Marketing, Minneapolis, Music & More

Communication Is Changing Before Our Eyes

In the past decade of exponential human change, we’ve seen the internet consolidate and disperse the vast majority of human knowledge on a scale previously unbeknownst as a possibility.  How we found and shared information has been irrevocably altered, for the better IMO.

The changes are everywhere.  Everything you do and use now is getting closer and closer to connected, if it is not already so.  This communication is written on the medium and posted where it can be accessed from any area with a connection.  Where we previously used landlines to call each other, or made physical notes sent via postage, today we electronically communicate via binary code.  Phone calls will all be digitized.  When we grew up, we watched “Back to the Future” and saw video calling and thought it was an amazing idea.  Kids today will shrug.

Writing complete thoughts out in paragraphs is very much going the way of the buffalo.  I work in business and can say that many of the emails I get from people (including superiors) are not punctuated correctly or complete thoughts.  These are the same people that lament kids texting with the get off my lawn critiques.  It’s silly really, people are going to communicate in the ways that are easiest, and that’s just fine.

I don’t know when the term “emoji” started, but I’m hearing it a lot.  I was reviewing the Apple Watch page today and thinking about how we’ll be able to connect to anyone at any time very quickly.  Look at some of the concepts here, they are using emoji, tapping and heartbeats to communicate!  It feels like this is going more and more nonverbal.  The popularity of snapchat and other picture texting services also points here.

The traditional models of communication are more predictable and less contextual than nonverbal.  I am curious as to what communication mediums stick and do not, as there is difficulty in predicting what will actually happen in the future.

Long Term Goals

At the start of the year I wrote a lot about short term goals–things to be achieved for this year.  It’s something that has become part of my life, looking at what’s happened in the past year and setting a course for improvement over the next.  It’s really enjoyable, and much like this blog, gives me a more clear understanding of what is happening.

It sounds strange to say that last part, because if you are living your life and cognizant of it, shouldn’t you already know what’s happening?  Yes, you should.  But what I’m learning as I get older (coming up on

birches

32 years of age in April) is that time actually seems to go faster and faster. I’ve written about it multiple times in the past, in fact, probably more times than I can recall.  Which is the reason why keeping track of things is important.  You see, there are so many things going on in your life it becomes easy to lose track of them–colloquially referred to as losing the forest for the trees.

Short term goals are easier to track, because they are closer to fruition.  Longer term goals are arguably more important, but not as easy to write about.

For instance, a long term goal of mine is to pay off our mortgage, which is a smaller facet of the larger goal to be financially independent.  It’s been creeping into my head  more and more as other liabilities are closer and closer to being paid off.  However, it’s a huge goal!  Our house will take years or even decades to pay off.  If we were to follow the mortgage payment, it’s 30 years.  The size of such goals

makes them more difficult to manage.  Although it hasn’t been something practiced personally, it seems that parcelling the larger goal into smaller chunks is the best way to manage it?

The bottom line is that I haven’t spent enough time on long term goals.  What are the things Teresa and I want to achieve in our lifetimes?  What do we want for our children?  Tempo is coming soon.  How will we set out to achieve them.

I’m going to try to carve out time this year to think more about the long term goals and how to set a path toward them.  Hopefully once they are a bit more clear I can get them written down here.

Music As of Late

There are three albums I’m waiting on right now:

Father John Misty:  I Love You Honeybear
The Decemberists:  What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield:  Elliot Smith Covers

Of Montreal also has a new LP dropping, their recent work has been less awesome to me compared to their earlier stuff like Hissing Fauna–so we’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve been listening to the re-release of the Basement Tapes from Bob Dylan and The Band.  Prior to that, and currently, I’ve been listening to a newer band called Alvvays.  They dropped their first album last year and it’s extremely good!  They have a female vocalist and play softer tunes for the most part, but fast enough to keep you humming along.

Trying to figure out what to listen to until all that drops.  Coffee and Amazon searches ensue.

Habits and Progress Addiction

Everybody I know has habits. Usually quite a few of them.

Some habits are really valuable, and some are detrimental. It seems human nature to continually do things a certain way–those patterns can be broken, but it’s not a normal aspect of personality to deviate continually from behavior. We stick to our knitting.

