Lessons from Industry Conference 2018

As I mentioned last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Industry Conference in Cleveland this week. From beginning to end, it was a great experience. 


On Monday, I took two half-day workshops, with Ash Maurya in the morning and with Teresa Torres in the afternoon. Both were wonderful, and I learned a lot from each that I'm still digesting. 

I've always been a huge fan of Ash (he came on my podcast 3 times, dating all the way back to 2010!). It's exciting to learn about the new concepts he's working on under the name Innovator's Gift. The most relevant to me is the Customer Forces Canvas. It provides a way to structure Jobs To Be Done interviews and simplifies JTBD considerably in my estimation. I just joined Ash's private community to explore these ideas further, so if you're interested in such things, maybe I'll see you there.

Teresa's work is new to me, but the idea of continuous discovery seems like a slam dunk for us at Moraware. After some very valuable interview practice, I found myself wanting the 2-day version of her workshop, but I'll have to make do by reading all the materials on her ProductTalk website as soon as possible.

An open question for me is if Ash's and Teresa's approaches are complementary or if I'll have to compare their guidance and make a choice. Evaluating these techniques further is one of my highest priorities post-conference.

The full conference was Tuesday and Wednesday. All the talks were very good, even the small number that weren't on the main stage. I and others tweeted about many of the talks at length – and the conference organizers hired a journalist to summarize takeaways from each talk so that we didn't have to – how cool is that?! The biggest name was BJ Novak, and his chat was surprisingly relevant and useful. My favorite talks were probably from Gibson Biddle and Scott Belsky (with his new book!), but they were all very good – not a single clunker in the bunch.

I quite liked the separation between the talks on the main stage followed by Q&A sessions in a more intimate setting (the previous two speakers were always paired, sometimes to interesting effect). Not everyone wanted to participate in the Q&A, so this separation enhanced the pacing of the conference and the ability of attendees to balance content with networking.

Paul McAvinchey leads a Q&A with Teresa Torres and BJ Novak

The venue itself worked perfectly for the way the conference was organized. It was mostly one big room with a big stage on one end, a much smaller stage on the other end (for the Q&A sessions), and the sponsor stuff and food in between. They even had a "podcaster's row" along the side, which I thought was quite clever and useful (it's on my to-do list to listen to each).

Sponsors were probably the most surprising aspect of the conference for me. There were about 10-15 with booths of various sizes. Some I had heard of (UserVoice, UserTesting, Optimizely), but most I had not. In particular, I had no idea that there were such sophisticated tools for analytics and in-app communications – tools like Pendo and Aptrinsic (and maybe Amplitude). We've long considered adding something like Intercom or Drift, but both Pendo and Aptrinsic seem like better fits for us. I was really impressed by both of them, and I suspect one will be a key part of our software soon. I wouldn't be surprised if we added Qordoba at some point, too.

If I look ahead to three years from now, there are three key changes I'd like to have made as a result of this conference:

  • Interview customers weekly – this has to happen within the next 6 months. It's super important for Moraware, but it's new and slightly scary. The most immediate improvement I need to make is to stop asking leading questions (thanks Teresa!)
  • Develop a culture of experimentation – I've been aware of A/B testing for some time, but I see now what a deep commitment it is … and how realistic it is. Thanks to the Optimizely team for a very inspiring conversation on this topic (and a great conference talk by Jon Noronha). This has to start with a personal mindset shift for me – how many decisions do I make that could be answered better with an experiment?
  • Develop a culture of feedbackNPS surveys aren't new to me, but we don't use them yet at Moraware. It was very cool to see Gibson Biddle include an NPS feedback survey seamlessly in his talk. In fact, seeking feedback is probably a big part of the reason he's such a great speaker (and wow, he is). Talking with experienced product managers like Jenny Wanger made it clear to me that seeking feedback can and should be a normal part of both a company's and an individual professional's experience. Nobody likes this, and I won't either, but I have to make that leap.

That leads me to the #1 benefit of this conference: connecting with my Product Management peers. Again, I'm new to this role, so I don't yet have an expansive grasp of the state of our craft. I have great experience leading me into this role, so I know I'll learn quickly, but I still gotta learn. I know content isn't enough for me – I need personal connections to learn and grow with. I was struck from the first person I met (hi Stacey!) to the last (hi Tiffany!) how kind and interesting and smart everyone was. I like being part of this community already, and I look forward to bringing value to it over time.

