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Fighting the Parent-Industrial Complex

I’m not joking when I tell you I didn’t read any parenting book or blog before our little girl arrived four months ago. It’s not because I thought I knew better than the countless parents that have written about parenting. I have no idea what I’m doing, just like the rest of you guys.


Given my wife’s penchant for research and reading, she probably read a lot more than me. I just took the approach of, “Well, if we get stuck, we’ll Google it or call a doctor.”

In the first few weeks, I was trying to get my wife some sleep and trying to get our little girl sleeping for longer periods of time. It was 1:00 am and I thought, “Oh, let me Google that.”

What a mistake.

Well, investigating it wasn’t a mistake. For example, the Mayo Clinic has some excellent resources. Diving into blogs and forums devoted to parenting was. The specific advice wasn’t necessarily good or bad. Just kidding, some of the advice was bad and downright dangerous. But that’s wasn’t my biggest problem with it, that’s simply a hazard of the unfiltered internet.

What I saw was people who tore others down over not just common things like cloth diapering versus disposable, but which disposable diaper you use. Then there was another group of people that seek validation (or seek to validate everyone) and lashes out at people who may disagree with you putting raw honey on your one month old’s pacifier.

That’s a bad idea.

Of course, most of these blogs and forum sites are funded by advertising from huge consumer packaging goods and drug companies. And hey, look. I’m a capitalist. I don’t really care. But tell me these companies don’t love this idea of an empowered, yet completely confused, angry, and misdirected group of parents. Nothing makes you overspend on smashed cooked carrots like someone telling you that you’re a better parent for buying a particular brand.

It’s easy to over-complicate issues as a parent. Looking to the internet for the answers isn’t a bad idea but being aware of your sources is a requirement. People naturally seek validation for their ideas but it is amazing how things can improve when you open your mind to the right information from the right places.

I’m not a “stick it to the man” sort of guy but it doesn’t hurt to take a little bit of the confusion out of parenting. Not only for yourself and your kid, but just to take back information from sites that focus on everything but the relationship between you and your child. The toys, the clothes, the food… yes, you need it. But you also need to observe your kid and see what they like and don’t like. You can’t buy a great childhood for your kids in a package or medicine bottle.

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The Need for Community

I’ve been working from home for more than five years. It’s a wonderful thing that would be tough to trade for a commute and an office again.

That’s even more so with our little one in the house full-time. Between her and our nanny, it’s the first time I’ve had full-time “coworkers” in the same space for more than a few days.

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That’s if you don’t include my cat. I certainly don’t.

I’ll be honest with you: it’s been nice to have human interaction between the hours of 7am and 6pm that didn’t involve going to a coffee shop or a Subway. As an introvert, I didn’t think I missed it but I did.

One of the things I love about working for The Starr Conspiracy is their liberal use of Google Hangouts. It’s actually nice seeing other people’s faces at least once a day.

The thing that was really weird about living in the Seattle area was how strangely cool people were and how genuinely nice people are here in Richland. We joked about the Seattle freeze until we actually lived there. When we walk out on the street or in the park away from there, people say hi and even the kids are friendlier.

I’m not making a value judgment but I will say that the last few months have opened me to the idea that I may need a local community. We’ve been so mobile in the past, it’s been easy to just forget about it and just have a few friends that we knew. Even though it’s tough to make friends after 30, who says it isn’t worthwhile?

We have a great community of friends back in Portland we’d love to get back to one day. I don’t know when that will happen, though. There’s no sense in waiting it out anymore.

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My Life Won’t Be The Same

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Dear Elida,

You joined us just a week ago. While the timing was a little off, we were happy to see your screaming face at 6:26 AM on an otherwise nondescript Tuesday morning. Your mom got more sleep than I did the night before you came, though it probably wasn’t the most relaxing. I sat up in the world’s least comfortable bed contemplating everything I thought I had a few weeks to figure out.

