December 31, 2009
Call me a gadget head or a techie, but I love electronics!
Each year, I buy the latest and greatest electro-innovations in an ongoing attempt to leverage high tech into a happier and more productive life. Each year, a few gadgets rise to the top of my tool kit, and likely they would work for you too.
1. Flip Mino HD - Hands down, this is the greatest video camera innovation since the original handicam. In a package the size of an iPod, you get full screen quality HD (MP4) video that's as easy to publish as buying it on Amazon. This is a design victory, where the software lives on the camera - making it plug and share. Check out this video I shot at Farmer's Market. NOTE: MacBook Pro users should buy the Ultra HD instead, because it's USB output fits correctly.
2. Steam Bug Travel Iron - For years, I've been loyal to a Sunbeam steamer to bring dress shirts and some suits back to life on the road. Sure beats the shower steaming approach at hotels. But there's always too much water coming out, etc, with the Sunbeam. I dare not use the iron in the hotel room, as I've had bad experiences with water crud, stains, burned clothes in the past. The Steam Bug is a Brookstone invention that gets out the wrinkles with modest (dry) steam. The only thing is that you have to use it horizontally (it turns off when vertical). But in the end, it's the best solution for me.
3. My iPhone - Eventually, the smart phone will subsume every incremental device I use (except one's for cooking, cleaning, etc.). It's a gadget killer for sure. When people see my iPhone, they often ask me, "what's your favorite app?" Usually, I tell them about my Guitar Tools app (only 9.99) that eliminated my need for a guitar tuner, metronome and chord chart. I have other gadgets on the phone too: Converter, GPSish map function, and of course games. I sold my PSP recently, why have it now? Eventually, the camera and video camera functions will be good enough for me -- eliminating those gadgets from my life too. For decades I believed that the only truly integrated device that works is the toaster-oven. I stand corrected.
December 29, 2009
I've researched all year to give you these recommendations. I guarantee each one is a great listen for all fans of rock of new music. Even indie-hipsters will find something they love on this list. I've considered over 150 records (found on CMJ, Good Records, Amazon Genius, word-of-mouth, numerous publications). I purchased about 40 of them after a full preview on LaLa. The pile sifts down to these ten records. NOTE: I purchased 6 of the 10 at my favorite local record shop. I bought 3 of them on iTunes. I only purchased one through Amazon (Silversun Pickups). I'm going a little digital this year (30%), but still love the convenience of popping the CD into my player (and enjoying the artwork or packaging).
By modern rock, I mean all rock that isn't a retread of last year's/decade's big hit. I'm looking for new, indie, fresh, retro-but-innovative rock that I want to turn up in my car. I'm also looking for great albums, from beginning to end. Each one of my picks has a minimum of eight great tracks. In a future post, I'll share my top 12 songs of 2009, which will likely come from a different group of artists than this list.
TOP 10 MODERN ROCK RECORDS OF 2009
1. Fruit Bats - Ruminant Band: Eric Johnson, the creator of the Fruit Bats, hails from Chicago and now lives in Seattle where his label (Sub Pop) HQs. You might have seen Johnson as a touring sideman for the Shins. Ruminant Band really grew on me with repeat listens. It fills that "Shins-Arcade Fire-Deathcab" indie-sensitive category for the year. The songs blend turned phrases with southern rock guitar riffs and rare instruments to create my top find of 2009. Every single tracks glistens with taste and the gestalt of this year's crop of new music.
2. Kasabian - West Ryder Lunatic Asylum: This bad-boy UK electro-rock group lit up the summer festival circuit in Europe. I read about them in a music mag I purchased in London in July. Their much anticipated record features Sergio Pizzorno's sensibility and dark point of view. This is the best british modern rock record since Blur's Think Tank. Much like it, West Ryder Lunatic Asylum takes you on a sonic journey from the boom-boom beats of Underdog or Vlad The Impaler to the thoughtful organic tunesmithing of Thick As Thieves.
3. Built To Spill - There Is No Enemy: I've been a fan of this band for over a decade because of their brown guitar sounds, uber-indie chordings and great lyrics. Doug Martsch is one of the songwriters of our time. There Is No Enemy is perhaps their best record yet, which is hard to deliver after all of this time. This will fill your My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses or Modest Mouse requirements for the year (and then some).
4. Thao - Know Better Learn Faster: This is a new band that came on strong at the end of the year (thanks to CMJ's charts for alerting me to their rise). Lead singer Thao Nguyen is enigmatic, bombastic, soulful and stands out as one of this year's new fresh faces in indie-land. She's as strange as Cat Power, yet as forceful as Perry Ferrel. Check out track 2 (Cool Yourself) and you'll buy the record.
