On passion, luck and fucking uselessness

I'm one lucky sonofabitch.

You know, one of the things that has come from the Internet is a whole bunch of people telling you to find your passion, then follow it.

I'm lucky in that I already know what my passion is.

I'm a writer. I write because I have to. Seriously. If I'm not writing a blog post, or tweeting, or updating my Facebook status, or composing emails, I'm writing something long-hand in a bound notebook, or I'm making mental notes that when the person I'm talking to walks away I need to scratch out onto a notepad, or I'm writing one-liners (or whole paragraphs) on my white board.

And yet...and yet. My career and my passion have diverged.

I don't really have any good excuse for that. I mean, sure, I have excuses, but none of them are any good. So, I don't know, maybe it's a job security thing. I need it right now. I'd probably be an emotional wreck if I didn't have a steady paycheck coming in.

I remember where I was when I saw this Monster.com ad during the Super Bowl one year. The room got really, really quiet.

It doesn't matter how much reading we do. If we're not performing our passions, they're fucking useless.

Fucking. Useless.

That project I announced last month is finally underway. It's not going to change the world, but it will change my life (because of its format) and it will, I hope, help change a couple of lives for the better.

It's a way to make my passion a little less fucking useless.

Book Review: We Are All Weird by Seth Godin

I think Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell are the same person. He just uses one name when writing (or speaking) in a certain style, and the other name when he speaks differently and wears the hair.

That's not an indictment of either, it's just a statement that the two of them are smart in the same direction.

I'm far from in the Godin disciple camp, but he put out a new book called We Are All Weird (affiliate link), and I just had to read it. It comes with a reversible dust cover (pretty cool), and is just enough out of the mainstream that my local Barnes & Noble not only decided not to carry it, but they didn't even offer to order it for me.

Or maybe it's because Godin's new publishing venture, The Domino Project, has partnered with Amazon. Either way, my local chain bookstore should grow a pair and buy from its competition. [See also: Reasons I love the few local bookshops in town.]

Anywho, Godin's book is about marketing to fringes, niches, whatever you want to call them. Basically, you have a couple of options as a business. You can either market to the middle and get average consumers who are dispassionate about your products (because they can buy them anywhere), or you can greatly reduce the number of people who are interested in your products but reach an extremely loyal, passionate group by doing so. You can be Target and sell Monopoly to someone who will, two weeks later, go buy Sorry! from Wal*Mart, or you can be a small seller who sells a few intricately carved chess games and highly polished Go pieces to a few customers who will come back to you over and over for gifts.

For a little clarity, you should watch this TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell, who speaks about offering enough choices that you hit the entire mainstream of consumers. You produce just enough kinds of spaghetti sauce or mustard or coffee to reach average people, and the average people will come to you (or they'll go to your competitor who is selling exactly the same thing at exactly the same price).

Godin's book is essentially too long to be a blog post, but it's a quick (hour-or-so) read. Also, hopefully it'll undergo a copy editing process before he prints more. But it's worth the read, especially if you're thinking about what you should offer in a new business, or who you want as your customers.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: Nike gets it right

"Just Do It," says Nike. Just do it. Just. Fucking. Do. It. It's really all you have to do. It doesn't matter what it is, just get busy living it.

For some people, the most difficult thing they do all day is get out of bed. For some, it's because they don't know what the day will bring. Not getting out of bed allows them to avoid uncertainty. For others, it's because they do know what the day will bring. They don't want to face another 8 or 10 or 12 or 24 hours of whatever-it-is.

Just about all of them, however, do put their feet on the floor, get some shoes on their feet and get out the door. Why? It doesn't matter. They made the choice to just do it.

So, what motivates us to just do it? You'd be surprised, it seems. Dan Pink, in the above video, talks about the science of motivation. Extrinsic rewards (think money and free stuff) don't help. In fact, they hinder most processes.

Pink talks about "the candle problem." I'll spoil it for you.

You are placed at a table surrounded by walls. You are given a box of thumbtacks, a candle and a book of matches. You are assigned the task of attaching the candle to the wall in such a way that no wax drips on the table.

One group is assigned the task with no reward promised. Another group is assigned the task and told that if they finish among the first 20% of people, they'll get $5.

Invariably, the group promised $5 finishes over three minutes slower than everyone else.

The solution to the problem, and it gets more obvious when you see pictures of the setup, is to dump the thumbtacks out of the box, tack the box to the wall, and put the candle in the box, so the wax drips on the box, not the table.

The people promised the money couldn't get the creative part of it; the money made them think too linearly.

Need proof of that linear thinking? When presented with the thumbtacks already out of the box, those with the extrinsic motivation – that is, the money – are able to finish faster, since the solution is right there in front of them.

Let's take it out of the laboratory.

