Marketing, Minneapolis, Music & More

Work Travel

The last three weeks have all been work travel.  San Francisco, Dallas, and Richmond Virginia.

I don’t mind work travel, it’s a nice chance to meet with customers and hear what they are working on in their business.  It also breaks up the typical work you have going on, although it also means potentially falling behind slightly.  Every day after a trip is usually spent catching up on emails and trying to get back into actual project work while trying to manage the new things coming your way in addition.

Travel is not, however, glamorous in any way.  Often when I mention to people that I’m traveling to meet with customers or for an exhibition, people will state how they wish they travelled and insinuate that it’s just having a good time.  It’s not.  It’s real work and it’s draining too.  I do enjoy it, but make no mistakes about it being a vacation of some sort.

In my previous role, I worked with sales teams that had corporate account managers overseeing very large global customers (and today work in a similar situation although in a different industry.)  These folks travelled all the time, near every week.  Much like consultants, the job is based anywhere and everywhere you are needed.  And that’s why you’re compensated as such.  That life is simply not something I could do and I’m filled with admiration for people that can handle a family life and still travel consistently.  It would be very difficult in my esteem.

Travel is a part of business, at least for many roles, however it’s still work and if you think otherwise…you likely haven’t had to travel much for work.

The Manager and Direct Report Relationship

I’ve been thinking a lot more about the manager and direct report.  I’ve been direct report to about 15 people in my life in all my different roles.  I’ve seen a lot of different styles of management, as have many of you.

It’s important to consider the objective of this relationship prior to analyzing it in depth.  There are many potential scenarios that one could cite as the reason for this relationship existing at all:

1.  Hierarchical management of resources – too many people in an organization makes it impossible for one person to manage all, hence many managers and direct reports
2.  Functional expertise and knowledge – having someone oversee another in order to properly transfer knowledge of the position needs and expectations, this includes leadership transitions over time
3.   Responsibility ownership – managers often are responsible for the output (volume, quality) of someone at an organization

There are other things that could be discussed, but those three things seem to cover off on the organizational considerations that come to mind.  The next questions are focused on the individuals, what does it take to be a “good” manager or a “good” direct report.  Most organizations write job descriptions for the positions themselves.  But how to facilitate those roles in the lens of manager and direct report is worth considering.

A manager’s work is primarily concerned with getting the best out of their team, much like a coach for a sport–at least in context of managing others.   However, managers are also tasked with the functional output of their role.  In effect, they are managing to objectives for the organization *in addition* to managing people that are likely also working toward that objective.  To put an example of this down, a marketing manager may well be accountable for revenue and margin growth within a business, she is given resources (budget, direct reports, etc.) to accomplish the tasks that lead to those outcomes and judged accordingly.

For new managers, if you’re considering how to outline your role, consider the idea of bifurcating your work into two larger buckets:  delivering the business results and delivering team performance.  They are not necessarily the exact same, though they should be correlated in terms of objectives and metrics.

I’ll dive more thoroughly into both of these ideas in the future.

Energy Studies

As of late, due to my new role, I’ve been spending a great deal of time learning about energy.  Particularly energy finance and construction of generation projects.

At not point in my life did I consider electricity and how it’s used.  Obviously we teach a good deal about it in school, but considering how the electric grid is built and how it actually works is beyond most people.  It’s one of many, many things we take for granted here in the United States.  Our infrastructure in many capacities is beyond that of other governments and we should be very thankful for that fact.

There are some extremely interesting misconceptions about the grid.  Many people believe the majority of our energy is from sustainable sources.  In reality, just over 1% of our energy comes from solar and about 4% comes from wind.  There are other sources of course but those are the largest representations.  The majority of our energy still comes from coal and natural gas.  Nuclear power is another significant source, but it has not been growing recently.

Over the last six months I’ve focused pretty exclusively on solar energy projects, and it will continue to be my focus for the foreseeable future, however now I’m branching out more to the broader industry.  There’s an incredible amount to learn and seemingly less and less time.  Solar is the future.  I am biased due to my role, but I wholeheartedly believe we will deploy enough solar in the next three decades to overtake fossil fuels.  It’s going to be an amazing journey and I’m very proud to be part of the change.

Time to go read.

Learn to Make Honey

An ant cannot walk into a beehive and change how bees do things.

First the ant must learn to make honey.

