Category Archives: Work


What My High School Art Teacher Taught Me About Business

Unlike every other class in high school, I remember art class being completely self-directed. Yes, in English I could choose which book I wrote a 3-page report on and in History I could choose whether or not I paid attention at all, but it was art where I felt I could wholly and completely pursue my interests. The medium, subject matter, and technique were all up to me. With one caveat – I had to write a proposal and Mrs. Topdahl needed to approve it.

The proposal had to include a brief description of the project, a timeline, and 3 goals and their corresponding measures of success. These were the metrics determining my grade. The goals were frequently things I continually struggled with: improved use of color, improved craftsmanship, more accurate depictions of human figures. As a teenager, I’m sure I wrote in some softballs from time to time. Mrs. Topdahl knew if I wasn’t challenging myself, reject the proposal, and send me back to re-write it. I remember spending entire class periods working on proposals. Once the proposal was approved, I’d get to work acquiring materials and scheduling milestones. We’d have check-ins throughout the defined timeline to discuss project status, which aspects of the project were working and which I needed help with. But mostly, from acquiring project materials through to final presentation, I’d work autonomously towards the defined goals.

While the proposals defined what a successful end state looked like, they never defined exactly how to arrive there. There was still plenty of room to explore the heart of the project and discover something both delightfully significant and significantly delightful. This is still art after all. Not every project was a resounding success. Some were complete messes.

Either way, by the next class period, I was drafting another proposal.

That was nearly a quarter century ago.

Before I drafted the proposal for a design internship.

Before I earned a BFA.

Before I went out on my own.

Before I read anything by Alan Weiss.

Looking back on the hundreds of professional projects I’ve worked on, the successful ones have 3 things in common:

  1. The client and I partnered in outlining the project’s goals, agreed on the proposal, then I worked autonomously.
  2. Determining how to achieve the goals was up to my experience and expertise – not included in the proposal.
  3. They had nothing to do with my use of color or depictions of the human figure.

Thanks to my high school art teacher, Mrs. Topdahl, for teaching 16-year old me how to be an independent professional.

How I Learned to Get Up Before My Kids

Despite a bad habit of staying up until 2am most nights, I hadn’t used an alarm clock for at least 6 years. Likely a decade. When I was up that late actively working on a project (versus binge listening to music or watching Netflix), I’d joke my ‘second day’ was from 8pm – 2am. Yes, I’d be worthless until lunch, but at the time my clients were 2 timezones away. I continued to be a night owl when I became a father. Once the kids were asleep and the day was behind me, usually 10pm, I’d be inspired to start one project or another.

When my oldest was still a baby in the crib, sometime between 6:30 and 7am he would fill his diaper so loudly it’d wake his mother and me. I’d get up to change him. As he grew older, he’d just yell for me: “Papa, Papa, Papa, Papa, Papa, Papa…” until I picked him up. Once he could walk, he’d get himself out of bed, toddle down the hall into my bedroom, work his way to my side of the bed, shouting “Breafkast Time!” at my sleeping head. In case I didn’t immediately respond, his little sister was hanging in the shadows. Every morning. 7am.

I’ve always equated the sleep deprivation of having a newborn in the house like that of finals week in college. It’s intense but you know you’ll be able to sleep in a week. Or twelve. Sleep deprivation and older kids is different. You can’t cross off the days until they’ll sleep through the night. They are. You aren’t. There’s no relief in sight and it’s the worst version of you they see in the morning.

On one especially challenging morning I had an epiphany, “I’m a better dad when I’m up before the kids than if they wake me up.”

A deceptively simple goal.

To achieve this, my sleep deprived mind reasoned, I needed to get up 30 minutes earlier. To do that, I needed to sleep more deeply and more restfully. With a more restful sleep, I could wake up refreshed and ready to help the kids. I researched natural sleep aids and picked up a 3 month supply of melatonin. At about 11p each evening I’d take one tablet and about 30 minutes later I’d feel drowsy and head off to bed. Easy. This regimen worked great for a couple of months. I’d fall asleep when my head hit the pillow and wake up alert. As I reached the bottom of the pill bottle, I developed a tolerance. Ninety minutes after going to sleep, my eyes would shoot open and I’d be wide awake. Higher dosages just made it worse. Some nights, lying wide awake at the ceiling, I couldn’t remember if I had taken it at all.

In September 2011, I heard about the Zeo Sleep Coach from Jamie’s links blog. The Zeo is an alarm clock that monitors your sleep cycles and goes off at the most appropriate point ahead of your alarm. Along the way, it quantifies your night’s sleep in a single “ZQ” score.

You’ll need to wear the supplied headband for it to work. The instruction card in the box warns your spouse will mock the fact you need a headband to sleep.

