You have a mission

June 07, 2010

It struck me the other day, as I was calmly reading through John Gruber’s excellent blog, Daring Fireball. There was a link to Steve Jobs’ appearance last week at the “All Things D” conference, where the Apple CEO sat through a 100 minute long Q&A session with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

The range of topics that were addressed was very wide and, surprisingly, Jobs was very straightforward in his answers. This is all the more surprising given Jobs secretive nature. As an example, I’ve decided to show you one of the clips that are available from the “All Things D” website:

In this video you can see how Steve answers clearly, without dodging the question or playing nice. This kind of behavior extended during the 100 minute session. This is not to say that he answered every question, obviously. The nature of his job demands some secrets to be kept, but all in all, it was a very satisfying experience to watch.

To me, it speaks volumes about the quality of Jobs as a leader. He personifies his company in a way that very few CEO’s are able to do. Jobs is self assured, calm and reasoned. He gets this attitude from the conviction that he is in this planet doing the one thing he does best. He KNOWS this is his mission. And Apple is his legacy.

Then the next day, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer stepped on stage. John Gruber linked to another very interesting article in Daring Fireball comparing both CEO’s, their demeanor, and the economic performances of their companies under their respective command. While the article’s bussiness reasoning and the tools used in the comparison could be debatable, the differences between both leaders can not. The contrast between them is as stark as it could possibly be.

Let me put it as clearly as I can: I don’t like Steve Ballmer. He strikes me as aggressive, arrogant and, above all, as someone that doesn’t give a damn about what he’s doing. It’s as though he somehow found himself in charge of the biggest software company in the planet and decided what the hell, let’s  see how this goes….

Leaders are not like that. As Napoleon once said: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”. Well, Ballmer has made not one, but a few too many mistakes in his time as Microsoft’s CEO. His company failed to adapt to the Internet era, and now finds itself lagging behind as others innovate. If not for Windows and Office, Microsoft would be in serious trouble. Under Ballmer, they tried to compete in the music and phone markets, only to fail miserably. All this from the technology company with the biggest amount of resources at its disposal.

This is not to say they’re doing poorly, obviously. If you do the numbers, they’re still a huge company. But in the past they were driving the industry forward, and now they’re trying desperately to catch up with it. Ballmer has surely done many things right as CEO, but his achievements pale in comparison to those of his predecessor. This visionary literally laughed at Apple’s iPhone, the phone that changed the whole industry:

Then, he attempted to mock the iPad by sponsoring a conspicuously similar device from HP (just shy of a rip-off, actually), just weeks before HP canceled the project entirely:

The list goes on. In the same “All Things D” conference, he even dared to poke fun at the iPad again, a device that’s selling like hotcakes (2 million already sold, which represents a rate of 1 every 3 seconds since it launched). All this while Microsoft had nothing to show for itself. Windows based tablets are simply laughable compared to the iPad, Windows Mobile is lagging behind Android and iPhone OS, and in the music industry the Zune is… well, nevermind.

This man is hurting Microsoft even more than Apple is. When a company is run by a man without a mission, things invariably start to go south sooner rather than later. There’s a huge difference between going wherever life takes you without asking; and acting out of conviction, moved by sheer force of will.

The best part is, this applies for everyone, not just CEO’s. You have been given a set of skills that make you unique. You have decided to invest your precious time and effort to develop a series of talents that set you apart from the rest. What you should ask yourself is: “What do I do best?”. Maybe you care deeply about others and firmly believe that you can help them with your work. Maybe you have a unique insight into what makes people tick, and can get the best results out of a team. Or maybe you code like Neo because you can SEE the Matrix. I don’t know. This is a question that only you can answer. But once you know how you work, once you know what you’re supposed to do, the real fun begins.

Then the question becomes, “What is my mission?”

And the answer is the ride of a lifetime.

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March 20th: International Purging Day →

March 14, 2010 |

Yes, it’s exactly what you think. And it’s awesome.

