Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hockey Sticks & Flywheels

Yesterday's post regarding a split life, I feel, cleared the way to talk freely about all aspects of my life. It represents the knee in my personal hockey stick. What? You know the inflection point where it takes off up and to the right. A past boss described my performance that way. He wasn't sure for the first couple months about his hiring decision and then he just watched the progress unfold.

The past few months have been spent churning things around internally about an online presence. While at the same time I have been following people; 140+ on Twitter and 30+ blogs. This has given me an decent lay of the land in Web2.0 space and created a good foundation or base from which to speak from. During this time an outsider would have seen little of significance from me. This being the blade of the stick; nearly horizontal with some slight positive slope.

Concentrating on the foundation develops a stable platform to launch everything else from. I have personally experienced this from iron distance racing. Iron-distance athlete, Jim Collins uses a similar example of a flywheel in his book "Good to Great."

"Then at some point - breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn...whoosh! its own heavy weight working for you!

Being a closet triathlete artificially limited the amount that I felt I could say. Jim Collins points out that "good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop." Acknowledging all dimensions of my life enables me to more efficiently spin the flywheel. I still see work in front of me. I also don't think that if I had a posted this four months ago the other work could have been ignored. The base is still needed.

Each year the base needs to be rebuilt. This is true in either triathlon or business. December is the end of the year and the typical time for reflection. It also offers the opportunity to look forward to the New Year and the changes that are necessary.

How big is your base? What would it take to knock you off balance? What are you going to do differently in the upcoming year to improve?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


ConvergenceDo you lead dual lives? Work vs. Personal? Public vs. Private? Do you find common themes between the two? This post is about all that and bringing both worlds into the same light. (Oh no, worlds colliding...)

I am a closet triathlete. Not your typical person that enters a race here or there to celebrate a life milestone, but what some would call crazy. I have been doing an Ironman a year for the past 10 years. During this time, I have downplayed what many consider a tremendous achievement. Why? Because there tends to be a stigma associated with someone that exercises to that degree. People are skeptical about how I can manage that and a full time job. When I tell them it is easy I can see their faces fall. That is not what they want to hear. Don't get me wrong, doing an Ironman takes commitment and discipline. I will be the first to admit it is not for everyone.

When I say "it is easy" I am referring to mastering the basics. Most people have done it, they just don't realize it or don't like doing it. Daily everyone prioritizes things and makes sacrifices for the higher priority items. Exercising and being able to cover 140.6 miles in a day is higher on my priority scale than watching a football game or an evening sitcom.

That is some of my personal life. On the professional side, I am an engineer most recently working as software product manager / marketing person. I enjoy it because there are continual challenges. Priorities are constantly shifting. You have to be thinking ahead to make it all work within the allotted time. You are constantly working towards milestones or release dates. If you are not, then you are critiquing the product, evaluating its performance through the customers eyes and planning the next improvements among other things.

Notice how professional life mirrors personal life? I do not sign up for an Ironman race one week and show up to race the following. There is planning and challenges to overcome. One of the first one's is to even get into one of these events. Believe it or not, they sell out in hours. Once you are successful at getting into the race then you have to plan your time. There are macro cycles and micro cycles to be considered. As part of the "training plan" various milestones are incorporated such as a half marathon or a 100 mile bike ride. These enable you to checkpoint your progress. Am I on track to do the full Ironman race or does one sport need improvement. What goal times were set for these milestone events. This is my "customer" feedback. I may not like what the clock says when I cross the finish line but it is very real and undeniable feedback.

Crossing the finish line after an Ironman race is an indescribable feeling. A mixture emotions flood through your weary body and mind; elation at having completed the race within the allotted time; either joy or sorrow depending on race result; there is also some disappointment because that is it. You are truly finished. Some Iron-athletes talk about a post race funk because they feel they no longer have a purpose to train.

One other benefit is the knowledge that I was able to set a large goal and achieve it. Over time I have found that this is my main reason for doing these races. The self confidence to face most any challenge is very empowering. For example, 24 hours before the expo and the new product demonstration just fell apart - no problem, there is plenty of time.

Prior to this post, I tried to maintain some separation between the private and professional worlds. Having gotten back into some low level training I have had time to reflect on that and how it was not truly healthy. They balance each other out nicely and enable a high level of performance across both. I can feel a writer's block being unplugged and look forward to combining the experiences going forward.

Back to the original question: Do you lead a dual life? Are there common elements in both that support the whole person? Why do you continue to keep them separate?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Blogging Renewed

Today I read Andrew Sullivan's article "Why I Blog" from November 2008 Atlantic. Andrew draws a comparison to jazz explaining the difference between formal writing and blogging:

To use an obvious analogy, jazz entered our civilization much later than composed, formal music. But it hasn’t replaced it; and no jazz musician would ever claim that it could. Jazz merely demands a different way of playing and listening, just as blogging requires a different mode of writing and reading. Jazz and blogging are intimate, improvisational, and individual—but also inherently collective. And the audience talks over both.

It was with these thoughts loose in my brain that I went for a morning run. Exercise, for me, always breaks the thought jam and results in creative ideas. The end result was a new found perspective on blogging and several topics that wanted to come out. Rather than being worried about correctness and credibility I felt compelled to just get them out. (at least this one is a start)

Of course this is a familiar path that I have said to myself more than twice over the past month. One time was after reading Taylor Graves' post titled "Risk: What is the value?" One quote from the article was "You don’t become an innovator by playing it safe." That was like looking in the mirror. I had never been risk adverse but in the blogosphere I am finding that I wasn't too anxious to post an opinion without checking the sources and verifying my correctness. After reading Andrew's article the reality is that the blog is more or less spontaneous. That is part of the beauty of blogs and developing the conversation. Procrastinating has caused many topics to fall by the wayside. This has also led to me straying from my original intent with the blog to join the conversation.

How do you manage to generate interesting content and keep the conversation going? Do you worry that a post is interesting or not?