Review: Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values

A highly meditative take on how to conduct oneself in life and in business with others, Kofman’s book, Conscious Business, contains much to discuss and learn. I picked it up in response to reading an article by Matt MacInnis, the CEO of San Francisco tech firm Inkling, where the book is required reading for all employees. Having just wrapped up my first experience taking an early stage startup from 1 to 20 employees, and wishing to understand more about how leaders may intentionally create business culture where employees can not only create business value but thrive personally and emotionally as well, Conscious Business felt highly relevant.

Like many entries in the popular, introspective “how to succeed in business” genre, this book can be summed up quickly at a surface level with a few pieces of seemingly basic advice. Here they are, boiled down: First, take personal responsibility to the extreme, and approach problems from a place of curiosity about how you can take more responsibility. Second, practice extreme compassion in your dealings with others. Third, when you act in accordance with your values, you will succeed in life even when you appear to lose. I will address each of these main points and their implications.

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Ethical Fashion: A rant and guide for fabulous women (Updated!)

Since I swapped my East coast corporate job for West coast startup life, I’ve been struggling to refresh my wardrobe in a way that will keep me comfortable (no matter which coast I’m on), professional (from meetings to yoga class to business trips), and still looking like myself style-wise (something I can’t explain but I know it when I see it). This is harder than it should be because I want to avoid the biggest problems with modern shopping: In a world choked with “fast fashion” – disposable, poorly-made mass-produced garments that are often 1) made by slaves and children 2) in factories that pollute the Earth, and are often 3) ill-fitting and 4) short-lived style-wise – what’s an ethical fashion-lover supposed to do?

It’s hard to find clothing that looks good, is responsibly made, and well-constructed enough to last for years. To even try to do this almost feels quaint. If you care about style, fit and quality, and you happen to be a professional woman, congratulations, you’ve got a double whammy of a problem. Women’s clothing is much more trend-driven, more expensive and usually less-well-made than men’s clothing – good luck finding a suit with functional pockets.

I’ve been floored by how hard it is to find functional women’s clothes at all, even before imposing the preference for ethically and sustainably produced garments.

I know I’m not the only one out there hunting for the right fit, so I thought I’d share what’s working for me, and in the process, honor a few kick ass women-run businesses. Maybe it’ll help you find a gift for yourself or the awesome women in your life.

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Call for art: FIGMENT Oakland now accepting art submissions

The 4th Annual FIGMENT participatory community event celebrates Bay Area creativity

Oakland, CA – The organizers of FIGMENT Oakland, the Bay Area chapter of the global participatory art organization, have announced the opening of their art submissions portal in preparation for the 4th annual FIGMENT weekend event on June 10, 2017.

Artists, community organizers and performers of all types are encouraged to submit finished artworks, artworks in progress, concepts, performances, workshops or even games for inclusion in the 2017 event. Unlike many creative events, there is no fee to submit works for consideration, no fee for participation and no fee to attend the event.

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SF Spring

san francisco street

I was so taken with this beautiful, green Spring scene yesterday, walking down Noe Street. Sometimes San Francisco sneaks these little fairy tale moments in where you aren’t expecting them, and I’m so grateful for them.

Review: Grit

Grit is considered a “must-read” by many in my professional circle. For good reason – it’s an engaging, thought-provoking book. It’s useful and satisfying for its clear explanation of the core concept of grit (which is essentially: passionate perseverance) and its many inspirational stories. It’s also frustrating as hell for the nuance it lacks.

On the surface, this book is about the power of effort, and how deeply, mistakenly, undervalued the power of personal will is in our society. Modern people tend to romanticize and over-value “natural talent” and under-value sustained effort – to the great disadvantage of many. It’s a wonderfully empowering idea, and one that Duckworth meticulously supports with research. Much of this book consists of stories supporting the simple truth that talent is an inferior predictor of success in one’s career, to the ability to continually try hard. Those of us who aren’t born with genius level IQs should take heart – the brain is plastic, we all have the power to increase our mental abilities, and the work of exercising our minds to achieve excellence is something anyone can do.

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Review: Political Fictions

I experienced a large range of low emotions in the wake of the 2016 presidential election: disbelief, shock, anger, indignation, confusion, revulsion, despair, depression, anxiety. This book was a necessary choice for this moment at the end of this particular year, in part, because I wanted to settle back in to Didion’s exacting language after enjoying two of her books so much, and because I was seeking some political and historical perspective.

The connecting theme of this collection is the creation of narrative – the media appearances, showmanship and public relations efforts that create the image and stories we the people then digest about the politicians for whom we vote and in whom we place our trust, such as it is. There are two essays that qualify as brilliant and one real dud (about Newt Gingrich). The best essays in this collection come first, and my favorite, “Insider Baseball” (about the 1988 Bush-Dukakis campaign; linked below), provided some of the historical perspective I’d been seeking. (The comparisons between Dukakis and Jackson are especially interesting when viewed through the 2016 lens of Clinton and Sanders.)

The key idea I took from this book is simple, but I hadn’t fully articulated it for myself before. It is this: Not only is the increasing disenfranchisement of the American citizen – the shrinking electorate (only an estimated 57.9% of eligible voters voted in 2016) – is not actually a “problem” for those in power, that small insider political class. It is, in fact, the desired outcome. It is to the advantage of this political class, and this disenfranchisement has been going on for many years worth of news cycles, the political system operating almost completely outside of the experience and concerns of so-called regular people.