Of course, everyone tells you that your life is going to change once your first child arrives. A week in, I can tell you that in a very real sense, it has. It was everything promised to us. Sleepless nights? Check. Google every possible malady when you get a random hiccup fit or act strange? Double check. Eating meals in shifts, during naps, or multitasking? Yeah. You are ruthlessly stubborn and sincerely sweet, all at the same time. You definitely get that from your mother.

What people don’t tell you is the other ways your life changes thanks to a little peanut who tips the scales at less than six pounds.

Your mother and I enjoyed our life before you came into the world. For most of that time, we never felt incomplete or lacking anything of consequence. We spent eight years doing what we loved: seeing places, taking new adventures, and moving. Lots and lots of moving.

When your cousin was born though, we knew we wanted to have a baby. For three years, we didn’t know if it would happen. If you looked at your parent’s browser histories during that time, you would see too many searches about fertility and adoption to count. We talked to friends and family members who had done both. We had started investigating options once things didn’t come as quickly as we had hoped.

As our friends started having kids, we were delighted for them while still wondering when our time would come. There were tears and doubts along the way, too many to count.

We soon found out that our troubles didn’t have as much to do with fertility as it had with your mother’s absent thyroid gland. Adjusting the medication she took to supplement for a thyroid lost to cancer meant we started to see some results. Quickly.

About a year ago, she got pregnant. We were overjoyed. She came back from the store one day with the tiniest socks to tell me. We knew it was possible but we never knew it would be this quick.

When I was in Florida on a business trip, I got a call from your mother and I knew immediately what it was. We lost the baby. I was physically ill, in a beautiful, oceanfront room 3,000 miles away. I flew home as quick as I could, but there was nothing either one of us could do. In that moment, it felt like there was a weight on us, holding us down. I contemplated getting rid of those socks when I saw them in a dresser a few weeks later but decided to keep them.

On a business trip a few months later, I got a call from her saying she was pregnant again. And that she got a promotion, and that we were going to be moving again. Life was going to be busy but we were cautiously optimistic that this would work out.

Lucky for us, it did.

Putting together baby furniture or putting your car seat in the car for the first of a few hundred times never really registered with my brain that something was different. I knew that my life was going to change thanks to you, but other than the superficial ways that everyone talks about, I had no idea what that really meant.

When you arrived, what people couldn’t put into words made sense.

Seeing the look on your mother’s face when she held you for the first time — and I will tell you that newborns are not, in any way, objectively attractive, despite what TV shows seem to suggest — flooded my memories with the thousands of other times she has shown me strength, warmth, grace, kindness, understanding, and unconditional love. It reminded me not just why I initially loved her but why my love for her continues to grow every day. It makes me hope that you have more of her in you than you have of me because even when I haven’t been able to love myself, I’ve always been able to love her.

Holding you for the first time felt like the end of one big road trip and the beginning of the next. It reminded me that the way we get to the biggest milestones in our lives matter. Success and hardships alike sharpened our senses for your arrival. You arrived at the perfect imperfect time, another reminder about the difficulties of executing even the best laid plans.

Having you in my arms that day was one of the best days of my life because of the big and little things along the way that made it possible. And because it happened this way — this unique way — it will change our way forward too. There was nothing to be flippant about. It wasn’t easy getting you here and it won’t always be easy going forward.

I tried putting those tiny socks on but they were still a bit too big. We’ll get to keep them a little while longer, to remind us of the journey we took to get you and a reminder that life will never be the same. Because it never has been.

Love,

Dad

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New Ideas Come at a Price: Your Old Ideas Have to Die

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I’ve thought a lot about ideas. Especially over the last couple of months, I’ve been bombarded by them.

Talk is cheap, though. It is easy to talk about new ideas and new ways of doing things. It is another thing to get through the 523 excuses, roadblocks and challenges that stand in the way of them.

