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One rainy day in Maui, not very long ago, I found myself huddled (in Hawaii… huddled?) in a pool side cabana, reading Jimmy Buffett's A Salty Piece of Land. At one point in the story his character is entertained on an old sailboat, captained by a woman of similar vintage. Over and over she played a scratchy 78 recording of Carlos Gardel, who the story reveals as a French-born Argentine singer of the early 20th century, best known for music to tango by.
Well, I hadn't heard of Gardel at the time, but was curious and equipped to learn… having set up a WiFi access point in my room, only about 75 meters above, and with a laptop at my side. Five minutes later, I had read his Wikipedia biography, ten minutes after that had the story's album downloaded from ITunes, and moments later was able to continue with my reading to just the right soundtrack on my IPod.
Since then, Gardel's music has become something of a favorite, played often, softly, on certain mornings, at our home in Carmel Valley. Today was one of those mornings.
Sitting at the window, once again reading (Business Model Generationthis time), occasionally turning to gaze out on the foggy scene all around, I decided to pick up where I left off in my earlier impromptu digital melding of things old and new. There's an App for that, actually several…
I downloaded Super 8™ ,an App that mimics an old home movie camera, onto my IPhone, shot a simple roving walk-around, uploaded it (via ITunes) onto my Mac, edited it with IMovie, adding that Gardel soundtrack captured years earlier, uploaded the result to Vimeo, and embedded the result into this post to share with you here… all in less time than it's taking for the fog to clear from the valley below…
On a Tuesday morning, around seven AM, in the middle of the fourth month of 1955, a boy was born. None could know it then, but life's greatest gifts would, over the course of the next half century and then some, be bestowed on him…
A family that loves without condition and that nurtures, comforts and celebrates through acts small and large, of incredible generosity and spirit.
Friends — incredible friends — new and old, nearby and scattered across this globe, whose companionship, support and shared moments (of glories, setbacks, recoveries and grand adventures) have enriched… no, more… defined, my life.
Please allow me, on this day when so many of you have offered such kind and warm wishes on the anniversary of my birth, to return the favor, by letting you know just how much I treasure our bond. I only hope that I can return in some small measure all that you have given to me. Thank you.
They start arriving an hour or so after sunrise, to a place where fisherman gather well earlier still. But their interest lies not in boats and tackle. They are car people, drawn to this place by the love of fast, exotic, beautiful or otherwise interesting machines, and by the others who share their passion.
Some roll up in Porsches, others in Ferraris, many in vintage examples of American muscle. Some of their rides are fresh from a showroom, others lovingly restored. Some stock, some customized. Some old, others new. All reflect the pride of their owners as clearly as they do the bright morning light on this Sunday in April.
I've been to more than a few motor sports events, on both coasts. (I'm a car guy too.) While the spoken accents and event incidentals vary, it's a fact that car people are, well, car people.
At The Quail in Carmel Valley, the dress runs from California upscale casual to dead-on period costume, food is served by a half dozen area gourmet restaurants accompanied by champagne and martinis (before noon — very civilized). Vintage fighter planes do flyovers and music from a quartet of bands plays throughout the day.
Here, in the parking lot at Captree State Park, on Long Island's south shore, the dress tends toward leather jackets and wind-breakers, the bagels and bialeys from the facility's cafeteria style restaurant are washed down by coffee appreciated as much for its hand warming properties as its taste, and the side show is of late-starting fishing boats leaving to try their luck on today's catch.
But, whether holding flutes of bubbly or carrying their "cawfee," car folks at these meets do pretty much the same thing.
First, they arrange for a suitable spot to display their toy. In The Quail, that's all set in advance, and events personnel guide the way. Here, it's first come, first serve for the best spots (although one imagines that the regulars may have the benefit of an understanding on certain of those — and groups of friends will stake out adjacent slots for their later-to-arrive buddies.)
