Sunday, September 28, 2014

What I Learn from Windsurfing

I live in a beautiful part of the world. I get to get in my car, which is fully equipped with a fantastic rack for hauling my gear, get my coffee and, vroom, in a few minutes I'm on the beach. Ready to greet the ocean and challenge myself.

I find I provide good quality of work during the week, good quality of sociality to my loved ones throughout the week, and have a generally solid existence due to the work I put into my physical pursuits such as running and all the water sports I'm pursuing. There's a lot of truth to the "work hard, play hard" adage. 

The water has been calling me since day one. There's something so centering and therapeutic about the ocean that no other thing can seem to match.

This summer I got to really get into paddleboarding and I feel I'm so much the better and the healthier as a result.

Transitioning to windsurfing came naturally. While paddleboarding, I'd come across a lot of windsurfers and would at times engage in conversation with them while out on the water and aways from the shore. I first flirted with the idea of windsurfing when I was a teenager but then life got very busy and I moved to a land-locked state to go to university and the sports of choice in that part of the US were snow-supported.

But now I'm fortunate to live in a place where I get to explore both the water and the snow and how could I not!

Windsurfing is not easy. It's not. It's hard work. It requires concentration, a strong upper body, and just basic grit and relentlessness. Plus, the gear is no joke. In addition to the right board, one needs to invest in the right sail and all the additional accoutrement that will make getting into this sport not only easier but more fun. In sum, it's not like running where all you need is a pair of good shoes. This sport requires a lot. But when you can stand up and go with the wind, there's nothing like it. Nothing!

Putting the sail together, connecting the mast, and getting the board and the sail surf-ready doesn't happen at the wink of an eye. It requires much focus. But I find the hands-on-ness of that whole process really intriguing as well.

And when you're in the ocean and you're doing tacks and jibes as your back is to the wind and let it carry you places, man, it feels so great! No, amazing!

Plus, if paddling with purpose was pretty hardcore for your core, well, windsurfing is a heck of a lot of work for the entire body. It's not just the arms that get a major workout. The upper legs and the core get put to the test as well.

Windsurfing is one of the few activities that makes me fall out of time. Completely. From the moment early on a weekend morning that I put my Level Six layers on to getting on the board and attempting to 'read wind' the best way I can, I feel one with the water, the wind and other surfers around me and I have no way of explaining what that's like. One simply needs to experience this great sport, to get it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Summer of Great Firsts

As I was on my paddleboard this afternoon, I thought to myself, "seriously, where did this summer go?" And I kept paddling away as I was enjoying how fast my Boga board tends to go when the winds gives us a bit of a push especially on overcast days like today. A good Labor Day weekend, no doubt.

You see, prior to this summer, I had no experience of the paddleboard. I've always had an affinity for the ocean and I've always been partial to swimming having loved it deeply since the early years of my childhood as I would frolic in the Mediterranean. But other than the snowboard, I had no experience of being on a board on the water.

So, the day after the Vancouver Triathlon, literally right after I completed the race, I went home and announced the following, "I want to learn how to paddleboard. Going to buy one at MEC tomorrow."

And this is how it happened. The first part of the race was swimming in the ocean. It is quite a thing to enter the ocean at the same time as hundreds of people. The first 5 minutes were tough. Very tough.
I remember feeling claustrophobic at the thought of so many people swimming competitively so close to me. Plus, my wet suit simply felt too tight in the cold water and I started to think that I would perhaps, in a matter of seconds, start to hyperventilate. But I didn't. You see, I had a choice. I could not complete the race, turn around, and go home or I could look around me and take inspiration from all the people in the ocean who had chosen to do the same thing that Sunday morning at 7AM as me: swim in the Pacific Ocean and finish a race.

And right after that thought, I was fine. Really fine. I enjoyed the swim. Immensely. I even started to feel a little melancholy at the thought of not getting to use the wetsuit for that many activities after the race. "Wait, there's more you could do in the ocean. You don't need a triathlon to serve as a pretext for you to be by the ocean, do you?"

And then my mind went to paddleboarding. "I'll do that. I'll paddle board. Yeah. Now, let's finish this."

And that's exactly what I did the very next day. I got a paddleboard. I actually tried a few different ones till I found the perfect board for me, the uber-awesome orange and white Boga!

And since that day, I have not looked back.

What I find most interesting is that boarding keeps me even more focused on my running. I now run every day as I cover at least 5k-8k a day and 10-15k over the weekend. My practice on the paddleboard is keeping me focused on running races now. Funny how things inform one another. And my mind is clear as the body keeps getting stronger and stronger. Plus, I get to experience this thing called "a runner's high." And, holy cow, what a great thing it is! I can't compare it to anything else I have ever experienced. All I can say is that you have got to work hard to get to experience it. But, when you do, you will not be the same. You will be so much better for it! Trust. You will.

