Archives For May 2014

Starfish, Creative Commons License

Starfish, Creative Commons License

Several days a week, before dawn, middle-aged men congregate in small groups around Raleigh. They meet at parks, school playgrounds, and open fields and spend the better part of an hour running through fitness drills. When done exercising, they gather in a huddle for chatter and reflection before breaking and heading their separate ways.

I first heard about these groups a year ago. Over the span of a few weeks, I was approached by no less than six men suggesting I might enjoy the experience. None were pushy. Each seemed genuine and friendly. I sensed no alternative motive, but I demurred. I’m slow to accept new commitments.

If asked last year to wager on whether these groups would still exist today, I would have bet against them. I would have said they’d peter out. People are just too busy and have so many easier options for working out. At best, maybe they’d continue with a small core of devotees. Certainly nothing more.

Well, prognostication has never been my strong suit.

It’s breaking out like a virus. From simple beginnings not many years ago, it has somewhere around 200 participants today. It’s grown from Raleigh to neighboring communities, and there are hints of it expanding even further.

Yet it has no leadership structure. No money changes hands. And there are few hard and fast rules about when and where they meet or how they conduct the workouts. It’s all happening in an organic, self-organizing way.

How? Why?

These are the sort of questions I’m pointing at Will (known in the groups as “Maize”) at the neighborhood pool over Memorial Day weekend. Since there are no leaders, I can best describe him as a champion of these groups. While we both keep an eye on our children splashing at the edge of the deep end, I ask him why this is taking off. What’s the secret?

“It’s the starfish principle, man,” he answers. “You want to understand, you gotta read The Starfish and the Spider.”

So I ordered the book and devoured it early this week.

But let’s step back for a moment. Why do I care?

Continue Reading…

Last February I got to hear John Mackey give a speech about a better way of doing business. He’s a founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, and he stopped in at a Raleigh Chamber of Commerce event to promote his book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.

John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO Photo Source: Joe M500, Flickr (Creative Commons License)

John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO
Photo Source: Joe M500, Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The book’s premise flies in the face of Milton Friedman’s argument that the business of business is business. While Friedman makes the case that the only purpose of a business is to increase value for shareholders (i.e., maximize profits), John Mackey says its obligations are better understood as a balance among five groups of stakeholders:  stockholders, employees, customers, suppliers and the environment.

Mackey actually takes it one step further. He says companies that serve the interests of all the stakeholders have a competitive advantage. They create more value and are rewarded by the stock market.

After his speech I had the opportunity to ask Mackey a question. “If conscious capitalism is such a good thing,” I asked, “why aren’t more companies doing it?”

He responded by saying, in essence, that it just needed a vocabulary, someone to give it a voice, a demonstration to the world that it is a better way of doing business. “I’m giving all of you a secret formula for building a successful business,” he continued. “It will be copied as others see you succeed with it.”

Whole Foods is meant to be the living example of this better model.

Fast forward to this morning. I’m enjoying coffee with a friend at my local Whole Foods. It seems a good time to reflect on Mackey’s secret formula. Since last year the Whole Foods Market stock price has been cut almost in half, dropping from $65 per share to around $37. It’s been a rough ride. Continue Reading…

Last night Larry Page, Google’s CEO, posted this entry on his Google+ account, “Google Self-Driving Car Project,” with the video below.


“Just imagine,” begins the company’s description a future with self-driving cars,

You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History.

This is bold. It’s exciting. And it’s just one of several projects Google is juggling that could actually change the world. The company calls these “moonshots” and runs them out of its Google X division, an R&D skunkworks charged with making such bold – though calculated – bets on the future.

But the story here is one part fanboy awe over Google’s investments in ground-breaking innovation and one part befuddlement over how  little other corporations are putting into long-term R&D bets. Continue Reading…

Alex is an old linebacker, and a competitor still. Like me, he races the specter of his wife’s better runs. Unlike me, he tends to come out the victor. On Saturday she claimed a 7:45 pace on a four-mile morning run. On Sunday, he roused himself before dawn to push himself and run the same route just a bit faster.

He tells me yesterday that he likes to know when his workouts will end. It lets him know when to release his energy. If the workout ends sooner than he anticipated, he carries the baggage of unspent energy throughout his day. As in his football days, he wants to leave it all on the field. If it’s longer than expected, he may overshoot and lack the fuel to finish.

I’m different. When I don’t know where the finish line is, I turn to energy-conservation mode. I grind in a low-gear, going slow to make sure I don’t run out of gas and get stranded on the trail.

Dorando_Pietri

Credit: Dorando Pietri at the Marathon finish Olympic Games 1908 London, Public Domain

Too often, however, I’ve found myself carrying this approach to my work and long-term projects. These rarely present obvious beginnings and ends. They’re just very fluid by nature, and the pace is defined by an external authority. How do you meter out energy when you don’t know how long the project will last?

I’m finding value in defining those starts and finishes myself; in creating short-spurt campaigns within projects that have fuzzy parameters or jobs that just go on and on and on.

A campaign mindset creates the illusion of control and lets me know when to drop into low gear for long-lasting marathon mode, and when to toss in an all-out sprint to push myself, stretch my limits, and keep things exciting.

The latest exercise physiology teaches us that intense sprints create asymmetrical improvement in speed and increases in strength, provided they are followed by enough recovery. Grinding workouts at the same speed, distance or weight produce less desirable outcomes. Though they aren’t all bad, they can wear you down with the repetition of unrelenting routine.

But to sprint, you have to know where the finish is. You must have that promise that if you burn all your fuel, you’ll get the reward of time to rest and recover.

It’s easier to know the starts and finishes in sports than it is in work and our own creative projects. Even if he doesn’t know when the final horn with blow, Alex can feel confident that the work-out won’t go much longer than 45 minutes. He can release his energy accordingly. In work, the starts and finishes change. In projects, they get blurred. In both, the timeline is often defined by someone besides you.

My goal is to be the one to control my own campaign mindset, even if outside forces control the long-term beginnings and ends. In creative projects that might take months to develop, I can create shorter-term campaign “chunks” that allow me sprint to a milestone, cross the finish line, and then take some time to reflect, refresh and recharge. In work, I can create my own short-term goals; my own campaigns within the framework of a larger project that someone else may control.

I can sprint hard and grow through the intensity of stretching to reach my own goals, and then fall back into a more sustainable pace to recover. I can avoid too much grinding. And like Alex, I can find satisfaction from leaving it all on the field.