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:

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

Geography

The cliché is that most people think geography is about memorizing state capitals and the primary exports of countries – and that is in fact where my journey with geography started, in 7th grade. We would sharpen our pencils and get ready for yet another quiz, trying to remember if Togo is between Ghana and Benin, or the other way around…

When I arrived at UC Berkeley to start college, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, so I picked up the catalog and started thumbing through it, looking for classes that sounded interesting. For those of you that know what these were like, the catalog was just like a telephone book – thick, heavy, dense and printed on newsprint.

As it turned out, many of the classes that attracted me were in – of all things – the Geography department. Geography offered an incredible diversity of topics. I took classes on the shape of rivers, the migration of species, why windmills are where they are, making maps, and the economics of cities, just to name a few. I learned that geography covers, well, just about everything – and that it is a highly integrative was of looking at things. Geography is about the shape and phenomena of the earth, its inhabitants, and how they interact. It’s about how everything is connected.

Geography isn’t just about capitols. It’s a lens to look at the world. You can think about the geography of anything: where languages are spoken, mapping the Internet, the rise of the “creative class”, sacred geography, or maps as an art form. In many ways I am a geographer at heart, and this way of thinking informs many other parts of my life.

Read my posts on geography for more!

Why do you go to conferences?

There are lots of reasons to go to a conference. As a conference-goer, it pays to be explicit about what you expect to get out of your conference experience — and to be aware of how that matches up with the reasons the conference exists and the goals of the conference producer.

Great conferences have a very clear reason for being, and organizers of great conferences will be transparent about the purpose of the conference and help you determine if the conference is a good fit for you.

Innovation & problem-solving

Talking about “innovation” is not the same as doing innovation, aka figuring things out. How does that happen? Most of us are more creative in collaboration. If you really want to work on solving problems, make sure the conference format provides both structured and unstructured opportunities for you to meet and work with your peers in small groups, and that there is enough time on the agenda to allow for this to happen.

Best practices

Best practices come after innovation and before standards (see below) — they come from problems having been solved a few times, in different but similar situations. In my experience, best practices emerge most often from facilitated discussion amongst direct peers in a trusted environment. As with any meaningful conversation, it helps to document the conversation.

Standards and policy

As an industry starts to mature, best practices themselves are tested and refined, and quite often it starts to make sense to agree upon some formal standards, and to think about regulation and legal frameworks. Standards always come after best practices, which of course come after a whole lot of innovation (both successful and otherwise). Trying to set standards too early is usually highly frustrating, and fruitless.

Standards and policy typically emerge through a democratic process, and democracy is slow. For that reason, among others, standards-setting and innovation don’t play all that well together. If you’re in the big leagues and want to be part of the standards and policy processes in your industry, those conversations will probably take place at a conference hosted by a trade association with some significant buy-in from the major players in your industry.

Buying and selling

Many conferences exist for the primary purpose of providing a showcase for products and solutions. Often this is what defines a “trade show” — the tools of the trade are on display, so to speak. While this focus might seem like the ideal format for sellers (and perhaps for buyers/solution seekers), a vast sea of vendors is quickly overwhelming and often lacks context. Still, it can be a very useful component of the conference experience, especially in combination with discussion, analysis, collaboration, and non-sales-oriented information.

Networking

All conferences provide some opportunity for networking, but this varies widely. If the schedule is jam-packed with sessions, you may not have enough time to get to know your fellow participants. Even more importantly, there is rarely a way to meet the people that you should know, but you don’t know you should know. Ask the conference organizer what they do to connect participants, and don’t settle for a cocktail party.

Edutainment

TED popularized the edutainment model to the point of virality, so we all know what it looks like now: a charismatic speaker with a dramatic story of their hero’s journey, ideally culminating in the funding of their innovative startup. In my experience, people say that they want to “be inspired” by “great speakers” and then often complain afterwards that they didn’t get enough out of those sessions. A great speaker will conjure up some “wow” moments, but the wow often wears off quickly. We have a limited ability to learn by listening, even from a charismatic “rock star” — interactive sessions with peers are usually much more productive.

Fun

Work shouldn’t suck, and a great conference can be a lot of fun and a great way to reward yourself or someone else on your team. On the other hand, most conferences suck, so if having a good time is your primary motivation, make sure you like chicken dinners and cheap wine. Seriously — a conference isn’t going to be fun if you feel like you’re wasting your time. Make sure that you will be able to accomplish some other goals first, and that the organizers have something more in mind than a booze cruise and some tired team building exercises. Cool is free, but real fun amongst strangers takes some doing. One of the most solid bets is to get outside and do something active and authentic. Simple tip: ask a local for a recommendation, take a run and explore the area!

Putting it all together

Of course, most conferences combine several or all of the above aspects. To make the best use of your precious time, make sure that you are clear about your own reasons for going to a conference – and make sure that the conference has a clear reason for being, and that it’s structured so that there’s a good chance you’ll get what you’re looking for.

Not perfectly informed

I like being informed but not perfectly informed.

These days it’s very easy to get nearly perfect information. Google Maps is comprehensive and up-to-the-minute. TripAdvisor covers the planet, as does AirBnb and Uber. If you’re just about anywhere you can buy a local SIM card, turn on cellular roaming, and never get lost or have a bad meal.

It’s no accident that some of my best travel experiences have been guided by crappy, out of date maps. I do read guidebooks and use all the online services, but I also like to leave something out. Read up, and then leave the data at home. Ask around. See what you can figure out from something in another language. Turn left three times. Have fun!

Who owns that conference?

Conferences, right? I know, super exciting. But I bet you’ve been to a lot of ’em, and only a few have been really great.

It’s a bit of a paradox that there is a conference for everything (I’ve been the a conference about, yes, conferences), and yet most people hear “conference” and roll their eyes. Conferences are boring, conferences kinda suck, conferences are just ok – but I just heard about this cool new conference about…

Why are some conferences great, and some not so great? One thing that makes a huge difference is who owns the conference. Most people don’t think much about it, but conferences are owned and produced in various ways, each of which has some pros and cons.

If you’ve never considered it before, ask yourself: how is the conference organizer making money? 

Continue reading “Who owns that conference?”

It’s not “content”

Words wear out. Linguists know this, but we lose track.

Some words are just junk to begin with, empty euphemisms that we hide behind. Would a writer ever refer to anything she was proud of having written as “content”. Seriously? No way. I wrote it, it’s writing, it’s a story, it’s an essay, it’s – at least – a post. “Content” is what you fill a box with, when you don’t care what it’s filled with. So, no, I don’t create content. If you want content, get some sawdust.