Josh Haas's Web Log

Archive for December, 2011

ITP show review

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I got off to a rough start this morning. Went to bed way late last night (was near the end of a book and had to finish!), had really angry dreams and woke up feeling tired and disoriented and much later in the day than I usually get moving. Back when I was an employee, a start like that would have spelled disaster for getting anything accomplished. As I was drinking my coffee this morning, though, and thinking ahead to my morning (afternoon) agenda, I realized that the first thing I would be doing is writing this blog post, and then the second thing I’d be doing is building super-exciting technology for my new startup. Wow. No stress, no unpleasant tasks, just pure creative work on things I love.

Thank you. Thank you to me, my friends, my family, my former employers, everyone who built the infrastructure that my current life rests on. It’s really amazing to be in this place. A bunch of my recent blog posts have been dark or introspective, me wrestling with things I don’t like about myself. My life isn’t perfect and there’s a lot of stuff I experience that’s painful or unpleasant, but I gotta say, big picture right now I’m feeling really grateful for everything.

Last night I went to the ITP winter show where a bunch of NYU graduate students in design, art, and technology were showing off their projects. It’s kind of like going to a children’s tech museum, except 1000 times denser and you can hang out and chat with the people who built the exhibits.

Some of the ones that stood out for me:

  • A fuzzy backpack that pulses, first synchronizing itself with your breathing and then gradually slowing down to get you to releax.
  • A stationary bike where you watch a live video feed created by having a camera pointing at a giant spinning wheel with miniature landscape details (trees, etc.), that is being turned by your pedaling
  • A room-sized musical instrument-cum-sculpture formed by giant sets of bowstrings sweeping across in different directions, and electric bows so you could play on them
  • A music system that monitors tracks your face and plays different notes based on your expression (“sound affects”)
  • Karoake TV: you and your friends get assigned a character, and you each get an iPad that gives you lines to say and acting cues (“fall on the floor writhing”). I played Data in a 5-minute Star Trek episode. It was awesome.
  • A jacket that serves as a full DJ’ing set up (different studs and buttons to create different effects)
  • A twitter-based Zen garden: a plane of sand, with a ball on it, and a magnet below that moves the balls according to coordinates you tweet at it
  • A toilet connected to a video screen that showed some kind of “magic adventure” in response to some kind of tactile input (I wasn’t totally clear on what was going on there, and I’m not sure I really want to know)

I’m sure there were other good ones I’m forgetting, and in total there were at least 50 or 60 projects.

Anyway my point is we’re incredibly lucky as a society right now to have the freedom to be creative. There are people everywhere doing what they love and inventing awesome things to create the future. I’m glad I get to join the party.

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December 20th, 2011 at 5:49 pm

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Startup Metrics: Key Indicators vs Data Mining

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This is coming out of a conversation I had with the CEO of Beer2Buds a few weeks ago. We started talking about the pros and cons of various technologies for reporting on how people are using the site, but it quickly became a conversation about what to measure. I think most people (myself included) start in the other direction: what can I capture, and how can I see it? But that’s really the tail wagging the dog; it should be “what do I need to see?” and then therefore “how do I capture it?”

A useful distinction to make is between key indicators (I may be using this buzzword incorrectly) and data mining (I’m sure I’m using this buzzword incorrectly). Key indicators are what you want to see 9 am every morning to tell you if you are on track. They should be as few and as narrow as possible, because ideally you want an unambiguous “you are going in the right direction” green light or “you are going in the wrong direction” red light. If you’re watching 40 different metrics, there’s no way of knowing if you’re getting good news or bad news. In contrast, data mining is what you do when you’re off track and trying to figure out what’s going wrong (or on track and trying to figure out what you’re actually doing right)! You don’t data mine every morning; you do it once every week or two or month or two when it’s time to assess tactical or strategic direction.

So how do you get to a key indicator that lets you summarize your business in one number? I’ve found Eric Reis’s thinking in The Lean Startup super-helpful in sorting this out. He makes the point that, counterintuitively, your most important numbers are not bottom-line numbers such as number of users or total revenue. Rather, in a startup, what you’re really trying to figure out is whether you have a sustainable growing business, so the most important number to watch is the sustainable rate of growth of your business.

