books, career, malcolm gladwell, passion, success, work, work ethic

10,000 hours

Malcolm Gladwell just released a new book, Outliers. He takes a look at the lives, circumstances, and personality traits of remarkably successful, productive people who make a significant impact in the world. One point that I found particularly interesting is his views on intelligence and diligence.

A certain level of intelligence and education gets an individual to a certain degree of success. However, to get any further, it’s actually diligence that carries them. Specifically 10,000 hours of diligence in our chosen field is absolutely necessary if we wish to make a significant impact there. Now, just putting in the hours toiling away in a cube is not a sure-fire plan. You still need that degree of intelligence, and 10,000 hours in the minimum investment necessary.

This particular stat caught my interest because I, like many in my generation, am a job hopper. I have been blessed to have discovered one good opportunity after another in very quick succession. I see a greener pasture and I go for it. That’s not to say that every move was a marvelous idea. Most were, though there were some duds to. What is true is that they have all been critical component of a very interesting path that I built for myself.

Now I have a job in a field that utilizes all of the skills I amassed through a variety of different jobs. All the time I put in at my other positions provided the experience to get me to this place, but my accumulation of those 10,000 hours began only recently. Perhaps without knowing it, Malcolm Gladwell made a very profound statement directly to my generation. “Hop around to find your passion. That’s fine. But once you find that passion it takes staying power to make it to the top of the heap.” Wise counsel, intended or not, and I’m very grateful to him for it.

Christmas, economy, holiday, retail, shopping

Leaving sales on the table

Two girls shot in a California Toys R Us; a temporary employee, likely someone who needed the extra money in this economy, trampled to death in a Wal-Mart. All this after a raucous crowd ripped the doors off of the hinges. I was saddened and shocked to read this news late last night, particularly because I spent last Black Friday working in a retail store. Is that $130 Blu-Ray player worth violence? Does anyone on my list need a Nintendo DS so badly that I should literally risk life and limb to get it at as deep a discount as possible?

We could say that people in general need to calm down when it comes to holiday shopping. Perhaps suggesting that they act like humans instead of wild animals on the hunt. Then I took a stroll through the Wednesday and Thanksgiving papers that were filled with circulars. I reconsidered all of the television and internet advertising I’ve seen in the past few weeks, compounded by the many newspaper articles that have trumpeted Black Friday sales as the only time of year when you can get a real deal. Is it any wonder that frenzy ensues?

I understand that retailers are hurting and need the business. I understand that our economy needs a boost from consumer spending this holiday season. The only thing that is going to prevent this kind of violence happening year after year on the day after Thanksgiving is pull-back by retailers. This Black Friday is a man-made holiday, and it needs a man-made solution. Drive more sales to on-line rather than in-store. Learn how to spread yours sales across a season rather than across the hours of 5am – 11am on one day. And for heaven’s sake order enough inventory to fulfill at least a majority of the demand. Work with the suppliers beforehand, long beforehand, and do a proper forecasting model. This scarcity as strategy model is obscene, and it’s literally killing people.

This season I’ll be staying away from stores for the majority of the holiday season, as much as possible. I might pop in at some lull periods just to soak up some ambiance. I’ll be doing my spending right here in front of my laptop. In my efforts to cultivate peace on Earth this holiday, it seems that our retailers are not the place to be.

career, economy, government, New York City, opportunity, politics, relationships, thankful, thanksgiving

Thankful

Now that the food and travel of Thanksgiving have passed, I’m spending the morning eating leftover pie, drinking coffee, leafing through retail sales circulars, and considering all the things I am thankful for. Friends and family go without saying. This has been quite a year to date so items are making the list that have rarely if ever been on the list before:

My job – despite the normal frustrations that come with every job, I am especially grateful for my current position because the day-to-day tasks and the big picture view get me up out of bed every morning. I’m learning this is a rare blessing.

A place to call home – my friend, Monika among many other people close to me, are quite shocked that I have lived at one physical address for longer than a year. That hasn’t happened since 1998. Ten years of moving at least once a year. Good grief. And now I am finally in a city that is comfortable and feels like home. I feel a sense of ownership and belonging that I haven’t found before in my life. The stability of that sends waves of peace into my life that I have not had before.

Interesting times at a young age – the economy, politics, social activism. We are living in unprecedented conditions and if we can push aside the sense of uncertainty that invades our lives regularly, it is truly a spectacular opportunity for learning. To have this privilege so early on in my life and career is a tremendous gift that will inform many decisions I will make in the year to come.

