Monday, June 23, 2014

Largest Companies by Revenue in Every State.

Broadview Networks has compiled a map that allows us to visualize the largest companies by revenue in every state.
Costco rules Washington state. Wouldn't have guessed that.

David Ogilvy, Father of Advertising, on the 10 Rules for Good Writing

David Ogilvy, one of the original Mad Men, an actual advertising giant once noted, "I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance."

Wisely put.

In 1962, Time called him "the most sought-after wizard in today's advertising industry." 

Think of him as Don Draper, I suppose. But maybe minus the aesthetic superiority of Jon Hamm. The guy can't have it all, after all.

Ogilvy excelled in the world of advertising, some would say he set the tone for how advertising ought to be done: by being involved with the product start to finish. One cannot be proficient in talking about a product without being able to sell it first. Talk without sell is cheap.

Ogilvy was a researcher at heart. His educational background had something to do with him having been at Oxford and, incidentally, he professionally referred to himself as an advertising researcher.

The first  job he held was that of a door-to-door salesman of AGA cooking stoves. He did so well with it that his employer asked him to write the instruction manual for other salespeople. Fortune magazine actually refers to this as the finest manual ever written. He was the best at selling it and he also happened to be the best writing about it. The correlation between both skills is indisputable.

Selling, much like writing is not just a skill one is born with but rather something one needs to work on heavily. It's only by way of much disciplined learning and practice that one can master both.

As I have been reading up on him, a few things jumped at me. One of them being the 10 Rules of Writing. I found them useful. You might too 

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  6. Check your quotations.
  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why a Triathlon?

I'm doing a triathlon.

It's in less than a month and I'm loving getting ready for it.

Prior to the past few years, I'd bike much more than I'd drive. When at Ohio State, I'd be on my Jamis Ventura non-stop. It actually stayed in my office on campus as I'd go and lecture and then I'd take it out for a long spin. We were, to quote one of my OSU pals, "joined at the hip." And they were right. We were. As a matter of fact, I biked everywhere and only drove sparingly and only if I really had to, like when I had to drive to a conference out-of-state or shop for big stuff. And I loved the feeling of freedom that the bike gave me.

Driving, while I enjoy it immensely as well as it takes me faster from Place A to Place B than biking or walking, doesn't have the desired side effect of fitness.

So, combining biking with my love of swimming which I've had opportunity to re-visit the past month, was a sure way to lead me to signing up for a Triathlon.

The one thing that's proven to be the most challenging is the discipline around timing. This summer I am giving myself time and permission to indulge and do something that is entirely for me. And doing a triathlon is not a prerequisite for anything else other than it's something that I want to do for myself.

And at first it felt weird to do something that's entirely for me and, fundamentally, for fun. But after a good week, it seems to have become a habit. Who knew it feels pretty good to do stuff just for yourself. Maybe I'll build more on this tradition and keep adding more activities of this nature.
I keep my custom-made bike right next to my iMac. I find that it helps to keep me on-task and motivated when I can see it as opposed to parking it next to my car where it would be out of sight most of the day. This way, it beckons. This way it says, "oy, don't forget to take me out for a spin. Remember than the biking portion of the triathlon is 40k and I need to be taken out regularly."

What I'm especially liking about the preparatory phase of a triathlon is the feeling of achievement and structure that it gives you. It's hard at times to self-propel and the surest way to do so is by creating a system in which, with time, it becomes easy to force yourself to be kept on-schedule. Couple this with my penchant for numbers and measuring and I seem to have gotten myself a good thing.

And a triathlon by definition is comprised of a number of different activities, i.e., three: Swimming-Biking-Running and, as a result, it's a surer way to keep one focused, on-point, and most importantly outside the grip of boredom. And the latter, for someone like me, is a real problem. The more varied the experience, the better.

Ergo, so far, I'm completely boredom-free. I'm thoroughly enjoying the preparatory phase, and my body is thanking me daily. Who knew I'd deprived it of so much attention! Now, it and I seem to be on the up and up and we're friends again. Good. Now the goal is to finish the race. And with my loved ones here to cheer me on how can I not do what I do and finish? Exactly. I'll do what I do. And I will finish. 25 days to go. Let's wrap this up in style!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Where Retail and Tech collide

Something caught my eye this morning as I was on my usual consumption of technology news.
This is Kristen Green. And she's currently one of the leading venture capitalists.

I was reading up on some other tech news and one of the links led me to Pando Daily's piece on Kristen Green. I was happy it did.
Andy Dunn of Bonobos was talking about Kirsten Green when he noted, "“She lives and breathes the collision of retail and tech in ways others are just dabbling."
Naturally, after reading this sentence, my curiosity was piqued and I had to know more about her.
The piece is compelling and it's especially compelling because it sheds light on the success of a female venture capitalist who has managed to enter the game of venture capital and win rather impressively in it.
And it's not like she has the usual pedigree of those that usually populate the space of venture capital. As Lacy points out in her piece,
"By most estimates women make up less than 10 % of the venture capital industry and those percentages dwindle as you climb the partner ranks. On one level, there’s not even a lot of progress to point to. There are fewer women in senior roles than there were 15 years ago. The top five firms don’t have a single female senior partner doing early stage investments, and the recently published Forbes Midas list was exactly four percent female."

But in a landscape, where there does not seem to be many key women players in business, Green has managed to build a niche for herself. Because sometimes, when a niche cannot be found, it just needs to be taken. Or built. Be that as it may, in order for a player to play the game the way they are wired to: i.e., win!, the player needs to create the space to play the game.

And as Lacy points out:
"In a try-anything attempt to find a unique perspective, she started to hang out in malls. “The closer I was to the customer, the more insight I would have,” she says. “I started spending more time in stores and talking about how the product looked, whether people were going to the mall, whether there was foot traffic.”
She developed a unique pulse on the sector, which turned into a job on the buy side of the investment bank. Things were looking up. And then specialty retail fell on hard times. It was no longer about expansion and new categories, it was about contraction. It was about who could show better same-store-sales, and what analyst could build a better model."

A good read. Another solid example of someone who learned that the most expeditious way to play with the best is to really master the basics first, gain confidence in knowledge, and demand a seat at the table. Or, as Sandberg puts it: "lean in." Even though I seem to prefer a different verb myself. March. March with purpose.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Caché of Leadership: the Marissa Mayer Effect

 This is the CEO of Yahoo.

First, she's a geek.
Second, she loves numbers.
Third, she is open about being a straight talker, fiercely intelligent, and aggressively ambitious.

Here's a bit of how she thinks as per the Vogue piece on her:

In her words: “I really like even numbers, and I like heavily divisible numbers. Twelve is my lucky number—I just love how divisible it is. I don’t like odd numbers, and I really don’t like primes. When I turned 37, I put on a strong face, but I was not looking forward to 37. But 37 turned out to be a pretty amazing year. Especially considering that 36 is divisible by twelve!”

I especially liked reading about her when I first found out that she was the choice for Yahoo CEO after the company blew through three 3 different CEO's in less than a year! I remember having a chat with one of my business friends in the States right before she was picked for her current gig and he saying that the reason why Yahoo never seemed to get its act together was because of who they were hiring as their CEO's. They were all basically the same. And you can't get innovation from same ol', same ol'. Innovation, by definition, is about change, difference, newness. And Marissa Mayer was wildly different from the other three CEO's. Ergo, she was successful.

What Marissa has, that the other three didn't, was the courage to be different, be a change agent in her company and choose to publicly stand for something new. Marissa made decisions with little regard for popularity, such as requiring that people not work from home. She required people to come to work and not telecommute because she firmly believed that working together in the same space and at the same time made people "more collaborative and innovative." While this idea and decision did not make her popular in the short run, it proved to be a smart move. And she stuck by it. This is yet another important trait of leadership: needing to stick by one's well thought out and well researched decisions.

Because sticking to one's well-thought out and researched decisions is not intransigence. It's intelligence!

Plus, her idea was not just born in thin air. There is much academic work that backs up her decision. The Research of Richard Florida, Dean of the Rottman School of Business, rests on the notion that in order for people, industries, and cities to succeed, they all have to congregate and cluster. His work on Who's Your City stipulates that proximity leads to results and success and the internet cannot bridge what person-to-person closeness can.