That takes a bit of explaining. Eric’s theory is that every successful business has a primary growth engine that functions continuously; short term bumps such as a burst of users from a Super Bowl ad or a special promotion don’t matter in the long run. He breaks growth engines into three categories, each one of which has a different key indicator:

  • Sticky — you acquire more customers faster than you lose customers. This works for businesses where customers stick around for a while, either via subscriptions or via repeat sales. A sticky business is healthy if your rate of user acquisition over time is greater than your rate of attrition over time. So the number you want to watch is (customer growth % – customer attrition %): if that number is positive, you have a healthy business, and if it is negative, you don’t.
  • Paid — the value of a customer is greater than the cost it takes to acquire customers. This works for businesses where throwing more money at customer acquisition (ie, via buying advertising or hiring a sales force) increases the rate of customer acquisition without diminishing returns. The key indicator here is: (average expected lifetime value of customer – cost to acquire a new customer). If this number is positive, it means you can take the revenue from new customers and feed that revenue back into acquiring more new customers in a continuous cycle.
  • Viral — each new customer brings along more new customers. This works for businesses where your customers recruit other customers very heavily, generally as a natural result of using the service. For a viral engine of growth, the key indicator is your viral coefficient: the average number of new users that each user brings to the service. If your viral coefficient is greater than one, you’ll get exponential growth; if it’s less than one, this growth engine will gradually fizzle out.

Identifying your engine of growth is a great exercise because it creates a ton of clarity about your business model. You have to understand how you expect your business to grow and succeed.

In practice what I’ve found is that it’s pretty messy. For KeywordSmart, we decided that our best bet was to focus on the sticky engine of growth, because we’re a subscription service, and because buying advertising in our space is hard (not many people google for image keywording software). We can measure user acquisition pretty easily, as well as attrition, although it’s not clear to me what the relationship is between our acquisition rate and our number of existing users. So for now what we’ve been watching is the user acquisition as a flat amount instead of as a percent of our existing user base. That gives us enough clarity of focuse for now, and as KeywordSmart grows bigger, I think it’ll be easier to tell what we should be looking at.

Beer2Buds raised some challenges because, given the nature of it, sometimes a user might not use them at all for a year, and then use them again. Given that you generally don’t want to wait a year to measure how your business is doing (at least in startup-land), this is a little difficult. What we ended up deciding was the Beer2Buds was primarily using the viral engine, and that we’d count a user doing a repeat purchase of beer as them recruiting an additional user: ie, measuring how viral each transaction was instead of measuring how viral each user was. We decided that even though looking at the viral coefficient for any given transaction in a shorter time frame than a year would lead to an underestimate of the viral coefficient, it probably still made sense to focus on it as the key indicator: we wouldn’t be able to tell in a binary yes-or-no way whether the business was growing or shrinking, but we’d still be able to measure progress by seeing if the number was going up.

That leads into the next question which is, what do you do with your key indicator once you’ve identified it? The actual important thing is not where your indicator is at, but how your indicator is moving. (So in other words, if you’re still following this, the rate of change of the rate of change of the growth of your business — the second derivative). Because that is what tells you whether you’re learning and making progress, which tells you if you’re going down a good path or if you’re stuck. So actually, what you really want to be able to measure is your key indicator by cohort: for the users who first encountered you last month, what was the key indicator for them? For the month before? For the month before that? (Substitute weeks or days if you have enough users to get meaningful readings at those timescales). That graph — your key indicator changing over time by user cohort — should be going (more or less) linearly up in a startup that is learning and improving and heading in a good direction.

The other thing that’s useful to be able to measure is your key indicator across different experimental groups. So if you run an A / B test, or roll out a new feature to a fraction of your user base, you want to be able to see how the key indicator performed for each segment of that test. That gives you an easy thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the experiment, by tying the experiment to the things that drive your business.

So that’s key indicators. To summarize: figure out how your business is going to sustainably grow. Figure out what to measure to know if that’s actually happening. Build the technical ability to measure that number across your user base, segmented by cohort or by experiment. Profit!

I’ll get into data-mining another day because this post is already pretty long. But the two second version is: a) capture EVERYTHING, b) capture everything in terms of USERS (not page views or hits or clicks or whatever). I’ll go into that more, as well as give more concrete examples of what I actually did with KeywordSmart from a building-this-out point of view, in a future post!

