Way back in 2009, the exit of Google’s then design chief, Douglas Bowman, resulted in an unexpectedly entertaining look at the inner workings of one of the fastest growing companies the world has ever seen. In his eloquently worded goodbye letter to Google, Bowman described his frustrations.

As Google was a company of engineers, founded by engineers, and managed by engineers, even simple decisions become futile exercises demanding empirical knowledge before proceeding. The epitome of this “paralysis by analysis” was highlighted in a New York Times article at the time focusing on Marissa Mayer, who was leading Google’s search team before later leaving for Yahoo. Mayer infamously required empirical evaluation of 41 different shades of blue for a toolbar. (more…)

One of the great themes in science fiction is the fear that the machines we humans have created will someday lead to our own enslavement or even extinction. As research into artificial intelligence (AI) exploded following Turing’s breakthroughs, the concept of self-awareness in non-organic manmade objects elicited a sort of existential dread.

Update: See below for yet another take on the existentialist implications of future AI developments…

If advanced reasoning, self-awareness and abstract thought are considered to be primary distinctions between the cognitive abilities of humans and animals, what would it mean if our machines attained similar function? In my mind, this mental exploration is similar to what the existential impact of receiving clear and unambiguous evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. (more…)

Mission statements are like press releases—there are established writing conventions that apply. If you don’t nail the format just right, it will stick out like a sore thumb, and all your hard work will be for naught.*

Whether you are CEO or president, in marketing, or were drafted to your company’s official Mission Statement Committee, your best bet is to play it safe. That means using plenty of jargon to impress upon others that your company “gets it.” (more…)

There are a lot of small businesses that self-identify as consultants. Like quality and beauty, the definition of what a consultant is depends entirely on the perspective of the observer. Most so-called consultants are actually just independent contractors or subcontractors providing outsourced labor. In my opinion, a true consultant is one who improves their client’s situation.

In the same way that few parents actively encourage their children to skip college to pursue joining the building trades, not too many folks pressure their offspring to become management consultants. (more…)

I came across a wonderful quote from Steve Jobs on how great people and teams solve problems. What caught my eye was a tweet from user experience expert Jon Fox linking to a picture with text from Jobs’ quote overlayed on the photo.

The caption for the photo, and the body (if you will) of Fox’s tweet reads: The very definition of #UX Wisdom from #SteveJobs. Let me explain…

UX refers to user experience. According to Wikipedia, “User experience (UX) involves a person’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership.”

Here is the quote from Steve Levy’s book, Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything:

When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple with all these simple solutions, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem. And your solutions are way too oversimplified, and they don’t work. Then you get into the problem, and you see it’s really complicated. And you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s sort of the middle, and that’s where most people stop, and the solutions tend to work for a while. But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, underlying principle of the problem. And come up with a beautiful elegant solution that works.

Source: Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything

What’s the Point?

The reason the tweet—and subsequently, the quote—caught my eye is that I am using a similar concept in the launch of a new brand and a new company offering project management or owner representation services to property owners that are designing and constructing new buildings. The theme of our new campaign: “The very definition of what an owner’s representative should be.”

Stay tuned…


Image courtesy Wikimedia

Checking off one item on my bucket list, last week I had the sincere pleasure of seeing Gary Vaynerchuk speak live at PCBC 2014 in San Francisco. As usual, Gary covered a number of topics that are incredibly relevant to businesses everywhere. I want to highlight just a couple of those concepts here.

Gary Vaynerchuk is highly in demand as a speaker at business conferences, even though he regularly challenges the status quo. Plus, how often do you see an explicit content warning for a keynote speaker at a professional conference?

Stop being romantic about your company

In the clip below, from a previous talk, Gary tackles The Innovator’s Dilemma—the idea that once innovative companies lose their edge when they stop innovating. Businesses resting on their laurels, celebrating previous success, are ripe for disruption from others:

Most companies using social media act like a 19 year old dude…

…trying to close on the first transaction:

This is covered in much greater detail in Vaynerchuk’s latest book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World

Are you marketing in the year we live in?

One of the number one points that Gary makes—really the primary thesis of his talks—is that you have to go where your customers are. Perhaps more to the point, you have to go to where the customers you want to have are. In 2014, that means using social media. It means mobile, first. It means always looking to the horizon to find out what medium your (prospective) clients are heading to next.

The difficulty, of course, is justifying the time and money spent in such pursuits. This is the dreaded ROI of social media issue that so many marketers must unfortunately deal with. Here is a slideshow from Gary on the topic:

What’s the Point?

With his brother AJ, Gary has established an incredibly successful social and digital media marketing agency called VaynerMedia that caters primarily to large enterprise companies. VaynerMedia’s value proposition isn’t so much about the content produced, as much as it is helping brands understand the context within which it exists.

During the brief Q and A following Gary’s talk, one gentleman mentioned probably the number one topic on everyone’s mind. (PCBC is a builder’s convention, so everyone in the room is connected to the real estate/construction industry in some manner.) Here is roughly what he said:

Let’s say I want to connect with the president of Wells Fargo. I don’t think he is sharing what he ate on Twitter or SnapChatting away with his friends. So how am I going to reach him?

