Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government - Gavin Newsom

Friday, March 14, 2014

Citizenville is Gavin Newsom’s vision for a better connected and more involved American constituency. The former Mayor of San Francisco turned Lt. Governor of California, Newsom explores a variety of case studies where technology has helped to encourage participation within a stagnating electorate. 

The book is an easy read, and presents innovative ideas clearly. Newsom looks to examples in America, and abroad, where the private and public sector fuse their skills and resources to develop tools that will engage voters. More importantly, Newsom argues that the current role of government is outdated—stuck in the previous century—and should look to private sector development as an opportunity to speed up tangible change. 

He presents a strong belief that the mountainous volumes of data held by government can be an asset to private sector companies who are agile, nimble, and not tied to red tape bureaucracy that impedes innovation. A partnership where communities and governments at all levels share data to build tools that improve our lives is not only socially beneficial, but also an opportunity to transform our economic output. 

The Obama administration has taken a giant leap forward in bringing government up-to-speed with technology, with notable bumps along the way (all things aside, Healthcare.gov is a dramatic shift in the way we connect with citizens)—Newsom continues this charge by looking to the CEOs, entrepreneurs, scientists, students, and digital enthusiasts who are carving out a new path for America. 

Bandcamp Finds: Joel Helander

Friday, March 7, 2014

I’m always searching for new music. Bandcamp has been an awesome destination to easily search and discover music in a variety of genres. Bandcamp Finds is my irregularly scheduled effort to highlight and applaud artists I’ve enjoyed. 

Flood by Joel Helander.

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Flood is a relaxing journey through modernized classical compositions. Joel Helander’s piano work is soothing and meditative. The album nudges you through the day with gentle lifts and reflective dips, and is a great accompaniment to move through the work day, or while enjoying “do nothing” moments. 

Why I’m Pumped for Satya Nadella

Thursday, February 27, 2014

There’s been a lot of fanfare surrounding the announcement of Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella. From the official webpage declaring his role, to the press tour he’s been on, I’m pretty impressed with Microsoft’s “on-the-surface” communications approach to introducing Satya. 

To me, his selection for CEO is a big deal because he’s been tasked with propelling Microsoft into the next era of their business—a much discussed evolution from hardware-centric products, to software-centric services.

He’s a different type of thinker, and it shows in everything he does. Adam Bryant from The New York Times snagged Satya’s first official interview as CEO, and it’s answers like this that excite me: 

I fundamentally believe that if you are not self-aware, you’re not learning. And if you’re not learning, you’re not going to do useful things in the future.

One of the things that drives me crazy is anyone who comes in from the outside and says, “This is how we used to do it.” Or if somebody who’s been here for a while says, “This is how we do it.” Both of them are such dangerous traps. The question is: How do you take all of that valuable experience and apply it to the current context and raise standards?

Satya has echoed these statements through a variety of messaging—and he’s consistently mentioned how his “always learning” habit has defined his approach to business. 

I’m mixed when organizations rely on their pasts. To me, it usually means the organization has nothing to say about the future, and for the most part hold onto tradition as their clout to justify some form of market dominance. History and heritage are important—but should never be the only argument. Satya’s perspective is refreshing, and true to his experience as an engineer and business leader:

Longevity in this business is about being able to reinvent yourself or invent the future. In our case, given 39 years of success, it’s more about reinvention. We’ve had great successes, but our future is not about our past success. It’s going to be about whether we will invent things that are really going to drive our future.

One of the things that I’m fascinated about generally is the rise and fall of everything, from civilizations to families to companies. We all know the mortality of companies is less than human beings. There are very few examples of even 100-year old companies. For us to be a 100-year old company where people find deep meaning at work, that’s the quest.

Microsoft for a long time hasn’t been self aware, and they’ve trapped themselves into a bubble that I believe Nadella will burst. If anything, Microsoft’s dominance and market share may influence some exciting changes and unearth new opportunities for other players in the space. 

I work with a lot of businesses that are seeing titanic shifts within their industries. The folks in publishing, retail, and electronics that only leverage their past dominance as a means to stay competitive are ultimately missing the bigger picture.

Holding on to a time that once was will matter to a core group of enthusiasts, but it will never acquire a new generation of customers. I don’t deny that this is a challenge. Startups constantly argue that keeping your core base happy is what matters most—but how does a business grow when your ceiling is defined by people who want services to always be the same? 

I think Satya sees the benefit in reshaping Microsoft’s original vision of “a computer on every desk and in every home”. 

I think Satya sees the opportunity sitting within a new generation whose mindset is to be the always-connected being. 

I think this is really exciting. 

The Art of the Deal - Donald Trump

Monday, February 24, 2014

I recently read Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal—the half memoir, half business book he co-wrote at the height of his late 80s real estate fortune. 

The book is an eye opening look into Trump’s early days in the real estate business, and it’s a glimpse into the loud-mouthed asshole he would soon become

But, if you remove the sums of those shitty parts that make the man—and trust me, I tried really hard here—there’s a lot to learn about life and business. 

  1. Always keep your options open—and never commit to to the first thing that walks through the door.
  2. Be patient. That goes hand-in-hand with keeping your options open. The first deal might not be the best, and your market may change in an instant. Wait it out if you can—this can prove beneficial to future decisions.
  3. If you miss the train because you waited, get over it. You weren’t meant to be a part of whatever was leaving the station—there are other opportunities.
  4. Find a new, unique approach to everything. If you failed one way, go back and try again. Be different each time, but also do better.
  5. Be fair, but don’t dilute what you have to offer in order to secure the deal. Don’t low ball yourself, ever.
  6. Know your shit. Do your homework. Come prepared. The more informed you are, the more agile you are at making better decisions.
  7. Persistence and perseverance pay off—if that means writing an email everyday to a prospect who keeps saying no, you keep writing (go back to point #2).
  8. Relationships matter. Cultivate them because you never know when you’ll need someone’s help, credibility, or influence.  