In this way, being able to develop positive habits is probably more powerful than anything else you can do. Once you learn a behavior, it has a tendency to reinforce itself.

If you eat a cookie every day after lunch, so it goes. If you buy a lottery ticket with your pack of smokes, so it goes. If you spend all of your pay check before getting your next one, so it goes.

If you walk your dog every day, if you eat only plants, if you read two chapters of a book every night before bed, if you swim before you eat breakfast, so it goes.

If everyone develops habits, what’s to stop you from developing habits that lead to a happier life? That lead to a healthier body and mind, financial stability and education? Nothing. It’s all completely up to you.

The hard part about all of this is getting lulled to sleep. It’s easy to forget that every day, every moment is truly precious and is another unit of time to be built upon. It’s far easier to see the patterns that already exist in life and float along, merrily, merrily, merrily.

Keep score. Figure out a way to keep track of all the things you want to do and track progress. Tally it. Get addicted to progression. Recognize the times when you are achieving or not achieving those goals you set for yourself. If you continue to do that, you will ultimately end up healthy, wealthy and wise.

Favorite Aspects of Business

There are a lot of negatives to business in general. Many people do not like working in business for a number of reasons. It’s competitive, in larger companies there are politics, people can be disingenuous and only looking out for themselves, etc. There are lots of reasons.

But there are a huge amount of reasons to love working in business as well. Here’s a quick summary, off the cuff–not a formal top ten.

The things you build can last. The biggest businesses you see today often have roots that go back decades and in some cases over centuries.  Smaller organizations scale into larger organizations that continue to build and build over time.  The work YOU do directly affects this.  The program you launch today can be around for a long, long time.  I work with people that launched products over ten years ago that are selling millions of dollars per year worth today–and that’s cool.  Some of the projects I’ve launched in the last five years are worth millions of dollars in revenue today.  That’s something to be really proud about.

It’s a competition! All of business is a competition among companies to provide customers the best products/services/experience.  Some folks do not like being competitive and that’s OK.  There are roles in business that are NOT competitive, but Marketing is not one of them.  Either is Sales.  I’d argue most core functions like Operations, Finance and even Human Resources are not either.  I’m a competitive person (maybe TOO competitive at times) and love trying to figure out the best way to go to market in ways that will differentiate my company and help us stand out.  Mark Cuban has a GREAT explanation of this here. The bottom line is if you like competition, business is a blast.

Creativity is embraced. Unlike other competitions, there aren’t a lot of formal rules for how you can approach and grow a business.   So long as you obey the law, it’s pretty much open season.  That means you can choose to do things differently than what every other company has done to that point–which will often lead to success as it’s more likely to gain notoriety.

Partnerships. I work in business to business Marketing and enjoy it a great deal.  I’m not going to write off the potential for doing something different, but if this were the type of role I had the rest of my life, I’d be just peachy.  Working in B2B is fantastic because it’s so easy to relate to customers.  They are trying to run their business as best as they can.  It’s natural to relate to their perspective.   The products and services my company offers are specifically designed to help them succeed.  An additional benefit is that you learn about how other businesses operate quickly, there’s a snowball effect on knowledge.

You control your destiny. Business is all about value.  So how valuable are you?  If you didn’t show up tomorrow, what happens?  If you want to do well in your career, the absolute best thing you can do is figure out how to improve and grow the business you work for.  Then figure out how you can “prove” it to your employer.  If the things you do add value in a way that the company appreciates, they will reward you.  If they don’t, and you can show that value to another organization, then it’s probably time to take your skills somewhere else.  Most companies (the good ones anyway) realize that human resources are the number one thing they need.  And they don’t grow on trees.  So when you work hard, prove out your worth and continue to learn/grow within your organization, very good things happen.  This is all true of entrepreneurship as well, just in a different capacity.

There are quite a few other things I’m probably not thinking of right now, but if you are considering a career in business these are some things to keep in mind.

Time to Get Back to Work!

Well, it’s been a very nice two weeks of revitalization. This has been an odd time off, as at no point did I feel as though I was missing out at anything at work because of email and having time to catch up from home if needed.