Show the world you care about your own life and you value your time and attention. Save it for the people who really matter, and let go of the rest.

Just do it. You’ll feel so much better afterwards, trust me.



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On Evasion and Sanity

February 21, 2010

Hey there,

It’s funny how life always seems to have a few surprises in store for you. It reminds me of the song “Ironic”, by Alanis Morissette. I’ll come back to this in the future, I just wanted to get it out there.

Lately I’ve been getting the feeling that my work has kept me away from tending to the blog in the way it deserves. My apologies. It’s actually not just my blog that’s gotten out of control, but my personal life as well. You should know, however, that this irresponsible behavior won’t persist much longer. In about two weeks time, most of my commitments will either be met or forever gone, so I will find myself with some much-needed time on my hands to reflect, build on original ideas and exercise the creative muscles of my mind.

It’s always been like this. When I’m not building, I’m not happy. I can’t possibly be. Ideas start piling up in my head until I can’t take it any more, and I need to take a free day to do something about it. To be myself, period. Sometimes that involves staring at the ceiling for extended periods of time; others you will find me drawing with ten sheets of paper and seven different charcoal sticks scattered on the table; or frantically typing on my laptop, and if you talk to me, chances are I won’t hear a word you’re saying: I’m in, deep.

I think we all need these periods of readjustment. One can only function in society for so long, especially with all this global connectivity trend becoming more and more the norm. That reminds me, the post I’ve been working on lately is a formal attempt to capture my opinion on social networking. That is well underway, and it should be done soon, although I really can’t say when exactly. Just as a teaser, think about the perverse pleasure you get when the phone rings, and you just let it keep ringing. The second it’s over, you feel great. You have successfully evaded the pressure of the outside world, and are actively choosing to dedicate some time to yourself. That’s big. We don’t have nearly enough time for ourselves, and as a result we are all inevitably underdeveloped and scattered as human beings. How many times have you found yourself without a self-assured opinion about a certain topic, only because you never dedicated any time to consider the issue?

It’s simple, the people we find most attractive are those who show self-confidence and trust in their instincts on any given day. Think about the people you admire, your idols. It’s that determination and laser-like focus that sets them apart from the rest of us. That only comes from self-knowledge.

More on that soon.

Until then, be good to each other.



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The words you're not saying

February 03, 2010

Just a quick reminder: the words you’re not saying are eating you up.

Let them out. The world will understand.

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Quote of the Day →

January 10, 2010 |

The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

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Enter The Kingdom of HOLY SHIT

January 07, 2010

It’s been a while since I last talked about anything tech-related, so here it goes.

I just experienced a HOLY SHIT moment. You know, when you discover something and you instantly know that it’s going to be huge, that it’s a game changer. Historically famous HOLY SHITS for me include Napster, the iPhone and, believe it or not, Amazon. Lately, I’m considering adding Spotify to that list, since I signed up for a Premium account and installed it on my iPhone, but that is a story for another day. Anyway, you get the idea.

DISCLAIMER: I took the liberty of borrowing the expression from Rands, because it is more accurate than any other term I could have come up with on my own, so there you have it. If you have a moment, you should totally read his original post, where you will learn what HOLY SHIT is all about.

OK, now that we cleared that out, let’s get on with my latest personal HOLY SHIT. I’m probably the last biped on Planet Earth to find out about this, but even so, the HOLY-SHITNESS of the moment stands. I’m talking about Fitbit.

[singlepic id=3 w=400]

© 2009 Fitbit, Inc. All rights reserved.

If you have no idea of what I’m talking about, please don’t be embarrassed, even though you probably should be. I didn’t know about it until a couple hours ago either, so it’s not so terrible. But if you want to understand the rest of this post, you should go to their website and check it out before you continue reading. You can do it now, we’ll wait. It’s OK, don’t worry about it. Seriously, go.

Back already? Good. Let’s move on then.