5. Monsters Of Folk - Monsters Of Folk: Are you kidding me? Combine Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes, with Jim James from My Morning Jacket, then throw in M. Ward just to make this indie-folk-supergroup debut a ringer. Man Named Truth and Dear God are instant classics. This record is rare in that it perfectly blends several big egos to produce a collaboratively huge sound.
6. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career: This band hails from Scotland and shares an instrumental bent not too far from fellow Scots Belle & Sebastian. TraceyAnn Campbell has a Mama Cass meets Portishead/Beth sound that is both throwback and modern at the same time. French Navy is one of the most engaging and smile producing tracks of this year. Their US tour was the highlight of the indie circuit this summer.
7. Arctic Monkeys - Humbug: Alex Turner is one of the most special writers to come from the UK in a long time. He's got a knack for transposing his point of view into snap catchy songs. Their first CD was a fresh delight and Humbug, their third release returns them to top form.
8. Silversun Pickups - Swoon: One of the top alternative rock records of 2009 from one of my favorite Los Angeles acts. Swoon is the band's full on Gish (Smashing Pumpkins) and shows incredible growth both in song writing and tone production. The opening track, There Are No Secrets This Year, sizzles with a freshness of a newly signed band.
9. Passion Pit - Manners: Michael Angelakos is the master mind behind this twisted pop band from Boston. He combines vintage instruments with otherworldly vocal arrangements to create this year's MGMT. Much like MGMT, the band's production sparkles with a cherubic sound. Sleepyhead was a top college track this year.
10. Sonic Youth - The Eternal: Yes, they are back in black and more accessible than ever. Somewhere along the way Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon decided to combine their decades of experience into a wise record that stretched the boundaries of tone and tune. From beginning to end, each track will engage you and remind you why Sonic Youth is one of the most influential bands of rock and roll.
December 28, 2009
Roy Spence is a firecracker of a person, and lit up the Conscious Capitalism conference in Austin last year. Besides being an author and corporate preacher, he's the CEO of GSD&M, a rollicking ad agency in Austin.
During his talk, he shared one of his business habits at the ad agency: Dumping the junk in January. On a dedicated day, all of the employees gathered up stuff they no longer used or needed. Furniture, paperwork, swag, equipment, nothing was sacred. In one ceremonious swoop, the company dumped its junk at the top of the year. Some of it went to charity, some to recycling and the rest out the back.
Roy explained that it was a great reset of the mind, too. The junk symbolizes ideas, conventions or collections we hold dear -- year over year. If we let our lives get too cluttered, it's easy to get stuck in a routine. This routine always leads a great group to the muddled middle over time. When you dump junk, you make room for more tools and toys. At his agency (GSD&M Idea City), spurring creative thinking is "money." For many of us, any exercise that boosts creativity is time well spent.
So this year, I'm going to dump the junk in the week between Christmas and New Year. I'm going to segment my junk as follows:
* Stuff: I'm going through closets, shelves, my garage and my car. Nothing will be sacred. Books, clothes (editing my closet by 50%), cell phones (purged of data or sim cards), computers (ditto), old gadgets, magazines...It's out of here! Non-tax paperwork and collateral will be scanned. If it's not good enough to give away it gets disposed. If it's still in my place in 2010, I'm going to use it during the year!
* Poor commitments: These are projects, to-do's or promo commitments that I made last year, but need to go away. When I agreed to them, there was a win/win payout. It didn't work out. Maybe this isn't my thing, and I'm not adding value. The only way to approach this exercise is to make a list of all the commitments you have. Some you can't change. Many can be cancelled immediately. Make sure you are face to face or at least phone when you quit. Don't hide behind your gadgets. Be clear, and don't apologize for taking back some of your life.
I know my suggestion goes a bit farther than Roy's original plan -- but while I'm dumping junk to make space, I should also dump bad commitments to get back some time!
December 22, 2009
Earlier this week, Prince William lived out at least one side of the famous story of The Prince and The Pauper. After all, it's in his DNA. When William slept rough in the streets recently, he carried forward his mother's vision of increasing awareness about the plight of homeless teens in London.
While some may cast a cynical eye towards William's efforts (along with front page publicity and goodwill it generated), I look at the exercise as a win/win/win venture that all of us should draw from insight from.