Overall, I left this conference exhausted from all the learning and humbled by the collective wisdom of the speakers, attendees, organizers, and sponsors. As a newbie, I felt welcomed and accepted from the start. It was a great experience, and I'd recommend INDUSTRY to any new or experienced project manager. I'll be back next year, so I hope to see you there!

Product Time

If we're connected on LinkedIn, then you might have already noticed that I have a new role at Moraware. I'm now the Product Manager (we debated calling the role Product Owner, but Product Manager seems to be more typical, so I'm going with that for now – when I've kicked enough ass, I might change it to Head of Product, but it feels like I should prove myself first).

The reason for the change is simply growth – we've doubled in size since I started with the company (5 to 10 people), and we're able to specialize more. We always need someone to take squishy feature requests and make them unsquishy enough that developers can build them. Our three awesome developers had been doing that work themselves until now. None of them loves it, and it just slows them down. We want our developers coding as much as possible, and that's what they want to be doing, too. Separating the product management activities from programming will make them all more productive.

I actually DO love this work. I've been a programmer myself, so I know what our developers are looking for in a spec and what level of detail they want. My secret weapon is that I know the product and our customers as well as anyone in the world, because I've been supporting it for the last four-and-a-half years. My superpower is combining abstract reasoning with the ability to talk to people, so we're all optimistic that I'm going to be good at this.

That said, I've never done this job before! I have a LOT to learn. Luckily, I love learning, and I'm super excited about doing the work.

Much of the work is specific to our company – figuring out what the development team needs from me and how each developer likes to communicate. Figuring out the right level of documentation and ceremony. Figuring out how to get customer insights from the rest of our team. Figuring out the right rhythm to talk with new and existing customers to learn more about their "customer journey" with our software and the underlying problems that led them to us (Jobs To Be Done anyone?).

While much of the details of these things are specific to our company, I assume the concepts are pretty universal. To learn more about those these, I'm reading a lot (six books in the last couple of months), and next week, I'm attending my first product management conference, Industry.

I'm sure I'll get a lot from the speakers at the conference, but I'm most excited about meeting my peers. I've reached a point where I have questions, and I suspect I'm going to have some really interesting conversations. I can't wait.

I head to Cleveland on Sunday morning. I'm sad that I'll miss Business of Software this year – it's been such a big part of my life – but Industry feels like the right place for me to be. I'll share what I learn soon. Wish me luck!

Sign up for Business of Software

The Business of Software conference is about a month away in Boston (October 1st – 3rd). If you write software that exists to make money, you should go – but tickets are almost sold out, so sign up very soon (and get your hotel room, too).

For the last 8 years, I’ve attended Business of Software – it’s been the one constant across 3 different jobs. It’s shocking how much of an impact it’s had on my life. As I wrote after my first BoS, I learned things that I didn’t even know were knowable. That was truly jarring. It changed the way I look at the world, and my life is so much better for that change in perspective.

It was at Business of Software that I learned the difference between building software and building a software business. I learned the actions that tend to correlate with success or failure for software startups (success isn’t as random as I used to think). I learned that the software itself is the easy part – and rarely determines business success.

Meeting one of my heroes

The speakers are always first class – I’ve seen Seth Godin, Jason Cohen, Kathy Sierra, Dharmesh Shah and so many others … this year will have more great speakers, including Bob Moesta, Peldi Guilizzoni, Mikey Trafton … every speaker is “keynote quality.” 

The attendees are as important as the speakers, if not more so. At every break and every meal, you’ll meet someone interesting (and oh, by the way, the food is always really good). Everyone there has something to learn and something to teach. I met Harry and Ted, the founders of Moraware, at Business of Software – I literally wouldn’t have my awesome job if I hadn’t attended (and oh, by the way, we’re hiring!).

short Patrick and tall Patrick

The conference is one track, so you experience it as a collective. It’s not exactly Burning Man, but it develops a genuine sense of community – each year is a unique event with its own character. It’s organized by my friend Mark Littlewood – putting on interesting tech events is his business and his passion (and if you’re lucky enough to attend one of his events, you’ll consider him a friend as well).

Sadly, I have a conflict and won’t be a part of Business of Software this year. Harry and Ted will be there again, as will about 250 other smart software business people. If you write software that makes money, you should be one of them. If you’re unsure if it’s a fit for you, feel free to email me to discuss.


