Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Alaska and the Flat World…

When you arrive in Alaska, you can’t help but think about how big the world is, how magnificent nature is, and how you fit into it.

Tyler Arnold grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and at age 16, a teacher gave him a copy of Tom Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat .

So, Tyler did what comes naturally to people with an “Alaska Perspective,” I suppose…

He started a company…at age 16.

But, this company sells services to agencies in New York and San Francisco and manages computer programmers in Pakistan and Romania.

His business took off as he was “managing it from a Blackberry” during 10th grade and, now, at age 19, he spends 8 months a year outside of Alaska (not because of the weather), because he’s either seeing clients or managing his teams around the world.

His monthly revenues would make most of you pretty happy.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about creating jobs and innovation. IF we had more people like Tyler, who understood how to create value in a new, globalized world, we wouldn’t be having that discussion.

Just an inspiring guy. Meet Tyler in this video or check out his website: www.tylersystems.com

A Glacial Perspective

“Everyone,” my host began, “has their own mythology of Alaska.”Knik Glacier in Alaska (11)

As we drove out from Anchorage, past the town of Wasilla (yep, the hometown of Sarah Palin), I reflected on that.

Many states have images that are conjured up when you hear their names.

California. Florida. Texas. New York.

But, Alaska, probably because it’s so distant (I didn’t even know until this trip that it takes 3 hours to get there FROM SEATTLE), so big (and thus difficult to get our heads around), and somewhat the land of lore (think Klondike Gold Rush), definitely defies a unique stereotype…and that is what Steve meant, I believe.

Part of that mythology these days is Sarah Palin and, frankly, my non-scientific research says that most Alaskans could do without that.

But, part of that mythology is in the outdoors, roaming, going out and about…you vs. nature or, better yet, you AND nature.

Steve drove me up to the Knik River Lodge, owned by Peter, a Dutchman who has lived in Alaska for 24 years and done something quite special.

He’s combined a lodge experience with gourmet European cooking (he brings in a French chef) and a passion for the outdoors to create a unique experience that is about appreciating the state and its beauty.

With the help of Steve Richards, our pilot, we flew in a helicopter (my first time doing that) out to the Knik Glacier where I had a meeting with God.

It wasn’t on the calendar, He hadn’t sent an email, but He was there.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating, but if God is about feeling a sense of deeper connection to the earth and of giving you a better perspective into just how small you are in the grand scheme of things so you don’t get so full of yourself, then he was there.

The glacier is something like 6 miles wide, 26 miles long and no one knows how deep.

It’s intense, which I got to see for myself when Peter set up the ice climbing and I rappelled down (not too far) into a ravine…the bottom of which NO ONE has ever seen, but leads to an underground river.

Out there, on the ice, you think about your daily issues and your (relatively small) world and you are reminded..in a way to yet another city cannot do), how magnificent the world is and the awe-inspiring capabilities of nature.

Alaska is really a world unto itself in some ways. There’s no state income tax and no sales tax…of course, it’s easy to do that (and balance your state budget) when you have a $50 billion fund from oil royalties that serves as an endowment for the whole state.

In fact, EACH citizen (kids, too) gets an annual check for $2000 from the fund as a dividend.

All of this put some of Palin’s claims in perspective, by the way.

But, this isn’t about Palin and focusing on her does a disserve to the people here.

They are warm and hospitable. They have a great attidute and a beautiful climate and their state provides a unique opportunity to regain a perspective on LIFE that we all sometimes lose.

For some video of the glacier (here and here)


Monday, September 26, 2011

State 48—Alaska-Helicopters and Glaciers

For those of you keeping track, it Knik Glacier in Alaska (14)took 18 months to make it from state 47 (Oregon) to state 48. (Interestingly enough, it also took 18 months to make it from state 46-Michigan).

Now, how I got here is an interesting story in and of itself.

I was presenting at a national convention of Visitors and Convention Bureaus in the summer of 2010.

Halfway through, I felt like the audience and I had a good rapport, so I “brokKnik Glacier in Alaska (10)e character” and basically said,

“ok, if there is anyone here from Alaska, Nebraska, or Hawaii, let me know. I need to visit your state and I’m willing to negotiate.”

Wouldn’t you know it, but the guy from Anchorage came up to me at the end and said, “I’ll bite.”

13 months later, I’m riding a helicopter and then landing on Knik Glacier in Alaska.

More to come on Alaska….

But for now…enjoy the video from the helicopter. I loved that (had never done it before).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What would prison be like?

On very rare occasions, I wonder that.

See a documentary on TV or read a story about it, but never before have I really FELT a bit nervous about that question.

No, I’m not going to prison and, fortunately, I don’t know too many people who have, but finished a FANTASTIC book called The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison.

Now, the book is almost 20 years old, but the tension is real.

You wonder how you would react to the intimidation, the extortion, the sexual predators and it’s daunting, a whole other side of society that you almost never think about.

There are the larger issues that we face:

  • can criminals be rehabilitated?
  • are some people just inherently evil?
  • is someone’s life still worth equal to that of others even after that person has taken another’s?

The book doesn’t pass these types of judgments, but the author who had “brass balls” (they say you need “brass balls to work at Leavenworth”) raises them in a very fair way.

Reading books about people on the edge definitely takes you out of the comfort zone.

Prison, they say, helps a man (or woman) get down to the core of who he is.

Reading this book helps you think about the question of how you might react…and what kind of person you are.

I love books that blow your perspective on the world wide open and this one did.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Competing with China…

It’s really not about just China, it’s about competing in a globalized world. My trip to China just being the impetus for the thought.
I read a book by Tom Peters a while ago called “ReImagine!” and he focused on the requirement for America to do just that…reinvent our approach to business.
Of course, the first person (for me) to recognize this was Dan Pink (client) in his book “A Whole New Mind” (required reading, by the way.)
With very few exceptions, it’s near impossible to out-manufacture China. They can throw people (cheaply) at pretty much any problem.
Our advantage is in the innovation and in creating the BRAND experience, the emotional connection to a company that cannot be replicated.
Apple is the classic example though I hate to use them since they are such an anomaly. Conceived and designed in California…manufactured in China.
Zappos, I suppose, is another one. I bet most of the shoes they sell are made in China.
Anyway, the big takeaway from the trip for me was the fact that we don’t have-but need-a real sense of urgency about America’s future.
I don’t have the answer, but I think that most of the current approaches are focused on “fighting the last war.”
It’s like we need a “Manhattan Project” for education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
I sometimes wonder if the roots of the country as a “nation of immigrants” is where the strength lies…but to get there, we have to take away some of our entitlements and programs.
Not the best trade-off in the short-term, but like the recent debt ceiling issue showed us, we have to confront it sooner or later.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

China’s Underwater Turmoil…

Summary Mifu's Chinese calligraphy, Song Dynas...

Image via Wikipedia

“It’s kind of like an ocean where the water is calm on the surface, but underneath, it’s quite dangerous.”

One of my Chinese associates was telling me about the massive changes to Chinese society and culture brought about by the dynamic growth.

It gets all the attention, of course, but the consequences for the average Chinese, in his opinion:

  • rapidly rising housing and automobile costs
  • an aging population (consequence of the 1 Child policy)
  • growing gap between rich and poor

There’s no social safety net, so you are very much on your own and, as is traditional, it is expected that children will take care of their parents.

But, with the One Child policy, you have a situation where two children (a husband and a wife) are responsible for 4 people (their parents) and because costs have skyrocketed, more and more of the income generated by the working couple is devoted to their own lifestyles.

That leaves less money for their parents.

In his opinion, it’s not sustainable (and, in fact, he told me that the government is reconsidering the One Child policy in part because of this).

What’s more…and this SHOCKED me…he shared that many of his friends (educated, English-speaking) are emigrating to US, Canada, NZ, Australia, UK, etc. and that (according to him), China now has one of its highest emigration rates ever.

