took other companies years to build.

See what Google did there? It released a free service so it could gather huge amounts of data that could then be used in another product. That’s what Google does. Free leads to data, data leads to another product. Repeat over and over and over and over again.

Ebook pricing gets even more interesting: Apple’s model vs. Amazon’s subsidy

iPad and Kindle

Tablets and devices will get all the coverage, but I believe ebook pricing is going to be 2010’s biggest issue for publishers.

To illustrate … this New York Times piece explains how Apple’s $12.99-$14.99 range represents the outer limit for iBooks pricing. Those price points aren’t set in stone. From the Times:

<blockquote

… Apple inserted provisions requiring publishers to discount e-book prices on best sellers — so that $12.99-to-$14.99 range was merely a ceiling; prices for some titles could be lower, even as low as Amazon’s $9.99. Essentially, Apple wants the flexibility to offer lower prices for the hottest books, those on one of the New York Times best-seller lists, which are heavily discounted in bookstores and on rival retail sites. So, for example, a book that started at $14.99 would drop to $12.99 or less once it hit the best-seller lists.

Sounds like Apple and Amazon are closer than we initially thought, right?

Nope. Not at all.

The single most important sentence in that Times article is buried at the very end:

Under the agreements with Apple, both the publishers and Apple should make money on each book sale. [Emphasis added.]

Ahh, there we go! Whether the price is $14.99, $12.99, $9.99 or $1.99, Apple will take its 30 percent. Set the price lower and sell more books? You betcha! Jack the price up and sell fewer? Absolutely!

What Apple won’t do is subsidize a price point.

What do you do with a writer’s work if they screw up?

TechCrunch terminated an intern who accepted compensation from an outside company in exchange for coverage. The announcement strikes an appropriate tone, but it also includes a passage that ties into a much bigger issue: when a writer goes rogue, what do you do with their published work? Here’s how TechCrunch responded:

This was not one of our full time writers, and so the frequency of posts was light. Nevertheless, we’ve also deleted all content created by this person on our blogs. We are fairly certain that most of the posts weren’t tainted in any way, but to be sure we’ve removed every word written by this person on the TechCrunch network.

One big caveat: the intern in question is a minor, so that certainly takes precedence in any reaction. But the intern posted his own follow up. Privacy implications are moot at this point.

And that brings me back to the bigger issue …

In situations like these, if we assume the wayward writer is an adult, and we assume there are no broader legal issues at play, should the writer’s past work be stricken from the record? Is that the right response?

I don’t think so. An enterprising snoop could mine caches and old RSS feeds for past copies, so deletion isn’t really the Draconian measure it’s intended to be. Beyond that, the cat’s already out of the bag. The writer screwed up. The publishing outlet looks bad. And any move to wipe the slate clean will leave lasting residue. So why wipe it clean at all?

In situations where the wrongdoing is already public — whether announced by the publisher or dug up by someone else — what I’d prefer to see is a prominent editor’s note placed at the very top of every piece the writer ever posted on the publisher’s site. It could be a simple link to the termination announcement. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. The New York Times used a similar tactic with Jayson Blair’s articles.

Advertising should be stripped from these pages and comments closed. That’s appropriate — this isn’t a revenue or publicity opportunity. But it’s important to keep the original material in place. The mistake happened in the public sphere. You can’t take that back, but you can be up front about it both in the near-term and down the road.

YouTube’s rental experiment wasn’t a failure

This piece looking at results from YouTube’s rental experiment illustrates the short-sighted thinking that handcuffs content companies:

Ouch! We’re talking about 1,422 total views, or $5,673.78 for all of the rentals at $3.99 apiece. If Google is giving the filmmakers roughly two-thirds of the take — and I’m going by other digital-media standards, since the site isn’t publicly spelling out the royalty payouts — each of the five productions will walk away with just hundreds of dollars for their role as video-sharing pioneers over the weekend.

I put this paragraph in the “trading analog dollars for digital pennies” genre. It’s catchy. Reasonable on first glance. But when you dig deeper, it’s ultimately ridiculous.

