Saturday Cup of Joe: a leadership and tech(ish) newsletter from Detroit

Friends & Colleagues,

SCOJ #110. One day into my new role focusing on big picture ideas around strategy, policy, and innovation was all I had before I hit the road to introduce myself to several of our business partners. My team went on the road a bit this week, which was both difficult — leaving my family so soon after vacation and starting a new gig — and exciting — diving into a new challenge with my own team to lead.

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Detroit, MI, USA

As part of the schedule of the trip, I ended up in Philly on Thursday evening and was able to parlay the trip into a visit home to see my Mom and Dad. It has been great to visit and help out. Mom and I watched the World Cup on Friday while I took calls and caught up on email. I was able to go with my Mom to her office as well. It has been great to spend time here with them.

Tomorrow we’re excited to get up early (not the early game) and watch more soccer. The Portugal — Spain game was one for the record books. Incredible goals. Wild emotions. If that’s any indication of the drama we can expect, this is gonna be a great tournament.

Are you watching the World Cup now that the US is not involved? Does it make it more interesting in some ways because you have to pick another country, or does it take all the fun out of it?

I’m looking forward to heading home tomorrow and getting to spend some time with my wife and daughter. It’s been a productive week, but it will be amazing to be home.

This week’s articles include Dad jokes, a question of authenticity, the best tech presentation I’ve ever seen, valuable lessons, and much more below. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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My friend Adi Ghosh is a forward-thinking technologist and now writer at his new blog — Here There Nowhere. If you enjoy thoughtful deep dives on data, technology, and human beings, you have to check this out. You won’t be disappointed. Congrats Adi. Glad to keep reading you each week.

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As seen on LinkedIn this week

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“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

— John Cage

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Dad jokes, know what I mean? After all the terrible #DadJokes I’ve made, I was stunned when my wife, Meredith, sent me: http://niceonedad.com/. It’s Dad jokes all day long. Example: “I knew I shouldn’t have ordered the seafood.” “I’m feeling a little eel.” Yup. That good. You’re welcome.

Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers. Hopefully you get a relaxing day, a golf day, the big piece of chicken, or the made-to-order nachos that you’ve wanted all year. Have a wonderful day. Cheers!

A special note to my father. My dad has been my father and my coach, my best friend and my partner in crime (ok, in jokes) my whole life. As long as I can remember, literally and figuratively. His support and insight have changed how I make decisions, how I interact, and how I define what it means to be a man. His Christian faith and his character guide him. When I was in high school, he was everyone’s dad because all my friends wanted to be at our house and wanted to be around my parents just as much as our never-ending supply of buffalo chicken tenders. Throughout my life, Dad has been a rock and a comfort. His easygoing style and natural friendliness are his calling card, but his determination and love are his legacy. Right now, my mom is suffering and fighting an aggressive and little-known cancer. The doctors are providing the best care and treatment they know. My dad is in the fight every moment with my mom and it is breathtaking to see his love and admiration borneout in 1,000 little ways each day. His lifelong model for me, our family, and his community is something I have felt every day, even if it takes Father’s Day for me to write it. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

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Apparently we’re all getting dumber, and it’s no one’s fault. Thanks Michelle Busuito for passing along this link. Looking forward to catching up again soon over some DiB.

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Roast pork and broccoli rabe, Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

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Question: At what cost? This is a question that comes up in a variety of different ways today. If you are trying to determine how to get ahead at work, it helps to ask yourself at what cost? If you are considering rooting for a professional athlete or watching a movie / tv show from a disgraced star, it helps to ask — at what cost?

In this essay, the author looks at painter Paul Gaugin’s decision to leave his entire family in France and move to Tahiti to become a painter. Authenticity? Self-deception? But it worked out, so what then? It’s a remarkable look at what philosopher Bernard Williams calls “a ground project,” or the meaning of one’s life.

The desires and goals at the heart of what Williams calls a ground project form a fundamental part of one’s identity, and in that sense being true to one’s deepest desires is being true to who one is most deeply. That is to say, being true to one’s deepest desires is being authentic.

The question is whether retrospective justification (i.e. because Gaugin became a great painter it validated his moral choice) is sufficient to excuse these choices. How do you know authenticity isn’t just a disguise for selfish behavior? What’s “the meaning of life” and what’s rationalizing hurtful actions?

Self-reflection and consideration is key to understand how you approach these questions and what you’ll do about it. When you have to answer questions of “at what cost,” remember to answer well.

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The Internet: Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends presentation has become an annual tradition for tech types, investors, and entrepreneurs. One site I visited had a year-over-year chart of the # of slides in her deck each year. The full presentation (all 294 slides, down from 355 last year) is available here.

Here are a few of my highlights / takeaways:

1. 4 big trends — mobile, voice, personalization, and cryptocurrency

2. Android and Alexa were big winners in 2017

3. The Top 3 companies spending on R&D are (not surprisingly) Amazon, Alphabet and Apple in a tie with Intel (Note: US companies spend ~18% of revenue on R&D)

4. E-commerce remains only 13% of retail sales, but Amazon is 28% of that amount

5. Online subscriptions, year-over-year growth:

a. Netflix up 25%

b. Spotify up 48%

c. New York Times up 43% (Trump bump?)

6. Household spending on shelter + healthcare is way up over 40 years but household spending overall is down during that same time.

7. Mobile advertising growth is way up year-over-year (Note: Facebook removed 583 M fake accounts this year)

There is so much here it is difficult to capture. No matter your industry or company, you’ll find incredible value. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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Enough said.

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Valuable lessons: One reoccurring theme from Saturday Cup of Joe has been to try to find value or valuable lessons in new, unique places. I was struck this week in an essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books by the description of “genius” from an experimental opera composer. As the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius Gran,t” she is in the qualified position to speak to the topic; however, in doing so, she described the work of any leader in any organization, particularly a business. Here’s what she wrote:

“One aspect of my work is conceptual — imagining the visual and philosophical implications of production choices — but even the best idea would be useless if it were not brilliantly realized by a team of specialists. Another aspect is practical — making and communicating plans down to the minutest level — but the execution of those logistics relies on a faultless chain of doers. Yet another aspect is inspirational — motivating the best possible performance, which is an inherently transitive quality. I could cheerlead until I’m blue in the face, but it won’t do me any good if the performer does not answer the call and rouse their own virtuosity.”

Conceptual. Practical. Inspirational. These are the same aspects that a good CEO or team leader must engage to create the conditions where genius can flow.

What are you doing to consider the environment or the setting where genius — yours or your team’s — can flourish? How do you focus on concepts, inspiration and execution to ensure everything is considered?

This week I’ll be thinking a lot about this and working to frame a team structure that supports and encourages genius.

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Something I have to think more about: Recently David Brooks took on the idea of meritocracy in his regular New York Times column. In particular the way meritocracy is too focused on individualism and some of the “ills” that has caused. One thought that caught my attention: “If you base a society on a conception of self that is about achievement, not character, you will wind up with a society that is demoralized.” According to Brooks and the author of the book he was profiling, this is true of present day America. Brooks acknowledges American meritocracy is not going anywhere but signals a shift in how it is framed and evaluated. Interesting trends to keep an eye on.

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Get Amped Up and Carry On: Meredith and I had traded e-mails on this great article, which though a couple years old, is one of those concepts that I want to revisit periodically. The idea is this: the best way to overcome or outperform anxiety is to get more excited, rather than try to be calm. In motivational speak, this is an “opportunity mindset” as opposed to a “threat mindset.”

I heard a real life example of this mindset in this week’s This American Life episode where a young man incarcerated in Louisiana’s high school jail or jail high school, depending on how you look at it, actively changed his perspective on the jail environment and the classroom environment to make it an opportunity. For instance, imagining the sheriff’s deputy posted at the door into his “commanding officer in boot camp.” It was a stunning example of someone finding the advantage in an otherwise difficult situation.

Back to overcoming anxiety, the solutions are remarkably simple. One study found simply saying “I am excited” three times prior to performing created measurable improvement. Next time you feel timid or anxious this week, especially in a professional or performance context, try diving deeper into the emotion and getting pumped up. Go ahead and get excited.

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Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Answer well: Here’s a good reminder from author Nicholas Cole on Medium.com. “The market is too saturated” is a cop out. No successful person with a good idea or passion ever stopped because someone else had a similar good idea. If you do, stop on account of competition, it’s an excuse not a reason.

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Here’s a random photo slideshow of National Security Agency (NSA) posters from decades ago. Fascinating to see what has changed, what hasn’t and what has been given new meaning thanks to cyber threats.

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Today’s thought: Admitting an error. I had a very clear thought this week — I totally messed this up. Now, it’s not unusual for me, necessarily, given I tend to set high standards for myself. In this case, I kept questioning and twisting before it finally hit me. I’d been working on a large project with Jim Milano, an industry expert and well-respected attorney in my field, on something that I had underestimated. So much so that I didn’t want to admit it. Jim provided one of the most complete responses to my initial request that I’ve ever received. I responded and dug deeper. It took multiple email exchanges for me to realize that I was fighting reality, not exploring all options. I had miscalculated and I had told other people to rely on my calculation. Now what? Now I’m in the middle of trying to figure out what to do. I discovered admitting it is merely the first step, or even pre-first step. Now I have to take action to be part of the solution. And, of course, answer well.

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Quote: “If you’re to create something powerful and important, you must at the very least be driven by an equally powerful inner force.”

— Ryan Holiday

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Open road.

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Bonus Content: Here’s an interesting map. The rat complaints of New York City. Mapped. The map you didn’t know you needed. Your thoughts?

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

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