A lot of people will frown on working from home on vacation, but for me it’s a peace of mind to know that things are under control. Also, the last two weeks are easily the slowest of the year for most companies. Large amounts of folks are taking vacations. Teresa and I have also been keeping busy with planning for the impending Tempo arrival in May. Not to mention holidays and such.

Conversely, the work schedule absolutely ramps up in January. Our fiscal year starts and getting out of the gate quickly is critical. Annual plans have been set and cascading the plans, sales tools and expectations to other groups in the business is a huge focus. That usually means travel and meeting with folks in person you may not always get the chance to at other points in the year, which is a blast. Executing all the planning of Q4 is priority number one. Time moves quickly and it’s a lot of fun.

I’m excited to get back in the saddle–there are multiple projects that are going to have a big impact in 2015 and there’s still a great amount of work to do. If you’re like me and just getting back into it after a small pause, hit the ground running! Bring the energy, excitement and make it a great year.

Economic Stimulation of Scientific Research

During a very good documentary called Particle Fever on the Higgs boson particle during an explanatory speech by one of the subjects of the movie, an economist asks a question, paraphrased:

“What is the economic growth impact of this study?”

This is an extremely important question.  But it’s important to different people for different reasons.  There is a more important underlying question, but I struggle with how to word it.  The main point is that of economic impact–should every study, action or idea be evaluated and executed based on an economic return on investment?

Depending on your prerogative, the answer can change.  The economist in the video phrased his question in a way that seems to presuppose that economic ends must warrant the means.  There are likely economists that do not believe that everything we do from a societal standpoint requires economic stimulus, much like there are probably scientists who believe all scientific study should further develop economies.  I assume that most people in their respective fields tend to be driven more by the understanding of the fields though–that scientists want to understand the universe and that economists want to see economic growth.

In business, understanding the likely impact of an investment is paramount to long term success, and asking that question makes a lot of sense.  In science however, the search for understanding our surroundings may not immediately show returns.  Does that mean that we should be focusing solely on things that can be monetized?  Of course not.

What’s truly interesting in these spaces is that there is a tendency for scientific research to uncover findings that can lead to economic development in the long term.  The medical industry is an excellent example, which is a tremendous part of our economy that has incorporated scientific research continually.  However initial studies likely had no real projections for stimulus.  The field early discovery in the field leads to long term value.

From a philosophical perspective, the idea that we should only expend resources for economic reasons is abhorrent to me.  There is more to this world than money.  I do comprehend that these types of studies are VERY costly, but if we are talking about making money versus understanding our universe, ideologically I’ll vote for the latter.  I have an astrophysicist friend who has explained to me the constant need for funding in the form of grants for the universities doing the research on these studies.

This question, previously cited, is the reason that the US has cut the NASA budget, as well as multiple other programs.  It’s something we’ll continue to think about and be an important question for our long term governance; you may want to consider your position on it at some point.

Below find a trailer for the documentary, I’d highly recommend it. 

Facebook: A Digital Conglomerate?

Yesterday, Fred Wilson had an interesting post on some 2015 predictions.  I’ve read his blog for many years and he is always offering interesting thoughts on software, engineering, venture capital and tech as a whole.

He wrote a few things of interest to me yesterday.  Here is the article quote:

6/ Capital markets will be a mixed bag in 2015. Big tech names will continue to access capital easily (see 1/), but the combination of rising rates and depressed prices for oil will bring great stress to global capital markets and there will be a noticeable flight to safety around the world. Safety used to mean gold, US treasuries, and blue chip stocks. Now it means Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.

And a discussion ensues in the comments–use this link.  The quote above that states that these larger companies are “safe” comparably to what compared to historically safe securities like blue chips is interesting in itself.  Many investors would take the exact opposite thought process and own more CPG, financial, energy and industrial offerings.

In regard to their core offering, FB is doing well in terms of growth:

FB MAUs
Yes, there is some leveling off in the NA regions, but EU and Asia continue to grow along with the rest of the world.  In terms of social networks, they are the first big undisputed champion and this user base is not going to evaporate any time soon.  They are managing this well, and when I speak with friends about it, they have stated that mobile first ideal was executed really well.