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Review: Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

While repetitive, marred by some silly examples and about 100 pages too long, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” could be a valuable book for people searching for ways to be more effective and at peace with their choices. “Essentialism” as advocated by McKeown is a personal philosophy of making deliberate decisions about where to spend one’s limited and precious time. It’s a mission statement aimed at reducing psychic clutter, regrettable personal commitments and extra “stuff” that ultimately does not matter in the greater scheme of one’s life.

“Essentialism” has two parts. First, learn how to set boundaries and stick to them. Second, define and pursue your highest purpose in life. The first is easy for me, but hard for many others. The second is arguably more important and much harder for me, and the opportunity to consider it deeply was the value I received from my reading of this book.

If you are struggling with the exhaustion that comes from chronic overwork and over-commitment, you could probably benefit from McKeown’s simple prescription: Take the time to assess what you most want to achieve with your short life, remove obstacles and extraneous activities, and get more sleep. Next, get better at saying no to stuff you don’t really want to do and get in the habit of doing fewer things really well. This requires a mature ability to delay gratification, ignore the whispers of FOMO that plague us all whenever we think about turning down any opportunity, and focus on the things that give us a sense of meaning and purpose.

All of that is easier said than done, but McKeown does include some strategies for how to discover our purpose, how to graciously say no to people (even if they are your boss or loved ones) and how to take better care of ourselves so we feel more physically able to tackle what we must each day. For many, this advice will seem obvious, as it does to me, but it’s not wrong.

Useful takeaways

One of the best examples of concrete strategies I encountered here has worked well for me for a long time: When accepting a new to-do item or priority, always clarify, What does saying yes to this thing require me to de-prioritize? This simple activity of questioning and framing things to be done as distinct priorities recognizes the impossibility of doing everything, of giving equal weight to un-equal things, and can significantly boost productivity and clarity.

I didn’t get a lot of similarly useful widely-applicable advice here because it is heavily focused on boundary-setting (something that I don’t really need help doing) and rehashing of other better books (such as Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” and Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow”) but I did enjoy the process of reading the book as an exercise in reflection. Perhaps it will inspire others to survey the less-essential activities to which they are currently sort-of-committed, and evaluate them anew. In the process, you may get closer to finding your core purpose and the lasting happiness that attends it.

Book review: Essentialism – The disciplined pursuit of less, by Greg McKeown.
3/5 stars.

Review: When Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi put much of the “real living” of his life on hold for many years as he studied literature, medicine, surgery and the mind. Nearing the top of his ascent of an enviable professional mountaintop, he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and given only a little while longer to live. I happened to read this book while in a state of shock and mourning, following the devastating, upsetting American election, right around the time of a beloved deceased relative’s birthday, so you could say it was both the worst and best time to read this book. It’s a moving, thoughtful personal memoir that poses important questions about the meaning of life – how to find it, appreciate it, and create meaning for ourselves.

As he nears the end, Kalanithi explains plainly the folly of pretending there will always be a future, that more planning could possibly help. He describes living in the present, without ego, without plans and ambitions, thus:

Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.

A thoughtful, poetic book. A hard, beautiful book.

Book review: When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
5/5 stars.

Sometimes marketers seriously overstep their boundaries

Dear Similac,

My mother sent me a text. “Is there something I should know?” she asked. (Hopefully, I think.) Why? Because you guys at Similac decided to send a box of infant formula – totally unwanted and unrequested – to me, care of my parents’ home address, where I have not lived in over a dozen years. I guess you stalked me on the internet enough to determine that I might be a woman, in my mid-thirties, and married, therefore potentially a child-bearing consumer profile, and you decided to send me a little “gift.”

As a marketer, I understand the desire to get ahead of your customer’s needs and reach out to new markets, but this is an inappropriate practice that should end immediately.

I’m not pregnant. But what if I wanted to be? What if I were trying and unable to get pregnant? What if I recently lost a child? What if I recently got separated or divorced? What if I recently had a miscarriage or abortion and this package caused me emotional distress? I can think of a long list of scenarios where receiving this box of free, unasked-for, un-wanted baby formula would cause me distress, actually. Most of them should have been good reasons to walk away from this promotion idea.

I’m not your customer. But what if I was? What if you guessed right and I were newly pregnant? I think I’d want to be the one to decide how to tell people – and who to tell, and when. I can guarantee you that if I am ever pregnant, I’d like to be the one to tell my family – not have them find out because you sent an unsolicited box of crap to them.

I can think of many more ways you screwed this up than ways this promotion turns out well. Uncool, Similac. I’m hereby sending you to the marketing Hall of Shame.

No love,
Me

PS – I Googled “How did Similac get my address?” and found a long list of other people who have been spammed! Similac, you should know we are all spooked, annoyed, angry at you – or all three!

Review: Disrupted

Dan Lyons, ego bruised and career sidelined by an unexpected layoff from his job as a technology journalist for Newsweek, makes a pivot that seems like a sensible idea at the time: he joins the startup world and becomes a marketer for hot young marketing automation firm, HubSpot. Disrupted is a memoir of that startup adventure. It stirred a ton of thoughts and conflicting reactions for me, began many conversations and taught me a bit of new stuff about startups and venture capital. It also made me cringe and grin with schadenfreude. Issues aside, though, it’s a worthwhile read with a lot to say.

Brisk, cynical and often bitingly funny – just as you might expect from the author behind FakeSteveJobs – the book starts as a bitterly comic fish out of water story about a fifty-something man trying to fit in at a company he doesn’t understand: He seems constantly gobsmacked by the wacky energy of his Millennial coworkers, the lack of organization and structure to his days, the insistence of young people on using technology like smartphones and Google calendars to schedule even a five-minute chat, and of course things like beer at work, arts and crafts breaks on “Fearless Friday,” the nap room and the foosball tables. Continue reading “Review: Disrupted”