As the Vogue article says:

"She also instituted a weekly all-hands meeting and added new perks with symbolic importance: free food in the cafeterias, on par with the standard at Google and elsewhere, iPhones instead of BlackBerrys, and the elimination of turnstiles that were costing employees an average of six minutes a day going in and out of buildings. While insisting that everyone show up for work, she also began removing cubicle barriers and office walls to foster a more collaborative work environment." 

Mayer's open and courageous leadership has already yielded much fruit. The result has been an immediate turnaround at Yahoo. Because that's just what leadership is: the desire and courage to stand for something, to make decisions, to act.

And Marissa is different. She seems to have chosen to operate in a gender-neutral reality. And I love that! In a male-dominated business, Mayer stands out. Not only is she a force to be reckoned with who doesn't just accept the landscape in which she is playing, she reinvents the rules of the game with a kind of swagger that is very now. As the Vogue spread on her back in September so defiantly said to the world, "Look at me. I'm smart, I'm intense, I make decisions. Deal with it."

Deeply analytical, geeky to a fault, and a lover of technology, she epitomizes what a leader in technology ought to be like: capable, unapologetic about innovation, fierce. And she's one of my role models. A leader who I think ought to be emulated across industry channels. And one whose style is bound to get appropriated and replicated sooner rather than later. Because to thrive in business, one requires active hands-on leadership and courage to innovate.

Another thing the Vogue piece says:

"[Marissa]’s not kidding about being a geek. Mayer talks about numbers as if they were people, refers casually to x- and y-axes, and drops terms like stochastic factor (it means a random distribution) in conversation. On business issues, she speaks awkwardly, piling as many likes into a sentence as Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. But when she gets on to technology, she turns effortlessly articulate."

In short, she's interesting. And leaders, in order for them to be followed, thus have real caché, they need to be interesting. They need to stand out. They need to be quotable. That's what leadership is. It's, at the core, about swagger, about newness, and a tad about quirkiness.

Those that resist quirkiness and novelty in leadership will not survive. Not in the world we live in. The world we live in eventually will side with the smart, quirky, different folks. Like Marissa. Like Steve Jobs. Like Richard Branson. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Don Draper Factor and a Fun Flight

"Even Don Draper's talent is not limitless." I found myself saying to the fellow who happened to be sitting next to me on my last flight.

I figured I'd regurgitate the content we both shared and post it here. It was a fun flight and one on which, the universe threw me a bone. There were no screaming babies on this one. It was a great flight to an even more awesome trip. 

Let me start by saying that I don't enjoy small talk usually. Small talk takes time from things of more substance, I find. But the fellow sitting next to me was very polite and he kept looking at my screen as I was catching up on the latest season of Mad Men. I finally remove my headset, turn to him and ask, "did you want to watch this?"

The look on his face seemed to indicate that my words were perhaps a tad sarcastic. They weren't. My offer to co-watch was genuine. It's very easy to be kind to strangers after all. Here we were on a long flight and I don't like it when someone furtively looks at my stuff. I'm much more comfortable with confrontation. And so he says, "You don't mind?" I add, quickly, "No, not at all. Here. I have a splitter too. So, lets connect both of our headsets."

And so here I was. Watching the last episode of Mad Men with a perfect stranger. And the following is a summary of the chat we had afterwords. The flight was long and the episode is but 45 minutes.

As I now finally manage to carve some time  and watch the new season, the very last season of this transformative show, I keep thinking of how it has evolved these past 9 years. And as I think about Don Draper and the cast of Mad Men, as well as the narrative therein, I cannot help but take stock of the past 9 years as well. Much has happened since then. In less than a decade I got a PhD, became Dr. Ribaj, taught, published, and lectured at a Big Ten university, then left and entered the world of business in which I learned just how valuable my background, education, and natural ability with numbers is. In less than a decade I learned what I'd inherently known since early childhood, that I can pretty much do anything. A lot of this has to do with nature and nurture, sure. But a good portion of it has to do with the kind of media that I choose to masticate and appropriate. "No person is an island," as the fellow sitting next to me on the last flight told me. And I concur. Plus, the media that we are drawn to either brings out what's already inherent in us or helps place us on track. But then, again, I digress. This is not a post about me or my last trip. It's about Don Draper and Mad Men

