Situational Awareness

One of the first things I remember learning from my father is that you don’t stop in the middle of the trail. If you need to stop to drink some water or tie your shoes, step aside so that people coming along behind you aren’t forced to stop along with you. 

This was a basic lesson in situational awareness and respect for others. In adult life I am always surprised when I see someone thinking far enough ahead to accomplish these simple acts of respect. Surprised that is, albeit pleasantly, because it’s so damn rare. In the States we’ve become resigned to the fact that everyone drives in the left lane, seemingly without a thought to the long-lost rule of “keep right except to pass”. In markets and trains and on trails and sidewalks I constantly encounter others simply standing in the middle of the way – and not always because they are staring into their smartphones. Just now I was moving down the aisle of a train with my rolling bag in tow and a woman leaning out into the aisle several rows up saw me approach, looked me in the eye even, and then turned her back to me and continued with whatever she was doing. Now, I’m sure she had something important to do, but when I reached her a few seconds later I had to stop, ask her to move out of the way, which of course caused us both some minor frustration, and then continue on my way. With a little bit of situational awareness she could have simply tucked herself into the row for a second as I passed, which would have given us both the satisfaction of a job well done (on her hand) and being noticed and cared for (on mine).

“Way” means road (check?). It’s impossible for me to imagine really, how one’s brain could operate in a manner so disconnected from others, from one’s surroundings. It’s also one of the basic building blocks of civilization – that is, giving a shit about someone other than yourself. This is part of what makes life better, and in many ways we’ve lost it.

Nothing’s Shocking

Jane's Addiction: Nothing's Shocking
Jane’s Addiction: Nothing’s Shocking

Why waste time being shocked? Fear comes from unfamiliarity. We may choose to reject certain actions of others, but we should not be surprised at the extent of human action.

Anything that has been imagined has been done, and everything that will be imagined will be done. It is impossible to stop the march of progress. We should devote our energy not to dismay but to civilization, the project of bending progress to good. 

As Above, So Below

Occult Classic
Occult Classic

This ancient phrase – a real occult classic – is attributed to the “Emerald Tablet“, a bit of lost (or invented) arcana that was of great interest to an eclectic series of early alchemists, philosophers and scientists including Aleister Crowley and Issac Newton, who produced the canonical English translation. AASB succinctly encapsulates the idea that “man is the counterpart of God on earth; as God is man’s counterpart in heaven” – and since God and man are one and of each other’s invention, then so are the real and the imagined.

To me this phrase is a more elegant way of saying “everything is connected” (Barry Commoner), and a reminder that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Arthur C. Clarke).

Listen closely to the ether of which we are made.

Don’t Keep Money In The House

I was in Poland not long ago on a bit of a wild goose chase and as I was preparing to return home, I went looking for a book to read on the plane. I found an English bookstore and the book that fell into my hands was Nicolai Lilin’s brilliant Siberian Education, his memoir about growing up in Siberia’s “criminal underworld”. (The book has attracted more than its fair share of controversy; it is written in the voice of autobiographical memoir and was promoted as such, but the author has since made it clear that it’s ‘literature based on old memories‘).

The book is full of maxims, and one of my favorites is “don’t keep money in the house”. Money is an invention of government, and only used by non-criminals and cops – useful but dirty, and not worthy of welcome in the home. To me this expresses beautifully that home should be a place of refuge from the business of everyday life, and that we should be attentive to what we choose to bring into our homes, into our hearts.

Athletes are Artists

Most of us would say that art and sports don’t have much to do with each other – but I don’t think that’s true. While our intellectual self lives in the mind, our intuition lives in the body. This embodied self is the seat of creativity – and therefore of art.

On the surface, we tend to think of athletes as physical and not particularly creative, but stretching our physical abilities and challenging our bodies is a well-traveled path to creativity, and many athletes are also artists.

Renan Ozturk is known mostly as a climbing photographer and cinematographer and professional climber, but he describes himself as a “landscape artist at heart”, and his paintings provide a unique window into the eye of a mountaineer.

Mount Whitney Cicre by Renan Ozturk
Renan Ozturk: Mount Whitney Cicre

Baron Batch pursued a career in professional football before realizing that he was The Artist:

Feel my Truth by Baron Batch
Baron Batch: Feel My Truth

Gregory Porter is a hugely successful jazz musician who pursued an early career in football before finding his calling in music.

Gregory Porter: Take Me To The Alley
Gregory Porter: Take Me To The Alley

Jered Gruber is a cyclist and photographer whose images capture perfectly the free spirit of the modern cyclist:

While riding with @igortavella on the steep little farm roads that wind their way along the flanks of the Dolomites, I wondered if it would be possible to do 5000 meters (or more) of climbing on all the little roads in less than 100k. Igor laughed – of course! In that moment, an idea hit. We should do a ride later this year: invite anyone who wants to join us to get a big flavor of Igor's backyard, his secrets – paved and dirt – but all doable on a road bike, so long as the rider is ok with gradients that are always north of 10% and isn't scared of some dirt roads and a bit of amazing singletrack (meaning this won't be everyone's cup of hot chocolate). It will be on a Saturday or Sunday or both – everything will of course be based out of the Tavella hotel: the @UstariaPosta in Badia. We are thinking early to middle September. It will be the #YOLOMITES 5000 brought to you by @holimites and Igor. If the rider has had their fill at any point, they can cut it short whenever they want – we will never be more than 20k from the start at the Ustaria Posta. #yolomites5000 #conquereveryroad

A post shared by Jered Gruber (@jeredgruber) on

Riikka Hyvönen is a roller derby skater and artist. Her unique  painted and upholstered sculptures put us directly in touch with the bruises that derby girls collect:

I Got a Really Beautiful Bruise on My Bum, Do You Want To See a Pic It Has 12 Colours And Is the Size of My Head! by Riikka Hyvönen
I Got a Really Beautiful Bruise on My Bum, Do You Want To See a Pic It Has 12 Colours And Is the Size of My Head! by Riikka Hyvönen

Gou Miyagi is an incredibly innovative skateboarder who is developing new and unique ways of using his body and his board to create movement and imagery:

Upgrade everything

This is not a plea, or permission, for indulgence. While I do enjoy a bit of deluxe now and then, simple things usually do just fine. It’s better to have fewer things, especially since you pay rent on everything you own.