Consider the Lobster – David Foster Wallace

Before the last year ended, I completed the book “Consider the Lobster” by DFW.  He was a truly impressive writer in many regards.  His ability to explain his internal thought process in a witty and endearing fashion was above his peers.  This book is actually an amalgamation of essays he had put together over the course of time.

Here’s a brief run down of each:

lobsterBig Red Son – a rolling discussion of the happening at the pornography industry’s main convention.

Certainly the End of Something Or Other One Would Sort of Have to Think – a book review of John Updike’s most recent work.

Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness From Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed – Self explanatory.

Authority and American Usage – an in depth look at the explanation of how prose is deciphered and given rules, including dictionaries and updates to literature critiquing texts.

The View From Mrs. Thompson’s – The best work of the lot, a review of post 9/11 life in a smaller, rural town and the differences between the enlightened cynics and the thoroughly good Americans.  This really resonated with me and is at the core of how I think about people and their lives.

How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart – A review of the hopelessly trite Tracy Austin autobiography, who I’d never heard of, but was a prodigal tennis start of the 80’s and put something of a clunker for DFW, a big fan.

Up Simba – An objective look at politics and campaigns through the lens of the McCain parade in 2000.  Extremely well done and interesting despite the seemingly lackluster subject matter.

Consider the Lobster – thinking about carnivores and what we should be concerned with in general as sentient beings.

Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky – I still have no clue what this was about.

Host – An interview with and deep dive into talk radio brass tacks.  Very well done look at the personalities and business that pokes and prods our sensibilities to create drama and divisive interest.

If you like DFW already, this is an easy purchase.  We lost a great one.

The long times

It’s been quite some time since writing something of substance, or at least a grouping of written ideas of substance.  The times, they are a changin’.

Juniper is still yet to fully bloom, but she is bright and amazing and temporal and all encompassing.  She really is an amazing little thing.  Skinny like a spindle.  Smiling always.  Infuriatingly fickle.  Full of life and love.  Utterly important to my day to day and my understanding in general.  She’s a bridge to a new world.  A road toward a sunset.   A whisper of the beauty in humanity.

When you are young, all your best is there for the world to see and appreciate.  All the best virtues of our species are in the youth.  This is the reason that full grown adults show pictures of themselves as young people, babies or slightly older.  They remember themselves for being pure at heart and idealistic.  As you grow older, the world puts upon you with many pragmatic considerations that have more or less nothing to do with the joy of being a young person.  There are so many great things to appreciate which are simply beyond youth culture’s capability to comprehend–perhaps this is an intentional dichotomy.

At any rate, the work involved with raising another human as dictated by my moral compass has proven to be a near earth shattering expectation by any right, and it has eaten up gobs of time, which at the present moment is unlikely to see any upheaval.   We’re in the long times.  The time when there is little left to say for lack of time.  But it is a good time, and for those of you looking for an update, even if myself at a later date, we are thankful for it.

Organizational Perspectives – Add Value However You Can

When someone says they are “in the weeds” it means they can’t really see much beyond what their day to day tasks is. Imagine wading through a bog of cattails, you cannot really see anything and your lucky to know which way to go at all!

The longer you are in one organization, the more likely this is for most people.  Organizations will usually give you more and more responsibilities as you stay (hopefully–this is a sign you are doing well) and the deeper you are embedded in these roles, the less likely it is you can “see” what to do outside of them.  Conversely, your understanding and knowledge of how an organization works improves over the course of time as well.  There is a dichotomy in those two ideas but they are not necessarily opposed.

A differentiation point in people is found when they have the capacity to understand different areas of an organization, how they work and how it applies to their own situation.  They can use that information to increase the efficiency or efficacy of their particular situation.  Simultaneously, they can take on more areas for improvement while managing the prior tasks — new responsibilities.  There are only so many people that have capability to do multiple types of work and take on additional capacity due to efficiency.  Organizations are actually doing quite well with these people because their efficiency or efficacy comparative to others that are incapable of such work increases throughput.  Organizations need to be able to recognize that ability and reward it accordingly, if they do not they are both becoming inefficient and running risk of those individuals leaving for organizations that will reward them.  The down side is that if they are recognizing and awarding the wrong people, the whole system is undermined with the potential for significant distress toward organizational goals.

