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Lessons from Seth

August 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

After ten days of silent meditation, I powered up my iPhone to check my email, the first message was from Seth Godin – telling me I was picked for his short summer internship. An intense feeling of happiness shot through my body, and I had to read the email a few times to make sure I was reading it correctly:

Hey Sean…

I don’t need to wait until tomorrow–even though I got more than 3,500 applications and sat through more than 800 videos, putting you on the shortlist was an obvious choice.
The hard part for me was narrowing down that short list of extraordinary people to a manageable cadre of superstars, visionaries and shippers who could wrangle this project into submission.
I’ve never even come close to having a team like this on hand to build something cool.
Write back and tell me you’re in, so I can publish the final team. Your commitment to your work, to your art, means the world to me, and I’m thrilled to have the chance to work with you.
Yep, you’re in.
Let me know for sure, and I’ll send you more details over the weekend.
Here we go!
Seth

Two weeks in Seth’s office, surrounded by 17 extraordinary individuals, were amazing. We sprinted through the internship, working tirelessly to create art, to create something that matters. I suspect this internship will be a highlight of my professional career for decades to come.

Some of my biggest takeaways from Seth’s internship were:

What do you want to Fight for?

Having a clear vision helps you to execute. I want to make the world a better place is a good goal, but where do you start? I want to provide clean drinking water to those in need is a much narrower goal, and you could start by donating your birthday to charity: water. Clear and concise thought leads to actionable items.

Axes

Axes Help you Think

Framing your argument is crucial. Posing open, ambiguous questions to a table full of people leads inconclusive discussions. Framed discussions, where people are given a choice of A or B, help to solidify the direction of your project. Those high level, intellectual debates can be incredibly useful as you begin to form your thoughts – they just don’t help you move forward.

Ship It

Ship It

You can have the best idea in the world, but its meaningless unless you execute it. Set a deadline, be realistic about your goals and expectations, and send your project out into the world. Before you do, define what success is to you. Thinking and researching are useful to a certain point – make sure you ship your project. It’s hard to put yourself out there, you become vulnerable and open to criticism, but shipping is the only way to create, to build. Celebrate your shipping.

Fail Fast, Fail Small

Get feedback early and often. Work with trusted colleagues to help you refine your vision. Its a lot better to crush a project early on than to work on it for months and have nothing to ship. Small, quick failure is a good thing. It teaches you a lot. Its hard to open yourself up to failure, but its necessary to fail if you want to create something valuable.

It’s better to fail on a project after a few hours than spend months working on something in the dark.

Polish Matters

While you want to ship a project quickly, the polish really does matter. Seth is a master at marketing, just look at any of his books. Polish is what gets people talking, what really surprises and delights them. When Seth published the Purple Cow he didn’t just send the first people who bought them a book. When the book arrived at your office it was put on your desk in a purple milk carton – imagine the watercooler conversations. (You can read Seth’s marketing plan for the Purple Cow here).

Writing a great book might have been enough to make the Purple Cow a bestseller; by delivering it in a clever and unique way Seth guaranteed his success.

Software is a Lever

Software can help you to amplify your vision and connect with your audience is a deeper, more meaningful way. Can is an important word in this context, if your software isn’t elegant and intuitive it will be a distraction. Most people don’t notice good software, but they notice when software doesn’t work well.

Paired Programing

According to wikipedia, paired programming is:

an agile software development technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation. One, the driver, writes code while the other, the observer or navigator,[1] reviews each line of code as it is typed in.

Coming from a nontechnical background, I was completely unfamiliar with this style of working until Seth suggested I give it a try when I was stuck on a project. Sitting with someone looking over my shoulder, as I refined my project, forced me not just to work quickly but to work thoughtfully. Every sentence I wrote was questioned: was it necessary, could it be phrased better, would it achieve what we wanted it to? In the end it produced a great product quicker than I could have on my own.