That $5,673.78 figure isn’t the key. The big deal — and the hope — lies in the 1,422 views. That’s 1,422 chances for filmmakers to have their work seen. That’s 1,422 more chances than they had before. The value of those views lies not in financial rewards (although that would be nice), but as a counter to an artist’s great enemy: obscurity. Isn’t that why film festivals exist? To show off work? To create the possibility of engagement? To create the possibility of landing theatrical distribution? How is YouTube’s effort any different?

Here’s the broader problem with this type of bottom-line analysis: digital income will almost always be lower than traditional income because digital audiences are smaller and empowered. They don’t have to blindly accept what’s given to them. They can pick and choose. They can sample. That’s a powerful set of tools. It means control rests solely in consumers’ hands.

Consumer control is the essential truth of digital content. Until that’s acknowledged — and until businesses are built to work in conjunction with this truth — content companies will spin their wheels, lose money, and whine incessantly.

Journalism pet peeves [Ongoing]

An ongoing list of journalism habits that get stuck in my craw.

Audience hatred — You are not better than your readers. You are not smarter than your readers. You can hate readers all you want in your off time, but while you’re on the clock you need to serve them with everything you’ve got. Find value. Create value. Seek viewpoints. Respond to comments. Give a shit. Without an audience, you’ve got nothing.

Killing (tech) — Technologies do not kill other technologies. One might supplant another. The market might choose another. But gadgets do not have homicidal urges (yet).

Lists of pet peeves — That’s right. I’m violating my own pet peeve. No one cares! (And yet, I continue …)

Non-linking — Please. Seriously. Please. If you include a URL in a story, and that story is posted on the Web, you must take the three extra seconds required to link it in.

Stand-in opinions — Squeezing a quote out of a source that just happens to dovetail with the exact point you sought to make does not make you objective. At best, you’re being opaque. At worst, lame. Just say it. Put it out there. I’d appreciate the honesty. Maybe all the time you’ve spent researching and talking with folks has given you — hold on, this is gonna hurt — an opinion of your own.

Stealing and/or non-acknowledgement — I realize journalists are supposed to live for the exclusive. That’s fine. Competition is a good thing. But when you get scooped, give credit where it’s due. Cite the original source and link to the story, even if it’s a hated competitor. They won this battle, maybe you’ll get the next one.

Got others? Please share them below.

Conferences and custom mobile apps: Yup, that makes sense

Attendees at the LeWeb conference held earlier this month had an extra organizational tool at their disposal: a custom iPhone app.

I cannot believe how much sense this makes. As app frameworks become more common, and development costs come down, I can see a point in the next two years when conference apps move from novelty to must-have. Sort of like Wi-Fi (but hopefully more reliable).

And let’s not forget the sponsorship opportunities here, either. A smart sponsor could use the app to send a hyper-targeted message to a hyper-targeted audience. Toss in some sort of booth contest, and you’ve got the marketing equivalent of the Death Star’s tractor beam.

Revealed! The true motivations behind survey data

Alan Mutter looks at the face-palm-inducing results from a recent newspaper publisher survey. Apparently, execs have high hopes for 2010. Very, very high hopes.

Ridiculousness aside (and these results are truly ridiculous), I found the end of Mutter’s piece quite interesting. I think most survey data is crap because it has no way of incorporating the qualitative, subconscious motivations of respondents. People are emotional creatures with wacky ideas. Yet, survey companies and analysts throw projections out there under the billowy banner of Truth.

That’s why I was heartened to see the underlying explanations/motivations laid out by one of the guys behind this newspaper survey. This is the type of honesty surveys need:

  • “Wishful thinking.”
  • “Print people over-estimating the potential of online (which is the sole factor contributing positive gain).”
  • “Corporate insistence to make the online look better.”
  • “If I don’t show better numbers, they’ll cut my budget.
  • “Optimism is better than slitting your wrists.”

Yes! A thousand times yes! This is the meaty, emotionally-honest stuff I want to see. It forces people to take surveys with a grain of salt. Surveys have some value, I’ll give you that, but they’re only a reference point. That’s it. The end-all-be-all, we’re-sure-this-will-happen authoritarian perspective is useless.