For Prince William, this exercise is a coming of age story for a young leader. First of all, he makes the move from sympathy to empathy when it comes to the issue of homelessness. Before this night of "sleeping rough," he felt bad for the poor (sympathy). After the experience, "he could only imagine...," which takes his understanding of the situation to a higher level. This is also the level that the poor would like to be thought of at too. The homeless don't want pity. They want safety, food and to feel good. Pretty much the same thing all of us want. I think Prince William gets that a little bit better now.
The second benefit to the young leader is that he's smashing his fears by confronting them through the experience of being destitute. Last year, I viewed a five minute talk by Tim Ferriss on "Practical Pessimism." In it, he shared ideas from Stoicism that suggested that the powerful, rich and noble all experience poverty and eat what the beggars eat and wear what they wear. The exercise, helps the have-alots confront their greatest fear: Losing all the stuff. I predict the exercise will help Prince William feel fearless when it comes to moments or even extended periods of not having more cash than you can count.
For the homeless he encountered, there are benefits too. For some, he gave them a shot of hope, believing that help might be on the way. For others, the attentive appearance of Prince William in their hood gave them a voice to the world - and a dose of dignity too.
Done with taste, you can benefit from this exercise too. You can find a way to immerse yourself in the intersection of the community's biggest needs and your greatest assets. Who knows, you might be the only person reaching out this year.
Is there a customer in need? In my first book, I shared the story of Michael Rawlins (former CEO of Pizza Hut). Each Friday, he called his best customers to check on service, thank them for their loyalty and hear out their life stories. One day, he called a single mother of five that worked three jobs to make ends meet. While he didn't walk in her shoes for a day, he listened empathetically. For both of them, it was a life changing conversation. Thanks to Google Books, you can read The Pizza Hut story for all the details.
What is the analog in your business? What did your mother (think founder) care about? Are you still carrying that cause on?
December 21, 2009
Yesterday, I enjoyed some LA sun at the Studio City Farmer's Market.
The sights, smells and sounds tickled my senses and connected me with the holiday spirit. Organic Demo, a duo playing for tips, was jamming at one end of the midway. Their colors and vibe was perfect, so I whipped out my Flip HD Mino and shot their holiday medley. If any video should go viral, this one should.
December 17, 2009
Recently, I was booked for an encore presentation at a conference. The first engagement went really well, and all of us felt a resonant spark. I was invited back the next month, and excited to have the opportunity.
You would think it's a slam dunk, which is a problem in our culture. We put too much weight into the first impression. We believe that's all that counts. We get lazy, thinking that the encore performance is a freebie that will obviously turn out well, "because we dig each other, right?"
Wrong. In sales, business development and speaking situations, I've found the 2nd meeting to be the hardest of all. Not enough meetings to go strategic or get biz-married -- but enough meetings to wipe out the 1st impression. Yet, sadly, we don't train people for this. Fortunately, I've been aware of the 2nd Meeting Syndrome since my days at Yahoo, and possess a few rules for rocking it the second time around:
1. Remember the details of the first meeting. This is also the golden rule of any CRM solution - people are irritated when they have to repeat themselves. If you don't give them personal hard drive space, why should they do business with you?
2. Try not to repeat yourself too much. Many first meetings rock because you had good beats (a performance term for the little 'bits' you do that express your point of view). Your homespun story may make people laugh till the cry the first time, but the second time you tell them, they will check their email on their Blackberry. Prior to the 2nd meeting, recollect the details of the first. I always have a bullet point outline of my meeting/talk, including 'bits' and even what I wore that day! Bring some novelty to the second time around. Review the tapes or recordings, if possible. NOTE: Be willing to take requests if you are asked to repeat bits for new ears/eyes.
3. Over prepare. As much as you boned up for the first meeting, give as much or more effort for the second. Conditions change, audiences change and contemporary events change your value proposition/premise. Focus on these changes and let the dialogue from meeting one give you fodder for a much deeper dive into the details in preparation for meeting two.
4. Be grateful for the chance to meet again. If it's a meeting for business, be grateful for the airtime. For your best potential partners, time is worth more than money. Same goes for paid engagements (from consulting to services). It's a tough market out there, and you should give some extra-heart to people that give you double repeat business. Don't take them for granted or think you are some kind of biz-God that they are giving homage to. Be very humble about the encore and show some real gratitude. Meditate for a minute on it when you first wake up the day of the second meeting.