What is truly fascinating about FB is how they are diversifying their portfolio of offerings.  Buying WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus are a clear sign that they are trying to adapt to the changing landscape and skate to where the puck is going.  Digital businesses are different beasts than brick and mortar–building expertise and management that understands how to execute may well set them apart as THE digital conglomerate of the future.

If you consider the big tech precedents, Google is the first to come to mind.  They built a great product and revenue model to surround it.  They proceeded to print money and invest in R&D around other offerings.  Nothing has been near as popular as search, but they are doing a lot of things that may well drive tech in the future (driverless cars, wearable computing, internet of things.)  Youtube was also a fantastic investment @ $1.65B — though some panned it at the time.  Their numbers look pretty good too!

As an investor, I don’t necessarily look at those companies as though they are the “safe” bet, but they do have the potential to be the blue chips of tomorrow.  P/E ratios for most of them look out of whack, but it seems that monetizing these services DOES happen consistently by sheer number of users.  Businesses NEED to get in front of them to compete for buying decisions.  The companies that can consistently lock in users with valuable products will be able to monetize.

I love following the tech companies because their businesses are so transformative to our culture.  I wrote a post on Amazon a while back which I just realized isn’t posted yet, I’ll go back and do that soon.

Best Albums of 2014

This is a post I do every year, and it’s getting more difficult.

Here’s last year’s list.
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008

If you like indie music, hip hop or punk music, there are some great albums on those links.  I look back at those lists and there are some extreme amounts of good albums.  The reason this list is getting harder is that when I first started writing, I hadn’t accessed a lot of these bands and their catalogs.  So Neutral Milk Hotel was a revelation, as were many other bands.  Picking the best albums was hard, because there were tens of potential inclusions.

Today, I’m mostly listening to a lot of the same bands, but far fewer albums because I’ve listend to so much of their back catalogs.  There is still some fantastic stuff, but the quality level may be a notch or two lower.  Regardless, I think we can get ten albums worth listening to:

#10:  The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers (2014)Brill_Bruisers_Cover

I own three NP albums and this is as good as any of them.  What’s fantastic about this band is the mesh of styles from AC Newman, Dan Bejar and Neko Case.  They are light, enjoyable songs that catch you unaware as they have different singers, beats, and tempo.  Neko is one of my favorite artists all time and she as usual shines.  Try “War on the East Coast” to get started.

#9:  Hail Mary Mallon – Bestiary (2014)

Second album from Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic.  Overall I’d say this is about the same quality as the first, with some terrific songs earlier on in the album.  It doesn’t stand up to Aesop’s solo stuff, but not much does IMO.  Very good hip hop album if you like dense word play and heavier beats.

#8:  Sufjan Stevens – Michigan (2003)

Sufjan Stevens has been making music for a long time now.  I’d heard about him in undergrad, when Illinoise! was getting heavy college rotations.  I picked up Seven Swans a few years back, but it never really resonated with me due to being a lighter/slower style.  There was a period when music like that and Iron & Wine were getting play, but they never really broke into any of my favorites lists.

Michigan is a VERY good album, starting off with Flint–which is perhaps my favorite song of the year.  Many people call Sufjan a genius; this album makes me see why they say it.  He is unafraid to try things musically and this album shows it.  I actually purchased Illinoise! after this and think it is not quite as good despite getting more attention historically.  Michigan consistently references the state–where Sufjan was born (Detroit) and catalogs some of the great things to celebrate and the sadder aspects of life there.   If you’ve never listened to him, this is where you should start.

#7:  Atmosphere – Southsiders (2014)SouthsidersAtmosphere

A hometown favorite, Slug and Ant have been making great tunes since the late 90s.  In terms of hip hop, there’s not a lot of better stuff out there.  It’s kind of odd because when I think of great Atmosphere albums, When Life Gives You Lemons jumps out as the absolute best, but Lucy Ford and You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having are also fantastic. Overcast is lyrically as good as any of them, but not as good on production.  God Loves Ugly was the album that hooked me.  Headshots stuff was always great.

There are SO many good songs in the history of Atmosphere.  Scapegoat, Gods Bathroom Floor, Woman with the Tattooed Hands, Yesterday, etc. etc.  The list is LONG.  Nowadays I don’t really play the old albums, but I smile thinking about how temporal and relevant each album was at the time of release.  It was pushing indie hip hop forward and Slug will go down as one of the best underground hip hop artists of all time.  There’s no HOF for this thing, but it’s a movement.

Southsiders is more of the same — lots of good tracks with a similar flow from Sluggo, and Ant is still on point.  I don’t think they are pushing the envelope in terms of what they are willing to experiment with, but at the end of the day they are still making great albums.  Definitely worth picking up.  ”Arthur’s Song” is a favorite.

#6:  Spoon – They Want My Soul (2014)

Spoon is back with another very solid album.  These guys are interesting as they keep putting out good albums that sound similar….yet slight different.  I did not care for Transference as much as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (their best album IMO, where you should start) and this is somewhere in between these two.  Spoon played Rock the Garden this last year, and crushed it!  Wonderful performance from an excellent band.

NOFX Stoke#5:   NOFX – Stoke Extinguisher (2013)

All time favorite punk band.  Still putting out lots of funny, irreverent and interesting work.  This was a fast, fun EP that caught my attention for the first track which hits hard.  The second track is an homage to recently deceased Tony Sly from No Use For a Name–with Fatty doing a spot on impersonation at the end.  The other songs are catchy and fast–riffing on old age and other topics they’ve continued to address over time.  Well worth the $$ if you like the genre at all.

#4:  Oasis – What’s the Story Morning Glory (1995)

I missed a lot of good music in the 90’s.  That time period was mostly skate punk and a mish mash of various stuff like Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica, Bush and REM.  I was not listening to rock music and didn’t really know that there was much happening.  Turns out there were quite a few good albums then, which I’m just now getting to.

This was a really good offering.  Front to back, songs are well put together musically interesting and valuable as a cohesive unit.  If you enjoy rock and haven’t gotten into this, it’s well worth it.

#3:   Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)Pavement CRCR

This is where the list gets very difficult.  Any of these albums could be number #1, and I’ve already changed the order.  I’m tempted to do a three way tie, but ultimately it seems like a bit of a cop out, so let the chips fall where they may.  I had never listened to Pavement before this year and they are quickly becoming a favorite.  This album is odd in that it does not really hit you hard at first.  But it slowly and surely gets into your brain and continues to keep you coming back.

It has stood the test of time.  There are a lot of songs here that you actually have heard multiple times, but didn’t realize what it was until later.  This is a classic album for indie rock, one that you can return to over and over again.

Bee_Thousand#2:  Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand (1994)

It turns out 94′ had a huge amount of awesome indie rock.  I genuinely feel like I was too young to understand all the good stuff happening in rock at that point.  Again, this could easily be my number one album of 2014–it’s unlike anything else on the list.

Bee Thousand has 20 songs, varying in length but mostly faster.  The melodies change abruptly.  The song writing is obscure at times and makes little sense, but sounds fantastic regardless.  Despite the multiple changes in tempo and style, it all just works.  It is a lo fi offering with recording sounding mediocre at times, which strangely adds to the beauty of it as a cohesive work.  It’s as though it was meant to be recorded as such.  It’s fun, catchy and truly an achievement.

GBV also played Rock the Garden this year, and shortly broke up after.  The show was good, but I suppose at some point you have to hang it up.  Thankfully we have albums like this to remember them by.

Upside_Down_Mountain_album_cover#1:  Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain (2014)

I was pretty sad to see that this album did not make a lot of year end lists.  It’s baffling really.  Out of all the contemporary artists of my generation, Conor will go down as one of the best, if not the absolute best writer of the lot.  That may not always win you best album year by year, but decades down the road, he will be revered.  Very few writers are on this level.  I put him up their with Dylan, Young, Cohen and other historical greats.  He’s amazing, reminds me of Dylan in that he’s not necessarily the best musician, or the best singer, but he’s damn good at both all things considered.  And he is the best writer, contemporarily speaking.

This album is somewhat similar to his first solo album, but better.  The first album was somewhat inconsistent, with some odd ball songs that didn’t really flow well.  The songs here have a similarity to them, with the first song catching you off guard with a lilting guitar and eye opening poetry.  The album continues on with emotional insights to the lives we lead here, how we get through the days and enjoy what we have after.