Thrash and Push Back

Having a room full of people critique and tweak your idea can be intimidating. Putting your ideas and vision out there is tough. Your ideas become open to thrashing and push back. It is important to remember that you aren’t being challenged, just your ideas. Pishing back against other people’s ideas will force you to refine your vision – and improve it.

Critical Path

The Critical Path Method (CPM) is a project management tool that maps out what needs to be completed to finish a project. CPM contributed to the success of the Manhattan Project by helping to manage tasks. If, for example, the enrichment of uranium took 18 months, and all the other components of the atomic bomb could be finished in 17 months, then uranium enrichment would be the critical path. Regardless of how quickly you built the bomb casing, it wouldn’t be finished until the uranium was enriched.

When you’re working on the critical path, don’t deviate from your project because it will slow down the entire team. And when someone else is on the path, stay out of their way.

For different perspectives on the internship, check out Seth’s, Grant’s or Barrett’s posts.

Sprint

August 8, 2013 — 2 Comments

I like to run, but I love to sprint. In 2011 I trained for my first half marathon without ever running more than five miles at once, I focused on sprint training – I finished in 1:57.

Sprinting makes you faster. Sprinting makes you leaner. Sprinting increases your stamina.

If you sprint every day you’ll injure yourself. Sprints are intense, and your body can’t handle it every day. After sprinting your muscles need rest to heal. You’ve ripped them to shreds and the rest will give them a chance to heal, a chance to grow.

The two weeks I spent interning with Seth Godin were a sprint. We pushed ourselves to work hard and to fail fast. The pace was not sustainable, but sustainability wasn’t the point of this exercise. The point of this exercise was to push ourselves close to our breaking point, to build something awesome. The point of this exercise was to make ourselves (mentally) faster and leaner.

The final push is always the hardest, but it leads to the most growth. We’ve ended our sprint, and I’m taking some time to rest and reflect.

 

Yamu

April 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

Yamu means ‘let’s go’ in Sinhala. Yamu.lk is a startup based in Colombo. Right now they’re a city guide, but they’re quickly evolving to cover all things Sri Lanka. If you’re looking for a good restaurant, bar, or activity they’re your source.

Every day about 1000 unique visitors come to the site to find out whats going new in Colombo.

I’ve recently started writing for Yamu, so things have been quiet here on brightful.ly. Check out some of my recent articles:

Its great to have an excuse to get out and visit new restaurants…

The Exponential Project was created by a Red Headed, Left Handed woman named Michelle. The purpose is to connect interesting individuals to create new opportunities.

 

When you walked into the event you were given a goodie bag – full of pipe cleaners, crayons, stickers, a puzzle piece, and a raffle ticket.Name tags were color coordinated, mine was green – for entrepreneurs and those working in the social field.

I found this event through Twitter, and told my friend Vipin about it. He purchases a ringleader set of tickets and brought me along, with his friend  Jamal.  Vipin is building a tool to help people accomplish their dreams, ProgressBar

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I met Mary Louise and Robert, a lovely couple who teach creative writing. They’ve recently launched Eureka Squirrel, a consultancy to help creative individuals reignite their passion.

 

 

The room was full of popcorn icebreakers; such as this one, which spurred a great conversation about urban cycling!

 

 

I met Amy who works at Amazon, creating their competitor to Gilt and Rue La LaMyHabit. She’s been with Amazon since 1999 and moved to NYC last year!

 

 

 

 

Amy’s friend, Charlotte, makes food beautiful. She’s a trained chef who helps established brands display their food. She also makes chandeliers out of cow bones and dresses out of salmon skin.

 

 

Before the raffle was drawn more ticked were awarded. The team who made the biggest bug out of pipe cleaners was awarded an extra ticket.

 

 

 

I happened to win one of the raffles! It looks like I’ll be taking a hike thanks to Discover Outdoors!

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out the Exponential Project.

On Friday Breaker was joined by Dr. Tom Guarriello, the Chief Idea Officer of True Talk Consulting, for a session on Storytelling.

