Marketing, Minneapolis, Music & More

RIP Ralph – Lessons on Living

A good friend told me about a coworker at my last company who passed on.  His name was Ralph and I enjoyed his personality and working with him a good deal.  He was practical and knowledgeable about what he did.  He was sometime surly, but basically everyone in that business was and it was understandable.  Ralph was about two months away from retiring–he had worked a solid 25+ years at the company and was just about to ride off into the sunset.  It sounds as though Ralph had a heart attack and passed away in his home.

I hope that Ralph’s family is doing alright, its very hard to lose anyone close in your life.  I also hope they realize that he was loved at the company and valued.  On a personal level it’s tough for me to see people pass on in general, but especially someone like Ralph who worked hard and was just about to start enjoying his retirement.  I know he cared about his family and had plans to do lots of things with friends afterward, so it makes me sad to hear it happened so fast.

A few things come to mind in light of this circumstance:

  • You really never know when you’re going to go – it’s important to live your life in a way that you can be proud of in the case of the unexpected
  • Planning for these events is critical, making sure your family is taken care of or at least has clear direction on what to do if you were to pass on is important regardless of age
  • Retirement sooner than later is probably a good strategy – I truly love working and building things with teams, but it’s not my sole purpose; it seems like the going trend is leaning toward later retirement for folks due to factors like volatility of social security, planning is key to avoiding that if you choose
  • Retirement doesn’t necessarily mean quitting work entirely, but picking and choosing where and when you do

Those last two points are something to consider and develop a working plan for.  What would it take to retire?  How much would you need on an ongoing basis, including insurance for healthcare and any other particular needs you have?  What would you actually do with your time?

After a certain amount of time, sitting around with nothing to do is it’s own special type of hell.  I can’t stand it.  I HAVE to do stuff or mentally get frustrated.  Those things may be reading a book, exercise, writing, or any other set of leisurely activities.  However sitting in front of a television set for hours at a time being broadcast to is not part of it.  Planning that out is not a bad idea–I’ve heard of many people simply growing bored and becoming malcontent in retirement due to lack of activity.

Yesterday was a sad day for this reason, and a stark reminder of how brief a time we have here.  RIP RVH.

Bulleted Happenings

Quick one today–

  • Rebuilding the shed today in the same vein as the fence last year, should keep me busy most of the day.  Have to go buy some cedar posts and crossbeams, then install.
  • New iPhones ordered today for Teresa and I; definitely time to do so, my phone won’t charge and the home button is busted.  Ack.
  • My cousin is married!  Going over there today to wish him well.  They are both lawyers; it’s a tough time for that so I’m interested to see where he goes with it.
  • Time to clean up the garage for the winter, things are getting cooler here in MN and the condensation is coming out on the cars.
  • Blown away by how quickly the year is going, over and over this is a concept that continues to show it’s head.
  • Preplanning a trip to Sweden and Iceland next year to visit my friend who is teaching there–will likely write more on this later.
  • Gone most of next week for a trade show in California, the first for my new job–very excited to meet some folks in the industry and learn from others.
  • Musical rotation:  Beach House, Desaparacidos, Guided By Voices, Sage Francis.
  • New stuff:  Beirut, Chvrches, Metric

Too Many Spinning Plates

There’s an adage in business that you can only handle so many spinning plates.  This is in reference to old shows where a performer would spin many plates on sticks and wow the crowd with their capability.


The adage itself is a simple one, you cannot mentally or physically manage  things after a certain tipping point.  No one is immune to overwork or taking on too much.

Earlier in my career the tasks and things that needed to be done were simpler than now, and far less in number.  However my personality is wont to take on more and more–which I did successfully.

As your career goes on, the amount and complexity of the work available escalates.  One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in the last decade is when to say no.

Saying no is really important.  If people don’t understand that you have a capacity, they will likely continually ask you to take on more and more.

This is a big issue as it has a detrimental effect on both your capability to finish work as well as the quality of work.  Over time, both of those characteristics can affect your perception in the work place, all despite doing your best to make things work and help the organization.

It’s commonplace for most people to try to take on more and more.  The vast majority of people I’ve worked with mean well and are more than willing to go the extra mile.  Most of the time this is a good thing, but there’s a very real line between taking on an extra task and overloading.

When people overload, they actually hurt themselves and potentially the organization they work for.  It’s management’s job to make sure it doesn’t happen–and that is actually more difficult than it sounds.  Understanding where people have time and don’t, how quickly they can get a job done well and getting to Good Enough Move On (GEMO) in a given work state are all matters of perspective and usually a function of experience.

