Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"What I've Learned" by John Wooden from Esquire

The Jan 2011 iteration of Esquire is it's annual "Meaning of Life" / "What I've Learned" issue and features a number of solid pieces by notable figures imparting their wisdom to the masses (at least the Esquire-reading masses).

What stood out to me above the rest was Coach John Wooden's missives from the "In Memoriam" section. The interview was done by Cal Fussman in 2000, published in this form July 2010 and then shortened a bit for this issue of Esquire.

Shortening even further, below are my favorite statements from this piece by Wooden...

- "You can do more good by being good than any other way."

- "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation."

- "If I am through learning, I am through."

- "Don't let making a living prevent you from making a life."

True, this blog is more frequently about great writing in longer form, but if these aren't great words written down, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Time Person of the Year Profile on Mark Zuckerberg

Excellent Person of the Year piece from Lev Grossman in the latest Time Magazine.

It's a pretty large feature on the Facebook founder and conveys the fascinating confluence of events that brought Zuckerberg and his company to where they're now at. You've got an immensely smart guy with an idea that to him seemed obvious... which he's then pushed forward both personally and through people brought into leadership roles at the company.

Couple of things that struck me about Zuckerberg and the piece on him...

- Grossman's description of the character portrayal in The Social Network movie as being a fiction (which of course, it was). Rather, he describes Zuckerberg as having solid personal relationships and being more like the brilliant and driven characters from The West Wing television series (also written by Aaron Sorkin).

- The concept of Facebook serving as a sort of referendum on two separate, but related areas. The first being the Internet as something controlled by people using it as they will and the second on the idea of living life in the open... as opposed to having a "personal life" and then an "online life."

- The notion of what Facebook could potentially become in the area of recommendation around business. A sort of holy grail of the web is it's power to have consumers sell product and with Facebook becoming a ubiquitous platform, it could become THE place for personal product and service recommendation online (with this concept of online recommendation previously posted on here). All this through the idea of "liking" an ad, product or company just as you can "like" a new friend.

- A comment by a Facebook Product Manager about his job being "a shot to actually truly affect the course of a major piece of evolution." Even if you view the enthusiasm expressed with a grain of salt and consider it being about just building a product for a company, it's still got to be pretty great to have that be your field of work.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Piece on Chris Jones - Writer Guy

Found on twitter something very cool... an in depth piece on one my favorite writers, Chris Jones (with link to said twitter feed).

From the Ryerson Review of Journalism, "Not All Smurfs and Sunshine" has some history on the guy and his writing career, but most interesting to me... gets into the whole approach to the craft of writing (with here and here being recent posts on the topic).

It seems a well written story on Jones and underscores that writing is hard work, but for those who are talented, work really hard at it, work hard at getting found, and are lucky enough to actually succeed at efforts to be found, a living can be scratched out.

Inspiring stuff to be sure, but I guess that's the point... things aren't always easy, but in the words of the immortal Jerry Seinfeld, "you just keep showing up." I've made this point a number of times on this blog, but it's not always going to be easy, and when it's not, you do it anyways... and consider yourself blessed during the times that you're flowing and it is easy.

Wisdom taken (maybe crowbarred by me the reader, but that's ok... taken nonetheless) from the piece and links to a ton of Jones writing... that's some good stuff there, me thinks.

"The War for Late Night" by Bill Carter

After reading an excerpt in Vanity Fair a few months ago (which I linked to and posted on here), I got from the library and just finished "The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy".

Written by Bill Carter, it's an interesting read from the perspective of both business and people. From a business perspective, there were large dollar decisions being made by NBC execs... and the Carter book quotes people who raise the valid question of whether financially things turned out as best they possibly could have for NBC. From people standpoint, the decisions made greatly impacted a lot of people... but, were also made by very fallable individuals guessing at what they felt was the right course of action.

Where this got really interesting to me is that the business decisions revolved around talent. It's a pretty compelling subject, this idea of managing or placing a value on creative work and how to best do it...

The epilogue delved into this explicitly with thoughts from no less an expert on large dollar generating creativity than Jerry Seinfeld. He had some interesting takes around working, what should be taken personally and the notion of doing a job as opposing to carrying on an institution. In short, he felt the high-minded approach from Conan didn't make sense and quotes the success cliche about how "95% of it just showing up."

Seinfeld isn't explicitly quoted saying this, but the inference from his commentary was that a job is a job, and Conan O'Brien should never have taken as personal something that is about money. Basically, doing great work is important, but that work has an end goal (money) and that end goal has masters (studio execs in this case)... and if those masters want to either have you modify or move 30 minutes later a show they've created, than so be it.