As I accumulated more sleep data, I could easily hit a 76, 78, or 80 ZQ. The card says, this was slightly lower than others in my age group. Nothing else. No odd periods of wakefulness through the night, no irregular sleep cycles, nothing out of the ordinary. Just a slightly lower ZQ score and the expected mocking. I tried to game the ZQ score. On weekends I’d score the occasional 90. With a maximum of 10 points per hour it was tough to crack 100. But I did. Nine times. All time high of 117. Looking deeper into the data, I could see my sleep cycles were consistently 90 minutes long. Shifting my awake time 30 minutes earlier didn’t fall within that window. I reset Zeo’s alam clock accordingly. When it worked – it worked brilliantly. I’d get up with the alarm, start my day, and be dressed and fed before the kids demand I help them with the same.

The Zeo had a 2 significant downsides. The first – it considered your alarm time as the latest possible waking-point rather than the most appropriate waking-point in your sleep cycle. The second – and one I believe will be a significant controversy of the 21st Century – Zeo stored sleep data on an SD card encrypted. The recommended way of decrypting the data was to create an account at and upload the encrypted data file to their servers. Having my personal biological data captured and encrypted by a device in my household that only I was using with the default method for me to access that personal data was through a for-profit company’s servers – that’s completely unethical. Accessing my personal data on a device I purchased shouldn’t require a soldering iron. Especially when it’s a csv text file. Especially when the company in question quietly goes out of business and their domain reverts to a GoDaddy landing page.

Thankfully by this time, I had 18 months with the Zeo and had cracked the secret to getting a good night’s sleep. Once I accepted it and worked through a sleep debt, I could consistently wake up unaided before 6:30a.

Three years ago, if you would have told me this secret to getting a good night’s sleep without the aid of technology (electronic or pharmaceutical), I would have replied with a hearty scoff and a, “No, that can’t be it.”

It turns out the boost of inspiration I get every night at 10pm is my mind’s counterintuitive way of expressing drowsiness. Something like that boost of inspiration you might get as your mind wanders in the shower. Rather than simply take note of the inspiration, I’d immediately act on it. The blue light of the computer monitor would compounding my alertness. Before I knew it, it’d be 2am

Now, I don’t start anything new after 9:30 and aim for lights out by 10:30pm. This guarantees 5 90 minute sleep cycles before morning. The night owl in me still scoffs. I let him. The last score he got was a 58 (still displayed on the dust-collecting Zeo). He’ll never appreciate how enjoyable and productive mornings are.


Those hours before sunrise became a kind of sacred space to me, and I’ve used them over the years to do whatever work has been most important in my life. – Steve Leveen


Where’s Your Buyer Platform?

A few weeks ago, I met with a local small business owner. We first met back when we were both solo and have met for coffee every 6 months or so since. He now maintains an office downtown full of employees. Towards the end of our time together, he asked which social media services I was actively using.

“None. My buyers aren’t there.”

He concurred that none of his business came through those channels either and that he’s considering deleting all his accounts. What’s been holding him back?

The sense that his future employees are active on these social media services and that not being present will make future hiring more difficult. I reminded him of the business he’s growing, the family he enjoys, and that his employees should do his recruiting since they’re who this hypothetical new employee will be working with anyway.

So, yes, delete the accounts. Your future isn’t there anyway.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve built, released, and retired a number of my own products (Cullect, Kernest, typerighter, and some even smaller ones). The revenue from these projects keeps both my server bills and my knowledge of the latest tech current. They don’t pay the kids’ yogurt bill, the tax bill, the mortgage bill, or my retirement. These expenses are covered by my consulting and coaching engagements. These are engagements with:

  • corporate executives challenged with transforming a multi-channel organization into a digital-centric organization,
  • leaders of digital-centric organizations charged with increasing growth and revenue,
  • founders fighting to pull their startup out of the din of banality.

Most important of all – they all have families they love, kids they don’t spend enough time with, and hobbies they haven’t pursued in much too long. In short, their calendars are booked solid with challenge and fulfillment. These are not people outraged by the latest Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook drama (product-related or otherwise). These are people fighting to make their vision a reality. Every. Single. Day. Fighting to transform their organization’s products and culture. They’re not tweeting it.

So, how do you get in front of your buyers? That’s your job to find out. It’s not a new job. Nor is it one that can be solved by the hottest new technology. It’s solved by building relationships – not followers – atop a platform that’s unique to your remarkable business.


“These aren’t ‘business media platforms.’ Those, you create on your own, not with followers or friends, but with prospects and clients.” – Alan Weiss

Photo by Cult Gigolo

No Client Work Before Lunch

Patrick and I have been meeting for a Monday morning coffee for years now. It’s an excellent way to start the week. As good as it is, it still fell by the wayside when my new daughter was born. Once we reconvened, he asked me what I found valuable about our conversations.