Another Great Racing Season

As you might know, Gus races go-karts in the summer at Ravenna Motor Park, and I’m his crew chief.

He’s quite a talented driver – and I’m an enthusiastic student of things that make the kart go faster.

This year, we had one primary competitor, Josh and his dad, Fred. Going in, we knew we wouldn’t be able to compete for the championship, because we had to miss too many Saturdays this year – instead, each week would be fierce competition and an opportunity to learn.

Early in the season, we usually had more speed. When Gus got ahead, he stayed ahead. As crew chief, I got a bit complacent – after all, why make the kart faster until they catch up?

Well, they caught up! Kudos to Fred – he kept improving Josh’s kart, and with about four racing weeks left in the season, it was clear that they were quite a bit faster. Now I was scrambling to find more speed.

The easiest way to find more speed is to spend money – you can buy new tires (probably the most reliable way to gain some tenths), a new clutch, even a new engine … if we were fighting for the championship, I probably would have dropped the $220 for new tires – but Fred’s not an idiot, so he would have just matched it! Also, I have a very difficult time mounting new tires – last time I did it, Fred actually did most of the hard work (on my tires), so that would have seemed kind of lame. We both decided to ride out the season on older tires.

I did replace his aging clutch, because I know how to do that one myself and it was only $50. That gained us a tenth or two Also, in the 2nd-to-last week, we finally blew a head gasket – and Fred helped me replace it. We were clearly losing some horsepower there.

In case you hadn’t noticed, competitors help each other a LOT at our track. Our goal is to make the racing as good as possible, and it’s more fun if each kart and each driver is set up to go as fast as possible. That’s when the most learning happens!

By the last week, we were really, really close to each other. I think Josh still had maybe a tenth of a second on us (per lap), but the boys were set up for really good racing. It turned out to be the best racing of the year.

We didn’t win. In fact, Josh swept the two heats and the feature on Saturday. I couldn’t have been more proud of both boys. I was proud of Gus for his effort, learning, and attitude – he never complained once about the kart or his competitor. In fact, Gus heartily congratulated Josh on each of his wins and let him revel in the success he earned. Likewise, Josh showed his chops on the track and was a gracious winner.

Heat 1

In the first heat, Gus started on the outside and made a beautiful pass off the start. He couldn’t shake Josh, though – which was a new thing for him.

In racing, you have to learn how to win with a much faster kart, a slightly faster kart – and ideally with a slightly slower kart. Gus tried to hold off Josh, but he just couldn’t do it. Josh was patient and eventually put Gus in a disadvantageous position to take the lead. It was a great learning experience.

Heat 2

In the second heat, Gus started on the pole and had a good start. I thought for a while that he was going to make a tiny gap, but Josh caught up, and Gus felt the pressure behind him. Again, Josh was patient and waited for the best moment to pass, taking him at the point where he had the biggest advantage. In my opinion, it was the best race I’ve seen from Josh – it’s great to see his growth as well as Gus’s.


In the feature, Gus started on the outside, but Josh had a solid start for the lead. Gus stayed with him admirably for about half the race, but eventually, his kart dropped off compared to Josh’s, and Josh stayed ahead for the win.

We didn’t get any wins, but it was a great week of racing. Gus and Josh raced each other hard and clean and got to experience 3 excellent passes. That’s a big deal. Both boys are better than they were at the beginning of the season, and I can’t wait for next year.

And there are big changes coming next year! After the race day was over, I finally took my first laps in my new kart! I’m not going to let Gus have all the fun – I’m going to be racing next year myself. 🙂

If all goes well, we’re going to create a new class next year with a slightly better motor (Briggs 206) and a slightly higher weight (in the ballpark of 320 or 330 – we were 285 this year). We’re going to combine the “lighter” adults and more experienced kids into that class. Hopefully, we’ll have 6 or 8 racers mixing it up together in that class, which will bring a different kind of learning for the kids (and will be more fun for us adults, too).

If you live in West Michigan, you should come out to the track and check it out next year. It’s amazingly fun and a super healthy way to push yourself. Talk to me if you’re at all interested. The people at Ravenna Motor Park mean so much to me – I want more people to experience what we’ve experienced. It’s an absolute blast!