To which Gary replied, “what were you planning to do—take out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal hoping that he’ll see it?” Then Gary told a story about how he and the VaynerMedia team landed a multi-million dollar contract with an executive that was fairly old, and definitely not a big social media user. However, this executive’s children were active on social media and VaynerMedia targeted content at them with the hope that they would in turn share it with the old man.

The gentlemen in the audience asking the question then said to Gary, “that story was worth the price of admission for this whole conference,” and then walked away.

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Gary Vaynerchuk on stage at PCBC 2014

I’m in San Francisco for the PCBC 2014, a conference that focuses on the “Art, Science + Business of Housing.” A casual search revealed that there was a Blue Bottle Coffee nearby.

Good coffee is hard to come by, sometimes.

Right now, I'm sitting at the Mint Plaza location of Blue Bottle Coffee finishing off my excellent Bella Donovan drip coffee. I was the fourth person in the door, after waiting a few minutes for them to open. Now, there is a line wrapping halfway around the building of people waiting to get in.

There is no such line at the several Starbucks locations I passed on my way over.

According to the GPS, I am .9 miles from the apartment we AirBnB-ed for the week, and .7 miles from Moscone Center, where the convention takes place.

Is it worth it?



Mitch Joel, podcaster, blogger, and digital marketing agency thought leader, recently featured the incomparable Nancy Duarte on the Six Pixels of Separation podcast. She leads the world’s greatest presentation design firm, Duarte, which has been responsible for producing such noteworthy presentations for folks like David Allen (of Getting Things Done fame), ESPN, Twitter, Citrix, Michael Pollan, and most famously, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth.

Here’s Mitch’s introduction of Nancy for the podcast:

When people ask me what is the main skill required for success in life, I think of one thing: being able to present an idea in a cogent way. When I think of people who understand the dynamics and intricacies of giving great presentations (and telling better stories), I think of Nancy Duarte. Along with running one of the most prestigious agencies, Duarte, for helping brands to create better presentations by crafting better stories, Nancy is also the author of several amazing books including, Slide:ology, Resonate, and the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. Nancy has a new book out and it’s called, Slidedocs… oh, and it’s free. A slidedoc is a hybrid of a presentation and richer content mixed together so that you’re reading (like a book) but enjoying it, because it’s more visual. I think Nancy is on to something. Slidedocs can either be the perfect leave behind or a whole new way to publish books. Either way, me likes and I wanted to dig into the topic deeper. Enjoy the conversation…

Source: Six Pixels of Separation Episode No. 411

If you were paying attention, you’ll notice that Nancy’s new book is free. You can get it here: Slidedocs. It has completely changed my perspective on sharing information and has been infecting my thoughts for nearly a month now. Check it out, as I’m sure you will learn something valuable.

Nancy Duarte - Slidedocs

Image courtesy Duarte, Inc.

I am a big proponent of the Lean Startup approach to building a business. The concept of the pivot as a way of rapidly responding to changing business dynamics is an integral part of the approach. This is a story about a pivot that I just made in my business.

As I’ve written about before, a pivot in business strategy doesn’t necessarily mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The concept of the pivot is central to the Lean Startup approach. Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup book and the guy who really put it all together, says this about pivots:

My goal in advocating a scientific approach to the creation of startups is to channel human creativity into its most productive form, and there is no bigger destroyer of creative potential than the misguided decision to persevere. Companies that cannot bring themselves to pivot to a new direction on the basis of feedback from the marketplace can get stuck in the land of the living dead, neither growing enough nor dying, consuming resources and commitment from employees and other stakeholders but not moving ahead.

From the Frying Pan Into the Fire

I actually started my company, BLHill Inc. in the beginning of 2011 although it did not become my primary source of income until I was laid off in July 2013. When I made that transition from full-time employee (and shareholder) to full-time entrepreneur, from a business standpoint, my company was not in good shape as it was extremely undercapitalized.

With no personal savings or lines of credit to fall back on, and a wife and three kids to support, the past nine months have been a constant struggle for survival. Essentially, I left one company that had been failing for years to join a company with little hope for success.

The biggest frustration that I have experienced throughout this dark time, is not being able to develop the business I had sought out to establish.

Note: I don’t want to make things sound like it was all bad, as I did get to work with a lot of really great clients on some really cool projects…

My Pivot

Long-story short, several years ago I got to know some people working for an amazing boutique construction consulting startup. The company: Xpera Group. After numerous discussions back and forth, and after some small consulting engagements, the company made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: full-time employment.

What this means for me is that I don’t have to worry about whether or not I can adequately provide for my family. I can focus on innovating, growing the company, building new business relationships, developing new product and service offerings, and working with a stellar team of some of the world’s leading experts across multiple domains.

What’s the Point?

The point is that now I can deliver even More From Less by leveraging the awesome power that comes from a healthy, well-funded and extremely entrepreneurial company.

That’s all for now. With a huge sigh of relief and a mountain of gratitude, thanks for taking the time to read this, and stay tuned for much, much more to come.


Image courtesy Wikimedia