Summer Reading

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I was going to publish longer reviews on each of these books, but instead decided that I would just recommend some reading for those of you looking for good books this summer.

I have been trying to read actual text at least 15 minutes a day and also I subscribed to Audible, which I cannot recommend enough…its awesome for getting reading done.  I crank up the speed to 1.3x and can get through books pretty fast.  Here’s what I have read lately…

Seal Team Six – Memoirs of an Elite Navy Seal Sniper- Howard Wasden.   Awesome book that details BUD/S & Green Team training and a lot of coverage about how snipers execute long range shots.  One detail in the book was eye-opening for me.  Wasden was critical of Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm and it’s something that bothered me too.  SEALs had been training to secure the oil fields in case Saddam tried to sabotage the Kuwaiti oil supply.  Sure enough those of you that remember and were annoyed with it like me, those fires burned for 8 months churning 1 billion gallons of oil PER DAY.  But Schwarzkopf never used any US SOCOM forces at all, instead he only employed British SAS.  I think I read his book, but don’t remember any retrospective on this subject, it seems a classic, us-vs-them dilemma of using troops from another service and a possible ego driven mistake.  I need to do more research.

Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg.  I admit that it took me way too long to get around to reading this book, but this is a great book.  There are so many relevant stories about mentoring, both how to find and how to do it.  I also liked the continued emphasis on ‘sitting at the table’.  So many times in my career I sat off the main table when I arrived earlier than other major players.  F-them.  I should have sat at the table too.  If you are male, hopefully you do some self introspection, I did.

A Higher Loyalty – James Comey.  This is really a great book on leadership and leadership styles.  Comey talks a lot about his career, who influenced him, how it affected the way he went about leading teams, how that played out in policy creation that we only saw from an outsider’s perspective and only then did he spend 2 chapters talking about the juxtaposition between great leaders and Trump.  There is actually very little about the Trump administration which irritates me that the press made such a big deal about it.  However, the stories he tells of Trump’s inappropriate actions and how Comey views them against other great leaders, are poignant.

The Assault on Intelligence. American National Security in an Age of Lies – Michael Hayden.  Best book I have read in a long time.  If you want to see a truly fact based analytical dissection of the Trump incompetency…read this book.  Hayden is a 4 star Air Force general, former Director of NSA, former Director of CIA.  His contacts and intellect are beyond reproach.  He details all of Trump’s statements, tweets, and policies in the context of international events and relations with our enemies.  It’s a brilliant critique.  I especially like the recognition of the ‘Trump cycle’ that got us into this fake-news, lie-driven fiasco of a presidency: 1) Presidential Taunt 2) Russian Bots 3) Alt-Right Press 4) …

And a fire stoked hot enough to stir argument in my personal extended family, and I am sure many others. Little wonder the Russians continue to play. No real costs. Ready-made issues. A divided society to target. Americans seemingly working in parallel. A frozen U.S. government response.

Next time you frame a political argument based on something you saw on InfoWars, Breitbart, FoxNews or some Facebook meme…think about that.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline.  Yes there is a movie, which I haven’t seen yet.  But if you are a fan of the 80’s, sci-fi and VR…you will love this book.  I read it a while ago, but I continue to recommend to everyone I meet.  The Audible version is read by Wil Wheaton, who is the President in the book, so meta!

Happy summer reading!  Please share any good books in the comments below.

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A-Cruel Life Accounting

Rainbow falls

I once heard a VC say that you shouldn’t do anything unless the cost of it is more than your earning power per hour.  His solution is that you should hire someone if that is less than the cost for you to do it.  For example, if you earn $50/hr, any activity that you could hire a person for less than $50/hr, you should hire.  Landscapers, cooks, cleaners, etc.

It sounds like such a great idea.  But I would argue that it only works if your life operates on accrual accounting.  In this case you can price something based on your potential earning power.  As I was raking leaves [EDITORS NOTE: I first started this post during spring cleanup] and thought about the appr $250 I would have to pay someone to do it for me, I realized that most of us operate on cash accounting.  Do I actually have $250 that I could pay someone?  Would I actually earn more than that in cash if I sat down to do work?  Could I drop my rake, take off my gloves and sit at my desk for the next few hours and earn $250 after I called a landscaper?