When people want to get promoted, they are likely to cite their time in their roles and how well they perform their jobs.  The problem there is that simply doing your job well should not warrant promotion.  That warrants staying in the same role.  Promotion should happen as you learn how to help the organization in new ways.  Those things can come in all forms, but most likely orient around taking on more responsibility–in the form of task management or potentially educating and managing others’ work.

When people assume that getting promoted is an equation that they provide variables for (X years of work doing Y and Z tasks = new title and 10% increase in salary) it shows that they aren’t thinking critically about their work.  Everyone in an organization is there for a reason.  Understanding how you add value to the organization is paramount to improving output and creating new opportunities for growth.

If you do not know what that means–the easiest way to explain it is that every business has a profit and loss statement (P&L).  Somewhere in that P&L you reside.  You are part of the cost of running the organization.  Your work is needed to help drive the objectives of that organization–likely revenue, gross margin or net income.  It doesn’t matter if you sell directly or are a cost center.  Regardless if you’re sweeping the floors or the CEO, you are in that P&L.   Figure out how what YOU do adds value and do more of it.

This all sounds nebulous.  And it should.  There is no roadmap to tell you how to manage your career or get promoted.  It’s on you to figure it out.  But if you are struggling with that, go back to the P&L and figure out where you fall first.  Try to understand if you are more valuable than your salary; you should be if you are working there.  If you’re not, it’s time to change your role there or find something where you can flourish.

Video Services

Well after many years of considering it, Teresa and I finally signed up for Amazon Prime. The main lever for this was the need for recurring purchases of diapers, which you actually save $10 on compared to purchasing at brick and morter. The subscription pays for itself in diapers if you have a young child, as a bonus you get free 2 day shipping and Prime movies and digital streaming.

I believe we are moving to a streaming society. A rental society. A society where ownership is an antiquated ideal for many of the things we previously expected to own. The differences in this kind of lifestyle comparatively to previous eras is IMMENSE. Imagine if entire generations refused to own a car but did ride sharing, what happens? The mass production models for most car manufacturers likely goes out the window as a smaller group of producers lock in their markets with membership services.

Sharing services like this can work for almost anything. Why own a lawn mower when you can simply pay $5 per mow for the newest, nicest mower? Why buy a boat when you can rent one for the three times a summer you want to get out? Why own a condo in Fort Lauderdale when you can get an AirBnB? This is the way we’re going and it’s going to continue happen. We are turning most industries into smaller and smaller units of value. It’s a good thing IMO.

Music and video content is very similar. If they choose not to own, then it’s up to the providers to build a model where they can offer value and still provide suppliers benefits simultaneously. So everything turns into streaming at a membership price. This has already happened. Today there is a huge amount of content choices. As of this last week, we now have a Comcast package, a Netflix sub, a Prime membership, HBO Go membership (via cable), an iTunes portal and a Google Play portal.

The thing that’s difficult for me to swallow is that each one of these services has something good about it. We wouldn’t buy cable if it didn’t have sports (the most expensive option btw), we would get Netflix if it weren’t for a few shows, HBO GO for Game of Thrones and so on. The other lock in is that some of these services don’t allow you to use Google Chromecasts–for instance Amazon wants you to buy a “firestick” which is the same basic idea with a different interface. I’m tired of buying hardware that will be obsolete in five years for different services, it’s silly. Luckily I figured out we can use our PS3 to stream it.

All of these tech companies are trying to lock in. I don’t see a fragmented model working forever though. The question is how do content producers get better at aggregation and control? Simplicity will win out in the long run, but who can package it? I’d say the cable companies have the best odds, but they’ve been locked into harvesting their platforms instead of building new. I’m anxious to see what happens in the next ten years of content aggregation and dissemination.

US Economy and Potential for Recession

Well isn’t THAT an exciting title? :-)

About a month back I began talking with a friend about the propensity of the stock market to fall. I was arguing that, although you can’t predict the future and never will, the likelihood for a recession seems as likely now as it has in a very long time. His prerogative was that the US economy was still on the rise and hadn’t yet plateaued.

It led me to consider a few indications of what’s happening. The first and biggest thing to look at is unemployment rate–it’s one of the largest indicators of economic health:

latest_numbers_LNS14000000_1950_2015_all_period_M12_data

You can see that our unemployment rate is approaching historic lows. I remember back in 2008 when the political landscape was so fraught with turmoil and attacks on the president. Of course, the president was brand new at the time and had to begin a program to stem the rising unemployment as corporations cut jobs in order to satisfy their investors and prepare for a winter where citizens refused to purchase goods or cut back on many other things. It’s very interesting how cyclical economics are.

