This blog is all about words because they matter, they influence, they entertain and when you put them down on a page in a meaningful order, they acquire permanence. Contained here is my writing over the past 10+ years, primarily book reviews over the past ~5 years, and I also have a book review podcast, Talking Nonfiction, available on Apple or Spotify.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Ex-CEO as Nebraska Volunteer Coach / Not too Late for Career Changes
Written by Jon Wertheim, "Nebraska's billion-dollar assistant" is all about former Ameritrade (now TD Ameritrade) CEO Joe Moglia and his current volunteer position with the Nebraska Cornhusker football staff.
The story struck me not necessarily for the writing (Wertheim is a solid writer who seems to write on tennis more than any other sport for SI), but the story itself. Moglia is the classic example of a guy who decided to follow his passion... in this case for football and his work seems to have made him an important "consultant to the program" at Nebraska.
Now, you could say that having made himself rich through business has enabled Moglia to pursue his coaching dream, but a counter to that would be that many people who amass piles of wealth simply make it their goal to amass bigger piles.
I'm so interested in this whole concept of people changing careers mid-stream. To look at the idea through the lens of writing as profession... there's certainly people like Stephen King who knew at a young age he wanted to write and always worked towards that end, but there's also alternate stories.
One good one I saw firsthand the other day was that of Skip Horack, author of "The Eden Hunter." In a library talk he made, Horack discussed how he graduated with an English degree, went to law school and then practiced law for three years... all while kind of thinking of himself as a writer, but not really writing.
He then saw lawyer colleagues who loved what they did, realized that he didn't have that for the law and gave writing a shot. Nothing profound at first, just an hour in the morning before starting his day... but, that led to finishing some short stories and then submitting them to writing journals. After a bit of success, he applied for and got a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Stanford's Creative Writing Program. With this new path opened up, Horack left the law firm he was at and headed off to the two-year program.
Very cool story from the perspective that Horack wasn't one of those people who knew what he wanted to do at a young age and single mindedly pursued it. Rather, he realized mid-stream want he wanted and proved that it's never too late to go after a goal. Hey... that's just like the story of Joe Moglia.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
32 Great Sports Illustrated Covers from Joe Posnanski
1. How can a reader who really likes Posnanski's stuff not be interested in 7,000 words on a topic? Well, I guess he could write without my caring that many words on some subjects, but I love great sports pictures... and Posnanski writing on them makes the piece even better.
2. The stories behind the images. Some profound stuff that shows sports and it's captured drama. Examples of this: Number 26 of KC Royals pitcher Zach Greinke, number 25 of Boston Celtics draft pick Len Bias titled "Death of a Dream", Number 2 of Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan (not really #2, but included as a great image) and number 1 of... something epic.
3. The fact that the aforementioned Ali cover at number two is noted as being the favorite of Esquire writer Chris Jones. Just feels like the world is spinning correctly when a guy whose writing I really like references in glowing terms another guy whose writing I really like.
4. Mention of my old employer, Athlon Sports. Yea, it's not mention of me, nor of Athlon whilst I was there, but was interesting to see.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Writers Write... And Not Always Well
I know I like both reading and writing words organized well on a page and I've certainly written about that... with these posts on the "Permanence of Words" and "How We Value and Entertain Ourselves" as examples.
What I don't think I've written as much about is the process of getting said words on a page organized well. S'hard stuff... this writing thing. Well, not always hard, but those fits of inspiration are oft mere exceptions to the rule of writing as a slog.
I suppose that's ok, though. There's contemporary writers that do great work (and I've written about them many times including in this post), but I'd be willing to bet dollars for doughnuts that these writer types as well as the "all-time greats" like Fitzgerald, Rand, Twain and Lee (Harper, that is) often weren't writing great prose when they wrote, but just kept at it. Basically following the principle of "if you keep doing something long enough, you're eventually going to get good at it" (labeled the "10,000 hour rule" by Malcolm Gladwell in "Outliers").
Therein lies the trick me thinks (and this is about writing, but one could apply the idea below elsewhere)...
When you're inspired, motivated and creative... you write, you do great work. However, when you're not inspired, not motivated and not creative... you still write, you do work. Maybe through the act of the work it'll become great, but even if it doesn't, you're still being a writer, dammit, and by acting as one, you'll eventually become an even better writer.
Sports Illustrated Jim Thome Cover
Man, as Posnanski writes... that's a sweet SI cover.