The opportunity that lies ahead – we may look out into the world at the moment and see a very bleak picture. Though hidden within the folds of that bleak cover, there are wrinkles and pockets of opportunity. Going forward, there will be incentives for us to start businesses, to become a society of savers rather than spenders, to take up the call to protect the environment, and to build better transportation systems in our cities that will benefit generations to come. The good times will roll again, though in different, and dare I say better, forms that before.

In business school, Frank Warnock was one of my economics professors. Frank developed his expertise in international capital flows as a Senior Economist in the International Finance Division at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington, DC. And whenever we reviewed cases or economic situations that were troubling, he would always say, “You have to be hopeful. What’s the alternative?” Those words ring truer today than ever before. And for hope, and the people who remind me of its value, I am most thankful.

charity, education, philanthropy, volunteer

DSY: Development School for Youth

A contact from a recent networking event invited me to a graduation tonight. The graduates had just finished the All-Stars program as part of DSY: Development School for Youth. The group helps at-risk youth see and experience greater value for learning through performance-based education. You’ve heard this all before right? Get them to stay in school, off the streets, value and respect their educational opportunities, get them mentors, etc. etc. Originally, I urned down the invitation, but my networking contact wouldn’t take no for an answer so I got myself together and headed downtown. I thought I knew what I was in for. I’ve sat through a myriad of these types of events, and I tell you, this one is different and special and worthy of your attention and mine. 


First, they treat kids as whole people. Get their creativity going, teach them to respect others and their communities, get them to see opportunity even if it isn’t apparent on their street corner of their neighborhood. 

Second, the articulation and passion that these kids have is nothing short of miraculous. These are kids that were in gangs, school drop-outs, drug users. They’ve seen friends and family fall prey to those streets. It would be easy, and understandable, to watch them go down the same route. Instead, they are choosing a different way and they are expressing themselves through performance. Their blatant honesty and poise would put some corporate executives to shame. 

The third piece that I love about the program is that participants are set up with an internship as a capstone. They earn money and understand that getting up and getting to work everyday can be a rewarding, gratifying experience. They have mentors and coaches – people who care and are invested in their success. And that personal investment of time is making a difference. You can, too, at http://www.allstars.org/programs/dsy.html.
business, career, food, new product development, travel

Raisinets and apple juice

Sometimes my curiosity has hindered my life – just when I get going in one direction, any directions, I spot something else out of the corner of my eye and dart off to check it out. Some call this a lack of commitment or ADHD. I call it an uncontrollable commitment to learning. So match this up with my occasional insomnia and love of working very hard, and I get myself caught up in some very…interesting…adventures. 


This week, I launched a very large project which I will be advertising once it officially goes live and makes it past the test hurdles. I’ve been zig-zagging up and down the east coast this week, knocking down hurdles with my 2-ton bat. At one point, I made the mistake of calculating how many hours I had been awake: 39.5. Scary…but worth it in the end. 

I was in the Philly airport dining on a sumptuous dinner of Raisinets and apple juice. I was so exhausted that I could barely sit down – sounds counter-intuitive, though think of it as the jitters from too much adrenaline pumping through your system for too long. The thought of a full meal was making me a little queasy. So I opted for my beverage and candy of choice. Just enough to re-fuel and sending me packing off on another business trip, while I was only midway through my travels from the previous trip. 
  
Prior to my “Dinner of Warriors” as my friend, Stephen, called it, I just didn’t think I could do any more. I was so worn out and frustrated and disappointed. All I needed to do was take a deep breathe and re-evaluate. And that re-evaluation helped me take the long view. Did this suck a little bit right now, canceling all my personal plans for the week, eating candy for dinner, and living in the same clothes for several days as I got sent off in every which direction to keep the wheels on the bus that is my product launch? Sure. But I have a little secret – I kind of like the rush and the excitement of churn and the unknown. It’s when I feel most alive. And this tough economy, it’s not such a bad trait to have. And today when I advocated for the product to launch and received the green light, it was worth it. Well worth it. 

So now that I am back and cozy in my New York apartment, smiling and on my way out for a celebratory drink with my friend, Cindy, I know if need be, I’ll do it all over again. And my guess is that the need will indeed exist in the not-so-distant future. Next time, I’ll remember a change of clothes and a toothbrush. There may be a lot of Raisinets and apple juice in my future.   
business, care, career, economy, relationships, social work

Ask not what your company can do for you…

I was talking with a friend of mine from school today about, what else, the economy. We have big dreams – things to do, people to see, places to go. We were movin’ on up….until our economy tanked. Now we’re happy to just be employed. We talked about the morale in our respective offices. The morale of my team is going okay – his is not quite so good. I asked him how he felt about his future at the company and he gave me a wholly unexpected response. 