Humans crave narrative, its a core element of our culture; one which transcends culture, gender, and race. Tom describes stories as being the software of our humanity, and our brain is the hardware. Our hardware drives and shapes software; stories are a delivery system for the six basic emotions.

 

Emotion is defined as a feeling state with physiological, cognitive, and behavioral components. Using this definition, our feelings are: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise, and joy.

 

 

Tom posed a question to the Breakers, “How can you embed your product or experience in an emotionally engaging story? Stories are written for the moral, and follow the same basic structure that Aristotle codified.

To explain the question in more detail, Tom answered it for us. He told us the following story:

Tom was working one day and became very tired, he went to Starbucks and got a venti americano. He was so refreshed that he was able to finish his project.

In this story there is a victim, villain, and a hero. The villain is fatigue, preventing work from being accomplished. While the hero is Starbucks, saving Tom and enabling to complete his work..

Many people are not comfortable with the idea of a corporation being a mentor or hero in their lives. This is not the way people consciously think. Tom went to Starbucks for some coffee, not for a guide to show him the path towards vanquishing his villain. Yet when people attach memories or beliefs to a brand this is precisely what they are doing. Powerful brands enable us.

When crafting your brand’s story, be cognizant of the emotions you utilize.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those interested in learning more about this subject here are a list of resources:

 

This post is cross-listed on the Breaker Tumblr

Brewster

July 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

Today marked the launch of a new firm backed by Union Square Ventures, Brewster.

Brewster aims to make managing your contacts, across all of your social platforms, an easier and more enjoyable experience. I downloaded Brewster this morning, and connected it to my gmail, twitter, linkedin, and iphone contacts. About fifteen minutes later I received a push notification telling me my contacts had been aggregated.

The app seems to know a good deal about me already, just by pulling data off of my social networks. It suggested my favorites, which are fairly close to my favorites on my iPhone. One thing that I’m unsure of, is how it decides which photo to pull. Take my mother for example, I have a photo on my phone that I LOVE of her, and on Brewster her photo is empty. Also, the default photo it choose for me on my personal profile page is my twitter. I’ve deliberately left out my Facebook because I’m trying to wind down my usage of that network. From my preliminary perspective it seems to me that Brewster chooses the photo to display based upon what method of communication you use most.

I certainly see Brewster as being a time saving device for me in the future. Rather than  having to jump around various social media outlets I can text, tweet, email, or call a person all from this one app. In future iterations I’d really like to see a Rapportive style contact builder, so that once I connect to someone via email it suggests I follow them on twitter.

Over the coming weeks I look forward to using all of the features of this app. Fred Wilson, in his blog post said, “this is an address book that can handle a search query like “knicks game” or “sushi tonight” or “band of horses concert”. We are always querying our brain with questions like that. Now we can ask our address books those kinds of questions.” I expect that this feature will come in handy.

The team for Brewster consists of 15 individuals, according to the NY Times, who have been working for the past two years. Brewster is led by Steve Greenwood, a former McKinsey Consultant who worked on Drop.io until it was acquired by Facebook. Fred’s blog post talks about Steve’s massive spreadsheet where he kept detailed records about how he met people. I’m guessing its passion like that which led USV to lead a Seed round.

Good luck to Steve and all of the team at Brewster.

The Brewster U.I.

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I recently came across a great report by the Economist Intelligence Unit – Fostering innovation-led clusters: A review of leading global practices.

This report focuses on what government can do to drive innovation within their economy, and how best they can work with the private sector. Below are some of my takeaways from the report:

  • Talent is the most important aspect of innovation – and government should focus on providing quality education
  • Governments are successful when they promote a culture of innovation
  • Specialized clusters work best, especially when they can compete
  • Accelerate the natural entrepreneurship model
  • Governments can realize success just by hosting networking events for corporate executives and government leaders – this is a low cost high reward initiative

 

One interesting focus of this report was “top-down or bottom-up”? Essentially the questions asked was are clusters better when they’re led by the government or led by the market? There are compelling arguments for both, from Silicon Valley (top-down) to Silicon Fen (bottom-up). Both areas feature world class universities, government funded research, and ample amounts of private financial capital. It seems to me that these clusters require much work between the public and private sectors.