While it's true that my blog is about writing, I've also had exception posts like this one on the movie Inception or this with video from the Olympics and this is quite the striking baseball shot.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Urgent vs Important Work
Basic distinction between the two is that one category is something requiring (or purported by someone to require) immediate action and one category has no immediacy, but is of import in the big picture. Really what you've got with the first category of "urgent" is two different things... "urgent / important" and "not important, but urgent to the person who says it is."
One thing to keep in mind is that urgent and important is a very relative terms depending on the work at hand. I've made a comment to this effect in a previous blog post, but the type of work written about here by Sebastian Junger is very different than the type of work referenced in this blog post.
It having now been said that fighting in a war and working in an office are about as different as two things can be, both activities are subject to this whole urgent / important distinction.
First, the urgent things... and how they can double as important ones. For a solider, there's no more urgent situation than combat, and also nothing more important. In the much more mundane corporate world, a situation both urgent and important could be one with a time-sensitive deliverable that impacts the business and people who work in it.
Not all urgent scenarios in work double as important, though, regardless of the type of work at hand. For a solider, an order from a commanding officer could be urgent from the perspective that you're supposed to execute on it immediately, but that order could accomplish little beyond making the commanding officer feel powerful to have given an order acted upon. In an office environment, there can be lots and lots of non-important urgent work. Much of this coming from people being sent off to do tasks that don't accomplish much in the big picture, but make someone feel good to give directions... or that task assigner incorrectly thinks it matters.
With it established that there's urgent and important work as well as urgent, but not important work, this takes one to the third type of work... that which is non-urgent, but important.
To stay within the same comparison of a military and corporate setting... soldiers aren't going to spend 100% of their time in combat. While not engaged in an urgent activity, something of huge import would be training as well as planning and preparing for future missions. Conversely, for a white collar worker, there's important (again, relative term when compared to things done by Servicemen and Women) activities like documenting processes and tracking of activities to ensure needed activities brought to completion.
There may be nobody asking for this type of non-urgent work to be done (in any work environment), but it's certainly important. Now, in the military you're more obligated to obey orders than other kinds of work, but with this acknowledged, the goal in work should be to focus on the urgent / important as well as important activities, and not get bogged down in the urgent / unimportant.
True, it's easier said that done, but to accomplish pretty much anything you have to start with the intention towards that end.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The Teaching in Public Schools - from Time Magazine
There's actually two different stories featured... one about teaching in public schools and the upcoming movie Waiting for Superman and one about how to get better teachers in our school.
The lead piece is "What Makes a School Great" by Amanda Ripley, but the link to the story won't provide a lot since Time has made the decision to make much of their magazine content unavailable online. What I will say is it sounds a really compelling movie about an important topic... with the trailer below as evidence of that.
Two other short pieces from this issue of Time about companies doing interesting things... Scribd that works in the mobile publishing space and Layar that provides augmented reality information for mobile phones.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Sports Illustrated Excerpt from Susan Casey's "The Wave"
Noted at the top is "Surfing's Sacred Monster: The-100 Foot Wave" and the associated author Susan Casey... both things being of note to me.
The idea of someone surfing a 100 foot wave (and the $500,000 prize for the first to do) is intriguing and I've found big wave surfing in general to be interesting since watching the movie Riding Giants.In terms of the writer... big fan of Susan Casey ever since reading her book "The Devil's Teeth" about the Farallon Islands off San Francisco and linked to and posted about her work here.
The piece itself within this issue of SI is "The Wave" and actually an excerpt from the upcoming (Sept 14 release) Casey book "The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean." Reading the story itself, lots of cool stuff about the aforementioned quest for the 100 foot wave ride and big wave surfing.
Found particularly interesting the portion about the surf spot Teahupo'o off the coast of Tahiti... and mention of Laird Hamilton's ride featured on the cover of Surfer Magazine.
Definitely looking forward to reading the entire book from Casey.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Tony Blair on three U.S. Presidents - from Time Magazine
From the former British Prime Minister, "Tony Blair on Clinton, Bush and the American Character" has part of his "A Journey, My Political Life". Specifically excerpted is material around his dealing with the current and last two American Presidents... provides for some very interesting compare and contrast material.
I likely won't take the time to read the entire Blair biography, but do recommend this portion of it and am thankful that Time decided to go ahead and make available online the entire piece (which they don't always do).
