Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Solid business writing - on Disney MagicBands, Y Combinator, NBC News & Starbucks

Some really good recent business stories included two features from Fast Company and one each from Vanity Fair and The Atlantic.

The Fast Company pieces were by Austin Carr and Max Chafkin with the Carr piece titled "The Messy Business of Reinventing Happiness." It's a lengthy feature about the MagicBands that were introduced at Walt Disney World in Orlando (and which were written about in fairly gushing terms in a recent Wired Magazine story) and this look by Carr is a much more nuanced look at how difficult at times it can be to get things done in a corporate environment. Particularly fascinating to me was how the Imagineers responsible for much of the great creative output at Disney Parks appear to have been largely left out of the process, and as a result haven't really bought into the concept of the MagicBands. The piece by Chafkin was also a solid one with "Y Combinator President Sam Altman is Dreaming Big" about the Silicon Valley business incubator.

From Vanity Fair, Bryan Burrough wrote "The Inside Story of the Civil War for the Soul of NBC News" about Brian Williams and it's very much an "inside baseball" type look at corporate dysfunction and poor talent management and the last piece to note here was "The Upwardly Mobile Barista" by Amanda Ripley for The Atlantic. Ripley is the author of the excellent book The Smartest Kids in the World (which I reviewed here) and in this recent magazine piece she writes about the corporate initiative at Starbucks to fund university education for it's employees. Ripley gives a thorough look at the hiccups in the program, but all in all, it really appears that Starbucks attempting to do a very good thing.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown was a really great book about the University of Washington rowing team that went to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Brown's writing of the story came out of a fairly chance meeting late in the life of one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, and the book a fascinating one that covers a huge amount of ground. Some of the things that struck me were around the idea of a great rowing team needing to be comprised of people with absolute trust in one another, what America was like in the 20s and 30s and then the German propaganda machine leading up to WWII.

Brown chronicles in the book how as Rantz was growing up, America suffered the effects of the depression and dust bowl, leading to widespread westward migration and a number of farmers simply picking up and leaving behind homes and properties in search of something better. It was a hard time for many and the circumstances of Rantz's childhood were written of as key to what came later in the book.

Additionally, Brown has fascinating material in the book about Germany leading into the Berlin Olympics, with Nazi leadership focused on presenting to the world an image of themselves as a good and peaceful neighbor, towards the goal of buying them time to secretly build up their war powers prior to launching armed aggression. This time and place in the world is really interesting to me and brings to mind the excellent Erik Larson book set prior to WWII, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin that I wrote about in 2011.

Shortly after finishing The Boys in the Boat, I came across an interesting San Jose Mercury News feature story in "Bay Area native’s book showcases bitter rivalry between Cal and Washington in top-selling book" and the piece by Elliott Almond and Mark Emmons covers information about Brown and how his book become an enormous success and basis of a movie now in development.

Interesting Bloomberg Businessweek pieces - by Wieners, Vance, Clark & Coen

There's been some particularly interesting writing from Bloomberg Businessweek magazine over the past few weeks including a great feature story and multiple smaller pieces.

The feature was "Dying at Europe's Doorstep" by Brad Wieners and it's an important look at refugees from Africa dying as they try to cross the Mediterranean into Europe and the husband and wife team of Chris & Regina Catrambone attempting to rescue as many as possible. The parts of the story about many Europeans not wanting the immigrants to come there made me think of a June 2013 blog post I wrote linking to stories of xenophobic behavior and also fascinating from the Wieners piece was mention of Catrambone partnering with The World's Most Dangerous Places author Robert Young Pelton.

The smaller pieces from BW that struck me over the past few weeks included two at least in part by Ashlee Vance. Along with Jack Clark, he wrote "How Amazon Swooped in to Own Cloud Services" and excerpted from Vance's May 19 book release of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future was "Elon Musk Had a Deal to Sell Tesla to Google in 2013."

The other short piece to note here was written by Jessica Coen with "Nick Kokonas Is Selling Tickets to Dinner" about the restaurateur, who co-owns three Chicago-area restaurants with chef Grant Achatz, and his forthcoming for wide release restaurant reservation system Tock that revolves around diners prepaying for meals and flexible pricing based on time selected.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Solid sports writing - by Burkholder, Posnanski, Arthur, Wetzel, & Tullis

Some recent great sports writing included a couple of pieces that that struck me as fascinating along with a few more that were really impactful as well.

Stories in the fascinating category were "Being Andre the Giant" by Denny Burkholder for the CBS Sports website and "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Dalkowski?" by Joe Posnanski for the NBC Sports site. Both pieces are on really interesting people with pro wresting star Andre Rene Roussimoff having passed away in 1993 and retired MLB pitcher Burkholder now 75-years-old.