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December 19th, 2011 at 3:47 pm

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WASP Values

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I was going to write about metrics for startups, which is an easy topic for me to go on about, but one of my new principles for this blog is, write about what I least want to talk about, and that’s pushing in a different direction. So if you’re interested in what metrics should go on your dashboard, or the difference in paradigm between Google Analytics and Kissmetrics, that will have to wait for another day.

Instead, I’d like to journal on my moral shortcomings. “Character” is a word that’s so out-of-fashion these days that it’s not even out-of-fashion, it’s almost completely outside the realm of discourse. Character? Huh, what?

I’ve been reading Harlot’s Ghost which is a deep-dive into the psyche of the WASP establishment as seen through the CIA, an institution that epitomized their values. A lot of it is pretty horrifying. Completely arrogant, geneology-driven, xeno/homo/communist-phobic, ubermenschian intellectual bullshit that fed directly into travesties such as the Bay of Pigs invasion. But then there are other moments where I’m like… huh… maybe they were on to something.

I have some friends who grew up in the wealthy and WASPy Greenwich, CT community, and watching the way they interact with other people, there’s a certain grace, an ethos of self-sacrifice and noblesse oblige that’s more or less absent from the technocratic, baby-boomer-liberal, heavily jewish and asian culture I grew up in and associated with at school. As the “establishment” gracefully disappeared itself, offshoots of this technocratic culture seem to have taken its place in the halls of power (in fact, the point where I’m at in Harlot’s Ghost, the old-school CIA adventurers are dying out to be replaced by bureaucrats). McKinsey consultants now rule the universe.

I’m now in the world of entrepreneurs and creators, hackers and designers, which I think is a new cultural manifestation that is in the process of replacing the old technocratic culture. But creator culture is new and fresh and unformed: it’s still in the process of figuring out how to be the establishment instead of the rebels. On a personal level, I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a creator, how to live by my wits and survive in the free-flowing dynamic of the markets as opposed to, like the good people before me, find a corporation or university to babysit me and 9-to-5 my way into retirement.

Being an entrepreneur calls for more personal strength than being an employee; frankly, it’s just harder. Looking at the values of the technocracy, I haven’t found enough resources to help me: hard work, education, diversity, moderation, creativity, intelligence, and self-awareness are a good set of values, but they aren’t adequate. The WASP establishment valued courage, honor, self-sacrifice, physical hardiness, and “manliness”, which I think are also necessary supplements. As the word “manliness” suggests, they were imbued with a lot of garbagey patriarchal notions, but if you mix in a healthy dose of contemporary androgyny, you might be able to toss the bathwater and keep the baby. At the end of the day, entrepreneurship resembles a diverse, intelligent creative bunch of thinkers sitting around an academic table (technocratic values), but it also resembles jumping off a cliff into frozen water naked and screaming.

Here’s a passage from Harlot’s Ghost that gets at what I’m trying to say:

“No, God is not a St. Bernard dog to rescue us at every pass. God is near us when we are rock climbing because that is the only way we get a good glimpse of Him and He gets one of us. You experience God when you’re extended a long way out beyond yourself and are still trying to lift up from your fears. Get caught under a rock and of course you want to howl like a dog. Surmount that terror and you rise to a higher fear. That may be our simple purpose on earth. To rise to higher and higher levels of fear. If we succeed, we can, perhaps, share some of God’s fear.”

“His fear?”

“Absolutely. His fear of the great power He has given the Devil. There is no free will for man unless the Devil’s powers were made equal on this embattled planet to the Lord’s. That is why,” he said, “I don’t want you to continue rock climbing. The brute fact is that you don’t have the exquisite skills that are necessary. So you will keep finding a little courage and losing it.”

This passage immediately precedes the speaker recruiting the narrator into the CIA, a domain in which the speaker suspects that the narrator will have the exquisite skills necessary to continue rising to higher and higher levels of fear.