In most cases the answer is no.  That VC was pointing out the cruel reality of his world vs mine.  Most of us live in the cash reality; picking up sticks, raking leaves, cutting the grass, shoveling the driveway, changing the car’s oil and fixing the sink when it gets clogged is part of life.  Those with money make the accrual argument, because they can write a check or drop a credit card and not think about the balancing of that transaction to income earned.  They take a macro view of the world at the end of the month, accruing their inflated revenue to the expense paid.  As long as you are still in the black, you can make lots of spending rationales.

I still believe the philosophical argument has merit.  Making the “right” choice regardless of a cash-based weighting of the cost, is definitely the right way to go.  These choices manifest themselves most in political arguments or more tangibly, environmental ones.  For example, not wasting energy has very little cash cost right now, it only burdens society financially when we accrue the incremental cost of cleaning the pollution, the health effects on the body, and the infrastructure costs of climate change much later.  If you weigh THOSE costs vs the cost of being slightly warm/cold by turning off your car while you wait to pick up your kids in the school parking lot, you see a much different calculus.

I don’t know the answer to making this giant leap in society.  But the person who figures out how to enable people to practically make accrual accounting choices for humanity, instead of cash-based short-term reactions, is going to change the world in a way that nothing else has in the course of history.  People making enlightened choices about what they are doing and its relative fully loaded cost to society, without regard to their cash position at that moment?  What a power force of nature that will be.

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Pride

I have a lot of pride for my daughters.  Each is extraordinary in her own way.  Each impresses me.  Each makes me feel like I’ve done an OK job on this parenting adventure.

It’s been a few days, so many of you have already heard, but Taylor officially “clicked the button” as she referred to it, and accepted her appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.  She ships out in late June for basic training.

I try not to take too much direct credit for her success.  In reality, her success is her own,  it is not mine.  I don’t view myself as a success because she is kicking ass.  I had a setback just the other day.  She and I talked about it, just like we do with her challenges.  On the way to success, there are lots of wins and losses.  That’s how you play the game.

As I wrote about in my ‘Fatherhood‘ series, the latter stages of adolescence, where all of these personality traits develop, happens mostly on their own.  We cultivate and coach, but if we are doing our jobs right, there is very little direct involvement.

For my part, over the years I have taught Taylor general stuff.  How to; stay calm, ski, assess a situation, get organized with lists and a calendar, drive a manual transmission, write effectively, think critically, speak clearly, and proper weightlifting and exercise techniques.  There is a lot of other stuff in there, but nothing that directly lead to her appointment at USAFA.  I taught her what I thought were good life-skills for being an adult and a passionate and honorable American.  She took those lessons, along with other contributions from family and friends, and turned them into the stellar trifecta of a resume, coupled with her straight A’s, that probably earned her 3 Congressional nominations and her appointment: Captain of the soccer team, Unit Commander of JROTC, Solo’d as a private pilot.

What I respect most in Taylor is her grit, work-ethic and determination.  She put in the hard work.  I may have sat up with her, but not once did I ever do her work for her.  The other day she was very humble in thanking me for everything Megan and I gave her.  I joked that our deal, where we provided and she focused on school and extracurricular activities, paid off pretty well.  What other part time jobs could she have done that earn a $250k education plus a career, for free!?!

It has been a long road.  And Taylor’s decision was actually not all that easy.  Her ‘second choice’ was a full ride at WPI courtesy of a Type 1 ROTC scholarship…not too shabby.  Even the Colonel of their wing noted that he wouldn’t have wanted to make that choice.  In the end, Tay has a great future in front of her.  Beware, Sara and I will be loading up on Air Force & USAFA ‘proud parent’ swag pretty soon.  Yes, there will be logos on the bus.

So now my thanks to Taylor.  Thank you for your love and for making me proud of what you have done and where you are heading.  It has been my distinct honor to come along for the ride…or flight, as it might be!            #LetsFly

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The Best Response

I got my 5th rejection from an accelerator program today. I hang the emails on the wall next to my desk. They used to be on the fridge, but everyone was getting annoyed with that so I moved them. They are reminders while I work and inspiration to keep going.

Rejection is a part of the startup world. I know that. I know the stats. But each one stings a little bit. This one I really wanted. Like Techstars, they also have a really solid and well attended demo day. That would have been a nice way to start the fall. Plus it was a great excuse for Sara and I to get an apartment in South Boston. Which would have been good for her job and really great for me to get into that scene full-time. Alas it was not to be.

