Jimmy’s Gems

January 12, 2009 by

A Pirate Looks At FiftyI was given Jimmy Buffet’s “A Pirate Looks at Fifty” book and had a chance to read it, and many others, over the holidays.  Most would know Jimmy Buffet the song writer/performer but this was more about the man and his journey in life up to his fiftieth birthday (in 1997).  He is a very accomplished sailor and pilot and a great example of living a snowflake life IMHO.  A good read as well.

It was quite a trip for me reading this book actually.  My Sirius/XM satellite radio still works down here in Costa Rica and with the merger of XM and Sirius satellite radio I was able to tune in Jimmy Buffet’s music channel while reading his book. 

And so there I am, blissfully reading it in the early morning last week, anchored in Bahia Ballena Costa Rica with my daughter Lia, fiancé Brian, and our respective dogs, Piglet and Ruby all sleeping below with Jimmy’s music and words channeling their way to my awakening brain.  I flip the page and guess I’m reading?  Jimmy’s explanation of landing his plane (quite the pilot, surfer and fly fisher is he) on the airstrip in Tambor which is 1km from where I’m floating in Ballena.  And directly ahead of me as I look up from the book, in comes a plane to land! I don’t think Jimmy was on it but you never know!   Serendipity and synchronicity still amaze me after all these years of using them daily to lead my life.

Anyway, here are a couple of the eclectic mix of quotes and sources that stood out to me, and apparently Jimmy too, as he used them in the book:

 “Only if we understand …. can we conceive of the seemingly paradoxical phenomenon that people who are afraid of living are also especially frightened of death” 

                                               Medard Boss from “The Meaning and Content of Sexual Perversions”

Really resonates with me.  For me, I don’t fear death, I fear not living while alive.

And then this one from Lord Richard Buckley:

“Humor is the absence of terror, and terror is the absence of humor.”

And finally, this one from George Herbert, English clergyman & metaphysical poet (1593 – 1633)

“Living well is the best revenge”

Not big on revenge but I AM big on living well and doing my best to do just that every day.  Hope you are too!? 

Happy 2009 everyone.

Snowflaking the Sounds of Silence

January 9, 2009 by

silence One of the things I have learned this year is how much I value silence.  Actually that’s not quite true, what I’ve learned the value of is the ability to control the sound that surrounds me.  I often wants lots of it in the form of things like music, one of my great loves and which I usually choose to be surrounded by.  But I also like to choose to be surrounded by natural sounds such as the a following sea rolling down the hull of my sailboat, waking up as I recently did near the volcano of Mt. Arunel to the sounds of all the birds in the rain forest outside my window.  And sometimes I love the sound of the throbbing turbocharged six cylinder Cummings diesel engine as it powers Learnativity and I out of troubled seas. 

What I don’t like and have less and less tolerance for is sound sound pollution and the lack of my ability to control the sounds around me.  How about all those people who still seem to think you get a better cell phone signal by shouting into their mobile phones and seem to think we all want to know the deepest details of their latest business transaction or personal activities?  And while I love the general cacophony of the open street markets where I buy most of my food here in Central America, the food stalls are now interspersed between stalls of the ubiquitous pirated music and movie CD sellers who’s sales and marketing strategy seems to be to have a bigger speaker and amplifier system than their neighboring competitor and they are only outdone by the cars and vans driving around the streets with an even louder set of hailer speakers mounted on their rooftops blaring out advertisements and political messages. Up to a point it is ambiance and part of the culture and I love it.  And maybe it is just me but I find that I just can’t take too much of this for too long.

Some solve this problem by pushing their MP3 player or iPod ear buds deeper into their ears to keep out the external sounds and supply their own.  But for me that is too isolating when I’m walking around and is only something I enjoy when I’m on a plane or other stationary situation.

What I’m looking forward to in the future is the promise of some of the research being done various ways that we can gain the ability to control the sound around us.  One that I’ve been following for some time is the ability to create invisible and virtual vertical columns that can surround one or more people and within this column the only sound that exists is that which is allowed to pass through or is supplied.  Imagine for instance if this was provided in restaurants around each table, so you could have a different set of music that was just right for you and your dinner companion(s) and the only conversations you heard, or were heard by others was that at your table.  Or a similar setup in conferences that would enable very effective impromptu “un conference” sessions to happen within a large group space.  Start thinking about this and I think you’ll soon start coming up with more and more of your own scenarios where this would be an amazing help and improvement.

Once again the characteristics of the Snowflake Effect are exerting themselves here where we can have all those conditions and environments that are just right.  In this case, just the right sounds, or lack thereof, at just the right time for just the right people at just the right volume and fidelity.

Failing Forward Faster!

January 8, 2009 by

Erik and I have been working on trying to get more study and benefit from failure and we have both been struck by how hard this has been to do.  Not failing, I’m very good that, but rather to foster a culture wherein there is an implicit understanding that failure is the essence of learning and forward progress. 

Over the holidays I was reminded in some Twitter traffic about this quote, most often attributed to Thomas J. Watson Sr. of IBM (thanks JohnH):

“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”

It’s simple, if you’re not failing regularly you aren’t pushing yourself, not learning, not advancing.  . It’s not that failure is the goal, just that failure is a function of trying new things and should be expected and learned from.  Yet it seems that for most people and most organizations, failure is something to be ashamed of, deny, hide from and cover up. 