Also from this issue of Time is mention of The Wilderness Downtown website, built for the band Arcade Fire. Concept behind it is that you put in a street address and the site does interactive stuff along with the song playing. Now, if only I had Google's Chrome browser installed so I could actually see it...
Interesting concept in description, though.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
Inc. Magazine - Zappos / TOMS Shoes / 37signals CEO... on how to hire
I decided to read Inc. after seeing a link on Twitter to the contained in this issue book excerpt "Why I Sold Zappos" from CEO Tony Hsieh. Compelling enough stuff that I went and got Hsieh's book ""Delivering Happiness" and posted about it here.
Also from this issue of Inc. was "The Way I Work: Blake Mycoskie of Toms Shoes" about the CEO. It's an interesting piece that charts how the 33 year old founder spends his time. Mycoskie appears quite the fascinating guy who has built a growing company which is also doing good... as evidenced by it's policy of giving away a pair of shoes for each one sold. I found myself interested in his mention of being a reader of business biographies given that Mycoskie's personal story is one I'd want to read.
One other compelling piece from this issue was from Jason Fried, the head of a software firm called 37signals. Titled "Never Read Another Resume", it's about Fried's views on staffing a company and has a couple really solid insights. The first is that someone hiring for a position should spend time actually doing that role. One reason is this helps ensure that the hire is based on actual rather than just perceived need for another resource. Additionally, this idea of a hiring manager doing the job being hired for helps determine exactly what's needed in someone.
Another insight from Fried is the driver behind the piece's title and all about cover letters. Idea is that they should be a bigger determiner in hiring decisions than actual resumes. Reason being that the cover letter reveals more about the applicant. In particular, the cover letter can reveal how well someone can write and how much they really want the job. To that end, Fried links to a website all about wanting to work for 37signals put together by a recent hire.
Solid and very interesting stuff.
Friday, September 03, 2010
Violating Baseball's Code Piece by Jason Turbow
Titled "Nationals' Nyjer Morgan enrages baseball by violating The Code", the piece is about recent transgressions and rabble rousing by Washington Nationals leadoff hitter Nyjer Morgan. The author is Jason Turbow and this is written as a special to SI in part to publicize Turbow's book "The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime."
Baseball is a sport that appeals to it's fans in part for it's different than other sports quirks... such as there being no clock, the continued missed umpiring calls as "part of the game" and this idea of "playing by unwritten rules" that dictate what's ok and what's not for players to do.
Makes me think of a quote I heard years ago along the lines of "if these 'unwritten rules' are so important, why don't they write them down?" Well, I guess it's because it's baseball and that's just how it is.
Excellent article which made me want to read the book as well as read more stuff by Turbow on his about the book blog.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Commitment. To Work?
Commitment as a concept is usually not at this "100% in" status. To truly exist, it requires two parties in sync and requires a progression to reach what we'll call real true commit.
The beginning stage of commitment is the evaluation... that period of time when each party is "thinking about thinking about" and making a decision as to how they feel. In the context of work, things kick off when a company needs a warm sentient body to do stuff on it's behalf. While the company is casting about to find the right person to help them make more money (which is the end goal of pretty much all companies), the prospective employee is also looking to put themselves in the best work situation they can. Often times that's based on money, but can also have lots of other criteria in play.
After the two parties meet, finish their dance and decide to pair off in the form of an employment offer and acceptance... are they committed? Not hardly. Even a signed contract is only enforceable as far as either side is wiling to abide by the terms. In most company-employee cases, though, there's not much of a contract and the worker can either be let go or walk away at any point. Particularly in the case of firms beholden to shareholders (and as I wrote about here), this is often company initiated in the pursuit of lowering expenses.
So... commitment. What is it then in terms of employment? I'd say that commitment is an employee doing such a good job that a company couldn't stand to let them go and a company doing such a good job by it's employee that they wouldn't want to leave. It's not something that gets put in place via an ultimatum from either side, but simply a genuine desire for someone to be kept around or someone to not want to be elsewhere.
It's not about the commitment, it's about the place and the work. If the place is right and the work done is right, the concept of drawing a line in the sand and having someone step forward never needs to come about... and employees don't have to ask those silly "do I have job security?" questions of their management. In line with this, I think about a post done with link to a Scott Belsky Creative Meritocracy piece... it's a free agent world for all.
With all this talk about commitment in work... really, here's where I wrote about the type of work I can think of that needs this aforementioned "100% commitment."
Everything else that we do with work is in comparison, pretty trivial.