Pink Bat Video

September 11, 2010

The idea for this video struck me one evening after seeing a UPS commercial. Uncertain of the best way to turn my concept into reality, I called my friend Ryan Schiewe to see if he had any ideas. As expected, he had several. Most involved green screens, projectors, special digital effects, large studios… and big budgets.

“What if I stood at a real whiteboard and you actually filmed me drawing?” I suggested. Ryan agreed to give it a try but stressed, “We won’t be able to refine or manipulate your drawings to look perfect… like those in the UPS commercials.” After purchasing a 4’ x 8’ sheet of whiteboard material, we set up a makeshift studio in Ryan’s living room and did a few quick tests. Before long, we concluded while this approach was somewhat problematic—and not real plausible—it was possible. That was all it took. Read more

I’ll Go To Hell

July 6, 2010

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is considered one of America’s greatest writers. He had a brilliant mind and an unprecedented ability to express himself through words that still resonate today. In his book, Huckleberry Finn, young Huck (the narrator) recounts his adventures on the Mississippi River in the company of Jim—a slave who’s seeking freedom so he can work and buy his family’s freedom.

During the journey, Huck is bothered by the fact he’s helping Jim escape. He realizes by doing so he’s actually “stealing” someone’s property. At one point, his conscience gets the best of him and here’s what follows:

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter – and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. Read more

One Basket

June 25, 2010

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When I first heard this expression, I was very young… but even then, it resonated. Over the years it has proven to be true time and again. Don’t invest all your money in one stock… don’t keep all your data on one drive… don’t put all your trust in one person or idea… and so on. By concentrating all our energy, prospects or resources in one area, we risk losing everything.

A few years ago, one of my employees asked why we weren’t pursuing a specific client more aggressively. “They’re huge,” he said. “We could be doing far more business with them.” He was right… and that’s exactly why we weren’t pursuing them. We already had too many resources focused on that account. Having started my company from nothing, I quickly learned the importance of having a diversified client base. It’s easy to be enticed by a huge client. The money and perceived stability are great… until the real cost comes due. Freedom always has a price. I told my employee, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away… the same holds true with a big client.” As tempting as it may be, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket… or focus all your resources on one account.”

In 1894, Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson wrote, “Behold, the fool saith, ‘Put not all thine eggs in the one basket’—which is but a manner of saying, ‘Scatter your money and your attention’; but the wise man saith, ‘Put all your eggs in the one basket and—watch that basket!’”

I’m not suggesting you scatter your money or attention… but being human, we eventually stop watching the basket. This is especially true at the macro level. Without critically thinking, we along with countless others continue putting all our eggs in the same basket. The more we do it, the easier and more natural it becomes. Eventually, the number of eggs expands beyond our individual or collective comprehension. Its reach becomes so intrusive we stop seeing it.

To accommodate the growing number of eggs, the basket must continually expand. This expansion necessitates additional employees and mangers to service, direct and control activities. Initially, the experts in charge assure us that they are acting in our best interests and protecting our eggs. In time they find communicating a waste of time… so they stop. Besides, as the basket grows, more and more people are employed to keep it running… friends and family members, too. The basket expands far beyond eggs and infiltrates every aspect of society. Read more

Question Conventional Wisdom

June 22, 2010

One of the biggest innovation blockers comes in the form of conventional wisdom. That’s why I always try to question generally accepted ideas or explanations. While not all commonly held beliefs are wrong… all should be questioned. Just because an authority makes a statement or the general public accepts a belief, it doesn’t make it true. It just makes it accepted… at least for the moment. In 1773 King George II said the American colonies had little stomach for revolution. Oftentimes conventional wisdom is simply wrong. The evidence to support this claim seems endless; consider these examples:

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” ~Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899

“X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” ~Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1883

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” ~Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” ~Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board of IBM, 1943

“With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.” ~Business Week, 1958

“The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.” ~Literary Digest, 1899

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” ~Albert Einstein, 1932

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” ~Western Union internal memo, 1876

“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” ~Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1889

“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” ~Dr. Dionysys Larder, professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, 1793-1859

Today these statements seem preposterous. How could experts be so wrong? Did the general public really accept this thinking? Yes. Just like many people do today.

While conventional wisdom is sometimes hard to spot, its defenders often expose it by trying to discredit and suppress people who threaten it… like those with contrary views, new information or alternative answers. When defenders have little evidence or logic to justify their positions, they often attack truth seekers as they represent the greatest threat. In addition, defenders sometimes resort to manipulation, clichés and propaganda to build support for their beliefs. For example, some politicians and their followers chant “Drill Baby Drill” to reinforce the conventional wisdom regarding our national security, independence and need for more oil. While simple repetition proves nothing, it does rally the troops and reinforces conventional wisdom. The ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has many Americans reconsidering this chant and the conventional wisdom it proclaims regarding the need for more oil.