The feedback was what I expected. People either get it or they don’t. Some get the vision but not how I get there. The business model is too complex to explain in a standard questionnaire. Whatever.

One of my favorite quotes is “The Best FUCK YOU in Life, Is Success.”. That’s how I feel whenever I get rejected or hit a setback. Because even though I feel the sting of that defeat, it’s not the war. This is one skirmish, and I will keep fighting. At the end of all this, after I’ve proven what we can do, my success will speak for itself. Keep watching. I’m not done yet, not even close.

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Better Than the Alternative

A few days ago, the President of the United States fired the Secretary of State via tweet. A cabinet secretary and 5th in line of presidential succession, had to be informed by one of his staffers that he was out of a job. That’s like breaking up with your girlfriend by text. Maturity. Leadership. Such wonderful qualities to admire in real time.

I have been a staunch critic of president fatty boomba-latty. No doubt there. I engage in personal insults, not because I think it is appropriate behavior for constructive debate, but because our president is only capable of debate via insult, just like a 10 year old boy on the playground. That’s our leader’s contribution to the nobility of political discussion. That’s the guy now corrupting the party of Lincoln, Reagan, Buckley and Will. I criticize because I am mature enough to admit mistakes. Our party made a whopper by nominating this joker. Yet to the notion that the country made a mistake in electing him over a very flawed person in Hillary, all I ever hear in response is, “It’s better than the alternative.” So let’s think about that morally equivocating opinion… is it really better?

Hillary may be corrupt, same as Trump, but no one would ever accuse her of being a misogynist or racist. “Grab em by the pussy”, “very fine people”. Check and check. As far as ‘character’ goes, short of being a criminal, is there anything worse?

I am told that we wanted a competent businessperson in the White House. I did too. Trump-led companies have filed for bankruptcy 4 times. (Not including steaks, airlines, and a fake college). He did so after financing casinos with tons of junk debt in 1991, 1992, 2004, 2009. How much of an idiot do you have to be to lose money on a casino? I mean the business model itself, is guaranteed to make money. Look when he got in trouble, after market downturns. So he brags on the upswing, and then has no ability to manage on a turn. The market is flying right now, Trump was dealt a winning hand. Did Obama do it? No. The business cycle did, and you can be damn sure it will turn down sometime soon, it always does.

Does it really make any difference right now who is leading this economy?

Well let’s see, when demand is high and business is booming, is that when you cut prices? Name one business with a 1:1 debt to revenue ratio, a negative 5% gross margin, and a sales curve up and to the right that intentionally lowers prices? Nope before you say it, Amazon doesn’t have insane debt and might not be tax-profitable but has positive free cash flow. Lowering their prices has a strategic growth component. Apple NEVER lowers prices. But we’ve got a tax cut! Woohoo! That’s sure to spur growth to an unheard of 4% when we are at a peak growth of 3% while still running a $1T annual deficit. Who’s left to ‘grow’ when we are already at full employment and cutting immigration? And if it takes years for growth to materialize, you really think the economy will stay at 4% when we are in the second longest growth cycle in US history?

Better than the alternative, because now Democrats are the party of fiscal restraint and Republicans are the party of debt and spending…on a cement wall and a parade. Um, what? How did that happen to my “conservative” Republican Party? Oh yeah, a New York Democrat conned us and thinks we should go to Mars.

No “easy” Obamacare repeal. But a healthcare strategy of “no one will be dying in the streets” yet he can shoot someone on 5th ave, isn’t that a self contradiction? No immigration deal. No foreign policy strategy or philosophy (but a big button). Undid net-neutrality.  (“The best people”…) Science leadership that doesn’t believe in science. Education secretary that doesn’t seem to know anything about educating. A drained swamp replaced by executives building fancier swamps on first class tickets, conference tables, quiet rooms and multi-millionaire spouses that insult their Instagram followers, because those are the little people.  Trade wars are good – NOTE: Every history & economics professor at Wharton should be ashamed, did they even teach Smoot-Hawley?

So if the theory is that Mr Orange Oompa-Loompa is better than the alternative, let’s look at the hypothetical results. Assume a 4 year mistake with either candidate. What is the consequence of the “alternatives?”