Anyway, my confession: I am bad at this. I run from my fears. I rationalize and procrastinate, and worse, feel sorry for myself. I’m like Woody Allen but not funny. One of the things I’m afraid of is going to parties where I don’t know anyone, and I got myself worked into a state last night because I was torn between going out and feeling inadequate to the task of befriending strangers, or staying at home lonely, admitting I was a failure at socializing. The fact that this was even a dilemma for me disgusts me. It’s not that hard! I did go out, after bitching and moaning over google chat to some friends, who kicked my ass and sent me out the door. It wasn’t so bad, of course, once I actually got moving.

I’m afraid of being afraid, or more precisely, I’m afraid of not having those mental guardrails, those friends, those values, or whatever it takes, to reorient myself towards “up” and get me to take the first step on the ladder. My life is right now is purely self-motivated. I could hibernate in my room for a couple years, burning through my savings, if I let myself. It’s a hard thing to want to have more character. Character is a habit, a way of seeing the world, a default reaction; building that in a mind that doesn’t come with it natively installed is a challenge, and it feels like bootstrapping because rising to a challenge is in itself a form of character. My one asset in this fight is my survival instincts; if I don’t tolerate mediocrity and anesthesia, I have nowhere to run but up. That, and a couple of good friends.

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December 18th, 2011 at 4:01 pm

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I’m sitting in WeWork Labs, the shared office space I work in, on a late Saturday morning. It’s a big room, about half a Manhattan block across and with a warehouse ceiling hung with pipes and wiring. There’s a cleaning lady and me here right now. I can hear the sound of traffic from the street, but through the walls it’s muted, and there’s a barely perceptible ambient humming that sounds like a heating or A/C system. It’s a bright day outside, but we’re facing west and there’s a few clouds, so the light is gentle as it falls through the windows. The floor is hardwood, the tables are an unfinished light wood and there are monitors, cords, and computers everywhere. A few years ago a short story I was editing for a magazine had the line “the place was clear with space” describing a dance studio. I remember the line because I used it as an example of unintentional rhyming — something to be avoided — but it’s stuck with me, and sitting here I feel it’s appropriate: the place is clear with space.

The light is darker now; I think a cloud must have covered the sun. I’m here to do work on my startup idea. I’m planning to spend today doing design work, and maybe some programming: sketching out rough drafts and prototypes of what it will look like.

It’s a Saturday, and I’m working, and one of the anxieties in the back of my mind walking here was, what am I missing? What else is going on today, what other things could I be doing? I don’t lead a very adventurous life. Now I’m choosing on a Saturday to spend it in front of a computer and paper, sketching ideas.

I spend a lot of time on generalities. Talking about concepts. Imagining possible futures. Reasoning and explaining and using words and symbols. In a world of generalities, there’s never any satisfaction, because the absolute is always out of reach. It’s not right here, right now; it’s an idea of what tomorrow could look like.

So the lighting in the room, the sound of the cleaning lady rolling a chair, the background hum of the a/c, the slight taste of croissant still in my mouth, are calming to me. I’m still anxious — should I be here? Should I be elsewhere? But I can let that anxiety exist, just another flavor, a slightly bitter taste woven in with the other sights and sounds and feelings.

Time to work.

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December 17th, 2011 at 4:55 pm

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Glass Wall

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I feel like there’s a glass wall between me and the world. I stand with my hands pressed against it and look at other people, and they look at me, but we don’t touch. I scream at the wall and curse and swear and pound my fist on it but it muffles the vibrations and they pass across as a whisper. Most of the time I don’t even know it’s there.

There’s a passage from one of my favorite books, After Dark:

Still, Mari says nothing. Lightly biting her lip, she waits for the rest of the story. Takahashi takes his time searching for the right words.

“Finally, no matter what I say, it doesn’t reach her. This layer, like some kind of transparent sponge kind of thing, stands there between Eri Asai and me, and the words that come out of my mouth have to pass through it, and when that happens, the sponge sucks almost all the nutrients right out of them. She’s not listening to anything I say—not really. The longer we talk, the more clearly I can see what’s happening. So then the words that come out of her mouth stop making it all the way to me. It was a very strange feeling.”

Realizing that the tuna sandwiches are gone, the kitten twists itself out of Mari’s hands and jumps down to the ground, running over to the thick shrubbery and all but leaping in. Mari crumples the tissue in which the sandwiches were wrapped and stuffs it into her bag. She rubs the bread crumbs from her hands. Takahashi looks at Mari.

“Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Metaphors should never be taken too far. But sometimes they’re the only way of expressing a feeling. I don’t really know how to connect with people. It’s a skill I just never acquired. I’ve done it before but only accidentally. Usually I talk, and listen, and we say words, and the words convey logical meaning, and I grapple with that meaning like solving a puzzle. Drained of nutrients.

It’s safe on the other side of a glass wall. I know damn well why I built it. It’s messy and gross and scary to be human, to not be logical. The hard thing is that most of my mental architecture is invisible to me. There are walls, halls, entire glass palaces that I can’t see because the light passes right through them. The only way to know they’re there is by touch; the frustrating resistance as I press against it or the pain as I cut myself on it. So I can’t honestly weigh the pros and cons and say, I don’t want a wall here today. It’s a hole in the world, a crowd of pedestrians all unconsciously navigating to avoid crossing a circle on the ground.

That’s why it’s important to write metaphors. Occasionally things materialize long enough to take a good look at them and decide, is this what I want? I spend a lot of time trying to get across a bridge, and there’s a glass wall blocking the bridge, and I walk up and down the shore of the river frustrated because I don’t see a way across. If I can see it for a second, I can break through it, that’s all it takes. It’s seeing it and holding onto the memory that’s hard.

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December 16th, 2011 at 9:44 pm

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How I make decisions

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A couple days ago, I decided I wanted to stop working on KeywordSmart and move on to the next thing. My team was surprised; only a week before we had all met and discussed the game plan for the next few months, and I was as forceful and enthusiastic as anyone in hammering out our strategic direction.

I do this a lot. At least four or five people I’ve worked with closely have independently described me as “volatile.” At 2 pm, I think something is the greatest idea in the world, and at 5 pm, I have no interest in it whatsoever.

I’m reading Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer, which is a highly literary take on the CIA. One of the characters — this seems to be a theme of the book — has a psychological theory that claims that every person actually has two separate complete personalities inside of them, each with their own memories, viewpoints, neuroses and passions. The further apart those personalities are, the greater the potential for deception, as well as greatness and insanity.

Although I don’t want to get too carried away by a metaphor (all Freudian, Jungian, and descendant psychological theories are metaphors for simplifying the complexities of inner life — at least, I’ve never seen any evidence that they are anything more than that), there’s something I relate to about having multiple personalities. It’s freeing. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to establish foundational principles for my decisions, enough to know that a logical approach is hopeless. Logic does not work like that. I keep trying, though, because the only alternative to logic is passion, which is equally fickle.

That’s how I can go from working on something for months and being gung-ho about it to suddenly changing my mind. I’ve learned to substitute obedience to past decisions in place of both passion and logic; otherwise, I’m too flighty and shifting to tie my shoes in the morning. But that’s an inflexible approach, and as the true course of what I want deviates, the pressure between the straight line and the curve becomes too much, and I snap. So I seem volatile to others (and to myself), because I do stuff I don’t really want to do for long periods of time, then at once reject my course and orient to a new one.

I am sick of living like this. The cost of forcing myself to go through the motions (and talking myself into believing in the motions: I act quite convincingly) is an amount I’m no longer willing to pay, even for consistency and balance and forward progress. It makes me heartsick and physically ill. I’m willing now to embrace chaos, have other people think I’m crazy, wake up in the morning not knowing quite what I’m going to do, because the alternative is too unbearable.

So that’s where multiple personalities helps. If I feel my fluctuations in desires and interests as two sides of me arguing, then my job as a free person is to be a mediator, to help them appreciate each other, and trust them to work together to do stuff that makes sense for me.

Navigating this way is like sprinting in the dark, at least in my unpracticed state. I’m trying to start up a new company, and I’m going to be persuading others to trust me with their time and eventually money. I’m terrified I’ll lead them on, then switch. I don’t trust myself to make commitments, because I’ve done it so badly.

So that’s my biggest act of faith right now. Faith that I can do this, that I can balance the sides of my personality and follow the twisting curve instead of the straight line. That if I trust my heart, I won’t be totally destructive to everyone around me. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know.

