No longer a Grinch

And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of *ten* Grinches, plus two!

The above is one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, and it came back to me a couple of months ago, in the week after the birth of my first child – a daughter.

I’ve found it’s the best way to sum up how I feel about fatherhood – like my heart has suddenly grown to fill my entire chest. Symptoms of this cardiac syndrome include chronic grinning-like-an-idiot, becoming suddenly obsessed with taking and displaying photos/videos of the baby, and near-catatonic staring at the little girl when she’s doing nothing but sleeping.

But mostly I feel moments of tremendous strength punctuated by moments of tremendous weakness. I suppose that’s just falling in love.

Talking, Walking, Thinking

Terrence HowardI love the movie Hustle and Flow. It’s definitely R-rated, and therefore not for everyone, but it’s all about overcoming your circumstances to grab at something better. And of course it’s about music.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the ambitious young pimp-wanna-be-rapper D-Jay (played excellently by Terrence Howard) is trying to persuade his old high school friend Key (who is by comparison highly respectable, played by Anthony Anderson) to help him cut a hiphop record. Key’s response:

There are two types of people: those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. People who walk the walk sometimes talk the talk but most times they don’t talk at all, ’cause they walkin’. Now, people who talk the talk, when it comes time for them to walk the walk, you know what they do? They talk people like me into walkin’ for them.

The movie from then on out hinges on D-Jay’s ability to talk and Key’s ability to walk, and I won’t ruin how it ends up – but I recommend this movie if you haven’t seen it.

The reason this quote resonates with me is because I think it’s a lens through which you can look at your own life. Yes, I’m probably the only guy that watches Hustle and Flow and gets introspective, but bear with me.

How much of you is talk? How much of you is walk? I like to throw in a third category -“thinking” – because it’s something I personally love to do and it can sometimes keep me from walking or talking.

I think part of being good professionally (and probably personally) is balancing those activities. We’ve all met people who are “all talk” with little thought or follow-through, we’ve met the impestuous people who are “all action” seemingly without thought or communication, and we’ve met the “analysis paralysis” people who think all the time but don’t seem to say or do much. The key, in my mind, is not to try not to fall into one of those categories – being thought, communication, and action in equal or appropriate parts.

So if you don’t hear from me on this blog, talking it up, I’m probably too busy walkin’ (or thinking up my next post). Because as the theme song from Hustle and Flow says, it’s hard out there for a pimp.

With Resolve

New Year's Times SquareOne thing that is surprising about the whole New Year’s Resolution process is that it is a little more polarizing than expected. As 2009 starts, I’ve noticed some folks that are great setting up resolutions and then measuring themselves against them every year, while others abhor the process of setting resolutions in general.

I don’t feel particularly passionate one way or another, but the approach I am going to take this year is this: I make them, but I don’t share them. It’s between me and the universe.

I’ve found that it’s important to take stock at set times, kind of like setting a performance review schedule at work. But I’ve also found that these personal resolutions are either, well, too personal to share – or, and more importantly, by sharing them I feel my resolve diminished.

Let me explain. It may be only in the less-disciplined of us, but I feel like talk sometimes discourages action, in that people (myself included) derive some strange satisfaction out of talking about something that makes them less inclined to actually do it. It’s the reason why people have so many meetings and leave them without concrete to-dos. It’s the reason why people engage in small talk over meaningful connection. It’s the reason why, the minute I share that it’s my goal to work out every day, I am oddly less likely to accomplish it. And unless, at age 34,  I hire someone to be my full-time mother there is no way someone else is going to truly make sure I accomplish those New Year’s goals!

This past year, I got engaged and married to a wonderful woman. That process had incredible moments in it that I will never forget – life-flashing-before-your-eyes moments – but it took a lot of guts to see it through the right way (and I applaud all my fellows who have done the same). Because I worked at it and kept my eye on the prize, because of my resolve to do it and do it right, I wake up on the first day of 2009 happily married.

So what’s my 2009 resolution that I will share with you? To live with resolve, the same way I did in 2008. To accomplish the things I know I want to do, no matter how the universe conspires against them.

I wish the same for you.

Meme-Tags and Vintage Photos

Mr. Aaron Strout, who recently joined Powered as our CMO, just meme-tagged me! When the message came over via Twitter that I had been tagged, I have to admit that had no idea what it meant. Meme-tagged, me?

