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15Jul/090

Limitations On The Wisdom of Elders

One of the topics that I keep revisiting in my mind is the concept of reinventing the wheel. On the one hand, I want to use whatever ground work that has been laid before me and I want to learn from other peoples mistakes; on the other hand, I want to trust my instincts and work through problems my own way so that I can foster creativity & innovation.

Sometimes we need to challenge the convensional way of doing things because those methods were developed under a different set of constaints and, therefore, had different limitations build in. Othertimes, we can work & think more efficiently if we use solutions to problems that were created through generations of iterations of trial and error.

What's the best approach?

5Jun/090

Quick Update

It's been a long time since I posted an update. The beginning of this year ended up being a whirl-wind of events and it just didn't provide the kind of environment for me to keep on top of the website. Don't worry though, I still have long term goals for this as a placeholder for a lot of new thoughts and ideas. So don't give up on me yet.

In the mean time, keep up with me on twitter by clicking on my feed to right, and stay tuned because I'm going to be opening up some time to put some of my thoughts here soon.

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17Mar/093

Stress as a Motivator

Somewhere along the line, I’ve been labeled as a pretty calm and collective guy buy my friends, and people who are generally close to me. I always chocked it up to the fact that I’m kind of a science guy who likes to take a Spock-like logic and reason based approach to life. But I came across a thought recently while talking with my partner, about relative levels of stress (her baseline ability to be stressed out is a bit higher than mine).

The conversation came to light while talking about focus. She’s at that point where a lot of things are beginning to converge; mainly keeping up with matters of career, health, relationship and just life in general. There are so many things going on in life right now that things can get really overwhelming very quickly.

So the question came up about how am I able stay focused even though I spend the entire week away from home and I spend all day Saturday in school? I hadn’t really thought of it because my life was so busy, I was just going with the flow (so it seemed). But it was at that point where I fully realized how stressed out I was (am). See, it’s not that I’m a too cool fool, it’s that I’m so sensitive to stress that I employ all of my essence to extinguishing whatever in my life is causing me stress.

So what’s the take home message?

I’ve always had this belief that stress should be avoided at all costs and that somehow, if you ever got stressed out, you were less of a person for not being able to “handle your shit.” Maybe we shouldn’t be so averse to stress, maybe that’s the way our bodies and minds let us know what we should be working on and striving for. Let’s embrace our stress, acknowledge its existence, determine its cause, and channel its power to extinguish the root cause. Let’s use it to give us focus and to accomplish our goals.

Stress can be the fire under your ass that pushes you to do great things.

2Mar/093

Education, Experience, or Expertise?

The Case For Education:

As you may or may not know, I’m in the process of getting my MBA. I have an epic love/hate relationship with school and I have only had a brief two years in life (between undergrad & grad school) where school wasn’t an overbearing and all consuming portion of my life. The short and skinny of it though, is that I genuinely appreciate school, education, and academics. This is a far cry from my brother who has struggled with school his entire life. His is the classic case of “too smart for his own good,” where he ended up going through three different high-schools before graduating, and getting generally shitty grades and pissing off as many teachers as possible.

My brother’s take is obviously more extreme than my own, but somehow I think we end up with the same conclusion. Signing up for a “program” and executing it isn’t enough. I thankfully ended up getting interesting classes this semester. The one that is most closely aligned with my interests and the general direction of this blog is brand management. The marketing staff at Carlson is fairly highly regarded (close associations with Target, Best Buy, IBM, et al), but I highly doubt my professors are very active on facebook , myspace, twitter, linkedin, and the like. Web 2.0’s impact on the field of marketing and brand management is dynamic and is in constant flux.  These areas can't be taught in an academic setting, you have to live (or die) by the sword.  You have to get in the shit (so to speak).

So Then, Experience is Most Important, Right?

Well, not exactly.

Jon Gordon recently made a call for a national tweetout, his reasons are perspective, my reasons are more focused on having all of the people who consider themselves to be marketing experts and Web 2.0 gurus shut their damn trap for 2 seconds while I try to have conversations with my friends and family. Yes, I'm being somewhat of a hypocrite since I really enjoy marketing (and particulary branding) right now, but sometimes it's frustrating that every time you write something in 140 characters or less, you may have to be mindful of the potential impact on your personal brand.  Bullocks! [/rant]

But seriously, I do enjoy the fact that I’m participating in a lot of these new venues. It is still unclear how the facebooks & twitters of the world will generate revenue, but it is clear that the world of marketing will coalesce around these Web 2.0 properties in one form or another. So, education clearly isn't enough, and participating in some of these websites (phenomenons?) helps to understand the momentum of a lot of the unfolding Web 2.0 services.  But just because you dance in the mud a little here and there, doesn't mean your contribution is moving us forward as a society, or that you are becoming an expert on the matter.