Without thinking I replied, “How it reduces my available time.”

This is to say, the longer Patrick and I are discussing long term goals, world-changing projects, and how we’re striving to be better the less time I have available to get sucked into drama du jour/Twitter/Facebook/Hacker News. Priceless.

Six weeks ago, I came up with an experiment to see where this idea breaks.

  • Monday – Thursday: No client work before lunch.
  • Friday: No client work after lunch.
  • No client work on weekends.

I now have recurring appointments in my calendar for: strategic thinking, reading, writing, attending my favorite class at the local gym. Sure, even in these short 6 weeks the time for these things have been constrained due to, well, life; compiling documents for the accountant, meeting with prospective clients, attending the end-of-unit preschool party, taking the baby to the doctor, even some client work snuck in this week.

    The biggest benefit?

  1. With rules for when I do client work, I’m much more protective and focused on generating value for my clients during those hours.
  2. I always break for lunch

Even with my current 62.5% success rate [1], I’ve found myself focused and motivated at reaching project milestones within the scheduled time. Yes, I’ve had some late lunches on recent Fridays. I’m OK with that. This model is something like a really long reverse Pomodoro (focus on play for 3 hours then on work for 4 hours) though I prefer to think of it as the Oxygen Mask Principle (take care of yourself first, then you’ll be better able to take care of others).

1. My inbox zero success rate for this same time period is 75%. I believe they are directed related.

Why Are You

I’m writing this from the wonderful, artful park a couple miles north of my house. It’s close enough that I could – and really should – spend a little bit of everyday here. Yet, this is the first time in more than a year I headed up here alone to work.

In college I knew at some point I’d work for myself. Yet, at no point did I write down “Be my own boss” or “Work for myself” as a goal to work towards. It seems as inevitable as aging and “trim earhair” is not a Goal To Write Down. Yet, before I turned 30, I was president of a corporate entity, invoicing clients, depositing checks into a corporate account, and paying myself a regular salary, all from the spare room. Unfortunately, I didn’t really believe it. It all seemed just so flimsy and abstract. Of course, any day now someone will offer me a position at an actual, concrete entity. Any. Day. Now. Well, the mortgage is still due, so I’ll keep on keeping on.

When I first met my third child, I looked into the clear skies of his newborn eyes and I was met with a, “Are you serious? About working for yourself, I mean. Are you actually serious about making that – work?”


He was right to ask. One kid didn’t significantly impact my lack of work life balance. And while it was significantly more challenging – two kids didn’t provide cause to rethink things either. Three however. And to be perfectly honest – I wasn’t serious. I hadn’t been serious. I was walking backward. He didn’t blink though. He wanted an answer. I needed to decide, either be serious or get a damn job.

Fine, fine. Ok, I’m serious.

Off I went meeting with more clients, closing more business, booking more projects, promptly overwhelming my calendar and myself. So, despite the many strong recommendations against the idea, I hired employees. I needed to ensure they were doing that magic combination of; work they were good at, work the client asked for, and work I wanted to sell. All this added far more than 3 straws to my camel’s back. At its apex (or nadir), I was hunched over a laptop struggling with some tiny client project on a beautiful summer day while the rest of the family was laughing and swimming in the river. Yes, I had my best year ever. Yes, I regret not being in that river.

Since then, I’ve let all the employees go and continually revisited the question Augustus asked me when we first met. It took me a few years, but I think I finally understand his question. It wasn’t really about working for myself – it was about knowing why I was. Beyond “nobody’s hired me yet” I had never answered why I wanted to work for myself. Answering ‘why’ took less than 3 minutes:

  • to spend time with him, his siblings, and my wife throughout the banality of the day
  • to be in control of my work environment
  • to have low overhead so I can be selective and excited about the clients I engage
  • to provide my clients a value-rich, intimate, and unique engagement
  • to focus on long term leverage, not short term fixes
  • to continually provide opportunities for my own personal and professional development

Many times in the past decade I’ve failed to be serious in these 6 areas. I’ve failed to take advantage of these 6 benefits of working solo. I’ve too often been a horrible boss — to myself. No more. After spending the past 5 weeks focused on my family, getting my office just about where I want it — I’m enthusiastic about my current projects.

And I have a goal for the next decade — written down. A bunch of them in fact. One of them is work from the park more. StrengthFinder 2.0 says I do better with written down goals.