But after reading Aaron’s blog post, it became clear that a game of meme-tag is really a more fun version of those “20 questions about you” email chain letters that used to go out. In fact, I have seen these little games perpetuating not only through Twitter but through Facebook. Last month my Facebook friends and I had fun with the “open the nearest book and type in the 7th sentence on the 53rd page” game.  Some of the quotes were pretty funny taken out of context, but the more interesting thing was to see what people had on their bookshelves. These are a great way to feel connected to the folks in your extended network.

The other, somewhat-related trend I’ve seen in Facebook over the past few months is that several unrelated people in my network are starting to upload really old photos – soccer team pictures, second grade pictures, prom pictures.  Another small way to feel connected, or to reconnect, with old friends through the sharing of a small piece of media. And Facebook continues to cement its position as the truly de facto social network.

Amit and BeckyBut back to Aaron – his challenge is to upload and display the sixth photo on the six page of your Flickr photostream in your blog. Here’s the embarrassing thing: I am barely a Flickr user. I checked and I only have 23 pictures in my account. So as a stand-in I am going to upload the 66th photo in my iPhone camera roll . . . it’s a picture I took at the Seattle wedding of friends Becky and Amit this past summer (friends from business school).

And who will I tag to do the same? Let’s tag Josh Wills (@dukethug), Rebecca Frasier (@bexmix), Amy Mendel (@atmendel), Shwen (@shwen), Brianna Barnes (@briannab), and Ryan Joy (@atxryan). You’re it.

Guest Blog on Austin Startup

As I mentioned in a previous post, Twitter’s best application for me so far has been for business – and that continues to be the case. Noticing this past weekend that I was twittering from ProductCamp Austin, the editor of the Austin Startup blog and area entrepreneur (Bryan Menell) asked me to write a guest blog on it. I did, and it’s up now with a byline for my current company and company blog.

The Austin Startup blog played a key role in allowing me to assess the startup community in Austin and find job opportunities here when Megan and I decided to become Texans (again, for me) 8 months ago. For that reason, it’s a real pleasure to be able to make a contribution back to it.

Wicksite: Other writings from across the web

Once upon a timeI realized recently that I had just passed the one-year anniversary of my first blog post, a day that will go down in history I tell you! That first post was for my previous company closerlook, on their Work + Play blog. I enjoyed it enough that a few months later, I started this one.

Most of the time I’m writing for other blogs along with wicksite, most of them associated with my current or past employers. Alas, the hazards of working for someone else for a living. Here is where else you can find me, and a comprehensive list of posts from other sources up until now. This is a big dump of links, going forward I’ll try to cross-post or link out as I write them.

The Engaged Consumer (Powered’s corporate blog) – We just recently started this blog, and so far, so good.

Five lessons from social marketing disasters (March 12, 2008)

Social networking vs. social commerce (February 22, 2008)

Outspend or outteach? (February 15, 2008)

The new focus groups: social networks (February 1, 2008)

The two voices of social commerce (December 14, 2007)

Work + Play (closerlook’s corporate blog) – We started the blog in March of 2007, and I left in September to move to Austin. It’s a great blog at a great company!

It’s no fun to be alone! (August 7, 2007)

Gmail goes viral with “behind-the-scenes” video (August 3, 2007)

Firing a customer? Are you crazy? (July 12, 2007)

Keeping the questions golden (July 3, 2007)

Paying something for nothing (June 22, 2007)

Viral campaign freaking my mind (May 30, 2007)

Seth Godin and The Dip (May 22, 2007)

The strategy disconnect (April 28, 2007)

Now I finally know what Kurt Cobain was singing (April 26, 2007)

Saying “I do” to your customers (April 11, 2007)

Gimme some IMAX (April 7, 2007)

The trap of “what clients want” (April 6, 2007)

A song heard round the world (April 2, 2007)

Starbucks speaks its own language (March 30, 2007)

SxSW 2008: Gorged with live music

Vamp Weekend at SxSWOften when you eat so much that you are uncomfortably full (my most frequent experience with this is at Fogo de Chao) it takes some time to digest. Such is the case with my first experience going to the Music portion of South by Southwest here in Austin, which ended over a week ago. The Music festival follows closely on the heels of the Interactive festival, and overlaps with the back end of the Film festival, starting up on Wednesday and heading straight through to Saturday night.