Paddleboarding has added so much to my life and my regimen of fitness that I cannot think of not practicing it. When I look at my board, whether it's mounted on my car or in the garage, I feel happy. And I know why that is. There's a feeling of quietude, happiness, and belonging that I feel when near the Pacific Ocean. And I always felt it. It's the reason why the West is the only place in the planet that has truly felt like home.

I do think that just like we choose places, place choose us as well. And the West is my home. It's where happiness feels real.

The thing is, I would not have discovered this great new addition to my life, if I hadn't signed up for the Vancouver Triathlon. I met some great people training for the triathlon and the day of the race was sheer heaven. The feeling of being surrounded by people who are after the same pursuit as you and who want you to do well and encourage you on is the stuff of beauty.

As soon as I moved to the West, I immediately signed up for the triathlon. And the very next day I started to train heavily, at times for 4 hours a day. And what great dividends it yielded! Once the triathlon concluded, I felt the urge to keep racing and I signed up for different local races as well as the marathon which will be in 6 weeks now. One race begets the desire for another and yet another after that.

In sum, as I was taking stock of this summer while on my board this afternoon, I was overcome with a feeling of gratitude and happiness that I get to do what I do and experience what I experience in the place that I love best.

And sometimes it takes a little board to put things in perspective.

Today, right as I was getting closer to the shore, a fellow on a windsurf said to me: 'Hey, how about this wind, eh?' We got to chatting for a quick minute and I asked him about his surf board. I left that experience feeling the need and desire to transition to that sport next. He looked like he was having so much fun. "You look like you're having a lot of fun on that thing," he said to me as he sailed away. "Oh man, say that again! It's awesome!" I said. And perhaps he will now practice paddleboarding as I get myself the perfect windsurf for me.

Naturally, I will. This is what I will be doing next.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Paddleboarding: A Great Sport of Strength & Concentration

I have found a new pursuit that I keep loving more and more every day.


I love it. Love it! It is such a great mix of strength, concentration, and summer enjoyment that it begs for constant practice. Couple that with a great dose of fun and the incredible surrounding geography of the Northwest and you're left with an incomparable experience. 

I've only picked up the sport recently while training for the triathlon which took place a couple of weeks ago and about which I will write soon. The very next day I picked up the board, headed to the ocean, fell a few times as I got the hang of the board and the act of balancing on it, and after practicing daily, I'm now fully enjoying what this phenomenal activity has to offer: a great workout, an amazing opportunity to take in the beautiful surroundings, and a fun time getting to know and relating with the people who share a love of the sport.

Having loved the ocean since practically early childhood, taking to this new activity was natural. There's something so soothing and inspiring about the ocean. It's the kind of place in which strength and a fast pace are equally appreciated as quietude and slowness. It's the kind of space that's always oozed familiarity for me. Hence, I always feel in my element when in it regardless of whether I'm in Europe or North America.

My favorite bit about paddle boarding was falling off the board. I was not surprised to be told that this was the least likeable side effect of the sport for most. But the way I saw it, falling off the board was just an added opportunity to keep swimming especially when far from the shore. Or as my Dad said, "well, it's the innate optimist in you that chooses to see things differently." I thought that was a sweet thing to say but also, at the core, true and perhaps not entirely biased. Isn't everything about perspective and attitude after all? And everything looks, feels, and appears better and more enjoyable when seen positively. But I digress. It must be the all the endorphins from daily exercising.

What I'm finding out from paddle boarding is that I can save on time and introduce a higher level of efficiency to my workouts.

I'm of the school of thought that looks at efficiency as part of fun. So, I have to take it into account when it comes to working out as well.

While a few weeks ago while heavily getting ready for the triathlon I'd lift weights, run daily between 5k-10k, and bike three times a day between 10k-20k, plus go to yoga 5 times a week, now a simple two hour practice on the board seems to provide a holistic workout while saving me some major time.

And since I've already conditioned myself to measure everything hourly, this works out just perfectly.

If you have not tried paddleboarding,  do give it a chance. My friends and family hear about it ad nauseam but I do think it's the kind of experience that will add much to your summer experience, your overall health, and it will give you a chance to bond further with your loved ones as you enjoy getting to know new people.

Plus, what I'm finding out is that with the right gear, you can practice this sport come rain or sunshine. And I especially liked paddling in the rain this week.

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!