“Draw with me”

“Here, you can color here, Uncle Dan.”

Torn sheet of paper
Torn sheet of paper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She flipped open her sketch book, which looked exactly like a book you would expect a four and a half year old to own. It was ripped in places, bent, crinkled, and completely covered with random splashes of color.

“Here, use this black pen to make the outline. What are you going to draw?”

She had already started creating, a long skinny creature with a beak.

“It’s a duck princess leaving the castle,” she proudly announced. Of course.

My page was still blank. I was stuck. I had absolutely no idea what to put there. Totally empty. I certainly could remember a time where I had the picture in my head, and the excitement of helping it come to life, but here I was with a pen and a blank sheet of paper, and absolutely zero idea on what to put there. I’ll admit there was a part of me that even thought about giving up, just leaving it, and going with a safe scribble of a rainbow. But why? Why was I stuck? There are no rules, there is no judging..from her. I realized there was a filter in me, that was judging, and was slowing me down. Seriously?

Based on this post from James Altucher (one of my favorite blogs), I’ve been taking time, even if just 10 minutes, to have a wide open, anything goes, ideas brainstorming session each day. I’ve been at it for about a week, and I must say it has been far more difficult than I thought. I very much had the same feeling as I did with my niece, staring at a blank piece of paper and no idea where to start. The filter, the judge, was even more active there. But also, quite honestly, I think my “creative” muscle is a bit weak. It’s like I’m trying to do crunches again for the first time in years. The first few weeks are always the hardest, and also the time you most likely want to throw in the towel. I have considered it several times…but have stuck with the practice so far. I’m honestly a bit surprised that this muscle is weak. I would have thought all the work I’ve done over the years, certainly would have kept me sharp. I must admit, it’s weak. But it’s getting stronger. It takes time and practice.

Ultimately, I just dove in. She had a duck princess, and I had to deliver something. A frog came to mind, so I drew it. It came out deformed with a confused arrangement of legs and arms. I found myself saying out loud “whoa, that’s bad,” but kept at it. After a few minutes, she looked up from the Duck princess and said:

“Wow, Uncle Dan, that’s a great Frog!” Ha…she was right, what a great teacher.

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Sitting in the car…

It was 4:50pm on a Monday, and here I was again, sitting in the car.  My mind was going

A clock made in Revolutionary France, showing ...
A clock made in Revolutionary France, showing the 10-hour metric clock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

through all the reasons why I should, why I could, get out of the car.  “I’m hungry.”  “I’m tired.”  “Did you send that email?”  ” Did you make that phone call?”  “You know what?  This isn’t a good week, let’s go next week instead.”  Unfortunately that last one had worked the week before, and the week before, and the week before that.  It pretty much always won.  It’s amazing what the mind can do to save you from something you fear, and the longer you push it back the heavier, and the scarier, it seems.  So what was this great terrifying event that took place every Monday at 5pm?  Improv classes.  Boo!

I had tried Toastmasters and quite frankly found it (at least the chapter closest to my house) extremely boring.  So I convinced myself there was another way, a more fun and challenging option to work on the same skills, improv comedy classes.  So I searched around and found a weekly class about 5 minutes drive from my house in downtown Columbus (this was years ago of course).  It was cheap, and open, and sounded like a lot of fun.  So I decided, “ok I’ll go next monday and see what it’s all about.”  Instead I ended up sitting in my car at 4:50pm.
What an interesting situation I had put myself in.  On one side of me there was this drive to challenge myself, to grow, and a firm belief that the best way to grow was to stretch, and the best way to stretch was to go into uncomfortable situations.  On the other side of me was one that knew all of that, but didn’t care.  It wanted to stay home.  But it wasn’t quite convincing enough to just stay home, so I almost always got to the car.  I even once started driving, only to detour at the first opportunity.  Why was it so hard to get over the hump?  I didn’t have to do this, I wanted to do it.  In fact I was excited about it all week, everyday except Monday at 4:50pm.  So what happened?
One day I bit the bullet.  I don’t know how, or what I did differently quite honestly.  I think it was actually about less thinking, than more.  I didn’t allow myself the option of discussion, or the time for the other half to talk me out of it.  I simply hopped in the car and went.  There were a few small hurdles thrown in my way, couldn’t find a parking spot, couldn’t find the “theater,” but I kept going.  The other half was pretty quiet…and I’m so glad it was.  I had a blast, and the classes were certainly everything I had hoped and expected.  I learned quite a bit too.  In fact I’m planning on taking some classes here in NYC.

But it’s hard to ignore that the real stretching,  did not take place in those classes, it took place every Monday in the car at 4:50pm.  There’s still many moments in my life I find myself sitting there, looking at the clock, and telling myself why I don’t have to do this now.  Why I can do it tomorrow, or next week, or next year.  I think the more convincing the other half is, the one that says “do it tomorrow,” the more likely I should go.  Hop in the car and go.