Everyone is beholden to the “too many spinning plates” rule.  Great managers and workers understand it and the ramifications on quality.  They manage it.

Time for a New Phone

I have had my iPhone 4 since the Fall of 2010.  That actually kind of blows my mind.  The phone has been pretty poor for the last two years, the hardware doesn’t work properly as the home button is pretty well broken.  Luckily you can put a digital home button on the screen, which I’ve been using for the last year or so.

I’m waiting for the iPhone 6S to come out, but am still uncertain if it’s really going to be worth it.  I like Apple products generally, but these their premium is significant and other hardware does have it’s merits.  I’ll have to watch the event next week to try to make a decision.  Regardless, it’s time to upgrade and I’ll be very happy to have gotten something new.

The Nature of Happiness

Having a child is a life altering experience in many ways.  The very first is the need for security multiplies, mostly due to the fact that this little being is so easily harmed.  Safety and precaution or magnified in previously mundane situations such as backing out of your driveway.  Thoughtful processes for how and when to allow your pets access to the bed become a quick game of chess to begin your day.  These situations are solved with relative ease, however they continually require diligence as the lack of focus for one instance can cost you gravely.  The loss associated with an automotive accident or a paw erroneously trampling the youth are disastrous, whereas the work to prevent it is an redundant exercise.

Another change is the day in day out review and analysis of a being only now, before your eyes, growing through childhood.  It is fascinating.  It’s difficult to take an objective view due to your inherent bias toward your progeny.  You love them and their actions and peculiarities are similarly lovable regardless of true merit.

Part of the said analysis is understanding how human emotions work.  Juniper smiles at me every day for seemingly no reason other than waking up, or seeing my visage in her periphery.  The sense of personal satisfaction received from this perceived adulation is monumental–it simply feels great to have a small child give you that every day.  However upon further reflection there really is no good reason for it.

Could it be that she knows her father (and mother) so well already and correspondingly smiles at their presence?  It’s altogether possible.  When she sees Teresa she recognizes her and smiles genuinely, or changes her tune depending on the feelings she has at the moment.  Recognition is there.     However she will smile at complete strangers as well, again for no real reason.

My time of watching her without any humans in her view is very limited, so it’s a struggle to say whether she is smiling as much without some sort of human stimulus.  My expectation is that most events or objects that can set themselves apart from the normal environment in some way such as movement, color or sound have the potential to elicit such a response.

More importantly, this stimulus response relationship points toward an inherent happiness in humans.  Nature prompts elation–the very experience of experiencing life is joyful.  On the flip side of the coin, there exists a natural propensity to experience unhappiness as lack of resources like food or shelter.  These natural formations of emotion are intriguing–and something to learn from for years to come.

The Last Month

It’s been too long since getting some words down on pixel.

On the family side, we’ve continued to work to get my father in law back up to speed.  He is now home and working on restoring his cardiac health with doctors up in Cloquet.  In short, it’s been a scary experience that reminds of the precocious nature of life on Earth.  It comes and it goes.  Vonnegut called it clearly in Slaughterhouse 5, in a detached yet loving manner.  Life here is complex and all encompassing in the moment.  But it’s over in a short time – we only have a lifetime.

Teresa’s grandmother has recently had a heart attack as well, getting a stent the other day.  It was much milder than her father’s, but her health is still in question.  It is difficult not to reflect on your own actions and time while that of others is diminishing.  None of this is meant as a sad story of course, it’s merely a time to consider how to spend your time.

Juniper continues to grow and is cuter and cuter.  She smiles when she sees me and her mother, she is now rolling over on both sides–it won’t be long until she is sitting up and crawling around.  She is small, but strong in the legs, back and neck.  Her arms are not on par with the rest of her little being, but will catch up in due time.  She is also enrolled at daycare, which seems to be going without a hitch.  The daycare has only little girls, not by design.  Normally my role is to drop off, while Teresa picks up.  This last week I picked up at about 5pm and was accosted by 6 little girls, each one of them cute as button, giggling and asking questions about the baby.  Lots of fun there to be had for Juni.

Work wise, I started a new role at Mortenson Construction working for their Solar & Emerging Renewables Group.  This industry is completely outside of my background, but 100% what I want to do with my career.  Sustainability has always been very high up on my priority list and there isn’t a better place to have taken a role.  Everyone at the company has been extremely welcoming and helpful.  The process of learning about the industry and technology involved with the work has been extensive–with a huge list of things to do yet.  It has kept me busy.  Every day I wake up at 5am and read for an hour and a half on technology before getting Juni to daycare.  The process is long but learning new things has always been enjoyable for me, so it’s a labor of love.