When I look at new, exciting technologies (or processes or ways of thinking), I think about adoption curves and the entrances into new organizations. But it is more than that.

I think a lot about human nature when I think about new idea adoption. In order to take on a new idea, you either have to kill the old one or you had no idea to begin with.

Hey, sometimes it’s both.

I think about it in the context of the marriage equality movement. No matter what happens with the Supreme Court decisions, there is a long road ahead for people’s viewpoints and ideas about marriage to change. The landmark civil rights act in the United States is almost 50 years old and there are still a lot of people who would gladly return to before that came to fruition.

It is frightening to give up something you’ve believed in for a long time. While you can talk a good game about being open-minded, when the rubber meets the road, I’ll bet you flinch. Killing familiar ideas is tough and it takes patience, whether it is the idea that paper-based payroll was somehow superior or personal feelings on important legal, cultural and political issues.

There’s also a point where you don’t necessarily want yield to new ideas either. It is hard to understand whether the reason you’re hesitant is because it is the right thing to do or because yielding to new ideas is uncomfortable in its own right.

One thing is clear though: if you were more comfortable with murdering your own dumb ideas or at least did it on a more frequent basis, you’d be able to tell the difference a lot easier.

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Happy Birthday, Stranger

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I’m not a birthday guy. For my 30th, my wife and family arranged a surprise birthday party for me and it was literally the most surprised I’ve been about anything. Not because I didn’t deserve it (of course I deserved it) but because I’ve never been big on my birthday. It comes and goes.

The party was pretty great, though.

This last year though, I took my birth date off Facebook completely. It wasn’t secret. My birthday can be found (a good sourcer or identity thief could probably locate it). And a few people wished me happy birthday (thankfully, both my parents remembered without the aid of Facebook). For the most part, it went under the radar, including by a few people whose birthdays I know.

Luckily, I didn’t cut them like some would.

My main intention wasn’t to mess with people or try to play the gotcha game with them. In fact, my only hope is to relieve people of the chore of writing a meaningless happy birthday on my Facebook wall without any semblance of feeling. Happy birthday, stranger. As casually and thoughtlessly as a nod to another person as you walk by on the street.

This seems to be one of those courtesy things that made sense when Facebook was truly about a place with just your friends. When I had 25 people as friends, wishing a happy birthday was a natural thing because I’d probably find a way to do it anyway for these people. It just doesn’t scale, though.

As I have seen birthdays hit my Facebook feed, I’ve tried to calendar the ones that are more important to me. For someone with some serious memory issues at times, calendaring is the only way to go. Since I am constantly looking weeks ahead, it helps to remind me better than just seeing the date pop up on Facebook the day of the big event.

For everyone else, though? I’m not wishing you a happy birthday. Not if I’d never be invited to a birthday party or have a reason to know one way or another. Not if we’ve known each other for a long time and we’ve never connected on birthdays.

That might be bad news for Facebook, too. They are trying to make money by allowing users to gift tangible objects through Facebook. I wouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly flipped my privacy settings for hidden birth dates.

If your birthday is a big deal to you, I’ll pick up on that. I’m not dense and I’m not uncaring. But when 200 people are wishing you happy birthday on Facebook, we should also be honest with ourselves about the depth of those sentiments. If you’re a regular birthday wisher, can you remember the people you wished happy birthday to in the last week?

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New Year’s Resolution: Writing Better For The Web


I generally believe in writing every day, either for myself or for work. But for long stretches over the holidays, I didn’t write a thing. Besides a friend’s wedding in June, I hadn’t taken off any significant time last year and I was feeling burned out.

When I got back into it this week though, I started thinking about the things I wanted to improve and writing for all of you was on the top of my list. I want to write more frequently and continue to improve overall. Part of that is getting better at thinking about what writing for the web means and what distinguishes it from other forms of media.

With that in mind, I wanted to list off a few of the ways I plan on writing better for the web in 2013.