I’m talking about a different kind of upgrade. If something is not running smoothly in your life or your business, it’s time to fix it. The great thing is, you’re not just fixing something, you’re getting an upgrade!

This maxim came to me as I was working to make my business more profitable and ultimately set it up to be attractive to a potential buyer. I was frustrated by many things in those days: accounting, payroll, taxes, insurance, cash flow, the web site, managing offices and staff overseas – the list goes on. I would feel myself spinning in circles as I thought of all the things that needed taking care of, and often I couldn’t bring myself to deal with any of them because the whole situation was such a mess. I was discouraged and disoriented.

Then one day my bookkeeper quit. At first I thought: great, now I have to go out and find another bookkeeper, and it’s not easy finding someone who will work cheaply for a small business. It’s not glamorous work, and I wanted to pay as little as possible.

But then a proverbial lightbulb went off: this wasn’t a problem, it was an opportunity. I had the opportunity to find a real bookkeeper, someone who would provide better service, produce better financial reports, and make my business more professional. And that was exactly what I needed! The next day I called three firms, chose one, and never looked back on that decision. My bookkeeping went from being a headache to a smoothly-running system, and I was able to turn my attention to the next squeaky wheel – and the next upgrade!

Continue reading “Upgrade everything”

Words are Magic

Turn left three times
Don’t keep money in the house
Upgrade everything
As above, so below
Nothing’s shocking
Enjoy your holiday
Always Ready

Language is magic. We encode wisdom, invent worlds, share our dreams and weave spells with language. Need help finding the right words to capture an idea or a feeling? I love explaining, translating, editing, naming, phrasing and wordsmithing. Read on for more on language, and then get in touch if you’d like to find your magic words!

Software

I’ve learned about computers from my dad. He brought home as TRS-80 Model I when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and we had a series of those early computers in the house from that time onwards.

For some reason BASIC didn’t catch with me, but I did a lot of programming in dBASE and acquired an early appreciation for high-level languages and database architecture. I started my career as a paid programmer at the age of ten, making $10/hour coding mailing list management systems for local businesses.

In college I got my first exposure to the new Macintosh computers and learned how to make maps with an early version of Freehand and it’s closer relative, Pagemaker. I did a lot of freelance work as a Mac expert in those days. Font Manager, hell yes! I then returned to San Francisco to help my father launch a company using Uniface, one of the major high level database-driven development environments of the day. Although that company didn’t get far off the ground, it was my launching point for a very fun couple of years doing development, software architecture, and management consulting at Compuware. I don’t know how I knew what I was talking about, but it seems that I did, because our projects were successful and clients liked us.

Continue reading “Software”

The athletic mind

I’m not totally sure that “sports” is the right word, but I can’t think of what else covers climbing, backpacking, hiking, trail running, swimming, sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and all the other things that I love to do outdoors. Perhaps I could be more specific and say “outdoor sports”, since I’m not really into football, baseball, basketball, golf and that sort of thing. But, for now anyhow: “Sports”.

We are our bodies. While we can philosophize about the universe of the mind, the mind is carried around in the meat of the brain, and the brain by the body. And: our bodies need to be active. Physical activity keeps us healthly, stimulates our senses and literally gets the blood flowing to the brain. Being active is enlightening – and usually helps to keep us lighter. 

God is Nature. You might have some other idea about God also is, but it’s pretty had to argue that – if you believe in some sort of God – that God doesn’t include Nature. And if you don’t believe in “God” (I don’t), well, then, Nature is God. And, Nature is the ultimate inspiration.

Put the two together, and it becomes clear that it’s hard to beat being active, outdoors. I was lucky to have parents that introduced me to the joy of outdoor activity at a very early age, and as much as I love business, software, people and all sorts of other things, I want to spend as much time outside as possible. Nothing makes me feel more awesome than being active in nature.

Foiling in the Marshalls
Foiling in the Marshalls
Foiling in Pohnpei
Foiling in Pohnpei

These days the sports I focus on most are kitesurfing, open-water swimming, and paragliding, with a bit of trail running, indoor climbing and cycling thrown in. (Actually, I love to ride bicycles and I feel increasingly that I want to ditch my car and ride everywhere, but it’s hard to be a kitesurfer without a car…) I’m a team rider for Boardriding Maui, Alpinefoil, Kurtis Eyewear, and Surfin Sem Fim. Ask me anything – I love talking gear, technique, and travel.

Conferences are Awesome!

Let’s face it, most conferences suck.

But they don’t have to. I can help make your conference awesome! I started AdMonsters in 1999 and it grew to become a highly acclaimed and uniquely valuable conference series and professional community. With the addition of OPS in 2011, we produced more than 100 conferences in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Singapore, and Brazil, and AdMonsters continues to be a great success today as part of the Access Intelligence family of companies.

If you have the feeling that your conference could be better, I can help. I started AdMonsters as an enthusiastic practitioner. That’s a nice way to say that I had no idea what I was doing, and it took me a long time to learn how to produce not only a great conference, but to do so smoothly and repeatedly, and to keep it fresh along the way.

Read on for further thoughts about conferences, and get in touch if you’d like to talk about how to make your conference awesome!