I personally believe we are likely entering a 2-3 year recessionary period. Hopefully that thought is wrong, recessions aren’t fun and a lot of people suffer when they happen. But the natural rise and fall of economics will pull like gravity. What goes up simply must come down.

Top Albums of 2015

Every year, I write about my favorite music from the previous twelve months (here is last year).  It’s actually a pretty tough task, I buy somewhere around 40-50 albums a year.  Most of them are forgettable, but certain albums stick around and get a lot of rotations.  Some even turn into life long albums.  Some good examples of life long albums can be found in this year’s groupings.

That’s really why music is my favorite art.  It opens your eyes to a lot of things and frames the other events in your life.  When Frank Sinatra plays, I remember living on 26th and Dupont hanging out with my roommates.  When Wolf Parade comes on, I remember biking around Lake Harriet and Calhoun.  When Aesop Rock’s Daylight plays, I remember walking to class at St. Cloud State.  If you name most of the artists in my musical catalog, they usually have memories associated.  It’s the soundtrack to your life.  That’s really enjoyable for me.

There are a few things happening music wise right now that need mention–a huge amount of my listening is done at home through Sonos, which isn’t tracked in last.fm, so tracking it is harder.  Also this year I’ve started building playlists again, which means certain music is highlighted a lot more over albums due to repetition in those playlists.  I’ll need to figure out how to track better in the future.

Also of note–these albums need not be released this year, just new to me.  Without further ado, here are my picks for best albums of 2015.

Honorable Mentions:

The Kinks:  The Village Green Preservation Society  – Originally released in in 1968, this is one of their best albums (many would say their best).  This is a great family album, no swears, lots of sing along choruses and a good mix of musical elements to keep it fresh over time.  If you’re new to the Kinks this is probably a good place to start.

Oasis:  Definitely Maybe — A 1994 album from the UK rock supergroup, this was the one that put them on the map.  Like “What’s the Story Morning Glory” after it, the music is strong throughout with tons of memorable singles.  I listened to this most of the summer and is a good high energy offering.

Titus Andronicus:  A Most Lamentable Tragedy —  a 1.5 hour punk rock power house, extremely huge in scope and pulled off well by Patrick Stickles and company.

Waxahatchee:  Ivy Trip — This was a year filled with great female vocalists and bands.  I’ve always wondered previously why so many of my favorite bands had male singers, but this year it was very different.  Which is fantastic.  Waxahatchee is Katie Crutchfield, and she put together an amazing effort here.  Lots of differentiation from track to track with great guitars and plenty to keep you coming back for more.

Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell —  By all means this could be in the top ten, but it wasn’t a Sufjan year for me.  This is one of his tightest albums front to back, but it is sad and not always something that seems like listening to.   That said, if you are a fan of his work at all you already own it.  If you aren’t, you’re missing out on one of the better singer songwriters the indie genre has to offer.

Chvrches:  The Bones of What You Believe  – This album is old news by now, but I haven’t actually gotten around to picking up the Chvrches newest release in 2015.  This is a very solid first showing from the electro pop outfit from Scotland.  The lead singer has a great ability to bring together the melodies of her synth counterparts and they put together an album that has big compositions throughout.  The reviews are saying that their most recent release is a of the same vein, at some point in 2016 I’ll get that too.  If you are into synth pop this is a must.  If you aren’t but are looking for a fun album, this will still work well.

Actual Count Down

10.  Will Butler:  Policy  – Easily confused with his older brother, Win, both of the Butler brothers are in the acclaimed indie band Arcade Fire.  One of the best bands of the last decade, Arcade Fire has mostly been recognized for Win.  It turns out that Will has a really good voice as well.  This is his first offering, hopefully he does many more.  The album is filled with sporadic bursts of energy and bluesy guitar rock, backed by fast paced drums and lots of distinction.  Policy is polished and impressive as a first effort, however it is more like an EP than a bona fide full length.  Still well worth the time.