In light of that, I may start posting more information on Solar technologies in my other accounts, or potentially here.  My work has always been off limits on this blog, but the idea of the technology itself is fair season.  The bottom line is that solar energy is a clean, economically sound way to provide power and I’m ECSTATIC about being in the industry, more to come.

Teresa has started school again, so our house is a mess while we balance day care, a new job for me, her returning to work and the hectic nature of family illness.  Blog posts postponed until now, however they will likely pick up again as we return to some semblance of normalcy.

One Week In Florida – With An Unexpected Ending

Every two years, Teresa’s family gets together and does a vacation somewhere fun.  Two years ago, it was North Carolina on the Outer Banks.  This year it was the Gulf Coast of Florida, in a town called Clearwater.  We spent the last seven days there hanging out and visiting the beach, looking for sea shells.

Growing up, my family did not do a lot of vacations.  If anything, we’d drive to Duluth or MPLS/St. Paul and visit family.  I did not get on a plane until I was about 22 years old actually.  In the last decade, I’ve travelled a lot more, but vacations are still somewhat new to me.

Hanging out with Teresa’s side of the family is always an adventure.  Her oldest sibling has three children under five, her second oldest sibling has four boys from five to fifteen.  She has two other brothers and now we have Juniper.  It’s a full house.  Every family handles a meal one day of the week and everyone works together to get everything done, though there isn’t a huge amount of work, it is vacation after all.

This year was hot due to the Florida coast heat, but still a lot of fun.  We went to the beach most days, or jumped in the smallish pool that was part of the rental, play cards and read books.  We also got out and played football and soccer (which essentially left me hobbling around for three days due to old age and lack of fitness.)

At the end of the trip, Ed wasn’t feeling very well. He got sick a few times and was having trouble focusing.  This was in the early morning and most of us were scheduled to fly out around noon.  At about 8:30am he asked for us to call 911 due to pain in his chest.  We got an ambulance there relatively quickly and he was taken to the hospital.  It turns out he was suffering from stent thrombosis and severe blockages of his main arteries in his heart.  It caused a myocardial infarction — a heart attack.  And it was a massive one according to the doctors.

Ed had another stent put in and was given a balloon treatment to keep his blood pressure up.  It was a VERY tense few days as we really didn’t know if he’d be able to sustain the impact of the attack.  Thank goodness he has since recovered and is doing a bit better.  He’s been taken out of intensive care and is now in the normal floor of the hospital.

This was all a week ago.  I started this post earlier and did not finish it until now as I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  Ed we are so happy to see you smiling and back on your feet!  There is still a lot to do to get him home and safe, but we are feeling very fortunate as of now.

The Big Switch – Taking On Change Within Organizations

Today we’re seeing organizations of all sizes at a crossroads.  A decision point, trying to understand which way the world is moving and make decisions that allow for them to continue to grow.

These organizations see the changes happening.  They know that their previous tactics are becoming less and less effective over the course of time.  They know that other organizations are attempting to become more fluid in their responses to market dynamics and they should too.  They know they need to change in order to continue their evolution as an organization.

Despite their positive intentions, they struggle to make change happen.  Advocates for change are often met with zero sum bottom line trade off decisions and struggle to sell forward looking initiatives that have no basis for return on investment as of today.  Well intentioned managers regretfully make hard choices that continue along the well beaten path of years past.

Sound familiar?  You’re not alone.

Organizations have been dealing with these decisions for all time, though today the importance of them is magnified due to the exponential nature of technology and information dissemination.  It is far easier to see how competition is maneuvering and target audiences are seeking out information in today’s day and age.

It is always easier for group decision making to revert to existing historical strategy and tactics.  It has been done before.  In all likelihood, it has worked.  It is comfortable.

Today more than ever, organizations need to lean into discomfort.  There are a multitude of reasons for this:

  1. The only way to improve is to change. That does not mean change for the sake of change.  It means augmenting success by updating tactics of strategies that are proven while testing new offerings.  An example would be integrating a call to action for existing marketing tools driving traffic to your site, with appropriate measurement devices in place.
  2. Success is iterative. It is a process and great companies are in their markets for the long term.  Taking the leap into a new communication medium or sales strategy may not prove out with huge returns initially, but as you learn to gradually dial in the aspects of the medium, success becomes more and more visible.  For instance, when a company first introduces an email database and marketing campaign, they may not have enough customers to actually reach; they must build their database by reaching out to existing customers and finding new ones.  They must also learn what’s effective through testing what types of content are interesting, optimal times to send, etc.  This is true of ALL new initiatives – but you have to get to “yes” before you begin the learning journey.
  3. History is filled with examples of organizations that failed to take action falling apart. Kodak.  Circuit City.  Blockbuster.  BlackBerry.  Sears.  These are fairly recent examples of organizations that simply didn’t adapt and ultimately paid the price as competition strategically took their customers or changed the industry such that they became irrelevant.  There are no guarantees in life or business.  Starting new initiatives will not cement your livelihood for future decades, but it will offer you the opportunity to learn and find new ways to better serve your customers.  Unfortunately, many organizations wait until they are actually behind competitors before trying to make meaningful change.
  4. Your customers are changing. The decision making processes customers use are changing with the technology available to them.   They may not be using all new social media to evaluate companies, but they are absolutely using a number of them.  It’s your job as a marketer to understand what they are most likely to be using and incorporate the most effective tools for your organization – be it a company blog, emails, trade shows, customer call surveys, in person meetings, or any other viable medium – to help them make decisions and achieve their goals.  You have to change with them.

The big switch isn’t the taking on one new initiative, or even five, next year.  The big switch is taking an active stance to embrace change by trying new things through a lens of customer advocacy.  It takes guts.  It takes transparency to admit when things didn’t work out as you’d hoped, learn from it and improve on the next go round.  It takes smarts to figure out what really does work and the know how to merchandise success to the rest of the company when you do break through.

The list of reasons to be progressive from a marketing perspective goes on and on.  At the end of the day, organizations that are willing to adapt and find new ways to continually add value for customers are going to win.  Organizations that choose to live in the past may do so as an artifact of their industry.


4th of July

I saw this in the Star Tribune digital paper and thought it was a beautiful picture of Big Ole, from my home town Alexandria.

big ole

We were home yesterday for the day, we left at 9am and got home at about 9pm.  This is a common occurrence for us as my parents hold an annual picnic for all the neighbors and some relatives.  It’s always a lot of fun and a little too much food.

Under normal circumstances I’ll catch up with my high school friends on the lakes as well–however this year Juniper is too small so we stayed away from that.  In the future we will partake in those celebrations.

This time of year really makes me reminiscent  of growing up and small towns–it’s perhaps my favorite holiday.  I’ll have to think on that a bit more, but as of now I can’t think of anything better than summer time and enjoying life with everyone important.  Happy 4th everyone.

Posterity and Writing

A few weeks ago someone sent me an email asking me to update a link.  The link was for a top blogs post I had made six years ago.

Six years.  That is a LONG time.  I’d forgotten about that post a long time ago, honestly.  When I go back and look at my writing that far back, it doesn’t necessarily fit my voice now.  Some of it seems a little foreign and definitely less informed.  In fact, the back story on this site really needs to be updated–I’m not in my 20’s any more and my life has changed so drastically that it should probably cover off on new stuff.  Maybe over the new year I’ll rewrite it.

The fact that you can reach back that far and pull up someone’s ideas and writing is powerful.  From a personal standpoint, I love being able to review what I’ve written on multiple ideas.  Curious about influence and Cialdini–search it. Want to read a review on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or maybe A Confederacy of Dunces?  All in the Book Reviews tag.  And more will be written, on family and life in general.  It’s a great way to catalog thoughts and happenings over time.  It’s a lot of fun to look back and to build a long term repository of thoughts, opinions, ideas and personal information.

But there’s also the chance that your writing of many years ago doesn’t necessarily reflect your stance now.  I don’t have specific examples of things written previously that don’t vibe with my current outlook, but believe there must be dozens of examples over time.  This is an important concept–it actually drives people to NOT say anything at all due to the potential that their view is used against them in some way.

It’s much easier to say nothing at all, or speak in platitudes that no one can disagree with, than actually being honest and stating your opinion.  Yet organizations and people suffer from a lack of willingness to communicate and learn.  Stating your opinion stirs the figurative pot that allows for growth long term–it’s wholly necessary if progress is at stake.

The ability to change your opinion based on interaction and input from others or additional data is what separates people as leaders–as does the propensity to not use people’s opinions or thoughts as ad hominem fodder re figurative discourse.

All this is to say that writing and putting forth your opinions, having a take, is value add and shouldn’t be shied away from.   It takes bravery to put your ideas and thoughts out in a public forum, especially one that is “forever”–but we do this every day when we ship a product, sell a service, launch a website or send an email to the CEO.  It’s all relative.  Put your best out there.

  • Fairly Recently…

  • Way Back When…

  • Categorically Speaking...

  • Meta

  • What’s Up Doc?

    October 2015
    M T W T F S S
    « Sep