(inspired by a conversation with Jerry last week)

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The Naive Optimist, We work a 4-day week and just raised $4.75m

We work a 4-day week (M-Th, 9-6) because we think that information work isn’t like manufacturing. Another hour at the MacBook won’t yield another $1,000 in profit. We believe that smart folks can get five days of work done in four days. Simple as that.

There are so many benefits to working less it’s hard to list them all, but here are the major ones:

  1. Recruiting is easy (we still pay full salaries and offer a very generous benefits package).
  2. Retention is easier. One of Team told me he regularly gets emails from Facebook trying to win him over and his answer is always the same: “Do you work a 4-day week yet?”
  3. Morale is boosted. On Mondays everyone is fresh and excited – not jaded from working over the weekend.
  4. I get to spend 50% more time with my kids then almost all other dads (three days versus two). Fifty percent. It’s insane. For those on the Team without kids, they get to spend this extra 50% on their hobbies or loved ones. (Hat tip to its_so_on for correcting my math and making it even more awesome :D)

I love reading stories like this. I can only imagine how terrifying and difficult it would be to setup a company with rules and a culture like this. It’s so against the grain, so unbelievable that I’m sure any dip in business, any down period, results in internal and external questioning of the policies.

I love that it is challenging the real common strategy to dealing with the startup anxieties: the grind. Both myself, and others I’ve worked with in startups all have at one point “taken on” moments of anxiety by throwing more time at it, or trying to grind through it. Looking back, this is incredibly ineffective. When you deal with your anxieties by trying to work harder, you end up with poor work and being completely spent. I wonder if by taking away time (a day in the week) you take away that strategy, and force people to deal with the anxiety and pressures differently.

And I can only imagine what having a culture like this does for recruiting and employee retention…everyone wants to work there, and no one wants to leave. A powerful combination.

Inspiration and Chai

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

Amazing post made by a Palliative care nurse, looking at the greatest regrets people had when dying. I have to say that I’m not all that surprised by what shows up on the list, yet there’s a great deal of power to the list. It begs an evaluation of where you are, and how you’re spending your time.

I have some regrets about not having a conversation like this with my mom in her final weeks. I was so set on having positive thoughts, in hoping for a fix, or even just more time that I really didn’t want to have a conversation about life, death, lessons and regrets.

Island at the center of the world

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America [Paperback]

I’m in the middle of reading this book, The Island at the Center of the World, which is a detailed look at the Dutch colonization of New Amsterdam (essentially present day NYC, and up the Hudson river valley). I must say I’m really amazed at how much of the “American spirit,” was evident even in those first waves of Dutch explorers. They were very tolerant of a mixing of cultures, religion, and had a strong belief in an upwardly mobile society. But As a history nerd who thoroughly enjoys reading accounts of the true paradise that was Manhattan, I already love this book. There detailed accounts of the bounty of the forests, the abundance of nut trees, schools of salmon and tuna welcoming Hudson, and the fields and fields of wild strawberries scattered around what is now Time square. As I sit and look out on to the “concrete jungle,” it’s truly hard to imagine what this place would have been like, but it does sound wonderful.

This morning as I walked I had a thought: It would be really cool to have those first waves of Dutch settlers here now to see what has become of the once wild island. My first assumption was that they would be in awe, and also very excited. But then I had to wonder..maybe not? Maybe they would have been horrified about the dense forests being replaced by streets. (don’t get me wrong, I’m very lucky to have been born when I was born, and to live in the city I live in).

“Success comes quickly…”

Magnifying-glass-007

I was having breakfast this morning with a friend and experienced entrepreneur who recently sold his company.  He told me one of the big lessons he’s taking from his most recent experience is that success comes relatively quickly.  At first this sounds at odds with my recent quoting of this post from Chris Dixon which talks about the myth of the overnight success, but I think it actually supports it.  

My friend has learned that once you find something that clicks, it will take off relatively quickly.  He described it as adjusting a magnifying glass in the sun.  You often have to try the magnifying glass from many angles to find the right one, but when you do find that spot, it’s incredibly powerful.  This perspective clicked for me.  He’s basically saying you shouldn’t be spending your time trying to force something to work, but instead spend your time working on focusing the mangifying glass.  That is to say, set some feedback loop system and schedule, define the “sun in focus” moment, and go to work making adjustments into you’re in focus.  When you’ve got the feedback to know that angle is not working, you go to another, and another.  Don’t ever assume one angle is the right one, the one you must make work.  There’s another way, and it may be a tweak away from what you’re doing.  It may take many attempts, it may take a long time, but when it clicks it will really click…and with that “success comes quickly.”