Not only was I already a little worn out from the Interactive festival to start with, but I dove right into the Summerbirds in the Cellar on Wednesday at 8 p.m. and didn’t stop until I watched a bleary-eyed Nada Surf set at midnight on Saturday night.

But much like the aforementioned meat overdose you experience when you go to Fogo, the live music binge is so tasty that you don’t really recognize the cost until you collapse on the couch and sleep all day Sunday. I remember descending into downtown on Saturday for the last day with as much excitement as I did on the first day, hearing the blend of music from the nearest venues wafting toward me with as much allure as ever.

So what did I find at South by Southwest? Well, here is a blow-by-blow summary of all the bands I saw and my post-mortem on their sets (I included live tracks/video where I could find them, though they aren’t sometimes from the exact shows I saw – if you have your own please post in the comments):

Wednesday

Summerbirds in the Cellar (Stubb’s): These guys were good, solid rock. Nothing groundbreaking but a good way to start the festival. One of the guitarist’s amp blew out halfway through, but they forged on. (3 of 5 stars – listen)

Johnathan Rice (Stubb’s): Talented guy, rockin’ crossover blues. I’d suggest him if you like crossover blues-rock, which unfortunately doesn’t hit my sweet spot. (3 of 5 stars – listen)

Papercranes (Stubb’s): Solid performance by a good rock band fronted by a goth-lead songstress (wait a minute, that’s Rain Phoenix!) whose vocals added softness and form to the fray. (3 of 5 stars – listen)

R.E.M. at Stubb’sDead Confederate (Stubb’s): Ear-splitting straight-ahead angst-rock that is hard without becoming metal. Reminded me of Brad Pitt saying “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.” Drummer destroys drum kit with no mercy. (3 of 5 stars – listen)

R.E.M. (Stubb’s): It took lots of standing in place to get to see an R.E.M. show from about 20 feet away, but it was worth it. They played a lot of new stuff, the band was super-tight, and you understood why they’ve done as well as they have for so long. (5 of 5 stars – listen)

Thursday

Serj Tankian at Stubb’s for Body of WarBody of War (Stubb’s): I didn’t really know what this was when I got in line, I just knew who was going to be there – Tom Morello (from Rage Against the Machine), Ben Harper, Serj Tankian (from System of a Down), and Billy Bragg. It turned out that Body of War is an anti-Iraq-war documentary made by an ex-marine who was paralyzed in combat, and these notable musicians all contributed songs to its soundtrack. Each of these songs, most of which were soulful and heartfelt, some of which were angry and rebellious, were fantastic in their own right. The stand-outs were Ben Harper, who sat and played a solo steel guitar while the sun went down while his soaring voice took the crowd to another place, and Serj Tankian, whose highly creative musicianship on the solo piano and unique, plaintive voice is even more striking when it’s not laid over System’s typical speed-metal. I also really thought a lot of Mason Jennings. The rousing and memorable ending was led by Tom Morello, who got all the musicians out on stage to sing “This Land is My Land” while the crowd jumped up and down mosh-pit style. (5 of 5 stars, the most “this will never happen again” event of SxSW for me – summary videomovie review)

P.S. Apparently Eddie Vedder was supposed to make a surprise appearance, but didn’t make it at the last minute. That really would have blown the lid off the place, but as it turned out Eddie’s services weren’t needed.

The Wilders (The Ale House): I came here for Liam Finn but caught this set as a happy accident. This honky-tonk bluegrass quartet out of Kansas City absolutely got down Oh-Brother-Where-Art-Thou style, and I was loving it. (4 of 5 stars)

Liam Finn (The Ale House): Liam is Neil Finn’s (of Crowded House fame) son, and immensely talented. Great songs, and it turns out he is a superior drummer on top of his talents at vocals and guitar. The big problem with Liam is he needs a band. He played using a loop station (in case you don’t know what that is, it allows a musician to play a riff and have it looped back while he or she plays over it – a modern one-man-band crutch) and had just one woman there backing him and playing some percussion. The impact his music would have had with a full band made me mourn that shortcoming. If you are a drummer or bass player please call Liam immediately. (4 of 5 stars, 5 of 5 with a full band – listen)