Business of Software 2017

In three weeks (September 18-20), I’ll be attending Business of Software in Boston for the 8th year in a row (here are impressions from my first). If your company makes and sells software, you should probably go, too. Here’s why:

  • You’ll be inspired by amazing talks from people like Seth Godin, Jason Cohen, and Rita Gunther McGrath. The talks are really, really good – and highly relevant to software businesses.
  • You’ll be energized by the other attendees. It’s a small conference (maybe 300 people), and everyone who attends is worth talking to. My current position is a direct result of meeting Harry and Ted (the founders of Moraware) at Business of Software years ago.
  • You’ll be pulled away from your everyday routine and get a new perspective. How often do you step away from the day-to-day aspects of your business while still focusing on it? If you attend this conference, that’s what you’ll do. It’s so valuable to get a different perspective.
  • You’ll have fun. This conference is very focused on business … and because everyone who attends loves this stuff, it feels more like fun than work. It’s also at a great hotel, and the food is the best you’ll have at a conference.

Obviously, I must be a pretty big fan of this conference if I’m willing to go 8 years in a row. It’s hard to explain, but it’s become a very important part of my life. If you have any inclination to go, you should. If you have more questions, feel free to email me.

Yours truly giving a Lightning Talk at my first Business of Software – thanks for the photo, Betsy Weber!

See you in Boston!


A friend of mine told me about his bad allergies the other day, and it reminded me of how lucky I am that mine have been completely under control for the last few years. Here’s how my allergies got better.

Most importantly, I saw an allergist, and I can’t recommend that highly enough. When I was about 8, I got diagnosed with allergies by my regular doctor. He prescribed some antihistamines and sent me on my way. That’s not good enough. My allergies got worse and worse into my twenties, and finally I couldn’t take it anymore, so I went to an allergist – I wish I had done it much sooner.

Before he tested me or prescribed anything, he simply explained how allergies work in simplified language. He said I have a “tipping point” – let’s give it an arbitrary number of 10. When the things that bother me stay below 10, I might notice them some, but I’m basically OK. When they go over 10, my tipping point, I’m miserable.

So the key to managing allergies is keeping the bad stuff below my tipping point, and we did that in several different ways.

First, we tested what I’m allergic to – he suspected I’d be allergic to some foods, not just pollen. “I’ve got bad news for you, too – it ain’t gonna be broccoli. People often have an addictive-type reaction to foods they’re allergic to, so they’re probably going to be some of your favorite foods.”

Sure enough, in addition to all the trees and grasses I was allergic to, I was a little allergic to milk and quite allergic to eggs. Crap. He said if I stopped eating those things, it would make it that much harder for pollen to get me to my tipping point. So I stopped eating anything with eggs (including cakes, cookies, etc.) or milk (including cheese … pizza’s better with cheese, but it’s surprisingly good without it, too). My wife’s wonderful cooking made this tolerable.

At the same time, he recommended a regimen of drugs – most of these were prescription at the time, but now, they’re all available over the counter (unfortunately, this made them much more expensive for me, personally, since the prescription drugs were covered by my insurance). As soon as the first hint of allergies came each year, I started using Flonase every day and taking Allegra – there are competitors and variations on these things, but these are what he recommended for me. These days, I only buy generic knockoffs.

Flonase is steroids for your nose – it doesn’t make the problems go away, but it makes your nose and sinuses better at handling them (steroids = stronger). It can also useful if you have an earache. The dosing is really annoying – you can’t tell how much you have left … but it’s one of those things that has a cumulative effect over several days, so you might as well just calculate the number of days a bottle is good for and take it until it’s gone (120 squirts = 30 days).

I’m pretty sensitive to drugs, so I don’t like taking the ‘D’ version of Allegra. Instead, I go to the pharmacy counter, get plain ‘ole pseudo-ephedrine and take the minimal amount (the ‘D’ versions of antihistamines typically have 4 times that amount!) – and only when I’m pretty plugged up. I only take it in the morning, or else I can’t sleep at night.

Another super useful tool is Zatidor. It’s an antihistamine drop that you put directly in your eyes. Nothing brings more immediate relief to allergy eyes. It’s amazing stuff.

And don’t forget Benadryl. Even though it’s cheap and ubiquitous, it’s actually really powerful. The only problem with it is that it makes you sleepy (in fact, the same drug is sold as a sleep aid!). Driving with Benadryl is about as dangerous as driving after a couple of beers – don’t do it.

When things get really bad, I take some Afrin before going to bed. That stuff is super powerful – it’s like drilling new holes in your head – but you need to be religious about using it for no more than 3 days in one stretch; otherwise, you’ll have a nasty rebound. I haven’t used it for allergies in years, but I have used it for a couple of bad head colds.