The book is a fast, entertaining read. I think despite Trump’s flare for controversy, there’s some great foundational advice to being a better decision maker.

If anything, it’s a great example of how overdoing it and failing to be true to the values you live by can ruin you. Trump would lose much of his fortune shortly after he published the book due to a collapsing real estate market and mounting debt.

How I’m Informed with Matthew Bellows

Sunday, January 26, 2014

We are all involved in different interests, careers, and aspirations. Keeping informed is an important part of evolving your perspective, but also staying up-to-date. I asked a number of people in different industries to share their reading habits, and how they keep-up with the constant flood of information that matters to them.

Matthew Bellows - Founder & CEO, Yesware

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I wake up at 6am and read/respond to email. On the bus to work, I check the normal tech websites and DailyKos. Most gaps in my meeting schedule during the day I fill with reading and replying to email with occasional forays into LinkedIn and Facebook to catch up on friends’ lives. The one place I do not read emails is in meetings. It’s the height of arrogance to focus my attention on electronic content when my colleagues are having a discussion in the same room. I really try not to do that. 

At night before I go to sleep, I usually read a chapter or two from a real physical book. I’m currently reading “The Better Angels of Our Nature”. It’s an amazing survey of data that shows, all things considered, violence in society is declining. In between non-fiction like that, I’m reading the three volume “Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma" by Trungpa Rinpoche. It’s a brilliant, very accessible and funny explanation of Buddhism by one of the 20th century’s most important teachers. 
Matthew Bellows is founder and CEO of Yesware—an email tool for sales people. He regularly tweets about startups and business building as @mbellows

Bandcamp Finds: 유카리 (Yukari)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I’m always searching for new music. Bandcamp has been an awesome destination to easily search and discover music in a variety of genres. Bandcamp Finds is my irregularly scheduled effort to highlight and applaud artists I’ve enjoyed. 

Echo by 유카리 (Yukari).

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Echo is a wonderful, slow-moving dreamscape of electropop. Yukari’s combination of lush synths and airy vocals transport you like an invisible presence through a time-lapsed experience—think bustling cityscapes or a sweaty basement club dance floor. Just relax and let the sounds engulf your mind. 

How to Avoid Meetings

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The sneaky little bastards are such time suckers. 

This post was originally published on Medium

I hate meetings.

Honestly, unless I’m presenting something final, I find meetings to be the most unproductive aspect of my working life.

Here are some ways I actively avoid meetings to ensure the utmost productivity.

Check-in, frequently

Email. Post-it notes. Knock on the door and ask, “Do you have a second?” Check-in frequently and display your progress regularly. It’s the only way to avoid booking a meeting and collecting a mountain of feedback in one-sitting. The more frequently I check-in, the more nimble I am to feedback and suggestions I can layer into my work as I’m building a presentation, briefing document, or report.

If your direct report is all grumbly about the frequency of your check-ins, remember this: measure 50 times, cut once. No one can argue on the idea of doing something once and getting it right the first time. Communicate, plan, and prepare in a thorough manner before taking action.

Use the power of email

If a colleague suggests meeting (verbally, or within an email), I highly suggest emailing them to understand what purpose the meeting might serve, or if an agenda is being bounced around. With this information laid out to you in the body of an email, you can immediately figure out how to provide answers within a response—avoiding a meeting altogether. Email is great for collecting and displaying thoughts succinctly. Take the time to write a powerful email, and you’ll be amazed at how much back-and-forth can be minimized.

Use the power of Basecamp, or other management tools.

There’s a lot of great software out there that helps track teams and individuals—including plenty of open-source options. These tools can help you delegate tasks, monitor progress, and have virtual meetings without the fuss of gathering everyone in one room. A quick Google search will return a deluge of “top 10” lists trumping the best software, but this Lifehacker post is a good start.

For me, meetings get in the way of reaching my goals—I avoid meetings, but that doesn’t mean I’m avoiding work. Meetings, in most cases, create more uneccessary work.

How I’m Informed with Joel Gascoigne

Sunday, December 29, 2013

We are all involved in different interests, careers, and aspirations. Keeping informed is an important part of evolving your perspective, but also staying up-to-date. I asked a number of people in different industries to share their reading habits, and how they keep-up with the constant flood of information that matters to them.

Joel Gascoigne - Founder & CEO, Buffer 

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For a few years, I had a love-hate relationship with RSS. I loved the idea, but I was always overwhelmed because there was far too much to read in my RSS reader. It took me far too long to realize the key reason for my problems: I subscribed to too many blogs.

If there was any one piece of advice I would give about RSS from my own experience, it would be: be very selective about what you subscribe to. That way, you can always be sure that when you jump into your RSS reader, you will be able to read great content. On top of having a great reading session, since the content will be top quality, you’ll have plenty to share too.

The other hard part, is to find the high quality blogs to subscribe to in the first place. Here are a few tips which have worked well for me:

  1. Always be on the lookout for great content. I seem to find the best on Hacker NewsTwitter and Reddit.
  2. When you find a great article, go to the blog homepage and read the latest few blog posts.
  3. If their latest articles are very good, and they don’t post too frequently, hit subscribe!
  4. Avoid big publications with many authors, as the content is far too varied, and the volume will take over your RSS reader.

Joel Gascoigne is Founder and CEO of Buffer—an app dedicated to a better way of sharing on social media. He also writes about startups, life, learning, and happiness on his blog Joel.is.