“In times like this, it’s better to think of what I can do for the company rather than think about what the company can do for me,” he said. “Who would you want to have around?: someone who’s always looking out for #1 or someone who’s looking out for everyone around him.” Good point.

In times like this when there is a lot of panic and anxiety, it’s only natural to think of ourselves and our own survival. As it turns out, the best way to survive is to look out for others, to connect with others, to support others in their pursuits. Think about it from another viewpoint – in tough times it would be easy for companies to just focus on their own survival. The truly innovative companies are finding their salvation in premium customer service – if they take care of customers now, when times are tough, those customers will remember them when the good times start to roll again. And they will roll again, no matter how bad it is now. Taking the long-view is critical to success years down the road. You’ve got to be willing to hang in there for the long haul. It’s no accident that the first for letters of “career” spell “care.” And that’s what businesses need right – people who honestly, deeply care about the present and the future. 

It’s like friendship, it’s like love. Tom Stoppard said, “It’s easy to love someone at their best. Love is loving someone at their worst.” When we’re down and out, we find out who really cares about us because those are the ones that stick around and help us pick up the pieces. It’s true in relationships and it’s true for businesses, too. Both need tending and nurturing, now more than ever.      
friendship, history, movie, politics

John Adams

I don’t have HBO and missed out on the showing of John Adams. I read parts of the book by David McCullough when I was in business school. I took a class, on the Lawn, about Thomas Jefferson. Being a great Jefferson friend, then adversary, then friend again, John Adams had to be included. 


The HBO film and book bring to light the frightening prospect that Americans faced upon declaring their independence. We take this for granted today — of course we are free and independent. The film drives home a visual image of the frightening times that led up to, through, and after the Revolution. They took a “leap in the dark” as Adams said to Jefferson. You get a feeling for the contentious, volatile, and passionate personalities. And it’s a good education in politics and negotiation. 

Ben Franklin had two quotes in the second part that effected me so much that I paused the DVD to write them down: “Politics is the art of the possible” and “Diplomacy is seduction in another guise. One improves with practice.” I think about these two quotes in light of our recent elections. How President Obama focused on the possible – how he ignited people’s sense of hope with that idea – and how elegantly and patiently he played out his hand. He was the unlikeliest of candidates, by his own admission. There must have been times that he was uncertain, even scared or nervous. I imagine there must have been times when he would step back, breathe, and take another step forward. I am envy this kind of patience, and I am working on it as an area of development.

In John Adams, we see that Adams had no patience. H wanted to act swiftly and without hesitation. And he nearly missed the very allies he was looking for, even though they were standing right in front of him – the gentlemen from Virginia: Washington and Jefferson, one who would lead the battle by sword and the other by his pen. They also had this reverence for patience and humility. They had the same goals as Adams – an independent republic and governance by the people; they just went about achieving them in different ways.

The movie also makes it clear that each player has his part and I was left wondering if we’d have this nation today at all if any of those personalities had not been present. It made me re-consider the frustrations I have sometimes felt on group projects and it gave me greater perspective and appreciation for people I have sometimes terms “difficult”. Maybe we all need a John Adams in our lives to help us to value and take decisive actions when the opportunities arise. And maybe we also need a Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson to teach us the value of diplomacy in getting what we want and to help us believe in the art of the possible. Most of all the film makes the case for a group of close advisers, no matter what path we take in life.       
career, innovation, invention, New York City, product, product development, women

Zakkerz: women of New York, save your pants

A professor at my business school teaches a new product development class and her first set of advice to her students is, “if you want to create a new product, think about what gives you pain in your life. And then find a way to solve it.” Chances are if it’s causing you pain, it’s causing others pain, too. The ladies who invented Zakkerz did just that.


It’s a simple product: a pair of strong magnets wrapped at opposite ends of a piece of fabric used to hold pant cuffs in place. “Who needs that?” you may be wondering. Every working woman in New York City, and every other city in this country where commuting to work by public transportation is necessary. I recently gave up a job in New Jersey and the associated commute by car, to work downtown and commute by subway. Great for my quality of life, bad for the hems of my pants. I put on my sneakers or my Privos to get to work – problem is my pants are hemmed for heels. Enter Zakkerz. I cuff my pants, snap on a set of Zakkerz per pant leg, and off I go. 

I just had dinner with some girlfriends having this same exact problem I was having, and recommended the product to them. So simple, and yet so ingenious. It’s products like this that make me wonder, “now why didn’t I think of that?” I’m glad someone did.  

