Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

What if life were simpler, like on TV shows?

Don Draper Drinking

Dedicated to the winners and the losers, Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Dedicated to all Jeeps and Land Cruisers, Can it be that it was all so simple then?
-Wu-Tang Clan, “Can It Be All So Simple”

Some of the best shows that are or were on TV take place in another era. Shows like Game of Thrones, Deadwood, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men portray how times were back in the day in different parts of the (sometimes made-up) world. When I watch these shows and think about how life was so simple, I sometimes ponder whether I would have rather lived in those eras as opposed to now.

Technology has no doubt made us more connected, efficient, and productive. But it has, to some extent, shortened our attention spans, trivialized relationships, and overwhelmed us with content. So, would I trade today’s complex, gadget-based life for a simpler, less cluttered life back then? Let’s compare.

  • Game of Thrones – Days filled with practicing sword fighting or archery, drinking arbor wine and eating salted beef and pigeon pie seem pretty cool, but I’ll pass on riding horses all day, ugly clothes, and not bathing.
  • Deadwood – Pan for gold, sell some tools, drink whiskey, visit a whorehouse and form a government – not a terrible life. But the bumpy dirt roads, uncomfortable boots (I have flat hooves and those boots would hurt) and risk that someone can just come up and shank or shoot me outweighs all the good simple things.
  • Downton Abbey – Life’s pretty good if you’re a Crawley, but even getting waited on all day might get annoying, and so might those accents.
  • Mad Men – Sipping whiskey or vodka at 11am while thinking of clever taglines, followed by a liquid lunch with a client, followed by a nap on the couch in your office, followed by a liquid dinner, all while styling in a sweet suit? Awesome! Transistor radios and black and white TVs don’t compare to iPods and HDTVs but I think we might have something here.

All non-funny jokes aside, I wouldn’t trade today’s life for any of those in the above TV shows. But there are times when I’m overwhelmed with emails, tweets, newsletters, meeting requests, etc. and I just want to sit back, take a swig of vodka and score a nap.

What do you do when you get overwhelmed with a ton of communications and content? How do you disconnect from the clutter that technology brings? Would you trade today’s life for the simple life in one of those shows?

Birthday Thoughts – This One Feels Different

Today is my 34th birthday and though 34 isn’t a “significant” number like 21, 30, or 40, this one feels important and really different to me.

Maybe I’m just a little more mature, though my actions going out in DC later tonight might prove different.

Maybe I’m just getting old, like my ankles, wrists, and back are telling me.

Maybe it’s because I’m now engaged to be married to my beautiful fiancee (never did that before!).

Maybe it’s because I read this blog post by Brad Feld this morning. Which made me think about all of the life changes that are coming soon (more about this at a later date).

Regardless, this one feels different. Good, but different.

Eh, I’m probably just getting old.

Do you work to live or live to work?

Think about it. Which one describes you?

You “work to live” if your job is a means to provide for the other parts of your life, such as having an awesome social life, acquiring desired possessions, traveling, caring for your family, etc.

These people typically have very stable, well-paying, 9-to-5 jobs.  I have friends with children who work primarily to care for their families, and others who work to go out to eat and drink five nights a week. I’d say a lot of accountants work to live (my accountant friends – I’ve heard your complaints, don’t fight me on this) as do others in very traditional industries such as CPG and manufacturing. You can definitely like your job but it isn’t what drives you in life.

You “live to work” if you are super-motivated at your job, proactively look for problems to solve, and are willing to sacrifice, whether it’s money, stability, a social life, whatever, to pursue a career that you truly love.

I’d say that most entrepreneurs embody the “live to work” principle, typically sacrificing job stability and a social life to build something they are passionate about.  Many who work in the sports and entertainment industries live to work as well, typically forgoing a larger salary in other more lucrative industries to work with more exciting subject matter.  Writers and journalists may also fall into this bucket. I’m sure I’m leaving many other jobs and industries out, so please comment to include yours.

One camp isn’t better than the other, and there are definitely pros, cons, and sacrifices made by people in both segments; it all depends on life’s priorities.

So do you work to live or live to work?

What’s your version of winning the Super Bowl?

Eli Manning SB trophyI’m a big NY Giants fan, so I was totally pumped when they won the Super Bowl this past Sunday. But as I watched the Super Bowl parade yesterday and saw all the players’ and fans’ happiness, I thought to myself – What’s the normal person’s equivalent of winning the Super Bowl?

We’re all professionals at something, just not a professional athlete at the highest level and the biggest stage.  I think of the times that I’ve felt really good after accomplishing something, and I bet it pales in comparison to what Eli Manning or Tom Coughlin felt. What’s the career equivalent for people like you and me? Is it landing a big sale, getting that promotion or completing that big project successfully? I’m not sure it compares to lifting the Lombardi trophy over your head. Or if you’re an entrepreneur, maybe it’s selling your company or filing that IPO?   I should ask Mark Zuckerberg soon.

Maybe it’s something personal, like getting married or having a child? I don’t know, I haven’t done either of those. Or maybe buying that shiny new luxury car or big house, which signifies that you made it? Who knows.

So what is it? Have you ever felt such a sense of accomplishment that you felt that you won the Super Bowl of your world, and if so, what happened? Let me know!

Fear and Paranoia in the Workplace – Good and Bad

Paranoia imageThe other day I was instant messaging with one of my childhood friends and we landed on the topic of jobs. He’s good at what he does and has worked up to be a Director of Marketing at a major media company, yet he stated that that he was “completely paranoid that he wouldn’t be employable in 10 years” and that’s why he works harder than anyone at his company to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

I actually think this is a great frame of mind, if not taken too far. A little bit of self-inflicted fear and paranoia is a great motivator, and looking both over your shoulder and forward allows you to stay ahead of the pack. A bit of “I’m not/won’t be good enough” can motivate one to work harder and smarter to improve areas where he’s lacking.

But what I don’t condone is the use of fear and paranoia by managers and executives with their subordinates. It creates an unenjoyable workplace where employees become afraid to mess up with fear that they’ll suffer harsh consequences. I came across this article about how Scott Pioli, GM of the Kansas City Chiefs, created a culture of fear, paranoia, and secrecy to the point where Chiefs employees were worried about their phones being tapped. Check it out, it’s an interesting read.

I’m all for accountability, attention to detail, and integrity, but I think there are better ways to foster that culture. You can still be very results-oriented without scaring it into your employees. If you choose to use fear, chances are you won’t get the results you want. Just look at the Chiefs.

It’s All Relative, I Guess

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is one of the most important concepts in the history of man. Though it spawned from physics, relativity can be applied to any situation where there is some kind of comparison. But it’s taken to a whole new level on this forum about household income (HHI) that I came across on UrbanBaby.com.

As you can see, someone posted on this site a forum topic that asked – “What’s your HHI and do you FEEL poor, middle class, upper middle class or rich where you live? No judging.”

The responses here range from honest to fake and hilarious to sad. Here is what I’ve learned from this:

  1. Rich, Upper Middle Class, Middle Class, and Poor seem to be relative terms that are functions of where you live, the lifestyle to which you’re accustomed, and with whom you associate and not just absolutely based on income alone.
  2. People in NYC are either totally delusional, completely disconnected from the real world, or just have no idea how to balance their checkbooks.  There’s no doubt that the cost of living in NYC is astronomical but if a family makes “about $3m this year…been $1-6 the last 10 years” and “feels very middle class,” or a household makes “$300K per year and feels so, so, so poor,” then there is something so, so, so wrong on some level. By the way, I ignored the “no judging” request here.

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself thinking about things (social status or anything else) in relative or absolute terms? My NYC friends – is it really THAT bad living in the city with your paycheck or are NYC residents’ views totally skewed? Let me know!

Facebook – Making You More Social, Less Personal?

There was a great article in the NY Times the other day about how some people are refusing to sign up for or are unsubscribing from Facebook, stating how “it’s a little unhealthy” and how they’re not “calling their friends anymore.” I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s unhealthy, but I do agree that Facebook has had two profound effects – making people much more social but at the same time much less personal.

As we all know, Facebook allows everyone to stay in touch with people they may not otherwise stay in touch with and wish people Happy Birthday when they otherwise would have never remembered. But it has also allowed users to think that someone typing “Happy Birthday Dude!” is a personal birthday greeting. I’m totally guilty of this but don’t feel too good about doing it (I bet I see way fewer “Happy Birthdays” on Facebook when June 9th rolls around.) Back in the day, giving the birthday guy or girl a physical birthday card, making a phone call or even sending an email was the way to go. Now it’s just typing a few letters in the upper right corner of a website.

Has Facebook changed the way you behave toward your friends and made you more social but less personal? Let me know what you think. Feel free to comment here, tweet me @mikewchan, or post to my Facebook page, but if you want to really talk about it, maybe you should call me.  ;)

Happiness vs. Satisfaction

Happiness has many different meanings to many different people, as does satisfaction. But for a long time I’ve been thinking: Happiness or Satisfaction – which is harder to attain? Which one should be the ultimate goal?

I think most people will instinctively say that satisfaction typically comes first, as happiness is harder to attain and is usually the end goal.  But I think there’s more than one perspective.

Let’s put this in the context of food, which I love and eat a lot of. If you eat a decent dinner at your local pizza parlor or burger joint, the meal may be satisfactory and you might be satisfied with your full belly. But if you ate an absolutely delicious meal in a 4-star restaurant like Komi (god I love that place), you’ll likely be a very happy camper.  In this case, satisfaction comes more easily and often and happiness is typically more difficult (and expensive) to attain.

Now let’s look at this in a different context. (Name drop alert) Over a year ago I read my big boss Ted Leonsis’ book, The Business of Happiness, which really puts happiness in perspective. A couple of months ago I sat down with Ted and discussed his experiences and how he attained happiness. But then I asked him – what’s the difference between happiness and satisfaction? You’re obviously happy but are you satisfied?

Does that make any sense? Let me explain. I’d say I’m in a pretty good situation in life. I have an extremely loving and supporting family; a fun and rewarding job; an awesome girlfriend; I live in a very nice condo (with my awesome girlfriend, who is also my roommate and landlord) in a great city; and I have a bunch of amazing friends. BUT I want more success in my career, I want to eventually get married and start a family, I want many houses in many cities (a little materialistic, but obviously everyone needs a mountain cabin for the winter and a lakehouse for the summer), and I want to continually grow my network of friends and contacts.

So am I happy? Absolutely. Am I satisfied? Not even close.

What about you? Are you happy, satisfied, or both?

Feelin’ lucky? The role of luck in success

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across a few articles and quotes about the role of luck in success. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in Outliers – how success many times can be attributed to factors outside of the subject’s control.  Jim Collins kind of agrees in this excerpt of his new book “Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All” but believes luck is more the catalyst than the cause.

I’m obviously not in Bills Gates’ league, at least not yet :), but I do think luck and timing have a ton to do with success, and I know this first-hand; if it weren’t for luck, I believe I wouldn’t be the Director of Strategic Marketing for the Washington Capitals.

I was at NYU Stern getting my MBA with hopes to start my career in the sports industry.  I attended a sports panel at the Media and Entertainment Conference at NYU, on which my current boss, Joe, was a speaker. After the panel, I introduced myself to Joe learned that he was also a Georgia Tech alumnus, which allowed us to converse easily. Over the next year or so, we kept in touch and when he became the Director of Marketing of the Washington Capitals, he tried to contact me to interview for an open position but lost my email address. Luckily we were connected on LinkedIn; we got in contact, I interviewed with him and his boss and got the gig. I later found out that there was a chance that Joe couldn’t make the conference but luckily he did.

Sure, one can say that I worked hard to prepare for that moment. I studied hard to get into schools like Georgia Tech and NYU, I was outgoing enough to network with people in my desired industry, I was persistent enough to keep in touch with Joe for a long time, I interviewed well, and I’ve worked hard since I started at the Caps.  But if Joe didn’t make the conference, if he didn’t happen to attend Georgia Tech, and if one or both of us weren’t registered for LinkedIn, I may not be working for the Caps nor would I be writing this blog post.

Do you think luck and timing are big factors in success, or do you attribute success solely to hard work? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Everyone’s an expert now, but who really is?

With the advent of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it’s easier than ever for someone to get “published” and to be an “expert”. Case in point – this guy (pointing at myself).

But what really constitutes an expert nowadays?  Is it the guy or gal who creates the most blog posts and distributes it to the most friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? The one with the highest Klout score?

Back in the day, you were an expert if your work was included in a respected publication such as the New England Journal of Medicine, the New York Times, The Economist, etc. But now with user-generated content sites such as Huffington Post and Bleacher Report and the aforementioned social networking sites, it seems that everyone now has an expert opinion. I don’t mean to break this down into black and white; it’s just that I subscribe to many industry blogs and newsletters and have realized that a lot of the content sounds the same.

So have there been so many experts all this time, and now they just have more media to broadcast their expertise? Or do we go back to those respected publications to identify those true, distinguished, proven experts? Or somewhere in the middle?

I really don’t know, so let me know what you think!