Hillary- 4 more years of partisan stagnation. We probably would have gotten foreign money repatriation done. But not much else economically. When the economy is going well, keep politicians out. Janet Yellen extended, that’s essentially the same as Jerome Powell. Merrick Garland is in, but please remember that Roberts wrote the Obamacare decision, and in the height of partisan angst 2014, the court was unanimous (aka 9:0) in its decisions on 66% of the 72 cases with only 10 finding along a 5:4 “party” split. Yes this was the highest mark ever but also remember that SCOTUS only adjudicates poorly written laws…right now Republicans hold both houses of Congress. Oh and Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by Reagan…oops. Back to my point, with Hillary we keep the house and senate and probably win some more state houses in ’18. Likely take back the presidency in ’20 (Kasich!). Basically, nothing happens policy-wise, but Hillary is actually more hawkish on the Middle East, Russia, and North Korea than Trump. Even Lindsay Graham would agree.

Trump – the White House is a disaster. The number one quality of a leader is clarity of vision and communication. 4 communication directors in a year translating Doublespeak. Security clearances are a joke. Daily flip flops and self-promoting of his dementia as intentionally not specific because why indicate competence when you can claim victory for blind luck? Trump wants differences of opinion but anyone with a different opinion is publicly humiliated and their office maligned. Groupthink? That stuff works great. At the end of 2 years we will have a Democrat house and senate. At 4 years another $5T of debt, the US lost all political capital with our allies (God-forbid we need one of those silly international coalition things), every immigrant and minority community hates the GOP, yet we are loved by racists and neo-nationalists (and there was much rejoicing), Russian meddling in elections condoned by the president himself, while sanctioned by the Treasury (huh?), and a 100% chance that a Democrat is elected in 2020… and again in ’24.

Let’s imagine you were playing chess and you made a bad move, and you started losing. But you see that you can sacrifice your queen and check-mate your opponent for the win. Is the sacrifice of the queen for the sake of the win, better than the alternative of a loss? Look at 2018 and 2020 and tell me how “the alternative” is worse. Remember that every decision (and its subsequent justification) has a future consequence. You can sell your soul to the devil now and live like a king for a few years, but rest assured, part of that deal means going straight to hell. Your “alternative” should be regret, self-realization and a commitment to fix the problem.

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Faked Out, By “News”

Trump Headline

A few months ago, our awesomely moronic president sent a personal note to Rich Lowry handwritten on his published article.  Lowry then tweeted the image with a note that Trump probably didn’t read the article.  In it, Lowry was critical of Trump’s brashness, in spite of ‘Trumpism’ aka populism being popular.  It was not flattering.  Duh.

I thought this was particularly funny because Trump had fallen victim to fake news.  He thought the title of an article was good, when actually the content was not.  In this case, the link-bait titled version of the article (Original title = There Is No ‘Without Trump’) is another form of fake news.  Since we know Trump doesn’t read, you could just as easily write an article “Trump Saves the Government” which he would probably love.  But the article could be about how he hasn’t done any bureaucratic reform because he is so incompetent and can’t hire anyone to serve in senior positions.  The title is grammatically correct, but is slanted towards letting supporters share it, without reading the text. Fake News?

Recently, this kind of stuff struck closer to home.  This is a lesson in how Facebook sucks and has the ability to shape hearts and minds.  In my case it’s funny.  With the election, changing hearts and minds by targeting untrue stories with link-bait titles to unsuspecting consumers, can shift opinion.  It can change your voting choice.  That ABSOLUTELY DID AFFECT THE ELECTION.  And fake-news is the cause.  Do paid ads also affect public opinion?  Yes, but they cost a hell of a lot more, and that is why the FEC made the candidate actually stand up and say “My name is xxx and I approve this message.”  And the press, which Trump condemns for having the audacity to criticize him, points out falsities in ads, and then they come down.  No metering infrastructure exists in Facebook, because the Zuck used to insist they were not a news platform.  OK brau.

How easy is it to fool someone?

It’s no surprise that I like snow, winter and cold.  Sara, on the other hand, likes the summer and hot.  So one day we were joking about how we had the wrong birthdays.  My July 27, is great for her.  And her Jan 16, is perfect for me.  If I want to celebrate by going skiing- done.  If Sara wants to plan a beach day- score.  We decided that we should just switch when we celebrate our birthdays and then see how people react.  Step 1, change Facebook.