The drugs helped to keep things under the tipping point – the next step was to move the tipping point itself. We did that with allergy shots.

Allergy shots aren’t drugs – instead they’re some sort of serum made from the stuff you’re allergic to. I’m oversimplifying here, but by steadily giving your body more and more of what it’s allergic to – in tightly controlled amounts over time – your body gets used to it. That tolerance gradually raises your tipping point.

I took shots for about 8 years. Eventually I noticed that my seasonal allergies weren’t bothering me much at all. A couple years later, I stopped taking the shots, and I still had no problems. Then I started eating milk and eggs again (yay!) … still no problems (except for gaining 20 pounds – dammit!). My tipping point has effectively been raised.

Now my allergies don’t bother me. At the first signs of spring, I start taking Allegra and Flonase every day for a couple of months, and it keeps me well under my tipping point. It’s great!

The moral of the story is that if you have bad allergies, please go see an allergist (at least if you can afford it). Doing so made a shockingly significant improvement in my life.

Also, recognize that our bodies grow in and out of allergies. Things change. Something might bother you for 20 years and stop bother you after that – or vice versa. Things are great for me now, but it could change. This isn’t like a surgery (although I know people who have had a surgery that literally drilled holes through their sinuses – that’s yet another option).

Finally, there’s still one situation that I have to watch out for: dust. Technically, I’m not allergic to dust at all, but after years of my nose being ravaged by allergies, my nose itself just doesn’t work very well. So if I breathe in some dust, I have a mechanical reaction to it, because my body can’t get rid of it. In other words, I sneeze non-stop for an hour or so. Super unpleasant. If I’m doing something like cleaning out my garage, I have to wear a face mask, or I’m going to be miserable.

Giving up politics

I love politics. It’s arcane and maddening and dramatic and … human. I love reading about politics; I love listening to political podcasts; I love watching political shows on TV.

But for now, I’m giving it up. I still like all those things (political podcasts in particular – we’re in a golden age), but it’s so interesting to me that I find politics displaces other worthy interests.

Here’s what triggered this change … last week, I went to a Visual Studio launch event – it was the first time I’d been to a Microsoft event since I left the company. I missed seeing all my local programming friends! They seemed to miss me! Why had I not been around?

No particular reason … I don’t need to go to local tech events as part of my job, so I guess I wasn’t really paying attention. I’d like to pay attention to my local technical community again, but I don’t have any extra time. Something had to give. So I’m giving up politics.

Maybe I’ll run for office someday. If I do, I suppose I’ll have to pay attention again. For now, I’ll just get the condensed version from Twitter (and Rocky Mountain Mike parodies). I think that’s enough, but if something really important happens, please let me know.

NOTE: If you happen in the market for great political podcasts, here’s what I recommend:

Music my kid shared with me

An unexpected joy … as my 13-year-old son, Gus, has developed his own musical tastes, he’s turned me onto some great music. Here are three examples.

Note: some of this music uses strong language. If swearing offends you, I’d skip this post.

Anderson .Paak

This guy’s up for a Grammy this year for best new artist. His album Malibu is catchy hip hop that throws in some surprising funk elements. Here’s Come Down, the best song from that album (you might have heard it on a Kevin Durant sneaker commercial):

Childish Gambino

If you saw the movie The Martian, you saw this guy, whose birthname is Donald Glover. He’s also the star, writer, and executive producer of Atlanta. And he’s playing Lando Calrissian in next year’s Star Wars movie, so you’ll certainly know about him then if you don’t now.

He’s got some newer stuff, but if you haven’t listened to anything of his yet, start with his Grammy-nominated album Because the Internet. Here’s Sweatpants, my favorite song from that album, largely because of its English-teacher-friendly use of onomatopoeia:

Individual Songs

I like listening to albums, but that’s not the way most young people listen to music these days. Gus finds individual songs he likes from his friends or from video games, and then he bounces from song to song on various albums. I know this, because we often let him play his music in the car.

About three years ago, the songs he listened to started being less about parodies and farts and started being … good. The song below, Aerosol Can, was the first song that Gus introduced me to that I added to my own playlist because I liked it so much. There have been many more I’ve added since then (although I still usually end up listening to whole albums after hearing a song I like – old habits die hard).

By 2014, Pharrell (the rapper on Aerosol Can) was either producing or performing on about half of the songs heard on the radio. He’s everywhere. The lyrics are pretty dense – at this site, you can click on each line and find what motivated them.

Thanks for introducing me to new stuff, Gus … keep it coming 🙂

Dealing with TRUMP

I’m a centrist Democrat, so I really liked Hillary, and I wanted her to be president. She lost, so it’s time to deal with the reality of a Trump presidency.

I don’t want to spend a ton of time analyzing why Clinton lost, but it’s important to consider at a high level, because it provides context for what comes next.

First of all, she wasn’t cheated (not even by Comey). She lost fair and square. It was very close (especially considering that she won the popular vote by nearly 2 million votes), but ultimately, the Clinton campaign made some critical mistakes:

  • The average American didn’t know what Clinton stood for, other than not Trump. I think she would have been better served using language like this: “I trust the American people to determine which one of us is more fit to lead this country, so I want to talk about …” and then talk about something – anything – positive. Probably jobs. Always jobs.
  • The Clinton campaign didn’t campaign enough (or effectively) in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Easy to see in hindsight, but some pretty smart people (Michael Moore, Nate Silver, …) were actually pretty loud about it in the last three months of the campaign.

Ah well. Water under the bridge. It’s time to move on.

Wait – here’s one thing that doesn’t matter: If Trump had won the popular vote and lost the electoral vote, he probably would have thrown a never-ending tantrum, and we’d be in a year-2000-election-like clusterfunk right now. Does. Not. Matter.

What matters to me is the way our country responds to this moment. On election night, when I came to the sinking conclusion that Trump would be our next president, I kept imagining future American History books … we clearly just started a new chapter with a single-word heading: TRUMP. In fact, we’ve only just experienced the introduction to that chapter. We have no idea yet what the chapter itself is going to say.

So what does this moment say about our country?  How should we respond? Here’s some more context, this time from Slate Star Codex on the eve of the election:

I suggest people precommit to their views on politics and society now. We live in a country and a world where Hillary can be at about 47% and Trump at about 45%. This is pretty much all you need to know. It suggests that a lot of people are willing to support a nationalist candidate, and a lot of other people really hate that candidate. It suggests that political fundamentals are totally compatible with a situation where either Trump or Hillary could win based on noise in the electoral process.

This was really good advice, but I didn’t see this post before the election, and I’m not sure that I would have listened. One bright spot of this stinging loss (for me personally) is that it forced me to ask these kinds of questions and come to the realization Slate Star Codex makes above: this is who we are and this is the country we live in.

Our country is obviously complex enough that it’s impossible to boil down our cultural and political differences to Just One Thing … but this October column from David Wong at Cracked does a surprisingly good job. In short: our underlying differences have a lot to do with Country vs City.

The results of the election support this. The biggest difference between the performance of Obama and Clinton is that Obama didn’t do as poorly in rural counties. He still lost most of them – just not as resoundingly as Clinton did (again, I think this was first and foremost a failing of the Clinton campaign, not an indication of demographic realignment or nefarious forces).

A rural/urban divide rings true to me personally as well – Clinton’s message just didn’t resonate with the working class people I know, especially those who live outside cities – or leave the city as often as possible to hunt, fish, race, etc. I even know several life-long union Democrats who didn’t vote for Clinton, which seemed unthinkable four years ago.

I don’t think Trump’s policies will actually help the working class, but at least Trump made them feel heard. Clinton did not. In fact, her deplorables comment had the opposite effect – I’m sure many working class people reasonably wondered, “Is that how she thinks of me?” Not a winning strategy.

The good news for Democrats – I’m trying to stay positive here – is that this was more of a campaign mistake than a policy mistake (or a demographic inevitability). Better jobs policies can and will win back these voters in future elections.

It’s intellectually lazy to blame this election on racist or misogynist voters. There will always be some degree of racism and sexism in our country, but it’s been getting better for decades, and it will continue to get better (just not in a straight line). We’re still the same country who elected and re-elected a black man with Hussein as a middle name. We nominated a woman who almost won – and there was shockingly little talk on either side about her being “weak” or any other stupid female stereotypes. In the end, people voted – as they always do – for the candidate who they thought would make their own lives better. A large group of voters felt listened to and understood by Trump. Those same voters felt vilified by Clinton.