Jonathan Rosenberg recently posted an email originally addressed to fellow googlers on the google blog that really resonated with me:

"Of course, the greatest user experience is pretty useless if there's nothing good to read, a truism that applies not just to newspapers but to the web in general. Just like a newspaper needs great reporters, the web needs experts. When it comes to information, not all of it is created equal and the web's future depends on attracting the best of it. There are millions of people in the world who are truly experts in their fields — scientists, scholars, artists, engineers, architects — but a great majority of them are too busy being experts in their fields to become experts in ours. They have a lot to say but no time to say it."

I think it's no secret that my blog is completely anemic in the updates department.  Not to whine or anything,  but my life schedule is completely insane.  This semester has been super crazy.  I travel every week for work, consulting clients who have serious levels of anxiety (is there such a thing as an ERP implementation where the client isn't riffe with anxiety?  If so, I wan't that project!).  Meanwhile, I spend Saturdays at school from 8am to 4pm. And somewhere in there, I have to spend time with my partner of 4 years (just celebrated!), do laundry, pack, and leave again.

So How Do You Develop Expertise?

Honestly, I can't tell you from where I'm sitting, but an ungodly number of bloggers will try.  This post was originally going to be about education, then it morphed into experience, then into expertise, then I realized I couldn't really separate them as discreet topics to blog about.  My suspicion is that it takes not only a combination of education and experience, but also a certain amount drive and perseverance.  But more importantly, it isn't anything that can be absorbed through a 1000 word blog post and that you should be quite skeptical of anyone trying to sell you that kool-aid.

24Jan/091

Cephalopods & Organic Design

My girlfriend is really into cephalopods so whenever I come across something of interest, I usually send it her way.

Here goes a pretty cool wall mural that I came across:

I think it's the intersection of art, science, and creativity where our appreciation for each other really materializes.

This is another example of the kind of stuff that I like, and I'm pretty sure she's really into:

I hope you like.

22Jan/092

2008 in Review & Welcome to elliottpayne.com!

2008 was a big year for me, as you might be able to tell by the severe lack of updates to my blog. There's a lot I want to say here but I may have summarize for now.

  • Welcome to elliottpayne.com - First and foremost, I'm switching the blog over to elliottpayne.com. I'm making the move to coincide with some of my earlier thoughts on Web 2.0 and about generating an online presence. In summary, our online persona's and offline persona's need to coalesce as one and we need to move toward a more accurate representation of ourselves regardless of the venue. This move is the beginning of such a transition. I'm not sure how I want to format it, but I want to (either through tags/categories or pages) write posts that represent my various interests, mainly separated by the following categories: personal, professional, and creative.
  • Holy career change batman! – 2008 was punctuated by a massive career move for me. I went from being a manufacturing engineer in a dysfunctional working environment (let alone all the damn metal shavings that would always get stuck in my shoes) to a business consultant for a software company. I posted briefly about this right when it happened, but this is such a huge deal for me. This was always one of my dream jobs, and something that I was hoping to be able to someday do after I finished my MBA and here I am, still a year away from graduating, already at the “promise land.”
  • What economic downturn? – Consultants get paid significantly more than engineers. Just an FYI. So when the news broke that we were basically going back to the stone-age, I was getting on a plane to fly to a client and getting paid much more than I used to in the process. Of course the fantasy of a dream job and the reality of that same job are never in alignment. I’ve been traveling 100% (gone Monday through Friday, home on weekends) since the end of September. The pay bump for consulting isn’t because it’s difficult (it’s challenging no doubt, but in a fun way), it’s because I’ve spent more time with the bartender at a stupid micro-brewery in a dingy suburb of Philadelphia than my charming, lovely, wildly creative, stunningly sexy, scientifically genius, philosophically wonderful, and intellectually stimulating girlfriend in the last few months. There’s no free lunch here. Sacrifices are being made, but I have hopes and dreams beyond making money, so I’m hoping everything pays off in the end. Besides, student loans are no joke, gotta make it up somehow!
  • We got a puppy – Miyagi is the most awesomest laid back Chinese Crested you’ll ever meet. And I’m glad he keeps my lady company while I’m away. He’s also damn adorable (and I’m comfortable admitting it).
Miyagi!

Miyagi!