One of the best things I think we could all do, individually and collectively is to get into a habit of doing “post mortem” reviews at the end of every project and not regard any project as complete until such review is done.  Imagine the benefits that would be accrued from a regular understanding why something didn’t work, how to do things better next time, how to avoid repeating mistakes, etc.  Imagine if you could start data mining these post reviews for the gold nuggets of wisdom within, patterns to avoid or to follow for greater success.

Several years ago, we had an internal motto at Autodesk of “Fail Forward Faster” that we used to foster this kind of culture.  As the start of a new calendar year often prompts us to reflect upon the year that just ended and plan for the year to come, perhaps this is an opportune time to do more of this synopsis of what we’ve learned from our “failures” over the past year and use these to help plan to make 2009 the best year yet. 

So here is to all of us Failing Forward Faster and making the amount of learning and progress in 2009 an all time high!

Bankruptcy of Purse of Bankruptcy of Life?

January 7, 2009 by


SterlingHayden-Wanderer During some of my reading over the holiday I ran across the following quote of actor, author and fellow sailor, Sterling Hayden from his autobiography Wanderer.  It really resonated and stuck with me.  Partly because I am a “wanderer of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in” myself, and partly because it matched many of my sentiments as I reflected upon 2008.  I was struck by how especially relevant these observations are right now so I wanted to share them with you.


To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen, who play with their boats at sea-"cruising," it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

"I’ve always wanted to sail the South Seas, but I can’t afford it." What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the routine of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense. And we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?

                                              Sterling Hayden  1916-1986

One of the many benefits of being a snowflake is that if you truly practice being a unique individual I think you will get closer and closer to finding out what you really need and much more clearly seeing the “idiocy of the charade” that comes from conforming, fitting in, being “average” and like the rest. All very unsnowflake like!

So as we wander into 2009 it is my fondest hope that we all work harder and succeed at bringing out the unique snowflake in all of us and by so doing, make the world a much richer world for all of us to live in.

Carlos is a Great Snowflake

December 12, 2008 by

Been meaning to post this since I first heard it a few months ago on an XM (satellite radio) “Artist Confidential” interview with Carlos Santana.  I’ve long been an admirer of the man, not just the musician, and two things he said stood out to me in the interview:

“Rather than going for the light at the end of the tunnel, BE the light in the tunnel”

and when asked about being a famous personality he responded:

“Its more fun to be a person than a personality”

Now THAT is my kind of snowflake!

Snowflakes as you’ve never seen them before

December 11, 2008 by

The piece in the New Scientist is not really about the Snowflake Effect, but the pictures of the snowflakes are too nice not to mention them here…

Journeys are Tough to Copy

December 10, 2008 by

One more suggestion on the topic of being copied and how to avoid it by being unique, like a snowflake.  Think of yourself, your work, your life as a journey rather than a destination.  A bit cliché perhaps but quite relevant here in that it is pretty difficult to copy something that is constantly changing and moving.

In the case of individuals such as ourselves, or for organizations, businesses, etc. what I think this means is that you are constantly finding new ways of pursuing you passion, your fundamental value proposition.  We certainly do this by developing solutions to problems we are working on, which are the “destinations” in this case.  These are good things, accomplishments and valuable.  However they will almost certainly want to have a finite time limit to them simply because the conditions and context that make these solutions “just right” will be changing and therefore so too do the solutions need to change. 

Furthermore it is these solutions or destinations which are the easiest to copy and so if they are constantly changing or going away, the concern for copying goes away as well.  Similarly, while these solutions are the elements of value at any given time, the true value proposition we have to offer is the steady supply of such solutions, which is the “journey” in this case.

Because it is largely people we are discussing being “copied” here, the only things others could really copy are the specific outputs  or “content” from you; captured versions of your writings, illustrations, audio, video, photos, etc.  Whereas your value is that you are constantly coming up with more of this unique output, that is increasingly relevant, increasingly new, different and valuable.  Hence it is YOU and the journey you are on which is the real value to others and this is impossible to copy.

I’ve always been a “journey person” so perhaps I’m overly biased or only see things this way?  What are your experiences?

Custom Chocolate Anyone?

December 9, 2008 by

Not quite at the level of individually personalized but on the road to getting there, read more in the BoingBoing article “TCHO chocolate is just outta beta!” about this company what has been using customer feedback to design and create new flavors of their chocolate.

They’ve written previously about this interesting company as well if you’d like more:

BBtv – TCHO, part 1: chocolate origins. – Boing Boing

Food is a GREAT area for the Snowflake Effect and getting things “just right” for each of us.  What other examples are YOU seeing and tasting?

Snowflaked Jeans

December 7, 2008 by

The name couldn’t be clearer: makeyourownjeans.com

Get custom made, pre-washed Jeans made exclusively for you and delivered to your door-step!
We make them to fit your needs, your measurements, your special requirements.

Maybe I should order one with a snowflake logo on the pockets…

Ideo to go

December 6, 2008 by

Ideo to goThe folks at Ideo have a nice Snowflake feature on their side: they call it Ideo to go. You tell them a few things about yourself and they generate a document snowflaked for you.

Me? I am:

  • a jack-of-all-trades
  • based in Europe
  • interested in education.

In my case, the result was a bit less convincing: I am not sure how the case study on the bank of America relates to me specifically.

However, I think the idea is one we could all run with: what would you need to know about your reader/student/client/customer/<insert whatever applies> to snowflake her experience and how would you go about doing that?

Food for thought…