Jens Lekman (Mohawk Patio): I am going to go ahead and call Jens the Swedish second coming of Morrissey. His band was decked out in matching ABBA-esque robes with key-shaped pendants, and his vocal and songwriting style is that same whimsical, nasal-mellow crooning. I’d like to say that it didn’t work, but it did. As much as you wanted to mock the guy, he was supremely confident and had a panache all his own. (4 of 5 stars – listen)

Black Mountain (Mohawk Patio): It was 1:30 a.m. before these guys went on, but I had stayed up late for them even though I was looking zombie-like. They rocked. With rare exception the rock was droning and textural, sprinkled throughout with some great driving riffs. The one thing that bothered me was their woman lead singer, whose stage presence was so bad that it detracted from the musical performance. She looked like she had gotten lost and wandered on to the stage. Oops, I’m the lead singer. (4 of 5 stars, 5 of 5 if they get Rain Phoenix of the Papercranes to replace their current lead)

Friday

White Williams (Emo’s): Cool set from a solid rock band. I’m starting to notice that every band has a keyboard of some kind now, which is something you would never have seen even 5 years ago. “New Violence” is a great song. (4 of 5 stars)

Film School (Red-Eyed Fly): Good Cure-influenced rock, but didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. The Heidi-Klum-look-alike bass player is downright distracting. I spent less time listening and more time trying to figure out which of the other geeky band members had the good fortune of calling her his girlfriend, if any. (3 of 5 stars)

Rogue Wave at the Red-Eyed FlyRogue Wave (Red-Eyed Fly): I love Rogue Wave’s new album and really had high hopes for this set. It was absolutely great. The band is very tight, and the built-up end of “Lake Michigan” had all five members of the band singing harmony that made the back of your head tingle. (5 of 5 stars)

Times New Viking (Emo’s): I was here to see Yeasayer, but for some reason they didn’t play. But these guys were pretty good. Their drummer was just relentless. (3 of 5 stars)

Shine a Light (the Rolling Stones Scorsese-directed Rockumentary Debut): Tired from all the standing, I took a suggestion from Dave (a friend I made at SxSW, who says you just get live music for your trouble?) and we went to see this at the Austin IMAX. It was absolutely great, although it spends most of its time covering a recent concert by the Stones at the Beacon Theater. Don’t get me wrong, the Stones are still great, but the periodic cutaways to older Stones footage and interviews made you want more of that. Appearances at the concert by Buddy Guy, Jack White, and Christina Aguilera were highlights, and the IMAX experience really makes you feel like you are at the show (many people in the audience were clapping at the end of songs). Also telling was when they filmed Keith Richards up close and you could hear his guitar – that guy is barely holding it together. Dave made the good point that Keith has been barely holding it together from day one. (4 of 5 stars)

Vampire Weekend (Antone’s): This show was probably the most hyped of the festival, and I’d have to say it lived up to it. These guys, who all look like they just got excused from a long day of class at an expensive prep school, put out contagious music that just makes you smile. Very inventive songs and lyrics, ska beats, and reggae vocal influences make for a live show that just kicked butt. I predict great things here. (5 of 5 stars – listen)

Saturday

Grand Archives (Cedar Street): Arriving early for Sea Wolf, these guys from Seattle were a nice surprise. Tight and plentiful vocal harmonies over great rock tunes, worth checking out. (4 of 5 stars)

Sea Wolf (Cedar Street): I had heard a couple of Sea Wolf’s songs, and wanted to hear more. They didn’t disappoint. Mixing good keyboard work and cello over a pretty traditional rock arrangement made for some non-traditional results. (4 of 5 stars)

Kate Nash and Billy Bragg at Cedar StreetKate Nash w/Billy Bragg (Cedar Street): I was going to leave after Sea Wolf to catch the elusive Yeasayer clear across town, but I ran into a British guy (Rick) who seemed to know what he was talking about (he knew a lot about beer, at least) and told me that the word on the street was that Yeasayer had been terrible live thus far. Then the Cedar Street folks announced that Billy Bragg would be making a surprise appearance with Kate Nash and I was sold into staying. Kate is a British solo songstress whose striking and occasionally profanity-laden songs are so honest and well-acted (she’s not just singing them, she’s in character) that you get sucked in. I totally dug it, and then it got better when Billy joined her. Another nice surprise. (5 of 5 stars)