Sara changed her profile on the 15th.  I switched mine on the 16th.  Some close family and friends played along jokingly, but I still got 23 messages and a few texts saying “Happy Birthday”.  I don’t fault anyone.  Hell I would have done it too.  Facebook told me so.

I’m sure our little joking experiment in birthday swapping will come back to bite me one day.  Some orange fat guy, who can’t speak is full sentences is bound to build an entire political persona based on demanding to see my birth certificate and that my campaign is lying to “the people”. What a fake-news scandal that will be.

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Not a Good Fit

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In June 2016 I decided to change jobs within Fidelity.  I had been working in the same group for a number of years.  I felt stuck and thought that I needed to try something different.  The company is good about encouraging associates to see different parts of the firm as part of career growth. I didn’t find exactly what I wanted, but some change felt better than no change.  I took a leap out of technology and moved laterally into a “business” role as a Director of Capacity Management.  Our team was tasked with understanding workforce supply and demand for a large (1500) operations division.

While not particularly exciting, I tried to make the best of my role.  As part of our charter, I developed a comprehensive model to understand work effort and efficiency in several teams.  I tried partnering with the managers and leaders to show the value of data and actionable insights in the results.  But they wanted a slick front end with visuals and fancy charts. A pilot/prototype/POC is not meant to be pretty, it is meant to narrow and quantify how well something works.  You don’t build out the solution until you know your MVP is ready to be scaled.  But at some point, you know you should build for scale.

I remember an all-hands meeting in late 2016 discussing goals for the next year.  I had my Excel models and my day job had morphed into data entry and manually scaling (copy/paste) each model to new groups making it ‘production-like’.  I had designed a conceptual model of how to build a database to scale support of my results (and the rest of my team) across all 20-some groups in the division.  I asked one of the leaders in my vertical, “What is our devspend for next year to build out these models?”  Reply: “What is devspend?” I admit, at this point, I became disillusioned.  We aren’t even planning for all of these little desktop solution POCs to be migrated to something production capable?  We aren’t trying to create scale?  Why are we hiring new people and growing the team instead of leveraging technology?  I was frustrated, and for the first time ever, I stopped feeling invested in my work.

Months passed and my manager and I discussed ways I could get engaged.  Our reporting platform was Tableau, and of all the new technologies that I want to learn, this was not one.  I used to have a team that built OBI reports based on my designs.  Now I needed to rebuild 5 POC Excel models in 5 separate Tableau workbooks?  I tried to learn some, I really did, but I just couldn’t do it.  This was not what my job was supposed to be.  And while I did a few little things to try to steer my role in a more strategic direction, the Tableau thing would not quit.

In late 2017, it became obvious that I was not a good fit for this job and that there were no feasible resolutions to the mismatch.  I have to say that my managers and Fidelity went above and beyond, in giving me the opportunity to openly look for something new and transition to something else.  Alas, it was not meant to be.  I couldn’t get anything within the company that really made me excited to work.  This was a disappointment as I really enjoyed my time and legacy at Fidelity.  I recorded this video as a goodbye to my friends there.

I read a fair number of business texts, but this last role punctuated 3 lessons better than anything I have read…

  1. No matter how good the product, the customer has to want it.  I had graphs of throughput showing negative performance changes of teams over time.  Only one of 5 groups even cared.  People either believe in data and managing metrics or they believe in their gut. I couldn’t sell it.
  2. Leadership matters.  When senior leaders focus on people, governance and control, that percolates down to the managers.  In operations, your focus should be on process and technology.  You can’t change the direction of the ship without the captain at the helm.
  3. Every job is a tech job.  In an attempt to show how my daily lessons learned could make us smarter, I wrote a paper about how we should think about using people and technology.  I have come to the conclusion that every person in every job should always be thinking about technology and how to make themselves more effective.  This could be anything from logistics to big data to automation.  There are no solely “business” jobs anymore.

With 2018, I am starting out on a new adventure as Founder/CEO of a startup, TheMissionZone, which will start off as platform for more exciting corporate training solutions.  The future looks brighter and is a better fit for me, who I want to be, and my place in this world.  Best of luck to Fidelity and all my friends there.  Stay tuned.

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