1. Long form is still okay for the web

I love reading stuff from The Atlantic or Grantland.com that is longer form. When you read about writing for the web, so much of it focuses on tight, optimized and short content. I’ve sat in on sessions with fellow bloggers who said to not write more than 800 words on anything for the web.

The social impacts of blogging–whether it be through an engaged readership or contact with someone who really liked a piece–is enhanced by well-crafted, long form blogging. Some of my best read pieces are the ones with over 1,000 words.

I don’t want to always go long on my posts but I don’t think it should be actively avoided. In fact, I think you should simplify and enhance the reading experience so it isn’t painful to read. Readable type, headings, and a clean layout help dramatically.

2. Best, not first (or, and first)

One of the ideas that resonated with me over the holidays was how wrong much of the media was about the Newtown shooting in the rush to get news out quickly about a developing event. With some exceptions, I am not breaking news (and certainly with this blog, I am never breaking news). My biases are out there.

For the most part though, I want to give thoughtful commentary on something. And when I am first, I want to make sure I’m not only correct but that I am also as comprehensive as possible with an initial story.

3. Headlines matter

I knew this in 2012 of course but that doesn’t mean I always did a great job of coming up with the right headline. Truth be told, a lot of content is shared on social media before it is read based on the headline and reputation of the publication or author. Combine that with automated sharing and you get the point: headlines matter.

Of course, content matters too. People who use shallow content with great headlines to drive traffic earn my scorn, even if it is a winning strategy (at least, right now it is). At the very least though, I need to even the playing field with better headlines.

4. Short is okay, too

Sometimes I don’t have a lot to say or I don’t have a lot of time to say what I want. If you saw my Google Drive folder, you’d see draft after draft. Some of those posts can’t even be used anymore because they were based on (then) current events. That’s a lot of silly effort for something that could have been avoided. An incomplete thought sometimes works okay.

Discretion is something I enjoy about writing. If something isn’t up to par, I like being able to cut it up or eliminate it completely if it doesn’t fit. But short isn’t bad if it fits everything else that I like about publishing for the web.

5. Focus on presentation

With web publishing platforms, there are millions of iterations for how you can present content. As I mentioned with long form writing, presentation is a key to make sure you don’t lose readers on longer pieces. I’m pleased with how my site displays on devices of all size (from my 25 inch monitor to my 4.5 inch smartphone) and how clean the font and styling is but I am going to continue to improve the reading experience here on the site.

Although I don’t use multimedia very frequently, there are some things I’d like to improve when it comes to displaying pictures and the like.

6. Diversify

I’d like to diversify what I am writing about. Part of burnout is not just writing a lot but writing (and editing) about the same sorts of things over and over again. I’d like to continue to expand what I am writing about but I need to figure out what topic(s) I should tackle.

If you’re writing in 2013 for the web, what are your resolutions?

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Undoing The Social Media Revolution


It was cold. We had just left a lovely seafood dinner overlooking Elliot Bay in Seattle and the wind picked up. I put my wife’s jacket on her and I stepped out from underneath the building overhang.

“Hey, it stopped raining!”

It was good news for a December night. I grabbed her hand and we walked briskly down the damp Seattle sidewalks toward the symphony hall. In a few minutes, we’d be listening to Handel’s choral masterpiece Messiah.

As the symphony opened, I slowly started to realize that we were having one of our best weekends ever at home and I was feeling guilty for it.

You see, this happened the day before. It’s unbelievably tragic and the twisted nature of the whole event still makes me sick and leaves me with a lot of unresolved questions.

Right after it happened, Twitter, Facebook, and the media went into overdrive. After about an hour, I checked out of Facebook and Twitter. I followed some of the news on cable but they were doing an awful job.

My wife works four days a week so we were discussing it since she was home. We probably discussed it for over an hour. We don’t have kids but we are close to a few little ones. And we have a multitude of friends and family who are teachers, almost all at the elementary level.