Those people didn’t vote for Trump because he was the better candidate for white nationalists – they voted for Trump because he was the better candidate for the working class, for them. The fact that Trump happened to be the better candidate for racists was irrelevant – numbers-wise, the white nationalist vote itself was and is insignificant (Slate Star Codex makes this argument quite convincingly – Democrats, PLEASE read this).

The furor around white nationalists turned out to be a brilliant diversion (whether that diversion was intentional or not is a separate debate). Overt racism is not OK for most Americans. If white nationalists make up less than 5% of our population, that means 95% of our country has no inclination to put on bed sheets and burn crosses. But many good people still live in a pretty segregated world. The way you talk about and think about people of color is different if you don’t actually know or interact with many people of color.

My son goes to a school where only half the kids share the color of his skin. We live in a pretty white neighborhood, but thanks to Gus’s schooling, people of color aren’t other to him. His closest friends are truly diverse.

If you attend schools and churches that are mostly white, you’re obviously not going to know as many people of color – they will be more other to you. The letters sent home from the principal and the sermons you hear on Sunday will be less likely to use strenuously inclusive language like people of color, because the community is less diverse. They simply have less experience with people who don’t look like them.

Living in a mostly white community doesn’t mean you’re a racist. It probably means that you don’t use the same language to talk about race as someone who lives in a more diverse community. It probably means that race isn’t the most important issue on your mind most of the time. If your economic prospects are crap, you’d probably even resent programs that appear to help other communities more than your own (and it certainly wouldn’t take much effort to stoke those resentments).

If you know in your heart you’re not a bad person – and you believe that being racist makes you a bad person (a belief that’s a good sign if you think about it) – then I bet it would really make you mad to call you a racist. That’s pretty much what Clinton did with her “deplorables” comment. That’s pretty much what her most vocal followers did on Facebook and Twitter over and over as well. This did not help. In fact, many of you are still doing it – PLEASE STOP. Besides being rude, it’s a horrible political mistake. It’s ineffective. Again, in retrospect, this was a brilliant diversion – Trump got us off our game. We allowed ourselves to be snookered by a master at controlling the conversation. (Yes, Trump is good at some things – uniquely awesome in fact – go read or watch Ender’s Game if you want to learn how to defeat someone who’s really good.)


Obviously, racism sucks. As I’ve mentioned before, fighting the systemic racism of voter suppression is the reason I became a Democrat. We should oppose any policy that fosters racism. We should call out hatred and racism and injustice wherever we see it. But we shouldn’t use racist as a casual epithet for those who disagree with us.

In fact, we should rarely be judging what people are – instead we should be focused on what people do. Do I think Governor Kasich is a racist? No, I don’t … but he supported policies that made it harder for black people to vote, and I’m going to oppose those policies. He did so knowingly and as a cold political calculation, because he thought it would help more Republicans get elected; therefore, I’m going to oppose him politically, and I’m going to oppose the Republican party politically. That means I’m on the other team – it doesn’t mean I think he’s evil. Just as I can acknowledge “nice play” when the other team scores a touchdown in a football game, I can acknowledge “nice policy” when Republicans do something that makes our country better (invest in infrastructure? Yes, please!).

The beauty of representative democracy is that we’re not just spectators – we’re part of the game. We determine which team wins by voting. Elections matter – I would have greatly preferred Clinton’s cabinet picks and judicial appointments as well as her policies – but even after an election, we influence the game by supporting or opposing individual policies, regardless of who’s in power. 

Politicians want to be reelected, so they’re going to support policies that their constituents support. For example, even though many Republican politicians were against gay marriage, a strong majority of Americans support it, so I doubt that there will be the political will to roll it back (though I still feel some anxiety about the issue – it must be really scary if you’re gay).

The teams themselves are fluid. You can be a Republican one year and a Democrat the next. Many people are gung ho about their particular political team, but most just want what’s best for their own families. These people, the undecideds, can be persuaded, but most are going to vote with their gut for the team that “gets it” more and will therefore probably do more for their own lives. That’s what rural, working class, white Americans did in this election. Trump reached them and Clinton ignored them (except when she insulted them). Huge mistake.

As Democrats, what should we do now?

If you want to persuade rural, working class, white Americans in the next election, you know what you should do? Go hang out with rural, working class, white Americans now! Find out what they like and share those experiences. Invite them to share experiences with you. Share your fears and failures, too. Be friends. I happen to love both the city and the country, both city dwellers and country folk. Yes, there’s a divide, but crossing that divide isn’t a punishment. I’ve been to a dirt track race, a symphony concert, and a break-dance battle on the same weekend. The variety in our country is freaking awesome.