The book is pretty lengthy and someone without interest in this central idea of business decisions around creative people and things might have their attention wane, but it's a good read... and definitely at least worth a read of the aforementioned Vanity Fair excerpt to gauge further interest.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Austin Murphy SI Story on Bill Phillips

Really solid piece by Austin Murphy in the latest Sports Illustrated (which featured a cover story on "The Fighter" in theaters now).

Murphy writes regularly for SI and I make a point of reading his stuff I come across. Typically, it leans towards nuts and bolts type pieces on college football and while those are good... I'm most fond of his longer form human interest type writing (with the last example I posted on being "Muck Bowl" from Nov 2009.

In this Year in Sports Media issue, Murphy did "The Season After" on one of the people killed in an Alaska small plane crash along with Senator Ted Stevens. Related to sports in that the aforementioned Bill Phillips left behind three Division One football-playing sons (along with a fourth and youngest son that survived the crash), it's an impactful story about Phillips and his family.

Friday, December 17, 2010

NYC Dept of Transportation Commissioner Profile from Esquire

Fascinating piece from the Best and Brightest 2010 issue of Esquire Magazine.

Written by Lisa Taddeo, "Janette Sadik-Khan: Urban Reengineer" looks at the NYC Transportation Commissioner and her efforts to reclaim the city for the people (my words, not necessarily hers).

It's terribly interesting reading and reminds me of "Traffic" written by Tom Vanderbilt (and which I reviewed here two years ago). In fact, reference is made in both the Taddeo piece and Vanderbilt book of various cities in Scandinavia as the ideal for traffic planning. Less cars, more bike lanes and pedestrian plazas... all designed to improve the livability of an area while also increasing safety. Very cool stuff.


In this same issue of Esquire was reference to a website I've heard about a few different times, but have never actually been able to fully use. The Wilderness Downtown was designed around the Arcade Fire song "We Used to Wait" and is supposed to have really cool technology around it... you just apparently need the Google Chrome browser to make it work. Oh well...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards Passing & Not Giving Up

Two different things that I really want to meld together here into one coherent blog post...

Thing A - the passing of Elizabeth Edwards

Roughly a week ago, the estranged wife of Presidential wanna-be and dirtbag-is John Edwards succumbed in her fight with cancer. In May of last year I linked to and posted on an excerpt from her book and found myself pretty captivated by how she reacted to the hand she was dealt. Just after her death, I came across "Elizabeth Edwards Was the Right Kind of Woman" by Chris Jones on his Esquire blog. Good short writing, but in terms of Edwards herself... geesh, that's a rough go of it she had.

Thing B - don't give up

I found out about the Jones story on Edwards' passing from his twitter feed... which later had the following two posts:

"Elizabeth Edwards in Allendale came from a story I quit halfway through. Worst move of my career. Don't quit until the story quits on you."

"Seriously, I almost left the writing biz that week in South Carolina. In tears with my editor. Fuck me. Game could have changed right there."


Intent isn't to say that Edwards terminal cancer (and other horrific things she faced) is the same as Jones struggling with a story, but I also don't think it trite to say they both feature the concept of not giving up.

In terms the writing thing... I've many a time struggled to get something on page and tried to follow the maxim of... you set a writing goal, slog away, and get something down that reaches your goal. The inspired times are great, but they're not always there and it's just as if not more important to carry on without inspiration around.

My soliloquy.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"How Lucky You Can Be" by Buster Olney

Just finished reading "How Lucky You Can Be" about now retired Northern State University men's basketball coach Don Meyer.

I first heard of Meyer from this Dec 2008 Grant Wahl SI piece (which I posted about and linked to here) and was interested in the book when I last week came across mention of it having been penned by the excellent ESPN writer, Buster Olney. From the acknowledgements in the book, it seems that Olney met Meyer as a young writer in Nashville and the two became friends.

Really good and very quick read on someone who has the NCAA record for most men's basketball coaching victories and has gone through a harrowing several years personally... but, has maintained a steadfast focus on what he feels is important.

There's nothing fancy about the book or guy, but it's just remarkable reading about how grounded Meyer appears and what he's accomplished through his passion of coaching basketball.

Reminds me in many ways of what I've read of Coach John Wooden and in fact... Wooden is referenced as a Meyer friend in both Olney's book and by Meyer himself in his acceptance speech below for the 2009 Jimmy V. Award for Perseverance at the ESPYs.

Compelling stuff and I was also struck during the Olney book by how Meyer's accident and cancer diagnosis seemed to actually help him open up to people and express more.

Solid book and worth the short amount of time to read it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Time Magazine Cover Stories - WikiLeaks & The Decade Past

Interesting cover stories from each of the past two issues of Time Magazine.