I peeked my head in to Twitter once or twice over the weekend. Same thing with Facebook. And I’m glad that’s all I did. It was distressing and the response made me question the social revolution altogether.

My friend Laurie wrote a great post about it that mirrored my thoughts nearly completely. In it, she says:

After the shootings in Newtown, I wonder if social media plays any positive role. All the early news reports were wrong. My friends and colleagues responded swiftly to the tragedy by posting commentary and pictures of their children on Facebook. Some offered poems. Others offered prayers. Many are now descending into stupid political battles.

At an important time like this, what the universe demands is action. I looked at my own aggregated newsfeed and felt like a shared article or a picture on my timeline would not do any good. And for those in my life who might actually know someone who was injured, I worried that my own personal expression of sadness — mixed in with shoddy news reporting — might do some harm.

And there it is. Read the whole thing, though.

Of course, social media takes its toll on more than just tragedies. I think about how everyone seemed ground down by the election, the debates and nine months of bullshit advertising and news reporting. Social media made it worse. I’m not afraid to have a frank discussion on politics but doing it in 140 character sound bites is more aggravating than anything.

People wonder what the relevance of blogging is in an age of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram? Thought. Real, actual thought before you share them with the world. Not sound bites, not sharing a funny picture, not a short update for friends and family or some rumor or innuendo that takes two seconds to send out.

The same thoughtlessness that the media displayed in trying to be first rather than being right in such a critical story is the same sort of thoughtlessness that goes into sharing articles that you don’t know are vetted or retweeting information that is uncorroborated.

The media should know better and it was a shameful display.

But if we are going to talk about a social media revolution though, we should talk about what kinds of responsibilities that holds with it. That means you can’t share a Morgan Freeman quote without verifying it first. That means you can’t share an untruthful image with a description of what issues the murderer had without understanding and knowing that for a fact. It also means you think about empathy, respect, timing and appropriateness of your message before you post it.

Right now, the media is in a confused and awful state. They don’t know how to handle day-to-day news, much less tragedies like this. And when I opened Twitter and Facebook, what I saw wasn’t a replacement for the media and it wasn’t a revolution in any way. It was an angry, frightened, sad, confused and, ultimately, noisy and overwhelming place.

I really like having Twitter and Facebook. Really. And when it works the way it should, it’s a great place to be.

This weekend wasn’t one of those times though. It makes me think social media still has a long way to go in its supposed revolution. At the very least, we either have a long way before we refine these platforms to encourage meaningful and responsible sharing or that we reconsider the realistic limits and boundaries of what any multi-million user social networking platform can do.

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How Do You Deal With Stress?


I am generally a pretty cool customer. That’s not to say that I don’t worry about things, it just means I deal with it pretty calmly. The first time I was laid off, I told my wife about it and assured her I had a plan for dealing with it right away. That was it. Was I mad about it? Absolutely. Worried? Sure. But my mind was busy with a lot of other things.

There are times that I get nervous, too. That’s stress of a different animal to me. Public speaking still makes me nervous. Big games for my Blazers or Cougs make me nervous. I have ways of dealing with nerves, though.

The day before one of our conferences is a stressful one for me but it shouldn’t be. My part of the conference — planning speakers, talking topics and getting the agenda up to shape — is done months ahead of time. The best thing I do at a conference is show up with a smile and energy, talk to a ton of people, tweet and write and learn from attendees what worked and what didn’t. We have a phenomenal team who does the logistics on site.

The fact is, I don’t know what I am worried about or what is stressing me out. Do I worry about everything going smoothly? Do I worry about people not being happy with how it turned out? Yes, of course. I think about that months ahead of time, too.

Here’s what I generally do when I’m stressed:

  1. I write (stuff like this)
  2. I clean or organize
  3. I focus on getting a good nights sleep
  4. I read (currently re-reading The Breaks Of The Game)
  5. I actually write (like on paper)
  6. I drink decaf coffee

That’s pretty much worked for me for the last few years of dealing with our own conferences. Things like logically telling myself that I shouldn’t worry? Not so much.