I’m a bit dubious of that statistic, but the perception-in his mind-that economic security is in jeopardy in his future in China is real…and that’s quite astounding, given how so many people view China as the new “land of opportunity.”

Guess you can’t judge a book by its cover, eh?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Marketing Lessons from China….

Category:Fictional American people of Chinese ...

Image via Wikipedia

I had the opportunity to go to Beijing to teach a class on Digital and Social Marketing.

I took it, not just because I am passionate about the topic and wanted to see modern China though.

The reason I elected to go (going for 3 days in total is not that glamorous, btw) is because it forced me out of my comfort zone.

It’s (relatively) easy for me to talk about marketing to a US audience. The slang, the jokes, the ideas…the come naturally.

Going to China and immersing myself in a foreign culture meant that I had to think…REALLY THINK about how effectively I was communicating.

I had to be aware of cultural sensitivities. I had to think and ask-rather than assume-what the motivations, aspirations, and interests of my audience was.

Now, of course, this is just marketing best practice. We should always do it.

But, sometimes we forget. Sometimes we don’t.

There’s a reason why Steven Covey tells us in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that Habit #7 is “Sharpen the Saw.”

It’s because that’s precisely what we have to do.

Was I scared that my message and presentation would flop?

You betcha.

But, it’s about overcoming that fear and saying “I’m going to do it anyway because the primary objective here is ‘forcing the change.’”

It’s like saying, “I’m going to take the toughest course possible and even if I get a B or a C instead of an A, it’s going to be worth it in the end.”

The Takeaway:

Find (relatively) low-risk opportunities-on a regular basis- that make you feel uncomfortable and will force you to “get back to basics” in whatever your field. You may not enjoy the actual experience (although I did), but your long-term performance is worth it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

China and the Education Imperative…

As I sat at breakfast in Beijing, I read an insightful and scary blog (Back to Wrong School) post by Seth Godin about the challenges associated with American education.

It was spot on, in my opinion, and I forwarded it to my the guy in my network who thinks more about the need to revamp education in America more than anyone else…Daniel Lipstein.

A lawyer by day, Daniel has penned some thoughtful ideas including “Superwoman Was Already Here” about Dr. Maria Montessori and shared an article by Steve Denning about the dangers of the factory model of education as well as another piece from the WSJ (subscription required Sad smile) by Jonah Lehrer.

Now, why is all of this important and how does it relate to China?

Well, the reason, in my mind, is that as I see the impact of globalization, technology, and others on the rest of the world, it just reinforces what I already know…that the ONLY way to sustained growth for the US is to recognize that our competitive advantage is a culture of innovation.

It’s in teaching people how to be entrepreneurs and innovators.

By complete coincidence, that same day, my mom forwarded me an email from our friend, Saul Singer, author of Start-up Nation and a leading authority on innovation.

The email was quoting Tom Friedman from the 9/4 Meet the Press (see the 12.50 point in the video)

And what we did [for new book] was actually interview four employers, four major employers, one of whom actually is the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. And we interviewed him when he was head of the Army Education Corps, and--which is just very recently. And here's what employers will tell you, David. They'll tell you that they're all looking for the same kind of employee now, someone who can do critical reasoning thinking, dot, dot, dot, in order to get an interview. That's not table stakes. What they're actually looking for are people who can adapt, invent, and reinvent the job because, in this hyperconnected world, change is happening so fast.

You know, there are companies now in Silicon Valley that do quarterly employee reviews now because their product cycle's changing so fast. You can't wait till the end of the year to find out you have a bad team manager. Now, that's got to work back toward education. What we argue in the book, basically going forward, is there are really just two kind of countries in the world, HIEs and LIEs, high imagination enabling countries and low imagination enabling countries.

Forget developed and developing. Why is it? Because if I have a spark of an idea now I can go to Delta in Taiwan, they'll design it; skip over to Alibaba in Hangzhou, they'll give me a cheap Chinese manufacturer; and make a jump over to amazon.com, they'll do my fulfillment and delivery; go to Craigslist and get an accountant; and freelancer.com will do my logo. They're all commodities now. What isn't a commodity is this (snapping fingers). And the countries, actually, that are thriving today, look at Israel, start-up nation. We--we're not going to bail our way out of this crisis. We're not going to stimulate our way out of this crisis. We are only going to educate, ultimately, and imagine and invent our way out of this crisis. 