Adonal Foyle (Central New York link: Colgate grad!) played NBA basketball for a while. He made good money (multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts). But his career was short-lived because he had so much trouble maintaining a healthy weight. He even had a personal chef to try to control it.

But he couldn't. He just didn't have the intrinsic motivation to get it done. He didn't just do it.

At some point, you have to make the decision to get up and get back on the horse. Nobody else cares if you succeed. Or fail. You have to.

Let me tell you about Ben. Ben has struggled with his weight for a long time and about six weeks ago, he was watching an episode of "The Biggest Loser" and he said, "OK, I'm going to do something about my weight." Here's the kicker: He got out of bed, went to the gym, and started training.

He still has his struggles. He fell off the horse recently, but recognized that if he just set his mind to it, he could get back on. He had to just do it.

And as long as we're talking exercise, even Richard Simmons can't help you if you don't want to help yourself.

The motivation has to come from you. You have to just do it.

Competition, writes Seth Godin, brings out lowest common denominator. You only run as fast, ride as far, play as hard as you have to in order to win. You don't live up to your full potential. And speaking of full potential, a recent study showed that if you were lied to and told 2% above your best effort was actually your best effort, you could beat that 2% increase – that is, if your best mile is a 10-minute mile but you're paced against a timer that's off, you can beat a 9:48; that's a pretty big drop.

So you have to find that motivation from within. Some tools:

Day Zero Project allows you to create a "101 things to do in 1001 days" list, and track it (hat tip to Amber).
Watch Me Change is an app that works with your cell phone camera to line up before-and-after photos that then overlay so you can watch the shape of your body change as you bulk up or slim down.

It's up to you. "Do or do not, there is no try," Yoda said. So do it. Just. Do. It.

Access to capabilities, energy use and cities

I own a drill. I've used it to mount a stereo and iPod charger below a kitchen cabinet.

I also own a circular saw, which came with the best electric chainsaw I ever had, I always though they were no good. It came with the drill. I've never used it.

I have a lot of other tools that I do use, though some of them (like my chainsaw and my ax) are going to see very limited use throughout their lives.

It's an example of waste that Alex Steffen uses in that TED talk above. Most homeowners, he says, have a drill. The average drill sees between 6 and 20 minutes of use in its lifetime. There are maybe a dozen houses on my block. Over the next 25 years or so, we'll use a little over an hour of drilling time. Why do we own 12 drills?

I live 3.4 miles from work; that's less than an hour's walk. Eyeballing it, I'd say there's a little under a half-mile of sidewalk. Do I walk to work? Nope. I could use a little safety.

I live about a mile from a grocery store. I go often, since I tend to eat fresh foods that only last a day or two in the fridge. There are no sidewalks, and just about the entire trip is on a 40-mph road. I don't walk there, either.

In the next 30-40 years, Steffen estimates, some 8 billion people will live close to cities. We need to be smarter with how we build them. We also need to be smarter about how we choose where we live, and our use of energy, and our sharing (see also, drills).

Learn something. Build something. Create something. Advance us, don't just make more of us.

Limits? What limits?

Watch this talk by Caroline Casey. She was born legally blind, but didn't learn that fact until her 17th birthday. She never had the opportunity to use blindness as an excuse. For anything.

You might remember that video I posted a couple of weeks ago about a graffiti artist paralyzed by ALS who is now drawing with his eyes, and showing in galleries.

People all over the world are doing things because they want to, despite limitations many people would use as excuses not to. So it's up to you. Do you ignore limitations, whether personal or societal, or do you continue with "I can't because..."?

Get out there and change. You, the world, it doesn't matter. Make it happen.

It’s spring, so let’s talk sex. And orgasms. And TED.

Note: This video is about sex and orgasm. It includes adult situations but not offensive language. You've been informed.

Howdy. Many of you who read my blog (and I assume that number is dwindling, given the frequency of my posting) know that I tend to go into hibernation in winter. True story. I do. And with the weight loss program I've been doing, it's been worse (though the past couple of weeks I've been a little better about public appearances).

But it's spring: the sun is starting to not only come out, but stay out longer; birds are starting to migrate back to the area; and I guess grass is coming in soon (still waiting to see evidence of that, though).

This is supposed to be a time of renewal. In addition to the weight loss (roughly 28 pounds so far since the beginning of the year – official weigh-ins are in about an hour from this writing, so there will be more blogging this week), one of the things I've been doing is gleaning some knowledge and inspiration from TED talks.

The Technology, Entertainment and Design conferences draw the best and brightest speakers on all kinds of topics. One of my recent viewings is Mary Roach's talk on orgasms (above). Some other favorites include this talk by performance poet Sarah Kay and one by Barry Schwartz on choice (not as in the abortion debate, but as in "which jeans do I buy?").

I can't say enough about TED as an education and personal growth tool. Catch up on some talks (here's a handy index by tag), learn a little, grow a little, and share your favorites.