Basically, what you should have learned from a brief visit to their web is that Fitbit is the latest start-up aiming for greatness. They have the idea. They have the skills. And their product is fantastic. It looks very polished, too. It’s a handy little gadget that will allow you to monitor your physical activity throughout your entire day, even while you sleep. And it doesn’t require any involvement on your part: the whole thing just works like magic. You just wear it any way you want: in your pocket, clipped to your belt or on a handy little wristband when you’re sleeping; and the device will take care of everything, syncing wirelessly to the web without you ever knowing about it. When you want to check your data, you simply log into the web and everything is there for you to see: how many steps you took, the distance you walked, the calories you burned, and even how long you were actually sleeping instead of just lying in bed. Awesome.

It also scales well. For more curious and involved users, you can find out how many calories you ate compared to the ones you burned by logging in the system the different meals you had. They make it easy for you to do it by letting you choose the meals from a stunningly comprehensive database.

And there’s more. Much more, but you have to see it for yourselves.

Not so impressed, you say? It’s understandable, I guess. But the thing is, to me, this is a truly astounding product. And not just because of the product itself, but the whole platform behind it, which is extremely well designed and very intuitive. I will admit that my opinion here is slightly biased, on account of previous experience. I was heavily involved in the design and development of a very similar platform, but with a clinical aim rather than a commercial one. It was the project I was involved in for my MSc Thesis, and it took more than a year’s worth of work from a really talented group of people. My point is that I am intimately aware of the technical challenges that need to be overcome in order to develop this type of product, for which I am all the more impressed with the result these good people have achieved. It’s an elegant, well rounded solution that makes me insanely jealous. Specially considering that, at least for now, the product is only available in the US. I can’t wait to get my hands on one.

It has not been an easy path for them, mind you. They are experiencing significant and repeated delays in the shipping process, but even then they are completely  straightforward and transparent about what is going on. So much so that you really can’t help but sympathize with them.

Then there’s also the business side of the story, of course. The fitness & wellness market is a fairly recent one, but it is growing at an incredible rate. New products pop up almost every day on practically every platform imaginable, and yet to this day, nobody has quite nailed the perfect model. In my humble opinion, the folks behind Fitbit have done just that. We’ve seen this before, most recently with the smartphone market and the arrival of the iPhone; and the music market and the iPod before that. These things happen. Every now and then, a revolutionary product appears, and you start to see possibilities that you never would have imagined before. And then the HOLY SHIT strikes you in all its glory.

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How To Survive a Creativity Storm

January 05, 2010

Last night I finished watching the third season of Californication.

While it was overall a slightly weaker season than the other two, it continued to provide more insight into the mind of Hank Moody as well as the rest of the characters. And while it is true that the plot is nowhere near as compelling or engaging, the character-oriented focus of this season made it worth watching for me. There’s a certain aura of unpredictability to these creative characters (Hank is a writer) that appeals to me, and I often found myself looking for cues and trying to guess what would happen, only to be pleasantly surprised with the amazing talent Hank has to get himself in big trouble.

On a related note, a couple of days ago I re-watched The Usual Suspects, which kind of requires your undivided attention in a similar way. When I watched it for the first time, I was blown away. The great thing about it is that you need to stay alert the whole time because you never know when the key piece of information that ties the plot together is going to be revealed. It could very well be during that seemingly irrelevant conversation that you are subtly given the detail that could enable you to decipher the mysterious identity of the ever present villain, Keyser Soze.

And boy, Keyser Soze is terrifying. Fucking badass, as we are led to believe for the two+ hours that set the tone for the epic ending… which I won’t disclose here in case any of you haven’t seen it, I’m not that insensitive. Suffice it to say, the movie will stick with you long after you’ve finished watching it. Which is why I watch it again. And again. And then I watch it some more.

But I was talking about Californication. For those of you who enjoy living under a rock, here are a few more details about the show. What I love about this show in general, and Hank in particular, is precisely this unpredictability that I mentioned before. Only in this case, instead of looking for a seriously maniacal I-will-kill-you-and-every-person-you’ve-ever-loved murderer, you’re looking to laugh your ass off. Which you will, repeatedly. I promise.