And Saul adds his own analysis:

What Friedman is saying is what economists have known for many years but many seem to have forgotten: economic growth comes from increasing productivity, most increases in productivity come from innovation, and start-ups and entrepreneurship are the main engine of innovation.

That’s what I’ve seen on my trip to China (and India, Brazil, Russia…). As a nation, we have to just make our peace with the fact that the easy street we had for so long is over and just make a clean break and seriously double-down on this question of re-inventing education.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I know it’s a huge problem. I also know that people like Daniel are seriously concerned and thinking about it.

We’ve got to raise the alarm before it’s too late and make it a top priority.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beijing, Incense, and the Social Safety Net…

Yonghegang Temple (4)Day 2 in Beijing took me to the Yonghegang Temple, a fairly large complex that was full with multiple and ENORMOUS statues of the Buddha.

As I walked through, the thing that really hit me, that brought me back to 1997 when I lived in Japan and traveled around Asia was the smell…of incense.

Now, I Yonghegang Temple (1)happen to like the smell, so it works for me, but when I think of “sights, sounds, smells of Asia,” it is the smell of incense which I think connects me most with this continent.

One thing that I’ve noticed…at least in the areas where I’ve been which, admittedly, isn’t all that many, is how clean things are. I mean, some of them are tourist areas, but the subway is pretty darn immaculate.

Of course, with 1.3 billion people, you have a lot of labor to keep things organized.

One thing I did wonder about was, as the country grows is how does it provide for a social safety net for the millions(!) “left behind.”

On three consecutive Yonghegang Temple (2)subway rides, I saw (and gave money to) 3 different beggars who were in horrific shape. One had no legs and was crawling on the floor (I’d seen something like this in India). One was an amputee and blind. I don’t recall the 3rd at the moment.

IT was interesting (admittedly unscientific), but the guy crawling on the floor was the one who got money from almost everybody and the other 2 were ignored.

Just an observation.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Beijing-14 Years Hence


Beijing 2011 Scenes (5)Last time I was here was 1997 and suffice it to say, the city is VERY different now.

Sure, there are a ton of people and I got the full experience of being cramped in the subway, but while we were there, pretty much every single person was using a smartphone.

Yep, China is mobile.

Beijing 2011 Scenes (3)Oh, and when it comes to fashion…America has won that trade war at least.

Last time I was here, the airport was old, dilapidated, and chaotic. Now, it’s stremalined, efficient, HUGE, well lit, and as modern as they get. So, too, for the subway system

I’m sure a lot had to doBeijing 2011 Scenes (4) with the Olympics, but a lot has to do with the growth in general.

One thing that I did notice…and perhaps this is a testament to the modernization ofChina-I don’t know-is that whereas in Japan and India, I was often the subject of starest, being the only Caucasina around, in China, no one seemed to notice or care.

Well, that’s not entirely true, I was often approached by people either trying to sell something (Capitalism has arrived!) of trying to practice their English.

Still, the mass affluence has certainly arrived en masse (intended) in China.

The mall next to the hotel where I sam staying, granted not the greatest data point, is full of luxury Western goods.

Beijing 2011 Scenes (1)Like when I was in Moscow and the mall next to Red Square was full of high-end Western brands, China seems to have plenty of that as well.

Now, the fact that I couldn’t log into Facebook or Twitter from my hotel room (I had to directly remotely access my home PC and do it from there) reminds you that this isn’t quite a “normal” country, but in so many respects, China is like everywhere else…at least on the survace, after my first two hours Winking smile

One incident that caught my attention was a non-violent protester across the street from Tianamen Square. He was limp and not willing to walk with the police. A crowd gathered and the policeman stayed calm, aware of the phones with camersa and the tourists. Soon, a van came up and the guy was put unceremoniously in it…who knows what happened then?