Whether it’s energy, healthcare, business or an interpersonal struggle you’re going through… it’s important to remain cognizant and not simply default to the quick, simple and convenient answers conventional wisdom offers. While eliminating independent critical thinking may be tempting… it’s rarely a good solution. At some point, conventional wisdom is always confronted by reality. If it aligns well enough, it stays; if it doesn’t, it’s replaced by new thinking. This cycle has been in place since the beginning of recorded history. It is maintained by those who blindly follow conventional wisdom, by those who defend it, by those who question it… and by those who change it and create new realities. Where do you fall within this cycle?

Time Traveling

June 4, 2010

I love time traveling. I’ve done it most of my life. I’m finding the older I get, the easier it becomes. I don’t have a time machine… I just read, think and mostly use my imagination to propel me. Sometimes I travel back in time; other times I project myself into the future. The biggest benefit of time travel is returning to the present with wisdom.

What started me time traveling was realizing many of the people that influence my thinking had left this world before I ever arrived. Compelled to meet and understand my influencers, I started visiting them. After several trips, patterns started to emerge. I found many of my heroes weren’t heroes at all… at least not during their lifetimes. Some were rejected by society. Many were considered radical, dangerous, or even insane. Traveling forward from these places in time, I observed how it took future generations to start understanding the courage, brilliance and insight these individuals possessed. Looking back from the present, it’s hard to believe these people weren’t celebrated. Then again, future generations will see us in the same light… and wonder the same.

During one of my journeys, a great hero of mine from the 1400s explained that expending too much time and energy trying to convince people from your own time period is unproductive. “Think, write and create for the unborn,” he said. “They will come to understand and value your insight and effort.” In his case, no truer words could be spoken… and I told him so. I appreciate his advice and often heed it.

The more you travel, the clearer one thing becomes… time exposes the truth. As it turns out, many past “heroes” weren’t heroes at all. They were popular charlatans, people of privilege or barbaric leaders driven by self-serving agendas. These individuals weren’t whom they claimed to be… or what they were perceived to be during their time. Many were truth twisters and propaganda creators on a mission to gain power and prestige in their lifetime… and were willing to achieve it at any cost. Whether it’s past, present or future one thing remains consistent—leaders need supporters and followers to succeed. Read more

Harmony Requires Honesty

June 3, 2010

Back in high school I played drums and sang in a few different bands. One of the bands played mostly Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Cream… you get the idea.

One day we were jamming when Jim, our lead guitarist, started playing Happy Together by the Turtles. It was funny at first… but then we all joined in and something clicked. While it was outside our genre, something about this song resonated with us. In fact, our version of Happy Together not only sounded great… it was fun to play. So now what? How do you transition from Black Dog and Iron Man to Happy Together? We weren’t certain, but we had an upcoming gig and decided to find out.

It was the night before the event and we had been practicing hard all week. Since we hadn’t performed Happy Together publicly, we decided to go over it a few more times. Jim was/is a talented musician and he had figured out all the harmonies, including a great three-part harmony for the “Ba-ba-ba…” part. (If you’ve never heard this song… you can do so below.)

Oh yes, there’s something I neglected to mention… it was for good reason that our bass guitar player rarely sang. He was notoriously off-key and pitchy (I’m being polite). Perhaps that’s what amazed Jim and me the most about us playing Happy Together… he actually sang one of the harmony parts.

Back to practice… I was singing lead and Jim was singing background harmony when we reached this part of the song…

Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together

Then we all jumped in… Ba-ba-ba…

Before we could hit the second, Ba-ba-ba… line, Jim stopped playing, turned and looked directly at me. Accept for the ring in our ears, the room was silent. Read more

Beach Balls, Truth and Innovation

April 16, 2010

Have you ever tried holding a small beach ball under water? It’s not too difficult at first… but the longer you try to hold it down, the harder it becomes. At some point, the upward force (buoyant force) wins and the beach ball surfaces. Back in 200 BC, Archimedes, the brilliant Greek scientist, discovered the deeper you hold a buoyant object underwater, the higher it shoots above the surface once it’s released. Buoyancy = weight of displaced fluid. Archimedes’ principle seems to apply to truth as well. Try as you may to keep it hidden, eventually it surfaces.

One technique I’ve used to hide a ball in the pool is to sit on it. This seems clever at first, but it’s a bit risky… one wrong move and the ball shoots right out from underneath you and flies out of the water for all to see. This is what happened to Bernie Madoff… he made some bad moves, lost his balance, and the truth surfaced in a flash. Sometimes, if you’re careful and have enough power, you can let the ball up slowly. This is what the tobacco industry did regarding the dangers of smoking. They realized the truth was going to surface sooner than later… so they let it up slowly. Whether it’s a beach ball or the truth, it’s not a matter of if or how it will surface, but when. At some point, even master beach ball hiders need to leave the pool and take a break. Read more

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