Two pieces that felt to be on very cool people were "Canada’s Steve Nash calls time on transcendent NBA career" by Bruce Arthur for the Toronto Star and "Aaron Hernandez finally taken down by a 5-foot-tall operations manager" for Yahoo Sports by Dan Wetzel, with him writing about about jury foreman Lesa Strachan and the courage she showed in delivering the guilty of murder verdict to Hernandez.

The last piece of great writing to note here was by Matt Tullis for SB Nation. "The Ghosts I Run With" was a feature story about Tullis and how his running pastime makes him think back to his teenage years battling cancer, and how many of those he got close with didn't make it. It's extremely personal writing and really really good.

Twenty-four job searching thoughts

After about a month ago successfully completing my first job search in over ten years, I wanted to list out what things I learned through the process…

1. It really is easier to look for a job when you've got a job.
2. There’s something to the idea of you’re more desirable when someone else wants you.

Preparing to search:
3. Have a two page resume that includes accomplishment stories & top of resume summary built around them.
4. Have a presentation statement of who you are and what you've done ready for conversations.
5. Have prepared the answer to what type of job you’re after and why you’re looking.

6. Career coaches can be extremely helpful, especially around creating a resume and presentation statement.
7. People that hire career coaches typically do so after they’re frustrated, perhaps engage one before that.

Active searching:
8. Connections, people you know and those you're introduced to, are what’s going to get you looked at for a job.
9. Connections are good both in talking to people about what might exist and job postings you find.
10. Several good places to do keyword job searches include: LinkedIn, Indeed and VentureLoop.

11. Should focus on meetings with people every week (3–5 a good goal)… in-person best, but phone also good.
12. In these meetings, focus on telling interesting accomplishment stories from the resume.
13. People want to help, sometimes there’s not a lot they can do.
14. Be sure to thank people for their help and offer to help them any way you can.
15. Then let people know once you’re successful and start somewhere... and keep in touch with them.

16. Likely three-six months dedicated looking after goal identified, resume & presentation statement done.

17. If not qualified per the description for a job, you shouldn't feel bad about not being in the mix for it.
18. Timing is everything, and there’s any number of reasons why a particular job might not work out.
19. Be patient as your level of urgency not the same as other people’s.
20. Recruiters and hiring managers often don’t want to say why you’re not chosen, that’s ok.
21. If people say you’re not a fit, they’re probably right, and it’s not necessarily because of you.

22. Focus on continuous action & activities that you know are the correct path.
23. You can only put so much time each day into looking, also do things that help you feel good about yourself.
24. All the work you put in counts eventually.

Inspirational sports pieces - on Nate Boyer, Francesca Weems & Lauren Hill

Some remarkable sports pieces lately included a story on a 34-year-old NFL prospect, one on a sportscaster who spent several years of her childhood homeless, and two pieces on college basketball player Lauren Hill who recently died from cancer.

The NFL story was by Peter King for Sports Illustrated with his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback featuring the story of Nate Boyer, a former Army Green Beret who then went to the University of Texas, walked on to the football team, earned a spot as the long snapper and now aspires to an NFL spot.

The second piece to note here was by by Dave Reardon for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser with "HNN's Weems is hungry for life" on Francesca Weems, a 29-year-old sports media employee of Hawaii News Now who along with her older brother Marcus was homeless for several years of her childhood. It's a really cool story made all the more interesting by the mentoring and friendship that was provided by Neil Everett, current ESPN Sportscenter anchor who worked at Hawaii Pacific University when he got to know Francesca and Marcus.

The final pieces to mention are about college basketball player and inspiration Lauren Hill with first a WKRC Cincinnati story on her passing the prior day that included a great 7 minute video feature and then a Fox Sports piece the day after her public memorial service.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Interesting business pieces - on Dropbox, Chris Sacca & Ron Conway

There's been a few interesting pieces of business writing I've seen lately, including pieces recently published and related ones from a few years ago.

The latest issue of Fast Company Magazine had the feature story "Dropbox Versus the World" by J.J. McCorvey on the cloud storage company and the recent Forbes cover story was "How Super Angel Chris Sacca Made Billions, Burned Bridges And Crafted The Best Seed Portfolio Ever" by Alex Konrad.

Sacca is a venture capital who I've a few times posted on writing from and about him and after reading the Forbes profile, I then read two interesting older pieces, both written by Miguel Helft"A Post-Google Fraternity of Investors" was from the New York Times in 2007 and in part about Sacca and "Ron Conway is a Silicon Valley startup's best friend" was done for Fortune in 2012 on the venture capitalist noted in the Forbes piece as a former mentor of Sacca's.

Two great pieces of rememberance

There were two amazing recent pieces about parents remembering children who died, one written about a twin who five years ago died shortly after birth, as a result of fatal problems discovered in utero, and one by a father eulogizing his 21 year-old son.

The eulogy was "Remembering Max" posted to Medium by ESPN writer Ivan Maisel and the newspaper piece "Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact" by Michael Vitez for the Philadelphia Enquirer.

Really profound writing on both Max and Thomas.