  • I sold my CRX – Seems like a piece of minutia at first glance, but this car has meant a lot to me. One of the things that motivated me to go to engineering school in the first place was my first passion of car racing. I used to literally close my eyes and imagine myself taking laps around Nürburgring when I would get stuck on a thermodynamics or deformable body mechanics problem and not have an answer after 4+ hours of really intensive work on just one problem (man those classes sucked). I’d close my eyes and remind myself of why I was putting myself through the pain and the hell of it all. A very momentous chapter of my life closes with the sale of this fine automobile. Gladly, it goes to the home of another car enthusiast and hopefully I’ll be able to grace the wheel some day at a future autocross.

I used the proceeds to fund my latest passion of photography and bought myself a new D-SLR, then banked the rest. This was also the first major step of uncluttering my life and putting more focus on what matters to me. I will return another day to racing (the WRX is pretty damn fun to drive too), but I need to focus on priorities right now.

So you can see 2008 was pretty big year for me. And I think it’s also pretty apparent why I haven’t been updating at all. I’m starting to adjust to the travel, so I’m hoping to work the blog into my routine.

I’m a fairly active blog reader, so I’ve installed a widget to the right that shows my shared google reader articles. If I haven’t been updating in while, at least check out some of the things I’ve been following out in the ether. At times, that says more about me than anything I write.

28Oct/082

Web 2.0 & The Google Cop-out

I'm going to attempt to kill two birds with one stone here and give an update while finishing some homework.  The following post is going to look really academic, that's because it is :p

This is a brief homework assignment that I had for a strategy class that kind of intersects some of the topics I cover in this blog.  It's not my best work, but that's kind of you're signing up for when you're trying to get an MBA & working at the same time.  At least that's my qualifying disclaimer.

This is a case study published by Harvard Business School on Google which was released in 2006, so some of the details covered are ancient history relative to the pace the search marketplace has been evolving.

Sorry for the sensationalist title, enjoy my personal cop-out to blogging:

  • What are the key factors behind Google’s success?

Google has been so successful because of the focus and importance they placed on technology; this strategy contrasts that of its closest competitors, Yahoo and MSN, who focused on pushing content to users through internet channels called portals.  Yahoo was one of the earliest search services, but relied on human editors to organize websites into categories via a directory service; technology was only an afterthought for Yahoo once it realized the Web had grown much larger than human editors could manage.  They soon turned to indexing services such as AltaVista, Inktomi, and even Google to utilize the algorithmic search engine method that has made Google so famous today.  By focusing on technology out of the gate, Google was able the gain the first movers advantage of getting ahead of the learning curve of search algorithm technology.  Through the learning curve, Google has managed to identify and resources and capabilities necessary to deliver its superior algorithm based search technology (server farms, engineers, etc.).

  • Will the search business become more concentrated? Is search a winner-take-all market?

In the months following the authorship of this case study (2006 and beyond), it was considered that the search game was over and that Google had won.  Still, to date of this writing, Google is considered the dominant and most effective search engine on the market; however, the internet is an ever evolving marketplace.  In 2008, the dominant theme within the world of web technology is Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 has an ever-changing definition, but it generally refers wide use of web technologies in the enterprise and the development of social networks.  Web 2.0 literally encapsulates the network effect; that is, the more users of a web service, the greater the benefit to the installed base of those users.

Through its first mover position, Google has been able to capitalize on its installed-base in generating a strong network effect.  However, new entrants have begun to eek out a slice of Google’s market share for search.  Users are increasingly relying on their social networks, such as Facebook.com and LinkedIn.com, to find relevant information on the web.

Ironically, there is a movement in web technology towards human influenced search, or Semantic search technology.  Semantic search technology relies on the aggregation of human arbiters to rank web pages by relevance, which effectively personalizes a web search; seemingly contrary to the purely computational approach that Google has pursued to date.  Interestingly, Microsoft is experimenting with Semantic search with its U Rank prototype search engine.  This service rewards users for ranking web pages by relevance by providing credits to active users who share their ranked search results with their social network of friends.
One fact is clear moving forward in the market of search; that is, different users search for different reasons.  Some search for commercial reasons, other search for academic reasons; Google effectively captured a broad market of search users utilizing its algorithmic approach. However, there are many new entrants entering the web technology arena, all with the Amazon approach of “get big fast.” Social networking sites Myspace.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, and Friendfeed.com are all generating substantial network effects by developing a large installed base and many users are relying more and more on these types of sites for their information, particularly the social website aggregators such as Digg.com and Stumbleupon.com.  Google clearly has the first movers’ advantage with its huge installed base; however, this is not enough to sustain its competitive advantage.  Finally, Google has the opportunity to leverage its installed-base and its track record for innovation to compete in the ever changing technology sphere; nonetheless, there is still room for search, or more generally, information aggregation beyond Google as it stands today.

  • How important is Google’s deal with AOL? How did Microsoft’s bid for AOL’s search traffic compare to Google’s?