As I prepare myself for a year in Sri Lanka, I have been researching their innovation community. There is not much on the web, as this nation is still at the early stages of economic development. Private companies, such as Microsoft  are hosting innovation competitions.  Microsoft’s Software for the 21st Century competition has invested $1.5mm over the past four years in Sri Lanka to raise their national standard of education. This is a long term strategic bet on Sri Lanka as a knowledge center.

While the Government, through the National Science Foundation and its Universities, are providing grants to encourage local innovation.

I’m quite excited to get  on the ground and learn more about whats going on in this quickly developing economy.

Economic development should not just be seen as a way to increase monetary wealth. It is a tool to foster political and social stability. A recent paper by the Council on Foreign Relations argues this. I haven’t read the full paper yet, but there is a great synopsis from the author on HBR’s Blog. Creating these innovation clusters should not just be a matter of national economic policy for individual countries, but a matter of foreign policy for all developed nations.

 

Seth Godin

June 6, 2012 — 1 Comment

Seth Godin is an artist, linchpin, and tribe leader. He embraces the minority, and believes that by connecting those on the fringe you can leverage the web to make an impact.

Godin has written 11 books, Godin is an advocate of publishing often, shipping a product and getting it out there. He has given away many of his books, and this has built him quite a following. He is one of the people responsible for getting Amazon into the publishing business.

He is an entrepreneur, and the founder of Squidoo (check out it’s wikipedia page).

One of his free prizes is the Ship It Journal, his guide to completing a project. Seth believes in giving gifts; not just because its built him a massive following, but because he enjoys the act.

Seth doesn’t watch TV, he strives to cut out all of the time wasting activities that people engage in.

I had the great fortune of attending his Pick Yourself event a few weeks ago. Seth encourages individual actions, and trying to make an impact. He’s a fantastic public speaker, and a visionary.

His event was centered around ripping out all of those reasons you give for not producing. Seth is an advocate of failing, often and early. If you’re not failing you have no chance of creating something remarkable.

I recently finished his book, Linchpin. Seth defines a Linchpin as someone who is indispensable, here is one set of ways to be a Linchpin:

  1. Providing a unique interface between members of an organization
  2. Delivering unique creativity
  3. Managing a situation or organization of great complexity
  4. Leading customers
  5. Inspiring staff
  6. Providing deep domain knowledge
  7. Possessing a unique talent

Seth’s major goal is to inspire people to take a risk, and embrace their own uniqueness. Don’t take the safe job, because those safe jobs are disappearing. Today computers allow for white collar jobs can be mechanized and erased just as easily as factory jobs were destroyed over the past century.

My father is one of my greatest sources of inspiration, so it’s only fitting that my first post on my new blog be about him.

At the age of 13 my Dad posed as his brother to work as a dishwasher at a local restaurant/bar. He worked his way up to eventually own that restaurant. There qa a falling out among partners there, and he went through bankruptcy. Though he didn’t let that hold him back, he went out and purchased a new restaurant, The Cambridge Inn, and he’s been there for the past 16 years.

Three months ago he called and told me a local bagel shoppe was up for sale, and he had put a bid in. I asked him what he knew about bagels, he laughed and said, “I can run a restaurant, and I’ll learn how to make a bagel.”

The night before the first day of business he went in at 1am, he was too excited to sleep. He’s been working long hours, working to get the business moving smoothly. I haven’t seen him this happy or energized in years. I’m really proud of him, and wish him the best of luck at the new shop!

If you’re in Monroe NJ stop into the Camelot Bagel Shoppe!