Then, folding chairs are deployed. Even those are the subject of mutual interest and individual pride. "Look, it comes with this attachment for your stuff, and folds into the size of a laptop," explained the fellow three slots to the west, upon erecting a particulary impressive model, just withdrawn from the front compartment of his maroon Ferrari 460.
Polishing comes next, always polishing. On this day I was a bit self-concious at this stage, since my friend Tim's suggestion to participate arrived too late the evening before, by txt, to allow for the washing away of the effects of last week's rain. Photoshop, in this record of events, serves as a handy alternative:
Strolling about, by participants and visitors grouping and re-grouping into small circles to talk cars and equipment, then commences and continues for the two hours of the event, a sort of unofficial duration here. A longer, more officially delimited period exists at the decidedly professionally produced event in California. Among the regulars, there's an easy camaraderie. Newcomers, like me, are accepted warmly.
On this particular day, a less welcome element was added to the routine. Presumably driven by a desire to do their regiment's bit in reducing New York State's impressive deficit, four or five state troopers, deployed in a phalanx near the entrance to the facility, busied themselves pulling over arriving participants who failed to have mounted the front license plate mandatory here. Easy pickings, since very few of us like to see the frontal aspect of our babies defaced with government signage.
"Want one? They're giving them away for free," explained another Ferrari owner, unfolding the white rectangular summons for examination.
"Hot car tax," commented a Porsche owner, another beneficiary of state attention.
The best social commentary award, actually said with a smile and genuine good humor in an accent fresh from Brooklyn, went to another, who added definitively, "They found the bodies of four young women buried in the sand a few miles up the road. Case still not solved…. and they're here, doing this?" (True story, sadly.)
It proved to be that comments on priorities were best kept to among friends. One unlucky fellow, apparently upon opining to "his" officer directly, found his prize vehicle being readied for flat-bed transport to a state lock-up shortly after.
But the best response of all, one in keeping with the "boys and their toys" spirit of the event, went to the owner of a brand new red Porsche Boxter Spyder, who proudly spent the morning showing off his remote-controlled front license place retractor. Driving around town or at the meet? Keep the plate tucked away out of sight, neatly folded in below the air dam. At risk of official attention? Press the button on your key fob, and the plate slides up into place. Nice, a bit reminiscent of Bond:
Since I wasn't 100% sure of the legal situation as would relate to my California-registered and rear-only plated car, I decided to take advantage of a peak in enforcement activity occupying the entire local contingent in upholding the laws of the land, to make my exit. The morning was getting late, and I had to get the car washed anyway…
Later that afternoon, at an upscale shopping area on Long Island's north shore, about to get into my car to retrieve Ellie from the other end of the complex, I was interrupted (pleasantly) by an older couple, who wanted to know about it, how I thought it handled compared to related models, and to let me know that there is a concours at the center in October. As I said, car people are car people…
I read an interesting, if a bit quirky, little book a short time back called "The Watchman's Rattle," whose premise is that over the history of our species, societies tend to grow in scale and sophistication… to the point of inevitable collapse, as a result of our mind's inability to cope with the resulting non-linear expansion of complexity. At the time I filed it under "imaginative pseudo-science."
The events of the past few years give pause however: Financial meltdown, precipitated by a greed-begat swan of black color and petards self-hoisted by corporate dandys of all pin-stripes. Political polarization to the point of absurdity ("I am not a witch") and dysfunction (state legislators scurrying away to avoid a quorum). Religious tectonics along the north 10th parallel fueling non-stop spasms of violence in one part of the globe, and the inevitable geologic tectonics of another creating apocolyptic convergences of failure — all amplified in emotive power while drained of reason by our media priests.
Where are the reasoned men, leading, teaching and serving as examples of the "practical wisdom" Aristotle pointed us toward?
Perhaps the complexities of our times simply overwhelm? If so, I believe it's because the noise, accelerating novelty and confusion sets up a fog, within which lesser men and ideas can maneuver and emerge into positions of power and influence.
We must learn to see through that fog.