9.  Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I just Sit The Aussie burst onto the scene last year with a split EP, which is also very good, and this year put out a proper full length.  Both works are quirky, funny and well written compositions.  Barnett can play fast and slow, with a rock rhyming similar to Dylan on Subterranean Homesick Blues or with a lilting disinterest that hooks you that’s all her own on Depreston.  Each song has it’s own character and will make you laugh or smile.  It’s a meandering write up that will make you think about how you view your life.  It’s really good.

8.   Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman:  Lice  – I’ve lauded Aesop’s ability enough around here, however I am new to Homeboy Sandman.  His flow is extremely different from that of Aes, but they work well together on this five song split work.  It’s only an EP, but moves fast and has good variation from song to song.  Many collaborations like this do not work due to stylistic incompatibility, but these two should definitely put out more work.  Great intro to either of these artists and better yet you can download for free here.

7.  Desaparacidos:  Payola —  This was an excellent album from a band no one expected to put out more music.  Their last album was released in 2002, which actually made my best of list at #3 of 2009.  This is a punk rock album, but any music that Conor Oberst works on seems to have more melodic sophistication than your typical punk band.  The guitars are great, the sing along choruses and verses are great, the ideology is based on similar themes to “Read Music / Speak Spanish” – which honestly isn’t a bad thing, but makes you question how long Gen X musicians can write albums like this.

Again this is well put together and I highly recommend it, but to a certain extent I expect the musicians to move on to other pursuits due to a reality where little changes.  I’m not advocating for it, but you saw it happen with lots of artists from the 60’s, they grew older and moved on.  You can argue the merits of that eventuality, I would, but it’s interesting to see a band like Desaparacidos avoid that moral gravitational pull in their writing and energy.

6.  The Mountain Goats:  Beat the ChampThere’s little left to say about John Darnielle.  He wrote a concept album about professional wrestling and it’s fantastic.  Heel Turn 2 may be my favorite song of the year.  Like other tMG offerings, there are some songs that don’t fit as well in the cadence of the album overall, but the ideas and variation make their work so much fun to listen through.  You’ll always find something different and likely learn something new about yourself in the process.



5.  Bob Dylan:  The Cutting Edge (Bootleg Series) There is already a longish post about this offering here.  It lives up to the hype.  If you are new to Dylan this is a phenomenal way to get down.

4.  Front Bottoms:  Back On Top  --  This is the best of the Front Bottoms’ three albums.  The guitars and vocals are tighter.  They even begin to add some back up vocals similar to how early Bright Eyes albums do and it’s a much richer sound.  This is an album looking back and forward simultaneously, giving thanks for the disinterested youth and finding the strength to look forward with self reliance.  Power pop punk rock at its best from a band you likely haven’t gotten into yet.  But you should.

3.  Beach House:  Depression Cherry — Back in a big way, Beach House blew everyone away this year with a fantastic album in Depression Cherry, followed up two months afterward with another very good full length Thank Your Lucky Stars.  This band is really amazing in that their sounds are so much different than most others, yet they continue to find new interesting ways to express themselves with instrumentation and gorgeous, lush arrangements.  Dream pop at it’s finest.

2.  Bob Dylan and The Band:  Basement Tapes Raw (Bootleg Series) —  I was certain that this was album of the year in January.  I listened to it nonstop and continue to listen to it today.  These songs are absolutely timeless classics, and sound so much better than the original releases do.  Thirty eight tracks of Dylan and the Band riffing on country, blues, folk and anything else that sounded like fun at the time.  They sound like they are having fun and have been doing it for decades.  Nothing is important, nothing means anything except the music — which doesn’t take anything seriously either.  Opening the first album with near gibberish and ending on the same note, they make it a point to show that music doesn’t have to be serious.  The second album is similar, but they end with one of the best songs ever written, I Shall Be Released — gorgeous and painstakingly important.  Like Marley’s Rastaman Chant, the song points out how life is only a journey that comes to an end.  The beginning of the album is focused on enjoying it.

1.  Alvvays:  Alvvays —  It’s hard to believe it, but Alvvays dethroned Bob & the Band by consistently getting rotations.  This is another female fronted alt rock offering.  It’s a pretty short album that is filled with high energy, interesting tunes.  Tough to put a finger on why it’s so good overall, but the songs just flow together and the album is easy to listen to at any time.  There are some pieces of music that win out due to their continuity, this is one of them.  It’s a fantastic album and I can’t wait to hear what they do next.

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