In the new season, the very last of Mad Men, Don Draper finds himself in a "Leave of Absence". His partners found his behavior vis-à-vis a client unacceptable and they forced him to a break. Don is not good at breaks. Don does what Don wants to do, after all. Don is genuine. After all, what he knows how to do naturally is create, innovate, do. Or as he uttered in a previous season, "I want to work. I want to create something that's mine." And that's why he commits to work. Work lets him be. In work Don finds meaning.

And yet in the new season, he finds himself needing to take stock of everything. And Meagan has left to pursue her acting career in Los Angeles. Don is entirely solo. And as he intimates to Peggy in the current season, he's always alone even when sharing time with Meagan.

Solitude, alas, often happens while in sociality.

Roger Sterling, the very man that found and elevated Don, seems to be the only one who is still fully banking on him. "He's a genius," said Roger in an almost petulant manner as he seemed incredulous of his peers' skeptical view of Don.

All the other partners, including Joan, seem to think that Don is more of a liability and that he, and consequently them, will be better off by going elsewhere.

But Don, who's definitely not a stickler for such 'minor details' as "is he on a Leave of Absence or isn't he?", decides just when he's done sitting on the bench.

Basically, Don knows what Don knows. And what Don knows is a heck of a lot more than the rest of the people in his line of work. And Don wants to work. Don doesn't work because he has to. He works because he needs to. He needs to let ideas go free. He needs to verbalize what comes naturally to him. For Don, work is a mode of escapism. Work always came easily to Don and, as such, it never was a job.

Peggy, in her new-found role as Copy Chief seems to be trying too hard to look important. If only things came as easily to her as they come to Don. But then again, if only Don weren't as darn talented as he is. If he were more, well, average, he would not be the polarizing figure that he is.

And what a great season the very last season of Mad Men is proving to be. I am now almost fully caught up and I reckon I know how it will end. We'll have to wait and see how it does.

I didn't think I'd not mind sharing my media consumption with a total stranger but I'm happy to say I had a great time doing so. And it did help that he's a Mad Men fan.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Nashville Track I Cannot Stop Listening to

I love this track. Love it!

I got into Nashville form the first year of release.

Plus, I have a soft spot for Tennessee. Even though I have only briefly visited the Southern state, I know people from there who, invariably, are all interesting.

Plus, Sam Palladio makes me think of my friend Liam, also a musician. So, here's to you, Liam!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Difference between Ambition and Drive

I had an opportunity the other day to engage in a conversation where I found myself compelled to make a semantic distinction between ambition and drive. The last time I really thought about the lexeme 'ambition' was when Gladiator came out, the summer of 2000. That summer I was at university, teaching a summer course on the nuances of the German language as opposed to heading to Germany with my then significant other for the Summer. But, I stayed put. My inner sense of 'drive' I suppose dictated that I stay behind and zero in on words every day. I stayed in a scorching hot Utah, agreeing to teach a Summer Course on German Existentialism instead. But I just digressed again. I reckon, it's context.

Anyway, the film Gladiator came out in 2000 and to escape the unbearable heat, which I cannot stand by the way which is why I always privilege colder places as a result, we would go to the movies. The extreme AC felt good. I remember going to see Gladiator repeatedly with my friends and the word I fixated upon was "ambition." The quote that stood out to me was the one where Commodus gives his take on ambition to his father whose affection and attention were happily placed on someone else.

Commodus notes: "You wrote to me once, listing the four chief virtues: Wisdom, justice, fortitude and temperance. As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues, father. Ambition. That can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness, courage, perhaps not on the battlefield, but... there are many forms of courage."

I remember consulting the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) then to get to the core of the noun 'ambition.' And I hung on to the definition. Plus, I have this curse of a memory that doesn't let me forget what I read quite so easily. And the word ambition is coming up with more frequency now, for some reason.