Things I Assumed I Needed to Start a Consulting Business

Days into starting my own business, I sat down at my newly acquired desk and wrote down a list of things. Things I assumed I needed to purchase immediately to be in business. While I lost the list at some point in the past decade, I remember three things about it; it totaled more than $10,000, was quite lengthy, and I have yet to purchase anything on it. While I don’t remember everything on the list, I do remember a handful:

4 Things I Assumed I Needed But Didn’t

  • An office outside my house
    For the first few years I was in business, I toured office spaces and frequently spent days not working in my home office – always assuming that I’d find a place more comfortable and productive. I mean, all artists have a studio, right? It took 3 moves and 7 years, now my home office is my most comfortable and productive place.
  • A Chair
    For the last 2 years, since converting my desk to a standing desk, Markus has been in the closet, loaded with baby clothes. After losing the desk chair I also lost chronic neck pain and extreme late afternoon fatigue.
  • Buying Software from Adobe
    I’ve never been a fan of any of Adobe’s software, but always assumed I’d have to purchase Creative Suite, if not just InDesign, or at least a library of fonts. Turns out – none of it. Between open source software and far less expensive software – I’ve never actually needed to purchase anything from Adobe. These days, not even Acrobat Reader is on my machines.
  • Business Cards
    When I started out, I had a friend-of-a-friend letterpress some gorgeous business cards. Then I ran out, got distracted, and realized that capturing the other person’s info and following up is a more efficient way to initiate a relationship. After that -contact info is in the phone and email logs.

While this first list is pretty useful, there’s also a second, perhaps a more important, list. This is the list I wish I had when I started out.

4 Things I Didn’t Know I Needed

  • A Regular Schedule
    I start my day sometime between 8:30-9am, and I conclude it sometime between 4:30-5pm. Monday through Friday. Each days’ activities are scheduled at least 3 days in advance in iCal. This provides just enough structure to switch into my work mindset.
  • To Get Outside for a Walk Everyday
    Even a short 15 minute walk is enough to get some fresh air, change the perspective, and return refreshed.
  • A Hobby or Two
    Think of it as cross-training your brain. Different activities exercise different aspects of your grey matter. Creative solutions come from mixing different concepts in a new way. Hobbies build up other skills and insights that will only serve your work. Plus, they provide a nice place to rebuild small success when burnt out looms.
  • A Giant Wall Calendar
    All my most important milestones are on the wall calendar right behind my desk. I review it at least twice a day, so much more accessible at a glance than anything electronic.
  • What The Princess Bride Can Teach Independent Consultants

    I’ve frequently joked that I take much of my approach to working as an independent consultant from The Princess Bride. Knowing all jokes are half true, Patrick Rhone asked me for the punch line.

    Here are six:

    1. “Let’s look on the bright side: we’re having an adventure, Fezzik, and most people live and die without being as lucky as we are.”

      Adventure. That’s exactly why we go independent. For some adventures you’ll need a team. Maybe not right away, perhaps down the road. Ad hoc is fine, in fact it’s preferred. Sometimes members of your team will start out as competitors. Keep your mind open to creating ad hoc teams as projects and adventures warrant.

    2. “Look! He’s right on top of us. I wonder if he is using the same wind we are using.”

      Independence removes much of the weight of other organizations allowing you to move much more quickly towards your goals, as well as identifying smaller, more unique opportunities that larger teams don’t see the significance in. It’s worth mentioning here that just because someone is traveling in the same direction you are doesn’t mean you have shared goals or intentions. It just means you’re traveling in the same direction.

    3. “Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”

      You’re exhausted and you feel like your projects are taking the life out of you. Stop and take care of yourself. If you’re not taking care of you – you can’t take care of your clients. Only you know what you need to perform at your best – and it likely starts with eating well, exercising at least every other day, and every night getting a full night’s sleep.

    4. “You just wiggled your finger. That’s wonderful!”

      Sometimes you feel mostly dead. In these times, celebrate the small victories. Remember, you’re working towards a larger goal. Progress towards a goal, no matter how minor – is still progress.

    5. “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says otherwise is obviously selling something!”

      Yes, selling. Dedicate time each week to gaining new business. As an independent, people are buying you – or more specifically – they’re buying access to you. In return you relieve some pain on their side. Identify their pain, how you can ease it, and your sales process will be much more straight forward. Thought, it still may take twice as long as you expect.

    6. “Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

      There’s no such thing as job security. Even in piracy, and honestly, your current salaried position isn’t nearly as glamorous as storybook piracy. Maybe, just maybe, you’re the one person your boss will have replace him when he retires. Far more likely: he’ll go down with the ship.

    3 Principles of Success for Independent Professionals

    Hi! I’ve heard about you for a few years now (originally from Richard Fink), and have enjoyed reading your blog posts. As a web designer who’s striking out on his own to learn programming and build his own business, do you have any advice? Cheers! – Josh

    For the past decade, I’ve been working for myself. Over that time, I’ve had good fortune and made significant missteps. The services I offer my clients today are purposefully and dramatically different from those I offered my first day in business. Across all those challenges – I’ve found 3 constants:

    1. Define what success is for you. Eliminate everything else.
      You can’t have someone else’s success. It’s theirs. It doesn’t fit you in the same way their clothes don’t fit you. The longer you chase after someone else’s success – the further you’ll drift from the success that is uniquely yours. And the longer you’ll be uncomfortable. The world obey’s Sturgeon’s Law. Your success lay somewhere within the remaining 10%. Each day, pursue something that matches your definition of success while eliminating something that doesn’t. This means saying ‘no’. You must do it deliberately. The world doesn’t believe you want to be successful. Stop proving it right.
    2. Force work to fit into your life. It’s the only way you’ll have one.
      In your preferred calendar, enter regular fixed appointments for exercise, steps toward personal life goals, time with loved ones, time away from technology. Always, always keep them. Work is insidious and will tempt you to blow them off. Don’t let the bastard. It’ll kill you. I’m serious – the Japanese even have a word for it – karōshi.
    3. Find a good accountant specializing in independent professionals. Treat them like a partner.
      Good accountants are worth every dollar you pay them. Ones that expertly handle both your personal and professional finances – doubly so. They will force you to be honest with yourself and your business. This honesty brings out who you really are – see #1.

    Success: Actual Size

    For the past 8 years, I’ve run my own company. A digital product consulting company. Across those 8 years, I’ve launched 3 products of my own that I’m very proud of – while doing interesting client work, that I’m also very proud of.

    I’ve also become a father of 3.

    As I write this, my third child is nearly a year old. Experience has told me – a newborn in the house is demanding enough – there’s no reason to purposefully add more. Whether that be the demands of launching a startup or anything else. It just makes everything that much more difficult and everyone that much more unhappy. I want more happiness – not less.

    Thankfully – I’m able to work in a way that I’m most productive. On projects I’m interested in and still be there when the 5 yr old finds his first toad in the backyard.

    This is why I live in Minnesota.

    “If you can build a six-figure lifestyle business, chances are you can build a million-dollar business, but only if you want to. How big you build the business is up to you because you’re calling all the shots, for better or worse.” – Corbett Barr

    “When you need thirty people to create a company, venture capital is important. When you need three, it isn’t….we’re three middle-aged fathers…we decided that we wanted to make enough money so that none of us had to change our standard of living.” – Dan Grigsby

    “I’ve been doing one kind of startup or another for pretty much my entire adult life, so being an entrepreneur is really the only way that I know how to live and that’s with or without kids.” – Jason Roberts

    The Runway Extends Beyond the Horizon

    Once or twice a semester, I’m invited to speak to a group of students at one of the many universities in this area. Sometimes I’m asked to talk about a project like Kernest, sometimes I’m asked about web design / information architecture / etc. Tonight, I was asked to talk about my business – not the work. A refreshing distinction.

    One of the most insightful questions asked by a student was: Why don’t I have more employees…why am I not focused on growing my business bigger and faster?

    It comes down to question of horizon and longevity.

    • Give another listen to my conversation with David Crossland about the OpenFontLibrary, he talks about the OpenFontLibrary being a 10 year project.
    • Wal-mart is nearly 50 years old. It was 25 years old when I first stepped into one. Same for Target and Best Buy. My top-of-the-head calculations, it takes 20 years to build a retail business of any lasting significance.
    • People smarter at urban planning than myself have described public transit as a ’100 year problem’.
    • The United States of America is only 234 years old.
    • The Japanese construction company Kongo Gumi Co., Ltd was liquidated in 2006 after 1,400 years in business.

    Based on my lineage, I can count on another 4 decades – and with even modest advances in quality of life technologies – 2 more decades on top of that. That’s a lot of time to build and grow something to improve lots of people lives and persists beyond my direct involvement.



    “Great achievements in knowledge are produced by older innovators today than they were a century ago.…This productivity drop is particularly acute if innovators raw ability is greatest when young.” – Age and Great Invention, Benjamin Jones [pdf]

    “Everything you know me for I’ve done since I was 50.” – Doc Searls

    “A point on the curve. I’m confident RSS wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t stuck with it. And I was 42 when I *started* work on RSS.” – Dave Winer

    “A company with $200K per year revenue with a single person and no plans to “exit” would be a failure in [YCombinator], but a huge success for a single founder like me.” – Amber Shah

    Stan Lee: 43
    Jack Kirby: 44
    Julia Child: 40

    Pro Chair-sitter and Whiteboard Drawer

    PREFACE: This post was sitting in my drafts since July, and it seemed to go nicely with the co-working post, so I hit publish.

    After we returned from a refreshing holiday weekend1 at the in-laws, Cooper asked why we came home.

    “Grandma, Grandpa, and Papa all have to go to work on Monday.”

    “Where is Grandma’s office?”, he replies.

    “Remember we drove past her office on the way to the petting zoo and car show?”

    “Why isn’t her office in her house?”

    I’ve worked at home since before the kids were born. I prefer it to an office outside of the home for a number of reasons. Primarily, I have greater control over my personal comfort (temperature, lighting, chair/desk/table heights) in my home office than I do elsewhere. Secondarily, considering how abstract my work is, having a home office makes me feel like the kids have some notion of what I do2 (even if that notion is limited to ‘drawing on whiteboards’).

    Related: Merlin Mann’s The Richard Scarry Book of the Future [mp3]

    1. Including a late evening pontoon ride, a chilly swim in the Wisconsin River, and a fantastic dinner at the recently opened Red Eye Brewery. I highly recommend all three.

    2. My dad’s work took him away from the house for the entire work week – I know my a good portion of my attitudes about work are a direct response to that.

    Twin Cities Co-Working Conversation Re-Ignited

    UPDATE 27 May 2009
    New url for this effort:

    Earlier this week, I had a fairly thorough conversation with a St. Paul-based serial entrepreneur exploring starting a co-working business.

    I’ve been writing about the “co-working” / “work club” concept off and on for a while now (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Bonus) and there hasn’t been any blips on my radar for more than a year. So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him.

    The notion of having access a low-cost office-y space with some of the amenities of ‘bigger’ offices is attractive. Unfortunately – like flying cars and carbon trading markets – there are a number of reasons why it hasn’t caught on. Some of those reasons are obvious (Herman Miller decor) others are less so (How is it different than Kopplin’s?).

    In one of my earlier posts, I talked about these third places as transitional places.

    “The third workplace is inherently a transitional place – a place to go until. Until the home office is renovated. Until the go-to-the-office habit is kicked.”

    I predict 2009 and 2010 will be banner years for small business starts and a transitional space is exactly what these new entrepreneurs need.

    If you’ve got interest in or experience with a temporary, shared office space, leave a comment or drop me a line.

    What Have You Deployed Today?

    Some of you have been around web design long enough to remember the 4Ds (Discover, Plan, Design/Develop, and Deploy) that were so popular in agency marketing materials in the late 90s.

    At the time, I once asked my CEO about them (he wrote the marketing copy)

    “Well, we don’t do them on all the projects. Clients actually only care about the last one.”


    So, the rest are for showing how unfamiliar with the client’s domain we are?

    A while back, Jason Fried recounted those days:

    “In 3 weeks we managed to tell them exactly what they already knew while also burning through 15% of the budget.”


    He continues in the comments

    “…you don’t really know if something is right until you do the real thing.” – Jason Fried

    On my internal projects (the ones that lead to interesting clients), here’s my process

    1. Sketch out the primary screen on a 3×5 notecard.
    2. Draw out the database schema (I understand more about an app via its DB schema than a wireframe or UI).
    3. Build the smallest functioning app possible.
    4. Deploy. Public or not, deploying makes it real.
    5. Build the app better.
    6. Repeat 4-5 indefinitely.

    Eating your own dog food

    “We starting doing release cycles that were only a few hours apart, re-releasing every time we fixed a significant problem. ” – Andy Hertzfeld on making the original Macintosh OS.

    “So. We all know we should ship early, ship often. That small, achievable goals are the best. That having something useful and publishable within a day or two or three trumps planning everything perfectly to the nth degree.” – Amy Hoy

    Garrick Last Minute Addition to IDSAmn's 'Design Your Career' Event

    This Thursday night, Dec 4th, I’ll be giving a brief talk on using online communities & publications – weblogs, Twitter, etc – to position yourself professionally.

    Word is, I’ll be on after the panel and before the beer.

    Wait, that can’t be right.

    More info here: IDSAmn’s Design Your Career IDSAmn + PDMA Co-Panel Event

    Update: Dec 4.
    Well, that didn’t work out. My apologies to all.

    The Future of Hiring

    “I want to see evidence of video and audio skills. I want to see evidence of familiarity with CSS, RSS, HTML and every other acronym of new media. I want people who live online, consume content on mobile devices, use social-bookmarking tools and participate in Web communities. I want people who don’t think they need some gray-haired, middle-aged man like me to give them permission to create — I want bloggers and page designers and database builders who have made things even when they weren’t getting paid.” – Paul Conley

    Blurring Identity to Clear It Up

    “What if there was an agreed upon microformat…that would telegraph to others our capabilities, experience, strengths, knowledge and, especially, our availability to be hired?” – Steve Borsch

    Must be something in the warm Janurary in MN air. A lunch earlier this week – unfortunately without Steve (need to remedy that) – was all about the need and value in increasing the visibility of expertise, availability, and reputation.

    In a very primitive, rudimentary, and analog form – the barometer Steve asks about already exists; participation in peer communities like forums, professional organizations, and generally impressing people with how hard your rock – are all reputation builders and indicators. Primitive, because it’s still pretty hard to find people that can vouch for you. Google, LinkedIn, eBay, and the comments on your own blog, are all ways to others gauge your status.

    For better or worse – all the measurement systems listed thus far are isolated and non-portable (pointing your eBay rating at a potential consulting client means little). Maybe I should dust off my Identity XML thinking. Managing access to a bunch of Identity.xml files sounds far more useful than YAIS (Yet Another Identity Silo).

    Many of the attributes Steve lists in his question above are most accurately declared by others – verses self. The world…er…marketplace…creates my identity as much as I do.

    So, Steve, I’ll declare what I know of you, if you declare what you know of me. :)

    Re-reading this, I think RSS is the microformat in question.


    “It took a few years, but it’s great to see software actually being built around the identities that aren’t vendor controlled.” – Dave Winer

    I need to poke around MyOpenID.

    Two Thoughts on Cooperation

    The first two posts I read in the news reader this morning were on cooperation. Both with the same “conflict is generally unnecessary” point. I thought you’d enjoy.

    “…cooperation is the norm, it’s conflict that needs to be explained.”
    - Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution

    “…everyone in the organization that wants customers on a regular basis needs to take a breath and realize that we’re always on the same side. The challenge (and the benefit) is in acting that way.”
    - Seth Godin

    An Emotion Connection Tells Us What Matters

    In Newsweek’s cover story “Reading Your Baby’s Mind” on baby’s brain development, new research is profiled into the “babies learn foreign languages easily” phenomenon. The research states, a baby can easily learn a second language easily only if the secondary language is spoken by someone the baby has an emotional connection with.

    “…without the emotional connection, the babies considered the tape recording just another background noise, like a vacuum cleaner.”

    That’s right, language tapes in the background are just that.

    This isn’t something we outgrow.

    The New York Times article Team-Building With a Twist details the pains companies are going through to connect their employees on an emotional level.

    As with babies and foreign languages, it only clicks if the parental figure finds it valuable enough to join in:

    “Without a doubt, we’ve been able to map our chapters’ development based on whether or not the chapter president went through this experience.”

    Consumer Software is the New Enterprise Software

    Recently, a colleague asked for a recommendation on an enterprise asset management system.

    Frankly, I’ve only had bad experiences with enterprise level software. My major complaints have been;

    • Too hard to use
    • Too expensive
    • Doesn’t map to existing business culture and processes

    I ask what this system will be used for; sharing digital photos remotely.

    There’s a requirement to annotate the photos for easy searching, there’s a requirement to alert other team members when new photos have been uploaded. The photos won’t be at high quality – they just need to be higher resolution than a black and white fax.

    First, how many photo sharing sites are there? a dozen?, including shutterfly, ofoto, smugmug, and snapfish, picasa and open source projects like Gallery. Not to mention sharing is built into Apple’s iPhoto. As a happy customer, my first instinct was to recommend Flickr.

    Needless to say, this problem has been solved for Joe Everyman. If we consider thousands of disparate registered customers one big enterprise, these apps have proven to be stable, reliable, on a multitude of platforms. Flickr’s pro account is $25 per year. For 10 team members, that’s only $250/year. I don’t know of a more reliable, easier to use client-server enterprise application that costs less than $250/year. Seems like a small price to pay for an application that’s continually being updated and provides the same volume of capabilities.

    Let’s not even look at photo sharing, in the text publishing side there’s TypePad, on the project management side there’s Basecamp, in the email list management side, there’s Campaign Monitor (happy customer).

    None of these services were build with The Enterprise as an explicit target. They were built to make a task easier for everyone. As such, there’s a better than even chance someone in your enterprise is familiar with these or similar tools. The benefit to an enterprise is clear, employees already know how to use them.

    And they don’t cost an employee’s annual salary.

    Greater Productivity By Turning Things Off

    A couple weeks ago, I was having a tough time focusing. The culprit turned out to be a little red dot in my NetNewWire dock icon – the unread post count. I’ve unchecked that count in the preferences and my ability to focus has increased (Manton Reece did the same).

    First, biologically, our peripheral vision is more sensitive than our direct vision. Second, our eyes are highly sensitive to the color red. Needless to say, tiny red dots arbitrarily showing up in the corner of computer screens are highly distracting.

    Next step, find a way to turn off Apple Mail’s unread count.

    An Unexpected Yak Shaving

    One of the bathtub faucets has leaked for a couple weeks. Monday, I could no longer ignore it. That same day, Seth Godin introduced me to Yak Shaving.

    yak shaving: Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you’re working on.

    Tuesday, I headed to Home Depot for a replacement faucet stem seat.

    According to the helpful Home Depot associate, great strides in faucet technology have been made in the 50 years since my bathroom’s was built (the faucet’s obsolete). He recommended I find a Plumbing Supply Specialty Store for the parts or pick up a new faucet. I opted for the new faucet.