5. Take it to the next level. Don't just think of this as another meeting. Life is short, so do your best to convert this warm and fuzzy transaction into a powerful relationship. Explore win/win/win scenarios, stretch the boundaries and clearly outline next steps. Always take meetings or engagements to the next level. Relationship business beats out high volume 1 or 2 and done transactional work. It's easier, more likely to turn bizmates into friends and usually delivers high value results.
December 15, 2009
Earlier today, I participated in the Executive Breakfast Club series in Oak Brook (Chicago).
The moderator of the event, Al Gini, told me about a friend of his that believed that you needed to have amnesia when it comes to your historical failures. That's how he moved forward from adversity. When I thought about that, I realized that it was likely a bad strategy for long term success.
Forgetting about mistakes is a decent way to limit negative thoughts, but how can you learn from them? My grandmother had many pieces of advice for me. One of the most powerful ones was: "It's ok to make mistakes. Just make sure that you only make new mistakes!"
Here's her point: When you make a mistake, control the inner conversation to focus on what you've learned and how you could have done things differently. Make note of the events leading up to the mistake (that might have clouded or influenced your judgement). Think of these events as warning signs for the future -- and when you feel like you are falling into the same mistake process, turn the ship around!
By decoding our failures as learning opportunities, we also avoid negative confidence killing thought patterns, but at the same time reduce our risk of becoming a "repeat offender." This is a lesson I've passed on to my son Anthony - and now he's empowered to try things and be bold. In fact, when he's made mistakes, they've always been (up to now) new ones that he now draws strength from.
December 14, 2009
Seth Godin just released What Matters Now, a free e-book featuring 70 thought leaders across a variety of important subjects. I've read it twice now, and there are dozens of incredible ideas in this gem of a freebie - from Mr Idea Virus himself!
Download the e-book and read it on your Kindle, Nook, laptop or computer. I contributed a piece for it on the subject of confidence. Other contributors include: Dave Ramsey, Anne Jackson, Tom Peters, Seth Godin, Hugh McLeod, Dan Roam and the list goes on and on and on.Download What Matters Now.pdf (3167.2K)
December 11, 2009
Here's my #1 message for December, 2009: Reconnect with your abundance!
I challenge you to rediscover that feeling that "there's enough to go around, enough for all of us to share" that you possessed a few years ago. It was a no-souler then. But now? The last year has been tough on everyone financially, emotionally and spiritually.
Or as Mark Cuban loved to say, "everyone's a genius in a bull market."
It's easy to focus on how this is a Slim Christmas instead of a White or Green one. Why not, the media would love for you to see it this way (and stay tuned in for more bad news). It's easy for us to notice what others have (and have accomplished) and, by comparison, feel depressed instead of grateful for their good fortune. All of these feelings are natural, unless you plant a stake in the ground and make a declaration of abundance.
Then the hard works starts. But you need to do it, to contribute to the year's necessary holiday cheer. You need to connect with the spirit of giving, connecting and rejoicing that goes on once a year. You can't just will your way into this mindset, it requires action and mental focus.
Here are 3 way to cultivate an abundant outlook:
1. Thank 3 people that helped you this year - Review the game tapes until these three pop out as your biggest contributors. They helped you personally, socially or professionally. Give them a personal gift and/or a hand written note explaining why you are grateful to them this year, and how much of a difference they've made to you.
2. Brighten someone's holiday season - Invite a stray co-worker (with family living elsewhere or alone) over for Christmas day. Buy a few $100 gift cards for a grocery store or Wal-Mart and give them to people you see everyday that could really put them to use: Entry level tweeners, janitorial staff, workers. When you give, be warm and thank them for the opportunity to share the season with them.
3. Absorb the good cheer of others. The next time you see people celebrating their year, stop to imagine yourself in their shoes and learn to find joy in other's happiness.
Watch my video series of abundance on my YouTube channel
December 09, 2009
Over the last few months, I've been honing my creative strategy.
After reading David Lynch and Horst Rechelbacher's works, I realized that creativity is something you must cultivate and develop tools for. I've been using a non-spiritual form of meditation recently: Doing busy work to give my mind time to think/ideate/create. I take a repetitive but valuable task (filing expenses, booking flights online, etc.) that requires alertness but little creative thought. This leaves a huge portion of my brain/mind some time to do its thing. Many of my solutions, breakthroughs or original ideas came to me during these mundane tasks. You might do it when you shower or garden, I do it during my workaday.
For John Cleese, sleep time is creative time. He and I spoke at the Yorkshire Int'l Business Convention this summer in the UK. Using my trust Panasonic hand cam, I captured a few minutes of his keynote, where he explained this concept - check it out!