Most recent was the Dec 13 edition with it's story on WikiLeaks... and the recent release of US intelligence documents, including 11,000+ marked "secret" by the government.

Written by Massimo Calabresi, "WikiLeaks' War on Secrecy: Truth's Consequences" is a detailed look at the documents, the WikiLeaks website that published them and the guy behind the site, Julian Assange.

While the recent trove of leaks is described by some (Time Columnist Fareed Zakaria in this essay and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates from the Calabresi piece) as not being terribly damning, it's still pretty riveting stuff to read about.

As is oft the case, Time and it's writers did an excellent job giving a thorough look at the story, it's players and ramifications.


The Dec 6 issue of Time featured a Special Report looking back at the past 10 years with a series of different stories examining different aspects.

Most compelling to me of them was the "Looking Back to the Future" introduction by Nancy Gibbs. Very short, but also very well written piece.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Working on the Railroad... with help from Robert Fulghum & Patrick Swayze

I've done quite a few posts on work (recently there was this Oct 2010 post on the subject... which then linked to additional posts) and lately have been thinking about the subject both in terms of the goal for and approach towards it.

From a goal of work perspective, there's multiple answers... with one being first and foremost. Work gets people money, people use money to buy things that help them both enjoy aspects of life (entertainment spend) and stay alive (food and shelter). Particularly when one's got a family does this basic notion of work towards the goal of money take precedence.

Beyond this "goal 1A of work being to make money", there's also the idea of work towards the end of building something. This could be by someone who started their own company or by someone working as part of something they're invested in and trying to help grow. Either way, there's huge value in this idea of ownership in the place and a point to the efforts on behalf of that place.

There's of course nothing at all wrong with work being done for the first goal of making money. Really, this probably describes the majority of the working population and is necessary for society to function. That said, the second idea of work as building towards something more ideal, just not always attainable.

One sector of work that me thinks should fall into this second category of work being done for the purpose of building something, but oft times falls back into just a work for a paycheck category is corporate work. To this end (and going back to the intro of this post), I've been thinking lately about what happens to someone in a corporate environment who doesn't particularly see their efforts building to anything...


Approaches could be to either just do the bare minimum (or less in the case of people hoping to prove themselves just replaceable enough to get offered severance packages to leave) or to take a different tact and follow the principles brought to us (in decidedly different forms) by both Robert Fulghum and Patrick Swayze.

Fulghum's principles pertaining to this topic came from the bestselling compilation of aphorisms "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten". There's many more than this in the book itself, but here's a sampling (taken from this website)...

- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don't hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don't take things that aren't yours.
- Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Flush.
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
- Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
- When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
- Be aware of wonder.
- Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
- Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
- And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.


Additioally, Patrick Swayze provided us wisdom around work from the movie Road House...


So... Fulghum said some profound things, Swayze said some profound things (well... sure, why not?), but do they tie back to the world of corporate work (or even the non-corporate kind) as discussed in this post?

Heck, yea. I've been thinking lately that even in a setting where someone might not feel their efforts are building anything, there's still a lot to be said for just doing what you feel is the right thing with work.

At different times that may mean doing right by customers, by your own company or by your co-workers. In short... you do what you think should be done and treat people well (to put a fine and oft necessary in the corporate world) point on this, by not throwing them under the bus).

Do that and though a job may be more of a job for money than a building opportunity, it's still something to feel good about.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Scott Pioli Profile & other SI Writing

The annual Sportsman of the Year Dec 6 issue of Sports Illustrated featured multiple interesting pieces... with one great one from Joe Posnanski.

The cover story was a solid read on someone who appears a very stand-up guy in New Orleans Saints quarterback Dree Brees. It's easy to be sceptical of a pro athlete's "goodness", but Brees seems to actually have it.

Also, a worthwhile story that unfortunately doesn't appear to be available online was "The Boy Who Died of Football" by Thomas Lake. About the heatstroke-caused death of 15 year-old Kentuckian Max Gilpin, it's a look at an all too common football-related catastrophic injury. What made the story uncommon was Gilpin's High School coach being prosecuted for reckless homicide in Gilpin's passing.

It's a sad tale about a kid who perhaps didn't really want to play football, but was pushed to do so. Particularly jarring from the story was the quote by Gilpin's (portrayed as aggressive) father after his death... "I underestimated the kid, big time. His heart. Can you imagine the fortitude it took to keep running out there?" So messed up.


Interesting and solidly written stories both of these were, but the one from this issue that really got me was the aforementioned Joe Posnanski piece. "A Dream In The Making" is about Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli and succeeds spectacularly in that it's a riveting look at an inconspicuous guy.

One of those stories that I read and think... man, would be nice to write that well.