Stil, I suppose that is progress?

Sorry for the typos. I had typing this via my home PC while in China and the latency leads to errors…It’s cumbersome to fix them all,so I trust you’ll figure it out Winking smile

More to come on this. Of course.

Oh yeah, one more thing…I was VERY surprised to see how orderly people were in the subway, forming nice lines. I definitely did not expect that.

Oh…another bonus, I saw a Chinese bride all deck out in red taking pictures in front of a temple. Nice throwback to another era.

I was thinking that some of the older generation, who had lived through Mao and the Cultural Revolution…they must be so confused!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bath Time Innocence…

Now that the kids are old enough to be left alone in the bath, we let them stay in there for a while, enjoying the bubbles, doing whatever they are doing.

I don’t usually stay in with them, I don’t have to, but I occasionally hear them playing…and it’s just a beautiful thing. The imagination, the three of them sharing tub time with each other.

You know that these days will be gone soon…so you cherish them (through the bathroom door) while you have them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The China-Alaska Connection

Just one of those random coincidence moments the other night.

I was reading “I am not going to get up today” to Nadia…we turned the page and saw this:


Nothing special, except for the fact that in the 2 weeks immediately following my reading of this book, I was headed to China and Alaska.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Watching the Tower Fall…

Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since I stood on the corner of 6th and Bleecker (I had jury duty that day) and watched the World Trade Center Tower fall down with my own eyes.

Here’s my post from that day.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Getting kids to sleep...

I'm sure there are websites upon websites devoted to the subject, but sometimes I wish I could just wave a magic wand and have the kids go to bed before, oh I don't know, 10pm!

It's certainly no fun dealing with them on the other side...when they are exhausted, but it sure is cute hearing them play with each other.

Nadia (3.5) has a new favorite saying...instead of "good night" or "good bye," she now ways "until we meet again!"

She picked it up from a classmate and now, at night, she'll shout out "until we meet again!"

It's cute. It's funny, but at 10pm, it's not as cute or funny anymore.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Like selling ice to an eskimo...

One of the highest compliments I get is that I can 'sell ice to an eskimo."

Now, I happen to think it's a bit of an insult, since an eskimo presumably doesn't need ice and you'd be doing him/her a disservice, which is not the point of sales, but I digress.

Right up there, in the same rarified air, would be "selling a Rabbit a Kindle."

Well, not exactly, but let me explain.

My Rabbi is as educated a person as there is. The breadth of his knowledge is just astounding and when he delivers his sermons, he not only quotes from traditional sources, but also from almost any secular source you can imagine.

He is a bibliophile and often brings up 8-10 books from which to quote directly. It's impressive. And he's a purist.

Somehow, the other day, we ended up talking about the Kindle, and, in his words, he was "dismissive" of it.

I didn't sell him on it...I couldn't care less if he owns one or not, but I proceeded to share how I thought the Kindle would benefit him, painting a picture of how he could do more, faster, of what he likes doing.

Then, I thought nothing of it....until 3 weeks later, when he came up to me and said,

"Someone got me a Kindle-they asked me what I wanted and, on your suggestion-I told them that...."

Now, I was nervous, thinking he was about to tell me how the Kindle was not only the downfall of Western Civilization but the end of Jewish history as well...

"...and I LOVE it!"

I think that's my greatest sale ever ;-)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

How to Get Paid to Do What You Want to Do Anyway…

For some, this may seem obvious, but a simple model for career satisfaction dawned on me a few days ago as I drove Tonka to ballet camp.

She explained to me that her future aspiration is to become a ballet teacher.

“That’s great,” I said, “but if you are going to do it, be the best ballet teacher you can be.”

This conversation led us down an interesting path as we discovered what it would take to help her reach her goal.

We narrowed it down to three steps.


For many this easy, but for many, after years of corporate experience, it’s not always that easy to reconnect to it. Still, if you’re not passionate about something, you’re never going to invest the extra effort at mastery.  Just because you’re passionate, doesn’t mean it will be easy…it’s not. There’s no guarantee you’ll make it.

If you’re not passionate, however, I guarantee you won’t make it.

Now, most of the time, the next area that people attempt to tackle is “how can I make a living at it?” I think this is the wrong second step.

SECOND, you have to minimize the amount of time you spend doing the life maintenance tasks. You MUST pay your bills, for example. You need to shower. You need to get the groceries. You need to manage your investments, run errands, drive carpool, etc. Whatever it is…these things are requirements and are not going to go away.

What you need to do is drive the amount of time you spend on them to Zero. You’ll never get to zero, but eliminating time-wasters around these “operational” tasks is critical. Setting up auto-pay on your bills is a simple example. Then, once a month, look at all of your bills to see if there are any errors. It’ll take you less time to look at 10 bills at once than 10 times to look at 1 bill.

And TIME is the critical component to the third component.

THIRD, never stop marketing Winking smile 

Actually, it really is that. It’s going to take A LOT of time to figure out what you can do with your passion so that people will pay for it. Sure, you need to invest in your passion so that it’s worthy of being purchased, but that’s the easy part. There are a ton of starving artists out there who can show you objectively great art, but it doesn’t matter, if you don’t have a customer.

And that part takes a LONG time and the BEST place from which to take that time is going to be the time you save in #2 above (after all, you want to spend as much time as you can in #1-your core passion-that’s why you’re doing it after all anyway, isn’t it?)

So, I said to Tonka…

  1. Work hard at becoming a great ballerina and a great ballet teacher
  2. get as organized as you can, so you don’t waste time looking for your ballet shoes (this fact had precipitated the conversation that morning)
  3. spend as much time as you can understanding WHY someone would pay for ballet lessons and then HOW can you differentiate in a positive way your lessons from all of the others?

Now, remove the ballet references and put your own passion in there.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Preparing to Let Go....

After I had taken off Maximus' training wheels, as I was about to send him forth, I said,

"Bud, if you want to ride by yourself, you have to know that you're probably going to fall off a few times before you really get good at it. You might get a little bit hurt, some scrapes, maybe even a little blood, but I wouldn't let you do it if I didn't think you were really ready for it. If I thought there was a big chance you'd get really hurt, I wouldn't let you do it.

It's ok to cry, if you do get hurt, but what's important is that you get back on the bike."

I just love these big transitional moments.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Letting Go...Literally

I suppose it's as real a metaphor for parenthood as there is...

the first moment after you've removed the training wheels from your child's bike where you let go and see what happens.

Just felt that the other day with Paco.

A soaring feeling of pride as I watched him pedal, turn, and go farther than I ever imagined he would on his first try.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Google Goggles and the Brueghel Family

For some, this may be old hat.

For others, earth-shattering.

I don’t remember it ever having worked so well, so quickly.

I was sitting in a friend’s office and saw her stationery of a picture by Pieter Brueghel.

001I said, “hey, I have a Brueghel print in my office. Is this “the elder” or the “younger?”

She didn’t know.

She also didn’t know the name of the painting.

“I’m sure there’s some way to figure it out.”

About 5 seconds later, it dawned on me…”I may be able to help.”

I pulled out my phone and used an application called “Google Goggles.”

It scanned the photo and within 3 seconds, pulled up the Wikipedia entry for ‘Paying the Tax.”

It was VERY cool.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Value of a Buffer Family

A few months ago, we were invited to lunch at the home of some friends of ours.
Prior to going, I asked, "so, will anyone else be there?"
The wife responded, "Yes, my in-laws."
"Great," I said..."looking forward to meeting them."
"Actually," she said, "I'm kind of looking at you to be a buffer family."
"For your in-laws?!" I asked.
Then, she proceeded to explain some of the many challenges she has in interacting with them. It was an extensive list. ;-)
As we were leaving, she said to me, "don't let your kids get sick."
"So," I asked, "what if they are."
Her response took me back.
"I'm willing to take 2 days off from work to take care of any kids of mine who get sick because I really NEED you there."
Sometimes the buffer family is that critical, eh?