You see, what is so great about these movies and TV shows is that every time you watch them, you find something new, some detail that you didn’t discover in any of your previous viewings. I love that. It’s like being rewarded for exercising your own Nerdery.

My point, you ask? I started ranting about Californication and The Usual Suspects a while ago, but really I was talking about one simple thing the whole time: Creativity. And how when it shows up, it usually leads to the unexpected in a wide array of sizes and shapes, color and content. This post is a good example of that. The other two examples I told you about are in their own right incredibly entertaining pieces of creative work, and it shows. You see, any time creativity kicks in, it’s an unstoppable force that cannot be ignored, no matter how hard the effort. It’s like the proverbial elephant in the room.

The actual creative process changes very little for just about any discipline. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re trying to write a novel, a blog post or the grocery list; whether you are painting a masterpiece or a piece of crap. Everything starts with a blank page, a blank canvas on an empty room. And fear is the first feeling than comes to you. There are few things more intimidating than a blank page. The root of that fear is hidden in the same drawer as the rest of your insecurities; some dark, damp place inside your brain. When you create something, you are deeply aware of the fact that everything that comes out of your mind is subject to the filter of your physical skill. Sometimes that is a deal killer. It’s actually what separates the geniuses from the rest of us, mere mortals. You may have the idea, the image or the sound perfectly shaped in your mind but your big, fat, lazy hands won’t let you bring it to life.

Other times, however, it’s the other way around. It’s just you in an empty room with your notepad and a pencil, or a blank canvas and a piece of charcoal. And then you just try to step out of the way and let your hands do the talking. It’s there and then when you know you are producing something of genuine value. Something true to yourself. That can be scary too, because you always wonder how much of your inner self people are going to see when they have a look at the finished work. Sometimes it feels like you’re standing naked in front of a huge crowd: you can’t really talk your way out of that one. But eventually you learn to confront your insecurities and appreciate the work for itself. Which brings us to the last step of the way: Pride. It’s when you stop trying to fix the imperfections and realize that they too, can add value to a piece of creative work. They are part of the process, and they’re there for a reason.

Art is not about perfection, not the way I see it anyway. It’s about beauty, emotion, empathy, connection. And imperfections are part of what makes it feel real, close and personal. Revealing.  When I look at a painting, I try to imagine what drove the painter to create it. Can I relate to it at all? When I read a novel, I try to put myself in the skin of the characters. Would I have done the same thing in that situation? Could I? What is the author trying to tell me?

We all keep trying to find empathy in the world. That’s how we connect, mature, evolve. When we look at a piece of creative work, we should be able to at least catch a glimpse of the creative process behind it. The endless hours of work that resulted in the particular piece of work we have in front of us. If we fail to do that, there’s really no point. If you want to do yourselves a huge favor, next time you go to a museum, read a novel, watch a movie or listen to a song, look for the message behind it. Listen carefully, be patient, and wait for it to reveal itself.

Every piece hides a message. Behind every single one of them, there’s a story. And if you don’t listen, you’re missing the best part.

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Quote of the Day →

December 29, 2009 |

That’s right. I said it, I meant it, I’m here to represent it.

Hank Moody, Californication (2007).

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2010 Checklist

December 29, 2009

Here’s some wishful thinking.

  • Listen to new music
  • Go to more concerts
  • Write more about the things that I care about
  • Say “I love you” when I mean it, even if it sounds gay
  • Say “I’m sorry” before it’s too late
  • Be original
  • Eliminate the clutter in my life
  • Let go of the past and start something from scratch
  • Travel somewhere nice
  • Do something I feel passionate about
  • Show my true colors even if it gets me in trouble
  • Appreciate the little things more
  • Do something of Value
  • Accept my mistakes and learn from them
  • Make as many mistakes as I possibly can

  • Repeat again next year.

Happy Holidays.

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