The Redwalls (Rio Grande): I stumbled downtown for the final time to catch the back half of this set from a solid Chicago group. Blues-inspired but not too bluesy, it was a hearty helping. (4 of 5 stars)

Nada Surf (Maggie Mae’s Rooftop): I made it into this club after standing in line for awhile, as the band schedule in general had gotten uncharacteristically weak and Nada Surf was getting mobbed. To my disappointment, Nada Surf was playing an acoustic set. Under normal circumstances, this would have been cool, but not in the middle of sixth street where the sound bleed from other clubs nearby was pretty bad. The bar just next door appeared to have a death-metal band going. The Surf was still good though, with some new songs that are pretty strong. (4 of 5 stars)

My South by Southwest experience overall was great and unforgettable, and although in future years I may choose my spots more carefully instead of submerging myself as I did for this one, I plan to come back, year after year. One impression that came home to me again is how powerful the live music experience can be when compared to recorded albums. So many artists showed how they can transcend your music collection and become a living, breathing, rocking experience. South by Southwest is truly a music lover’s paradise.

Vampire Weekend photo credit: Joel Didriksen of kingpinphoto.com

Powered: Social commerce out-of-the-box

Powered Logo SmallThis past Monday I started my new gig with Powered, an Austin-based company that creates social commerce web destinations for big brands (Sony, HP, etc.). I’m currently a “Business Architect” – which basically is another way to say strategic pre-sales, or even better, the guy who does the demos.

I’m really excited about the company and the role I’ll be playing. Social commerce, which is basically social networking wrapped around online shopping for products and services, is a part of the web that is really on the upswing. Powered is an emerging company in this space, and offers a unique service by bundling a strong content development offering with a social technology platform.

Basically, if you are a marketer scratching your head about how to leverage this Web 2.0 business for the benefit of your brand, Powered can have you up and running with a fully loaded social site driving interest and business in three months (mileage may vary). Do I sound like a sales guy yet? I’m working on it.

Powered has roots in “Online Consumer Education,” and if you go to the website now you’ll see it still reflects that content-focused approach. But next month we’ll be relaunching with a push into Social Commerce and a brand new technology platform named Panorama. Exciting times.

Beyond the impetus to join Powered because it’s a well-positioned company in a rapidly growing area of the internet, I joined up mostly because I was really impressed with the management and leadership here. People is always the first place I look to not only know if I will be happy somewhere, but also to know whether a company is going to ultimately succeed or not. I have a good feeling about this one.

More about Social Commerce at Micropersuasion and DMNews.

Chicago to Austin, and I’m back

To the readers – I apologize for the spottiness of the blog during the past few weeks. It likely feels much longer to me than you, as I now live in a new city and have taken a new job (more on these two things later). But as of Friday the movers delivered the last of the worldly possessions, and as of today I got my new desk and laptop – so I am back online.

Thanks to you for hanging with me – in my absence the site traffic and subscriber count has stayed steady. And while I wasn’t looking the site passed 1000 views, which isn’t too shabby for three months.  Pop the champagne and stay tuned.

Austin bound

Sunrise over AustinThe “big thing” I mentioned in my last post was the fact that Megan and I have decided to move from Chicago to Austin, Texas. In the process I’m leaving a great job in one of my favorite cities, but we’re doing it to get closer to my family and pursue the kind of life that we want in the long term.

I’m jumping in first, with the plan that Megan will follow once the dust settles with me, so my big move happens the last week in September. As of October 1 I’ll be living in Texas again for the first time since I was 18. And even though it’s the state where I grew up (in Dallas), the new city and the fact that I’m older now make it seem like a brand new adventure. We’re really excited.

The move and the job hunt will suck up a lot of time (and even more spare brain cycles – those mental places where blog posts get written), so I’ll post as I can. In the meantime, bear with me.

And if you have any suggestions for places I should look in terms of a job, or great people you know who live in Austin that I should meet, by all means fire away.

[Photo Credit: Sunrise over Austin by Melissa M.]