I never quite knew how to verbalize where I stood on the ambition/drive scale, till I mentioned in passing conversation that some people, I suppose myself as well, are driven by way of how they are genetically wired. One cannot help but be motion-centric, driven. And while ambition is defined by specificity in goals, drive is a general force that compels one to propel one's self forward, to always be on-the-go. Because movement is the only option or rather the raison d'être of one. And lack of movement goes against nature, thus the two cannot co-exist.

Also, as I was reviewing Cheryl Sandberg book again this week, Lean In, especially as it pertains to her discussion on ambition. Sanderg 'genders' her take on ambition and, prior to entering the business field and in the days when I was a pure theoretician in higher academia as I kept pontificating on gender, I would have disagreed with her take. I actually would have dismissed it. But I can see now what she means when she says that: "ambition is perceived as a negative quality in a woman when it would be positive in a man."

It is actually amusing to me that I find myself hearing the word 'ambition' with the frequency that I'm hearing it. And in every case I automatically go to the other lexeme: drive. To me, drive encapsulates things better than ambition. So, I suppose, Sandberg is sort-of-right. Even though semantically there's nothing problematic or 'negative' about the word ambition, when affiliated with a woman it sort of, kind of comes across as, well, not so positive. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

PhD's as Fashion Models?

This is an interesting bit. 

The article states:

"When you look beyond the ranks of the professionally beautiful, photography becomes a lot more fun. Our designers cooked up a collection of smart fashions for spring, so why not display them on the bodies of women with really big brains?"

Not necessarily a new idea but good to see it revisited. Content needs to be accompanied by the right form. Aesthetics is never inconsequential. And I reckon it makes sense that the setting be in California. After all the UC system has enough campuses throughout the state to provide the talent pool.

Here's one example of a dress worthy of a PhD-er, I suppose:

You can read more here.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Why I Love Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well: "Guy Plays Guitar the Way You Talk."

I love the music of an Alt Rock British band called A Silent Film. I love their music. Love, love, love it! Their pace of sound makes me want to move even faster than I'm compelled to. And I feel at ease. I feel aligned with something else. Their music does that to me.

The other night, one of my best friends called me to catch up on the week. And then we got to talking about music as we always do and he brought up A Silent Film.

He said: "Guy plays guitar the way you talk." I got a kick out of his sentence. But then I got curious. So, I checked out the track. Closely. For some reason, I'd lavished other tracks from this band with attention and this one had somehow fallen through the cracks. The one that got away.... Well, not for long. That's why I got the friends I do. 

For years now I've written here about how much music informs anything and everything of substance and levity that I've ever done. And every time that statement rings true. I used to be puzzled, annoyed even, at the fact that I'd not approach the day with the same exuberance as I would when I knew I had a great new album to check out or a new live show to see. You know that feeling of waking up filled with excitement because you're doing something special that day? Yes, that's the feeling.

And I always think of Nietzsche's brilliant point about the blind, music-loving Socrates' notion of music being the most perfect 'language' of them all. And how right he was. Is.

A great track can make a day. The lack of a great track can make one lose perspective. Ergo, there's nothing trivial about music. Not to me.

Because without it, I make no sense. And as measured and analytical and focused my daily existence is, without a great track or a few minutes of music, nothing makes sense. It can all go out of focus. Very quickly.

Another older track of theirs: You Will Leave a Mark is something I've heard thousands of time as well. Especially while living out West and driving along the ocean. Those were the days. It's funny how you never think of "ah, those were the days" when you're actually in them, living them. Nostalgia is never a picture of accuracy. But the current days I'm living could very well be "the days' as well. I do have some good music today. That's a good first step.

Let's look at a live version of Danny, Dakota, and The Wishing Well:

I know why I am attracted to this. It's fast. It's full of motion. The sound is vibrant and it matches a fast walker's natural pace. You will see the same pace on You Will Leave a Mark. It speeds up beautifully.

So, enjoy the music of A Silent Film as you explore them as well.

And if you have not seen them live, find a way to do so. My friend is right. He does play guitar like I talk. A fast pace is a good thing. It better be. It's all some of us know.