Get a pair for yourself, available in a variety of colors, at http://www.zakkerz.com/index.html
Christmas, Disney, FAO, movie, Muppet, NBC, retail, shopping, Today Show

The Muppets are Taking Back Manhattan

When I went out to Los Angles to call on Disney in June, I spent some time in the archives digging through old Muppet memorabilia. Like a kid in a candy store, I sat for a few hours with those materials wondering why in the world the brand has been dormant for so long. I grew up on the Muppet Show — I think at my very young age, it was a large influence on my interest in theatre that led to my career in the industry two decades later. I loved the idea that an audience could we watching a show on stage and then having an entirely different drama unfolding in the wings. I was entranced by the idea of illusion. As I sat in the archive I wondered, aloud and to myself, why on Earth Disney had let the brand go dead. As it turns out, ideas, big ideas, were brewing. 


My buddy, Dan, and I wondered in to FAO Schwarz a few weeks ago. As Dan sang the Muppet theme going down the escalator (and received spontaneous public applause, thank you very much), we rounded the corner to find “The Muppet Whatnot Workshop“, a make-your-own Muppet boutique. Choose the color, eyes, nose, hair, and clothes. You name it, you can make it. It’s a clever twist on the make your own trend tied to a beloved brand that is seeing a resurgence. You can also design and purchase on-line at http://www.fao.com/catalog/factories/muppets.jsp# (As an aside, FAO Schwarz will open toy boutiques at 200 locations inside of Macy’s stores across the country for the holiday season. It will be interesting to see what kind of merchandise they choose to stock and how they will set up these stores.)

In other Muppet news, there is a new movie that will be released in 2009 featuring our Muppet pals. Details about the film are few and far between. Jason Segel of Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame is the lead writer. And in my limited research findings I stumbled upon a blog that tracks the latest Jim Henson News – “The Muppet Newsflash” – that has some information on the picture. 

In addition, the Muppets will be taking over the set of the Today Show (NBC) tomorrow morning, November 13th, for 30 minutes during the 8:00am hour. It might just be the best day Matt Lauer’s ever had at work. And with all the depressing news about the economy these days, we could all use a little Muppet humor. So grab your morning coffee, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.   
Chicago, exercise, friendship, health, marathon, New York City, Real Simple, running, theatre, wellness

October 14, 2001

Several months ago, I submitted a story to Real Simple Magazine to answer the question, “Tell us about one of the most important days of your life in 1500 words or less.” I’m sure a lot of people wrote about their wedding day, or their kids bring born, a graduation. I wrote about the marathon I ran in in Chicago in 2001, a month after September 11th. I was on the eve of losing my job and was heart-broken that my city had been violated so terribly. I was angry, confused, and scared. For that month after the attack, I felt alone. The Chicago marathon changed some of those feelings for me, and as it turns out it was one of the most poignant moments of my life. Here’s the story:


In the summer of 2001, I was in Toronto on the Broadway tour of The Full Monty. I was the first person hired full-time for the tour and we had grand plans. I had been working so much that I had neglected my workout schedule and decided a big goal would help me to recommit. In the Fall the tour would be traveling to Chicago, and the Chicago marathon would be in the middle of our run.

I was a cross-country runner in high school and always interested in running a marathon. Chicago was a perfect opportunity! I recruited my friend, Mark, the drummer on the show, to run with me. He wanted to get in better shape, too, and agreed to go the distance with me. I purchased a training book that laid out an ambitious but doable schedule for us and we were off.

Long runs, short runs, speed workouts, stretching, improved eating habits. Mark was with me every step of the way, everyday, with his cheery attitude and lovely British accent. There was no way I could have gotten through the experience without him. Training in Toronto was a magical time in my life because I felt like I was regaining my sense of self. It was easy to get lost in my work, and I needed to rediscover who I was and where my life was going. This training helped me do that.

Before Chicago, we had a brief hiatus and I returned to New York City for a few weeks. I did a few touristy things I had always wanted to do. On September 7th, I ventured to the World Trade Center and had a look around. I had never been to that neighborhood before. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about that afternoon. I remember that it was a long, beautiful walk along the Battery. I do remember looking out over the water and feeling lucky to be there. I looked forward to coming back to New York when the tour was over.

I left for Chicago on September 9th. Mark and I were getting into top physical shape, and were glad to be reunited to finish our training in Chicago. And then September 11th happened. My brother left me a message that morning, panicked that I was in New York. I figured he heard about some kind of crime in the city on the news. I dismissed his concern as nothing more than his overprotective nature and sense of exaggeration. I tried to call him back and his cell number was busy. Odd. I tried to call my mom. Busy. Was the entire AT&T network down?

I walked to work that morning, winding my way through the theatre district in Chicago. A beautiful day. I had never been to Chicago before and was entranced by it. This was going to be a great run for us. I stopped in at the Corner Bakery to get a coffee and a danish. Could life be any better? Then I got to work.

My boss was frantically searching on the internet, listening to NPR. The office phone was ringing off the hook.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Two planes flew into the World Trade Center.”

“By accident?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he replied.

And then everything was different.

My beautiful city, the very area I had been only days before, was in chaos. We worked all day, talking with our producers, easing the fears of our company members, and trying to calm our own fears. Finally, they closed the Loop in Chicago, and we were forced to leave the theatre.

I went to visit my friends and finally saw so many of the pictures that people had been watching all day. It was even more devastating than I had imagined. I went to bed that night thinking that our nation would never be the same, that all these years I had taken our safety for granted. I was right on both counts.

Within a month, our show announced its closing and we lost our jobs. The bottom fell out of the theatre industry. But before closing down, Mark and I ran the marathon. On Saturday, October 14th, we arrived at the starting line at 6am. We dropped off our valuables at check-in and got our numbers. We had trained hard in the final weeks – running was the only time of day I felt useful. Still, I was worried that we weren’t ready. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to finish. Maybe there was just no point to anything anymore.

We lined up, the gun went off, and slowly we wound our way through the neighborhoods of Chicago. The morning was sunny, the temperature perfect. A few miles in, I found that for the first time in a month, I noticed the sunshine, and felt warm. Mark and I stopped at every water and food station to keep our energy up.

What struck me the most about that race was the generosity of the crowd lining the entire route. I hadn’t expected that. They had orange slices and popcorn, cowbells and signs to cheer us on. That crowd made me believe in the goodness of the world, in our ability to reaffirm life. 

17 miles in, my knees began to ache terribly. “Come on, Love. We can do this,” Mark said. With that vote of confidence, he gave me a Tylenol. My knee pain was gone in minutes since my blood had been pumping strong for over two hours. Mentally, I was still feeling rattled. And then Mark did something that will make me love him forever. Mark asked me, “How did you start running?”

No one had ever asked me that before. Truth was, I started running to run away from my life. My dad was sick for most of my childhood and during my teen years, the situation in my home grew dire. I suffered from insomnia, and found that long-distance running would tire me out enough to sleep peacefully for a few hours. When I was racing, I knew my family was proud of me. I also thought if I could get good enough, I might be able to go to college on a partial scholarship. There was no money in my family to send me to college.

In my junior year of high school, I sustained a terrible injury that knocked me out for the season. I was devastated. I felt broken. I had a hard time walking for a number of months and began to run on my injured foot too soon, re-injuring it. A few months later, my father passed away after a long illness. While there was more peace in the house after his passing, it was an uncomfortable silence. That spring, I ran to forget, to hide. I didn’t care if I won any event. I just wanted to exhaust myself.

After that injury, I had the goal of someday running a marathon to pay tribute to my family for having lived through a difficult time. So this was it. This marathon was for my family. And if I could make it 26.2 miles, I’d believe that finally my body and my spirit were no longer broken.

Mark was quiet the whole time. I thought he might be bored with my droning. Turns out he was just a very good listener. “I’m sure that today your dad’s proud of you,” Mark said. And I believed him.

At the 26-mile mark, the finish line was in sight. There were banners flying high, and masses of people cheering. I felt like I was flying. At that point, Mark and I had to split because they timed men and women separately. We’d reunite at the end of the race. I smiled so wide crossing that finish line that I thought my face might crack. I lost all sense of exhaustion and burden. Mark and I made it – 26.2 miles in less than four and a half hours, step by step, together.

That day, I learned more about the world than any other day before or since. I developed a special fondness for Chicago – I felt that the crowd who came out that day breathed new life into me at a time when I felt very hollow and alone. That crowd helped me to refocus on the generosity and commitment of people to a community. Despite a dark set of circumstances facing all of us, we could rediscover happiness and enlightenment and move forward. I learned that true friendship carries us in the most trying times. I’m forever indebted to Mark for his positive attitude and belief in me. Almost 10 years after my dad’s passing, I lived up to the promise to honor my family. I raced toward sunshine, and found it. And I have been alight ever since. “

The photo above can be found at: http://riseupomenofgod.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/running-man.jpg