Written by jphaas

December 16th, 2011 at 8:05 pm

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Control, ego, creativity, and my new business idea

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In my last post about fear and creativity, I alluded to a startup idea I have. I didn’t spell it out directly. I was afraid. What if someone takes it and does it better than me? What if someone gets there first? I have an intense, overwhelming visceral hunger to hold on and shout “mine!” at the universe. Gotta hold on. Gotta control everything, get all the details right, win.

I’ve been told over and over again that being scared of your idea being stolen is a sign of immaturity in startup-land. That good ideas won’t get stolen, rather they need to be forced down people’s throats. That ideas are value-less and only the execution counts. I believe it, I swear. But my gut doesn’t.

That’s okay though. The same urge that makes me want to hide my idea from the world is the same urge that makes me want to do all the design and programming myself, that makes me afraid of hearing other ideas in the same space in case one of them is better. I’m okay with that urge. It’s just me, being a person and having an ego, trying to scrape a little bit of dirt together and call it my own.

But I’m going to let it go. At the end of the day, the important thing is the voice that wants to create, the part of me that wants to see the world change, that’s frustrated that nothing like what I want already exists, that wants to use it myself and live it in a world where the people I care about can use it. That’s the voice that’s willing to step back and let other people design it and build it and bring it to life as long as something gets created, that would almost be happier in a world where there’s multiple competing products, not just mine, because that’s better for all of us. Even if someone reads this blog post, takes my idea, and brings it to life, and destroys my company because of it, that’s still a win for me. Because it happened, it got created, the world changed a step towards the direction I want it to be.

So, here’s my idea. When someone builds a new web-based application, there’s the design of the application — how it functions, what it looks like, what happens when you click the big button — and then the technology that brings that vision to life. My mission is to give anyone capable of articulating the design, the power to build the technology. WordPress lets people who have an idea for a blog, know what they want to write and know what they want the page to look like, execute that vision without knowing anything about databases, php, or web servers. I want to build wordpress for applications. I want to build a tool that lets people communicate the logic of an application without knowing programming, and hook it up to a design, and hosts it and makes it scalable.

I want this because there are a million people out there who are trying to find and hire people with particular knowledge set, software developers, to build them these applications. I want those people to be empowered to make it happen no matter what the market for programmers looks like (and it looks grim — if you want to hire a programmer, be prepared to pay!) There are companies waiting to be born, games waiting to be built, real-world problems waiting to be solved, and the technology isn’t there. Let’s bridge that gap, and give people the power to make it happen.

I’m going to be recruiting co-founders soon. If you’re interested, drop me a line.

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December 13th, 2011 at 9:15 pm

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I woke up this morning terrified. Last night I had a conversation with a friend about a startup idea. I had been flirting with that idea for a while, but walking it through with my friend and having her start making suggestions about the team I’ll need to build made it hit home. Yesterday I was in fantasy mode, today I’m in reality. And I’m scared.

That’s how I know that I need to work on this. Scaring comes from caring. I really, really care about this idea. It’s something I’ve had in the back of the mind for years. I keep dusting it off and putting it on, then sticking it back in the closet. Now it’s time to wear it to the ball.

I’m scared because I’m taking accurate stock of who I am, what I bring, what resources I have at my disposal. Failure is a very, very real possibility. My boss at my last job believed that a healthy fear of failure was a weapon, that knowing your own weaknesses and compensating them is the key to victory. He would walk around saying “I’m a dumb shit,” “You’re a dumb shit” to emphasize that not knowing, not having the answer, is okay. Recognition of ignorance is the first step on the path towards learning.

Fear and passion are closely coupled together. Probably the most inspirational book I’ve read in the last ten years is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. His thesis — his knowledge — is that the creative desire walks hand-in-hand with the self-destructive desire. That we are afraid of our own potential greatness and all the resources of the mind are arrayed against defeating that potential. Fear is the final guardian, the last gate to pass through once distraction, confusion, procrastination and denial are gone.

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December 13th, 2011 at 4:15 pm

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Honesty and blogging

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I am sick and tired of stories. I spend so much of my life wrapped up in mental fantasies about the world around me, instead of actually seeing it with open eyes and an open mind.

For instance, this morning I was thinking about my company KeywordSmart. I’m discussing with my team a potential shift in strategy that I’m excited about. Next thing I know I’m fantasizing about it taking off, about being a web millionaire and famous and hanging out with all the silicon valley elite. What bullshit! Sure, maybe this thing will take off and maybe it’ll be great. But if it does it’ll look nothing like my imagination, and the surest way to get there is to not spend time imagining it.

