Category Archives: Quality of Life

What community are you a part of?

I’m watching the British Open, which is played this year at the home of golf in St. Andrews, and as the camera pans the 18th green you can’t help but see that the still-small town lines the last few holes of the course. The course is hundreds of years old and the town is likely a good deal older, I’m sure a quick Google/Bing search would confirm it. With images like these you can easily how community evolved and why it’s been so important to people for millennium.

With the rise of regional, then national, and, ultimately, global telecommunications the potential size of a community grew. Nevertheless, prior to the rise of the consumer internet ‘community’ was still primarily defined by geography.

With the web, and now with social networks, the way we define community either publicly or within our own minds has shifted. Now we define the community we’re a part of conditionally: I’m part of the startup community, the MBA community, the Christian community, etc. Yet, amidst our expanded ability to participate in a variety of communities it seems that to a great extent we’ve lost our connection to ‘community’ in its purest sense – a community of neighbors. How often have you walked through your neighborhood and passed someone on the sidewalk without either of you saying a simple, “hello.”

Rather than being freed from physical definitions of community we’ve fled from them. But this epidemic isn’t ubiquitous rather it’s strongly correlated to technology adoption – or, more accurately, reliance. In my post about unplugging I was inspired and refreshed by a trip to my hometown. When visiting small towns like Placerville you come to realize that there is still a glimmer of community out there. But we may be approaching an dangerous inflection point.

For years leading tech companies have tried to do local online but have failed because, I feel, they tried to address the problem with technology. Local is to the web like quantum mechanics is to physics. Cause and effect aren’t always predictably connected and understanding one doesn’t mean you can even conceive of the other. Now we’re seeing a good deal of startup activity around ‘hyper local’ with some attempts still being technical in nature and others taking the new tact of working with people in their local communities. Our startup, aptly named Hyper Local Media, is part of the latter movement.

We’ve created the Community Magazine Network to work with the 1200 or so community magazines in the US in an effort to rebuild community throughout the US, you can read the detailed story on the About Us page of MagazineConnect.com. There are a slew of potential local collaborations but local magazines are unique in that they are small and scrappy as opposed to corporate, their publications feature incredible images that are relevant to readers, and, most importantly, they highlight people in the community that as a reader you know or at least know-of.

There are a lot of startups trying a lot of different things. My hope is that ‘local community’ will be elevated as a result of our collective efforts. After all, I think our national identity and disposition may depend on it.

How would things be different if you made the same contribution to your local community as you do with the others you consider yourself a part of?

The difference between pursuing excellence and being a perfectionist

When we started B-School we had a getting-started week to prepare for the program and lay the foundation for the rest of the MBA education we were to receive over the following two years. We had a seminar with the Glaser’s, a husband and wife team that specialize in equipping people to better handle interpersonal relationships. My classmates embraced and, sometimes, made fun of the 80/20 rule that was introduced. No, it wasn’t the 80% of work is done by 20% of people or 80% of revenue come from 20% of products (although those are both legit).  In this case, the idea was that someone on our study teams (or work teams) could call 80/20 when we were reach a point of diminishing returns to signal that we should move on.

This 80/20 rule is particularly interesting when dealing with a group of Type-A’s because for some Type-A is synonymous with being a perfectionist, getting perfect grades and being at the top of the class. And, for some, Type-A manifests itself by getting involved in as many activities as possible. In some cases it means both but our generation seems to have a better drive for work/life balance.

The point of all this is that by working with 100 very smart people I’ve started be able to spot the difference between those that are pursuing excellence and those that are simply perfectionists. Let me be clear, you can pursue excellence and be a perfectionist but I don’t believe they go together often. The reason? Being a perfectionist is about proving yourself to others, proving your ability, perhaps even something done out of fear in attempt to avoid looking foolish. What does it take? Work ethic and a willingness to put in time, time to keep polishing until it can’t shine any brighter – pushing through despite diminishing returns. A noble effort indeed but not all that value adding… take math, you can run numbers by hand and go over your work until it’s ‘perfect’ or you could just let Excel do it for you.

Pursuing excellence on the otherhand is about doing something special, something different, something of unique value. In reality, excellence is rarely perfect but generally not something just anyone can do with enough time or effort – unless of course your special brand of excellence is being able to think on your feet and produce quality (not necessarily perfect) work quickly. Excellence is about not being perfect. It’s about choosing something you’re willing to let suffer so that something else can be special… it’s also about knowing when the returns of simply doing more work aren’t worth the effort.

There’s a place for perfection but true perfection is rarely what’s called for. The next time you’re pulling a late night or beating yourself up over something stop and ask yourself, “Am I pursuing excellence or am I merely being a perfectionist?”

The importance of unplugging

I’m wearing out the keyboard on my laptop, literally. It’s just over a year old and I’m missing the F7 key (really? F7) with many other’s ready to jump. Thing is, I have a Dell with a good keyboard. Point is, I’m on my laptop a lot. Like many my age, when I’m unwinding in front of the TV at night – I have my laptop.

With the amazing improvement of productivity and access to information comes an increased dependence on, or rather addiction to, consuming it. There’s also an increased ability to become a work a holic because you can be productive from wherever you are.

But now, I’m back in my hometown for my wife’s sister’s wedding. Access to the Internet is limited despite being just two hours to the Bay Area (my mom just got access to DSL 3 months ago) and 3G is sparse. So while I’m home I’m finding myself disconnecting, going outside, spending time without a screen in front of my face and I’m finding something interesting – perspective.

My generation, and most of the people in cities like Seattle who embrace technology to the fullest, get very caught up in the web and the information available “out there” and we lose sight (not site) of what’s important “right here.” Each morning we’ve been staying at my in laws who have a garden and I’ve gone out and eaten about a pound of berries for breakfast, I get to watch my son pick berries and strawberries enjoying each bite and getting red juice on his face (and clothes). We are creatures who are made to spend time out in the world, often with nothing to occupy our thoughts so we can let them wander, not just consumed in our own little worlds.

Getting a chance to unwind and dealing with getting over my withdrawals (from the reduction of information consumption) is helping me to spend some much needed time thinking about priorities, where I want to go, and who I want to be. It’s easy to choose a course, get on the road and never stop to check your direction because you’re too busy making good time but when you take a break to take stock of things it sure feels like a good investment.