Not with goggles that mask the realities and truths of our times, collapsing them down to kindergarten nuggets on blackboards using smarmy bombast posing as "truth."
Not with smarter-than-thou rhetoric that ignores basic values and fails to deal with the world as it is.
Rather, with a penetrating gaze that sees things as they are, and with the wisdom to choose leaders who apply calm and steadfast courage in mounting a reasoned response.
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it" Alan Kay
In the chaotic times in which we seem to be destined to live out our days, predicting the future, never a high percentage game, is a no win proposition. If this is so, just how do we as business leaders decide on our forward course, with the future landscape blurring into a fog of uncertainty just a quarter or two into the future?
Attempting to harness future unknowns through scenario planning is fraught, given the non-linear nature of our complex and deeply interconnected world — the branching of future trajectories creates a thicket of possibilities often too dense to model into a useful road map of practical actions.
I believe that the answer lies, at least in large measure, in creating your own local reality through innovation.
You're unlikely to be able to influence the vast majority of global forces shaping the macro-economic environment in which your industry operates, but you can render them less of a factor in your business by displacing them with forces that enjoy the leverage of proximity and focus.
What do I mean?
The levels of GDP growth, employment, consumer spending, inflation / deflation — and the less tangible but more powerful "animal spirits" they influence — will always have an influence on your prospects, to be sure. They either buoy or depress your customers' willingness to reach for their wallets. Disruptive changes in technology or competitive landscape? They'll remain powerful winds blowing across your bow and churning up the sea ahead, no doubt.
Can you stop these forces? Absolutely not. But you can overpower them with ones that you set in motion… if you have the courage to do so.
Your customers and prospects, appropriately chosen, are subject to influence by you in measure outsized to your economic footprint. Why? Precisely because your actions can be clearly and tightly focused on them — their needs, fears, dreams and desires.
If you amplify that focus with an inventiveness that presents them with a set of compelling future alternatives they did not earlier see as even possible, you can pull them into a local world of your imagining, built around your vision. Invent a new category of product or solution, and YOUR ideas shape the perceptions as to how that category works: what's important, what's not…
Global factors? Still there, but with muted influence. Suddenly they need that red iPod. Not want it. Not weigh the investment in it vs. a week's groceries. NEED IT! This is how Apple, born in one recession, has been able to thrive though this one.
This idea is not just about impressionable consumers and B2C marketing. If anything, it's still more powerful in B2B settings.
Your enterprise customers are just as uncertain about their futures as you are. Be their lighthouse. If you demonstrate insight into their world, and a clearly articulated vision of how you can make it better through your innovations, you'll get their attention. If you deliver on that vision, they'll buy. Do so more consistently than your competitors, and you'll assume thought leader and trusted advisor status, and secure a disproportionate share of their business.
Restrict yourself to only incremental moves (in product development, business model, process…) you'll get stuck in a reactive, poorly differentiated world of low margins and reverse auctions. Your "local" influence is too weak to overcome macro forces, and you'll be just one of the crowd of competitors.
Have the courage to break out of the crowd, accept the risks of innovation and leadership, and hold up a genuinely creative, high impact alternative to the current order, over time you'll be able to mold markets around your vision — in effect defining a playing field where you've written the majority of the rules. And shame on you if you can't win a game where you've done that.
The view is from the writing table in my livingroom, about 2 O'Clock level. Those peaks faintly outlined in the distance lie about twenty miles to the southeast, beyond those framing the other side of Carmel Valley in the foreground.
The light and atmospherics change constantly here, with the seasons, time of day and weather patterns. Sometimes blindingly bright and clear. Fog-bound at others. Raging with wind and horizontal rain, or quiet enough to hear a coyotee's yapping a great long way down the ravine below.
At times red tail hawks will ride the currents to a fixed hovering position just above or adjacent to our property, waiting for a meal to present itself in the tall grasses that lie below.
Whether inspiring moods of calm reflection and far away thoughts, or of rapt wonderment at nature's here-and-now beauty, this view always draws the eye.
Very little that is man-made falls into the frame. The sculpture just left of center is an exception, but not really. A kinetic work by a former aerospace engineer from southern California, the twisting dance of its upper armature, put into motion by even the slightest of breezes (ah, engineering…), it seems less a separate object than a condensation of its natural environment. A three dimensional bit of haiku about its surroundings.
When I'm away, this is how I think of Carmel Valley. When there, it's what I treasure most.
As a result of a kind introduction by my good friend David Brock, I recently participated in a fascinating project organized by OgilvyOne Worldwide, called "The Future of Selling."
By bringing together a community of interested (and interesting) marketing and sales professionals, it focused attention on how changes in buyer behavior, combined with current and emerging trends in social media, are challenging B2B sellers to think differently about their trade.
Many intriguing and valuable ideas were exchanged, and a great number of new relationships were forged. I was privileged to have the opportunity to participate, and congratulate OgilvyOne's Chairman, Brian Fetherstonhaugh, for the success in making it all happen.
Sometimes you need a place of escape. Private. Away. Yours.
Across the drive, a bit to the north of the front door of my house in Carmel Valley, I've been fortunate enough to have such a place from which to work when in California, for all these years. Six hundred square feet. Never really refined, rough in fact by any reasonable measure… but a place of refuge.
Stickley furniture moved from New York. A lithograph of a spectacular golf hole in Ireland, where (among numerous others) I pulled one into the ocean, next to a set of placques commemorating patents I may or may not have principally authored.
A fireplace offering smokey echoes of past comforts.
A Sirius radio purchased in the first years of satellite broadcasts, which will go on offering the Sinatra channel and Classic Vinyl and Real Jazz (my favorites, for what it's worth) free of charge for the duration of its days.
Overflow wine racks from next door. A few family pictures. A lot of memories.
And a window. Looking uphill. Where in years past cattle, from a ranch then operational, would wander by on occasion. Pretty regularly, in fact. That ranch has now been sold off, but the land is still pretty open… not wild, but not far from it. Visitors no longer include any large four legged creatures, at least not that I've seen lately. But from time to time, nature shows up, here in the form of a few wild turkeys caught in the rectangular aperture that is view from a room.
I don't really have an office, per se, in our downtown NY executive headquarters location. Rather, I've been using Conference Room B, or C on occasion, whenever I work here — here being the 35th floor of 7 World Trade Center (mailing address 250 Greenwich Street).
Adjacent rooms, each about fifteen feet on a side, they both face due south, with floor-to-ceiling windows affording unobstructed views of what many of us still think of as Ground Zero and, for a time at least, off to the right, a generous expanse of NY's Harbor beyond.
Nine years on, the haunting memories of what happened just above (and below) my vantage point have softened, as if time has twisted the focus ring just a bit.
The adjoining space still presents itself as a hole in the sky however, and echoes persist. Of dinners above, accompanied by overpriced wines… and of the distant but horrible black and orange plumes visible on that day, from my seat on another plane, still awaiting takeoff, safe from any immediate danger, but not from the changes we were all to face in the time since.
The memorial waterfalls were turned on for the first time a month or so ago, to some media fanfare. They're off again now (dry run?).
The western extent of the views from here have recently been occluded by the rising tower of 1 WTC (formerly a.k.a. "The Freedom Tower"), visible at right. Several months on, it's now at forty five stories, perhaps more, and climbing at a rate of a floor every couple of days.
Catty corner (NY expression for diaganolly?) across the site, you can see the shell of the DeutcheBank building, which has been systematically deconstructed, floor by floor, so as to remove the last of the terminally 9/11-damaged structures, without the dangers of the more dramatic implosive techniques we've all witnessed applied to other large buildings whose useful life has past.
Fact One: I'm on the Incubation Board at my company, and chair the subcommittee responsible for raising the internal profile and encouraging the use of our "OpenIdea Portal," a tool to allow all of our employees to post, comment on and rate ideas for innovation.