(They did a study, actually: positive fantasies, whether career-related, love-related, or otherwise, are negatively correlated with success. However, positive fantasies immediately followed by splashing the cold water of reality on them are positively correlated with success. Don’t want to bother looking up the citation.)

I’ve been much more personal in two of my last three posts on this blog than I’ve been in the past. I don’t like it, I don’t want it, I want to keep my nasty little thoughts and insecurities and pains to myself. But I’m doing it anyway because the only way to be real is to be real: the only way to live life as it is, experience things as they are, rather than to live wrapped up in thought bubble cocoons, is to be totally honest and accepting of how life is, and for me, I guess, that means writing about it.

Various meditative traditions teach how to hear your thoughts as thoughts, as emissions of your chattering mind, rather than taking them seriously as a description of reality. When I meditate, I can temporarily stop the part of myself that assigns labels and categories and values to everything I see, and instead actually take in raw sensory exeperience: the reflection of my shirt in the monitor in front of me, right now, for instance.

I think there’s a lot to those meditative traditions, but for me I need more than passively learning to let my mind chatter. I need active meditation: taking the garbage extruded by my brain and fashioning it into actions, risky scary actions that break the silly little fake reality my mind tries to build around me every time I turn my back.

So every single day, I’m going to try to write a blog post. I’m afraid they’ll suck. I’m afraid I won’t have anything to say. Worse, I’m afraid I’ll say thing I don’t want to say. But them’s the breaks. And, I’m in good company… there are other people out there taking this approach to writing too.

Now, I’ll be honest again. I have no idea how to end this thought. So, I guess I’ll just let it stop. Now.

Written by jphaas

December 12th, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Feeling things

without comments

A couple things have been going on in my life.

A few weeks ago I told one of my good friends that we couldn’t spend time together any more. I was in love with her, and she had a boyfriend. I had been spending time with them, lying to myself and to her that it was just about being friends. I’m not sure what woke me up exactly, but I realized this was stupid. I had to get out of this situation. So, I wrote her a note and haven’t talked to her since.

A few years ago I did the same thing — fell in love with a girl who wasn’t into me, and spent years trying to be her friend instead.

Where am I going with this? I think my point was something about learning from mistakes. Like, “cut losses fast” or something like that. But what I really want to say is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I listened to what my mind was telling me instead of what my heart was telling me. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to be better, smarter, toughter, more successful than everyone around me, because I was hurt and learned to deal with pain by anesthetizing myself.

I’m trying to feel my heart right now. Literally, not metaphorically. Not cut-myself-open-with-scalpel literally, but feel the physical sensations coming from my chest. I wonder if there’s really a connection between feeling that and your emotions. This is the kind of thing they don’t talk about in science class but maybe they should.

I think pain is selfish but sadness is kind. I got really tired of my mind going “me, me, me, me, me” all the time. It’s kind of amazing. I’d think I’m the most important thing in creation, the way my mind goes on about me — what I want, what I need, what’s best for me, how things are going for me. It’s so boring. Who cares? I think that’s why I need to feel my heart, because I think letting down my guard and letting my feelings wash over me is the only way to not be so perpetually self-absorbed.

I feel like I’ve made a lot of decisions for the wrong reasons. When I think about what I really value, what I look back on and have positive memories about, it’s always people I care about. Some of the best times of my life were when I was on Tuesday Magazine in school, because we were all hanging out together doing what we loved. I miss that. My brain always makes things more complicated than they need to be. The simple answers are the best ones. But I can’t navigate on simple answers unless I’m willing to feel, because that’s how it works.

At the end of the day, values aren’t abstract concepts. Values are living, breathing things; I care about my values because I care about them. I haven’t been feeling enough for the last four or five or six years, and I really regret it. But I’m tired of regret. I’m tired of being angry and arrogant and using that as fuel. It’s worked for me for a long time but I think I’m at the end of the line with it. I think the replacement fuel is compassion. I’m not sure yet how to tap into compassion and use that the same way I used anger, but I think I’ll feel my way through.

Written by jphaas

December 11th, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized