Terrorism of the Mind

This week, wow. So many things in such a short amount of time. And the effects of them all are going to be much further reaching than the attention span of the 24 hour news cycle. Families in Boston and in West, Texas and those surrounding areas are going to be dealing with the impact that these tragedies made for a long time to come. And, while it is in a much less direct way, I am concerned about the long lasting impact that events like this have on me. Whenever there is an intentional act of evil committed, there is an obsession and in depth look the perpetrators. When the terror is committed in the name of an ideology or religion or as an act of war from one country against another, my mind can wrap my head around it. Not completely, but a little bit more than when it is an act of individual cowardice and pure evil, one human being deciding that he is going to take out as many other human beings as possible. For whatever reasons eventually come forward, they are never understandable.

On September 11, 2001, my 2pm Economics class wasn't canceled when just about every other class was. My professor, a grizzled old Vietnam vet, explained to us that for ever minute of that day and every day going forward that we lived our lives differently because of the acts of terror committed against human kind, for each moment we spent in fear, the terrorist won. They hate our way of life and each moment of our way of life that we lived differently because of them, they claimed victory.

I thought about that statement yesterday afternoon when getting on an incredibly full New York City subway. And I hate that I thought about it then. I hate that, because of these two brothers in Boston, I looked at everyone on the subway with a little bit of suspicion. I hate that their act of cowardice and evil caused me to look at my fellow New Yorkers and their backpacks and wonder. I hate that the shrapnel of the bombs detonated in Boston landed in my consciousness and now requires some healing on my part.

These are insane times we live in. Both here in America and around the world. But, as my professor said, every moment we spend in fear is a moment that they win. Here's to beating back that kind of mental terrorism and reclaiming the benefit of the doubt.

Always remember, "the brightest lights cast the darkest shadows..."

Don't Smile Until Thanksgiving

With each job that I've had, I taken away some long term practical advice. Being a bus driver in college was one job that didn't yield quite as many nuggets of wisdom as some jobs that came after graduation, but there was one piece of advice that I learned, applied, and saw results from. The sage counsel came from an Education major at Texas A&M, she said "Don't smile until Thanksgiving." Quick note: being a school bus driver in college is the best job ever. You make $12-15/hr, never work nights, weekends, or holidays, and get to watch kids get excited when they see you turn your Bluebird onto their street and flip open the flashing red stop sign. Fun times all around.

Not completely understanding the point of my friend's advice at the time, I follow it anyway. I was relatively stern with all of the kids on my bus routes. They wanted to listen to ghetto rap radio, I forced them to listen to country music. They wanted to play musical chairs, I stopped the bus and watched them go back to their seats. They wanted to hang out the windows, I put the windows up if they tried it. And, after the first couple weeks, they started telling me that "Mr. Casey (the other driver on my route) lets us...." to which I replied, "Then do it tomorrow when he's driving. Not on my bus."

Now, a funny thing happened. Sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving, order had been established. Country music was understood as the soundtrack for Mr. Andy's bus, butts stayed in seats, and the windows stayed open because no one tried to throw their seat mate out while we wear stopped at a light. But then, in an unforeseen turn of events, the kids started complaining about Mr. Casey being mean. They things that he used to let them do, he now didn't and they liked riding with me better.

I found out that Mr. Casey had had a couple of parents call in because their kids were hanging out the windows when they came around the corner to be dropped off and may or may not have been singing rap lyrics as they walked in the front door. Mr. Casey had to crack down on his routes and the fun loving attitude had to change. Or, put another way, he smiled before Thanksgiving.

Now, ten years later, I'm not driving buses any more (though I do miss having a 36 foot vehicle under my control) but I am still following the principle of "not smiling until Thanksgiving." It is so much easier to establish respect and the ground rules for a professional relationship and watch a friendship emerge than to start 'buddy/buddy' and try to flip it to having professional relationship. I don't want a sales guy to be my friend. I want him to sell me on why his product is better than others and on the value that it creates for me and my company. If, in that process, a relationship develops beyond that, it's a bonus. But, when there is too much smiling and not enough closing, I end up listening to ghetto rap and trying to shove that sales guy out the window.

New Perspective

This has been the kind of Saturday that makes me smile. Besides waking up at 6:30am to a beautiful sunrise, reading a new book on a park bench in the East Village with my venti coffee, doing a 32 mile bike ride, and eating Breakfast Tacos, I also got ahead on a couple of projects that have been sitting on my desk for longer than I care to admit. I just hadn't been able to push aside some of the "half-tos" long enough to get to some of these "want-tos." But it wasn't just the Breakfast Tacos that got me in the right frame of mind to get these projects tackled. I got a new perspective.

I've been in my office in the East Village for almost two years now. I am on the second floor and have a pretty great set up. But, today, I packed up my laptop and trusty Mole Skin and headed up a couple floors. I locked myself in a conference room with a whiteboard and a large Fiji water bottle and started cranking. As the evening cooled off I opened the windows and just kept pushing and had a couple of brainstorms worthy of the root idea.

And, even though I was only a couple flights up from my normal spot in the office, there was just enough new perspective to get them thinking just a little bit bigger than I probably would've if I'd been in my office. I'd never seen the view captured in this picture before.

Some times some ideas just need a little new perspective.

Warren Buffett & Jay-Z

I have an obsession. One that was cultivated at a very early age and one that I'm even more intentional about now. It is an obsession with learning from others who are the best at what they do. In my mind, it doesn't matter what industry they're in or what kind of work they do. There are parallels that can be drawn and ways of thinking that cut across generations, industries,  and creeds.  Watching someone who is the best at what they do talk about how they do it is an incredible thing to behold. But when you get two people who are the best at what the do, arguably the best at what they do in the history of their professions, sitting in the same room and talking about it together, that is pure mind stimulation gold. Being born in Omaha and having worked for a company associated with Berkshire Hathaway, I have been a Warren Buffett fan for a long time. Now living in NYC and being true fan of the perfection that is possible in word-smithing and lyrical story telling, there is no one better than Jay-Z.

In this interview with Steve Forbes, they are both incredibly open and candid about the challenges and the factors that played a role in the success that they've had respectively and what they see for themselves going forward. It is worth the 52:39 to watch the whole thing (watch it here) but here are the quick hits that I took away the first time I watched it

"I was lucky, I got started early. I knew what I wanted at a young age. I'd read every book on investing in the Omaha Public Library by the time I was 12." - WB

"You don't have to be smart in this business (investing), you have to have emotional stability and not care about what people think once you've made your decision. " - WB

"I love Tom Watson's quote, 'I'm smart in spots and I tend to stay around those spots.'" - WB

"Success doesn't come from making a ton of brilliant decisions as much as it comes from making sure to never make terrible ones." - WB

"Being an artist is similar to being an investor. Both professions are a constant battle to find and act on the truth. To explain your truth." - JZ

"Music is like stocks. There are always things that are hot and the foolish jump for the popular. I've stay true to what I know and that is how I've been consistently successful." -JZ

"I get to do what I love everday. It doesn't get any luckier than that." - WB

"Knowing what to leave out is just as important as knowing what to focus on." - WB

"I was once asked. "How do you beat Bobby Ficsher?" The answer is simple, play him in something other than chess." - WB

"When the landscape of business changes, you don't have to change who you are you just have to change how you go about communicating that." - JZ

"The best moat that you can have is your own talent. The markets can't take that away from you. Neither can competitors or inflation." - WB

"I tell students all the time, you have the brain power and the energy, develop the habits of success now, early in your career." - WB

"Charitable Foundations are not tested by the markets. It makes it a lot easier for them to lose focus when they don't have to stand up to a market test." - WB

"Philanthropy is a much tougher task than business. In business you're looking for the easy thing to put money towards that will lead to quick results and the bottom line. In philanthropy, you're looking for the hardest things in the world and endeavoring to make them right." - WB

"If you succeed 100% of the time (in philanthropy) your projects are too easy." - WB

"If at the end of my life I was known as one thing, it would be as a teacher. There is no higher calling than that." - WB

Hurricane? Party?

Looks like after "surviving" an earthquake earlier this week, DC and NYC are going to have the rare chance to experience another natural disaster: Hurricane Irene. So, I think that there is really only one question to ask: what kind of supplies do I need to host a hurricane party? If you're in the city and want to come out and watch Irene make her way up the Eastern seaboard, come on over the Half Pint Friday after work for a rocking good start to what is sure to be a wet and wild weekend. RSVP HERE

Daring Greatly

Theodore Roosevelt is responsible for one of my favorite quotes. A trip to Valencia, Spain and the Bull Fighting Museum (and some great photography by Annie) is responsible for one of my new favorite pictures. Put together, they are a great reminder to dare greatly.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt