What this Blog is About

Posted: April 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I realized that anyone who looks at the different topics I talk about on this blog may wonder why it’s so varied and just what I’m trying to do/communicate. Basically, what kind of blog is this?  To that end, I figure I’d put together this post, saying what this blog is about. In order to do that, though, I’ve got to lay down some context first.

Reasons for starting this blog

When I started “blogging” in 2008, I really had no clue what I was doing. I’ve always been a rabid consumer of media, information, and pretty much anything that I thought could increase my knowledge base or enrich my life. Having reached a crossroads in my life, I can now say that I was probably using writing to replace the rambling conversations I would have with my friends during my “college years”. I wanted a way to express ideas I had bouncing around in my head, and putting them in a paper journal didn’t seem like a solution I wanted any part of.
This particular blog, RelevantWit, grew out of previous efforts on Blogspot and WordPress.com, including the very tediously titled “This Blog Needs a New Name”.  As I’m sure happens to most people, after I spent a while using the free utilities, I realized the value in having  place that I owned, so I got a hosting package from DreamHost (completely recommend these guys) and haven’t looked back.

Reasons for keeping this blog

First, an admission; I actually have multiple sites.  One for my gaming podcast I’ve been doing since 2010, one for my failed morning show, one for the local dining and food blog I’ve yet to get active, and this guy. That said, this is my primary site, and indeed the only one I wholly own myself. I’ve found that I enjoy collaborating, and indeed would not have any of my experience in podcasting, interviewing, hosting, or a handful of other social skills I’ve built up in the last 4 years I wasn’t working with others.
However, as much as I enjoy that, I still need a place where I set the pace, determine what goes live and what gets buried deep, deep below the mines of Moria. Sometimes I don’t update as frequently as I might like, and I can start to feel the ideas boiling over in my mind.  I’m sure those are the times I end up driving the lady of the house insane with my randomness. If I had to collaborate, I’d feel a responsibility to 1.) keep the momentum up and 2.) do my share to be organized and always improving the project. When it’s just me working on this blog, I can be free to operate much more organically.

What I plan to write about

Honestly, I plan to write about whatever I damn well please.

Hold on, let me take a stab at being more constructive with that one. While this blog is my personal, on-going writing project, there are a few genres I tend to gravitate towards, including:

  • localism
  • urbanism
  • television, movies and media culture
  • personal introspection (I’d call it “lifestyles of urban american male” but it really not that academic)
  • sports, maybe
  • professional development (but not industry specific)
  • whatever I’m reading and how it’s impacting my thought process at the time

Why this blog isn’t about Online Marketing

Years from now I may regret this decision. As it stands, there’s a probability that I should already regret the fact I didn’t create a marketing-specific blog when I first got into online marketing at the end of 2011. For the time being, though, I’m sticking with the current route and not hiding any of my disparate interests.  If, down the road, future employers or potential freelance clients look me up and are discouraged that I haven’t been devoting my energy towards blogging about online marketing and improving my author rank within that space, then we may not be on the same page already.
Plus, there are already so many great resources doing a better job than I could on my own. Rather than try to compete, I’ll be looking towards opportunities to contribute or collaborate.

What I hope to get out of it

When I get interested in a topic and have lots of half-formed thoughts or inspirations rattling around, I’ve found that the most constructive way to handle it is to come up with blog ideas. In doing so, I’ve usually been able to better sequence my true thoughts on the topic. Even if the post ultimately gets shelved or scrapped, at least I’ve figured out where I stand on the matter.  I’d also like to think that my writing style and my ability to develop written content have evolved over the years, and should continue to improve the more I use them. Sort of that Ira Glass quote put into effect. In the end, though, if all I get out of it is some peace-of-mind, then it’s still worth the effort.

What I hope you get out of it

If you’ve taken the time to read all this, or any of my other posts, I hope you find something of value. If I had to make a list of services I aim to provide, I’d include things like comedic relief, thought-provoking discourse, and at least an honest opinion for you to either stand against or in favor of.

Much like with my twitter feed, I expect there are some audience segments who will be more interested in certain content than others. Hopefully when I write about urbanism or localism, I can use my current setting as an example, or a setting, for my idea but not to such an extent that it proves to be exclusionary or disinteresting to any readers who aren’t in the same vacinity. Likewise, when I write about professional development, I can aim for things that are more universally applicable (such as how to handle disenfranchised teammates) instead of things that are only hyper-relevant to my industry (such as how to set the pace for a content-marketing campaign).


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Tweet 140: That Time I Swung for the Fences

Posted: April 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Tweet:

The Story:

I’ve been a fan of Moz since I started learning SEO in late 2011. When they started accepting submissions for community speakers at MozCon two years ago, I had it in the back of my mind that it was something I should go for but didn’t think I knew enough to try for it.

When they opened up for submissions again last year, I figured I could try for it, but struggled to come up with a topic that I was proud of. (Side note: props to Toni Jones who tried to help me brainstorm back then.)

Fast forward to this Spring, and I was determined to take action. I put together an outline of what I wanted to present, got clearance from work to talk about what we are doing in a TAGFEE way, and sent in my submission just before the deadline. Sure, there are lots of things I would have done better, mostly revolving around putting together a more precise and more eye-catching pitch, but I didn’t want to let imperfection prevent me from taking action.

Oh, I did try to bribe the committee though.  Not my best success.

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Tweet 140: HIMYM FareWTF

Posted: April 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Tweet:

I’ll try to keep this spoiler-free, but if you’ve been anywhere online since Monday night, I’m sure you’ve come across some angst about the way How I Met Your Mother ended the series.

To be fair, I can’t really say there is a way that would have been able to conclude this rambling, organic, whimsical show without upsetting someone, but what CBS aired this week was at best a poor-man’s M. Night Shyamalan version of how to end a sitcom. I started to wonder if J.J. Abrams wandered onto the set at some point and the producers couldn’t figure out how to shove him away before he pulled a LOST and make the final episode change your whole opinion of the show.

Considering that the final sequence was actually filmed in 2005, you could’ve done better, gentlemen.

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Superstitions – Teach me to work on the Ides of March

Posted: March 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Not sure what you guys did with your day today, but I violated one of my chief superstitions, and now I feel sick, restless and pretty much regret not sticking with my traditions for the Ides of March. In that spirit, I thought I’d review some of the instances where I, a normally rational, scientific individual can turn into a superstitious sap.

Caesar's Death. Attention: Image is laterally ...

Caesar’s Death (Wikipedia)

Ideas of March

Hey, if it’s potent enough to take down Caesar, why should I risk it? Typically I’ll take the day off and stay home every March 15th. On the rare occasion that I’ve been unable to get the time off, or thought I could risk it, I’ve ended up getting sick or suffering some other kind of set-back. As I write this post, my stomach is killing me, and my mind is telling me this is what I get for leaving the house and doing client work, though it’s probably the 2 coffees and 2 green teas I had after working so far to reset my caffeine tolerance.

Sports Jinx

If I start to watch a game that’s already in progress, and my team is ahead, I find myself in a quandry.  On the occasion that my team starts to lose the lead after I tune in, I begin to worry if I’m jinxing the team. More than once I’ve elected to turn the game off and just check the final score later.  I’m not above taking one for the team.

The Lottery

This might be simply a “don’t get your hopes up” thing, but whenever I get a lottery ticket (scratcher or otherwise), I never think about how I’d spend the winnings.  Thinking about what you’d do with the money, whether it’s $10,000 or $400M, is a sure-fire way to make sure you’ll never see a cent. (BTW, for you younger dudes, the same rule applies to girls.)

Fu Dogs

Fu Dog

Fu Dog (Photo credit: storyvillegirl)

Every time I walk past the Fu Dogs outside our office, I have to push the ball in their mouth to the left (their right).  Years ago I convinced myself that this was good luck.  Furthermore, I decided that if the ball was already on the side I was pushing it towards, I was just going to keep things going in the right direction.  However, if the ball was on the opposite side, it meant I’d have to be the instrument of change that day.

How about you guys?

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Things I’m Digging These Days | March 2014

Posted: March 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

What follows is a collection of quick notes about things I’m enjoying these days. Maybe you’ll like some of it, too. If you think I’m wrong about something, or have something you’re digging and think I should check out, please drop a line in the comments.  Thanks for reading.

Chance the Rapper, The Weeknd & Broken Bells

One might not think that these items go together seamlessly, but my Spotify Starred list has been on deep rotation at work and on the commute for a few weeks now.  A few years ago I made a commitment to pick-up any music someone else referred me to, and it’s been a winning proposition in most cases.  The three acts above came onto my radar from some pretty diverse set of sources.  I learn about Chance the Rapper on an NPR blog of all things, and go on board with Broken Bells after hearing them on the Nerdist podcast.


When the service initially launched in the US, I signed up and was quickly unimpressed, going back to iTunes and filling in my back catalog of bands I’d missed. After I read a post on SEER Interactive’s blog about how they created shared playlists for the office, I tossed the idea around with a few colleagues and jumped back on board.  The selection seems greatly improved, though it still lacks a lot of stuff more than a few years old. I enjoy the ability to play local files without much effort (opposed to mapping the new music to add to an iTunes library) and I was pleasantly surprised by their mixtape selections.  BTW, I haven’t launched Pandora or iTunes radio since putting the Spotify app on my phone.

Chris Hardwick

Homie is knocking it out of the park with his Aisha Tyler-esque hustle (queue 5th Wheel vs Shipmates comparsions, ha ha). Having hosting jobs on three networks at the same time, plus continuing his original, self-published creative works at Nerdist, there’s a lot to look up to there. Having recently reinvigorated our gaming podcast, I’m trying to study Hardwick’s hosting mannerisms and easy-going interview style for my own uses, but often end up just nerding out on the topics at hand.


Neil De Grasse Tyson (not related to Degrassi, I’ve been told) makes science accessible and still impressive in it’s immencity.  Before Cosmos aired, I heard him on an episode of Nerdist where he talked about the potential that humans are just not smart enough to understand the nature of the universe; an idea I’ve been ruminating on for a while. Considering that our closest genetic relative, the Bonobo chimp, is ~98.5% match to our DNA. That 1.5% difference enables us to do things like build cities, develop complex mathematical systems such as calculus, and most importantly, understand the value in passing our learning on to others. When we look at that huge difference, then try to imagine how advanced an organism that’s 1.5% more evolved that us, our egotism (or American exceptionalism) becomes very evident. That’s the kind of thinking that a real educator develops in your mind.

Lost Girl

Normally I don’t go for SyFy programming, not after they ditched me without a proper resolution to StarGate Universe and made a crappy Being Human redux, but somehow I got into Helix & Bitten this year, which presented me with ample commercials advertising Lost Girl. In mid-February I discovered that the first 4 seasons were on Netflix, and have been plowing through episodes most nights since then. It’s weird because I can’t really say that the series is that good; the episodes are very formulaic and the combat is extremely underwhelming, but it seems to be scratching that itch while I wait for new seasons of Doctor Who & GoT.  It’s actually not bad for matinee faire, and seems to help my mind slow down in that hour before I go to bed.

Indie Comics

When I got back into comic books in 2005, I went straight for the classics from my youth, X-Men, Batman, Spider-Man, etc. In between, I’d pick-up trades for Sin City, Powers, and occasionally follow writers like Ennis, Morrison or Bendis to their other, creator-owned projects. By the large, I’d stayed away from real indie comics because the spectrum was so diverse and I was relying on the brand identity to show me what was “good”.  Jump to this week, and my recent trip to the comic book shop was fueled by a hope that I could pick up new issues of East of West, Saga, or Alex + Ada. Sure, I ended up getting Uncanny X-Force, X-Men and Uncanny X-Men (I’m a sucker for anything with Psylocke or Shadow Cat in it), but I can always get those in TPBs; it’s the indie comics that get me to actually go in the store. Kudos to Image Comics.

Specific to each title:

– East of West is a sci-fi western set in a dystopian, no-longer-united America. Cowboys on horse-machines that shoot lasers and have mystical shaman side-kicks; sign me up! Plus, a series with a clear end from the beginning is satisfying in a way that Marvel or DC can never provide.

– Saga self-identifies as an “epic space opera/fantasy”.  Centered around fugitives fleeing a civil war, Brian K. Vaughn tells a great story that isn’t afraid to follow it’s own path, and even take breaks between publication to make sure quality doesn’t suffer to sales.  This is probably the only book I purchase on Comixology consistently.  There’s also a cowboy-type dude in this one; maybe my AZ roots are bleeding through subconsciously?

– Alex + Ada takes place in the near future, and reeled me in within the first couple pages with it’s display of nearly-achievable technology and impact on our day-to-day lives.  It reminds me a lot of a story that could occur in one of those Microsoft Future Vision videos.

Diablo III

I stopped playing D3 probably less than a month after it’s initial release.  I wasn’t really into the repetitive grind for gear without a long-range goal, and had to invest my dwindling gaming hours into titles that provided more enjoyment, such as LoL or ME3. With the recent pre-expansion patch, though, the PC version has been improved to more closely mimic the console experience, and I’ve been having fun smashing demons with my lightning wizard this week. I probably won’t get the expansion at launch; between Steam summer sale and Blizzard’s own promotions, we gamers are disincentivized to buy any games we don’t NEED to have a full price, I can wait a few months and pick it up for half price if it gets good enough reviews. For the current title, though, I’d say it’s worth the $20 price point it’s going at this week. I’ll be playing hardcore mode until my wizard suffers perma-death and I drop the title once again.

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31 Y.O. college student | SEO made me do it

Posted: February 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

I am a 31 year-old returning college student, and it’s pretty awesome. 

Last April I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth is, and remove what I considered to be a big obstacle blocking future opportunities and portability of my career. Sure, I know certain folks have been very successful without graduating college, and there’s not really a degree path that fits snugly with the type of online marketing I’ve chosen for my career. However, I decided that this is something I want to accomplish for myself and have one less challenge to overcome should a great opportunity arise.  In actuality, I’m pretty sure it was my move to online marketing (or “SEO”) that gave me the drive to do it.

I’ll admit, for a few years I was intimidated about returning.
Would I be “the old guy”?
Would I be the one who can’t keep up and slows the lectures down?
Can I balance paying bills and going to school?

But above all of that was my overall lack of drive, or lack of perceived value in a degree without a clear path forward in my life.

Before I got into inbound marketing, I worked in Customer Serivce, and had what I considered to be a good job, but not one that had a future, or a clear path to something better.  Perhaps the best way to put it is, I dreaded when people at parties would ask what I did for a living.

In the past I’ve talked about my career change in passing, but I’ve never really examined the full impact of what this opportunity did for me in multiple aspects of my life. Perhaps the most succinct way of putting it is this; self-actualization is an amazing motivator.

It’s not that I ever considered myself to be a marketer, and I certainly don’t think that I’m a salesman. Selling really creeps me out. Helping people find things they want/need, though, that’s a totally different story. Making the internet a better place, making things easier for customers and brands, and advocating for our brand to offer the kind of experience the customer expects are all things that come naturally to me. In some respect, the work I do is almost pre-emptive customer service; let me help you out before any problem has a chance to arise.

An overview of online marketing. A simple grap...

An overview of online marketing. A simple graph that represents the major components of online marketing(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once I got over the initial elation of “working on the internet”, and the natural high that comes with having a better outlook on my professional future, I determined that I needed to do more to put myself in a better position overall.

Some of those items are reflected in my posts earlier this year, while others are in my mind but yet to be pushed into existence. The longest of these steps, without a doubt, was the decision to change my major (I was originally going to school for Fine Art before I ceased enrolling back in 2003) and take on three years of organized study, on top of the learning that has to be done to remain effective in online marketing.

Which leads us to where we are today. I certainly could (and maybe I will) write volumes about my experience going to a major university at my age, the unique rewards and challenges, and several other related topics.  For the time being, thought, I’m finding it to be not only a challenge I am up for, but one I am enjoying every step of the way.

After-all, it’s not everyone who lands a job in the career they want, then goes to school for it. Way to be unconventional, Ryan.


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Tweet 140: There’s No “B”

Posted: February 25th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Ed note: I’d conceived of a series sometime last year (or was it the year before) where I’d use this blog to elaborate on things I mentioned on Twitter.  To keep it thematic and differentiate it from a typical article, I’ll aim to keep the final copy under 140 words (not counting this part).  Hope you enjoy the quick read. 

According to HowManyofMe.com, which has to be a reputable and scientifically-sound website, there are 530,000+ people named “Ryan” in the US. Meanwhile, there are 1.17 million misfortunate souls named “Brian”, and another 301,000+ named “Bryan”. For this and other reasons, I’ve been plagued by people mis-spelling my name, or asking me to repeat myself all my life.

Were it for any other thing, I’d probably only be moderately annoyed, or even sympathetic that the person couldn’t process a 4-letter word (Off by 25%, homes.). Since it’s my name, however, I can’t help but feel like it’s a more personal matter.

Brian, I am told, means “hill” or possibly “high,noble”, whilst I can attest that “Ryan” means “Little King”. Seems pretty evident to me, one name is clearly better, and the other has an extra letter.

At least I’m not this guy, I suppose:

Ryan Brian

PS: way to fail on me, Hummingbird update.
PPS: sneaky ad there on your Twitter card, FourSquare

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How I spent my winter break

Posted: February 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Things I thought I might do

– Join a gym and lose 20lbs just to prove how much my new lifestyle beats my old one where I ballooned during the holidays

– Play a bunch of WoW, StarCraft or LoL and accomplish some in-game goals

– ..or at least finish some of the back-log of games I have waiting for me

– Read some of the books recommended by Wil or Rand or Will to see if I can pick up on some of their great strategic vision.

– Get both of my podcasts back in working order and on a solid footing for the new year.

Things I felt like doing

– Marathoning random shows on Netflix

– Rereading Ultimate Spider-Man

– Fus-Ro-Dah!

Things I actually did

– Finished every episode of Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors. (Dear Pendleton Ward, please make more, quickly!)

– Spent time with the family and hanging out on the couch with the dog.

– Figured out a way to use Google+Hangouts to replace the soon-to-be-cancelled ability to record Skype calls for easy podcasting.

– Root Canal Day! (2 times)

– Watched half of about a dozen different movies that happened to be on HBO.

– Spent a whole day smoking cigars, drinking bourbon and playing poker. Lost $10 in the end.

– Won the Sacko Bowl in the office fantasy football league. (Hooray for playing the role of executioner.)

– Came up with a list of goals/initiatives for 2014.

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Positive, high-achieving culture starts with me

Posted: February 9th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I originally wanted to title this post “I need to stop killing our culture”, but I figured that some folks wouldn’t know right away that I’m talking about the “culture” at work.

culture idea graph

Finding a picture of culture (and not events/perks) was tough, but this idea graph seems good.

I was a manager for 6 years before I got into online marketing. I started with a team of 4 people and built it up to a group of 20, consistently expanding our duties, scope and impact. Even when I knew that the job wasn’t something I could see myself doing forever, I loved the ability to lead my team and help hard-working people grow. As I mentioned before, part of my transition to my current role was making sure that all of my folks would be taken care of, then I was able to look out for myself and move on to something I really wanted to do.

During this period, I spent a lot of time learning about leadership and how to understand what people were really saying. I read philosophy, watched programs on psychology, got into anything I could find that looked like it would translate into an improved ideology for coaching the people I was responsible for.

(When I say “responsible for”, I intend for that responsibility to go both ways.  In the traditional sense, I am responsible for the output of any direct reports. In my own sense, I am also responsible for making sure that our investment in them yields more and more, but helping them grow their knowledge, experience, self-confidence, comfort and communication. None of us should be able to move on until we’ve prepared someone else to take over for us, and none of us should be happy working with someone who wants to do the same thing every day.  We should all be moving towards bigger challenges and you can’t do that with a wingman who’s still back on Level One.)

One of the most succinct statements I made to my team back then was “awesome is the new standard”.  To me this means that we won’t accept “good enough” or “nice” or “sufficient”.  If we do something, we’re going to do it up proper, or we’re wasting our time and effort and doing a disservice to our customer who could have been better served in a different manner. This means that everyone on the team has to be ready to blow away the metrics, or shine in a unique way that the metrics no longer apply because the stuff they are doing is so excellent that we struggle to define it or box it in.  I needed a bunch of commandos who could obliterate what struggles they found.

Over the years, I was pleasantly surprised and greatly assured when my team embraced this thinking. Setting goals that we were told would be impossible to meet and blowing them out of the water in short time, taking on more duties instead of trying to make ourselves look busy and protect our downtime… It was a great squad to lead and a great time to be their leader.

(I recently started questioning this all high-achievers approach when I was thinking about hedonic treadmills and local hierarchies, but I’m not yet convinced that it can’t be a viable long-term strategy when approached from the right direction. )

The culture I was putting in place was:

  • We will be better than anyone else can be.
  • Being the best is what gives us the liberty to do the job the way we want.
  • We have more fun because we get more done and our customers are happier for it.
  • Everyone who works for me has a future and we’re going to prepare to be great at that role, too.

These are lessons that stuck with me because it’s not a story about how great I am, it’s a story about how when I really focus on building people up, trusting their abilities and their work-ethic, and marching us all towards the finish line, we are rewarded much more than expected.

(Side-note: at the time I left the department and moved into online marketing, all but one person in management had worked for me at some point. Now THAT is a personal point of pride, that I could help folks not only become high-achieving themselves, but to also be able to pass on those lessons generationally.)

That brings me to today…


We don’t really have a defined “culture“.  We have a bunch of things we do, and probably a list of characteristics or attributes that could be drawn from that, but we are just now (2+ years in) starting to get our departmental vision intact and ready to implement (Hooray for strategy meetings that actually lead to something productive!).

So while we don’t have something solid to point at yet, what I have noticed is a pile-up of negative actions that certainly aren’t helping us build the foundation for crazy amounts of achievement and success.

There’s a member of our team who is almost universally unpopular. As near as I can recollect, each individual on the team has a separate instance where they’ve had a bad experience with this person, and I’m sure those negative individual impressions were enforced by the opinions expressed around them.

For a long time I’ve thought “we just need to get rid of this person“, (or as Dharmesh said at Inbound 2013, “cut out the cancer immediately“). I’ve even been a shamefully active participant in lunch-time conversations about the problems caused and liberties taken by this individual.  “Why do we let so-and-so get away with ___?” “Showing us those same poorly-gathered stats again; doesn’t (the boss) know he’s making bad decisions with that data?” Or my favorite, “every time he mentions (that same old project), we’re taking shots“.

If I’m being completely honest, it was easier to distance myself and blame the continued problem plaguing us all on our bosses, who I knew wouldn’t take any action. I don’t at all agree with their inaction, and in distancing myself I was able to ally closer to “the troops” and shirk my responsibilities as a leader.

Today I decided that I need to stop this.


There are other team members who have become discouraged by how few ideas they see making it live. Two years ago I prefaced an interview by saying that working in-house was akin to being part of a slow-rolling machine. Internal politics, insecurities and willful indifference are obstacles we all encounter in business, but as marketers we have to have the confidence to overcome this.

I had a conversation with my boss Friday afternoon about a content development project I’d worked on being cancelled.  I never saw the cancellation as permanent because I knew the idea was solid, and if the product owner wouldn’t give buy-in, I’d pivot it to one that would. The conversation touched on the point that had it been someone else’s project, they’d be frustrated, confused, upset, etc.

This is, of course, a natural part of the creative process; sometimes you create really awesome things that just get ignored or aren’t supported. I suppose I take solace in the knowledge that there is no formula for success. Some really awesome, very profitable projects were shelved for years before everything aligned and we were able to get approval. Other times, I’d be invited to meeting with no fore-knowledge of the agenda and come up with a solution we’d adopt that day. The only problem is when we take these struggles too personal and we start sinking into doubt and stagnation.

I need to be the guy to buoy the team until they all feel invincible.



This week I’ve been studying Wil Reynold’s “UNtrepreneur” talk, and a lot of what he’s said resonated with me.

  • Be a leader that other people want to work for
  • Growth is a retention strategy
  • Refuse to have a B-Squad
  • Do I know enough about the people I work with?

I’m sure if I published those bullet points in a separate blog post, I could apply totally different meanings to them, so let me try to put them together in a communicable strategy…

I need to put in place a culture of personal growth and opportunity-creation.  If I’m invested in staying with this company, I need to put the same investment into the people I want to keep around me. Like Wil said, if there’s nobody to high-five when you do something awesome, what’s the point?

We need to all be growing our own capabilities and those of our team. If we have 3 people who can do X amount of awesome shit today, imagine the output when we have 10 folks who can do X² really awesome shit, and picture how much more rewarding the opportunities that come along then. It’s on me to figure out how to motivate each individual in response to their own strengths and interests, and nurture that progression.

I’ve worked long and hard for the experience I have, and I’m not helping anyone when I don’t pass on those lessons learned directly from our customers. I know growth works for retention, because every one of my best employees is still with the company in some new role as a result of what they accomplished before. The B-Squad-ers will sort themselves out, I don’t need to discriminate or play favorites with my collaboration.  When the rest of us are rushing over the hill in our battle-charge, the under-achievers will run home to the farm where they can’t affect morale.


Roles I can fill to help the team.

So I’m sure that I alone cannot provide an ultimate solution, and I’m not even certain I can solve everything that’s causing this deepening schism, but it’s certainly more positive for the team if I’m a force trying to integrate everyone and help us all build our knowledge capital so we can step up and do really awesome shit than if I’m just another voice in the choir of “man that guy sucks”.

It will be a struggle for me early on. I know I have a tendency to favor people based on their production and accomplishments, but to not always offer a fair path for someone to ascend after a period of under-achieving. I also know that I can’t really put anyone’s work-ethic or desire to collaborate onto my own shoulders, but I can lead by example and create environments that encourage them to join in and get on the same path that everyone else is on.

In the end, it may turn out to be too little too late to solve this problem, but I know the actions I take this week can stop it from happening to someone else later on.

I’m going to grab the flag and show these folks how we can shrug off bullets and bayonets.

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Relative Deprivation Theory & Local Hierarchies

Posted: February 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

What follows is a brief paper I wrote for my Microeconomics class a couple weeks ago. (I was the nerdy guy that turned in the writing assignment weeks before it was actually due, so I’ve been waiting to publish this post for a bit.)  I thought I would post it here because the topics discussed in the Malcolm Gladwell talk I reviewed were pretty fascinating, and sparked both internal contemplation and a few workplace conversations. Hope you enjoy.



One of the basic tenets of economics is the assumption that people operate in a rational manner, typically in a manner that is in one’s own best interest, given all available information.  In the video we watched, however, Malcolm Gladwell argues that this rational decision making can be interrupted, especially when there is an opportunity to attach/align oneself with what he calls an “elite institution”.

Having previously read both “Blink” and “The Tipping Point”, and integrated the learning received from each of those books into my professional life, I was very intrigued to see what Mr. Gladwell had in store for this lecture. Comparing the graduation rates of students among top universities, as well as lesser known institutions, he makes the case that achieving one’s goal (graduating with a four-year degree in this case) is not reflective of one’s universal aptitude, but rather one’s position within the local hierarchy. As shown by the case of students with similar Math SAT scores, those who attended schools where they were among the top ⅓ of their class graduated at a far higher rate than those who attended “better” institutions where their scores placed them in the bottom ⅓.

My initial thinking was that perhaps the fault laid with the admissions office, that possibly the higher institutions had gotten too lax in their requirements, and students who had been accepted were actually not sufficiently competent to handle the rigorous coursework once classes began.  This idea dissipated, however, as Gladwell went on to give the example of post-doctoral productivity among economists. Given these multiple supporting data sets, I am confident in the trend as analyzed, and highly interested in the applications this could have in other areas.

For example, earlier in my career I was in a managerial role where I was allowed to hand-pick my staff, building the team up over a number of years.  I had observed a trend whereby the newest team members typically out-performed their peers.  This trend held true for a number of years and several additions to the team.  Thinking now of Gladwell’s argument, I wonder if it is possible that employees who were previously among the “Top ⅓” had their performance impacted by bringing on newer staff at a higher aptitude, even though the existing employee’s skill set would not have been diminished.  In this case, it would seem illogical to strive to build a team of top performers, as it would inevitably push very competent team members down the hierarchy and reduce their productivity. (Of course, this could also speak in favor of specialization and diversification among the workgroup, so that such direct comparisons could not be made, and top performers could continue to excel by moving in directions where they were uniquely suited ahead of their colleagues.)

Bringing it back to Gladwell’s assertion that elite institutions can cloud our more rational thought processes, however, I am not entirely convinced.  While the data sets provided do demonstrate the power of relational deprivation within the academic setting, they do not build a strong enough case for elite institutions as an interruptive force. As we learned from Gary Becker, rationality is not the same for everyone; it is constrained by many factors, including access to information. I do not think that many Americans would have said the graduation rate trends described by Gladwell were what they expected. Rather, I’d think that most students and families would presume that, all other factors held constant, the difference in how likely they were to graduate didn’t vary that much between institutions, and that any marginal difference would be out-weighed by the prestige provided those who attended a top university. In the absence of empirical studies such as those cited in this video, the students and families involved did perhaps make the most rational choice.

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