Recognize that I’m a centrist and an incrementalist – so most progressives will probably find my beliefs and my tone lacking. That’s OK – we need to have great conversations within our party, too!

This primary season could have been awesome – Sanders was a rare breath of fresh air – but the DNC sordidness ruined the conversation and left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth (which didn’t help with the general election, either). Let’s spend a lot of energy cleaning up our own house and have meaningful conversations about the future of the Democratic party.

Then we let the general election be too much about personality and not enough about policies. Let’s not keep repeating that mistake! Focus on specific policies that are meaningful to you at every level of government. If it makes the world better, support it. If it doesn’t, oppose it. Stop focusing on personalities! Obviously, Trump is going to appoint people we don’t like. Get over it – oppose policies, not personalities.

We need some range in our opposition. Some things are worth protesting – the Dakota pipeline certainly clears that bar. The electoral college? Not so much – it might feel good, but it’s not going to change anything. We’d be better served saving our energy for something else.

Don’t be vengeful or petty. Yes, I absolutely hate that Mitch McConnell’s overt obstructionism has been rewarded. I hate it! That doesn’t mean we should adopt the same approach. It was wrong for the Republicans to do it, and we should work hard to punish that behavior at the ballot box – but when we lose, we shouldn’t adopt the same deplorable behavior.

Keep a sense of humor. Saturday Night Live seems funny and relevant again. That’s something. Humor eases the pain a bit, so relish the good stuff – and when you see good humor that criticizes Democrats, appreciate that, too. This was posted on Twitter during the 2nd debate. I love that funny people always have an eye open for such random observations.


LEARN. Read (longer form, too, not just tweets). Be wary of what we come across on social media. Listen to podcasts. Talk more with people we agree with and those we don’t. Be friends with more people in real life, not just on social media.

LISTEN. Open our hearts and minds. Expand our understanding to include why people disagree with us. Work to understand the opposition’s point of view (again, see Ender’s Game).

Above all, LOVE. This doesn’t have to be some hippy drippy kumbaya kind of love – love with our actions. Love by helping our neighbors, even those we disagree with. Love by protesting peacefully. Love by speaking up without being smug. Love by standing with a powerless stranger who feels threatened. Love by imagining the positive motivations of those who oppose us. Love by raising our kids to be even more aware and loving than we are.

Picking Sides


For years, I’ve called myself an Independent. I voted for Democrats about 75% of the time, but I tried to evaluate each candidate on the ballot and sometimes crossed over to pick a Republican or (more commonly) a Libertarian. I even voted for Ross Perot – twice.

I am an Independent no longer. There comes a time when you have to pick sides, and this is that time for me. I haven’t yet figured out what it means to “register as a Democrat” in Michigan, but I have a couple of yard signs, and I’ve changed my profile in Facebook (isn’t that what makes anything official these days?) … my son even put Hillary stickers all over his go-kart. It’s as official as I currently know how to make it: I’m a Democrat.

There’s one ongoing issue that started me down the path to picking sides: voter rights. For several years, the Republican party has actively been trying to make it harder to vote for poor people and people of color. I can’t stand on the sidelines while that is happening. It’s just wrong.

Suppressing voters isn’t an accident; it’s a pervasive Republican strategy. During the primaries, the least offensive Republican was John Kasich – he had the distinct advantage of appearing sane – but he presided over some of the most explicit efforts to prevent minorities from voting. I can never support him or his party.

I trust voters, which is precisely why I can’t tolerate voter suppression efforts. In the past, I’ve been disappointed when some Republicans have won, but I trusted the results (with the possible exception of 2000, but that was a wacky year). I even made a point of voting in the Republican primary when Justin Amash first ran for his current seat (my congressman), because I knew the Republican would ultimately win, and he’s my favorite Republican.

This year is obviously different. Trump is not a reasonable candidate. He would be terrible for our country (and the world), and I can’t stand by and let him be elected without doing everything I can to prevent it. In fact, I can never support a party that would nominate him.

In addition, I actually like Hillary Clinton. I always have. She’s not perfect, for sure, but she’s wonky and hardworking. I think she’ll be a great president. I’m going to do everything I can to see that she gets elected.

So I’m picking sides. Hell yes, I’m a Democrat, and I proudly support Hillary Clinton for President.