    Today, the Yak is clean shaven, er, the leak is gone.

    Follow along if you will:

      Day 1:

    1. On Home Depot Trip #2 Jen and I pick up a new faucet.
    2. The old faucet framework wasn’t persuaded by the monkey wrench. It was however persuaded by Mr. Pipe Cutter. Unfortunately, Mr. Pipe Cutter left bare copper tubing rather than the more useful copper tubing + threading.
    3. Home Depot Trip #3 brought compression connectors adding threading to the bare copper tubes.
    4. With the faucet framework attached, it is obvious the old holes aren’t big enough for the new stems and the hole for the tub faucet is about an inch lower than the pipes will reach.
      Day 2:

    1. On Home Depot Trip #4 grab a 1 3/4″ hole cutter for the newer, bigger holes. (Where’d I put the power drill’s chuck wrench?) and a couple of pipes to reach the faucet hole.
    2. With the new holes drilled and faucet installed, I notice the faucet stem lengths don’t accommodate the wall between the plumbing and tub.
    3. Here I ponder tearing out and replacing entire the tub, surround, and wall. Instead…
    4. Mr. Hacksaw and I cut two copper tubing-size channels out of an offending 1×4, proving just enough space to connect the handles.
    5. Handles installed. Faucet installed. Leak ended. Mostly

    Update 19 Mar 2005
    My dad came by today and looked at the repair. Looks like I got it mostly right. Just needed to be more liberal with the teflon tape. Thanks dad.

    Walking into this, I had no intention of shaving a yak. Nor did I anticipate replacing a small bit of formed metal would take 2 days. On the outset, I expected 2 hours, max. That reminds me, here’s a special bonus thought of the day from David J. Anderson: Stop Estimating.

    Something takes as long as it takes. ETA isn’t known until you’re deep into understanding the problem you’re solving (i.e. doing it). In physics, there’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle principle: you can know a particle’s velocity or its precise location. Not both.
    Let’s say ‘velocity’ is ‘doing’ and ‘location’ is ‘planning’. So, to rephrase; You can do or plan. Only doing will give you an ETA.

    Overtime Hurts the Everyone

    Late last week, a client and I were discussing a struggling project. The client mentioned his project team regularly works nights and weekends to meet the deadlines he had scheduled. I was stunned. This was months into a years longs project.

      There are 3 things fatally wrong with this management strategy:

    1. It devalues both the worker and the work.
      If the work doesn’t need alert, well-rested, and focused people – a machine should be doing it. Conversely, if the people don’t need to be alert, well-rested, and focused to accomplish the work – they’re on the wrong assignment.
    2. It hides the need for additional people and better tools.
      Regularly working overtime means there’s demand for more people and the company would rather exploit their existing staff than fill the demand. Productivity actually decreases throughout the day and after long enough, turns negative. This work-longer mentality keeps helpful people unemployed while others are overworked – both cases destroy health and families.
    3. It hides the need for realistic project scheduling.
      We all may be able to work faster, 9 women can’t have a baby in a month. Things take as long as they take, regularly working overtime hides this fact. Putting lower-quality time (overtime) into project introduces more defects, actually prolonging the project.

    For other arguments against overtime, crunch time, and aggressive planning, I recommend:

    The Creative Grotto Vibe

    This morning Jen brought up the Temporary Office Space idea again. It’s something she’s brought up before. As a highly-mobile professional, the idea is very compelling. To have comfortable, secure place to send faxes grab a decent cup of coffee, and recharge off a good vibe for an hour or two, I think you can see how tempting it is.

    This is why I’m tracking the next iteration of the Gate 3 Work Club.

    On a smaller scale, I scanned the blogroll (opml) this morning, Brand Autopsy has a nice write-up on Po Bronson’s Writer’s Grotto.

    If you’re interesting in this idea and closer to the Twin Cities, check out the Renaissance Box’s Writer’s Refuge.

    Here’s a quick list of what I want from my work space (temporary or otherwise):

    • Wireless Internet
    • Chairs and tables fitting people over 6′ tall
    • Really good coffee
    • 2 reservable conference rooms; 1 for 2-4 people, 1 for 4-8 people
    • An open lofted, studio area where everyone can work quietly, and be aware of others working quietly
    • Postal substation
    • High speed, color copier

    More as it comes to me.

    Gate 3 Work Club Closes

    Five months ago, I was excited to see the opening of the Gate 3 Work Club in Emeryville, CA.

    I completely believe in the principles;

    • people like to work from home – just not all the time
    • people like to work around others

    I was skeptical that Herman Miller furnishings were necessary, and thought IKEA would be fine.

    Well looks like February will be their last month open…due to funding issues.

    I wish Neil Goldberg the best in the next iteration of the Work Club concept.