How do you deal with stress and nerves? What’s the sure-fire way to find your peace?

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It’s Time To Unsubscribe From Aunt Edna’s Crazy Political Facebook Posts


We’re a little more than two months away from electing a president. Are you ready for the @#$%-storm of crazy politics coming from your uncle with socialist/pig-capitalist leanings? What used to be relegated to family picnics and an uncomfortable conversation has now turned digital. Thanks to Laurie, you can relieve yourself of the crazy pretty easily:

…Human Resources professionals are weird. It’s an undisputed fact that they absolutely hate talking about politics.

So if you work in HR and hate hearing about the upcoming presidential election in America, I want to remind you that you can unsubscribe from a Facebook feed without disrupting a friendship.

Here’s how you do it

Want to keep them from posting comments to your political posts? Stop talking about politics online. Seriously, you aren’t changing anyone’s mind. Unless you don’t have better things to do. And don’t take that the wrong way, either. I used to do that all of the time. I’m reformed now. Now I just talk about HR, recruiting, technology and digital media.

Totally. Reformed.

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Discovery vs. Affirmation? What Are You Looking For?


It happens to the best of us. I saw this while on a call and posted it to Facebook in three seconds with a “Who thought this was a good idea?” remark. About five minutes later, I realized my mistake. It was a spoof.

It was an error of affirmation. I assumed it was real because it affirmed a lot of what I believed about oil companies, mega-marketing big bucks, the misappropriation of social media, and crowd-sourcing, and all of the other stupid suggestions that consultants who have no idea about this stuff generally do.

I’m definitely not perfect when it comes to this but it’s something I try to avoid in my professional life. I’ve been hearing two, three, four or more sides of the story since my time in HR. People lie. It’s cynical, yes. But there’s a bigger problem: it happens everywhere.

Politics is the easiest example. Some of the biggest charges typically leveled at politicians is that they are hypocrites, they don’t come through on their promises or that they aren’t always honest. So if you are partial to a particular candidate or cause, it’s probably pretty likely that you’ll see a lot of the other guy doing the lying and not so much your gal. And everyone in politics lies.

I’m not out to change human nature, though. People are always going to do that and it is pervasive.

What is annoying is seeing it from both professional journalists and people who play a similar role (whether you’ll call them bloggers, new media dudes, influencers or thought leaders). In tech journalism, it is easy to see PC guys, Apple guys, Android guys, and Windows phone guys as they go around and cherry pick stories and facts that affirm their version of the truth. In sports, you see the same thing as a writer who is pursuing a story might be more open to suggestions that affirm the facts already found.

Of course, it happens in, what should be, factual news stories. Oftentimes, it is the lazy analysis or editorializing that gets to me the most. Maybe it’s because lazy affirmation is popular or accepted but I can’t be the only one who skips posts and articles from people who can’t leave the cheerleading session to give serious attention to contrasting facts, right?

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Perhaps it is popular for a reason. Since people are naturally ones to take a side, it is easier to identify with heroes or villains (or likeminded vs. non-likeminded in a lesser extreme). We love watching a Paul Begala or Skip Bayless, even when we can predict the words that are going to come out of their mouth. Whereas real analysis and discovery takes skill and chops to make work (and readable or watchable), being an affirmer to all things in one point of view can be easy, even for a hack. Arguing is easy, not acknowledging contrasting facts is even easier.

I’m a free market guy. I know you have to get eyeballs. But there’s also a reason why I’ve turned off cable news, talk radio and sports commentary (even a lot of pre and post-game stuff, unless Charles Barkley is involved). I do appreciate actual reporting and analysis. The idea that you’ll go out there, collect facts, stories and quotes with an open mind, analyze it thoroughly and then write a story or editorial based on that discovery?

It’s going away.