Though the entirety is filled with gems,  the second half of the album is what catapulted it to the top of this list.  ”You Are Your Mother’s Child” is a beautiful homage to growing up and parenthood.  ”Governor’s Ball” is a diverse song with horns, excellent escalations and mysterious storyline.  ”Desert Island Questionnaire” is a Bright Eyes throwback that is as sad as it is exciting, building to crescendo all before ending abruptly, only to leave you with another Oberst album ending — “Common Knowledge.”  It is a solemn and slow offering that focuses on wordplay, much like “Milkthistle” did on his first self titled offering.

If you enjoy writers, this is the album of the year.

2015 Goals

The post yesterday was predicated on how well we did in accordance to goals set a year ago.  Not bad overall, though not perfect either.

2014 was a year that for me was somewhat “in the weeds”–I had a few posts covering off on how I didn’t seem to have time to post as much for a few reasons and overall felt a lot of the year zoomed by while my head was down grinding away at work and at home in other activities.  The “too busy” phenomena that seems to consume most working Americans is a cop out in my estimation.   It’s self driven.  We say we are too busy, but we are too busy because we choose to be that way.

HDTMuch of last year was spent doing recreational things, which by nature are enjoyable, yet my modus operandi lends itself toward intrinsic thought and philosophy.  I have a real need to do that consistently through thought, reading, writing and discourse with other people.  But I didn’t really make as much time for it last year, so I’m going to focus more on it this year.

At roughly 20 years old, Henry David Thoreau set off a spark in my life with the book Walden.   The book is an arduous journey initially, the first chapters are pragmatic and occasionally plodding.  Yet the book builds to a crescendo focused on living life to the fullest, living as you see fit and marching to the beat of your own drummer.  It’s empowering.  It’s courageous.  It’s how I’ve attempted to live my life since that point.

It was after that point that I realized education and learning in general are gifts–not a labor put upon you but something that truly adds value in your life.  I became voracious in my search to learn about different topics.  Classic literature, sociology, psychology, economics, business and more.  Knowledge is the most enlightening thing available, and it’s free to those willing to work for it.

That was almost 14 years ago.  I graduated from undergrad, got a job and poured most of that knowledge acquisition effort into Marketing and business.  Grad school was next. Afterward I took another role with a fantastic organization where I still reside today.  Time keeps going faster and faster, and last year more than any reminded you have to slow things down and think.  Writing helps me to do that a great deal and, though I do appreciate the people who read this, it’s mostly an exercise in managing my life so that it makes sense, day after day and year after year.

All this is a way explain what will be the goals of next year.  Without further ado, in order of importance:

1.  Become a (Good) Dad: This one really can’t be quantified for measurement, but can be assessed in hindsight.  There are many things to do for this, most of them small changes that are somewhat tough despite being small.  Get up earlier.  Keep the household in order at all times.  Eliminate swears from the vernacular.  The list is truly unending, but it has to be a priority.  Hopefully I’ll update the changes throughout the year as things to focus on.

2.  Read and Write More: I only read about 7 books last year.  That’s pretty low.  A few of them were longer books, but my consistency in reading was just too low.  Also the number of posts on this blog was probably an all time low by year.  Not sure if I broke 12 posts!  That’s atrocious.  Goals are going to be reading at least one book a month, and writing a post at least once a week–12 books and 52 posts for the year.

3.  Pay Off Student Loans: It has been a long time coming and may take until the end of the year, but eliminating the costs of loan payments will financially make us a lot more secure.  I won’t say how much has to be paid off, but there’s still a good amount.

4.  Fitness:  I’m at roughly 170LB right now and would like to get to anywhere from 160-165LB. I believe that’s my target weight.  This is always tough, as my time for exercise is likely to go downward, which means figuring out how to build it into the schedule before and after work.

The big push here though is diet.  Less pop (only diet now, but still not good), less pizza, less fatty foods, more fruits and veggies, smaller portions.  Fitness absolutely has to be built into your routine, it can’t be something you get around to.  It’s a disciplined aspect of your day to day activity.

That sums it up.  Best of luck to you and yours in 2015!  Happy New Years!  See you next year.

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