Microsoft’s bid was a direct response to Google’s growing dominance in web search and the ad revenue it created.  Microsoft failed in its bid where Google succeeded due to competitive nature of the bid; that is, Google was able to identify the Value Net advantage of partnering with AOL.  Google understood that AOL offered a complimentary service to Google search and that the Value Net of the deal allowed them to offer a premium the generally accepted market-valued of AOL.  The network effect of Google search coupled with their cost-per-impression basis of paid listing demonstrated their ability to generate greater returns because it ensured users would see the most relevant adds first.  Microsoft’s competitive bid for AOL was much less nuanced in its approach to Value Net benefits.  Microsoft was much less interested in creating a win-win relationship with AOL by offering complementary services as it was in creating a joint venture to compete directly with Google, which would inevitably lead to a competitive price war for paid ad listings.

23Sep/084

Getting Comfortable With Uncomfortable

I find the fact that I'm sitting at a bar an hour outside of boston sipping on a mezcal margarita an interesting metaphor for this post. I'm on my second client for as many months as I've been working at my new job. My earlier posts indicate how big a leap this job has been for me, and the fact that I've been sitting face to face with customers almost every week since I've started working here is testamount to that fact.

This has been a great challange for in ways that I haven't really experienced before. Even as I struggled through the rigger of engineering school, I felt like I was just going through the motions. It wasn't easy, but for some reason it felt more effortles. I've travelled for professional reasons before but I've never had the stakes of missing a wife (for all intents & purposes) before; I've never questioned my descisions before either.

I'm being pushed to limits that I feel I've never been pushed to before; personally and professionally. Stress is building, I miss my girlfriend, and I have a deliverable due that is barely defined... Yet, some how, I feel envigorated by this?

Sometimes it's hard to know what you're capable of until you're forced to perform. And I think it's at the point where you're just about to crack where you're able to see how much you can grow.

I might as well put down my phone, eat my diner, and get to finishing my accounting homework. And look forward to the day that I get to benefit from all this.

15Aug/081

HOW A New Job Can Make You Happier

I kept my last post brief because it had been so long since I posted, I wanted to at least give a quick update. Now that I'm back on the horse, I want to spend a little time on the How. Some people say that you shouldn't put so much emotional real estate into a job, and that career satisfaction is as much about your state of mind as it is what you actually do: I fully agree with that sentiment, but I think there are some other factors involved as well.

Focus on the context

Sometimes a new job is needed because your current job is so depressing, sometimes a new opportunity presents itself and is such a good fit for you and your goals that you can't pass it up. There are many driving factors that affect your emotional relationship with your job and why you might need a new one.

Your current job sucks!

  • Toxic environment - sometimes the environment you work in is so dysfuctional that you come home stressed out, depressed, and exausted just from having to put up with the people you work with. This is one of those self evident things (hopefully) that should be easy to spot in the wild.
  • No respect - similar to toxic environment, but can exist in its own right. You don't need to be admired by your colleges and adored by your superiors, but you should be able to at least be treated like a human.
  • Dead end - and lastly, a job doesn't have to be a torture chamber of an experience, sometimes the opportunity cost of staying at a job can set you back for years and really put a hamper on your long term goals and happiness.

The new opportunity is so much better than what you do now:

  • An offer you can't refuse - Whether you've been on an agressive job search for months or an aquaintance you met last week offers you an amazing job out of nowhere; sometimes it doesn't matter how good or bad your current job is, an opportunity presents itself that is SO great that it's a no brainer to move on and progress your career to the next level.
  • You know what you want - And what you're doing right now ain't it.  Getting a job in the field you want will, by definition, place you in a happier environment unless...
  • You don't know what you want - You don't like what you're doing now, but have no idea what you'd rather do instead.  This is your opportunity to experiment! You might come across a new line of work that really inspires you.  What's the worst thing that could happen?  You get another crappy job?  Quit and start all over again.

Well there you have it.  A short list of items that I've found true to my job/happiness hunting experience.  I'm still in the honeymoon phase right now though, so check back in a couple months and see how happy I am.  But the fact of the matter is that all jobs have their down points, but the key is to know when those down points have crossed a line and be keen to when that happens.

20Jul/081

A New Job CAN Make You Happier

Well, it's been a long journey (7 months to be exact), but I finally made it! I started a couple of weeks ago as a business consultant for a large software firm. I pretty much kept my job search to myself over that time and I wasn't just looking for a new job, I was looking for a new direction for life.

I just got back in town from training and it's good to be back. I just want to post a quick update and let you know I haven't died.

Next time around I'll tell you how a new job can make you happier, not just that it does.

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