Category Archives: Other

What makes a president

The way we elect a president in the U.S. requires an exceptional combination of disparate qualities. It’s a bit like expecting someone to play piano while getting punched in the face.

Some candidates – and presidents – are fine “pianists” but have way too soft a face. Some are dubious on the keys but sure know how to take a punch. The ideal candidates and the memorable presidents are the ones that somehow manage to balance both qualities.

A lot of times, people on one side rally behind a candidate or a president for being a great musician – for embodying their ideal personal qualities and policy positions – but they decry the other side for punching him in the face. “If only they wouldn’t pick on our guy, he’d be perfect! Leave him alone and let him do his thing!”

It’s not going to happen. Our political system is a full-contact piano recital. Although it seems brutal and ridiculous and impossible for anyone to succeed in this system, the leaders we elect are the ones that we judge (rightly or wrongly) to best be able to balance an absurd range of disparate policy and political concerns.

SSP 130–Timo Rein of Pipedrive

Yesterday, Bob and I released episode 130 of the Startup Success Podcast, an interview with Timo Rein, cofounder of Pipedrive.

Timo has plenty of useful advice for startup founders, but I was most impressed by the basic premise behind his company. Every company that has a hands-on sales process – and that includes just about every company that sells software to businesses – has a sales pipeline. Pipedrive simplifies the management of that pipeline and helps you drive toward sales.

More generally, Pipedrive also shows how you enter a crowded space – you carve out a specific niche. From a certain perspective, Pipedrive is a CRM tool, but they don’t call themselves a CRM tool. CRM is REALLY crowded, so calling yourself a CRM makes it hard to stand out. Instead, Pipedrive essentially created a new category called “pipeline management.” Brilliant.

If creating a new category is a new concept to you, I recommend The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.


I just got back from the dentist – had to get a filling to repair a small chip in my tooth. Was in and out in about 20 minutes.

My dentist gave me the option of getting numb or not. Um, let’s see … I’ll opt for no pain instead of pain, thank you.

I didn’t eat breakfast, so I’m really hungry. But my lips still don’t work. I tried to take a sip of water and dribbled all over myself. It’s such an odd experience that I can’t help but find it funny.

Any time something goes wrong with my teeth, it reminds me how thankful I am that I have them and that they’re relatively healthy. That helps motivate me to keep flossing.

Immortal words

Quick – when you think of Martin Luther King Jr., what words do you think of?

I have a dream …

I suspect that greater than 90% of the people in our country would answer as I did above. MLK had many brilliant speeches and writings, but his “I have a dream” speech was the one most of us born after his death hear first. I still tremble when I hear the recording.

The US erected a stunning new memorial to King this year, and there are many inscriptions of his words on it. On one side of the main sculpture, they used a paraphrased version of one of King’s quotes, which has created so much controversy that it’s going to be changed. I can see why they didn’t want to use the full quote – it wouldn’t have looked right, given the scope of the memorial. They needed something shorter that would stand out at a distance.

Since they’re going to change it anyway, I suggest, “I have a dream …”

Declaring victory

Seth Godin’s post from yesterday, declaring victory, jarred me: “Whenever you start a project, you should have a plan for finishing it. One outcome is to declare victory, to find that moment when you have satisfied your objectives and reached a goal. The other outcome, which feels like a downer but is almost as good, is to declare failure …”

I was just thinking how much I enjoy entering into open-ended projects. For example, I’m currently writing every day and running every day. It’s simple to understand – have I done this yet today? No? then I guess I better get to it …

I don’t always do things that way. Six years ago, I set a goal of running the Riverbank Run (15.5 miles) in May of 2006. I loved the feeling of accomplishing such a tough goal (albeit an arbitrary one). As I finished it, I set a goal of running the Grand Rapids Marathon (26.2 miles) in October. My family was so proud of me – my brother actually cried at the finish line. As soon as I finished that, I decided to run Huff in December (31 miles on trails – only 5 miles longer than a marathon, but it took me twice as long to finish). My family just thought I was crazy then.

At that point, I noticed a problem – I didn’t have a goal for running anymore. I had accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish to that point. I would have loved to focus on ultra-marathons and running longer and longer distances. I have one really good qualification for these: I can eat a lot during a run without getting sick. I consumed more than 1,000 calories during my marathon. Very handy. Unfortunately, I had just started working for Microsoft, and I had a 3-year-old kid. I didn’t have more time to run, I had less.

Instead of running farther, I thought about running faster and trying to qualify for Boston. I would have had to take more than a minute off my best marathon pace – it’s tempting to try, but I never really believed I could do it. If you don’t believe you can, then you can’t.

I thought about doing triathlons, but I’m mediocre on a bike (notice I didn’t say I was a cyclist), and I’m a bad swimmer (I sink). I just don’t see an immediate goal for me there. Maybe I’ll do it when I retire and have time for crazy long rides and swimming lessons.

In 2010, a buddy of mine ran every day and wrote about it every day. He even ran with me one day that year. His streak running inspired me to start a streak of my own, but I fizzled. When we ran together, I told Doug that the streak made me feel bad, but that wasn’t the whole truth – failing at the streak made me feel bad. Twice I got a streak past 30 days, and then I simply forgot to schedule a run while traveling. That sucked. I didn’t see a way to reconcile streak running with travel.

Before I started my current streak, I realized that the beauty of streak running for me is that if I’m going to commit to it, then it forces me to prioritize running higher in my life. That’s a good thing for me. I thought about that as I smiled while running along unfamiliar Chicago streets in 16-degree weather Friday and Saturday. I was making time for something that’s important to me (and thinking about Frank).

And now I have a goal. To make the official list of retired and active running streaks, you have to run at least 1 mile every day for a year. That was the goal Doug set for himself in 2010 and accomplished. Once he started, he KNEW he’d run 365 days (thus the name of his blog), but if I remember correctly, he was pretty happy to take a day off when he reached that goal. When I started, I wasn’t really thinking about the goal – I just started running every day. Now it’s going to take prolonged unconsciousness or visible bones to keep me from running every day in 2012.

There’s something I like about open-ended projects (e.g., running every day), and there’s something I like about reaching a goal (e.g, running every day for a year). Seth’s post has really made me think about the difference and in what areas of my life I should be focused on one versus the other.

I do know that running is more fun for me when I run with purpose, whether that purpose is to run far, run fast, or run frequently. And my ultimate purpose for running is simply to have fun.

I also know that there are some crazy wonderful runners on the streak runners lists. Mark Covert has been running at least a mile every single day since before I was born. Actually, I believe he’s run at least 2 in fact. He’s averaged 9. He’s scheduled surgery for immediately after a morning run and then squeaked in a painful run the following night. I wonder when he will declare victory on his little running streak project.

Sun and snow

Driving back from Chicago today, the first three hours were beautiful. It was sunny, the roads were dry, and few cars were out. It was a very pleasant drive.

Then about 40 miles from home, we started driving into more and more snow. Eventually, we were driving 30 mph in a 70 zone. It wasn’t a whiteout or anything – it was safe driving 30, but it wouldn’t have been safe to go faster. So the last 30 miles of highway driving took about an hour (catch that fancy math?), and I was exhausted when we got home.

It’s funny how circumstances beyond your control can change something quite pleasant to something quite stressful.


My son’s gymnastics team (boys level 4) finished second overall at a very competitive meet today, even though the highest individual place any individual boy achieved was a third. Go figure.

The boys learn from each other, push each other, and genuinely like each other. It’s pretty awesome to see 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds bond together to make a team that’s greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Thanks, Seth

One of my favorite blogs is Seth Godin’s. He writes a blog post every day, and I read it every day. About a million or so people read him every day, in fact.

One post stuck with me last year: talker’s block. Seth makes the assertion that we don’t get talker’s block, because we practice talking poorly until we get good at it. Therefore, it must be the same with writing – the way to get good at writing is to be willing to write poorly for a while. The important thing is simply to write often. Every day, in fact.

I suspect Seth is right, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m writing every day. Thanks for the inspiring wisdom, Seth!

Software I love: Audacity, Levelator, and GoldWave

I’m catching up on a lot of podcast production at the moment. My tools of choice are

I love these tools, and I simply wanted to give them a shout-out, since I depend on them so much. If you have no interest in audio editing or podcast production techniques, you can safely leave it at that and skip the rest of this post …

Currently, I record using an external mixer and digital recorder (I’ll detail that in a later post). Then I process the audio using Audacity’s noise filter (removes hiss really well) and GoldWave’s noise gate (a compressor/expander setting that I tweaked to remove background typing and breathing). After that, I run the result through Levelator, which is like a smart compressor/maximizer. That whole process takes about 30 minutes for processing, but it’s mindless. You can get pretty good quality by avoiding the first two steps and just running it through Levelator, but I find that the extra effort of each step worth it.

Once I have the audio processed, I listen to it in audacity and delete any particularly egregious ums, ahs, and pauses. I used to spend a tiny but noticeable bit of extra effort to make myself sound less stupid (perk of doing the production), but I’m getting over that. I edit two separate tracks, but I mix down to mono – my assumption is that the resulting audio file is smaller, but I should double-check that, since it usually sounds slightly better with a tiny bit of stereo separation.

A podcast consists of several files stitched together. I have separate audio files for opening, closing, and transitions. I use a simple file naming scheme (01 opening, 02 intro, etc.) to make sure all the files for a given podcast are in the right order. Then I use GoldWave to merge the files. I could do that in Audacity, but it’s more automated in GoldWave. I save the result as a .WAV and then use GoldWave to convert it to an .mp3. I manually edit the .mp3 properties in Windows explorer. That’s probably somewhat error-prone – I should automate that with a PowerShell script or something.

There is probably a better way to do this whole process, but this way works – and I have great appreciation for the people who make all these pieces of software. Audacity is free. GoldWave is shareware. Levelator is donationware. Check ‘em out.

Our strengths are our weaknesses

Think of your strengths, and then think of your weaknesses – aren’t they often two sides of the same coin?

One of my strengths is the ability to string words together. I can get up in front of people and talk about almost anything. Same with writing. This is definitely a useful skill, a strength.

The flip side is that I sometimes talk without saying anything. I can spew hot air with the best of them. Not good. This affects the quality of my work and my personal relationships.

I’m working to remove the bullshit from my speaking and writing. I’m speaking less and listening more. When I write – whether it’s an email, article, or blog post – I’m pausing first to ask, “What’s my point?” So although I’m writing more frequently, I’m making an effort to be more concise and insightful.

What about you – do you agree with my assertion that strengths and weaknesses are often different manifestations of the same personal qualities? Have you had success accentuating the positive while eliminating the negative?